Sunday 28 February 2010

Barnet Council - Pie in the sky or a brick in your eye?

Barnet Council has spent over £2.5 million pounds paying teams of management consultants to reinvent the way the council works. There are several names associated with this scheme. The press rather like "Easycouncil". It's also called "Future Shape". If you are a Council tax payer, I suggest you call it "Pie in the sky" because they've spent all this money, promising massive savings, which they've failed to demonstrate that there is any hope of achieving. If you are someone who relies on the council, you would probably be better of referring to it as "A brick in the eye", because that is how it will feel when the cuts start to hit home.

So what are they planning. Here's a recent quote from the Council
We're reviewing the options for the delivery of our planning and regulatory functions through a new arms length organisation, to be run on a partnership basis. A number of possible models for this joint venture are being explored, including a management buy-out
 The reason you elect councillors is so that there is democratic oversight of regulation. Barnet want to remove these checks and controls. As to planning, this is completely bonkers. It is an emotive subject at the best of times. You want an extension, your neighbour doesn't like your plans. The Council is the referee. For small decisions, officers have delegated powers to decided, for bigger decisions it goes to the planning committee, which is a panel of councillors. At present officers and councillors work for the same organisation. They have a vested interest in doing the job as professionally as possible. How will it work under the new system. There are two possible models I can envisage.

1) The new firm does it on a Time and Materials basis. The longer they drag it out, the more they can charge the council. Numerous site visits and re-referrals will ensue. Every little thing will be an extra cost.

2) They do it on a fixed price basis, where they get a set amount for every set of plans. The staff will be under pressure to push decisions through as quickly as possible. The result? Due diligence will be the lowest priority. Net result - more appeals and more costs.

It's bad enough when your request to build an extension is turned down by an overzealous council officer or when Councillor Maureen Braun's planning committee allows your neighbour to build a supersize shed, but imagine it if the decision came from "Plans 'R' Us"? You'd ring up and say "How could you possibly turn down my extension when it meets all the rules" - The voice at the call centre, half way across the world would inform you "Sorry sir, computer says no".

I was chatting to a Barnet Council employee yesterday, who was on his way to a protest to save the Whittington Hospital A&E department. I asked him this "Are the people who work for Barnet Council proud to be public servants?". He told me that a recent staff survey had shown that this was one of the major motivations for working for the council. I was sounding him out about the Mill Hill Lib Dems plans to get Barnet Council employees, such as dustmen, to be asked to report potholes and other local hazards back to the highways department. The idea is simple. As the dustcarts do their rounds, the drivers have a form. If they see a pothole, damaged street sign or other hazard, they fill in the details and location when they stop to allow the bin to be emptied. When they get back to the depot, they hand the form in. The dustmen cover every street in the Borough on a weekly basis, so they could provide up to date intelligence. Simple really. I asked if staff would consider doing this. "Of course, they are proud of the Borough". What would happen under easycouncil, if a third party company were providing the dustcarts. "They would charge extra for this"

Time and time again, Conservative councils have tried to outsource departments. The same problems always occur. Shoddy service, low staff morale, higher than expected costs for extras and massive legal bills when the wrangles start. Part of the Future Shape budget is £5 for legal fees. You could save the sheltered housing warden service ten times over for this.

Now don't get me wrong, everyone knows that public services are in for a torrid time, due to the poor shape of the economy. My niece's husband is a fireman in Ireland. He's just had a 20% pay cut imposed on him, as part of an austerity program. Our nasty medicine is being delayed until after the election. Whoever wins, we are in for massive cuts. The Leader of Barnet Council, Lynne Hillan should be engaging the trade unions now to ensure that staff in front line services are retained and if cuts come, they are made in areas where Council Tax payers don't suffer too much (executive pay would be a prime contender for a 20% cut). Sadly, it appears that Lynne Hillan just doesn't get it.

If you want to remove democratic accountability from regulation and planning, civic pride from council staff and spend £5 million on fees for fat cat lawyers, I suggest you contact Lynne Hillan and join the Barnet Conservative party. If you don't then please email me and I'll try and tell you ways in which you can help change Barnet for the better (CLICK HERE TO EMAIL ME).

Saturday 27 February 2010

First Capital Connect - Petition - only 256 more signatures needed !

As regular readers of this blog will know, we've been supporting the No 10 petition to strip First Capital Connect of the Thameslink Franchise. There are now 5,744. Only 256 more signatures are needed to get to the magic 6,000 mark. This is important because this landmark number will show the Government and the regulators that customers are still unhappy. If you haven't signed this petition, please do (unless you think First have done a good job). Only yesterday we had the unprecedented news that Customers had refused to get off a perfectly good train that FCC had decided to take out of service at Cricklewood. The latest figures from their own website show that nearly 1 in 4 trains are late - 10 Jan-6 Feb 76.8%

If you want a decent service, keep up the pressure, sign the petition and make sure everyone you know also signs the petition. Here's the link - it's also in the sidebar. Send it to your friends.

Friday 26 February 2010

Barnet Council Potholes Special - Does the new system work?

I thought I'd try a little experiment. I thought I'd see how well Barnet Council's new website which you can use to report Potholes in the road works. Here's a selection of pictures taken in my road. As you can see the state of the Highway looks more like a scene from a warfilm, with crater sized potholes, some full with water. Clearly these are serious hazards to cars and in places the road is in a state of collapse.

I notice that there have been several reports of these already made on the Councils website

Now I notice that some say the day, but not the date. The oldest is dated 25th January, over 1 month ago. Others just say Wednesday and Sunday. Anyway, I've just made a new report. Let's see just how long they take to fix. By the way, whilst I was taking these pictures, a van shot past and kicked up a stone, which left a large dent on a parked car. I strongly suggest that you avoid parking in Millway till these are fixed. There are huge numbers of lumps of rock in the road. It wouldn't surprise me if someone gets injured as if the rock had hit a person it would have rather badly hurt them.

To report your own problem click here - -

If you reported a problem and the system hasn't worked (let's say you've waited more than 14 days) please email me by clicking here.

I think the idea of this website is superb. I just hope that it works and the problems get fixed. I am surprised that the Council don't ask their own dustmen to keep an eye out, after all they cover more or less every inch of the Borough. Would that be too simple?

