Friday, 12 July 2019

Lord Pickles delivers the Barnet Tories a lesson in accountability

Lord Pickles - Barnet Blogger Superfan!
Apologies to all my loyal readers who were eagerly awaiting a joke this morning. Fortunately I found something even funnier than the joke I had prepared. As most of my Barnet readers will know, my fellow blogger Mrs Angry's political beliefs are firmly placed on the left of the left, no Blairite, she. Oddly one of her biggest admirers (well he likes all of us Barnet bloggers, but especially her) is the former Conservative local government secretary, Lord Pickles. Recently the two have become pen pals. Being a bluff Yorkshireman, Lord Pickles has long been an admirer of Mrs Angry's feistyness and straight talking. He also, as a proper Conservative, he likes the idea of local residents holding their local authority to account. Mrs Angry wrote to Lord Pickles, asking him of his opinion of the attempts by Barnets Conservatives to restrict the rights of the public to ask questions at Council meetings.

Lord Pickles response leaves no one in  any doubt.

Dear Theresa (or Mrs Angry, if I may)

I am pleased to see that you and your fellow citizen journalists and armchair auditors are continuing to highlight how councils can further save taxpayers’ money. I hope that the legal rights to report and film council meetings under the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 have proved useful. You might find of interest that MHCLG has announced a post-implementation review into the 2014 Act yesterday, which will include looking at whether the financial information provided in local authority accounts facilitates scrutiny by local taxpayers and the local press.

 In relation to your concerns about questions from the public at council meetings, public participation is an important part of council scrutiny and helps keep councillors (of all political colours) on their toes. I will table some Parliamentary Questions on the issue of questions to Ministers on this matter. With best wishes, 
 Rt Hon The Lord Pickles

All of the political parties have their strengths and weaknesses. Whatever you may think of the Conservatives, they have historically prided themselves on both their commitment to openness and to their commitment to be prudent with taxpayers pennies. Lord Pickles is wise enough to know that difficult questions from committed citizens are the best way to ensure good local government. Lord Pickles knows all too well that transparency allows people like myself and Mrs Angry to keep an eye on the council. A sensible council would embrace this and use it to drive down costs and inefficiency. Lord Pickles knows all to well that the reason Barnet Council don't like this is because they are going through a very difficult period, but unlike the Tory Leadership, Lord Pickles is wise enough to know that with a big majority and three years to the next council election, they should be listening to bloggers and residents, where savings and efficiencies are identified, even if these are difficult.

The sad truth is that the mess the council have found themselves in, is wholly because they didn't listen to their own residents before embarking on the One Barnet program. It is a matter of public record that Barnet failed to properly consult. The only reason that the deal wasn't thrown out was the Judge ruled that the case brought by residents was out of time, and the council escaped on a technicality. Mrs Angry, who rather enjoys corresponding with elderly gentlemen from political parties she dislikes, also emailed Lord Palmer, who was a Lib Dem and chair of Barnet Council's audit committee between 2010 and 2014. Lord Palmer said this

'I suspect that they are not breaking the law but what they are doing is against guidance'

Lord Palmer also described the changes as disturbing. At a recent meeting Mrs Angry asked the chair proposing the changes and the monitoring officer if they'd read the guidance Lord Palmer referred to. They both, rather shamefacedly admitted they hadn't. Sadly this didn't prevent them from changing the rules.

If you agree with the esteemed Lord Pickles and Palmer that Barnet Council should be well run, open and transparent, please Click here and sign the petition started by John Dix to oppose these changes. People such as myself, John Dix and Theresa Musgrove dedicate a huge amount of our time to writing blogs and keeping an eye on the council. All we ever ask in return is that if you agree with us, you occasionally sign a petition or attend a rally. John is around 50 signatures short of 1,000 which is a huge number for a petition concerning technical arrangements at the council. Please ensure that we hit this milestone today.

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