A councillor very close to Mark Shooters leadership bid at Barnet Council contacted me yesterday. I started this blog because I felt the leadership of Barnet Council had lost touch and yesterday I had confirmation that this is a view held by a substancial number of Barnet Tory Councillors.
The problems for Hillan started at a meeting of Councillors to discuss the councils finances. When the meeting started, Hillan handed out a set of spreadsheets detailing the plans to redistribute the cash into her pocket and that of her cronies. Brian Coleman left all of the attendent Tory Councillors in no doubt whatsoever that they would be "finished" if they voted against it. Rather sadly, the bullying worked. What no one within the Tory group had predicted was the public outcry. Hillan, Coleman and friends hunkered down, knowing they could count the cash. A large group of Tory Councillors felt rather different. They knew they'd been forced to take a decision that they didn't agree with and were at the sharp end of the public reaction. Mark Shooter and a few other councillors soon came to realise that the group had totally misjudged the public mood. It became clear that a large group in the Barnet Tories has no confidence in the leadership and realised that they couldn't sit back and do nothing.
Having lost their political virginity, they then started discussing the whole way Barnet Council is being run. The Hillan cabinet are completely tribal and driven by the need to line their own pockets. To have a Barnet Tory councillor say this rather took me back. He explained that many decisions are taken with no thought to any consequences. Staff are held in contempt. He explained that decisions such as the abolition of the Sheltered Housing wardens are tragically misguided. Rather than engaging with staff to cut costs, expensive consultants are brought in to dream up blue sky schemes which will never work and end up costing money. Areas where savings could be made, without damaging front line services, by cutting middle management are not explored, whilst people at the rough edge are left to rot.
It is also quite clear that the concept of public service is lost on Hillan/Coleman and cronies. In many councils, much business is conducted with all party support. This hasn't happened in Barnet for years. Amendments which will make things better for the people of Barnet are voted down, simply because the wrong party drafted them, sometimes with nearly identical motions then being proposed by the Tories to fix the problem, wasting time and effort for everyone.
Another interesting comment was regarding the Brent Cross scheme. I had long suspected this, but no one had the balls to say it out loud. This is purely being passed because the finances of Barnet Council have been destroyed by the Freer/Hillan years of mismanagement. Barnet is desperate for the section 106 money to plug the hole. There you go. The sad truth is that they are going to destroy the character of the London Borough of Barnet to save their allowances and plug the hole they've made.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I've been saying much of this for years. What I hadn't realised was just how bad the mess is. There will not be a council election for just under four years. Just about the whole cabinet is tainted by this failure. The team supporting Mark Shooter believes that they can sort the mess out, with support of the staff of Barnet Council and the people of the Borough. They will scrap schemes such as the abolition of warden services, engage the staff to work together to cut costs in a way that spares front line services and they will give scrutiny committees more power to change bad schemes. The opposition will not be completely marginalised and where they are pushing for sensible measures these will be listened to sympathetically. In short, all 63 Barnet councillors (who are all paid an allowance) will have a role to play in making Barnet a better place, rather than just eleven cabinet members.
I stated that as I'm not a Tory I won't be formally endorsing Mark Shooter. Whilst I'll never be a Conservative, if Mark Shooter publicly commits to saving the sheltered housing wardens, abolishing the allowance rise, protecting front line services and cutting waste, I will do everything I can to help him kick out Hillan/Coleman and their chums. I suspect that after the Freer/Hillan years, many other people will agree.
I know that Brian Coleman is a regular reader of this blog. I have a little conundrum for him. Brian, can you guess the identity of the two cabinet members who are trying to butter up Mark Shooter and his team, in the event that he wins, so they can keep their job? As a chief whip, it's your job to know these things - you might be rather surprised when you find out, I didn't have them down as that type. Of course they'll all deny it when you ask. Politics is a rough and dirty business.