It rather looks like Barnet Councils statement that they would fix all of the Boroughs  potholes by the end of last week was a tad overoptimistic -

It rather looks like Tory roads supremo, Councillor Daniel Thomas, has the Midas touch in reverse. He's only been in the job for under two months and we've run out of grit and all of the roads have fallen to bits !

First Capital Connect - Ahoy Mateys - Piracy at Cricklewood !!!!!

It's noon in Sunny Mill Hill and I've just heard some news that made my day. First Capital Connect have made the Noon news on BBC London Radio (I'll put a link here later if I can find it). Guess what for? Yes they've just won an award for running the most punctual rail service in Europe! Only kidding. Nope, sadly they've made the news for doing what they do best - Pissing off their passengers.This morning, no doubt in an attempt to  save a bit of cash, they decided to take a perfectly well working train out of service at Cricklewood. The captain of the ship train driver announced that the train was terminating at Cricklewood and the passengers said "NO WAY" and refused to get off. After a reported half hour stand off, First Capital Connect gave in and the train continued to London. Here's a little song to sing on the way home to the tune of "Go West" by the Village People

"One Nil to the Passengers, One Nil to the Passengers
One Nil to the Passengers,One Nil to the Passengers"

Yup silly and childish, I know, but these little things make me feel better. Well done to all of the passengers who refused to take this crap. I'll have a beer in your honour tonight.

By the way, please sign the petition to sack this rubbish company - There's a link in the Green Sidebar. It's vital that the number of signatures keeps going up to show the Government that we're still suffering from their useless, inadequate service.

Music in the London Borough of Barnet - Barnet Beat Facebook site

I just got an email from Simon Gordon, who runs Sound Skool, which is a company that provides music courses for young people. He's launched a Barnet Beat facebook page. Simon has launched the site to encourage people to share information about music, gigs and other events in the London Borough of Barnet. Simon has asked me to give the site a plug on my blog, which I'm more than happy to do.

Please check out the Barnet Beat Facebook site -!/group.php?gid=322751712809

Strangely enough, when I first started blogging, I was trying to do what Simon is doing with the Facebook site - ie trying to publicise music in Barnet. I got a bit distracted. I hope the Barnet Beat facebook page is a bit more successful.

Barnet Beat is a loose and informal consortium of people, companies, schools, colleges and Barnet Council, etc, all with an interest in promoting music in the London Borough of Barnet.

Finchley Catholic High School and the ambassador to Israel

There is a  really good story in this weeks Finchley Times. The new ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould visited Finchley Catholic High School and addressed pupils earlier this month. Pupils from St Michael’s Catholic Grammar School, Hasmonean High School and the Jewish Free School were invited to attend. Mr Gould is the first Jewish ambassador to Israel and Mr Gould spoke about how honoured he was to be appointed.

There is often criticism of faith schools, claiming that they are too insular and inward looking. As an ex pupil of Finchley Catholic, I am proud that the school is clearly taking a lead in promoting links with other communities. Inviting pupils from the other schools clearly shows that in Barnet, faith schools are promoting a better inter faith relations in the community. In 2007, pupils from Finchley Catholic High School took a play about the holocaust and performed it at the Auschtwitz. It can only be a good thing for schools to get together to stage these sort of events. The best way to counter Racism, anti-semitism and intolerance is to address these issues with young people at an early age. Schools working together as shown here is a great way of getting people from different traditions together.

I can only commend all of the schools involved for taking part and praise Mr Gould for taking the time to speak to the pupils.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Community Sports Facilities in Barnet

Ok, first I'll nail my flag to the mast. My daughter is a member of the Barnet Copthall Swimming club Senior squad. She's national age group champion at 1500 metres and silver medal holder at 800 metres. This involves one or two lengthy sessions in the pool every day of the week except Saturday.

My son plays football for Watling FC Under 10 A team. You could say I have an interest to declare in community sports facilities. How do I rate Barnets community Sports facilities? Well lets have look at Swimming. Despite being the second largest borough in London and despite having one of Londons most successful swimming squads, there isn't a 50 metre community pool in Barnet. This means all of our swimmers are at a competetive disadvantage. There is only one high diving board, at Crystal Palace. Our coaches do a fantastic jobs, but how much more could they do with proper facilities. How many local youngsters would take up the sport if the facilities were better?

As to football. Again, there isn't a club I'd rather my son played for than Watling FC. Their home ground is Burnt Oak Leisure Centre. It isn't a bad facility, but there is a chronic shortage of funds, a chronic shortage of pitches and a chronic shortage council interest. I recently attended a recording of BBC Radio 4's any questions. One of the panellists said "I can't stand football". Sitting three rows in front of me was the deputy Mayor of Barnet, Hugh Rayner. His response to this statement. He clapped and cheered wildly. Last year, at a Hendon Area Residents forum meeting, I asked why the grass pitches at the Burnt Oak Leisure centre weren't being properly maintained. Hugh Rayner stood up and said that the Leisure Centre was superb and he hadn't seen any problems. I then asked if he'd actually been round the back to look at the pitch. He responded "Er, No". Everyone laughed.

The sad truth is that it's not funny. As you may know, I am standing for the Lib Dems in Mill Hill ward in the Council elections. If you have any constructive suggestions as to how sports facilities in the London Borough of Barnet could be improved, please EMAIL ME BY CLICKING HERE. We are in the process of drawing up our manifesto and any I promise that I will argue passionately to ensure that our young people get a better deal from the Council in regards to sports provision.

Lynne Hillan Competition - Spot the Difference

I know all of the readers of Barnet Eye love a good competition and here's a cracker. We're running a spot the difference competition !  Examine the email address for Lynne Hillan, Leader of Barnet Council very carefully, in the two pictures. One is taken from the Conservatives In Touch magazine for Brunswick Park in April 2006 and the other is taken from the In Touch magazine for Summer 2007.

You can check the veracity of these by visiting the Barnet Conservatives website library of In Touch magazines - - Can you spot the difference. Here's a clue

Got it yet (click on the image for a more readable form)?

I anticipate a lot of correct answers so here's the tie-break question - Who used to run Ashurst Direct Marketing before it went bust and what do they now do?

Of course running a company which went bust, leaving creditors out of pocket, the taxman out of pocket and customers out of pocket, in no way means that someone isn't fit to run one of Britains largest councils, with a turnover of approximately a billion quid, many vulnerable people in its care and responsibility for the education of all our kids. Does it?

