Saturday, 28 December 2013

Ricky and the Stooges Live at Barnet Town Hall

Don't be deceived. This is the season of goodwill, the fourth day of Christmas, but already some of us in Barnet are looking forward to May next year. There will be council election, where we get to decide who will administer the contract with Capita to run Barnet Council. In 2010, I stood for the council, as I believed it was the most important election ever facing the people of Barnet. Unlike the majority of people in the Borough, I was fully aware of the plans to turn Barnet into "Capitaville", surgically removing all democratic accountability from local people and turning provision of local services into a commodity. Now the contracts have been signed. There are 63 councillors, but in truth there is nothing much for them to do. We've signed a ten year contract with Capita and so they can sit back and count their allowances. Of course there are still plenty of civic receptions to go to, with plush buffets. There are still the perks of the job, such as free parking permits. There is just nothing much for them to do. Capita are responsible for administering licensing, cemetaries, business licensing, collection of council tax, call centres and planning. Areas such as Social care have been outsourced to Your Choice Barnet. Parking control has been outsourced to NSL.Even the running of the legal side of the council, which adminsters all of this has been outsourced to Harrow Council. In short, the Council no longer exists in any real sense of the word. If Barnet have done the job properly with the outsourcing, they shouldn't really have any employees left in any of the above areas.

You may ask what the council still does? Well it runs schools and it has kept household waste collection in house. So the question is, why do we need 63 councillors. The question becomes even more interesting when you consider the way that these councillors have voted since the last election. To the best of my knowledge, only on one occasion has a Conservative Councillor not voted the way they were told to by the whips. That Councillor was Kate Salinger. In August 2010, she decided that the decision by the Tory Councillors to award themselves a payrise was immoral. She refused to follow the Party whip. Lets be 100% clear. This wasn't a policy that the Tories had put in their election manifesto. This wasn't a policy they'd discussed on the doorsteps. Nope, they simply got back into power and decided that "hey ho, we can vote ourselves a pay rise". What happened to Councillor Salinger. In open Council, all her Tory chums vindictively stripped her of all responsibilty in a succession of votes. Which brings us back to the question "Why do we need 63 Councillors, when the Council doesn't do anything". The answer is we don't. They are a bunch of Stooges, a bunch of passengers. Are you familiar with the lyrics of "The Passenger" by Iggy Pop

Oh, the passenger
How, how he rides
Oh, the passenger
He rides and he rides
He looks through his window
What does he see?

The sad truth is that this bunch of passengers have spent the last four years riding around the Borough, closing their eyes. They have seen nothing. When they raised the cost of CPZ parking permits, they closed their eyes and didn't see the huge pain and expense this was causing local residents. They closed their eyes, so they didn't listen when local campaigners told them it was illegal. As a result, they lost a court case and tens of thousands of residents were entitled to CPZ refunds. They closed their eyes when they hiked High Street parking charges and scrapped Pay and Display parking. Local businesses were driven to the wall. The local Conservatives stuck their fingers in their ears and shouted "La La La". Then in may 2012, there was an election for the GLA and the local Tory, who previously had a massive majority, was uncermoniously booted out. After some panic, High Street parking charges were cut and pay and display restored. Then there was the cuts to Adult Social care, brought about by the Your Choice Barnet botched privatisation. This company is a private company, fully owned and controlled by Barnet Council. This has been a fantastic resource for some people in Barnet, namely the directors and executives of this company, who's pay has been removed from democratic oversight. Sadly for the local disabled people, reliant on its services, it has been a disaster. Cuts are order of the day. Front line staff are subject to wage cuts. Services for people reliant on the council have been slashed and some of the most vulnerable people in Barnet have had their quality of life decimated. How did the passengers react? Well despite all of their distortions, the truth came out, when Your Choice Barnet required a £1 million payout to stay afloat. An emergency committee of councillors was set up to sort the mess out. A meeting was held, where these councillors took representations from local carers, people such as John and Ida Sullivan who have hundreds of years experience at the coalface of caring for the disabled. What did the passengers on the committee do? They shut their eyes, closed their ears and shouted "la la la", ignoring all of the representations of the local residents.

The leader of the Council is Richard Cornelius. In many ways he is a very pleasant chap. Unlike some, I don't believe him to be Evil. I don't believe he spends his days planning new ways to harpoon the disabled with new schemes, designed only to drive them from the Borough. I suspect he'd be horrified if he knew the just what some of the parents of local disabled people had said to me about him and his intentions. I just think that Tricky Ricky is in many ways a passenger and all of this has simply passed him by. He is relatively well off and he moves in the upper echelons of Barnet society, so how can we expect him to understand the plight of the people he is meant to have a duty of care towards. When the likes of John Sullivan speak of the distress that the Council policies have caused his disabled daughter Susan and her friends and peers, Mr Cornelius thinks "Here we go again". He doesn't listen. People may say he doesn't care, but how can you care if you don't bother to listen and you don't know the story. We are all guilty of not listening and not caring to some extent, but whilst most of us can't do anything about it and most of us aren't paid to care and listen, Tricky Ricky is paid to care and he is paid to do something about it.

