Thursday 31 October 2013

Barnet Council publish second Capita contract

Barnet Council have published the second Capita contract.

The various sections in the contract you may wish to check

•         DRS main contract
•         Schedule 1 - Definitions
•         Schedule 2 - Output Specifications
•         Schedule 3 - Service Delivery Plans
•         Schedule 4 - Payment Mechanism
•         Schedules 5 - 33
•         Schedules 34 - 35
•         Schedule 36 - Service Provider Commitments
•         Schedule 37 - Commercial Development Plan
•         Schedule 38 - 40
•         Joint Venture Agreement
•         Form of Parent Guarantee

Whilst the Barnet Eye supports publication of such documents it is scandalous tha after the fact as a fait accomplis. As you can see Barnet are only prepared to be open when it suits them. Dont be deceived.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Saracens match day CPZ review - Democracy? Don't make me laugh

From the Barnet Council Website



The Committee considered a report which provided an update on the Review of the Event Day Controlled Parking Zone in the vicinity of Allianz Park (Barnet Copthall Stadium). 

The Committee welcomed the Cabinet Member for Environment, Councillor Dean Cohen, Pam Wharfe, Director for Place and Neil Richardson, Highways Manager, Traffic and Development who were in attendance to present the item. 

Officers reported that whilst the scheme was largely unchanged, there had been some amendments to signage following feedback from Ward Members.  Members were advised that Saracens would be improving publicity around match days, creating a list of frequently asked questions and undertaking proactive community engagement. 

Officers advised the Committee that any PCNs issued incorrectly could be claimed back by residents in the zone (e.g. permit holders who were not displaying their permits during controlled hours).  It was suggested that the registration number of vehicles in the CPZ zone should be registered on a database and made available to Civil Enforcement Officers to ensure that Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) were not incorrectly issued to permit holders.  

The Committee were addressed by Councillor Sury Khatri, a Mill Hill Ward Member.  He reported that he had submitted a number of questions and comments on the scheme which had not resulted in any amendments.  He noted that his suggestion regarding the introduction of electronic signage which could vary CPZ hours on an event by event basis had been ruled out on cost grounds. 

Councillor Khatri highlighted that only 6.8% of residents had responded to the consultation and suggested that this was not a representative sample of residents in the CPZ. 


1.         The Committee note the update on the Review of the Event Day Controlled Parking Zone in the vicinity of Allianz Park (Barnet Copthall Stadium) as set out in the report and above.

2.         The Committee recommend that the Council and Saracens develop a Communications Plan to ensure that residents in the Event Day Controlled Parking Zone are aware of match days and restrictions.

3.         The Committee recommend that there be a review of Event Day Controlled Parking Zone signage, including an exploration of variable electronic signage options.

4.         Officers be recommended to create a database include details of all households and vehicles with a registered permit in the Event Day Controlled Parking Zone to prevent the incorrect issuing of Penalty Charge Notices to residents. 
So there you go. A democratically elected Councillor has had his suggestions ignored. The idea of electronic signage has been ruled out on grounds, when the Mill Hill Residents were told that Saracens RFC would foot any bill. Is this Democracy? Is there any such thing as transparency? Don't be stupid. This is Barnet

Lou Reed RIP

Sunday saw the passing of Lou Reed. Long term readers of this blog will know that I am a big time fan of Mr Reed. Like many teenagers in bands, I discovered the Velvet Underground around the same time as I was starting to write songs. Like many of my more unusual (at the time) musical tastes, my big brother Laurie introduced me to the band. At the time I'd babysit for him, for my then baby nephew Christopher (now one of the country's top animators). Laurie would always buy me a big bottle of cider and suggest a selection of music from his large collection of vinyl (this was around 1978-9).

I would often arrange for my then best mate and fellow band member, Pete Conway to come over and we'd listen to the records and write songs. At the time we were both into hardcore punk rock. Lauries suggestion on one such an occasion was a compilation of music by the Velvet Underground. As usually happened, we were not disappointed. The band were so different and so much more contemporary than most of my brothers collection, even though their songs were written at the height of the flower power era. Tunes such as "Waiting for the Man", "Venus in Furs" and "Heroin" were far more in keeping with the era of punk than the love and peace hippy times. I particularly liked the way that the band used acoustic instruments on electric tracks. Although there were many Velvet Underground songs I loved, my personal favourite was "Beginning to see the Light". I loved the lyrics, the mix of acoustic and electric instruments and the crazyness of the performance. I think it is an uplifting song.