Barnet Council Update - Get your pothole fixed here

I've been told that the head of communications of Barnet Council receives a salary in excess of £80,000 per year. One of the objectives of the Barnet Future Shape project is to "nudge" all of us, through clever advertising into costing the council less money. They believe that by "persuading" us to do things like generating less rubbish, Barnet Council will save a fortune. So is the Barnet Council Tax Payer getting a good service from the Barnet CouncilCommunications department? There no 1 job should be to inform Council Tax payers of things the Council are doing to make our life better. You'll have to make your own mind up, but let me give you an example of why I think it needs a root and branch shake up.

Barnet Council have just launched an innovate and clever new website where you can report potholes and other problems in your road etc. You can also see what progress has been made. As Barnet is covered in Potholes, I'd expect this to have hundreds of reports listed. It has 65. This is because no one has heard of it.

So getting back to my point. We are spending a fortune in Council Tax on advertising, communications,  media enquiries, but 99.9% of people living in Barnet haven't got a clue that there's an easy and simple way to get your road fixed. Marvellous, isn't it.

Whilst many areas in Barnet Council are under pressure, with front line services such as sheltered housing wardens being cut, I was intrigued to see the structure of the Communications Department at Barnet Council. This month, Barnet Council has so far put out 18 press releases.Last month, they put out 23. This means that so far, the team have averaged less than 4 press releases each this month. Now of course they do more than write press releases, but in comparison, there have been 47 blogs here this month and 74 last month. Now on top of this, I have a full time job running 3 successful businesses, as well as playing in a band, setting up a youth music project with YMCA and running as a candidate for the Lib Dems in the election. On average I spend less than an hour a day writing this. I'm not criticising in any way the individual officers, as I'm sure they are all doing a stirling job behind the scenes, within their terms of reference, but I have to question the corporate culture within Barnet Council.

The reason I have such a bee in my bonnet about this issue is because I am told time and time again, by all manner of people, that this blog (and a couple of others run for free by residents of Barnet) are the only way people have a clue what the council is up to. What do you think?

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Conservative voter in Barnet? Please read this

This is an extract from a comment left by Daniel Hope, a Conservative who was a Barnet Councillor until 2006, on the Hendon Times website yesterday :-
As a Conservative I believe it is essential that there is real opposition and scrutiny of what goes on in the Town Hall.
Despite the huge allowances paid to the Labour Group to fund their 'Shadow' activities they have failed as an opposition and are not taken seriously as a party to run the Council. A couple of blogs that have cost no money to the taxpayer and are run by volunteers have done more to shine a light on the Town Hall shenanigans than anything the Labour Group have done.
The two blogs Mr Hope was referring to was this blog and "Not The Barnet Times" run by David Miller, like Mr Hope, also a Conservative. Mr Miller started his blog because he recognised the fact that the Conservatives running Barnet Council were not implementing Conservative Policies. The key moment that triggered it's inception was when the ruling Tory group started leaning on the Barnet Times to get rid of the blog I used to write for their website. Mr Miller thought that rather than acting like Conservatives, they were behaving more like Stalinists. Although Mr Miller and myself sit on other sides of the political spectrum, we both can see and have highlighted huge waste within Barnet Council. If Mr Miller and like minded Conservatives were running Barnet Council, I have no doubt at all that your Council tax would be lower today, your services would be better and that ridiculous policies such as the cuts to sheltered housing wardens would have never emerged. I would still disagree with much of what they did, but I doubt I'd even write a blog, because there wouldn't be stupid mistakes all of the time and they'd simply be implementing Tory policies, which had been voted for.

The trouble is that David Miller and like minded Conservatives aren't running the show. They have been pushed to the very margins of the Conservative Party in Barnet. It is a matter of public record that senior Barnet Conservatives, one of whom is running for parliament have even publicly insulted David Millers mother in an effort to push him out. Sadly for them, this has just made Mr Miller even more strident in his opposition. In December last year, a new Conservative Leader of Barnet Council took over. Lynne Hillan was the architect of the sheltered housing warden fiasco, which has cost the council tens of thousands of pounds in legal expenses. Lynne Hillan has a track record of failure on her CV. The company she used to run, Ashurst Direct Marketing Ltd went bust in 2006, leaving many creditors out of pocket. I've run a small business for many years. I know what it's like when someone owes you money and goes bust. I know how galling it is when you find out they've set up a new company and carried on as though nothing had happened. My parents ran a small business in Mill Hill repairing cars for 40 years. A dodgy businessman pulled that stunt on my parents in the 1960's and our family nearly went to the wall. I think it was no coincidence that my mum developed cancer and my father developed a stomach ulcer. Of course, the people who pull these stunts don't care. They think they are rather clever.

Mr Hope states that as a Conservative he believes that it is vital that there is real opposition and real scrutiny in Barnet council. With David Cameron running the Conservatives, it is most likely that the general election will result in a high turnout of Conservative voters. What will this mean for Barnet Council? Well it could mean a virtual wipeout of the opposition Lib Dems and Labour. What Mr Hope couldn't bring himself to say (unsurprisingly as he's a loyal Conservative) is that the Barnet Lib Dems have lead the way in both scrutiny and opposition. The debate to scrutinise the Icelandic Investment cock up was called by the Lib Dems. Both Wayne Casey and Monroe Palmer made mincemeat of the former leader of the Council in the debate. The only reason that the truth has emerged at all is through pressure from the Barnet Lib Dem councillors. Anyone who attended the debates will know this to be true. I'm standing for election to Barnet Council in May for the Lib Dems. Whatever your normal allegiance I urge you to consider this. The local Conservatives in Barnet have failed to deliver by every measure. They have shown themselves unable to manage the affairs of Council. Some of the Councillors who run the Barnet Cabinet are getting over £50,000 for doing what in effect is a "spare time job". Other Tory Councillors are getting £3,000 allowances for being chairmen of comittees that meet for less than 1 hour a year.

