Thursday 11 October 2018

The Barnet Eye is ten years old today!

Rog T - Ten years of blogging
Ten years ago today, I published the first ever blog on this website. I had been planning a whole series of nice jolly blogs and events etc to celebrate this week. Sadly life got in the way. The Sunday before last my wife was tripped by some litter at Mill Hill Circus Roundabout and dislocated her shoulder and fractured her arm, requiring an emergency operation and the insertion of a steel plate. I found this quite ironic, given my support for local litter picking groups. She's been in agony ever since and I've become head cook and bottle washer. Then on Monday my Godfather and Uncle passed away. This is incredibly sad for our family, especially as we had a large party planned for his and my aunties 60th Wedding anniversary in November. As death and bereavement is a subject we've covered (the third most read blog on this site is on this subject) it is another cruel irony. It was heartbreaking seeing the notification saying "The Facebook Event Audrey and Michaels Diamond Wedding Party has been deleted" was especially sad. As weeks go, it is one of the worst I can remember.

But, as they say, life goes on. There were two tweets yesterday that exemplified why we need local campaigning blogs. The first one was from a good friend of this blog, Mark Amies.

The Railway Hotel
Marks and Spencer have decided to move out of the Broadwalk in Edgware. I remember when the centre was opened. It was pristine and seemed to be a statement that Edgware wanted to become a destination. Sadly it has declined to the point where blue chip companies think it damages their brand. Mark has been campaigning to save the Railway Hotel,  a well loved mock Tudor inn almost next door to the Broadwalk. Is it any surprise that M&S are leaving town when the town centre is quite literally disintegrating before our eyes. Occasionally, especially on Facebook, local property developers leave snide comments about the campaigns that we run to preserve our heritage. These usually have one of three themes. 1) That we are simply trying to prevent people from improving sites of failed businesses. 2) That we are NIMBY's and that we simply don't want developments in our back yard 3) We are idiots who do not understand business. Is there any truth in these statements? Well the first statement is what the British Rail Board was saying about John Betjemin when he fought a successful campaign to save St Pancras Station from the bulldozers in the 1960's. They said that the old facade was not suitable for a modern hotel and was simply a huge, costly expense. The campaign to save the station prevailed. It was given the most amazing makeover as part of the development for the Eurostar terminal fifteen years ago and is now viewed as the best example of a Railway Station on the planet by many. I believe that sooner or later, if we can save The Railway, it will get the owners it deserves and will once again become the centrepiece of the Edgware High Street. As to the Broadwalk, it needs a makeover. It has become shabby and anyone who runs a business properly knows that you need constant investment to keep ahead of your competition. With regards to the second point. Are we NIMBY's. My house has the M1 Motorway and the Thameslink Railway at the bottom of the Garden. The recent Thameslink scheme has nearly doubled the number of trains passing by the bottom of my garden. I welcome this as it means there are far more trains to London. I always support good developments that improve neighbourhoods. In areas like Mill Hill, huge skyscrapers would be out of keeping and our infrastructure, such as doctors and A&E are already at breaking point. When my wife went to A&E at 11pm the Sunday before last, it was announced that the average wait time was five and a half hours. They said to come back or go to your GP if you could. When Edgware General hospital was closed (a cut that I fought tooth and nail to prevent), we were told that it meant all resources could be focussed on Barnet General. We were told that wait times would come down and that there would be speciallists there around the clock. The opposite has happened. My wife was given morphine, X-Ray'd and told that there was no one there at  the time who had the specialism to review her X-Ray. She was told not to eat or drink and that she'd get a call by 9am, when the fracture specialist arrived. This happened and she was admitted at 11am for an emergency operation. The point I am making is that Barnet is completely overstretched. The Borough of Barnet is expecting to see tens of thousands of new residents over the next 20 years. If A&E can't cope now, we will have a massive crisis then.

