Thursday, 25 April 2019

Why there is no point moaning about Barnet Council cuts

Regular readers will know that I have stopped writing blogs about Barnet Council. You may be wondering why I am writing this blog? Well the reason is that this is not about Barnet Council. I am continually asked that why, after ten years of writing almost daily blogs about the shenanigans at Barnet Council, I suddenly stopped. I have documented many of the reasons, but ultimately the sad fact of the matter is that we would have to have cuts to services whether Labour, The Lib Dems, UKIP, The Tories or the Monster raving Loony party were in charge. The reason for this is nothing to do with the intentions of the parties. The Tories have done many stupid things, such as the One Barnet outsourcing with Capita, abolishing proper checking of pothole repairs, withdrawing freedom passes illegally from disabled people etc. But the driver for all of these is not down to Richard Cornelius and his merry men (and the odd token woman). Much as people have ranted about the inhumanity and crassness of the Richard, he has one hand tied behind his back.

The driver for the cuts is the slashing of funding for local government by the Tory government. Back in the period 2009-12 there was a case for cuts, as the international credit crunch had severely damaged public finances. But since 2012, the position has markedly improved. Central government even had a budget surplus recently. The government seems to fail to understand that allowing roads to crumble, elderly people to have to endure poor care,  state schools to be unable to keep the best  teachers, etc, is not a nice to have. It is the mark of a sane, humane and rational society.

The people of Barnet have proven very adept at protesting at the cuts. We have put the failures of outsourcing on the national agenda. When journalists are writing about outsourcing failures, the bloggers of Barnet are invariably their first call. I can't remember the last time I read an article about the failure of outsourcing that failed to mention Capita and Barnet. But if Capita went tomorrow, the funding crisis in Barnet would not disappear. My biggest fear is that the Tories would use it as an excuse to implement even more, deeper and harsher cuts. To some extent, the Tories policy in Barnet of zero rate Council tax rises has contributed. If they'd raised taxes 1% per annum since 2010, the pressures would be nowhere near as dire, but Labour were not proposing rises either, so I can't really believe that they can call the Tories out over this. Even if they'd done this, all that it would have done is taken the edge off the issues.

I was amused to re-read this article from 2018 - - which detailed how Barnet Council claimed it would fix all the Borough's potholes by 2020, having allocated £50 million to fix them in 2015. This is just one example of how Barnet play smoke and mirrors when dealing with a crisis. Back in 2012, the council produced the infamous Barnet Graph of doom. This was used to justify all manner of cuts (thanks to Mr Mustard for the Scribd file)

The bottom line to all of this is that the Barnet Tories have dug a huge hole, by not raising council tax. They have now proceeded to fall in it, which is why they have an acute budget crisis. But even without their incompetence, there would still be a crisis. What is needed is for the Government to loosen the purse strings and give councils more cash. If the councils weren't operating under the riduclous spending constraints that the government has imposed, then there would be far less pressure for bonkers schemes. Barnet Council is very much the victim of the way government funding for local authorities is calculated. It seems that for all manner of budgetary matters, Barnet does badly. There are only two possible solutions to this. The first is for the govt to give Barnet more cash and the other is for Barnet Council to dissolve itself and split into two Boroughs.

I would Split Edgware, Mill Hill, Hale, Colindale, Burnt Oak, West Hendon, Golders Green and Childs Hill into a separate Borough. I think that that the East and West of the Borough have few links. By and large, The West side use the Edgware Branch of the Northern Line and the BedPan section of the Thameslink line. In the East, they use the Barnet branch and the Great Northern services. People in Edgware consider Brent Cross and Golders green to be a ten minute hop on the tube, wheras they see the centre of Barnet as almost a foreign country. The West is far leafier and has more green space. The West is more industrialised and feels like more a part of London. I suspect that the West of the Borough would get a far better settlement from the Government and would politically be more inclined to deal with the issues in the West of the Borough. Local government should not be about building empires. It should be about delivering good services for local people and the closer to the population the leadership are, the better the decisions. Richard Cornelius is a Totteridge Councillor and his concerns are very different from residents in Grahame Park, West Hendon and Burnt Oak.

Local government in the Borough of Barnet is not working. The wealthy, leafy wards on the North East fringe of the Borough are not interested in a fair deal for those on the west, who's needs are completely different.


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