Monday 30 September 2013

Save the Bohemia - Lets call time on the destruction of our community

Tonight I have been to a well attended meeting at the Bohemia pub. This has been reopened as a community space by activists from the Occupy movement, who are looking to reopen the Bohemia as a community pub. But before I discuss the meeting, I'd like to take you on a little deviation, because I am sure we all need a little deviation in out lives.

Do you remember the last Tory Prime minister, John Major. John Major harked back to a time when England was a land of green fields, of men drinking warm pints of bitter, whilst watching cricket on the village green. Little sleepy hamlets, where little green steam engines, pulled bright red carriages down the branch line, bringing the excited children on days out to "the country". Letters were delivered by postman pat types on their pushbikes, cheerily waving to all and sundry. They would make sure that poor old Mrs Beans was OK, as she lived on her own and they would share the latest gossip in the country pub, over a game of darts and in front of a warm coal fire.

Where did it all go wrong? How could we have thrown away such and idyllic country. How did Jerusalems green and pleasant fields become Milton Keynes? We all have our views. I think that the blame lies fairly and squarely with the last three generations of Conservative politicians. They have mounted an assualt on our community, systematically destroying every vestige of community for the simple reason that there is no cash in helping each other. To a free marketeer, nothing has worth, only cost. The first big assault on the idyllic life we had came in the early 1960's when the Tories commissioned Dr Beeching to save some cash on the railways. This man was the high priest of beancounters. He came in and took an axe to the regional rail network, from which our transport infrastructure has never recovered. We wouldn't need HS2 to free up capacity on the West Coast mainline if he hadn't shut the Great Central Railway route. Other vital hubs like the Oxford to Cambridge line were closed and whole swathes of rural Britain lost its service. In many cases the books were cooked to justify closures and no account was taken of the cost to rural life. When the train service went, many villages died.

Then under the second great wave of post war Tory misrule, Thatcher used anti monopoly legislation to attack the pub industry. Pubs tied to breweries were deemed "old fashioned" and "anto competetive" and so brewers were forced to sell them. All of a sudden, we had "pubco's" who had no interest in selling beer, just in maximising profits. This was best done by running down the pub and selling it for development. Big cash gain with no work at all. As the pub dies, so does the village. At present 26 pubs a week are shutting in the UK. This is all down to this horrible legislation. Brewers needed pubs, because it was an outlet to sell their beer. The pubs have gone and the brewers have struggled.

The third big assault hasn't come to pass yet, but it will. Privatising the post office will destroy the last key pillar of our rural society. "non performing" offiices will shut. The Tory assault on our rural lifestyle will be complete.

Which takes us to tonight. Now North Finchley isn't rural. It hasn't lost its branch line. It has however seen a massive assault from the forces of Tory Greed. The parking regime has nearly destroyed the High St. Small business has been hammered. Just over a year ago, a small beacon of light opened. The Bohemia pub, on the site of the old Bohemia cinema, tea room and Dance hall (and latterly O'Neills) opened. In the space of just under a year, it became a hub of the community. Knitting circles, community meetings, music and quiz nights proliferated. In a small part of Finchley, it seemed as if the clock was being wound back.

Sadly this was an illusion. The building landlords and the organisation running the pub fell out and the pub shut. A small campaign to reopen the pub was started. Then last week, the Occupy movement moved in. They announced that the pub was reopening as a "community space" and a public meeting of friends would be held tonight. I went along out of curiosity.

What I saw gave me great hope. People talked about staging music, poetry, offering IT facilities and building a community based hub, where we can start to rebuild our community. All age groups were represented and their was a great rainbow mix of people. All shared one vision. To reopen the pub as a community pub where we can start to rebuild our shattered sense of civi pride. Now sadly some people on the right have reacted badly, making hollow threats and spouting obnoxious and innaccurate views about the people interested in participating. Lets just correct a few misconceptions. The building was shut, so noone is loosing anything due to the occupation. If a new pub operator wants to reopen the business, they will be welcomed. No damage has been done. Any new operator would have to refit the pub anyway. When Occupy were asked to vacate Friern Barnet Library for the community, they did so and we now have a great community asset.

I have no idea what will happen, but I do know that if the Pubco Landlord, Mitchells and Butlers are serious about their mission, "to run pubs" then they should work with the community. No one is asking for hadnouts or favours. All people want is a pubco to run a popular pub. Why on earth would anyone object to that proposition?

Sunday 29 September 2013

Sunday Morning youth football - A joy to behold, so don't make the kids play in your rubbish

This morning I was up bright and early to watch my son play in goal for Watling FC under 14's. The match was played at Cressingham Park, Burnt Oak. The opposition were Kodak FC under 14's and the competition was the League cup. The sun was shining gloriously and the pitch looked immaculate. The match featured some excellent football from both sides. Kodak shot to an early lead, and were 3-0 up before Watling pulled one back just before half time. Watling had been unlucky, hitting the woodwork twice. After the break it was a different story with Watling turning the game around to lead 5-3, before Kodak pinched a late goal. Final score 5-4.

The Harrow and District Youth League features some excellent teams and generally the games are played in good spirits. Todays game was no exception. Kodak are known for being a good team and being well run. Football at this level is a totally different proposition to the Premiership. You don't see players rolling around on the floor, seemingly on deaths door, only to be miraculously cured by the sight of the referee brandishing a card at the opposition. The players don't have Ferrari's and WAG's (well they are only 13!). They play because they love football and want to get better at the game. Watling have recruited some new coaches this season. This has made a big difference to the side. The boys have been energised and are training really well. 

I happen to believe that youth football is a vital part of growing up and is essential in teaching boys team spirit and discipline. The same is true of cricket, rugby, hockey and all of the other team sports that are played in the Borough. It is absolutely vital that we all do everything we can to encourage the growth and health of such clubs. In Watling the boys come from a huge range of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. The coaches work to bring all of the boys together into one team, with a common aim. My own son takes the team seriously. He voluntarily had an early night as he wanted to be on top form. They are currently training twice a week and playing on a Sunday. For boys of this age, this burns off energy that would otherwise be unfocused. 

We are lucky to have decent parks and nice facilities in Barnet and London generally. Sadly we have lost many pitches and clubs, especially at adult level. This is not a positive development. Football keeps people fit and active. It is a skill best developed in youth. I am 51 and I play twice a week at Powerleague (Mill Hill). The advent of centres like Powerleague, where old fat blokes like myself can play under floodlights after work is a positive development, but we need to build a love of the game in players when they are young.

I love watching my sons team in rain or shine. Days like today are glorious, but the bad times are also precious. I'd urge anyone who has youngsters to get them playing a sport. I have always told my children that if you play a team sport (especially football) or play a musical instrument, you can live anywhere in the world and make friends. 

There was one small blot on the experience. As the boys were warming up,  I took our dogs for a walk around Cressingham Park (which is a lovely park). In one corner, a selfish inconsiderate local resident had dumped a load of rubbish and waste. Why are people so selfish as to not care for their surroundings and neighbours. There is another dog walker, who lives around the corner, who said that a couple of residents have been caught previously and fined heavily. I'd urge anyone who sees their neighbours flytipping to report them to Barnet Council. It costs our money to clean this mess up. I don't want my kids to have to play in other peoples rubbish. I have no sympathy with anyone who is so selfish as to mess up our community assets.  My message to everyone is clean up your mess. 