The Thames Barrier - A project I worked on!
The third charge is that we don't understand business and finance. I've run a successful business since 1979. I worked as a freelance IT consultant for many years for organisations such as JP Morgan, Lloyds Bank and Nat West. I prepared many studies and business cases etc for huge projects with multi million pound budgets. In all cases, these projects delivered better services to customers at lower costs. That is what technology should do. Projects such as the Link ATM network and contactless payments, which I had a major role in launching in the UK, have made life far simpler for us all. One of the first projects I worked on was the Thames Barrier, when I worked for SPL International in 1983. They did the software that controlled it. Given how many times that's save London, it is a marvellous example of why long term planning and a strategic view is vital in a modern society.

Yesterday was the first time for months I bought a train ticket at the station (we went to St Albans to see Joan Armatrading). Usually I just tap in. That is one small example of good technology. When I was working on the first contactless trial for Streamline, friends said "No one will use it, you are mad if you think people will use a tap to pay for a pint in a pub". Now people get annoyed if they can't tap to pay. What I learned from my career in Technology is that if you can make things easier for people, you will make money.

The reason businesses fail in the modern world is because someone else makes it easier to do the same thing. If you want to succeed, you have to offer something unique. Companies that do one thing exceptionally will always thrive. It is the ones that do many things in a rather average manner that have problems. In our part of London, we seem to have quite a few people who are not very bright, making shedloads of money from property development. Many of these schemes are quite corrosive. It is the job of the local Council to prevent such schemes from destroying what is still, by and large, an amazing part of London. I don't blame dim, greedy property developers from trying to earn a quick buck. That is what such people do. It is however encumbent on the rest of us to stop the worst ravages by campaigns. I have always believed that ifyou take a long term view, in the long term you'll be better off. I can remember a local property developer offering my mother what seemed like a huge amount of cash at the time, for our site in Bunns Lane, back in the 1990's. He was driving around in a Rolls Royce. We had a family board meeting and decided that we were better off keeping the site. It is now worth ten times that and our rental incomes have massively increased since then.  The developer ended up signing on a few years later when property prices crashed and all the schemes he was working on failed. I've lost count of the number of "get rich quick" schemes that friends have lost their life savings on. The tech share bubble, cryptocurrencies, highly leveraged buy to let etc. I've had friends telling me of how they will become millionaires, only to come a cropper. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Sooner or later, Barnet Council and central government will be forced to take a more holistic view to developments. I fully expect a lot of Rolls Royces etc on the second hand car lots as the developers find they are not quite the business geniuses that they thought.

Barnet Labour inspiring the masses
I mentioned two tweets. The second was posted by Barnet Labour Councillor Arjun Mittra. I quite like Arjun, when he first became a councillor, I thought he was a breath of fresh air, honest and approachable. If he has a fault, its that he's rather naive. In many ways, he's not really what I'd call "a man of the world". He once reduced both myself and fellow blogger Mrs Angry into a hopeless fit of the giggles when he helpfully advised her "Theresa, you do realise that Councillor Thomas name is not John Thomas, but Dan Thomas?". The look of embarrassment when Mrs A explained why she referred to him as John Thomas was a picture. Sadly though, Barnet Council under the Barnet Tories is reallyno place for nice guys, especially if they are not the sharpest stick in the box. One of the most frustrating permanent features of the Barnet landscape is just how absolutely useless the Barnet Labour group are. I happen to believe that there is no such thing as "The Barnet Labour Party". In 2015, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. There was a huge influx of new, idealistic members. Last year, Corbyn confounded everyones predictions and destroyed the Tory majority, forcing them into bed with the DUP. The people who run the Barnet Labour party are in a state of total denial that Tony Blair is no longer the flavour of the month. Back in 2008, when I wrote my first blog, I'd been a member of the Labour party for decades. I was absolutely sick of the party. In short, the lies to Parliament over Iraq and the UK participating in an illegal war under false pretences was something I could not stand. A year later, I quit the party. The final straw occurred at the gym. I was on a running machine when the scenes of the Sangatte Refugee camp being closed by French riot police were shown. The brutal behaviour of French riot police shocked me. Alan Johnson, who was Home secretary appeared on TV saying how good all of this was. For a Labour cabinet member to condone brutal treatment of women and children was the last straw. On the 10th October 2009, I resigned from Labour. Following this announcement and my resignation, Jack Cohen, leader of the local Lib Dems, asked if I'd consider standing as a Lib Dem in Mill Hill, to try and keep the Tories out. I very reluctantly agreed. Jack made three compelling arguments. The first was the Lib Dems opposed the Iraq war, the main reason for my disillusionment with Labour. The second was that much respected Lib Dem councillor Wayne Casey was stepping down in Mill Hill and they desperately needed someone with good local knowledge. The third was that the Lib Dems had been in coalition in Barnet Council with Labour between 1994-2002 and run an excellent administration. Jack said that relations with Labour were cordial and if we could keep the Tories out of Mill Hill, we could once again bring a sane coalition to run the council.

