Thursday, 4 February 2016

How do the Barnet Conservatives choose their committee chairmen?

Last week I attended the Barnet Council audit committee. As I mentioned at the time, I was completely underwhelmed with the performance of the chair of the committee, Councillor Brian Salinger. I wrote a blog detailing just what an awful job Councillor Salinger was doing. Given that audit is probably the most important committee, I had to wonder just how he was chosen. My mind was cast back to the early years of the last decade. At the time I was working in an office near Aldgate. Every day I'd nip down to Sidoli's in Leman ST, a family run cafe, and get a cup of tea from Marge. The cafe had been there since the 1950's and Marge would often tell us how when she started "The cafe was always full of seamen from the docks" (to general myrth). By the 1990's the dockers and seamen had been replaced by yuppies and bankers. Over the road from Sidoli's a lap dancing club had opened. The manager was a larger than life character, who was full of interesting stories.

One day, we were all having a cuppa and a chinwag and he told us he'd just interviewed three new lapdancers. He said that he asked all three the same question. He said "if you are doing a dance in the private booth and when the punter has gone, you notice he's dropped his wallet with £500 in it what do you do".

The first girl said "I'd run after the punter and return his wallet"
The second one said "I'd take the money, put the wallet in the bin and deny all knowledge if asked"
The third one said "I'd take the money and give you half, then put the wallet in the bin"

He then asked me and Marge, "which girl should I employ". Marge said girl no 1 on the grounds she was the most honest. I countered and said "Girl two as she is probably the only one telling the truth and so at least you know where you stand with her. He laughed and said "no you're both wrong". So we asked "so which one would you employ?" He replied "The one with the biggest tits of course".

You may wonder what this has to do with Barnet Council? Well, the manager of the lapdancing club gave an insight into what it takes to run an organisation successfully. Whether or not you like his business, or his answer, he demonstrated that he was empoying the person best equipped to do the job. It isn't a pleasant job and honesty is not a primary requirement for his business.In his judgement and experience, he chose the girl who was best equipped for the task.

Broken bins
The problem with Barnet Council is that there is no such focus. The chair of each committee gets an allowance of over £15,000 for their efforts. This is our money. We pay it in taxes and in return we expect the council to spend it wisely. Sadly in Barnet the jobs are divvied up as political favours, not based on the 'assets" of the individuals. Another important committee is the Environment Committee chaired by Dean Cohen. Anyone who has seen Cohen in action will recognise that he is totally out of his depth.  It is 100% clear that his appointment was purely a dog bone to someone the leadership viewed as politically useful. Since taking over from the disasterous reign of Brian Coleman, Cohen has singularly failed to achieve anything. When he took over, Brian Colemans policy of abolishing pay and display had laid waste to high street businesses. It was clear that the policy should be reversed in short order. Cohen lacked the cojones to do this. Eventually a sort of half way house was established, with a few machines being installed, that took credit cards. Whilst this is better than a mobile only solution, it was so clearly a bad political fudge. There is no leadership and no direction to the environment policy. 

Walking around Mill Hill park this week demonstrated this. Dangerous man hole covers and broken bins. I am particularly concerned about this manhole cover. Many young people frequent the park after dark. This is a highly dangerous feature, which could cause a severe injury. In cold weather, if you broke your leg it may even prove fatal. it used to be the case that local councillors would work with the chair of such committees to ensure that their patch was spotless. Sadly under the reign of Cohen, the concept has gone out of the window and all we ever get is excuses for inaction.

What do the committee do? They most certainly don't ensure that the environment is looked after. I have no idea why Dean Cohen has been chosen, but he doesn't cut the mustard.