We immediately "saw the light" and in one night the music of the False Dots matured by ten light years. We were determined to write a "Velvet Underground" style song. The product was a tune called "Not All She Seems". It had acoustic guitars, a jangly lead and was the story of respectable pillar of the community who falls in love with a transvestite hooker. It is a tale of tragedy and of people not being able to be what they want to be. I think it was one of the best songs I have ever co-written. This was born out when the False Dots did a reunion gig after ten years in 1999 at the Red Lion. After we finished, we were swamped with friends saying "It was great to hear Not All She Seems" again. That was the only song which ever attracted that sort of attention. When we first recorded it at Alan Warner's Lane Studios in 1979, I took the demo into School. We had some great bands and the 'Dots were the new boys on the scene and not taken seriously by the rest of the Orange Hill Muso's. When they heard "Not All She Seems" they were a little surprised to say the least.

That was the reason that the Velvet Underground were so important. If you were a serious songwriter and musician, you couldn't help but be influenced and improved by an encounter with the Velvet Underground. As a result of my interest in the Velvets, I started listening to Lou Reeds solo work The Album "Transformer" is one of my all time favourites. "Vicious" and "Perfect Day" are two of the greatest songs ever written. There is not a bad track on the album. I saw Lou Reed on his last tour. One of the numbers he played was "Sweet Jane" which I hold in special affection as the False Dots covered it for several years. It was a favourite of Criag Withecombe, our old lead guitarist. We learned the song for our tour of Sweden in 1981, as we had a gig where we had to play for 2 1/2 hours and we only had 40 minutes of originals.

A couple of years later, we got booked to play a bikers rally. Paul Hircombe, our bassplayer suddenly quit the band and moved to France. There was decent money at the bike rally and so we decided to do the gig as a three piece with me picking up the bass. As we played, we became aware of this enormous biker walking towards us during Sweet Jane. He just stood and stared at us as we played. It was quite intimidating. At the end of the song, he walked to the back of the marquee (there were about 500 people there). I thought no more of it. At the end of the next song, he reappeared with three pints for the band and said "That is my favourite song of all time, cheers boys". For some strange reason, that moment is one of my most vivid memories of playing live with the 'Dots. I know this little piece may sound as if it is more about my band than the Lou's music, but that was the true power of Lou Reed, in a strange sort of way, I suspect he was the "ghost partner" of several generations of songwriters. If ever I got a block, I'd listen to the Velvets. They broke all the rules and there is always something in their music I hadn't noticed before. We always used to say that Lou Reed was our spiritual director. Every band has one and he was most definately always ours. Without him we'd never had had the dark humour, the songs about inappropriate sexual behaviour and the acoustic guitars. We'd have just been another boring rock band with pompous, up themselves lyrics. We'd never have made the effort to try and look cool and wear shades when we played. That was Lou's gift.

As I watched Lou Reed play the song, I was transported back. It made me realise what an enormous impact his music had on my life. Sadly Lou has shuffled on up to Rock and Roll heaven. I believe his music will outlast everything in the charts today. I listened to Transformer and songs like Perfect Day and Walk on the Wild Side are still light years ahead of their time. Wherever you are Lou, thanks for your gift to the world. You were a true original and you will be deeply missed.

Monday 28 October 2013

Barnet Council Members Item - Sexually Transmitted diseases are on the rise in Barnet

I couldn't help notice that a report detailing the state of sexually transmitted diseases was published as a "members item" on the Barnet Council website. I was mildly perturbed to see that sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in Barnet with a 4.3% increase in reported cases in the 2012 over 2011. I was also mildly perturbed to see that the council has decided that it doesn't have to do anything about it. There were 2,857 reported cases in Barnet in the last period, which is low for a London Borough and against the national average. The issue is that cases are on the rise.

Now whilst no one is suggesting that Councils should tell people who they can exchange bodily fluids with, it is pretty clear that the Council does have a responsibility to ensure that its role in ensuring public health is performed to the best of its ability. I have long had concerns that the move towards academies and free schools (especially ones with a religious ethos) may on occasion lead to a misguided view that sexual health is not an educational priority. I am sorry to say that some of the more hard line fundamentalist religious types seem to actually take pleasure in hearing of the rise in STD infection rates, as they see this as punishment for sexual naughtyness. As sexual education does not show up on the league tables and schools don't publish STD infection rates, we can't really tell which schools are doing their job properly.

I take a different view. I believe that schools and councils should make sure that people in there care are as safe as possible. I believe more work should be done and more research into the patterns. I am also concerned that no mention was made of STD rates for vulnerable people in Council care. It is sadly true that sexual abuse of people with learning difficulties by people in positions of trust is more common than we care to admit. Often it is only when an STD is discovered that abuse comes to light.

I therefore think that more work in this area needs to be done and awareness raised. I'd also like to see some guarantees that academies and free schools are taking their responsibilities seriously.