Saturday 28 September 2013

The Saturday List #44 - Five rules to remember for life


1. Money cannot buy happiness, but it's more comfortable to cry in a
Rolls Royce than at a bus stop.

2. Forgive your enemy, but remember the ass-hole's name.

3. If you help someone when they're in trouble, they will remember you when
they're in trouble again.

4. Many people are alive only because it's illegal to shoot them.

5. Alcohol does not solve any problems, but then neither does milk.

Bonus: Condoms don't guarantee safe sex. A friend of mine was wearing one,
when he was shot by the woman's husband

Friday 27 September 2013

Breaking News - The Bohemia Pub in North Finchley reopened by Occupy as a community project

Many local residents in the North Finchley neighbourhood were extremely upset when the much loved local pub, The Bohemia was closed following a rent increase. The building has sat looking rather sad and sorry ever since. The Barnet Eye was called this morning and notified that the Occupy movement has taken over the building and are opening a community project at the site. They have requested that locals offer their support and bring tea, coffee, foodstuffs and anything else suitable for the project.

The Barnet Eye will be visiting the site later today for a full update. The Occupy movement have targetted Finchley for special attention due to local MP Mike Freer being a sponsor of the anti squatting legislation. They have publicly stated that their campaign against homelessness will focus on Mike Freers constituency in Finchley and Golders Green. Many local people are well inclined towards Phoenix and the other Friern Barnet Library occupiers, who helped save the much loved local treasure. The Barnet Eye sincerely hopes that the occupation of The Bohemia can have another suitably good outcome for the local community.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Do you really want to cast your vote for a bleaker future?

George Osborne - Not a fan of debt
Over the past eleven years, do you think Barnet has become a better or worse place to live? Is there more or less litter on the streets? Have our local politicians behaved better or worse towards us. Have those beautiful green spaces and the Barnet street scene been improved or have they been neglected? Is there more or less litter on the streets? Has it become cheaper and easier to park your car in Town centres? Is there more or less traffic on the road? Has public transport improved or deteriorated? Have the services your council provided, which you require got better or worse? Have your kids schools improved or declined?

People are always saying to me "I don't see why I should pay Council Tax, I don't use any services". Let me transport you to a parallel world. In this world, I was elected to the Council at the last election. In this parallel world I am the worlds most right wing council leader. In May 2010, I abolished the Council. In a huge experiment, I said "If people want these services, they can organise them for themselves". As a result, no one pays any council tax at all ! Sound good? So what does this mean to you?

Well lets have a look.

All of the street lights in Barnet have been switched off. At night, Barnet is completely dark !

Your bins haven't been emptied for 3 1/2 years. If you want to get rid of your rubbish, you have to pay for a private contractor to come and take it away.

The trees in your road have been left to grow wild. If they fall down, they stay where they are.

The parks have been left to grow over. Every green space in Barnet which is owned by the council is now grown over. Playing fields have been let to grow wild. There are only private sports club pitches in Barnet. All cafes in Parks have closed.

The pavements are not being swept or maintained. If rubbish builds up and the rats take residence, then that is too bad. If you trip over on a broken paving stone, too bad. You voted to abolish the council.

The roads are not gritted in winter. If they get a pothole, they fall apart. All of the pelican crossings, traffic lights and lights on road signs have been switched off. If they fall down or get vandalised, that is too bad.

Every school managed by Barnet has been flogged off. If your kids want to go to school, you have to pay to go private.

Every library would have shut its doors, along with all Council lesiure centres and other facilities.

If you are infirm, old or disabled, then you have to pay for everything out of your own savings. If you cant afford it, then you can rot. There is no council.

No elderly  people have bus passes because the Council has withdrawn from the scheme to maintain them.

If you live near a stream or on any low lying ground, your house is liable to flood when it rains, because brooks and streams are not maintaned.

There is no planning control, people can build what they like where they like. No one polices the green belt. This is now being built over at a rate unseen ever.

There is no noise or environmental control. There are now food site inspections.  There are no planning constraints so people can open up any business anywhere. If they poison you, then you can always sue them.

Most of our major charities have dramatically scaled back their operations, because their council grants have been withdrawn.

The cemeteries have been sold off and redeveloped. You can only be buried in Barnet if you can afford a premium plot. Cremations are done by private companies who are unregulated.

Of course, you may say that the scenario above is ridiculous. Well it is and it isn't. You see the council have announced that they are cutting council tax by 1%. When the Tories took over in 2002, Council borrowing/debt was £38 million. It is now over £300 million, nearly ten times higher ( ). Whilst a prudent authority would be working to reduce this, the response of the Tories is to cut council tax. They are doing this because there is an election next year. Whilst nationally, the Coalition is working to cut debt and deficit, the Barnet Tories are living in a delusional dream world, where they have mortgaged our future for their ideologically motivated ends. Sooner or later someone will have to pay for this profligate attitude to finances. This will mean that every single one of the services listed above is likely to suffer. It is unlikely, but not impossible that a council could become bankrupt, if the economic situation meant the debts couldn't be paid. If that happened, the situation mentioned above could, at least partially,
come to pass.

No one likes to pay more tax. Like you, the extra cash will come in useful, but the truth is that all we are doing is putting off the day when we have to pay. Sooner or later, the residents of Barnet will awake with a huge hangover from the Tory party. The Tories were elected in 2002 on a manifesto of sorting out the finances. As debt has risen by ten times, they have failed. Cast your mind back to 2007, when Gordon Brown was announcing he'd abolished boom and bust. We were on a debt fuelled holiday. We've spent the best part of the last five years in recession and the economy has shrunk by a huge amount because we failed to recognise the risks of debt.

I went to a council cabinet meeting and raised this issue. No one in the cabinet had an answer, other than that "the accountants had assured them that debts were managable". As we all know, the accountants at Enron and RBS told their bosses the same thing. Whatever you may think about cuts, the issue of debt is one which only a fool will ignore. To cut tax without addressing this is in my opinion a mad folly.

You can read what the local paper are saying here. Sadly the issue of council debt is not mentioned.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

LBB Adults Service event & Twitter account

The London Borough of Barnet Adults service (Barnet Council's Adult Social Care and Health Service) are holding an event to allow service users to tell them how they are doing. They have advertised this on their Twitter account.

If you are affected by issues with Adult Social Care and Health Services, get in touch and register for the event. They are also advertising a government consulatation

You can follow the LBB adults service on Twitter here -

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Capitaville - The map of hw the Barnet Tories destroyed hundreds of local jobs

This map is part of the contract between Barnet Council and Capita. It shows how our politicians have sold hundreds of local peoples jobs to Capita, creating employment opportunities all over the UK, whilst destroying many peoples livelihoods in the local economy. Every single one of these functions and the jobs associated with it used to be located in Barnet. You can see where they all are now.

As you will notice, this information was concealed from the public until after the contract was legally signed. The reason given was that it was commercially sensitive. Now we are lumbered with it, they are quite happy to let us see it. The Barnet Conservatives were well aware of this map. Whilst many of Capita's customers in the public sector have insisted jobs stay locally, our politicians were quite happy to see them exported.

You will note that the finance department is in Swindon. Why can this be? Well the local politicians in Swindon also recently signed a a deal with Capita and as you can see they bagged some of our money and jobs into the bargain. Revenues and Benefits and Customer Services - These are in Blackburn/Darwen - This document shows how this council did a deal with Capita and bagged some great local investment

Then there is the HR function in Sheffield, guess what the local politicans in Sheffield managed to do? Yup, you guessed, a deal with Capita to protect local jobs

Cumbria did even better! They managed to keep the jobs and investment, despite getting rid of Capita! 

