Friday 31 October 2008

Wrong, Bad and Evil - Another Mad Rant !!!!!!!!

Thanks to East_Finchley_Helen for the title of todays blog. Don't you think "Wrong Bad and Evil" is a great title for an Album? It's certainly a great title for a blog, but unfortunately it's the opposite of what you are about to read, as for once I'm in a good mood. Maybe I'll write a nice little blues song using that line. Maybe "Helen" will have made me my next million !!!!

Maybe I should change the name of the band to "The Mad Rant's" to celebrate our 30th anniversary of making a terrible racket. Now if you want to know what she was on about click HERE and check the comments. If you don't (and who could blame you) read on.

As it's the weekend, I'm feeling "Right, Good and Good". Funny that, never realised before but the opposite of both Bad and Evil is Good. Anyway, enough waffling. Why am I feeling so happy? Well apart from the fact that it's Friday evening and the pubs are open, I had some good news today. In November 2001 my world completely changed. Wheras before everything seemed fuzzed and blurred, I suddenly saw things for what they really were. Did I join a bonkers religious sect, did I stop drinking, no, I had my eyesight mended with a laser beam. All of a sudden I could see clearly again. Best £1,500 I ever spent. All of a sudden I could play snooker again. I could drive legally without glasses. I could see the ball when I played football. Since then it's been pretty good, but recently I've noticed a small deteriation. I thought I'd better go back and get them checked. Well I had an hour of extensive checks and tests in a whole variety of machines. The good news is that my eye's are fine and actually more healthy than they were when I had the procedure. It is always nice to find out that you've actually improved !

Some of the responses I've got to these blogs are quite amusing. I didn't quite know what to expect from the blog about Barnet's gay mafia, but I got an email from a friend explaining that his teenage daughter had taken to calling him "Gay" as a term of abuse. I'm afraid I couldn't offer him too much advice on how to make teenage daughters behave, but maybe he should consider moving to Hendon to further his career (if my mad emailer's theory is true about how you get on round here). The other email I got was from someone who was rather upset about my comment about preferring to be mistaken for being gay than mistaken for a Manchester United fan. Well in my view being a United fan is a lifestyle choice so it shows extremely poor judgement on the part of fan. It means that any conversation regarding football inevitably leads to a period of gloating (me being a City fan). Manchester United fans also display a rather unpleasant tendency to smugness which I find most distasteful. I can honestly say I never get the same vibes from gay friends, unless they are also supporters of United. Strangely enough, I haven't received a response from the correspondent who initiated the blog. Maybe he's taken my advice and sought professional help.

Anyway It's the weekend. I'm going to have a beer and a curry and chill out. Whatever you are up to, enjoy !!!!! Sorry if you expected a mad rant, but I'm feeling far too cheerful for that tonight.

Thursday 30 October 2008

What is the difference between Russell Brand and Barnet Council Leader Mike Freer?

What is going on? The BBC is creaking under a torrent of criticism. The boss has cut short his holiday. The papers are filled with wall to wall coverage of the "Russell Brand Scandal". Mr Brand is vilified in every tabloid paper, almost from cover to cover. Commentators such as Kelvin MacKenzie pen articles slating his disgusting behaviour and criticising him for upsetting a national treasure, actor Andrew Sachs (aka Manuel from Fawlty Towers). The Daily Mail (unsurprisingly) kicked it all off a few days after the original broadcast. The end game has been played out for Mr Brand and he's left the BBC, tail between his legs.

The story has got my goat up, but not in the way it seems to have affected the other 99.999% of the British public. First, lets get it into perspective. Andrew Sachs is not the archbishop of Canterbury and his granddaughter is certainly not Mother Theresa. Whilst having stupid messages left on your answerphone by a pair of buffoons is not very nice, I'm sure Mr Sachs saw it exactly for what it was. I wouldn't be surprised if he thought maybe it might be a bit of a wake up call for his Granddaughter as to what happens if you let yourself be seduced by a self obsessed plonker. She wasn't coerced into bed and maybe she'll learn something from the escapade (although I suspect the main lesson will be if you sleep with Russell Brand you get on the front page of The Sun). So we have two middle aged men acting like 14 year olds. Big deal.

What about the tabloids? Well the Sun and The Mail scream indignantly about the hurt Mr Sachs has been caused. What a bunch of hypocrites. They run nasty little exposes all of the time about all sorts of people. Every young girl they write about being roasted by footballers, every singer with powder up their nose, every starlet who had too much to drink, every model who goes home with David Walliams, they all have family. Many have Grandma's and Grandad's who find out all manner of nasty things about their grandchildren from the morning rag. Does Paul Dacre ever pull a juicy story because someone has a 78 year old Grandfather? Whatever you may think about Jonathan Ross's comment about brand sleeping with the girl, it was true, and has been confirmed by her. In the world of the Sun and the Mail, they can do what they like "in the public interest", but woe betide anyone else. Does it ever occur to Mr Dacre and Ms Wade et all that when they write these stories, they hurt people.

Hank Marvin's son used to play drums for our band. His elder brother fell on hard times and ended up dishing the dirt on Hank for one of the tabloids for £600, which doubtless went on booze. He died aged 33 estranged from his father, in a hostel for the homeless. I'm not saying it was the paper's fault, but they certainly didn't help a very vulnerable young man. A girl I know well was injured in the Victoria Station IRA bomb blast. In response to a comment she made to the ambulance crew about not amputating her leg, as she wanted to walk down the aisle on her wedding day, she was persued relentlessly by the press. She ended up having her wedding at a secret location to avoid the press. They don't care who they upset or who's life they ruin. They don't care how much damage they do. The Mail calls brand "Russell Brand: The lewd braggart with no sense of self control", yet when do they ever care about the impact of their stories? Where is the self control at the Mail when they ruin lives.

I recently wrote a blog regarding the coverage of Kate Nash by the Mail, and how they drew attention to a spot on her face. Doesn't it occur to them that this could really have upset her. On the same page as the story about Brand today, their is the following Link story - Make-up-free Katie Holmes' Hallowe'en horror show - how do they think this will make Holmes feel. They don't care about any insecurity they may cause her. She's a beautiful woman, who doesn't need make up, but the Mail twist a bad picture into an extremely nasty story, designed to undermine her.

As I assess the fallout from this story, on thing strikes me. Russell Brand was taken on by the BBC to be edgy and funny. His brief was to push at the boundaries of taste and decency. The job of the producer of the show was to keep him on the right side of the line. Brand overstepped the mark. Did he blame the producer and try and shift the blame, no he took it like a man. He acknowledged the mistake and resigned.

At Barnet Council, the leader Mike Freer has presided over a regime which lost £27.5 million pounds in Icelandic banks. He is a banker, he is the Council leader but unlike Russell Brand who has been pulverised by the Mail, he just won't go . The Mail says of Brand "he never lost his 'talent' for spectacular misjudgment" - what about Freer? Well unlike Brand, Freer's misjudgments will cost Barnet Council Taxpayers dear, Barnet Council worker Pensioners dear, Barnet council home residents dear (unless Gordon Brown rides to the rescue). What should he do? He should be like Russell Brand and take personal responsibility, rather than squirming to blame everyone else. He should follow Russell Brand's fine example and put his hands up and resign.

In answer to the question I posed in the headline - The difference between Russell Brand and Mike Freer is that when Russell Brand realised he'd made a mistake he did the decent thing.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Out fishing with Barnet's Gay Mafia

If tomorrow's newspaper headline's say "Today Rog T sleeps with the fishes" you will know that everything I've written below is rubbish. One of the dangers of blogging with a fairly easy trail to who you really are is that you sometimes get some rather strange people emailing you. Now I'm fairly thick skinned and as soon as I get some quality rubbish, the spam filter is updated and the delete key is used. That way I only have to read one lot of rubbish and all subsequent efforts are purely a waste of time for the senders.

There seems to be one correspondent who has gone to extraordinary lengths to make their point, so I thought I really ought to use this opportunity to set the record completely straight (pardon the pun). The first communication I had was in the halcyon days of my blog at the Edgware Times. The email asked me what I was going to do about Barnet's gay mafia. It then went on to list several councillors and some of the positions of trust that they had (such as President of the local scouts). The implication was that I should use my blog to lead a crusade against these councillors from my blog and get "decent people" running the council again.

Now much as I wish that my trusty blogs had the power to dismiss councillors at will, I think that amongst the many delusions the writer of the email had, was one that a blog by me would change anything. I have a simple policy of ignoring all "crank" emails so it went straight to the trash. A couple of weeks later I got a follow up email. Same subject, same tone, same result. The third in the sequence was a little bit different. This one had a slightly threatening tone. It was clear that I was a coward, maybe I was a closeted homosexual, maybe I wasn't what I seemed. I was clearly like all of those other gutless people in the press. Now if you reply to nutcases, you just encourage them, so that was yet again ignored. The fourth email in the series informed me I was being watched and they had information which would expose me (for what I know not). Anyway it all went quiet then. That was until a couple of weeks ago.

My friendly neighbourhood nutcase sent me an email to gloat at my sacking from the Times as a blogger. He suggested that if I'd exposed Barnet Council's gay mafia, I'd have done a huge public service and Phil Crowther would have been too scared to have sacked me. I was very tempted to email back and suggest he discuss this with Phil Crowther at the Times, but as I said, if you respond you only encourage them.

