Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What sort of Borough do you want Barnet to be?

We live in a democracy, don't we? Back in May we had an election. Forgive me for my stupidity, but I thought democracy meant competing parties were supposed to outline their plans for the next four years and we the people decided which set of proposals we liked.

In the London Borough of Barnet, it seems the opposite is true. In May the local Conservatives trumpeted the fact that in the last four years, unlike Labour Brent, they had not closed any libraries. One might reasonably have concluded that this would mean that they valued the service. How wrong could we be? Now they have tabled plans for wholesale closures across the Borough. To me this is highly dishonest behaviour.

I accept that during the lifetime, the economic situation can change, but in this case it is crystal clear that we were badly mislead. The question I have is this. If they can be so dishonest and brazen with the public, how can we trust them to deliver the type of Borough we wanted and voted for. The next four years are likely to see the nature of the Borough change unalterably forever. Sadly I predict that the following will happen. None of these things were featured in the administration manifesto, but every day we see pointers demonstrating how little they care.

1. Destruction of huge swathes of the green belt.
2. Huge overdevelopment in Brent Cross and other mega development areas.
3. Decimation of the library service
4. Decimation of services for the disabled, the old and the vulnerable.
5. Increased crime and poverty in neglected areas of the Borough

Of course some groups will do well. These will be.

1. Capita and other multinational service companies
2. Consultants currently claiming millions of pounds of fees
3. Lawyers who will get minted due to court cases launched due to council cock ups.
4. Greedy property developers exploiting lax enforcement to concrete over green belt
5. Special interest groups the local Tories see a political advantage in keeping sweet
6. Drug dealers and gangs in deprived areas

I want to live safe and fair society, where we can bring up children to be happy and feel safe. I want us to be able to grow old without fear of poverty and neglect. I want our disabled and infirm friends and relatives to be able to live in security and without fear of neglect. I want a Borough which has green spaces and the benefits of proximity to London. I want children of those less well off to get the same chances to lift themselves out of poverty as the rest of us and a society where they don't see gang membership and drug dealing as a positive lifestyle choice and a lucrative career.

I also don't believe any of the things are impossible or even difficult to deliver. All it needs is a grown up honest approach to administration, where the implications both short and long term are explained. I believe most people in Barnet would happily pay some more tax to deliver the things I listed above, so long as they saw good administration and no waste. I applaud George Osborne for his initiative to show how our taxes are spent. I would like to go one further in Barnet and see an annual vote on budget priorities. This would mean people would get the chance to pay another penny a month if we wanted to preserve things like after school respite for the severely disabled at Mapledown school, as an example. I don't think most people are callous and greedy. I just believe they don't get given the information to make an informed choice. Let me give you one small example. I was recently discussing with a committed Tory how a pot hole had cracked his alloy wheel. I asked whether he'd pay £10 a year more council tax to have decent road services. He said that that was a no brainer as a new wheel had cost him hundreds of pounds. The neglect of roads was something he felt strongly about. He agreed that the Barnet Council zero % tax increase had cost him dear. There is a term for things like this. False economies. They save you a penny and cost you a pound. What sort of Barnet Council do you want? I'd settled for joined up intelligent administration, which treats all of us with honesty, dignity and respect.

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