I urge you to consider these points when you decide how to vote in the Council elections in May.
I agree with Daniel Hope. I believe that proper Opposition and Scrutiny is required for a council to run smoothly. Whilst ideally I'd love to see that opposition and scrutiny coming from Barnet Conservatives to a ruling Lib Dem group, I can guarantee that if the Conservatives are the party in power, it is essential for the Lib Dems to have a strong presence. Barnet Conservatives have taken the Council finances, put their foot on the accelerator and are heading towards the edge of the cliff. There is only one way to stop this waste and incompetence and that is at the ballot box in May. In the long run you'll be doing the decent, sensible Conservatives such as David Miller locally a huge favour, if you send a strong message to the people who've brought financial ruin to the Boroughs finances.

Picture at top : A whelk Stall. To run one of these successfully, you need to spend less money, than you have coming in. Sadly these principles seem to be beyond the current Councillors running Barnet Council. Simples ?????

How to become a famous blogger

Hat tip to Roger Owen Green, one of the band of Rogers who blog. Dunno if it counts as famous, but Dave Hill at the Guardian seems to like some of my blogs. (Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.)

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Parking Charges : Barnets Tories exposed as Unconservative !

There is a rather interesting article in todays Daily Express where Tory Local Government Chief Caroline Spelman hit out at Council Chiefs and pledged to  "Stop families and local shops being hit with aggressive parking fines, unfair parking charges and cuts to the number of peak parking spaces". Ms Spelman went on to say :-
Stressed out drivers now have to run a guantlet of unfair parking fines, soaring parking charges and a lack of parking spaces
Ms Spelman continued
Conservatives will call off Labours war on the motorist and work to provide more parking spaces to help small shops prosper in local high streets and assist mums struggling with their family shop
As I read this my jaw dropped to the floor. My first thought was "Does Ms Spelman live in Barnet?". As regular readers of this blog will know, Conservative Barnet Council makes more money from parking than any other local authority. Less than two weeks ago I was at a Leader Listens business breakfast with Councillor Andrew Harper, deputy Leader of Barnet Council. I suggested that introducing a "Free for an hour" parking scheme in Barnets Town Centres would be a massive boost for businesses, help hard pressed motorists and be environmentally friendly as people would use local shops more and make fewer trips to out of town shopping centres where there is free parking.

The suggestion was universally approved by all of the owners of small businesses who were present. What was Councillor Harpers response? He said that the Christmas Free after Three scheme had cost the council £100,000 in lost revenue and any changes would only be made if the council could afford it. That is the biggest problem with the Conservatives. Where they have no power they make fine promises. Where they can make a difference, they don't want to know. How on earth can you believe a single word Ms Spelman says about parking, when the Tories flagship, way of the future Easycouncil, which David Cameron was so keen to support with a visit to Hendon last year, are the worst offenders?

If you want to let Barnet Council know what you think about their "Parking Tax" (because in reality thats what it is), please sign this petition to allow shoppers in Mill Hill Broadway one hours free parking

By the way, if you are wondering where Caroline Spelman got the idea for raising the issue of Parking Charges, you would be amazed how many times this blog has been viewed by Conservative Central Headquarters (CCHQ) in the last month. If Caroline Spelman or David Cameron really want to get hold of some decent policies for local Government, they are welcome to EMAIL ME BY CLICKING HERE and I'll send them a copy of the Mill Hill Lib Dem manifesto, which we've been working on. From what I've been hearing on the doorsteps, it seems to be rather popular round here. As to parkling charges, Id suggest that if the local Tories don't want to listen to me, then maybe they should listen to their own front bench spokesperson, who has been rather keen to nick my ideas.

******** Update **********
Alex Hayes from the Edgware Times emailed me to point out that Barnet Council doesn't collect the most money from parking charges. The title it holds is the largest increase in revenue collected from parking charges in the last year.  Is that any better? Make up your own mind


Blame Vicki Morris for this post. I don't really like cakes. I don't have a sweet tooth and I can't remember the last time I went into a shop, sat down and had a cream cake. If I ever have a pudding, which is rare, I have apple pie and custard, preferably industrial quality custard. However Vicki posted this blog today which details how her favourite cake shop has gone.

It made me come over all nostalgic. You see when I was a wee nipper, the very best treat in the world was when my big sister Valerie used to take me down to the finest cake shop in the world. I am of course talking about the long gone and sadly missed Chowens. This was located on the site of what is now Abbey National in Mill Hill Broadway. You just don't get shops like Chowens any more. It's decor (as best I recall) was pink and brown. The clientelle were predominantly ladies of a certain age with blue rinses. Youngsters such as myself were usually greeted with a sniffy glare. My mother didn't much care for Chowens as she had a lactose intolerance. She also didn't much care for the blue rinse brigade. As such a trip to Chowens was often a clandestine operation, undertaken when she was out on business.

Cake shops today aren't much like Chowens either. I can't remember the last time I saw a Cream Meringue on display. Chowens had thousands of them, all neatly lined up.  They were the king of the cream cake. The rather phallic chocolate eclair held no fascination for me, too vulgar by far. The Strawberry tart was too flashy and the cream slice was too square an boring. Nope, for me it was the Cream meringue with it's two perfectly formed cheeks. Regular readers of this blog will know of my fascination with Uma Thurman. Without wishing to be too vulgar, something about her reminds me of a perfectly formed cream meringue.

I wanted a picture of a cream meringue for this blog, but it seems that like the old ladies with blue rinses and Chowens of Mill Hill, they are long gone. If anyone knows a proper cake shop anywhere in London, where they sell cream meringues and hot chocolates, and you can eat it surrounded by old ladies with blue rinses scowling at you, please let me know. I want to take my son there just once, so he can know what it was like to be a kid in the 1960's.

If Doctor Who landed on my doorstep and I could borrow his Tardis for half an hour, I'd like to think I'd nip back to Mill Hill Broadway in 1969 and get myself a hot chocolate and Cream Meringue and get one for the boy as well. Mind you, I'd better make sure I didn't go back on a Thursday afternoon as that was early closing day and they'd be shut.

Monday 22 February 2010

Barnet Eye : Spotlight on Finchley and Finchlinks

There's a new website for anyone interested in Finchley - - Unlike this site, it's not a blog but a community resource. Theres an interesting suggestion for a West Finchley Conservation area amongst other things, which sounds like a good idea (although I wish Barnet Council would enforce the rules on the existing areas before adding to them). Anyway, it's always good to have information about the locality, so I'll be adding a link in the sidebar. If you are interested in Finchley have a look (I don't suppose they'll be putting a link to me because I upset the bloke who runs it a while back, but thats another matter).