What about procurement? Yup, Southampton Council did a tasty deal with Capita againg protecting local jobs

So you may say "all of these places are outside London, where wages are lower, thats why the jobs moved there". Well what about the Revs & Bens subject matter experts in the London Borough of Bromley &

Why is it that all of these local authorities managed to get some juicy plums in the Capita jobs market, helping build the local economy? Could it be because unlike the Barnet Tories, their councillors actually cared about the locality they were elected to represent. I don't know about you, but I find this map shameful. They have moved every job they possibly could outside of the Borough. Not only that, they wrote it into the contract !

Monday 23 September 2013

Rog T's Cancer Blog - You can't fight cancer with both hands tied behind your back

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, you can skip this first paragraph.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 51 years old and in October 2011 I  had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gives me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9. My latest PSA test in August was not quite so promising,  back up to 4.0, in other words the downward trend has stopped. I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture? 

I was not planning on writing another blog in my cancer series this week. There are plenty of other subjects, totally unrelated to health and wellbeing which I wanted to cover, but to quote Harold MacMillan, "events" got in the way. In the last week, since I had the most recent biopsy, I've spoken to six or seven people who have had brushes with the cancer in some way. It seems like I can't cross the road without talking to someone who has something to say about Prostate Cancer.  What I find deeply worrying is just how many of them have had a truly awful experience somewhere along the way. 

This afternoon I was at my local gym and I got chatting with a chap who I've vaguely known for the last few years. I commented that he'd not been around for a while. He told me he'd had an operation to remove a couple of moles from his back that had threatened to turn nasty. I said "Oh I can sympathise, I had a procedure last week". He enquired what it was and so I said "prostate biopsy". He immediately said "You're a bit young for that, whats your PSA". He then told me he'd had a prostate biopsy six years ago and that it was one of the most horrible experiences of his life. He said "They didn't even give me a local anaesthetic". I was shocked. I've had two, one under local and one under general. I found the one under local to be harrowing. I cannot imagine how awful that would be with no anaesthetic. I suggested that if he had another one, he should have a general. He said "no chance of that, I had it removed". I then said "I had two, one under local and one under general. Tell anyone you know to insist on a general". Sadly my experience of the NHS in regards to prostate biopsies is that consideration for the patients feelings is pretty low on the list of priorities. As I am sure it is cheaper to do it under local or with no sedation at all, I believe hospitals have a deliberate policy of discouraging people to opt for a general anaesthetic. I have had both and I would not entertain the concept of having a local again. 

I also believe that many people are so traumatised by the process that they don't go back. I'd love to know the figures for people who duck out of treatment after the first biopsy. The NHS may save a few quid on the cost of the procedure in the short term, but in the long term patients needs are not being considered. If people find a procedure highly unpleasant and don't know that there is an alternative, I can fully understand those who will just not go back for consultations, especially if they have no symptoms. I am sure some people are fine with a local anaesthetic, but I've yet to actually speak to anyone who wouldn't opt for a general if the option were given. This brings us back to the patient. If they are so traumatised that they seriously consider not cooperating with their doctors, then they are in no position to fight the disease. They are in a fight with their hands tied behind their back. 

This brings me onto the second part of what has been bothering me. That is the way that the medical profession seems to have no respect whatsoever for any form of complementary therapy for cancer treatment. At this point, I daresay any doctor reading this will roll their eyes and say "not another one of these idiots who has read on the internet that a pill from an American website will cure them". Well no that is the last thing I am saying. I would always advise people to get the best medical advice possible. It is also 100% clear to me that Doctors are not interested in things that the patient can do for themselves which may help, especially in the areas of diet, exercise and relaxation. I have done extensive research into the subject and I believe that the NHS could potentially save billions of pounds if they addressed the issue of researching the benefits of diet on certain types of cancer. Every book I've read on the subject lists a whole range of foods that are beneficial for dealing with cancers and others which are in some way carcinogenic or promote the conditions which promote cancer growth.

It strikes me that with Prostate Cancer there would be a very simple and verifyable method to test the benefits of the claims made for various foodstuffs. There are probably hundreds of thousands of people in my situation. That is on relatively low PSA levels, gleason scores of 3+3 and on active surveillance programs. If the NHS set up an internet portal for people on such a program to keep a daily food diary, then the claims made for certain foods such as tomatoes, watercress, tumeric, pomegranite juice, Green tea,  etc could soon be verified. If those of us who chose to follow a nutritionally anti cancer regime had a markedly lower PSA level after five years than those who didn't, then that would prove the point. I have noticed many general improvements in my health in the two years that I've taken care about my diet. Less colds, no hangovers, more energy, better mental focus. I also feel calmer. My PSA has not risen above the level at which I was given the diagnosis and has been much lower for much of that period. I suppose I may get a nasty wake up call when the biopsy results come back, but whatever happens I will persevere as I feel better in myself.      

At the weekend I read an article in one of the papers, where a woman having chemotherapy had engaged the assistance of a nutritionalist who specialised in cancer treatment as she embarked on a course of chemotherapy. The nutritionalist devised a diet designed to help her cope with the effects of the chemo and explained why various foodstuffs etc should be avoided or taken. The rules were similar to the diet I follow, no diary, no processed sugars, etc. There were other things such as lemon to lower the bodies natural acidity. Now one must always be careful in basing anything on the evidence of a single person, but she reported that her tolerance of the chemo was far better than the doctors had expected. I believe this because as I understand it things like fatty foods and sugar impare to some extent the function of the liver and kidneys. As the drugs used in chemotherapy are poisons, it stands to reason that the healthier the liver and kidneys are, the better the patient will cope. As someone with no training in such issues, I am not going to advocate a diet. It may well be that for whatever reason, that would be counter productive to you. If you are having chemo, don't do anything which your doctor says will interfere with the treatment. If they say "it won't interfere, but it will have no effect as it is not scientifically proven", then that means it is OK to give it a go. It may not work, but my view is you have to eat something so why not eat stuff which MAY help. So if your doctor says "it will make absolutely no difference to your treatment whether you eat pie and chips every night washed down with coffee or a fresh salad of tomatoes, watercress and grilled fish, washed down with pomegranite juice" he is probably not basing that statement on a clinical trial. He is guessing. 

I believe the reason that doctors are so cautious of the complementary medicine scene is because they rightly believe that if you have chemotherapy and follow an anti cancer diet regime, you may wrongly believe that the diet cured you with a bit of help from the chemo, when in reality the opposite is true. The graveyards are full of people who believed that complimentary medicine is an alternative to conventional medicine. I believe anyone who tells you this is a dangerous fool. Just as a few people go to the religious shrine of Lourdes in France and come back cured of cancer, some people believe that a natural diet will destroy cancer. In some cases, the cancer will disappear, but unless the cause and effect is clinically proven, it is dangerous to assume that one is a direct cause of the other. 