Anyway I got another one last week. This time there was a complete change of tone. It seems that I'm a gutless hypocrite because I say I'm a Roman Catholic, but I won't expose the gay mafia. I claim to be "one of the boys" by liking football and beer, but I clearly swing the other way as I am not "totally disgusted by the morals and behaviour of ......". It appears that as I "confessed" in my Times blog that a friend of mine was gay and I'd even had a beer with him once, there was "undeniable proof". It was also "clear that I had been suffering from AIDS since 1984"(clearly I should get in touch with the Guiness book of records for survival). The best comment of all was that my clear dislike of two rather high profile Barnet Councillors was clearly the result of "past lovers tiffs".

So there you go. Well I suppose it is a theory, up there with the flat earth and Lamarkian evolution. The latest email, I received yesterday. It berated me yet again for all my many failings (see above) and made a veiled threat that unless I exposed the Gay Mafia at Barnet Council, some terrible thing would happen. It challenged me as to why I'd expended thousands of words deriding the policies of certain promonant Barnet Councillors, but had never mentioned once the fact that they are gay.

Well, the reason is quite simple. It really has nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs. I don't care what any of them do in private and it's none of my business. I am quite happy to expose anything which is against the interests of the people living in Barnet but poking around in people's private lives is not what I do.

If anyone out there gives a monkey's, then google "gay barnet councilor" and see what you get. You can also check their list of members interests and all that sort of stuff. I really don't care. You may wonder why I haven't named any of these councilors here. Most of you probably know who they are anyway, they are quite open, so why? Well purely to wind up my trusty emailer. You see that whilst he thinks the fact that the bloke responsible for the management of the Darland Lake Management committee (apologies if the title is incorrect) is gay is a massive issue, to the rest of us the issue is whether he manages Darlands Lake properly. End of Story.

So why have I chosen to post this piece after all of the many ignored emails. Well I have a little theory of my own. Let me share it. Now I'm married, been in a long term relationship for many a year. I've got children and I'm a Roman Catholic. I subscribe to the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" brand of religion. Now I haven't had any homosexual relationships, for the simple reason that I don't fancy guys and I love women. If you want to choose to believe otherwise, that's really up to you - I'd be more upset though, if you thought I was a closet Manchester United fan.

The point is I feel pretty secure in who I am. The guy I trust most in all the world is gay - who is he? He's the guy who mends my guitar amplifier when it goes bang. If he makes a mistake I could fry. He's a good pal and yes I have a beer with him sometimes, for what it's worth. What do we discuss over the beer? Guitars & Music, rather like I do with most of my other muso mates.

Reading the rants from my trusty emailer, I detect a strange undertone. Almost looking for some sign. Why could this be? Let me tell you, I suspect that our emailer is a repressed gay. His disgust is actually directed at his own cowardice. He assumes everyone else must have the same issues (in spite of the evidence). It would never occur to me to draw conclusions about someone in the way he does, so why does he? It reminded me of the strange case of the Austrian National Front leaders hidden love affair. Often the reason various ...phobes have their prejudices is they actually can't come to terms with their own feelings and sexuality.

Anyway, this will be the first last and only message I have for you - seek professional help and get a life. Let the rest of us live ours the way we choose. Oh and if the people who our friendly neighbourhood nutter named really were a proper mafia as he alleges, I'd have been sleeping with the fishes long ago !

Monday 27 October 2008

Mike Freer - fiddling while Barnet Council finances Burn

Let me show you a press release from the website of Brighton and Hove council.


Icelandic banks - council not affected

Brighton & Hove City Council is reassuring residents that due to its cautious approach to managing public finance the council stopped trading with Icelandic banks a year ago.

Finance councillor Jan Young said.

“We have no deposits with Icelandic banks. We suspended transactions with the one we had on our books Kaupthing, Singer & Friedlander about a year ago after picking up concerns in the marketplace about Icelandic banks expanding too quickly.

“Our watchword is caution. We’re very aware of our responsibilities in managing taxpayers’ money and are very careful both about who we invest with and how much we invest.

“Clearly the overall financial situation is changing quickly and in an unpredictable way. In the current climate we will continue to monitor the situation on a daily and indeed hourly basis.”


Now let me show you what The Leader of Barnet Council had to say about this

Icelandic deposits frozen not lost
Nobody foresaw the collapse of the entire banking sector either in the United Kingdom or Iceland. Claims that Council’s saw this collapse coming are spurious, and after contacting a number of authorities including Brighton & Hove they have advised that they were lucky, and that their deposits simply matured and were paid back on the due date originally agreed with the banks. They did not make the conscious decision to withdraw and indeed, Icelandic banks remained on their approved list of banks for use well into 2008.


Now I'm not going to say who I choose to believe, other than one lost a pot of cash and the other didn't. One thing I find quite revealing is that whilst Brighton council said :- "Clearly the overall financial situation is changing quickly and in an unpredictable way. In the current climate we will continue to monitor the situation on a daily and indeed hourly basis."
Freer said in his blog :- "Despite banks always being considered as safe places to deposit money, the Council has a Treasury Management Strategy developed by those elected to the Council, which is updated annually and reported to the cabinet Resources Committee – together with an annual report on performance against the strategy that is also reported to this committee (normally in June). We form policy and officers of the Council with the expertise in this field, combined with external technical and professional advice, implement them. The popular misconception is that my colleagues and I choose where these investments are made. That is simply not true, and would be grossly irresponsible given our lack of expertise in the market place."

So Brighton council are monitoring the situation on an hourly basis and Barnet formed a strategy in June.

Councillor Jan Young, A Tory (and quite a sensible one by the sound) of it says :-
"We’re very aware of our responsibilities in managing taxpayers’ money and are very careful both about who we invest with and how much we invest."

Mike Freer, responding to criticsim from the Taxpayers Alliance said :-
"No council could have reasonably foreseen the collapse of Iceland’s banks in what once were safe deposits."

Now Brighton Council took the trouble to put a reassuring message on their website. Given the widespread concern, what has Barnet Council put on it's press site since the crisis broke.

27/10/2008 Mayor to remember RAF airmen
27/10/2008 Mayor praises borough's firefighters
27/10/2008 Mayor unveils the Sun, Moon and the Earth
27/10/2008 War memorial returns to public display
27/10/2008 Barnet schools are top of the class
27/10/2008 Theatre production to raise awareness of doorstep dangers
27/10/2008 Residents to spend a day in the park
27/10/2008 Park garden to be revamped by volunteers
27/10/2008 Flag to be raised at prestigious park
27/10/2008 Absence levels falling in Barnet schools
24/10/2008 Food alert issued for meat product
22/10/2008 Clean, Green and Safe Week
21/10/2008 School halves its waste in eco drive
21/10/2008 Don't let your pet suffer during this fireworks season
17/10/2008 A blue day for disabled badge fraudsters
17/10/2008 State of the art library opens its doors
17/10/2008 International athlete rewards Barnet sporting heroes
16/10/2008 Sensory garden targeted by vandals
16/10/2008 New baby changing units installed
16/10/2008 Barnet recruits 100th pupil for healthy living programme
16/10/2008 Barnet's Housing Conference 2008
16/10/2008 Mayor's 30th walk for North London Hospice
16/10/2008 Eco home unveiled to public
13/10/2008 New improved recycling service draws nearer
08/10/2008 Underhill report published
07/10/2008 Street lighting in Barnet reaches milestone
06/10/2008 School encouraged to 'watch its waste' in green drive
06/10/2008 Council and police strike media relations partnership
02/10/2008 Barnet Civic Awards 2009
01/10/2008 Two arrests after blue badge swoop
01/10/2008 Partnership working nets new park kitchen for community
01/10/2008 First PC awarded in over-55s scheme
01/10/2008 Award provides cheer for school hit by vandals
26/09/2008 Economics wiz meets the Mayor
24/09/2008 Barnet museum commemorates Cromwell anniversary
23/09/2008 Cash-free parking comes to Barnet
23/09/2008 Barnet school children walk the walk
23/09/2008 Pilot project set to tackle mountain of food waste
17/09/2008 School's ICT prowess recognised by award
17/09/2008 Centre proposals set to make 'independent living' a reality
12/09/2008 Road to be named after twin town
12/09/2008 Private landlords prosecuted by Council over 'house of horrors'
12/09/2008 Mini-Paralympics to mark official handover to London
09/09/2008 Where does your recycling go?
02/09/2008 Recycling our cans helps plant 154 trees in Africa

As you will notice, Barnet issued 12 press releases in the whole of September. They issued 11 today - 27/10/08. Why? well I may just be cynical, but it looks to me as if they've decided to embark on a deliberate policy to try and bury the bad news. Many of these press releases have been printed verbatim by the Edgware Times. Take for example the one on 21/10/08. This is mirrored virtually word for word in this story in the Times - Call to protect pets this firework season - the only difference being the lovely picture of Mike Freer with two lovely looking mutts. I won't comment on the body language of the poor hounds. Now I love dogs and it's a great picture, but is this really Freer's top priority right now? Is it the role of council leader to promote the wellbeing of pooches when the council finances are in tatters. It strikes me that a big difference between Brighton which didn't lose money and Barnet that lost pots of money, is that Brighton have stated they are proactively monitoring the situation, whilst Freer is out having his picture taken with pooches, whilst waiting for the next dose of bad news to roll in. To him it doesn't matter, because he's getting a nice, fat allowance at our expense. He knows he can use the council press department to issue dozens of press releases to push the story to the back of the paper and the local press websites.