If you are looking for a night out in Finchley, my personal recommendation would be to visit the Phoenix Cinema - one of the few suburban "proper cinemas" left. If you want to eat out there, my favourite restaurant is the Japanese food at Tosa. It's always been great. Sadly Barnets premier rock venue, The Torrington shut down a couple of years ago, but if anyone knows a good gig venue, please post a comment. No mention of Finchley would be complete without mentioning The Arts Depot.  I was highly amused to see a press release from Boris Johnson giving the Arts Depot the thumbs up. Those of us locals with long memories well remember how our local Tory party poured scorn on the place when in opposition. Now they are in charge they think it's marvellous. I am proud that the Lib Dems and Labour administration at the time had the vision to build such a fine resource.

The picture is the cover of the 1967 album by the New Vaudeville band. Sadly this was the most iconic picture of Finchley I could find.

Who will wipe your bum when you get old and infirm?

I had a most enjoyable morning yesterday. I was doing one of the things I enjoy most. I was having a row! One of the joys of being a candidate for the local elections is that you have to go out canvassing. Most people are actually quite nice and I've been surprised by how many read the blog. What was even better though was the guy who I had a chat with at around 1pm yesterday.  The Conversation went something like this (I'm "RT" an he's "MHR" (Mill Hill Resident).

Ding Dong.
RT : Hello, sorry to bother you.....
MHR : Your a Lib Dem, I can't stand Lib Dems.
RT : Ok, so I'll put that down on here and we won't bother you again.....
MHR : Hang on a minute, I think this Easyjet Council is a great idea. The Council does nothing for me, so why should I have to pay Council tax.
RT : Erm, you have a dustbin here, the council empties that?
MHR : Yes but I live on my own so I don't make much rubbish, do I?
RT: Yes but you get a single person discount don't you?
MHR : Yes but I've got no kids. Why should I pay for other peoples kids education?
RT : If we don't educate children, who will look after you when you get old?
MHR : I smoke and drink like a fish, I won't get old, I'll die before then.
RT : What if you don't die, what if you just have a stroke and are paralysed for twenty years, who'll look after you then?
MHR : I'd take an overdose
RT : If you were paralysed that would be impossible. Surely you'd want to have trained carers.
MHR : Yeah, well, I don't use any other council services.
RT : You've got a car? You use the roads?
MHR : Yeah and they are all falling to bits. The Council never even bothered to grit Goodwyn Avenue once during the snow.
RT : So you agree with me that the Council should spend more on roads maintenance and gritting?
MHR : Erm, I suppose you have a point. Why should I pay for parks and librarys and all that when I don't use them?
RT : Well I guess that comes back to educating youngsters doesn't it. Do you watch football?
MHR : Yeah, I'm a Gooner.
RT : So where will all of the next crop of footballers learn to play if there were no parks.
MHR : They're all French aren't they.
RT : That ain't great really is it? Don't you support the England team?
MHR : Well I suppose so.
RT : So who will you vote for if you don't like the Lib Dems
MHR : Mind your own business, but it ain't gonna be you mate.
Slam -  The Door shuts.

You can't win them all, can you? What it did bring home to me is how important it is for the council to get it right. If the council gets it wrong, it's not just your bins that won't get emptied. None of us like to think we'll be old and infirm and need someone else to wipe our bums. Conservative Mill Hill Councillor John Hart, famously said that of people receiving Council services "my arse needs wiping, and somebody from the council can come and do it for me". Sadly for many elderly and disabled residents with no families, that is the only option they have. That is why Leader of Barnet Council Lynne Hillans policy of abolishing sheltered housing is wrong.

That single quote, said on August 27th 2009 is the reason I am standing against John Hart for Barnet Council.I do wonder what John Hart thinks the elderly and the infirm should do when their bum needs wiping and they can't do it themselves?

Gordon Brown and bullying

The allegations of bullying by Gordon Brown are the top news story this morning. Whether or not there is any substance in the allegations, sadly I doubt that Gordon Brown is the only boss in the land who has staff who may feel that they are bullied. One of the most popular shows on TV is "the apprentice". This involves a group of staff being monstered on a weekly basis by Sir Alan Sugar. Then there are the shows where Gordon Ramsey goes into other peoples restaurants, F's and Blinds at them and lo and behold, the place which previously served hogswill suddenly is transformed into a Michelin starred restaurant.

Many years ago, there was a series called "Troubleshooter". It started Sir John Harvey Jones, former chairman of ICI. He'd go into failing companies and use his wealth of experience to turn the companies around. Did he swear at the staff? No, although he probably felt like it. He'd politely explain why their company was failing and what they needed to do to turn it around. Did Sir John become a megastar in the Sugar/Ramsey mould? No, but he probably saved a few companies and a few hundred jobs. The trouble is that these days people love to watch people being bullied. Why else is Simon Cowell such a prime time star? Do we watch X factor so we can see Simon discover a new talent and tell them they are marvellous? Of course we don't we want to watch him monster a poor hapless wannabee who is dazzled by the bright lights.

Have you ever worked for a bully? I have. I'm a fairly robust sort of person, I always have been. I wouldn't have thought anyone would bully me, but I was wrong. Lets call my ex boss "Jane". She did her best to bully everyone. My turn came when my father suddenly had a heart attack and died. I rang in to say that my father had passed away and I wouldn't be in for a few days. She instantly retorted "The Company rules state that you are allowed one days compassionate leave, I expect you to come in tomorrow". I responded that I would be in when I felt up to coming in. I waited a week, to be honest I still wasn't right, but thought that I had to get back to normal life sometime. As I walked into the office, a colleague approached me and said "Oh, so you've decided to turn up". I responded "Did Jane tell you why I was off". He replied "She said you couldn't be bothered to come in". Suppressing my anger, I replied "So she didn't tell you that my father had a heart attack and had died then?". My colleague looked shocked and replied "er, No". He then suggested that I follow him. he took me over the road, to a cafe, bought me a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich and said "Stay here, I need to tell everyone else. I don't want anyone else putting their foot in it". About half an hour later he came back and said "We're all really sorry. we'd have sent some flowers if we'd known. Everyone is really upset with Jane." I explained what she'd said. My friend then said "She was lying, the rules state that you are allowed 5 days compassionate leave". I was too emotionally low to tell her what I thought of her. My colleague did. She responded that she only took half a day for the funeral when her father died. She never apologised for lying. I left the company shortly after.