The last thing I wish to talk about is the need to ensure your mental health and wellbeing. Given my experiences with my initial prostate biopsy, I'd been highly stressed about the follow up. I took the precaution of booking a night away at  the Champneys health resort ( my wife last Friday to chill out and relax. As part of the deal, I had an hour massage. I thought that after a week, I should be over the worst of the side effects and ready for some proper relaxation and a change of scene. I can honestly say I hadn't realised just how stressed I'd been until I got there. We checked in around 2:30pm and I had no energy to do anything at all. My massage was at 6pm and we booked dinner for 8pm. I was so lacking in energy, that whilst Mrs T (the wife not the blogger) went off for a Yoga class, I just lay in bed. At the allotted time, I went down and spent an hour being treated. Massage is a wonderful way to destress and unwind. By the end of the treatment, I felt completely refreshed. We went down and shared a very decent meal, with a bottle of good wine. We then had a relatively early soberish night (there is no bar at Champneys). In the morning, we had breakfast, spent the morning in saunas, swimming pools and Jacuzzi's and then had a pleasant lunch and came home. 

The first thing I did upon my return, was nip down and see my elder brother. We had a disagreement earlier in the week and I (verbally) lost the plot with him, which is not really like me. I apologised for swearing at him and explained that the whole issue of the biopsy had stressed me out.  He was absolutely fine with it. I think he'd been puzzled by my earlier overreaction and was relieved that there was a rational explanation. Now you may wonder why I mention this. It is because I believe that cancer and dealing with it puts a huge mental strain on us. Only by relaxation and destressing can we get a hold of the issues we have. If you are dealing with cancer (either as a  sufferer or carer) and you find yourself snapping at people, it probably means that you are reaching breaking point and need some support. I am lucky in as much as that I have a strong family and some very good friends. I also have enough money to go off to swanky health resorts to recuperate. If you don't have a support network, checkout Macmillan Cancer relief. They can help, it's what they are there for 

In truth I have generally coped with the issues I have quite well, most of the time. I was shocked when I sat down and realised just how stressed the biopsy had lead me to become. I am not worried about the illness or particularly bothered about the immediate situation. It was the sheer stress of the procedure and the side effects. In actual fact the actual process was far less awful this time, but the mental issues of dealing with it in the run up were worse, as I had a feeling of dread. I also didn't have a holiday this summer and have been very busy at work. So all in all I sailed into a perfect storm that had completely stressed me out. I have realised that in future, I need to address the issues before I get stressed, not in the aftermath. What was interesting was that when I had my blood pressure and ECG taken, prior to the biopsy, both were absolutely fine. It clearly was purely a case of a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock as my cousins in Oz say. Luckily, this was nipped in the bud and I am back to a generally more calm and collected general demeanour. As I go down this rocky road, I am determined to learn the lessons as I go. The lesson that I think I have started to get my head around is just how important it is to preserve and nurture your mental wellbeing as you deal with your issues. Recognise that if you found something deeply unpleasant and you have to face it again, then you will get stressed. Take whatever action you can to alleviate this stress. In my case with regards to the biopsy, this was to have a general anaesthetic and then to have a night away to unwind. Next time I will book two nights away and I will try and work out a strategy to lower stress levels in the week leading up to the procedure. I also believe that if you can afford it, theraputic massage has a role to play. My only issue is that I don't really know of a proper bona fide venue in Barnet which provides such a service. I am not in the least interested in establishments that use massage as a front for other services, therefore I am extremely wary of even making enquiries.

It is something I do need to address as I don't want to ever have to fight this fight with my hands tied. 

Mill Hill Residents Association meeting - All Welcome

Mill Hill Park in the Autumn sun
From Richard Logue on behalf of the Mill Hill Residents Association

The MHRA will be holding a public meeting on Tuesday night 24th September from 8pm until 9.30pm at St Paul's School on the Ridgeway.

We have three guest speakers,

John Cox from the Brent Cross Coalition will be giving a talk on their proposals for public transport in the area.

John Dix, the blogger Mr Reasonable will be talking about One Barnet,

We finish with John Gillet from the Mill Hill Preservation Society who will be discussing the proposed Mill Hill Neighbourhood Forum.

So a pretty well packed agenda. Everyone is welcome so hope to see everyone on Tuesday!

Only two weeks in and One Barnet is already starting to unravel

The Capita takeover of the London Borough of Barnet officially started on the 1st September. The Barnet Eye has long predicted that this mega project was badly thought out and that the alleged brave new world was likely to prove as realistic as Paulo Di Canio's plans for world domination with Sunderland FC. The key question for those of us who have keenly watched this process was how long these cracks would take to appear.

Well even a hardened One Barnet skeptic such as myself was shocked to find that the first legal challenge to the new arrangements has already been issued. Barnet Council have been using the bailiff firms Newlyn Collections Services Ltd and Phoenix Commercial Collections Ltd as debt collectors, under legally authorised contracts. It appears that under the One Barnet contract, their services have been dispensed with and Capita are now using their own bailiff services (Equita).  The companies affected have responded with a solicitors letter.

The letter also draws attention to the conflict of interest, as Capita are responsible for managing revenue collection, so they have a vested interest in calling in bailiffs at the earliest possible moment

Barnet Council cannot ignore this as it has been sent to every Barnet Councillor. Given the number of emails Barnet Councillors have received from bloggers warning of such issues, their must be a sick feeling in the pit of many of their stomachs. We warned all along that there would be conflicts of interest, handing the responsibility for commissioning of services to a company which also provides many of these services.

Barnet Council has published the One Barnet contract on its website. The Barnet Eye (unlike many Barnet Councillors) read this a while ago, having received a copy through our usual channels. We have noted many issues within the contract which are likely to cause all manner of "issues".

What we can say for certain is that every single one of the 2,000 odd pages has been found agreeable by lawyers working for Capita whos job is to ensure that Capita get the best possible deal and also been reviewed by lawyers for the London Borough of Barnet, who's brief was to get this political hot potato signed off as quickly as possible. Expect more of the same as people and suppliers wake up to what is going on.

Many thanks to Mr Reasonable who highliughted these problems on his excellent blog

Sunday 22 September 2013

Cycling in Barnet - The Mayors vision for cycling and Barnet

Over the last couple of days, the Barnet Eye has been investigating the role of cycling as a means of transport in the London Borough of Barnet. Over the years, I've done a fair amount of cycling around Barnet (although not much in recent years). One of my studio customers works for Boris on cycling policy and is generally quite complimentary about his attitude to cycling in London. I think she is probably spot on that he's been far and away the best ambassador for cycling in London for a very long time. Recently I was working regularly near Ludgate Circus and it is fair to say that there has been an explosion in the number of people using bikes to get around. The Boris bike initiative has certainly added impetus to this. Of all the London Boroughs, the impression I get is that Barnet has been the most resistant and at times positively hostile to cycling.

It is worth looking at the document if you are interested in the subject.

It is telling that there is plenty of mention of the East - West cycle highway, however not a single mention of the North-South route. One suspects that this is a legacy of times gone by when Barnet had a completely car obsessed approach to transport. It seems there may be some green shoots of recognition that cycling has the potential to help us deal with our transport problems.

I decided to analyse some of my most regular cycle journeys in Barnet.

1. My house in Mill Hill to my Finchley Catholic High School. I used to do this regularly in my last two years at the school. I tried a variety of routes, but the quickest (and hardest) was via the Ridgway and Partingdale Lane. At the time, Partingdale Lane could be dangerous as the traffic calming measures were not in place. Cars would speed around blind bends at well in excess fo the 30 Mph limit. In the morning the hack up Wills Grove was physically tiring, but as I enjoyed building my fitness, I used to enjoy it, although as Wills Grove has an appalling road surface, this was not always fun. The traffic calming has presumably made this route slightly safer. Rating as a good method 5/5 - excellent route for cycling. Safe, no trunk routes.