Sadly the sane coalition that emerged in 2010 was not the one I hoped for. To my complete surprise, after the election, I got a letter from Barnet Labour. They informed me that as I'd stood for another party, I had been kicked out of the party I'd left the year before. They said I was banned from membership for five years. To me this was like being kicked out of the Womens Institute. I wasn't a member and had no desire to be. But it was clearly an act of spite by them. Whilst there are some Labour councillors I get on very well with on a personal level, it was clear that officially I was persona non grata. All of the leaked council documents from Labour dried up. As by this point Mrs Angry had started blogging and she was a member, they decided that she was a far better person to leak to. My leakers are now the staff and ordinary people. When I wrote my resignation blog in 2009, I stated that I had no issue with Barnet Labour, I was telling the truth. Over the next nine years, my view has completely changed. Now I see Barnet Labour as the biggest problem for progressive politics in the Borough. There are still some great people in the Barnet Labour Party, but they are pushed to the margins. They have lost two council elections that they should and could have easily won, by running awful and inept campaigns. All of the chaos at the Council could have been averted in 2014 if they'd stood aside in Childs Hill and given Jack Cohen and the Lib Dems a clear run and concentrated all of their resources in Hale Ward, where they won one of three seats. On the day of the election in 2014, I heard reports that Lavour canvassers in Hale went to the pub for a boozey lunch as they thought it was in the bag. The Tories held on by one councillor. In 2018 it got even worse. Now the Tories have a massive majority.

The sad thing is that in the council chamber, they are also inept. Yesterday Councillor Mittra issued the following tweet

I checked my blog. Our first mention of Gainshare was in 2014. Mr Reasonables had identified the issue and I'd sought to draw attention to it in The Tweets of The Week. This tweet from John Dix was top of the list and ever since, Gainshare has been the no 1 issue for bloggers as a demonstration of just how inequitable the Capita One Barnet Contract was.

It is beyond me how Councillor Mittra can claim that he, the Barnet Labour Party or the council as a whole can claim that they've only just found out about this. I suggest they do their homework and start with this blog that Mr Reasonable refers to.  To quote John from 2014

"What intrigued me were a couple of comparatively small invoices,one on 27 November and one on 9th december for a total of £417,007. What this payment relates to is a clause in the contract called "Gainshare" where Capita get a cut of any savings made. Although the contract is redacted it is apparent from the numbers on the invoices that Capita receive 40% of any savings made.

I felt deeply uncomfortable about these savings and have been trying to understand how such savings could be made so quickly. Following a great deal of correspondence with the council and having several subtly different version of how the savings are justified I have been  told that these savings are the estimate of savings to be made over the next year, that Capita invoice Barnet upfront and then at the end of the year if the savings are not as great as Capita forecast then Capita have to return some of the money.  Frankly I was staggered that the council should be sharing out quite so much of the savings of our money and paying out forecast savings as much as a year before they are realised."
Since the inception of this blog in 2008, the Barnet Bloggers have been giving Barnet Labour all of the ammunition they need to take down this awful council. Mr Mittra issued a rather irritated tweet in response to me calling him out.

