Yesterday I published a blog giving my thoughts on the behaviour of a small number of people in Barnet. I had a deluge of calls & emails from various people asking all manner of questions about why I had chosen to share my thoughts. With just over a year left until the next election, I felt that now is the time to remind people of their responsibilities to the wider community. Today, the second in these series of posts, I ask the question "What really matters in Barnet?". These are the things which should consider. I have chosen to list my priorities and how the current administration are performing. The way I have chosen to judge this is to see whether the situation has improved or deteriorated under this regime. Feel free to add your own comments.
1. Protection of vulnerable people who rely on the council for care.
Barnet Eye verdict - Deteriorated. Many vulnerable people have seen a marked worsening of their quality of life as a direct result of budget cuts imposed by the council. All manner of small changes have resulted in many people suffering. This has ranged from disabled people having access to day centres reduced to horrific changes to at home care packages. This is the sharp end of the zero council tax increase policy of the Conservative administration.
2. Protection of the green belt and the environment.
Barnet Eye verdict - Anyone who lives in Barnet will have noticed massive changes. None of these have enhanced the environment. All around the borough, the edges of the green belt are being nibbled away.
Barnet Eye verdict - Barnet Council seems hell bent on a kamikaze set of policies designed to completely destroy the local environment. Abolishing the Pay and Display system of High Street parking decimated trade on High Streets. The One Barnet project has destroyed over 300 local jobs, exporting the work and the trade generated. The council has even set up its own "Local Authority trading company" to compete with local suppliers of services, creating a quasi monopoly, outside of public control and scrutiny, but stifling small private suppliers.
Barnet Eye verdict - Barnet seems intent on trying to become a culture free zone. Church Farmhouse museum has closed and the collections flogged off, in a botched fire sale. The Arts Depot has had its subsidy cut, forcing it to team up with a dance school from Kings Cross, in the process evicting Community Focus. The library policy is a complete shambles, with empty shelves in all of the boroughs libraries, apart from Friern Barnet, which was reopened by Occupy. Under this administration, local festivals have disappeared, with The Finchley Carnival and the Watling Festival biting the dust, due to lack of support from Barnet Council.
Barnet Eye verdict - The adminstration is keen on Free Schools. This caused a monumental spat in Mill Hill with the opening of Etz Chaim on the site of a garden centre. Sadly what should be viewed as a community asset has become something of a sore point for many locals. As the school is outside of democratic process, there really is no redress for local people at the ballot box. It demonstrates the problems with Free Schools all too well. I am not anti the school and I applaud the parents for trying to make a change, but I do not think that the Free School Concept is the way to improve education in Barnet. A fragemented system is not, in my opinion, the way to best manage such an important issue.
Barnet Eye verdict - When the Tories won in 2010, they appointed Brian Coleman as transport supremo. He famously announced that his priority was "Roads, Roads, Roads". What followed - Potholes, hikes in parking charges, CPZ's galore. The one growth business in Barnet must be the sellers of Yellow line paint. They seem to have popped up everywhere, policed by ever more aggressive wardens from NSL.
Barnet Eye Verdict - The Tories first act in power was to vote huge rises in allowances for themselves.Then they mislead campaigners about their intentions for Friern Library. We've seen court cases and judicial reviews galore as local residents wage war on the Council. Barnet has pioneered the art of local people making documentaries about how disconnected they are from their council. In my local ward, the Tories won the ward from the Lib Dems by claiming the Lib Dems planned a huge football stadium for Kentish Town FC at Copthall. This was a complete lie. Kentish Town play in a minor league and have a home crowd of 30. What happened immediately after the election? The Tories announced that they were in talks with Saracens RFC and we now have a 10,000 seat stadium on the site. I am pleased to see the stadium being used, but I can't help but feel that Barnets Tories totally mislead the local people on the issue.
Of course all of this is my personal view. You may feel completely different. Please feel free to leave your comments.