2. My House to Orange Hill Senior High School, Abbots Road, Burnt Oak. This was a five minute hop and an ideal route for a cycle to school. The school closed and now forms part of Mill Hill County High. Although no further, there is not a reasonable road route to the school (as you have to dice with Mill Hill Circus or Apex Corner). I would use the pedestrian crossings and urge my children to.  Rating as a good method 5/5 (assuming you cross via pedestrian crossings).

3. My house to De Havailland Road Burnt Oak. I used to work in De Havilland Road, Burnt Oak. This is a very reasonable cycle to work, taking 5-10 mins. Sadly the firm I worked for then have long gone. 5/5

4. My house to Temple Fortune. I spent three months cycling to a painting and decorating job in Temple Fortune, for Chief Abiola, the former president of Nigeria (deposed and assassinated). I initially started riding via the A1/North Circular. After the fourth time I nearly died, I took a backroute via Barnet Copthall. Sadly there was no way to avoid Henlys Corner. This was a complete nightmare- Rating 0/5 - scary.

5. My house to Aldgate. I worked in Aldgate for several years. I decided to try the route by bike. This is a hack straight down the A1 and then the ring road. I did it once and vowed that I would never be so stupid again. 0/5 - scary.

Now of course everyone has a different journey, and so we all could do this. Cycling is good for short hops around Barnet, but as soon as you collide with a TFL trunk route on a bike, you are dealing with a bit of a monster. When I was a teenager, I cycled everywhere. I never wore a helmet, and usually wore black clothes. In short I was an idiot. Luckily for me I was fit, astute and able to anticipate other road users extremely well. I learned to never trust lorries and never let them overtake me at speed, as they invariably cut in on you. If they did, I would slam on the brakes and let them pass. Even so on several occasions, they nearly killed me. Lorry drivers claim that cyclists slow them down and get in there way. In my case this was a deliberate ploy to make sure they clocked me. On at least 2-3 occasions, I believe they deliberately drove dangerously close to me as they were irritated by being slowed down.

I am not anti cycling, but as I've pointed out in my previous blogs, in Barnet we are a long way from having a safe cycle network. In his vision Boris explodes some myths about the safety of cycling. I believe that this is because many cyclists simply avoid dangerous road junctions. I suspect that many fatalities are inexperienced cyclists or ones caught out by unfamiliarity with the road design and layout. I would develop strategies for dealing with dangerous junctions, which generally worked. The times these broke down was when motorists did not act in a sane and rational manner.

Boris needs to consider the North/South axis. When I was doing my cycle to Aldgate, a friend of mine (Kate Nash's Dad ) was regularly cycling from Harrow to Aldgate. He did much of the journey on canal footpaths. Sadly this wasn't an option from Mill Hill. I believe there is much infrastructure we could re-use. There are several disused rail lines in Barnet and surrounding areas which could be converted into cycleways. There is also space besides several rail lines which could be made into cycleways with a bit of investment. I believe it would be relatively easy to have a safe route from Mill Hill to Brent Cross using land besides the Thameslink line. Of course this would cost money, but huge amounts are spent on cars and roads. If we got more people onto bikes, then this would reduce congestion and make everyones life better. As bikes are reasonably light, I'd be interested in using space above rail lines for "skyways" for bikes. There are many routes where this would work extremely well. I'd like to see a similar approach for the junctions such as Henlys corner etc. If we could get cycle traffic off the roads at dangerous junctions, it would make a massive difference to the safety of all concerned.

Anyway, have a look at the Boris vision. All politicians hope to leave a positive legacy. It would be good if the one Boris leaves is a cleaner, greener, safer London where people are fitter because they have put the car keys away and jumped on a bike where there is a sensible and safe route. What is encouraging in the Boris plan is that there is hard cash to recognise his vision. Lets put a bit of pressure on the local politicians to ensure Barnet gets its bit of the pie.

Saturday 21 September 2013

The Saturday List #43 - The ten most dodgy road junctions for cyclists in Barnet

Yesterday the Barnet Eye explained our views on cycling as a credible means of travel in the London Boroigh of Barnet. Today we list our ten least favourite road junctions for cyclists.

1. Staples Corner on North Circular Road heading West towards Brent Cross. 
2. Brent Cross A41/North Circular heading East Towards Staples Corner
3. Fiveways Corner heading South on A41.
4. Apex Corner heading North A41->A1
5. Mill Hill Circus Roundabout Heading North A1-A1.
6. Henlys Corner North Circular->A1 heading Eastbound
7. Henleys Corner A1->North Circular Heading Westbound
8. Stirling Corner Entering roundabout to head South - A1 from Morrisons.
9. Brent Cross A41 -> A41 Both directions as traffic merges.
10. Henleys Corner A1-> Finchley Road Southbound

In my youth I'd fearlessly take all of these in my stride. Now I am far too scared to consider any of them, except possibly in heavy traffic jams. I would use pedestrian pavements and use lights. What a wimp I've become. 

Friday 20 September 2013

The Friday Joke 20/9/2013 - Bless Your Heart !

Two informally dressed ladies happened to start  up a conversation during an endless wait in the LAX  airport.
The first lady was an arrogant California woman married to a wealthy man. The second was a well-mannered elderly woman from  northwest Texas .
When the conversation centered on whether they had  any children, the California woman started by saying, "When my first child  was born, my husband built a beautiful mansion for me."
The lady from Texas commented,  
"Well, bless your  heart."
The  first woman continued, "When my second child was born, my husband bought me a  beautiful Mercedes-Benz....
Again, the lady from Texas commented, 
"Well, bless your heart."
The first woman continued boasting, "Then, when my third child was  born, my husband bought me this exquisite diamond bracelet.
Yet again, the lady from Texas commented,
"Well, bless your heart."
The first woman then asked her companion,    "What did your husband buy for you when you  had your first child?"
"My husband sent me to charm school,"  declared lady from Texas ."
Charm school?" the first woman cried,  
"Oh, my  God! What on earth  for?
The lady from Texas responded,

"Well for example, instead of saying, "Who gives a s**t?", I learned to say, "Well, bless your  heart!"

Cycling in Barnet - Time for a fresh approach

Barnet Councillors discuss cycle safety in Barnet
One of the themes this blog has investigated regularly are transport issues in the London Borough of Barnet. In recent weeks, we have received complaints that we have neglected the issue or cycling. On reflection this is true. One of my studio customers works for TFL and has responsibility for cycling. We briefly discussed the matter this week. I gave serious consideration to the issue as a result and have come to the conclusion that cycling in Barnet at present has as much relevence to the question of  transport in Barnet as heritage steam railways have to the issue of transport in the UK. In other words, there are a few enthusiasts who love it, there a very small number of people who find it useful and practical and most of us are glad it exists but see it as a totally impractical form of transport and a solution to nothing.

In making these comments, I am specifically talking about cycling in Barnet. In central London and certain other London Boroughs, TFL and the local authorities are putting significant effort into making cycling an integral part of the transport solution. In Barnet, I believe that only someone with a death wish would seek to use cycling as anything other than a pleasant recreational activity on sleepy backroads or perhaps useful for trips to the pub or the office if it is round the corner.