Then we have the Children, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee which is chaired by the truly horrible Rueben Thompstone. Thompstone managed the near impossible and forced Tory uber loyalist Maureen Braun to rebel over the closure of after school services at Mapledown School. He is currently overseeing the destruction of the Barnet Libraries network. There is no councillor more popous and condescending in the whole of the council. One Tory councillor who I get oin quite well with joked about Thompstone that there are two types of people those that dislike him and those that haven't met him. I asked why he was chosen for such a role, the repsonse "I suppose it is because he's a teacher". It must be said that he gets on quite well with one person, Dan Thomas who is the deputy leader of the council. Thomas sees Thompstone as a useful foil for unpopular policies. Given his personality, he acts as a lighetning rod for protests, deflecting flak from the puppet master pulling the strings. Anyone who has ever watched Thompstoen closely will have seen how he watches Thomas like a hawk for signals as to what to do. It is clar to anyone who has attended any Council meeting to discuss libraries that Thompstone,w ho clearly wasn't born or raised in the Borough, has no understanding of the role libraries play in the lives of local families. It is not unreasonable to expect a chair of the committee who has at least got some sort of understanding of what the service provides.

Another wholly inappropriate choice of chairman is councillor Tom Davey as chair of the housing committee. You will see from his declaration of interests that Cllr Davey is a financial analyst for British American Tobacco. Davey has made many pronouncemens about social housing tenants. Like many well to do young men who have had a priveliged start in life, Mr Davey has no real experience of the lives of people his decisions affect so greviously. Mr Davey is apparently a landlord. One has to assume that the salary of a financial analyst for a tobacco firm is either massively well paid or mummy and daddy have helped out with his property purchases. Given his age and his listed property is in one of the most well sought after cul-de-sacs in Mill Hill, it is fair to assume that the plight of young people seeking social housing in Barnet are a million miles away from his personal experience. I suppose it is ironic that many of his fellow Tory members find the fact that many social housing tenants and benefit recipients spend cash on the addictive products that Mr Davey's firm produce distasteful. Mr Davey clearly sees no problem with the sale of addictive and dangerous products and one assumes that his analysis produces information which is used to justify a product which has killed and caused debiliating illness to millions of UK citizens. We have to ask, what experience he has he got to justify this important role? As a private landlord, his income is presumably affected by the provision of social housing, as all commercial rents are dictated by the laws of supply and demand. Am I alone in seeing a clash.

Finally we look at the Planning Committee. The chair of this is Melvin Cohen. He is Dean Cohens dad. Councillor Cohen is a lawyer by trade (according to his declaration). Given the huge amount of building going on in the Borough, this is a massively important committee. By all accounts Councillor Cohen is reasonably effective as chair when dealing with small scale planning applications in nice leafly suburban areas such as Edgware, Golders Green and Mill Hill. The problem is that the vast majority of planning applications that are phase shifting the nature of the Borough are mega developments in places like Brent Cross, West Hendon and the Inglis Barracks in Mill Hill. Cohen has shown himself to be completely out of his depth. In fact I get the impression that the whole Tory team on the planning committee are genuinely clueless when it comes to what is happening in our Borough. I have no idea if any of the Tories actually have any interest at all in ensuring a mixed neighbourhood, social housing or green spaces are preserved in planning applications, but there has been scant indications of this.

For Barnet to remain a great place to live, all of the committees I've mentioned need strong chairmen. If they don't do their job, then our Borough and our lifestyle will be trashed. We are aready seeing huge pressure on roads, schools, hospitals and police. When I a teenager, we had two A&E hospitals in the Borough. In that period the population of the Borough has increased by 50% yet we've lost one of these. Try applying for a school place. My eldest daughter was declined a place at the nearest secondary school to us on "catchment", despite living less than 1 mile from the establishment. She ended up having to take a bus to Finchley every day.  This is the monster they are creating.

A final word for the Labour group. It is simply not good enough to go along with these lacklustre Tory placemen. They need to use every meeting to ram home the message that the Tories are getting  a massive payout and they are not cutting the mustard. They are singularly failing to do this. They need to get on top of their briefs and start holding these rather ineffectual placemen to account.

When I was chatting with my friendly Tory councillor I told him the joke about the manager at the lap dancing club. He roared with laughter. He wryly commented "We can't choose people like that in the council". Of course he's right, but what he didn't say was how they did choose them. I guess the reason is because it is even more embarrassing.

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