Guest Blog - Opposition to huge rent rise growing has had over 1,000 direct hits (where people have specifically chosen to view this blog rather than just generically looked at the Barnet Eye main page and read it. Four of the ten most viewed blogs in the last month have also been guest blogs. There may be many reasons for this, not least because I suspect my guest bloggers write with an authority on their subject, driven by direct personal experience. I doubt that most of these stories would ever see the light of day, if it wasn't for the Barnet Eye.
What may interest you is that most of the people who send me guest blogs are people I've not met or have only had the most casual of meeting at, maybe they've said hello at a council meeting. Perhaps even stranger is the fact that my team of guest bloggers are actually full of thanks whenever I publish their blogs. Surely, given the quality and work they put in, it should be the other way round? (which in fact it is).
It may not surprise you to know that I always read guest blogs before I publish them. Today when I received the just published blog from Janet Leifer, I wished I hadn't. It ruined my Monday morning to look through the window into the life of Janet and her husband. It may, for all we know, be a window into our own future. My admiration for carers such as Janet is beyond expression. The love she clearly has for a husband who clearly is completely reliant on her and who clearly has many needs is an example to us all. I wonder how I would cope in such a situation?
Now here's the point. When I read Janets story and how she's been treated by Barnet Council, I asked myself this question. I pay a lot of money in tax, I'm a sort of well of chap. Last night, I drank a bottle of good wine, had a tasty curry at the Day of the Raj in Mill Hill and washed it down with two pints and a complimentary Brandy. It cost me £70 ish of my hard earned money. I felt I deserved it after a hectic week. I do something similar of a weekend, most weeks. How many of those lovely tasty dinners would I forgoe to spare myself having to read emails from people who are suffering cuts. One a year? Two a year? Would two less curries a year to solve the problems of funding of social services in Barnet be a sacrifice worth making? It would to me. That would equate to a 10% rise in council tax in my band (approximately). Now I'm not an idiot, I actually believe no tax increase is required, because I know for a fact that Barnet Council is badly run and there are huge savings that could be made, simply by purchasing goods and services more effectively. The Metpro and RM Countrysides scandals have proven this. These are just two tiny suppliers which by chance came onto the radar of bloggers.
Even worse is the fact that Mr Reasonable - John Dix, offered his services free of charge to Barnet Council to help them identify savings and they never got back to him.
It doesn't stop there. The job description for the CEO Nick Walkley requires him to have "business acumen". How has this "business acumen" been demonstrated? Well his regime has introduced a massive hike in the cost of visitors permits in CPZ zones. As a result sales have plummitted, costing the council half a million pounds so far. His regime replaced pay and display parking with pay by phone. A sensible council would have rolled this out over a period and tested the system. Barnet went big bang and the explosion is killing our High Streets. Not only that but revenue has gone down by 14% as a result. All of these initiatives were the brainchild of Councillor Brian Coleman, a man who earns approx £120,000 from a string of publicly funded part time jobs, but has no experience of running any commercial enterprise. How can you have a bloke who wasn't even in charge of the tuck shop at QE boys school, deciding charges which can mean life or death for local businesses?
We seem to find ourselves in a perfect storm in Barnet. We have inept politicians and council officials, who have never run a whelk stall making decisions which are killing our businesses. We have a social services department which dishes out £50 shopping vouchers, yet won't fund visits to daycare centres for elderly gentlemen with dementia. We have a council which spends £70,000 on a "pilot project to resolve chaos" yet hasn't got the wit to make it's own housing tenants behave themselves.
Can I tell you a funny thing. I've only ever fobbed off one potential guest blogger. A couple of years ago a woman got in touch. She told me a story that was so ridiculous, so far fetched and so unlikely and so littered with terms of abuse about Barnet Council and Barnet Tories that I thought "I'm not falling for that old trick". I thought that it was an attempt by Barnet Council Tories, to get me to publish something which, in the run up to the council elections, would allow them to sue me for defamation.
To my eternal shame, the lady I fobbed off in disbelief is Mrs Angry of Broken Barnet fame. At the height of the Metpro scandal, when all manner of shenanigans were occurring, I confessed that I'd fobbed her off and explained why. She said that at the time she couldn't understand why I'd not been interested, but now she knew how Barnet Council worked she completely understood. In actual fact, I think I probably showed exceptionally good judgement, because she set up her own blog, for which all of us in Barnet should be eternally grateful. I have learned and I will not make that mistake again though !