A common refrain, heard all of the time, is "why vote". In the recent Brunswick Park election 71% of the population agreed with this sentiment. A mere 29% turned up to vote. Perhaps what is shocking is that there is so much apathy at a time when Barnet Council are undergoing such huge, politically motivated change.
In all my travelling around Barnet, I have yet to meet a single person who thinks the changes to the parking arrangements have been anything other than completely botched. What most of these people are unaware of is the way the changes were brought in. Back in August last year, the then parking supremo, Brian Coleman attempted to sneak the changes in without any discussion in the Council chamber. Due to pressure from local bloggers, the changes were forced to go through the proper scrutiny. Coleman used his power to bulldozer his proposals through. The Barnet Bugle printed a letter by Conservative Councillor Brian Gordon distancing himself from the changes - http://www.barnetbugle.com/journal/2012/6/1/cllr-brian-gordon-brian-colemans-defeat-was-not-really-attri.html - the sad truth is that this is complete nonsense. Gordon and all his colleagues voted for the proposals. Not a single line of Colemans original plan was changed. Gordon claims that this played no part in Colemans demise at the GLA. I sincerely hope that this is just standard Brian Gordon Chutzpah, because if he really believes it, he has completely lost the plot.
What many Barnet residents don't realise is that the parking changes are just the first wave of a massive transformation of the way services are provided. The One Barnet program is all about removing democratic accountability from council services. Services will be broken up into parcels and privatised. Wheras previously, if the council failed to provide a service, you could call your councillor and get something done, this will cease to be possible. There will be a contract with the provider and it will be up to them to sort it out. Barnet has gone down this route before. In the 1980's they privatised waste collection. Dustcarts were run by dodgy contractors, who developed a reputation for bashing into cars and driving off. Rubbish was often strewn around and sometimes they didn't even bother to collect it. When a Labour/Lib Dem coalition took over in Barnet, many Tories breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that at least one festering sore on their reputation would go away.
It is clear to anyone who bothers to look that the management of Barnet Council is inept. Local bloggers have uncovered scandal after scandal, each one costing local taxpayers tens or even hundreds and sometimes millions of pounds. What is disturbing is that all of these scandals have not been exposed as the result of huge, long term investigations. They are just the result of a few casual enquiries. Local Councillors are meant to scrutinse the council business. They are also meant to know their own patch. Sadly their seems to be a deep reluctance on all sides to actually do the job.
So what do they do. Well it is interesting to note that the previus Leader Mike Freer and Deputy Leader Matthew Offord, used their role in the Council to get a better job, both being elected as MP's in 2010. The bloke responsible for the parking fiasco, Brian Coleman also had a £50,000 a year job at the GLA (until we sacked him). Of the current cabinet, Sachin Rajput and current Deputy Leader Daniel Thomas both stood at the last election as prospective MP's, Thomas in Wales and Rajput in Brent. This clearly shows that there is no commitment at all to Barnet politics.
In each Council ward, we have three councillors. You may wonder what they should be doing, to earn the £10,000 a year allowances they earn. Well they should as a very minimum read the papers concerning every decision which affects their ward. As there are three of them, between them, they should easily be able to cover that. If there are any decisions which they think will cause problems, they should raise this with the relevant cabinet member (the cabinet members get £24,00 for a one day a week job). If the cabinet member doesn't give them a satisfactory answer, they should take it up with the leader.
So when a council candidate knocks on your door, what should you ask them? Ask them the following three questions.
a) Will you read all of the paperwork concerning decisions affecting this ward?
b) Will you raise any concerns with the cabinet member and leader as a matter of course?
c) Would you vote against the party line if the changes are detrimental to the interests of people living in your ward?
If that person is an encumbent Conservative councillor and they say yes to all three, then they are telling porkies, ask them what they did about Colemans parking fiasco.
Council elections attract a far lower turnout than a general election. This is strange because the decisions made at Council level affect our day to day lives far more than those decisions made in Parliament. The local Council runs parking, schools, care for the elderly, childrens services, libraries, all non trunk roads, rubbish collection, street lighting, maintenance of parks and open spaces, cemetaries, to name but a few things.
If you have no issues at all with any of these, by all means feel apathetic.