I don't think that systematic bullying of staff is ever tolerable. I employ nine people and I sincerely hope that I have the respect and trust of my staff without needing to terrorise them. I work in the music industry and I feel that the Cowell approach to talent is awful. I wonder how Morrissey, John Lydon, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Meatloaf, Marc Almond to name a few would have fared on X-Factor? I suspect that all you end up with if you are completely stifling, overbearing and aggressive, that all you end up with is clones and yes men. This is as true in politics as in music.I have n doubt that if Gordon Brown actually engaged with colleagues, respected their opinions and listened to their views, that  he'd be a far more successful Prime Minister.

The bottom line is that as far as I'm concerned there is no place for bullying. This is true whether it's in the playground, on X-Factor, in the workplace or in the Prime Ministers office. Sadly I think that our culture actually promotes it.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Many apologies

Yes I know, all work and no play makes Rog T a dull boy. So here, just to brighten up your day are a couple of clips which I rather like, for no other reason than I rather like them. This is my favourite Monty Python clip, not least because I worked for a Hungarian Painter and decorator for a year

Another favourate is the Monty Python "Oscar Wilde" sketch

Next up, in the 1970's, my fave TV show was Gerry Andersons UFO. Here's one reason why (this and my love of Science fiction)

Now if that hasn't done it for you, hows about some rip roarin' rock and roll music - If you don't like MC5, you probably don't like Rock and Roll music

Now if you don't like Comedy, you don't like Sci Fi and you don't like Rock and Roll, I was trying to think what could possibly cheer you up. The only things which came to mind were food or football. This clip combines the best of both. It comes from a famous fixture between my beloved Manchester City and Norwich.

Enjoy and have a great week !!!!! I promise I'll try harder to keep a smile on my face next week

Barnet Eye Weekly Round up - Great news for Labour and Lib Dems in Barnet !!!!!

Hi There ! Welcome to the latest installment of news from a Bitter Tosser with nothing better to do

Well I've had a busy week. Monday Night, I was down at Camden Lock performing a gig with a great young singer called Koni. I've uploaded a track from the gig which my nephew Adam filmed onto Youtube. Have a listen. I'm the taller of the two gutarists.

Tuesday I was down at a meeting of the federation of small businesses, where members of the small business community were drawing up our manifesto for the election. The organisation lobbies to get the government to be supportive of this sector of the economy which is often ignored.

Wednesday, we had a meeting of the local Lib Dem group. We are drawing up our local manifesto and we're trying to identify issues which matter to the people of Mill Hill. Earlier in the day, I'd come across a group of youngsters vandalising a local beauty spot. A quick lecture on the Conservation area and the Green Belt hopefully sank in. I was pleased that we used the incident to help develop some really strong local policies for improving the quality of life for our young people.

Thursday I was out talking to local people and trying to get things moving with our campaign to get the first hours parking free in Mill Hill Broadway - we've set up an on-line petition to let local people register their support - - If you agree with the aims of the petition, please sign it.

Friday we had a meeting at our studios with a representative from the West Herts chamber of commerce to discuss a youth music project we are sponsoring in association with the YMCA.

Saturday, I had a great day with a group of my old mates. We meet up once a year and go to QPR then have a few beers. I am pleased to report that it was a great game and the hangover wasn't too bad.

So there you go, all I've done all week is sat around moaning  and feeling sorry for myself. By the way I'm pleased to see that Boombastic is back on the scene. He used to run a blog until the Leader of the Council told him to stop being a naughty boy and saying wicked things. It seems like the new Leader of the Council has no such qualms - Just saw these comments on the local paper.
Boombastic, Finchley says...
12:34am Sat 20 Feb 10
Vote Lib Dem...please...!! Go know you want to. Go back to pre Tpry days in Barnet and the phrase "Mrs Palmer knitted while Mr Palmer raided the reserves" springs to mind.

6 months ago it would have been vote Labour but Rog shows that he is truly a Libber by going with the flow and peddlinh his own unique brand off BS.

Voting Green, Lib Dem, BNP or Monster Raving is a wasted vote. This is a straight Labour or Conservative fight and people should vote on their beliefs, not on the crap being spouted by bitter tossers with nothing better to do.  Rog T - printed and promoted on behalf of Rog T.
So there you go. Personally I think that the return of Boombastic and his lovely prose is a happy day for the Barnet Lib Dems and Labour parties. It shows just how desperate Barnets Tories are becoming

The destruction of the Green Belt in Barnet - Part 2 - Lack of Enforcement

My second blog of the New Year detailed how the man who was elected to be deputy Chairman of the Hendon Conservatives last March, Andrew Reid had built a zoo and childrens farm on Green Belt land in the Conservation area. Whist such an amenity has benefits for the community, I was appalled at the siting of the facility, which has destroyed the view of Totterdige Valley from the Ridgeway. This view is mentioned in the Barnet Council UDP. The purpose of the Conservation area, as Mill Hill Conservative Councillor John Hart well knows is to preserve the character of the area. Any changes, even to the windows of houses, is subject to the most stringent planning regulations.

I checked out how planning permission was granted for such a huge installation. I have friends who live in the conservation area who had to install special "green parking" bays (these use a lattice system so grass can grow) in their own gardens. I was amazed that Mr Reid could install a car park with huge metal fences (I know land owners who had to install sympathetic fences) in such a place and stay within these rules. Strangely, I found that there was no planning application from Mr Reid. I asked whether Councillor John Hart and Councillor Maureen Braun, who is the chairman of the Hendon Planning authority, had been advising their friend from the Conservative association and whether they'd decided that the normal rules in the Conservation area didn't apply to their friend Mr Reid and his Childrens Zoo and Farm and it's surrounding installations.