I find the way these press releases are being recycled in the Times especially disturbing. I noticed that the "Freer with doggies" story doesn't even have the usual facility to leave comments enabled. This seems to be true of many of these directly lifted stories. Why no comments? I don't know, maybe the Times would be so kind as to tell us.

There is one interesting fact about the relationship between Barnet Council and the local Papers. In the financial year 2007/08, the council paid £29,345.01 to the Times Group of newspapers. These costs relate to public notices, advertising and wrap-around sheets. This is in comparison to £82,423.30 paid to the Barnet Press over the same period for public notices, advertising and the publication of job vacancies.

My missus did a degree in Russian Studies. We visited several times before the fall of Communism, during which time I learned many things. Three of the most interesting were a) If you fill the press up with nonsense, no one reads it (Think of Pravda)
and b) Useless Leaders are not an asset
and c) People start to notice when it hits their pockets

This is the reason that the Soviet Union collapsed. I suspect that unless Barnet Council drops the Pravda tactics and gets a decent leader, it's finances will go the way of the USSR. The trouble is you and I will pay for it. No amount of nice stories will mask the pain when the Council Tax bills roll in. I've learned a few things on my travels. One of them is how to spot a failed regime. Barnet Council is a classic example.

So there we have it. The behaviour of the Leader of Barnet Council, Mike Freer and his two lovely doggies, brings to mind Emperor Caligula of Rome. Whilst Rome burned, he played his fiddle.

Sunday 26 October 2008

Sex education for kids - The awful truth they never tell you !!!!

Nothing seems to get people more hot under the collar than the subject of sex education for Children. At what age do we tell children where babies come from and how they are made. There is currently a row about whether telling kids the biological facts at age 5 or 6 is too young. At what age do you have "that talk". I went to a Roman Catholic primary school and was told aged 10. That was probably about the right age. I must say that I didn't really care. I couldn't foresee a situation where my parents would do such a thing so I assumed it happened when you were asleep. Given that the British use the phrase "going to bed with someone", it all seemed to make perfect sense and I guess this was even more validated by my first wet dream.

As to when the real picture began to emerge, that happened over the next 2-3 years when I started to notice strange things happening when I saw attractive girls on busses and in conversation with mates who had elder brothers (who unlike mine hadn't left home). When I was 13 or 14 our biology teacher gave us a lesson where he tried to impart some more usefull information about sex. He told us about VD and how it was transmitted and about contraception. He told us how he'd had sex and shortly after a scab came up in a rather private place. He said how he'd prudently been to the doctor and been told it was unrelated, but this was the sensible thing to do. After that I found him rather hard to take seriously. I guess when I was about 22 a whole new aspect to sex emerged. Up until then it had simply been about fun, babies and VD. All of a sudden AIDS raised it's nasty head. All of a sudden sex became deadly.

I first heard of it through my sister, who was a nurse living in the USA. She told me that there was this terrible illness, that nobody knew what the cause was that was killing all of the gay's in LA and San Franscico. Not being gay and not living in America, I wasn't too concerned. As we all know, there was far more to it than that. Within a couple of years, Mrs Thatcher and her government gave us wall to wall public health advertising and we all knew about AIDS. There was the advert with the Iceberg. Then Richard Branson, always quick to spot an opportunity to get his name in the public eye, launched the Mates range of condoms. By the time AIDS really became an issue, I was in stable relationship, so in a lot of ways it has passed me by.

I guess that I could say the fairly minimalist sex education I had worked pretty well. I've never had VD and I had my kids at a time of my choosing. To be honest though, I think that is probably more to do with the fact that I'm attracted to women who are quite sensible about such things, than any great effort on my part. I read all of the debates in the press and I am struck by the lack of common sense in all of the discussions. When I was 18 I went to live in Stockholm for a while. The Swedish have a completely different attitude to public health. On my first day in Stockholm, I visited the Culture Centre at T-Centralen station. On walking in I was greeted by a huge montage of breast. Some of these were quite shapely, some were a bit saggy, but for every two pictures of a nice pair of breasts, there was one of a horribly mutilated pair, with scars and horrible bruising. Now not reading Swedish, I couldn't see what this was all about, but assumed some sort of Tracy Emin style modern artist had put it there to shock. When I got back and discussed it with my then girlfriend, she looked at me like I was an idiot. "That is a public health awareness exhibition. It shows the breasts before the mastectomy, immediately after, and then following plastic surgery, it is there to show women that they need not fear that the surgery will permanently mutilate them". I quickly discovered that sex education in Sweden was light years ahead of the UK. Unfortunately this didn't mean I was ravished by sex crazed women everywhere. It actually meant that people were able to conduct relationships a bit more sensibly than teenagers in the UK seemed to.
I discussed this with my Swedish friends and they could not believe that the UK was so far behind. It seems with some Roman Catholic schools refusing to administer the HPV vaccine, we are still stuck in an outmoded way of thinking.

I honestly don't know what is a good age to start, but by the time a child is 14, I think it is essential to know all of the facts. This includes the mechanics of the act, the risks, the responsibilities. I think that it should be taught in a framework of morality. This is not because I think any teenagers will necessarily listen, but because I think it is important that teenagers learn self worth. If they want to be promiscuous and sleep around, that is a decision they are perfectly capable of making. I think that it is far better for society if sex is generally conducted within the framework of a stable relationship. This is especially true for teenagers finding their feet in the world. When having sexual intercourse for the first time, surely you should be taught that it is far better do this with someone you care about and trust? If it is just with someone you have casually met and has got you drunk, can that really be good initiation into the adult world. Especially as such relationships are far less likely to take proper precautions. I'm not a fool and I know many people have started out like that and it has done them no harm. I'd just suggest that for the purposes of education that is not a best case scenario. I know a couple of pretty good drivers who started their driving career by stealing cars when they were 14. Responsibility can develop, but it isn't bad to teach it.

Now if you read this because of my attention grabbing headline, you may wonder what this awful truth is that they never tell you. Well, the sad fact is that sex is a trick played on us by nature. What do I mean by this? Well raising children is very hard work. Men and women often have wildly different tastes and interests. Why on earth would you want to get together with someone who you have nothing in common with, for the privilidge of spending the next 20 odd years earning money to support a bunch of ungrateful little oiks, who see you as an unpaid cook, driver and cleaner. When you get old and they could repay the favour, you get stuck in a stinky home and forgotten. I'll tell you why, because sex is rather nice. We enjoy it and it blinds us to the obvious character defects of our partners. How many times have you heard people say "I had nothing in common with X. I don't know why I stayed with them for so long". Well I do, it's clear. How many times do you hear "I don't mind the arguments because the making up is such fun" - suckered again. The truth is that sex is the sugar coating on the medicine necessary to keep the human race going. It is the one thing which will make us tolerate anything.

The one thing I'd teach kids before I taught them anything else about sex is this. It is impossible to make a rational decision when sex becomes involved, so open that door with care. And yes I know, I haven't always practiced what I am preaching, but hey you've gotta try.

Saturday 25 October 2008

Weird goings on in Watford !!!!!

Now those of you who follow my blog will know that I always post something a bit different on a Saturday. This week it is as different as it could be. Please don't read on if you are of a nervous disposition !!!

My big brother once spent a whole evening sitting in a field in Somerset waiting for a UFO to appear. Apparently UFO's had been seen there every night for a few weeks. Around 9.30pm my brother decided that the Aliens weren't coming and adjourned to the pub with his friends. By the time they re-emerged it transpired that they'd missed some rather spectacular sights. They were told "It was awesome, first one, then two, then three lights appeared. They hovered their for 5 minutes and then disappeared". Laurie later confessed he wasn't too disappointed to have missed it, having enjoyed thawing out in a nice warm pub.

I'm a bit of a natural cynic. I always look for a logical explanation for anything and usually there is one. Don't get me wrong, I think it is quite likely that life could exist elsewhere in the universe, but hey, if you can master interstallar travel, would you really want to visit a planet which decides to make George Bush the most powerful man? Having said all of that an extremely bizarre incident happened to me a couple of years ago, which I have never been able to find a rational explanation for. I've not really discussed this with anyone and I am quite happy for anyone to add their tuppence worth. Unlike my brother it didn't happen in a field and I wasn't looking for aliens. See what you think?

I go to the gym every day apart from Thursdays and Sundays when I play 5 a side football. On a saturday though, I have a day off from it and I go for a sauna and a Jacuzzi. I use the Seb Coe club on the A41 on a Saturday as it is reasonable and the members are friendly. I always start with a 15 minute Sauna. About two years ago, I settled down for my session and set the egg timer. After about 10 minutes another guy came in (he seemed quite normal) and after a couple of minutes asked "Would you mind if I put some oil on the stove". This again is quite normal, usually people put Eucalyptus oil on. They put a few drops in some water and pour it on the coals. I replied "No problem". He did this. Immediately I noted the extremely strange smell of the oil. I genuinely couldn't place it. I asked "What is the oil, I don't recognise the smell". He laughed and said "It reminds me of home". I asked "Where's that then" The guy had a fairly standard, non dispcript English accent. He replied "A very long way away". fair enough I thought. He then said "do you mind if I put some more water on the stove". Again not a problem, I don't particularly like a very hot sauna, but as he'd asked politely I said "Yeah, fine". The guy got the ladle of water and very deliberately put his hand above it when he poured the water on. As a result a big cloud of steam enveloped his hand. Now I've done this accidentally and it really hurts, but he'd just done this deliberately, clearly to catch my attention. I thought "This guy isn't all there". He looked at me and said "It doesn't hurt, I come from a much warmer place". He sat down and clearly was fine. I said "so where is that?" He replied again "A very long way away, I'm here as an observer". Now not being sure what was going on, I thought I'd try humour, so I said "Oh, your an alien then". He replied "Something along those lines". Now as I said, I'm a rather suspicious person, but I'd just seen the guy put his hand in a cloud of steam, that would have fried a normal person, so I thought I'd play ball. "Do you like it here then" I asked. "No not really" he replied, he went on "You see if you took your greatest ever mathematician, where I come from, his understanding would be less of that than say a fairly average five year old". So I asked "So is there anyone from here that you admire?" He replied "We think quite highly of Mozart". So they like the arts. I asked "What about painters?". he replied "Picasso and Matisse are quite interesting". I then said "What about the food?". He replied "Well the organic dark chocolate and organic oranges are tolerable". At this I realised that with all of the water on the stove, my brain was boiling. Much as I would have loved to have carried on the conversation, I excused myself to take a dip in the pool.

