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.


Unknown said...

So what if Barnet Council issue 11 press releases. I happen to think most of them are press releases on great issues. Some of them very important and quite relevant to the time of year.

I have been reading this Blog from afar and have never ever commented before but I felt so compelled to after reading all this drivel. To me, someone who is not the slightest bit political and couldn’t really care who runs what currently, it just sounds like you have a problem with Mike Freer.

I work in advertising and the only thing I would say is that Mike Freer is getting a great amount of publicity from you which will certainly be keeping peoples Google alerts active!

Unknown said...

Oh and be careful with your postings because if I was Mike Freer I would not be happy with you insinuating I was fiddling with the councils finances!

Rog T said...

John-Paul, if you read the comment you see that I was drawing an analogy with Emperor Caligula of Rome. There is no insinuation. Surely a chap as intelligent of you knows your history?

The only problem I have with Mike Freer is that I think he is a very poor council leader. I'm sure he's a lovely chap.

If it is such drivel, don't read it. I suspect you rather enjoy it really. If you let me know your address I'll send you a ROG T fan club badge.

The good thing about this forum is we love a bit of free speech and we post comments. Welcome to the club

By the way, if Mike Freer is reading this and objects to the insinuation in John-Pauls second comment, which clearly bears no relation to the blog, let me know and I'll remove it, as I certainly wouldn't want anyone to get the impression John Paul is trying to suggest. I think Mike Freer is a poor council leader, but I don't think he's on the take.