Friday, 12 October 2012

Guest Blog - Make a stand and take action for change by Tirza Waisel

By Tirza Waisel

So, for the record: I left the room with Dan Thomas when I learned he is not staying till the end of the hearing, in order to invite him personally to the BAPS organised public meeting on 8th of November (7 pm Greek Cypriot Centre North Finchley).

The meeting is titled One Barnet Programme of Privatisation – how will it affect you?
A discussion between residents, councillors of all parties and experts in public administration. It will be a Question Time type meeting, because we want to give the council's leaders, councillors and the public an opportunity to meet with each other and have a  genuine discussion about the One Barnet Programme. We want to give councillors an opportunity to explain to their electorate directly the considerations and reasons that drive them to support this extreme privatisation and to hear first hand from their constituents the anxieties, fears and concerns the notion of One Barnet raises with residents. At the same time we want to provide an opportunity for the public to hear from experts what exactly is One Barnet, and what risks this programme entails for us. This programme will determine our future in this borough for the next 10-15 years, yet the council have never facilitated such a discussion. On the contrary, they have been doing their best to conceal it from residents.

The idea for this meeting was born in an impromptu public meeting during our lobby of High Barnet and Underhill ward councillors on Saturday 15 September. When leafleting and collecting signatures on the petition calling for a referendum about One Barnet outside Chipping Barnet library, we witnessed yet again that 99% of the Barnet residents don't know of the council's plans, despite the fact One Barnet Programme will no doubt affect every resident's life. When the time came to go into the surgery as some of us had planned, many more people came in with us spontaneously, appalled by what they just learned and angry. What followed was a rather thorough discussion, even if somewhat too lively at times, with many powerful arguments and serious concerns brought up by High Barnet residents. It became clear that this spontaneous meeting represents a need of residents to discuss the issues face to face with their elected representatives, and we (BAPS) offered to organise a proper public meeting. The confused young councillors from Underhill, Strongoulou and Turner were completely lost (Cllr David Longstaff was the only one who made any attempt at all to engage in discussion, though his arguments were far from convincing), and Cllr Richard Cornelius was called in urgently from his own surgery.

In the conversation of some of us with Cornelius he agreed that a meeting with the public is a good idea and even offered to organise and publicise it, and we agreed to liaise in the next few days as to whether to organise the meeting jointly (the council and Barnet Alliance), or how to go forward.

Sadly, none of the email that we sent to the leader of the council upon his request were replied, nor did he agree to meet Janet Leifer and myself when we tried to see him in his NLBP office to pursue the matter.

Thus, as time is pressing and the anxiety levels about the future amongst residents growing, BAPS had no choice but to organise the much needed meeting, and invite to the panel Cllr Richard Cornelius the council's leader or his deputy Cllr Daniel Thomas, Cllr Robert Rams, who is the Cabinet member in charge of the 'political leadership of One Barnet' along with Thomas, or Cllr Longstaff, a Cabinet member, who agreed in the above mentioned meeting to do his best to take part in a meeting with the public.

This was the reason I followed Dan Thomas out of the court room. Although I knew the email invitations to the panel speakers had been sent, I wanted to take this opportunity to invite him and to tell him how much we, Barnet residents, really want him or Cornelius and the other Cabinet members to join us on the 8th of November at the Greek Cypriot Centre, and how much it is important for THEM to accept our invitation if they want to be re-elected. I spoke frankly with Cllr Thomas and told him what I told his leader a few weeks earlier, that the perception among residents is that they do not lead the council, do not make policy decisions, but rather are being led by the nose by the now departing chief executive Nick Walkley and his group of highly paid, vested interested consultants and senior management, against the better of their senses and residents' interests. I shared with him what he must know already, the notion of deep mistrust the public in Barnet feels towards the current administration, and offered the 8th November public meeting as an opportunity for them to show residents that they care and to engage in a much needed, long overdue, genuine discussion about our future. I sincerely hope Cornelius, Thomas and Rams will accept our invitation.

By the way, this coming Saturday, 13 October, at 11 am, we are going to meet with Mill Hill councillors Suri Khatri and John Hart in Mill Hill library. All Mill Hill residents are welcome to join us. Before and after the meeting we will talk with residents and collect signatures on the said petition in Mill Hill Broadway, outside Barclays Bank (from 10 am).

And last point of comment on Roger's blog from 10 October: I am not BAPS 'leader', I am just the coordinator of the organisation. This is because BAPS is a direct democracy non-hierarchical organisation, where every resident and council staff member can become active according to his or her ability and not according to any other measure. We operate with some elected officers and many members taking part in subcommittees and actions. Those of our activists who are better known, are simply those who speak up and commit more of their time and skills to the campaign.

Barnet Alliance for Public Services is a good organisation, but it is merely a vehicle for Barnet residents to voice their views on our local issues, make a stand and take action for change.
Tirza Waisal is the coordinator of the Barnet Alliance for Public Services. Guest blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye

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