As I was cooling down, my new found alien friend left the sauna and went to the changing room (not a bead of sweat on him). So there you have it. The only good things about planet Earth are Mozart, Picasso, Matisse, Oranges and chocolate (he clearly hadn't tried beer or listened to punk rock !!!)

All the questions I thought I'd ask an alien, I completely forgot (was Jesus an Alien? was Roswell true? Did Atlantis really exist?). So there you go? Do I really think he was an alien? who know's. What would he be observing in Watford? That really is a puzzle? Do Aliens really like Chocolate or are they just wind up merchants? Now that is the question I'll lose sleep about !!!!!

Friday 24 October 2008

Two Blogs strikes back - The Barnet Council Leader Mike Freer Speaks !!!!

Having badgered Mike Freer for a response on his blog, it's only fair to post it here (with a few added comments of my own in BOLD). You can check the his blog just to make sure I've not been naughty and edited it by clicking HERE.

Much as I am pleased he's said something, I can't say I'm too impressed. Sorry if this is a rather long boring post, I had to respond. I promise I'll post some more entertaining stuff next time.


From Mike Freer's Blog

Icelandic deposits frozen not lost
October 23, 2008 – 6:18 pm

In recent days some residents have taken me to one side and asked how the Council came to have £27.4 million pounds “invested“ within Icelandic banks and what effect that would have on their Council Tax bills now that it had been lost forever.

Both local newspapers (the Hendon Times and the Barnet Press) have covered the story in some detail and both presented what I personally consider a fair assessment of the situation currently facing the Council in relation to Icelandic banks, but there are points that I would like to clarify for readers to avoid any unnecessary worry, confusion or misrepresentations. THATS A GOOD IDEA

Firstly, the money deposited with Glitnir and Landsbanki is not lost and negotiations continue via the Local Government Association to ensure that the Icelandic banks honour their financial obligations to local authorities. The Council following guidance from Government has a duty to ensure the best return for taxpayers of the borough by considering risk and returns, making prudent deposits of balances to ensure the best return. The Council has to place its cash somewhere, and as one of the largest local authorities in the United Kingdom it would be unwise to hold all of our money in one bank, or invested in low returning Gilts and Bonds - indeed we would have been open to government criticism that our treasury management strategy was not yielding enough investment. The interest generated has paid for our additional investment in libraries and the laying of new pavements in our town centres while keeping Council Tax increases below the rate of inflation.


The money deposited with financial institutions does not represent ‘spare’ funds, but represents rolling balances that are deposited and drawn down by the Council when needed. These are not investments and the Council has not bought stocks and shares in banks. The Council deposits money into bank accounts in the same way as normal savers and currently there is £328.8 million held in 31 financial institutions. These balances comprise money collected from council tax payments, housing rents, Business Rates, government grants and other income paid to the Council and is drawn down to pay for the day to day running of the Council, major projects or for payments to central government when needed.


Despite banks always being considered as safe places to deposit money, the Council has a Treasury Management Strategy developed by those elected to the Council, which is updated annually and reported to the cabinet Resources Committee – together with an annual report on performance against the strategy that is also reported to this committee (normally in June). We form policy and officers of the Council with the expertise in this field, combined with external technical and professional advice, implement them. The popular misconception is that my colleagues and I choose where these investments are made. That is simply not true, and would be grossly irresponsible given our lack of expertise in the market place.


What my colleagues and I did identify as part of the policy setting process was that risks should not be taken when depositing money and therefore a cap of £15 million on the amount that could be placed with one financial institution was introduced. Had this cap not been introduced we could have found ourselves with exposure to Iceland on the same scale as other authorities, with some of this deposited in the run up to the actual collapse of the bank. Our decision to spread our deposits has meant that in these unprecedented times only 8% of our total deposits were exposed to the current crisis and I can only repeat, this money is not yet lost.


One burning question is why did we not withdraw our deposits when warnings were being sounded about Iceland? The simple answer is that each credit rating agency did not downgrade the banks with which we deposited our money until the end of September 2008. The terms of the deposits were of a fixed term nature which meant that we would have to negotiate the return of the funds before their maturity date. Advice given to the Council since the start of this crisis is that the banks would have refused to renegotiate or would have imposed massive penalties which would have seen a guaranteed loss to the Council, something which is not yet set in stone.


Nobody foresaw the collapse of the entire banking sector either in the United Kingdom or Iceland. Claims that Council’s saw this collapse coming are spurious, and after contacting a number of authorities including Brighton & Hove they have advised that they were lucky, and that their deposits simply matured and were paid back on the due date originally agreed with the banks. They did not make the conscious decision to withdraw and indeed, Icelandic banks remained on their approved list of banks for use well into 2008.


When our Icelandic deposits were made (up to 2 years ago) the economy was strong, banks and building societies were safe places for money to be deposited and the risks were low. The credit crisis has hit Barnet but it does not mean that we have lost any money and therefore we cannot at this time say how any services or capital projects, if any, will be affected - but residents can be assured that if the Icelandic authorities refuse to honour our deposits I will continue to press the Chancellor for a guarantee that he will provide the taxpayers of this borough with the same protection he has given to the banking sector who exposed themselves to the same institutions.


Thursday 23 October 2008

Advisers Advise, Leaders Lead - So give your Dog a valium !

Today is a big day for the leader of Barnet Council, Mike Freer. This evening there is a cabinet meeting. Item 12 on the agenda is a discussion of the situation concerning investments in Icelandic banks. It has been widely reported that Barnet Council may have lost £27.5 Million because of the failure of several Icelandic banks.

Mike Freer is the man who is ultimately responsible for the running of the council. Now is his big chance to shine. What will he do, what will he say? How will he deal with the crisis and restore confidence in his administration?

I don't know. It will be a tough call and as the cash went down the plughole on his watch, I don't envy him the task. It is a huge sum of money, our money. Mike is the council leader and it the buck stops with him. He is a man with a background in banking. He should have been aware of the issues and risks with these investments. As I understand it, he gets an allowance of £47,000 a year from the public purse in relation to his publically funded jobs (please post a comment and tell me if this is wrong and I'll happily correct it).

Now I've no idea what he'll say. I hope for his sake he has a good story. What I can assure him of is that if he attempts to wash his hands of the whole issue and blame his advisers, then Mr Freer is not a leader, he's a failure. the job of advisers is to advise and leaders to lead. If you get a stonking great allowance from the public purse, you need to justify it. This means scrutinising advice and making decisions.

There is a press release on the Barnet Council website, dated 21st October. On this Mr Freer advises you to give your dog or cat a sedative if it gets nervous when it hears fireworks. It is nice to know Mr Freer is concerned about Fido, Rover and Felix, but what about us poor nervous taxpayers, who are worrying about the prospect of huge tax rises? What about Barnet council workers pensions? What about council house tenants? We're all worried. We don't want a dogdrop, we want to know what is going on and Mike Freer hasn't told us.

Well Mike, there will be a lot of interest in what you have to say. If you duck the issue and blame everyone else, we won't be fooled. Just remember this :-


Tuesday 21 October 2008

You won't find God on a London Bus (probably)

Some stories are truly bizarre. There is a report on the BBC website that the British Humanist Society are placing adverts on the side of bendy buses proclaiming "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." The report says the BHS has £27,500 to spend on this message. My first thought was that this story was a wind up. It wouldn't surprise me if they'd had a nice big donation from Heineken for the advert. Maybe a byline "Humanism, probably the best religion in the world".

Now I'm not one for censorship. If the BHS thinks this is the best way to get it's message over, that's fine by me. Like many things, some people get hot under the collar when people challenge their beliefs. I disagree, it is healthy to examine your beliefs periodically. The thing is though, if you look at their message scientifically, their proposition is unsustainable. As the existence of God is unproveable, Humanism is just one of many religions, beliefs or viewpoints. As we cannot know which of these is right, statistically they are all probably wrong. In statistics, you have something called sample theory. The bigger the sample, the more likely you are to get a correct answer. Now on this basis, God wins as there are more believers than humanists. That clearly is a pretty dodgy basis for believing, so why use a scientific principle - probability - in the context of something that is outside the realms of current scientific knowledge. Until someone actually produces a valid scientific basis for showing God probably doesn't exist, then the statement is just a belief, the thing Humanists claim to despise.

