Wednesday, 16 May 2012
Decision time for Richard Cornelius and Barnet Council
Just under a year into his reign, we have seen a whole string of fiasco's, the worst and most damaging being the introduction of cashless parking, alongside the abolition of pay and display. This has decimated the High Streets and shut many businesses. Recently, one of my readers, who is a staunchly on the left of politics, suggested that this blog is too sympathetic to small business and suggested that this wasn't a major issue for Barnet. I reject this view. Local High streets are absolutely necessary to combat social exclusion and poverty. For poor families on low incomes, needing a pint of milk and a loaf of bread, a trip to Brent Cross or a delivery from Tesco's isn't an economical option. It has been estimated that for every job in a Superstore, three are lost on the High Street. The economics of this are harsh.
Imagine for a second that you are a single mother working part time 3.5 hours a day, five days a week on a minimum wage of £6.08. You will receive a gross pay of £106.40 a week. If you have young children that is likely to be the maximum number of hours you can work, as childcare is uneconomical. Lets say that for arguments sake, you live in Burnt Oak. If you get a job in Brent Cross, you have to pay £17.40 a week commuting to work, which is 16% of your gross income. That also takes up 15 minutes each way. If you were to work in a local store, you could also work an extra 1/2 hour per day, adding £15 a week to the family budget. Working locally, you would be £30 per week, £1,500 a year better off or 30% of your income. You are also close to home if your child is sick or any other crisis erupts. That is a huge figure for a family on a tight budget. That is why we need local jobs, local business and a thriving local high street.
A thriving High Street also provides a more pleasant environment for the citizens of our Borough. Who really wants a High Street full of boarded up stores, advertising the latest raves? Councillor Richard Cornelius has the opportunity to reverse Brian Colemans parking madness. Yesterday I met with Cafe Buzz owner Helen Michael. We discussed the continued effects of the parking madness on her business and other local shops. Helen's cafe is a joy to visit, great food and a pleasant atmosphere. She estimates that up to 40% of her passing trade has disappeared. This is because no one will pay £2 to park just for a cup of tea and a piece of toast. There used to be a thriving trade in people driving along, stopping, having a cup of tea and a sandwich, reading the paper and going off on their merry way, this has disappeared. As her trade has dropped off, she has had to review her staff numbers.
This pattern is repeated in shops all over Barnet. Every person who loses their job, is another person the taxpayer has to support. All anyone has asked our CONSERVATIVE council to do, is to adopt the Federation of Small Business policy on High Street regeneration. Traders should be knocking on an open door. I honestly believed that Richard would understand. I believe that he has been privately saying to anyone who cared to listen that he couldn't be seen to undermine Brian Coleman before the GLA election. Now Coleman has gone and along with him this figleaf of an excuse.
As to the One Barnet program, this has been an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. Is there any Conservative politician in Barnet brave enough to tell the truth and admit it? Barnet UNISON recently released information challenging the assumptions in the One Barnet business case. There concerns weren't even acknowledged. It seems that Richard and his colleagues are content to stick their fingers in their ears and shout "La La La" as loudly as possible whenever a genuine and valid point is made about the One Barnet program and its finances. What alarms me is that, like Richard, I am a small businessman. I can read a balance sheet and a business case. He should be able to spell out exactly why the case presented by UNISON is wrong. As a businessman, if Richard presented a sound financial basis for the project, I would accept it. he hasn't and neither have his predecessors. I therefore find myself concurring with John Burgess, UNISON rep, that the numbers don't add up.
I detect a very big change in Barnet politics. At Cafe Buzz yesterday, another small business owner came in. He told me he'd voted Labour for the first time ever in the GLA elections. He was euphoric at the demise of Brian Coleman. Like many small business owners in Finchley and Barnet he had a tale of Coleman verbally abusing him, whilst he was going about his business. He told me that unless the Barnet Conservatives sort the mess out, he will switch for good.
A week ago, in the wake of the defeat of Brian Coleman, the Barnet bloggers issued a list of changes that would restore faith in Barnet Politics. Let us see what has happened so far.
1. Dismiss Brian Coleman from your Cabinet. Mr Coleman was decisively rejected by Barnet voters in the London Assembly election and to allow him to continue in post is an insult. Done !!!!!!
2. Reopen Friern Barnet Library immediately. This well-supported community asset cannot be replaced successfully at the Artsdepot. No Action
3. With local traders, campaigns and stakeholders, create a parking regime that will enhance the environment and restore the fortunes of Barnet’s high streets. Parking charges should manage traffic, not rake in cash. No more hikes in parking charges; reduce charges as necessary, including in CPZs. No Action
4. Cut the rate paid to all freelance consultants employed by Barnet by 25%. Large city firms including JP Morgan and Lloyds TSB have instituted such a policy in response to the harsh economic times. Any consultant not prepared to take a cut would be terminated as per contract terms. No Action
5. Cut the pay of all Barnet Council staff earning more than £150,000 p.a. by 20% and staff on £100,000 - £150,000 p.a. by 10%. The savings in 4. and 5. would generate far more than the sum lost through the parking changes above.
6. Immediately halt the One Barnet outsourcing programme. Dismiss all consultants engaged on the programme. No Action
7. Invite the council trade unions to identify savings and efficiencies within Barnet Council, at the same time protecting services, jobs, and pay and conditions. This exercise should also be opened up to Councillors and members of the public. No Action
8. Invite members of the public to form an oversight panel, to scrutinise contracts and accounts with suppliers. Give the panel access to all council contract information, subject to signing of confidentiality agreements. The panel would report directly to the chair of the audit committee. No Action
9. Cut all councillor allowances by 10%, to show that we really are “all in this together”, and review the excessive allowances paid to Cabinet members and Committee chairs. Learn the lessons of the upset caused to voters by the "Allowancegate" scandal. No Action
10. Stop harassing members of the public involved in protests against discredited council policies. Work with residents, not against them, to improve Barnet. No Action
The Barnet Eye will publish a weekly update for the next few weeks as to how Richard is getting on with the list. He hasn't bothered to respond to us. It is interesting to note that certain "conservative commentators" have responded by calling the list a "hard left manifesto". I would ask any fair minded person to explain how this can be so. The basis for this claim was the suggestion in point 7, that services, jobs, pay and conditions (in hindsight this should have read "pay and conditions of non executive staff"). How half a sentence in a ten point plan can be construed as a "hard left manifesto", heaven only knows. Most of the other points would have not sounded out of place in an Eric Pickles speech on localism. It is a measure of how desperate those in power and in the executive are to hang on to their power, that they should make such a charge.
If the Barnet Conservatives ignore these points, they will be turfed out on their ear in 2014. Sadly, by then, many deccent people and decent busineses in Barnet will have been utterly decimated. We really can't wait that long. That is why I call on Richard to reconsider this list. I ask him to imagine he was making the decisions as if he were in his jewellers shop, rather than in the Ivory Towers of Barnet.
In the words of Barnet Trader, Paul Shea in the film "A Tale of Two Barnets" - "Please Listen".
(this text has been emailed to Richard Cornelius).