As a result, several avid readers of the Barnet Eye contacted me, and passed me various emails. It seems that the planning department were aware of the installation and had asked Mr Reid to submit for planning permission. Mr Reid retorted that he didn't need it as it was all within "permitted use". One of my correspondents forwarded me an email, sent to him by a Barnet Council Planning Officer, following the councils discussions with Mr Reid. It contained the following paragraph:-

Another problem with serving a planning enforcement notice is that there is a right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and I have no doubt that Mr Reid would make such an appeal. In the event of an appeal, there is likely to be no decision on the matter for at least another six months and in the meantime Mr Reid has a right to continue the use.
I could not believe my eyes. Is this now official Barnet Council policy? Will they not enforce planning law on anyone who might appeal or have they made a special case of Mr Reid. If you, like me, are one of the thousands of Barnet residents who have had to change our building plans and designs because Barnets planners have "insisted", what are you thinking. Yet again the question has to be asked. Why do the council seem to apply one set of standards in planning for the man elected deputy chairman of Hendon Conservatives and another for everyone else. If the Council know that Mr Reids zoo breaches planning rules, they should serve an enforcement notice immediately. If it doesn't breach the rules they should say so and explain why. Not serving a notice because Mr Reid will appeal is not acceptable.You may recall that Mr Reid told the local press that he'd worked extremely closely with the Council. It is all too clear to me that too many Barnet Conservative Councillors are rather too keen to facilitate all manner of people who wish to change the face of the Borough forever. The Leader of the Council, Lynne Hillan even boasted how Fairview Homes had paid for their own council officer in a recent radio interview.

The bottom line with this and the sad truth is that it is clear that under the Conservative Administration at Barnet Council, the green belt is at risk. If Barnet Council will not enforce planning law on the Green Belt, then soon there won't be a green belt.

Saturday 20 February 2010

The destruction of the Green Belt in Barnet - Part 1- Low Level Vandalism

One of my favourite places in Mill Hill to watch the sun set is The Mill Field. This lies on the Ridgeway e between The Three Hammers and Highwood Hill. It gives a spectacular panorama of West London and is a great place to view Wembley Statium arch, when it is lit up. If you want a free spectacular display, go up there when there is a spectacular at Wembley with Fireworks. At this time of year, the sun sets over St Josephs College and there isn't a better sight in London (See picture on Left taken last night). I'd recommend anyone to take a walk from the Adam & Eve pub at one end of the Ridgeway, to the Rising Sun at the top of Highwood Hill. Here's a few of the sights you'll see.

I rather hope you agree that it looks well worth the walk. The Green Belt Legislation was set up to protect these views and to protect the fabric of the green belt. The purpose of it is so that our children and our grandchildren have access to green space and London is surrounded by areas where plant and trees can freshen the polluted smog of central London. Is this important? I think so. I'd rather hope that most people in Mill Hill think so. Sadly, short sighted policies of the ruling Conservative Party in Barnet, are putting this vital natural resource at risk in a number of ways. Today's blog explores one rather upsetting case I found on my travels this week.

As regular readers know, I've got a rather nice Boxer dog, which needs a fair amount of exercise. This gives me a great excuse to keep an eye on the green spaces of Mill Hill (which I consider as my own). Sadly, on Thursday this was the sight which greeted me when I visted the lower section of the Mill Field. The Mill field is in the Conservation area and is a beautiful open space. As you can see there are huge piles of earth. What this picture doesn't show is the gang of teenage youths which were frantically digging them. Being on my own, I was at a quandry as to what to do, when my phone went. It was a friend in the locality and he immediately joined me (with work colleague who is a burly farm labourer). When they arrived, we approached the gang. When challenged as to what they were doing, they replied that they were "making a BMX park".

The hole on the left is just one of many of their excavations. As you can see it is massive. We immediately informed them that the park is part of the conservation area. We informed them that they were liable for a huge fine for their act of vandalism if caught by the police. We politely asked them to "fill in the holes", but sadly they had other plans and scarpered from the scene en mass. This isn't the only act of vandalism in the Mill Field.

This is an old oak tree which has been sprayed and tagged. Sadly this type of low level vandalism is not confined to the beauty spots of Mill Hill. It is all over Mill Hill and the whole of Barnet. The Counciol has a dedicated anti vandalism squad, which will repaint walls & shopfronts when disfigured, but isolated areas of natural beauty are not on the agenda. The sprayed trees and the large holes will be dealt with over a longer period of time by mother nature herself.

So how do we address these issues? I had a long chat with my fellow Lib Dem candidates in Mill Hill. We want to get the issue on the agenda and we want sensible long term actions to be taken that will address these issues. I think that only a carrot and stick approach will work, so first lets have a look at the stick.

Lets strengthen the laws and rules surrounding the Conservation area. If you can't change your window style, then surely you shouldn't be able to dig holes and vandalise trees. Lets clearly mark the Conservation area and put (tasteful) signs up with a hotline to report vandalism. Lets impose swinging fines or even better community service orders on people desecrating the green belt. Lets ring fence any money raised to improve it and lets get any vandals to clear rubbish and weeds etc from green spaces. This will have a huge community benefit.

Now lets look at the carrot. There is also a wider issues. One of the youths said at me "Look mate, there's nowhere to go and nothing to do round here, It's just an old field". Barnet Council should insist that Children of school age are educated properly about the green belt and the conservation area. Make sure they understand why it is there and why it is important.There is more though. I suppose in some way these kids have a point. They are into BMX bikes and there is nowhere. This is a popular sport, one which Great Britain has Olympic medal hopes for.

Where are the facilities in Barnet. Barnet Council owns many derelict sites which could be transformed into youth facilities. The picture on the left is just one such area. The site of a demolished and derelict school in Mill Hill. Wouldn't this be a far better site for youngsters to learn BMX skills in a safe an healthy environment. Surely there are companies which would be interested in partnering the Council in such a scheme. Sadly I don't think that the Conservatives who run Barnet Council care aabout our youngsters. They have no vision to see why vandalism happens and no idea of how to stop it before it even starts. They think they do a marvellous job because they have "Hit Squads" who catch and fine taggers - see this Press release - - they've given a grafitti artist an ASBO. Why not make him clean up the mess as part of community service or paint a few old ladies flats. That way, he'd learn and the community would benefit.

This press release sums up Barnet  Councils attitude to young people. Councillor Joanna Tambourides has shown she has no vision and is not up to the job of Community Safety and Community Engagement. ASBO's don't turn young offenders around. Hard work for the community so they see the error of their ways is what is needed.

Friday 19 February 2010

Parking and Business : Lynne Hillan just doesn't get it !