So what has been the response of the local Conservatives to the plight of the disabled in Barnet? Well the local Conservative machine is a very efficient political organisation, that has delivered some stunning election results at the last general and council election. Two Labour MP's seats in parliament were taken and the on the Council, gains were made. The local Tory Councillors like the perks of their job. Who can blame them? Allowances are generous and there are plenty of opportunities for social networking. Now it wouldn't be very nice to openly attack people such as John Sullivan and Tony Solomons, who have disabled children and clearly simply want the best for them. There are however, other ways to cook an egg. Two weeks ago, the local disabled community took over this blog. They spent two weeks publishing blogs describing the issues they were having with Your Choice Barnet. John Sullivan organised this, contacting many people in the disabled community and getting them to document their experiences.

A promenent local Conservative ex Councillor, used their twitter account to propogate a succession of lies about this. They suggested that this blog had been "bought". They suggested that the local people who participated in the series of blogs were orchestrated by the Barnet Alliance for Public Services and they suggested that the authors of the blogs were "CRANKS". First this person posted this message to me

So who's bought your blog for next week? Unions? Other cranks? Labour Party?

This was followed up by another tweet to me saying

Clearly been taken over by the cranky 'anti Tory' this week. Maybe you waive ur fees to SETs?

As you can see,  the author of this text made 100% clear, he believed the "Your Choice Barnet week" guest blogs to be the work of "Cranks" associated with the Barnet Alliance. Anyone who didn't know the people involved would clearly be mislead. As John Sullivan is not a member of the Barnet Alliance and clearly not a CRANK, to imply such things is truly despicable. Mr Sullivan was truly enraged when he saw these comments. He contacted the person who placed the comments and demanded an explanation. He received a response, which was truly unbelievable. Despite claiming it was clear that the Barnet Eye had been "taken over by the cranky 'anti Tory' " the author of these tweets claimed they'd not actually bothered to read the blogs (so much for accuracy). Furthermore, having been completely caught out, the author of these comments then challenged Mr Sullivan to state whether he was a member of the Barnet Alliance Executive ( I should also make clear that the Barnet Allliance simply an organisation for local people who are opposed to the destruction of public services. It is also part of a wider campaign of denigration to portray them as "Cranks"). Mr Sullivan is not a member of BAPS or on its executive. He has a full time job caring for a disabled daughter. It was quite interesting to note that when challenged, the rather cowardly individual, who had previously been so bold and sdrident in his comments about the YCB week, actually asked Mr Sullivan, who contributed two blogs for YCB, including one on the day of the offensive Twitter messages, to prove the comments referred to him. Mr Sullivan is a man in his '70's and in very poor health. The author of these messages also accused Mr Sullivan of "trying to intimidate him" by requesting a face to face meeting to correct any inaccuracies. It all left Mr Sullivan rather bemused. His response to me was to ask why someone would bother posting offensive messages on Twitter, when they hadn't read the blogs, and why someone would claim to be terrified of someone who was so ill he couldn't even address an important council meeting recently (there is Youtube footage of Mr Sullivans speech being delivered by a friend on his behalf, to the Council meeting). I can only speculate. Were the comments simply an off the cuff remark or were they part of a wider agenda against Mr Sullivan and the other carers fighting for justice? After much thought, I have decided that we shouldn't be shooting the messenger. If it was a stupid off the cuff remark, made by a complete idiot, then it is probably best to ignore it. If however, the messages were planted as part of a more sinister agenda, it is not the monkey we should take issue with, but the organ grinder. Which means ultimately that Richard Cornelius has to distance himself and his administration from such comments, if he wants to retain credibility.

This is the Barnet Conservative Party in 2013/4. We have detached councillors, who don't listen to the people most in need of Council services. We have marginal figures on the fringes, doing the dirty work, for reasons we can only speculate.

As I said at the start of this blog, given the long contracts with suppliers and the destruction of the in house teams, the next Council elections will not be as significant as the 2010 elections. Rather than making a series of key decisions, affecting the long term future of the Council, the next administration will simply be "managing the decline of Barnet".  That doesn't mean that it is not important. Do we want a council with a proven track record of ignoring the concerns of residents and riding roughshod over their requirements? Do we want a council to be run by a party which uses third party proxies to attack those who say things they don't like.

I must admit I have completely lost faith in most of our local politicians. I have seen no evidence at all that the people of Barnet and their needs are being met either by the administration or the opposition. I was at a social event recently and a very senior local Tory told me that "all the proper opposition is actually within the Conservative group". Whether this is true or not I have no clue, but it is clear to me that if it is, this "internal opposition" is equally ineffective.

What we really need is a whole new crop of councillors. There is too much dead wood being paid too much money and not doing their job. A truly brave and honest Council would slash the number of councillors to reflect the fact that at the Council doesn't actually exist anymore. I invite any Councillor of any Party to submit a guest blog detailing why they deserve to keep their job. As with all guest blogs, assuming it isn't defamatory or libellous, I will publish it without comment. Will any have the balls to actually take the offer up? Or is the situation as I suspect. Do we have Ricky and the Stooges at the Town Hall, giving the longest ever performance of  "The Passenger" in history. For those of you, like me who are partial to a decent tune, here is the Ig with his fine rendition.

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