.It is beyond my comprehension how Mr Mittra can claim "THE COUNCIL" did not know what was in the contract it signed, when it appears that even back in 2014, John Dix could figure it out. The sad truth is that whilst we have Labour Councillors of this calibre, the Barnet Tories can do what they like. I believe that the sole reason that Mr Mittra posted that tweet was because he is trying to con the public into thinking that Barnet Labour were kept in the dark. All they've had to do for the last four years was ask John Dix to give the Labour group a presentation on the contract and the issues and they would have had all of the ammunition they need.

Dr Evil Aka Richard Cornelius
I suppose I must say a few words about the Barnet Tories, as without them, this blog wouldn't exist.  When we started, the big bogeyman was Councillor Brian Coleman. By 2014, he'd got himself a criminal conviction and had disappeared from public gaze. Lets leave it there for him. Back in 2008, Mike Freer was leader. I said all I have to about him earlier this week.  Freer was succeeded by Lyn Hillan, who sadly passed away. In 2011, there was a three way fight for the job of Council Leader. The candidates were Mark Shooter, Andrew Harper and Richard Cornelius. It became clear to me that Richard Cornelius was the one who offered the 'least worst' option. We publicly backed him, not least because of a highly dishonest campaign against him. Given that Brian Coleman had endorsed Mark Shooter and that Andrew Harper was Lyn Hillans Deputy and seemed to be totally in loyal to the Freerite wing of the party, I thought Richard was a far safer option. Occasionally people on the left say "I bet you regret that". No, I don't. I still think that we'd be in an even bigger mess if either of the others had got in. Of course I'd have preferred a leader who had abandonded One Barnet and Capita, but that wouldn't have happened. Harper was the architect of the One Barnet deal. I suspect under him, there would have been even more outsourcing. As for Mark Shooter. He is one of the key backers of the Hasmonean School scheme which will see a huge loss of Green Belt to the public in Mill Hill. It is clear that Mr Shooter has no interest in the green belt or conservation. For me, that is an even bigger issue for us than One Barnet. Whilst councils can recover from bad administration, when fields are concreted over, they don't come back. The council is not bankrupt and they are even starting a program of council house building. The word on the street is that Mike Freer and Councillor Dan Thomas are keen to unseat Richard Cornelius in May. They have been entertaining the new Tory intake at Dan Thomas house in Edgware. I personally think Thomas would be a disaster. He is very thin skinned, easily riled. He is also a bit dim. I've seen countless meetings where John Dix (AKA Mr Reasonable) has prepared excellent statements. Thomas simply glazes over and looks baffled, starts playing with his pen or picking his ear. For all his sins, Richard Cornelius at least has good manners.

I can't possibly finish this blog without a mention of John Burgess, the Barnet Unison Branch secretary. John is an absolute inspiration to all. I've never been a member of a Trades Union, people who are self employed aren't. But if I was, I'd want a rep like John. He  is honest, hard working, decent and approachable. His health has suffered. John has not only been fighting Barnet Council, his own union have behaved in an appalling manner towards John. He stood for the post of general secretary and there was documentary evidence that the incumbents team used the paid officers to work against John.  It all got too much for John, coupled with the difficulties of dealing with his mothers dementia. Somehow through all of this, he has managed to keep on fighting.

I had hoped to write a positive, happy, upbeat blog today. I had hoped for a nice little celebration. I can't. I feel profoundly demoralised by the whole sorry state of affairs in Barnet, I am desperately sad for my Aunty and her loss and I'm more frustrated than I have ever been with those who are meant to represent us.

But tomorrow is another day. And the day after is Saturday. And on Saturday, we are having our tenth Birthday Party.  I will be presenting John Burgess with a little token of my appreciation (Don't get too excited John!). There will be live music from the False Dots and the amazing Kid Wondr. It's all Free and is taking place at The Midland Hotel in Hendon (next to the Thameslink Station). This pub is a great venue and is under threat of redevelopment. Please come down from 8pm. It is important to me that you do. It will show you care and it will give you a chance to sign the Save The Midland petition.

The Barnet Eye is ten years old in October
Our Birthday Party

Kid Wondr

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