As to the other part of the statement "Now stop worrying and enjoy life". I don't know about you, but my worries at the moment are nothing to do with God. I must admit that if the BHS had given me the £27,500 instead of giving it to TFL, I'd be worrying much less. I'd probably buy a few cases of Heineken and be much happier. The implication of the advert is that all religious people are neurotic misery guts's whilst Humanists are fun loving party people. Now in the article well known Atheist Professor Richard Dawkins says "Religion is accustomed to getting a free ride - automatic tax breaks, unearned respect and the right not to be offended, the right to brainwash children." "Even on the buses, nobody thinks twice when they see a religious slogan plastered across the side." "This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think - and thinking is anathema to religion." Well he sounds like a fun guy to get stuck on a bus next to. One of the most boring programs I watched was the one he put together about what a load of tosh religion was. Give me a Pogues gig full of drunken Irish Catholics any day! The best party I've been to this year was my best mates son's Bahmitzvah. I can also honestly say that I heard more jokes and laughed more at the wake for my Mother, following a good old Roman Catholic funeral than anything on the telly for the last 30 years.

Now I don't mind what people say, but come on. The suggestion that people of faith are all miserable sods is unsustainable. If the BHS wants to plaster buses with these messages, thats fine. If they want to give a misleading impression, which is so obviously a load of nonsense, that is up to them, but I think it makes them look rather silly. Being a Good Catholic boy, I'm now going to sit back, crack open a Heineken and hope Celtic give Manchester United a good stuffing in the Champions League. I can assure you if they win I'll not be worried at all and I'll really be enjoying life!

Monday 20 October 2008

Could Barnet Council Organise a conference in a brewery?

One of the things I keep a close eye on are the press releases from Barnet Council. With the huge amount of cash they have lost in recent weeks in Icelandic banks, I'd have thought that there would have been regular updates on the Barnet council website press release page. The press release page would seem a pretty logical place to put this info.

Well something miraculous has happened. The council's press office has gone into overdrive. On Friday, they posted 3 releases and on Thursday 7 releases. That is 10 in two days! Considering they only posted 13 press releases for the whole month of September, that is pretty good going. The old press department is clearly working it's socks off to get the info to us. Now here is a summary of this flurry of exciting news.

17/10/2008 - A blue day for disabled badge fraudsters
17/10/2008 - State of the art library opens its doors
17/10/2008 - International athlete rewards Barnet sporting heroes
16/10/2008 - Sensory garden targeted by vandals
16/10/2008 - New baby changing units installed
16/10/2008 - Finchley nursery spreads the word across Europe
16/10/2008 - Barnet recruits 100th pupil for healthy living programme
16/10/2008 - Barnet's Housing Conference 2008
16/10/2008 - Mayor's 30th walk for North London Hospice
16/10/2008 - Eco home unveiled to public

Hold on a second you may say, no press release about the Icelandic Bank situation. Surely this is the big story in Barnet. Surely this is the story that everyone wants to know about. Surely this is the story which anyone in the press will be looking at the website for. Now maybe I just missed it, but I couldn't see any press release at all about it.

Why such a flurry? Ten releases in two days is far more than I've ever noticed. It is certainly more than any two days on the rest of the press release history (clikc on the above link and check for yourself). We can only wonder why the press department have suddenly become so productive. Is it possible that someone, somewhere in the higher echelons of the council said "Get some news into the papers which will distract people from the Icelandic Bank fiasco". "Get some feel good stories out there. Make us look like we care".

One story which made me laugh was the one concerning the "2008 Barnet Housing conference". This press release was posted on the 16th of October. The conference was on the 17th. This in effect means that there was no point posting it. Surely this was far too late for anyone with an interest in the conference actually to attend. I would love to have gone. Having written several blogs about housing in Barnet, I surely have an interest. I'd also love to have seen all of the expensive conference facilities (nearly £100,000 worth) in action. Maybe if they'd asked me I'd have admitted my criticism was unfounded (ho ho ho).

In light of the old saying, do you think they'd originally planned to serve drinks and hold it in a local brewery? It wouldn't surprise me.

The good news from Barnet

As it's Monday, I thought I'd bring you some good news to cheer you up for a change. Today I'm not going to moan about anyone. We've not had too much to celebrate, so I thought I'd share my private feelings on some good news. There is a report on the Edgware Times website that there have been no cases of hospital acquired MRSA in Barnet since July. They have also met their target of a 60% reduction in C.difficile infections. Now unlike much of what we discuss on these blogs, this really will make a difference.

I have quite strong feelings about Hospital born infections. A couple of years ago my now dearly departed mum broke her hip. It was touch and go whether she survived, but survive she did. Eventually she got well enough to be moved to Finchley memorial hospital for recuperation. All was going well until the hospital was hit by an outbreak of C.diff. The scene that greeted me was like a scene from hell, when the infection took hold. Walking into the ward, you were hit by the smell. Nurses were running around, curtains were drawn around many beds. The nurses couldn't get the bedpans to the beds quickly enough and many of the poor old dears were not getting them in time. My mum was one of many who had gone in hoping to get better but were struck. Unlike some, she recovered. My sister, who is a nurse, stayed with her throughout and we got her home as soon as we could. I am convinced that having her own personal nurse got her through the problems and gave her another couple of years of life. She had a couple more trips to France with the family, a couple more Christmas Dinners. A couple more Grandchildren got married. She saw my daughter's 5 gold medals, won at the ASA National swimming championships as well as her BAGCAT winner's trophy. All the things a grandma would want to do.

Sad thing is that because of C.Diff, plenty of old ladies didn't. A 60% drop is good, but lets now set the bar even higher. Lets aim for complete eradication. What really annoys me is when I go to Barnet General hospital to visit and I see people walk into wards (and out again) without using the alcohol gel. This is stupid dangerous and irresponsible. You could kill your loved ones or yourself. I wonder how many people have lost a loved one for want of a quick squirt of antiseptic gel on their hands. This is one thing we can all help with. Please remember to use these.

Sunday 19 October 2008

The Prince of Darkness returns

There is an old saying "A week is a long time in politics". A fortnight is an eternity. A couple of weeks ago, I had a quick exchange of emails about the return of Peter Mandleson. I'm a Labour supporter, but I am not a fan of Peter Mandleson. I am not really very keen on his methods, but I will concede that they are extremely effective. The one thing I know about Peter Mandleson is that he is an extremely effective politician. He plays politics like a chess grand master. You don't know why he does things until you've been check-mated.

If I was Mike Freer or Matthew Offord, our local Tory PPC's I'd be worrying. Two weeks ago, it looked like the only thing Gordon Brown would be planning was the removal vans in 2010 at no 10. All of a sudden the BBC news is comparing him to Winston Churchill, for saving the worlds financial system. In all of the hubris, we almost missed a classic bit of Mandleson manipulation. The House of Lords had rejected the 42 day terrorism bill. Gordon Brown could have overridden them using the Parliament act, but it would have cost him. This legislation that was a monumental issue for Brown a few months ago has quietly been dumped.

I expect many more unpopular issues to be dumped in the next few weeks. So long as Mandleson can survive until the next election without getting sacked for the shenanigans that cost him so dearly last time, I expect a very different election to the one I thought we'd have.

So how does that make me feel? Well as I said I'm not a fan of the Mandleson modus operandi. Is it a price worth paying to keep a Labour Government? Now that is a very hard question. I was thinking about the Tories and to be honest I don't know what David Cameron stands for. I'm not aware of his key policies. Is he a tax cutter? What is his position on Europe? What is his stance on benefit reform? I have formed the opinion that Cameron must have his own Mandleson working away behind the scenes. He's managed to undermine labour without actually announcing any policy initiatives. Think of Thatcher. break the Unions, Privatisation, get our money back from Europe.

So my answer is if I must have either a policy free Tory party or a Mandleson Spun labour party, I'd take Labour with a major dose of trepidation.

Saturday 18 October 2008

Liars Beware !!!!!!!

It's saturday evening and I'm doing what I always do on a Saturday evening. I've just put on a nice relaxing record and poured myself a cool beer. What's spinning on the tuntable tonight. Well I thought I'd spin "Blank Generation" by Richard Hell from 1977. I've had it up to here writing about Barnet Council this week, so I thought I'd share one of my other passions with you. Punk rock !!!!

Anyway I've just been listening to my favourite track on the album - "Liars Beware". I can't possibly think why after the week we've just had, but the lyrics summed my mood up precisely. Nothing like a bit of vintage punk rock to make you unwind. In my opinion Richard Hell was one of the great lyricists of the age. Blank Generation was the riposte to "My Generation by "The Who". Richard is also credited with being the man who invented Punk Rock. Anyway, if you've never heard of Richard Hell and the Voidoids, check it out.

Liars Beware - Copyright Richard Hell & the Voidoids - 1977

Look out liars and you highlife scum
who gotta keep your victims poor and dumb--
Your motives and your methods are not disguised
by your silk, soap, sex, or your smiling lies.

Look out here
you pompous jerk
Look out here
I go berserk

Well I guess you put me in my place
but I won't forget your stupid face

They gave you power cuz they knew your needs--
soprano boys get talent when you shoot your seeds.
Well you laugh to hear what your best friends say--
Old man they laugh when you walk away.

Look out chief
ridiculous creep
Look out thief
you'll lose your teeth

Well you got power, now there's competition
and your blind side's turned to the boys with a mission.


I missed off the last bit as it's a bit too fruity for a nice family page such as this

I hope whatever you're spinning on your turntable, listening to on your IPod, watching on the telly or pouring in your glass, you enjoy it as much as I'm enjoying this classic album. Next track - Betrayal takes two.

Have a lovely evening.

Barnet's Free Press and Barnets Freer Press !!!!

