Friday 6 April 2012

Barnet Council create a PR Disaster in 18 hours flat

Barnet Council are probably unique. What other council could create a PR disaster, with national news coverage in 18 hours, from nothing? Thursday evening, at 7pm a bunch of local residents turned up to try and persuade the cabinet of Barnet Council that closing Friern Barnet library, before a promised replacement had been opened, was a bad idea. Now Barnet residents are generally a fairly mild mannered and well behaved bunch. They are pretty tolerant and understanding and usually prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to people.
A young library customer asks to enter his local library (courtesy Vicki Morris)
Last night, they found they'd been stitched up like a kipper. The Barnet Council scrutiny committee had recommended that the Cabinet took another look at the decision to close Friern Library. This committee had a majority membership of Conservatives. Their job is to stop the cabinet making bad decisions and overlooking things. It is a safeguard. Sadly, the cabinet and the Leader, Councillor Richard Cornelius, seem prepared to listen to no one. Residents were shocked to find that the cabinet had decided to close the library today at 4pm.

People were outraged. Within minutes of the decision being taken, emails were flying and a symbolic occupation was being organised. The whole community, left and right, old and young, united against this terrible decision. The BBC turned up -  - as did the local press - and - yet again the name of Barnet Council was dragged through the mud.

Councillor Robert Rams told another whopping great porkie to the press in relation to the closure. There is no evidence at all that there is any costed plan to move the service to the arts depot. How can you claim you need the funds, when you don't have a business case. Another aspect of the porkie anyone could easily spot, is the fact that you could market the library whilst keeping it open. There is no reason why prospective buyers need to see a closed building. In fact, the longer it is closed, the less it will be worth. Empty buildings deteriorate. One could be cynical and wonder if Rams has lined someone up to buy it? Needless to say someone is likely to make a killing on the deal and it isn't likely to be the Barnet Council Taxpayer. Here is what he said -
 "We need to market it as soon as possible so we can get the funds to open it at the artsdepot. Financially we can’t keep it open as we will be jeopardising the other improvements we want to make."
The same Councillor Robert Rams voted himself a pay rise withing weeks of winning the 2010 council election. The same Robert Rams regularly blogs about how proud he is of the One Barnet program, which has cost millions of pounds in consultant fees, but has never produced a single penny of savings. The same Robert Rams is a member of the cabinet of Barnet Council which agreed a renumeration package worth £250,000 per annum for the CEO Nick Walkley. This is the man who says that Barnet Council couldn't afford a few quid to keep the Library open until the end of the easter holidays. Children in Friern are being deprived of their library, at a busy time in the run up to GCSE and A Level exams. They have had no time to find other places for quiet study. Resindents have not even been given the opportunity to bring books back. No doubt they will be fined for late returns.

As well as being a bad time for the people of Barnet, especially young people who need study space, it is politically a bad time. Children were off school, so they could attend the demonstration. Parents were off work to look after children, so they could attend the demonstration. Many firms had closed early for the Easter holiday, so they could attend the demonstration. Maunday Thursday is typically a quiet news day, so the BBC were more than happy to come out. In the good old days of Tony Blair, bad news stories were rushed out when there was big world events. One aide got in trouble for admitting it publicly. In Barnet, the inept regime of Richard Cornelius and Robert Rams looks for the worst day possible to rush bad news out on.

Well done chaps, if you wanted to shoot yourselves in the foot, you couldn't have timed it better.

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