The major obstacle is the plethora of trunk roads in the Borough and the complete lack of accomodation for cyclists on these trunk roads. If I want to drive to Brent Cross from my house, I would drive down my road, turn right onto Mill Hill Broadway, take the third right at Mill Hill Circus Roundabout onto the A1. At Fiveways corner, I would have to turn right onto the A41, and continue down to Brent Cross. The junctions at Mill Hill Roundabout and Fiveways corner would both require a significant degree of courage and fitness to attempt on a bicycle. I didn't always feel like this. I didn't have a driving license until I was 27, I used to cycle everywhere. During the course of this, I was forced off the road at least a couple of dozen times by juggernauts who would overtake and then cut in. On several occasions, I was convinced this was deliberate, on one occasion, I chased a Lorry for 1/2 a mile, caught up with him at the A1 intersection with Hendon Lane, when he was caught at the traffic lights. I then stood in front of the Lorry and when the driver got out, we had an altercation. His response was that I was an idiot and bikes shouldn't be on A roads. The police then came along and sided with the Lorry driver, threatening to arrest me for "holding up the traffic and causing an affray". The policeman in question commented to the driver of the Lorry that "They (cyclist) are complete c**ts". This was the police response to a Lorry overtaking me and then nearly running me over.

This had a fundamental effect on my attitude to cycling. I realised that the lives of cyclists on our roads are worthless. If I had been killed on that day, I doubt the Lorry would even have known, he would have been on his way. Since then, I took to avoiding A roads. What this meant was that every journey was twice as long and half as quick. I used to have a lightweight carbon fibre racing bike. I have always been fit and able to cycle a fair distance at a good pace. I used to thoroughly enjoy the experience. I have cycled all around London and all around Hertfordshire. There are plenty of nice recreational cycle routes around Barnet, if you want a pleasant ride on a Sunday afternoon. This is however a totally different thing to seeing cycling as a strategic solution to transport problems.

I would love to see cycling have a significant role in the Barnet transport solution. I would love to see cycling adopted as the preferred transport method of choice for the majority of our schoolchildren. This would be great for their health and it would be great for the environment. We'd see less cars and less congengestion. Sadly Barnet Council and TFL take no account of the needs of cyclists. Furthermore the attitude of national government is scandalous. The biggest threat to any cyclist on our roads are juggernaut lorries. The solution to this issue is simple and it is one for national government. All lorries should be fitted with cameras and sensors to detect cyclists and display alarms if a Lorry is in proximity to a cycle. Lorries should have a black box that records all journeys and any Lorry driver that kills or injures a cyclist should be automatically charged with manslaughter. Unless a cyclist is killed due to a catastrophic mistake or failure of equipment, the presumption should always be one of driver negligence. Any driver shown to be negligent should lose their HGV license. We would hear squeals from the haulage industry, but we would see a dramatic drop in deaths. What is more important.

The Government should also pass legislation to ensure that every major road junction in the country on routes where cyclists are allowed should be redesigned to be cycle friendly. In Mill Hill (my manor), this would mean Apex Corner, Mill Hill Circus and Fiveways corner. I would also like to see a dedicated cycle lane on these routes. Apex Corner is a particular problem. This junction is a nightmare and is on the route of many children who attend Mill Hill County High School. It is the responsibility of TFL to manage these junctions and the A1/A41 roads. These should be made cycle friendly. Another road that should be sorted out is the North Circular, which has many junctions in Barnet that are highly dangerous.

At the Barnet Council level, we have virtually no provision for cyclists. Barnet has a historical record of antagonism to cyclists. There are many routes in the Borough which are great rides. I'd like to see Barnet publish a cycle friendly road map and take action to ensure that these routes are safe and pleasant to ride.

The last thing I think we should consider is the use of technology to improve the safety of cyclists. We urge all cyclists to wear high visibility clothing and helmets. This puts the emphasis of the cyclist to be responsible for their own safety, however the main threat is not the cyclist, but cars, vans and lorries. I believe all cyclists should be compelled to fit an electronic warning beacon and all motor vehicles should have alarm sensors fitted to alert them to the proximity of a cyclist. These devices would alert the driver to the proximity of any cyclist less that 30 ft from their car, whilst the vehicle is moving. This would remove the argument that "I didn't see them, I didn't know they were there". If it was required by law to fit such devices, then the cost would be approx £25 per car, less than half the cost of filling the tank.

If this was brought in, then Great Britain would have the safest roads in the country and people like me would again see the bike as a credible way of getting around Barnet and London.

Thursday 19 September 2013

How Capita have taken over Barnet Council - slide presentation

On Tuesday I attended a Business Leaders breakfast at Hendon Town Hall. We  were given an interesting presentation by Chris Dawson, explaining how the takeover of services formerly provided by the Council is being implemented and how this will affect the community, especially those running local businesses. The council have circulated the slides associated with this presentation. I believe they are rather interesting for anyone who cares about delivery of local services. I have posted them here so you can see what the brave new world holds for us.

Many residents are unaware of the effects of the Capita takeover and how this will affect many aspects of their relationship with the Council. Enjoy.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Burglary in Barnet

I had a rude awakening this morning. I had been planning a much earned lie in. At just after 7am, my mobile phone went. I was rather surprised to see the number. It was from Steve who works for the contractors who fitted out our studio. These guys start early every day and they are putting together a quote for some more work. I was mildly fed up to be woken up, but the world doesn't revolve around my laziness, so I took the call. Steve is normally a cheerful soul, so immediately I knew something was wrong. He explained that his firm had been burgled and all of their plant/ laptops etc stolen. Even worse, they were running a health and safety course for their staff today. An outside firm was doing the training and the police had said that they couldn't enter the building. Steve asked if he could rent one of my studios, as his staff were due to sit an exam and the invigilator was on site. He was asking if he could rent a studio from me for the day, so that the course could be completed. Steves company are in an adjacent building to my studios, so I was able to sort the studio out and Steve could get on with his course.

There are four things I'd ask readers of the Barnet Eye to consider

1. If you were in Mill Hill on Flower Lane or Bunns Lane between midnight and 6am this morning and you saw anything unusual, please contact the local police.

2. If you are offered any laptops or construction equipment, please contact the local police.

3. If you are offered anything else which you think may have come from a burglary or other theft, please contact the local police.

4. Keep your eyes open in your own locality. If people you don't recognise as neighbours are acting suspiciously let the police know.

Burglary whether of homes or businesses is never pleasant. The small amounts of money people raise from selling stolen goods is dwarfed by the cost, hassle and expense for the victims. This trade only thrives because some of us are greedy and want things cheap. My business has been burgled twice. Each time it caused huge hassled for me, my staff and my customers. We've been lucky with our house, maybe two large dogs helps. Friends have not been so lucky. Whenever someone is burgled at home, the effects go way beyond the simple cash and hassle issues. People do not feel safe in their own home. I've spoken to the police about this several times. They tell me that it extremely rare for a burglary to be carried out by someone who they don't know. Most burglars are serial offenders, who treat it as a job. As with many things, this particular trade can only exist because we want to get things on the cheap. Barnet is a relatively wealthy area and as such is seen as rich pickings. The best response to this is as a community. Don't buy stolen goods and work with local police to keep our properties safe.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Barnet Council Business Leaders Breakfast at Hendon Town Hall - The dawn of Capita

Photo Courtesy of Barnet Rebel
At 7:30 this morning, the business leaders of Barnet were invited to the Town Hall for a presentation from Barnet Council and Capita to learn about the new, exciting developments in Barnet Council and to help Capita design the new way Barnet will procure local services. As the managing Director of Mill Hill Music Complex, which is one of Londons leading independent studio complexes, I received an invitation. I arrived to be greeted by the Council Leader, Richard Cornelius, who informed me that there was plenty of food. Indeed there was, danish pastries, fruit salads and a nice big pile of tasty bacon rolls ( I must remind Richard that for many of the audience, I think smoked Salmon bagels may have been more warmly received, although I heartily tucked in).