Today is a momentous day in Barnet. Our esteemed leader of Barnet Council today joins the league of Politicians who have a nickname. It seems to really get on you need a nickname. Maggie Thatcher was "the Iron Lady", Peter Mandleson is "The Prince of Darkness", Michael Heseltine is "Tarzan" and John Prescott is "Two Jags". Once you've got a nickname, you've made it. Well as of today Mr Mike Freer will be known as Mike "Two Blogs" Freer. You see, good old two blogs has got not one, but two blogs.

He has his trusty old blog on the Barnet Times. Now for most of us one blog (Free of charge on the Times) would be enough (some would say too many). Not good old "Two Blogs". He's had a nice brand new one set up for him called Leader Listens. This one has been paid for by the taxpayers of Barnet so good old "Two Blogs" can really keep us up to date. Now you'd think that with TWO BLOGS, he'd have been telling us all about the latest progress with the Council's latest cock up regarding the lost £27.5 Million in Iceland. Here is a quick summary of what Two blogs has to say on the subject in his two blogs. I've sumamrised the questions and answers which you may be concerned with :-

Q: Will the Barnet Council Tax go up if the money can't be recovered?
A: " "

Q: Will Barnet Council employees pensions be threatened by the loss of funds?
A: " "

Q: How could such a situation occur and why weren't the proper controls in place?
A: " "

Q: Is the Library renewal and the Pavement renewal program threatened?
A: " "

Q: Will front line services to Old people suffer?
A: " "

Q: Were the Council borrowing funds to gamble in dodgy investments?
A: " "

You may wonder why Two Blogs hasn't answered. He has two blogs where he could have. Let's hope he takes these questions and pastes in the answers. It really wouldn't be that hard would it? I wait with baited breath. His last entry on the Times blog was on the 8th October and on his council funded one was on the 3rd October. For someone with two blogs, he hasn't had much to say, has he?

Now while we're at it discussing the media, I must respond to a few private emails I've had re the press in Barnet. There have been suggestions that the Edgware Times has become a Tory Propaganda rag and that it's editor is biased towards the Tories. People have suggested that I've been gagged. Well no I haven't, I just don't want to public air any dispute I may have with them. I will say this. I don't think Phil Crowther is biased towards the Tories. If he was, he'd have banned Two Blogs column long ago. It seems to me that every time Two blogs opens his mouth he damages the Barnet Tories. His response to critics is always brittle. He complains about his "Critics cossetted by family wealth" forgetting these people are the backbone of the Tory party. He berates the Taxpayers alliance for being naive and is quite rude and patronising to them. Again I am sure this organisation is not exactly a front for the British Communist Party. In fact the biggest favour the Times could do Freer is to ban him completely from the paper. The Tories nationally are doing OK and as I see it he's Labour's only hope of hanging on to Finchley. The Times also has a rather good facility to leave comments. It is just a shame that these comments don't often make it to the main paper. Old "Two Blogs" reminds me of the old joke Q: "How can you tell when Two Blogs is talking nonsense?" A: "Because his lips move"

Anyway, having established where is not a good place to find any answers out about the problems in Barnet, where would I look? Now if you are reading this, clearly you found me. Councillor Duncan MacDonald has quite which actually has interesting info on it. This just proves that some councillors care. I'm not a Lib Dem so I'm not saying this out of Party allegiance. There is also the blog put together by "Don't call me Dave" Miller - Barnet Council Watch. There is also a comment regarding the Icelandic Banks on Conservative Councillor Richard Weiders blog.

I've put a few other links on the side of the page for all the other stuff locally worth checking out. Please feel free to let me know if you are running a local blog or website and if I like it I'll try and list it.

Friday 17 October 2008

Barnet Council - Why they lost £27.5 Million in Icelandic Banks

One of the better things that the Labour Government has introduced is the Freedom of Information act. Before this, if you asked the council a difficult question, they could ignore you. Although it is flawed, now they have to either tell you or give you a good reason not to (ie security, damage to commercial interests etc). If you don't like the answer, there is an appeal process. Once you ask, they have 20 working days to respond.

Much of the information that appears on blogs such as mine comes from these requests. The downside of the system is that often, by the time you get what you asked for, the story has moved on. Just very occasionally though as you are watching one story disappear into the distance, another one pulls up next to you and your FOI request becomes even more interesting. When I was blogging for the Edgware Times, it became apparent to me that as soon as I posted a blog saying something nasty about the council, the editor, Phil Crowther's phone rang. I asked whether councillors sat around watching the Times website all day to see if I had posted something. Amused by my egotism, Phil replied, "No, Barnet Council media department have Google alerts so that any story relevant to the council sets a whole host of pagers beeping" or words to that effect. Now I know various commercial organisations and banks used Google alerts, but I hadn't considered that a council would (yes I know, silly me). I immediately posted an FOI request to see what words the council had on their list to get the pagers going. I expected a 20 page list, detailing all sorts of things which may affect Barnet and that the Council would want bringing to their attention for investigation. What did we actually get. Here's the actual list :-

London Borough of Barnet
Barnet Council
Mayor of Barnet
Leo Boland
Brian Reynolds
Councillor Mike Freer
Councillor Matthew Offord
Councillor Lynne Hillan
Councillor Melvin Cohen
Councillor Brian Coleman
Councillor Andrew Harper
Councillor Anthony Finn
Councillor Fiona Bulmer
Councillor Helena Hart
Councillor Richard Cornelius
Councillor John Marshall

Now if I'd received this list two weeks ago I'd probably have looked at it and discarded it. Thing is, many things have happened since then. I've done my level best to find out what you need to do if you want to avoid situations where you lose all of your cash in dodgy banking schemes. I've tried to find out what a finance department, with directors on huge salaries should put in place. I've tried to find out what a pro-active organisation does so that it can see the smoking wreck on the road ahead in time to slow down and avoid the crash.

Here's the issue. If I am the finance director at Barnet Council and I have £328 Million quid to invest, how do I make sure I put it somewhere safe? Well there are all sorts of organisations which rate various finance companies. The first thing to do would be to draw up a list of companies rated as secure (ie not going to go broke). Having done that you check the various deals and try and spread the cash around a few (not all your eggs in one basket). Now lets give Barnet the benefit of the doubt and assume they did all of this (it says they did in the report on the crisis). It says that they have deposits in 31 different institutions. So you have £328 Million in deposits in various banks you believe to be secure. What do you do then?

Well this is where I think I've got a world exclusive and you dear reader, may well be the first person to share this with me. If it was me I'd set up a few Google alerts for the institutions I've invested in, so that if any information comes to light on the internet to say they may be dodgy, I know straight away. My FOI request also told me that the council have a full time officer monitoring the internet on pay grade 34-37 (£29,286 - £31,419). Now I personally would have thought that his time would be better spent sifting through financial alerts than seeing if the fact COUNCILLOR RICHARD CORNELIUS opening a vegitable show in BARNET had made page 13 of the Burnt Oak Times website.

Councillor David Boothroyd, a Labour Councillor in Westminster, prepared a briefing paper on all of the warnings about Icelandic banks (for his own council) and kindly sent it to me. Now it appears to me that between 2005 and April 2008, there were multiple serious warnings that should have been picked up and escalated by Barnet. In the briefing, Councillor Boothroyd states that in April 2006 Arlingclose, an investment advisory company employed by 45 Councils issued advice to withdraw funds from Icelandic Company's. In December 2006, Moody's agency stated that Icelandic Banks may experience Liquidity problems. In March 2008 both Moody's and Fitch issued warnings. Also in March both Perth and Kinross and Surrey Council removed the Icelandic banks from their approved investments list. It seems that Mike Freer's assertation that "No one could predict the Credit Crunch" was a statement born of ignorance, for the want of a few Google Alerts.

Yes, I know that in reality, it's far more complicated than that. I have, however read the Barnet Council Cabinet report on the issue and there is not mention of monitoring of investments. There is nothing to say that any scheme of due diligence was in place to ensure that what was true 2 years ago is still the case and good investments are still good. The report says that they will, in future, tighten up the rules on deposits and put smaller amounts in banks with higher ratings. What I can't see anywhere is anything to say how regularly these policies will be reviewed. There is nothing to say we'll ensure that all investments are monitored. So the hole which knocked the wheel off the truck, still hasn't been filled in. If they check a bank with Moody's today to put £10 Million quid in, a warning is issued tomorrow, how will we know not to actually bank our cheque on Monday. My point is that with these huge sums of money, we need to be watchful all of the time.

I will part with this thought. If I was in charge of the council's finances and I'd read any of the warnings on Councillor Boothroyd's list, I'd have run a mile from any Icelandic investments. A simple Google alert would have done the job.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Is the London Borough of Barnet run by a bunch of failed chancers?

This is a genuine question, not an accusation or an allegation, it's just that if you lose £27.5 Million, it is a fair question to ask. Was it a punt and if so why did they make it? Barnet runs a cabinet system of council. They take collective responsibility for their decisions. Just so we know who they all are, I've taken the trouble to list them.

Council Leader Mike Freer

The cabinet team :-

Councillor Matthew Offord
Councillor Lynne Hillan
Councillor Melvin Cohen
Councillor Brian Coleman
Councillor Andrew Harper
Councillor Anthony Finn
Councillor Fiona Bulmer
Councillor Helena Hart
Councillor Richard Cornelius

These characters have presided over a council policy which has lost a huge amount of money. Mike Freer, leader of the council, said: "The audit commission gave us a clean bill of health and we have always placed our surplus cash in reputable banks." A strange comment considering two of those reputable banks have gone bust. It makes you wonder what Mike Freer thinks reputable means. What does it say about his judgement?

