Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Friern Barnet Library meeting - NLBP 25/9/2012

Firstly a note - So people can better understand this article who are Tories, I have helpfully added Barnet Speak (BS) translations of key phrases, to help our plutocratic lords and masters understand what the plebs are on about in langauge they understand.

If I was the type of person who was easily riled or prone to anger, I suspect yesterday I would have blown a fuse. Happily, years of a rock and roll (BS - noisy music more usually heard in the London Borough of Camden)  lifestyle have induced a Zen (BS "a form of meditation practised by stinky hippies") like calm, where I can sit through anything and smile.

Yesterday, I attended North London Business Park for a 3pm meeting with Bill Murphy and another official known as Barnet Mick to the Save Friern Barnet group, officials of the London Borough of Barnets Librarys department. Also present were a smattering of various groups associated with the various campaigns to keep the library open. You may ask, what would have riled me if I wasn't such an easy going chap. As ever a whole list of things.

First, our friends at the London Borough of Barnet had rescheduled the meeting from 3.30pm to 3pm at short notice. For those of us who run businesses and have a busy schedule, this completely screwed up my schedule. I had a very important new customer (BS "People to be fleeced") at the studios I run and I had to cut short an introduction.

Second. I arrived at NLBP and was kept waiting at reception for 15 minutes, as no one had a clue what I was on about regarding the meeting. So having already mucked about a customer, I now was not even able to join the meeting.

And that was all before the meeting started. On joining the meeting, it immediately became clear that our elected representatives had not even bothered to show up. Bill from Barnet explained that councillors only liked to attend meetings once everything was sorted out. If I was easily riled, by now steam would have been coming out of my ears. Surely, as our representatives, they should be driving the process. It seems that they simply want to be passengers, driven from location to location by the Council officers. I now understand why One Barnet is going so badly wrong. I cordially requested that Bill from Barnet  ask Councillor Robert Rams, library supremo to attend in future. I explained that we would all be very nice to him, if he turned up and that it would be good for him.

Bill from Barnet, who is a rather nice chap and does his best to be reasonable (maybe he's a secret Rock and Roller as well), explained his position. Rather amusingly, he managed to completely contradict himself. He said that he was an officer and all he did was implement policy agreed by his political masters. He then explained that the political masters wouldn't attend the meeting until the proposals had been "firmed up". I interpreted this as  "Our Tory lords and masters in Barnet don't like talking to plebs. They want to sit back, let us do all the work and then rubber stamp it". Of course that could be a complete misreading of the situation.

Tamar from SFBLG explained the type of activities now taking place at the reopened library. She gave a huge vote of thanks to the community librarians who have reopened the libraries (BS "dirty stinky squatters, occupying the library illegally").  She explained the real difference they had made. She outlined the various groups who also had expressed an interest in using the community library (BS - "asset to be sold"). These included local colleges and the dyslexia association. She also detailed lessons being given such as Chemistry. She added that 3,000 books have been donated, including a great stock of text books.

Fiona from community hub explained that if they retain the library, it will still be an asset in 50 years time, if it is sold it will be gone. She also explained how the local area will become run down if it shuts. She said local business was backing the hub.

The Barnet Eye stated that we have identified a party who may be interested in Friary House. We also detailed how Barnet had more media, journalists, TV producers, etc locally than any other area of the UK. We stated that by having a genuine partnership between Council and local people, Barnet could get some great publicity. We suggested that the £1.4 million that Barnet sought to save by cuts could be found in other ways. We suggested income earning, shared usage with other departments, such as Childrens services. At this point, I became aware that Mick from Barnet was getting rather agitated. How odd I thought? Mick is also a rock and roller in his spare time. We had a pleasant chat about they joys of being in a band on the way to the meeting. Mike generally for the rest of the meeting shifted uneasily in his chair and looked agitated.

When people start to irritate me, I have a defence mechanism I have learned, which helps me see the good in them. I imagine them in their spare time indulging in their favourite hobby. I sought to imagine Barnet Mick in a Caftan, spliff in mouth, strumming Helter Skelter by the Beatles (First verse -"When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide, Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride, Till I get to the bottom and I see you again." reminds me of how One Barnet Consultants write reports). Of course I am sure Mick has never really inhaled anything stronger than the smoke from a bacon butty on the hob, but the image cheered me up greatly and help me maintain my inner Zen. 

Some figures. The Barnet libraries budget is £5.7 million. Barnet Council wants to trim that to £4.2 million. They sought to save £110,000 per annum by shutting the library. They want a £430,000 sum from the capital sale of the library. They sound like big figures. When you consider that Barnet Council have spent £10 million on One Barnet Consultants, who have thus far delivered nothing, it becomes a bit harder to justify. Or if you consider that the income from Parking is over a million pounds in the red according to Mr Mustards blog, since a One Barnet outsourcing to NSL took place - - you see that the Library service is getting walloped, whilst projects which are simply Tory vanity projects are being drowned with cash.

Mr Murphy and Mr Fahey are not the culprits. They are simply the messengers. The men who sit at the top and make decisions, can't be bothered to attend. Mr Murphy said that he wanted to see progress, but the man who can make this happen, Councillor Robert Rams, refuses to attend.

Mr Murphy also told us that Barnets Lawyers had advised him that he can't meet local people at the local library, as this sanctions the Community Library. Sadly, this is an example of shutting the door after the horse has bolted. The two meetings at the library have already sanctioned the occupation. As the old saying goes "You can't unlose you virginity".

Barnet have a choice. They could reopen Friern Library, get a huge community asset and get great publicity for an innovative new model. Or they could shut it again and sell it off. This would inevitably result in even more bad press and bad feeling. Barnet are not simply trying to chuck out a few squatters, they are at war with their own community. That is not how it should be.

On the way out, Barnet Mick told me I had got my facts wrong about the cancellation of the Councillor surgery at Mill Hill on Saturday. I pointed out that I'd already printed Councillor Khatri's email to correct this. We then had a discussion about the banning of BAPS leaflets. Barnet Mick said "send them to me and I will decide if they breach the rules". It appears that they had been banned before anyone had read them.

I pointed out that it wasn't up to him to decide. It was simply up to him to apply the rules. The rules clearly state that the leaflets can be displayed. It seems to me that in Barnet, Council officials have taken on powers way beyond their brief. The sooner proper democratic oversight is restored the better.

1 comment:

Mr Mustard said...

A bit early in the morning Roger for terrible thoughts as to whether senior officers have lost their virginity. Must go for a lie down in a dark room.

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