After a quick chat with a couple of other business owners, we adjourned to the main room for the presentations. First up was Andrew Travers, the CEO. He took a fairly minimalist approach to his address, welcoming people, giving us a few brief facts about Barnet and explaining the format of the event and why we were here.

Next up was Council Leader Richard Cornelius. Over the course of the two and a bit years Richard has been in charge, he has grown into the role and is more relaxed. Any presentation by Richard is a bloggers delight. He has a way of talking which mixes humour with irony. Those of us in the blogging community who have had a row with the other half or have had a parking ticket recently,  frequently use these statements in such a way as to represent them as terrible gaffes. For instance, Richard started by explaining his role as Leader. He said "The role of leader of the council gives me powers, which if I chose to use them, would make North Korea look sane and democratic". He then explained that the council was abandoning the cabinet system, to return to the committee system, giving all councillors a full role to play in local democracy and returning the role of leader to "first amongst equals". Richard spoke about his regimes failures, which "have not helped the High Street". He told us that if Barnet could keep all of the business rates, these could be significantly cut. He explained the successes, with youth unemployment at 1/2 the London average. Barnet also has the third highest number of VAT registered businesses in London and the highest number of company formations. Richard feels that it is grotesquely unfair that Barnet businesses subsidise other parts of London.

He explained that the council are very pragmatic. They have taken 35% out of the council costs, and virtually no one who lives in the Borough have noticed ( I would contend that the users of Your Choice Barnet have, but as Richard would point out, the disabled and those with special needs are a small percentage of the population and sadly few of them own or run businesses, which was todays audience). He tells us that the treasury will expect cuts of another 20-30% after the next election. Richard explained that the Council have been making savings for the "last 10 or 11 years". This was a veiled dig at the previous Labour/LibDem Coalition in Barnet which left office in 2002.

Richard explained that the council had a responsibility to help people. He said there was two reasons for this. One is because it is the right thing to do and the other because it is good to make people go to work. He then said "I am a very right wing Conservative and I believe people should go to work if they can". (One day I will have to buy Richard a beer and explain to him that full employment is a "very left wing" aspiration. Countries with very right wing administrations invariably have high unemployment. It is necessary to have high unemployment to allow unfetted Capitalism to function. In centrally controlled Communist societies, being out of work was called "parasitism" and was a criminal offence). Richard quoted his favourite right wing ideologist, who subscribes to the theory that "if the state controls everything it collapses" (again a reading of the history books show this isn't necessarily true, as the USSR and China saw periods of huge economic development under communism. The USSR only collapsed when the state loosened the reigns, wheras in China which is still undemocratic, we've seen a massively successful economy - not that I am advocating such things in Barnet as the clearly wouldn't work here). Richard explained the huge growth in population his adminstration has planned for Barnet, with 20,000 new homes in the West of the Borough. As he explained that is like the population of Canterbury being relocated to Hendon, Mill Hill East and Burnt Oak. (As Richard said this, I thought back to his comments about North Korean style powers, I imagined the population of Canterbury being forcebly repatriated, Soviet style to Burnt Oak and Mill Hill East - Lead by Archbishop Welsby. My friends at the the Brent Cross Light Railway scheme would love to see the old railway line reopened from Finsbury Park to Burnt oak/Edgware. With the advent of the Thameslink extension, this would make such a journey quite feasable, but I digress).

Richard then explained that he had to leave early as he had an important meeting at the North West London Waste Authority and that he had to make sure Barnet didn't get stitched up.

Next up we had Cath Shaw, who will manage commissioning in Barnet as the lead on enterprise and regenerataion. Cath seems like a pleasant enough lady. She gave us a few facts, such as that 9 out of 10 Barnet Council suppliers have less than ten employees. She talked about the £72 million which has been saved and spoke about the opportunities for small business in the new world, where Capita run the show. As she said this I checked my Twitter account on my phone. Barnet_Rebel had just tweeted the picture shown above.

How Ironic as Chris Dawson of Capita stood up to explain the way the Capita takeover of Barnet Services would affect the Barnet Business Leaders. Mr Dawson explained that Capita were committed to enhancing business services for local business. They intended to remove barriers to doing business in Barnet and explained what a few of these currently were

- Not being aware of Tenders.
- Small business don't understand the process
- Small businesses were not encouraged to participate in co-operative bids.

Capita were committed to addressing the following issues.

- Understanding how the "local market" operates
- Making sure that there was an appropriate channel for small business to interact with the Council
- Removing unnecessary "boiler plate requirements" (ie excessive red tape, insurance requirements, etc)

He then explained the Capita model and how they develop it

- Involve local business in service design
- Appoint a "supply chain champion" who is a one stop shop for enquiries from small business
- Cut red tape
- Invest in the local community

He then put up a grandly titled slide called "Capita customer centered co design process". This is a process of engagement with local stakeholders, where meetings are held to enable Capita to understand the "local market" and design their processes and services accordingly.

They have set up a "community development fund" which will do things such as fund office space for local community groups and businesses so they "don't have to meet in local coffee shops" ( He was lucky Helen Michael from Cafe Buzz was not present as he may have been told where to put his fund!). This fund was set at half a million pounds over ten years. I was keen to ask whether this money was provided by the Barnet Taxpayer, or whether it had come from the funds of Capita shareholders as a "goodwill gift".

We then had Q&A's. I asked if contributors to the "co design" process would be paid by Capita. Mr Dawson looked rather shocked that I should think a private company should pay local business to help them develop their systems. He responded in the negative. His efforts to give me a feeling of how much time contributors to the process would have to donate were not clear. He initially said "a day a week", but this morphed into "a couple of hours" when I explained this was a huge commitment for an SME. Mr Dawson explained that anyone wanting to contribute to the Co-designed service can get in touch by emailing  and their input would be invaluable.

He finally gave us a few other pointers to things Capita will do which will be an improvement on the old system, such as changing supplier baselines to be more flexible and publishing future plans.

Finally we had a presentation from a chap who's name I missed. He talked about the forthcoming Barnet Means Business Expo later in the year. This is designed to promote local business. More on that later.

The event rounded off with a networking event. I had a pleasant chat with a couple of other local business owners, an executive from Middlesex University and finally a chat with the Deputy Leader of Barnet Council, Dan Thomas. Dan asked for my view of the event. I explained that I thought it was a very good event and the Council should do more of this with people from all sectors of Barnet. I explained that I felt Barnet was historically bad at engagement with local business. I explained that historically I have always found Harrow far easier to deal with. I expressed a hope that with Capita this would improve. Now people who have followed this blog, may be surprised at these comments. The point is that I answered the question Dan asked me, not the one I would like to have answered. He didn't ask me if I thought "One Barnet" and the Capita outsourcing was the correct way to go or whether I felt that it would work. Barnet AKA Capitaville is a fact of life now. We may not like it, but just as I rather preferred a dog track to the Brent Cross shopping centre that replaced it, we have to face up to the realities of what has happened. For residents and taxpayers, it would be far better if Capita prove us wrong and do a good job. If like me, you are highly sceptical that this will happen, then it is vital to know as much about what they are doing, how they are doing it and what is happening on the ground. It is important to do this so that we can monitor their progress and flag up issues early. I also mentioned to Dan that there was rather a lot of management speak from the Capita man. Dan agreed with me. He expressed a hope that things would become clearer as things progressed.