If you dig a bit deeper there are some rather disturbing facts and figures, which ask more questions. The Edgware Times report says that the council has £328 Million pounds in deposits. In the period 2006 to 2007, the council borrowed £110m, raising its total debt to £215.5m. This means that the council has a net positive balance of £113 million pounds (if the Times figures are to be believed). Mike Freer stated that the council had earned £25 Million by investing these deposits. Only a mere £2.5 Million less than they've lost.

Now if the council has £113 Million pounds spare, what should it do with this? I believe that the Tories stated that they wanted reserves of up to £25 Million for contingencies. This means that there is a lump sum of £75 Million left. The council, rather than improving services, building new council homes or cutting taxes, has just decided to sit on this cash. I thought the point of the council was to provide services, not to play at being bankers.

Why on earth would a Tory council do this? This certainly doesn't fit in with Conservative thinking as I understand it. In two years time, there is a Council election. All of the councillors in the Cabinet list above get generous allowances. If you build your cash reserves up and raise taxes to stash in the bank, then in the run up to an election deliver a massive cut in taxes, that won't do your reelection prospects any harm, will it? Maybe you won't do that, maybe you'll improve services, to attack the Labour core vote. The point is that in two years time, when the election comes, you'll be sitting pretty, while ordinary Barnet families have been struggling. Whilst 6,000 families have been in Temporary accomodation awaiting council houses. Much better prospects for keeping control of the council, so well worth it for you.

From a party political point of view this is a great plan, if the bank you chose to invest in is sound and doesn't go bust. The only trouble is this strategy has gone wrong. The bank did go pop and the money has been lost. I've seen no explanation for the accumilation of this huge pot of cash. Until we do I can only speculate and ask questions. Mr Freer dismisses all criticism as ill informed. He arrogantly says that council finances are too complicated for us to understand. Well Mike, you have a blog on the Times, another blog courtesy of Barnet Council and a whole website full of info at - why don't you do the people who pay your allowances the honour of giving us a detailed explanation as to why this has happened and what the plan for this cash was.

What has Mr Freer said so far - "No council could have reasonably foreseen the collapse of Iceland’s banks in what once were safe deposits.

Councils have been actively encouraged, and indeed praised, by Whitehall to undertake investments of this kind. The Government must take immediate action to identify the scale of the problem and provide certainty for councils and taxpayers."

The first part of Mr Freer's statement has been comprehensively discredited, not least by the Daily Telegraph in 2006 (see my last blog), the actions of Brighton & Hove Council and numerous warnings from ratings agencies, which should have alerted anyone with a modicum of financial acumen, let alone a career banker.

As to the second part of the statement. If Mr Freer can show me a Whitehall document that says "Invest money in banks with credit warnings" I'll go to work in a Man United top (I'm a City Fan) for a week. On top of that, Freer is a Tory, Whitehall is run by Labour, surely he should plough his own furrow. As ever the last part is typical Freer, blame everyone else and ask everyone else to take responsibility. Well there are some people who should take responsibility. The list of Councillors at the top of this blog. They are a cabinet, so they are all in it together.

Councillor Duncan MacDonald has tabled a motion calling for an emergency meeting to discuss this crisis. This has been granted - on the 4th November - by Tory Mayor John Marshall, for 1/2 an hour before the scheduled council meeting. Clearly they are not too bothered about the situation, to actually do an extra evenings work. I am sure that the one thing which won't be cut are their allowances. At the moment the impression Freer and his cabinet are giving is that they are a bunch of failed chancers blaming everyone but the people who made the decision.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Barnet Council Bosses - Fat Cats, Monkeys or DoDo's ?

Who runs Barnet Council. Well according to Mike Freer, elected Council leader, it's CEO Leo Boland. When asked how he'd have time to run for Parliament and run the council Freer at the same time he said that Leo Boland did all the work and he was just there to keep an eye on him (or words to that effect). Well as we ponder a £27.5 Million loss of council money in Icelandic banks, we may well wonder if Mike Freer should have kept a rather closer eye on council business (but that's another story).

That is not what I'm writing about here. There have been many comments about the 5 council officers on salaries of over £100,000 per year. All of these guys got themselves nice flat screen tellies for their offices, courtesy of the Taxpayer. Leo Boland leads the way in the Salary stakes on £170,000 per annum. Now to many of us this seems like rather a lot of money. I've seen many comments describing him as a Fat Cat, but is this fair? A good friend of mine runs a recruitment agency, which specialises in public sector appointments. I said "Is £170,000 for a London Borough CEO in Barnet excessive". His reply was to be rather surprised. "No, actually most of them in London are on over £200K per annum". He added that as Barnet was a nicer environment, they could probably get away with paying a bit less than somewhere like Tower Hamlets.

This got me thinking. Brian Coleman said in his column on the Barnet Press that "If you pay Peanuts you get Monkeys". Could it be that rather than the Fat Cat we all thought we had, we have a "Monkey" in the job. I found a report in on the Daily Telegraph website from 2003 stating that £200K salaries are not uncommon for the job. The same report states that Boland's salary rose that year by 22% (not a bad rise). Before the rise in 2003 he was on a meagre £114,000.

Now the justification for the big salary is that you need to pay top dollar to attract the best candidates. Like the advert for the Nationwide, the mythical rival states "You have a big juicy rate to hook em". Well surely we'd already hooked Mr Boland on the "Monkey" salary. Whilst I can see the "juicy worm" logic, surely if we follow Mr Coleman's logic, we hooked a "monkey" and then increased his salary to the Fat Cat level.

Now having proposed the theory that we may have a "monkey" in the job, it is only fair to test the theory. Have we got "Superceo" or do we have a duffer? The only fair way to judge Mr Boland is to see what has happened on his watch. He's the boss so what foreseeable banana skins did he fail to avoid.

First, there was the issue of the Sale of Underhill to BFCH. Now to be honest, I haven't followed this debacle and I don't know the ins & outs. What I do know is that over £1,000,000 of taxpayers money has been spent on auditors fees, court cases, indemnities etc. The question is, if Barnet council's executive had done their job properly could this have been avoided. The answer is Yes. That is without question. If you read any report on the matter, they all say "procedures have been tightened". You pay top dollar wages to avoid failures such as this, and proactively put your procedures in. Then there is the issue of the Tellies on officers desks. In these days of credit crunches and low pay rises for council staff, what message does this send out? You got it "I'm all right jack". That isn't quality leadership to me. There are many similar examples, but the mother of them all is the "Icelandic Bank" debacle. Unless central government (ie Gordon Brown) rides like a knight on a white horse to the rescue, Barnet's finances have been destroyed. The Tories put up the Council Tax by 40% to fix a £10 Million black hole they claimed existed, when they took over from Labour in 2002 (guess who was CEO then). This is nearly three times as bad. You'd better pray Gordon is feeling generous, because if he isn't you'll be looking back fondly on the good old days when council tax raises were merely 40%. Was it avoidable, well I've seen various evidence that shows at dozens of red flags on these investments. Barnet Council and it's top officers missed them all.

President Truman, former US president, used to have a sign on his desk saying "The Buck stops here". I will happily pay for one of these, made from the finest wood, if someone at Barnet Council tells me who to give it to. If you were to ask me whether I thought Boland and his team were "FAT CATS" or "MONKEYS" I'd say no, I think there career's at Barnet should soon be DoDo's. They have failed and we'll all foot the bill for decades, through local or central taxes.

Monday 13 October 2008

Why does the Daily Mail hate women?

Sometimes I read something and I just have to respond. Some things are just so completely out of order that they cannot be let pass without comment. There are many things I dislike, but pretty near the top of the list is the Daily Mail. There are many things I don't like about the Daily Mail, but the way it portrays women is disgusting.

I can remember spending an evening discussing the awful rag with sadly missed cousin, film director Midge MacKenzie. The highlight of Midge's career was the BBC drama "Shoulder to Shoulder" about the suffragette movement. Midge was a self made woman, who started her life sharing a bed with my mum (her auntie) in a run down Oldham slum. She was sent to Dublin during the war, to escape the bombings and started her career as a secretary in an advertising agency. By the time I was old enough to appreciate her she was an established director and amongst other things set up the Sheffield Film festival. Midge had a great intellect and a way of seeing things as they were. That is one reason why Director John Huston chose her to make the last documentary about his life.

Over a bottle of wine a few years ago, I happened to mention my dislike of the Daily Mail. She spent the next hour explaining how disgusting the paper was and how it had done more damage to women and their self esteem than everything else put together. She explained how the Mail's agenda was aimed at keeping women suppressed and concerned about their appearance, rather than their rights and their careers. Midge explained that the Mail had a systematic editorial policy of ridiculing anyone who didn't confirm to their view of a perfect woman (ie a stay at home mum lovingly kowtowing to their husband).

I'd fogotten this conversation until just now. I got an email from my sister with a clip from the Mail concerning Kate Nash. Now my sister has lived in Florida for the last 30 years. She's married to an eminent retired doctor, once responsible for the emergency health care provision for the US senate. A couple of years ago, whilst visiting, she came with her husband to watch a gig I was promoting for MacMillan Cancer relief. The support act was a then unknown Kate Nash. Kate is the daughter of one of my best friends. She put on a storming show at the Mill Hill Jazz Club, donating all her fees to charity. Within a few months she was number 1.

