Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Is Barnet Council run by lobotomised zombies? The Barnet Cash lottery

Picture courtesy of scoutnetworkblog.com
"Times are hard", "We are all in it together", "They believe money grows on trees", "Labour are very good at spending other peoples money". These are all phrases that I've heard local Conservative Councillors use in relation to myself, other bloggers and the opposition. What they keep very quiet about is just how completely useless and profligate they are with your cash, if you are lucky. The Barnet Tory Councillors sometimes remind me of an army of lobotomised zombies, who are very good at responding to basic commands (such as "put your hand up now to vote for this idiotic policy") but who are seemingly incapable of actually thinking about anything they do or what effects it has on Barnet. They seem to have no problem at all holding diametrically opposed views on issues at the same time. For example overdevelopment in Cat Hill (LB Enfield) is bad. Over development in Brent Cross is good. Some may call this being two faced (as the councillors who oppose this are representing people near Cat Hill).

Let me explain what their basic mantra is. This is that if they keep council tax down, then they will get re-elected and keep their generous allowances and perks. If you are from a Conservative persuasion, you will probably say "quite right too". Then all of a sudden, you find that the methods they use, hit you in the pocket. Let me give  a couple of examples. CPZ charges have been hiked massively. Now the likes of Brian Coleman, who are responsible, don't have much CPZ in their constituency. It won't affect them, but plenty of other Tories do. These lobotomised zombies aren't prepared to even think about the effect on hard pressed families, many of whom are Tory voters. by squeezing the 10% here, they can save a wider tax rise for the rest. If you are a Tory voter in a CPZ, affected by the changes, you are the sacraficial lamb, your cash paying a subsidy for a few even more wealthy residents council tax, who don't live in CPZ's. Then there is the pay by phone parking changes. Brian Coleman beleived this would save money. Sod the OAP's and other people who can't for whatever reason use it. The guys who work for me used to drive to Mill Hill Broadway to buy lunch. A 15 minute parking charge was 30p. Now it's a pound. Thats £250 a year just to buy a sandwich. They have voted with their feet and now buy their sandwich at the garage on the A41. All the small sandwich shops lose out. The rumour on the street is that Barnet parking revenues are down by 7%. If you drive down Bunns Lane during a working day, you can tell where the parking zone ends. Cars are parked in sidestreets where they used to be parked in the statiomn car park. It seems that Colemanballs didn't realise that people would vote with their pockets.

But just as there are losers, there are winners. After the last Council Cabinet resourses meeting, I had a beer with Mr Mustard, another blogger. I asked him what he thought Barnet would try and sneak through on a DPR as the council shut for Xmas. We speculated, but we were wildly wrong. Mr Mustard, ever eagle eyed, spotted this - http://lbbspending.blogspot.com/2011/12/1000-well-spent-or-waste.html - Barnet Council are giving Brian Colemans favourite vicars son £1,000 to write a song for the queens jubilee. This is an outrage. Unlike my fellow bloggers, I think that money spent on the arts such as this is money well spent. Where I have an issue is the method they've chosen to allocate it. Surely they should have said "We'll have a competition locally to write a song for the jubilee and the winners will get £1,000 towards equipment for their school or college". That way everyone would have become engaged and young people would have been inspired to be creative. Such tunes are invariably unlistenable dirges, so at least give everyone a bit of fun.

Then there are the "special" companies, who operate without contracts and seemingly get all manner of highly lucrative work, much of which is unneccessary and overpriced. We've seen two examples (both exposed by bloggers). These are Metpro Security and RM Countrysides. Between these two companies, Barnet Council has spent £4 million pounds. Neither has a contract. When Metpro's contract was cancelled, it was revealed that many of the services they were providing were deemed unnecessary. Kerching, your money down the bog. I emailed all of the Barnet councillors about Metpro before XMAS. I asked for them to call an emergency council meeting to debate the latest revealations. I got 16 read receipts and not a single reply from the Conservative group. One councillor - Maureen Braun, deleted the email without reading it. One may ask what value Councillor Braun adds, if she can't even be bothered to read an email marked urgent, concerning a scandal that has cost the council £1.4 million?

I don't expect Barnet Councillors, especially Conservative ones, to agree with me about everything. I don't expect them all to reply when I send an email marked urgent, detailing a scandal that bloggers were praised by the Tory local government minister for their role in exposing. I am however amazed that not a single one got in touch to either say "Yes this is terrible we'll do something" or "No, you've got it all wrong, it's all in hand".

This leaves us with the impression that they are useless. What I can't comprehend is why, when Barnet Council must realised that the Barnet bloggers are in control of the local agenda, that they don't engage and try and build trust. I can almost see the likes of Brian Coleman sneering as they read this "in control of the agenda, ha ha ha". Any Conservative Councillor who reads the local papers, will have seen 52 weeks of negative stories this year. These have all started in the blogs of Barnet. Private Eye has yet again pilloried Barnet in its end of year awards. Local businesses and residents are reading the blogs in ever greater numbers. My blog readership has doubled this year, with well over 250,000 hits. That is more than the population of Barnet. October was the peak month this year and February was the quietest (as it has 3 less days, this is not surprising).

I don't really ask much of our controlling group of Tory councillors. If they simply did their job, for which they are paid a decent allowance, and made sure Barnet Council was properly run, that would be enough. The Barnet bloggers read the DPR's and reports. If we can why can't  they? We spotted the Metpro and RM Countrysides scandals, yet we don't get big fat allowances. We read the reports that are supposed to be discussed in committees. We turn up to meetings and they are ignored. It is clear from the few questions that ever get asked that the majority of committee members don't even bother to read them. I have come to the conclusion that many Barnet Councillors just treat the issue of being a councillor like winning a lottery. A bit of extra cash and the odd night out with their friends.

I sent a questionaire to all Barnet Councillors, asking what contribution they had made. I said for every returned copy I'd donate £5 to the mayors appeal. Two Conservative Councillors replied - Brian Salinger and Sury Khatri. All the Lib Dems did and two Labour members, Barry Rawlings and leader Alison Moore. I will be sending Councillor Rutter, the Mayor a cheque for £35. To be honest, I am rather disappointed at this response. I have to ask whether they didn't respond out of embarrassment at their lack of contribution? And I thank and commend those councillors who took the time to respond.


baarnett said...
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