The Barnet Eye blog vigorously opposed the signing of the One Barnet contracts. Now they are signed, the focus changes to one of scrutiny of Capita and doing our best to ensure that the people of Barnet are not taken for a ride. I sincerely hope that the likes of John Dix and Mr Mustard email Capita and give input into the "Capita customer centered co designed process". I will be putting my name forward and I suggest that as many other Barnet stakeholders as possible do. The readership of this blog encourages me that people are interested and do want the best for their community.

So to sum up, Capita have arrived, they will not go away. When local businesses want to provide services to the Council in future, they will not be dealing with Barnet, they will be dealing with Capita PLC. If they want to have any say at all in how this relationship works, they will have to give up their own time, free of charge, to help Capita design the process. In the networking session afterwards, Mr Dawson from Capita explained to me that this was what Capita have done for Southampton Council. On returning I read this article about how Barnet manage procurement in Southampton - - this is a theme we will be developing over the coming weeks and months as the way the contract works becomes more apparent.

Barnet Council have outsourced legal to a Harrow - Harrow deems its legal service a failure

The right wing ideologs running Barnet Council last year took a decision to outsource the councils legal department to Harrow Council. The Harrow Observer today reports that the Mayor of Harrow has lost confidence in their own legal team (the one which runs Barnet).

Having seen them in action in several court cases I am not surprised. How many millions has the legal failings of the Boroughs Lawyers cost the taxpayer this year? It seems that Harrow Council has imploded during the course of this evening. There is a cautionary tale for our Tories there somewhere. I wonder if they can figure out what it is.

Monday 16 September 2013

Rog T's Cancer Blog - Any chance of a Guest Blog from Billy Connolly about Prostate Cancer?

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, you can skip this first paragraph.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 51 years old and in October 2011 I  had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gives me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9. My latest PSA test in August was not quite so promising,  back up to 4.0, in other words the downward trend has stopped. I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture? 

I was just listening to BBC London and it has been announced that Billy Connolly has had surgery for Prostate Cancer. As I sit here recovering from (and suffering the after effects of) a prostate biopsy, I have every sympathy for him. In my house,. my decision to write about my experiences has provoked some heated discussions. My wife believes that we should "not talk about such things in public". Interestingly, Billy Connolly seems to share my views on the subject. Here is his description of a prostate examination

ITN news are reporting that the surgery has been a "total success" - -  although given the nature of cancer, I'd personally think you can only say this months after if your PSA is still low. I was interested to read that he has "very early stage" prostate cancer. This is what I have. The advice I received was that a program of active surveillence (ie regular PSA tests and annual biopsies) is the way forward until such time as there is some sort of movement.

I am intrigued to find out what procedure Connolly has had. Is there a new, low risk treatment being used in the states. The reason for the active surveillance regime is the side effects of surgery can be devastating with incontinence, impotence and infertility being not identified as relatively common side effects. By identifying the problem and taking action early, Billy Connolly has clearly been sensible. I hope that he uses the opportunity to encourage other men to get a PSA test. This can identify risks early and allow treatment before the situation becomes life threatening. We'd be more than happy to invite Billy Connolly to submit a guest blog when he's feeling better. I believe we fight cancer best as a community and we should use the tools at hand to identify the condition early. If you are 50 or over and haven't had a PSA test, please consider asking your doctor to be tested. Sadly the graveyards are full of people who ignored the signs. Don't join them unnecessarily early.

Slavery in Barnet - Is your selfishness feeding this vile trade?

Last Tuesday I was chatting to one of my regular studio customers. She was telling me about how a cannabis factory was raided down the road from her in Hale Lane, Mill Hill. She was telling me how the whole house was sealed off as the electricity supply had to be made safe, and several houses expereinced a power cut. I happened to bump into a friendly policeman afterward who was explaining that there are a huge number of these establishments in Barnet, well into the dozens. He explained the way that the business works. Vietnamese people are promised the prospect of well paid jobs in England. They raise huge amounts of money to pay to be brought in illegally. The gangmasters who control the trade, bring them in and then tell them that they have incurred huge debts. These must be paid by running illegal cannabis farms to "work off their debt". These are usually suburban houses, rented by gangs and converted into cannabis farms. These establishments have the electricity meter bypassed (often in a most unsafe manner) and the hapless victims are left to tend and water the plants. Usually they are given only the most basic food and know that any attempt to escape will have serious consequences for family back in Vietnam. In short they are slaves, held in bondage, right next door to us in many cases.

Sadly these are not the only people held in slavery in Barnet. There is also a rather booming market in prostitution. The majority of girls working in this trade in Barnet are immigrants. Again a large number of these, both Eastern European and South East Asian have found themselves working in these establishments following bogus offers of jobs. As they are working illegally and have no means of support they are stuck in a horrible trade, having to endure all manner of degradation. Again traffickers in this vile trade use threats against family back home as one of the tools to keep girls "under control". Again there are reportedly dozens of brothels in the Borough. There were three in Mill Hill Broadway at one point. Disturbingly some of the girls involved in this trade are under age.

The victims of this trade know that as illegal immigrants, there is nowhere for them to turn to for help. A visit to the police station is likely to end in deportation and facing the consequences of gang lords back home. They are stuck in a frightening circle of abuse and exploitation with no way out. The sad truth is that reason these trades exist is because the rest of us are too selfish to care. Girls working in brothels have to pretend to be happy and contented to earn the cash they need to survive. This means that the punters can happily turn a blind eye and tell their mates "they are well up for it and they love it". In short they don't care. In the case of the customers buying the skunk weed, they are probably too stoned out of their heads to care. All they want is to be able to roll their next spliff and who cares who gets hurt in the process. I was chatting to one of my studio customers about the subject and his response was "it's better for them than working in a paddy field". Sadly this is the horrible, selfish and racist attitude of many of us in Barnet. Because these people, held in slavery are not British, there is an attitude that in some way they are less deserving of human rights and protection of the law.

The view of many people (especially those on the right) is that the victims are simply illegal immigrants. If they are caught, they are not our problem. They should be put on the first plane home and sod the consequences. I tend to take a different view. I believe that these people are the victims of our selfish, greedy society and we do owe them some form of reparation. If I tricked a British woman into my house, locked her in the cellar on meagre rations and rented her out to my mates to be raped, you would think me a monster. She would be entitled to compensation under the law and I would be locked up for many years. When the situation happens with young girls from abroad, we have a far more morally ambiguous view. It suddenly becomes "their fault". This news story tells how one Barnet resident was jailed for a mere five years for his involvement in trafficking - - in reality he is probably out of jail already.

Ultimately, both of these horrible forms of slavery will only disappear when the customers start taking responsibility for their consequences of their selfish actions and refrain from feeding profits to the greedy gangs which control this trade. Sadly I suspect that won't happen until the day after I am elected Pope.