Last week I attended a Leader Listens business breakfast at Barnet Council Offices. Sadly, the leader, Lynne Hillan was poorly so her Deputy chaired the meeting. As one of the major initiatives I'm working on is to get Barnet to change the parking arrangements in Mill Hill Broadway so that the first hour would be free, I thought I'd raise the issue. All of the businesses present agreed that this was a great idea. The only objection came from Brian Reynolds, the Deputy Chief Executive, who said it would cost the council a lot of revenue. Members of the Barnet Traders association were present and they all agreed that in Barnet, such a move would be a great boost to trade and help business thrive. This would improve the quality of the High Street and allow shops to take on staff, reducing unemployment. The Barnet Traders detailed how they were adopting the Crouch End Project model to boost trade.

I was interested to read a story further detailing the project in this weeks Barnet Press. In it they quote Lynne Hillan. She makes a couple of choice quotes :-
We have always believed in low intervention and that the market will sort itself out.

We have always believed in low intervention and that the market will sort itself out. We could tinker around the edges but we are wanting to do something that would actually mean something. In this recession everyone is struggling.We could tinker around the edges but we are wanting to do something that would actually mean something. In this recession everyone is struggling.
Now the Council has given the traders a £10,000 grant to set up the Crouch End project model. This will pay to help businesses set up a coalition, website, branding and schemes for the area.Whilst the £10,000 is welcome surely it is just the sort of tinkering at the edges Hillan talks about. What traders need is for Barnet to transform the parking charges. Before Christmas Barnet Council suspended parking charges at meters after 3pm across the borough to help boost trade. The scheme cost the authority £100,000 across the Borough's 19 shopping centres, but a survey of traders said the scheme helped increase sales and meant customers could spend more time browsing.Hillan says in the article:-
In Barnet we have traders saying the problem is with parking, but in Haringey there is nowhere to park.
I couldn't believe this. As usual Lynne Hillan and  Barnet Councils solution to everything is to blame someone else. As with everything, they fail to see that although they may lose some money on parking, the overall benefit is huge. It would generate employment, which reduces taxes and improves the quality of life. The London Borough of Barnet will never become a business friendly place until we get people who know and care about small businesses and know how to run them.

Sadly The Leader of the Council, Lynne Hillans efforts to run a company, Ashurst Direct Marketing, ended in the company going into liquidation in 2006. I hear through the grapevine that there were some rather interesting changes to the names of various companies owned by Lynne Hillan just before the company went bust. I'm sure it was all completely above board though, as her Solicitor was fellow Tory Cabinet member Melvin Cohen and it is unthinkable that a pillar of the community such as the venerable Councillor Cohen would stand for any shenanigans.

*** Note **** Please note that due to a typo, mention was inadvertantly made to Ashcroft Direct marketing. Please note that this should have referred to Ashurst Direct marketing and in no way reffered to any company named Ashcroft Direct Marketing (or any other Ashcroft), please accept any apologies for any confusion caused.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Planning an epic journey to visit a great London landmark

I thought I'd set myself a little challenge. I thought I'd take a trip from Mill Hill Broadway to Stratford, to see the Olympic site. That's easy, you may think. Train from Mill Hill Broadway to Farringdon, Tube from Farringdon to Liverpool Street and then a Tube to Stratford. Total Journey time less than 1 hour.

That's too easy though. Just suppose I wanted a day out and I was in a wheelchair and I couldn't use stairs or escalators? Well you may say, that is a bit harder. How much? Well this is the route TFL's Journey planner suggested.
Mill Hill Broadway Station
Take the Route Bus 186 from Stop: F
towards Northwick Prk Hosp Social Club

  • Average journey time: 4 mins

Mill Hill Broadway Station
Interactive MapPDF Map
Mill Hill / Apex Corner  Stop:  D
Take  Route Express bus 797 towards Green Line Coach Station

  • Average journey time: 28 mins

Mill Hill / Apex Corner
Interactive MapPDF Map

Baker Street Station
Take the Route Bus 205 from Stop: D
towards Bow Bus Garage
or Route Bus 30 from Stop: D
towards St. Marys Of Eton Church
Pay Before You Board
Pay before you board

  • Buses every: 3 - 7  mins
    Max journey time: 23  mins

Baker Street Station
Interactive MapPDF Map

King's Cross St.Pancras
Walk to St Pancras International
  • Transfer time: 13 mins
    lift up

King's Cross St.Pancras
Interactive MapPDF Map
St Pancras International Rail Station
Take  Southeastern towards Broadstairs Rail Station

Zone(s): 1
  • Average journey time: 6 mins
  • Zone(s): 1
St Pancras International Rail Station
Interactive MapPDF Map
Stratford International Rail Station
Take  Route SE 26772 Southeastern towards Stratford Rail Station

SOUTHEASTERN HIGH SPEED: Travelcards and Freedom Passes are not accepted for travel on this service. Reported: 10/12/09 09:49 Last Updated: 10/12/09 09:49

Zone(s): 3
  • Average journey time: 5 mins
  • Zone(s): 3
Stratford International Rail Station
Interactive MapPDF Map

Walk to Stratford
  • Transfer time: 5 mins
    lift downramp up

Interactive MapPDF Map

You know what, maybe I'll just stay in and watch telly. You know the sad thing? Well consider this.

Mill Hill is one of the most modern stations on the old BedPan line. It was rebuilt for the M1 Motorway in the 1960's. When it was rebuilt, it had a lift. This would allow disabled passengers to access platform 1. Sadly this was taken out about 10 years ago as part of a refurbishment. Theoretically this could easily be added back at not too great a cost. A ramped overbridge would also not be an exhorbitant cost for the return journey. Not only that, but there is a street level access from Bunns Lane Car Park to the station, which would make the station available for people in wheelchairs at minimal costs.

From Mill Hill Broadway, you could make your way to St Pancras, where there are lifts, and then access the new Javelin Service which takes a mere 9 minutes to Stratford (except that this journey is not permitted).

So what point am I making. Well in 2012, we are staging the Paraplegic Games. A small amount of money spent and Mill Hill Broadway could easily be turned into a North West London Hub for people in wheelchairs wishing to travel to the Olympics or even travelling to Brussels and Paris. Is it really too much to ask? A ramped platform overbridge and a wheelchair friendly gate on Bunns Lane Carpark? That's all.

Maybe I'll do the trip next week to see what it's really like. I wonder if Boris Johnson would like to accompany me and tell me whether he thinks that it is a reasonable journey to expect someone in a wheelchair to make in 2012.