My sister has followed Kate's career from afar and sent me a clip from todays Daily Mail online entitled "Spotty Kate Nash Braves the Cameras". This disgusting little story shows a blown up picture of Kate's face with a spot on it. The audacity of the girl.

Well I'm sorry Daily Mail, 21 year old girls get spots. It is normal. To put a story like that in you paper just shows what a bunch of lowlifes you are. What message are you sending to girls? Don't go out unless you are perfect. What will my 13 year old daughter think if she has acne? She'll think she's disgusting. She'll feel undermined. She'll feel worried. To be honest, this story makes me sick.

Well Kate, we're four square behind you. It would make more than a few spots before you were anything other than fantastic. You have talent, unlike the cowardly Daily Mail reporter who didn't even have the guts to put his name on his masterpiece.

I'm sorry to say that I had almost forgotten my conversation with my amazing inspirational cousin. I just wish the thing that made me recall it was something more inspiring than that horrible little story in the awful rag.

The Credit Crunch - Barnet Council - Where has the Story gone

As far as I am concerned, and from what people are telling me, there really is only one local news story at the moment in Barnet. The council may have lost nearly £30 Million investing in Icelandic banks. Now I've searched high and low to find out how this may affect me. The best source of information I've come up with on my trawl of the internet is at Lib Dem Councillor Duncan MacDonald.

He has published a Q&A sheet put together by Barnet Council on his blog. The most revealing Q&A is the last

What is the worst case scenario should the money be lost and the authority not compensated by Government?

The Council does not get any of the money invested back and has to write off the amounts invested to the general fund, pension fund, housing revenue account and capital programme. In the event this occurs, the Council would have to take actions to mitigate the losses in each of these areas.

This has massive implications for everyone. Council Taxpayers, staff in the Barnet pension scheme, Council tenants. Now it clearly states that this is the worst case scenario, but it scares the hell out of me. It seems to me from the briefing sheet that the only hope is that the Central government will bail Barnet out. If this does happen, clearly it will benefit all of us Barnet residents, which would be good. The only trouble is that all of the residents of councils such as Brighton & Hove which did proper risk assessments and pulled out of Iceland would be punished by central Government through increased central taxation. How would you feel if you were bailing out Brighton, when Barnet had been prudent.

I've already shown that Council Leader Mike Freer's assertion that no one could foresee this situation is incorrect. Mr Freer worked for many years as a banker, so you think he would have had an inkling. Lets have a look at a few early warnings about Icelandic banks.

September 2006 - Euromoney notes that Icelandic banks are potentially vulnerable. Debt was 167% of GDP.

21 Feb 2006 - Rating agency Fitch changes the rating of Icelands sovereign debt from Stable to Negative because of a current account defecit of 15%.

December 2006 - Standard and Poor downgrade Icelands sovereign debt rating.

August 2007 - The Subprime mortgage situation provokes Stock market Decline.

November 2007 - Standard and Poor puts Iceland on watch for Downgraded assessment. The FT write "Some investors are now wondering whether Iceland could be heading for a bout of financial turbulence".

Jan 2008 - Moody's rating agency puts all Icelandic Banks on review for possible downgrading. February 2008 - It cuts Landisbanki's long-term rating.

31 March 2008 - Kinross Council removes all three Icelandic banks from its list of approved Investments.

I could go on, the pace of the warnings really hots up from April onwards. The question is, at what point should Barnet Council have recognised that Icelandic Banks weren't a safe place for it's deposits. At what point should the Barnet Finance team have started saying "This isn't a good place for our staff's pensions & other cash".

At the very least, briefing papers should have been produced and there should have been some discussion as to whether this was a sensible strategy in full council.

Now there are thousands of people in Barnet who want to know what is going on. Many of us are worried about huge council tax rises. Where do we find out. Well there is Councillor Macdonalds blog, but what about the more mainstream sources of information. I would have thought that the questions and Answers (and much more) would be front page on the Barnet Council website. Well it isn't even mentioned at 18:38 on Monday 13 October as I write this. What about our esteemed local paper? How have they covered the story? What does the Edgware/Barnet/Hendon/Finchley Times have to say.

Well there is a story dated on Thursday 9th October, but to be quite honest, there is more detail on Councillor MacDonald's blog. One rather strange thing is that there are a whole plethora of new stories posted today on the Times website, about such exciting things as a break in at the Bowls club, and a 70 year old pensioner trying to meet his sweetheart, which are given more visibility. In fact there are so many new items that the story about the Icelandic banks has been knocked off the first page of not only the homepage, but also of the news page. Now far be it from me to criticise the Times editorial policy, but surely they realise that the Icelandic Bank story is far more important to us, it may well hit us all very hard. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but it seems bizarre that the story hasn't been followed up and has been relegated from the front page so quickly, with a sudden flurry of shall we say, rather uninspiring stories.

Now far be it from me to tell the Editor of the Times, Phil Crowther, how to do his job, but let me explain what I would do in his place. Firstly I would have recognised that the situation at Barnet Council is a massive story. Secondly I would have made it my reporters top priority to find out everything they can and put the other stories on the back burner. Thirdly, I would have had a credit crunch update as my top story. I would have posted all new, public domain information onto the website as it emerged. If nothing else, I would have at least given sketchy outlines, so my readers anticipate the full edition of the paper. The details of the development of the crisis are not hard to find out, the briefing note from Barnet is on Councliior MacDonalds website. I found all of this out when I finished doing my "real job" so how hard could it be for a team of trained journalists. Maybe they just haven't realised that the world has moved into the 24 hour rolling news age and we use websites as our primary source of information. If they want people to view their website and newspaper with credibility, they have to have up to date stories.

Now I hope Phil proves me wrong and there is a massive 9 page expose in the paper. If there is I'll send him £20 to buy the boys and girls a beer. If there isn't I will pour myself a nice large glass of Bushmills Whiskey, pick up my guitar and compose a sad lament to "The Spirit of the Times" - Over to you Phil

Sunday 12 October 2008

Mike Freer is a Banker

Council's up and down the country are counting the cost of the Credit Crunch. Many have put money into Icelandic banks offering high rates of interest, which have gone broke. A report in the Edgware Times says that Barnet council has possibly lost nearly £30 Million pounds. Given that we had a 40% tax increase when the Tories took power in 2002 to plug a £10 million hole in the reserves, they claimed the previous administration had left, this has huge consequences for us Council Tax payers. Council Leader Mike Freer, who until recently worked for Barclays Bank, said this about the problem "No council could have reasonably foreseen the collapse of Iceland's banks in what once were safe deposits."

Is Mr Freer's statement correct? Well it appears that on 1st April a credit rating agency called Fitch issued a "rating watch negative" warning for three Icelandic banks. The full details of this are available from Sky News. Now I don't know about you, but if I was spending £30 Million I'd check out where it was going. I'd expect the council finance department to use a few credit rating agencies.

The Times article says that Barnet council's deposits were of nearly £30 million and were on Fixed Term investments. Now personally, I don't think that it's the council's job to invest my money. Clearly they need to have emergency reserves and money in the bank to pay the bills and wages, but "Fixed Term Investments"? Susie Squire, at the TaxPayers alliance said of this "The taxpayers of Barnet will be shocked to find out that their hard-earned money has been risked in this way. If Barnet Council had enough money to stash millions in savings accounts, they should have been making tax cuts. At a time when everyone is tightening their belts, relieving the financial burden on ordinary families should have been the priority – this money could have made a big difference to people in Barnet." Not an unreasonable point.

How did Mr Freer, the expert banker, the leader of Barnet Council respond? (Rather arrogantly for a man who's actions have just lost £30 Million) like this "The TaxPayers' Alliance has little grasp of reality when it comes to the complex nature of local authority finances, and their knee jerk reactionary comments are unhelpful and misleading. The council has not ‘stashed’ millions of pounds away. We carefully and prudently profile what will be spent on capital projects and what is not immediately needed is invested to ensure that taxpayers of the borough receive the best value. By following such practice, the council has generated additional income that has reduced the burden on the taxpayers of the borough."

So Mr Freer is saying that they carefully work out how much tax they need to charge you, then charge you even more tax to put into accounts with health warnings from credit rating agencies. One interesting fact I turned up whilst researching this blog was that Brighton and Hove Council took all of their money out of the Icelandic Banks last year. A spokesperson for the council said it suspended transactions with Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander about a year ago over concerns about Iceland's banks expanding too rapidly. Now I would have thought that of all the councils in Britain, as the Leader of Barnet Council had many years of experience in Banking, Barnet council would have been far better placed to foresee this.

When Freer sat down with the finance officer to discuss these major investments, surely he should have said "This is a large sum of money, the returns are very high, what is the risk?" This is called due diligence. Mike Freer as council leader has a duty of care to look after our cash prudently. He is an expert in the field of banking, so he should be able to know how to perform a risk assessment. When you are dealing with Council reserves, you have to be careful. There are two possibilities regarding the money. Firstly it was money set aside for allocated expenditure later in the year, in which case it should have been in minimal risk accounts, albiet on lower rates of interest. The other option is that we have been overly taxed so Mr Freer and the council could have a punt with our money. Whichever of these is true, Mr Freer has shown he is not a competent council leader, is reckless with taxpayers money. He is clearly not up to the job of being the MP for Finchley, Margaret Thatchers old seat.

If his stock in trade was being a dustman, we could possibly excuse his financial naivity, but he's a banker. He should know. Even my friend Geoff who is a dustman knows that if have a flutter, sometimes you lose.