The following text is the information published on the Council Website. I think there is a degree of complacency here. I'd be interested to see what my readers think. I guess we should give a shout out to Councillor Julie Johnson, who yet again shows that she seems to be one of the few Barnet Councillors living in the real world.

(Link to Council website)


The Committee considered a Members’ Item in the name of Councillor Julie Johnson in relation to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). 

At the request of the Chairman, Dr Andrew Howe (Joint Director for Public Health) responded to the questions set out in the Members’ Item as follows:

The national press seems to suggest that there has been an increase in the number of people seeking treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (STD's):

1.         Have Barnet's figures increased in the last two / three years and, if so, by how much?

          Whilst Barnet has rates of STD infection below the national average, the rates have been increasing in recent years. The latest data shows that new diagnoses rose 4.3% in 2012 to 2,857 cases up from 2,739 in 2011.

2.         Does Barnet have sufficient resources to deal with any extra demand?

There is open access to Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) services in the UK so residents are able to access services wherever they choose.  The providers that the largest number of Barnet residents access are Barnet Hospital and the Royal Free Hospital.

3.         As education about STD's is part of the national curriculum, can we have some feedback and how this is managed in our schools, including Barnet's looked after children?”

The 1996 Education Act indicates that schools must provide, and make available for inspection, an up-to-date policy describing the content and organisation of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) outside of national curriculum science. This is a school governors’ responsibility.

Historically SRE provision has been enormously variable.  Curricular resources, training opportunities and ‘clinic in a box’ sexual health advice and contraception services are being made available to Barnet Schools as part of the School Wellbeing Programme funded by Public Health.

For looked after children, sexual health is incorporated in to the Health Assessment which all young people in care receive and advice/guidance is provided to residential care homes. In addition SRE workshops are delivered to the units that accommodate our looked after asylum seekers and a workshop is delivered in partnership with the Leaving Care Team as part of their outreach work.

The Committee thanked the Joint Director for Public Health for the information and RESOLVED that no further action was required in relation to this Members’ Item. 

Report author: Andrew Charlwood
Publication date: 24/10/2013
Date of decision: 03/10/2013
Accompanying Documents:

Sunday 27 October 2013

The Storm that never was?

Well, I for one am relieved to see that the BBC website is reporting that the worst of the storm forcast for tonight seems to be missing Mill Hill ! You can check the local weather here

The worst winds are forecast for 6am and it predicts 30mph.

Of course we know how well the BBC did last time with Michael Fish ! Lets hope that in the morning we are all still here !

Do we need an humanist remembrance day service?

On BBC London this morning, there was a fair amount of debate about the proposal to have a Humanist service for remembrance Sunday at Conway Hall. The event is being hosted by Dan Snow and the purpose is to allow people who don't feel comfortable partaking in a religious service to remember the fallen of the various wars. As I listened to this, I wondered whether this was really a positive development. Of course it is a free country. People can do what they like and there is nothing at all wrong with people who reject organised religion setting up alternative events. We should all be perfectly free to remember our friends and family in any manner we choose. It is also very positive that people feel compelled to remember the fallen and take time out of their schedule for a period of contemplation.

The issue I have is that I do not feel comfortable with division being sown in an area where I for one believe we should display unity and community. During the various wars, comrades fell side by side. They did not care whether the man next to them was Chrisitian, Muslim or Humanist. They merely asked each other to do their duty and support their comrades. My Father was a bomber pilot during the second world war. He served in 40 Squadron and had spells at Moretonin the Marsh, North Africa and Foggia in Italy. He flew 40 active service missions and was shot down near Ploesti in Romania on his 40th mission. When his plane was destroyed, his best friend F/O Andrew "Spud" Murphy, who was rear gunner died. My Father attended many remembrance services to remember the fallen colleagues in his squadron. In the month prior to his plane being shot down in 1944, 40 Squadron lost nearly the entire squadron. Whenever he stood in line at the Cenotaph, he'd always be moved by the fact that comrades of all races and creeds were in attendance. My father was an Australian and a member of the Royal Austrailian Airforce. His squadron was largely made up of citizens of the Commonwealth. His crew included an Irishman, a Newfoundlander (then not part of Canada) and a New Zealander. The point was that despite the diverse background of the squadron, they were in it together.

Humanism and Atheism belief is one held by many people. My personal preference would be for such views to be accommodated within services that represent the whole of our society. I would spend hours listening to my father describe squadron life. He once told me that the Padre was in some ways the most important person on the base. When new recruits joined, the padre would explain that he was there for everyone, regardless of faith. He would conduct a simple service on a Sunday, which was not compulsory to attend. They would sing "The Lord is my Shepherd", say a prayer for fallen comrades, recalling their names and then say the Lords Prayer. The Padre would then invite the crews to remember their fallen colleagues in their own way and say a prayer for family back home. He would then ask for the Lords protection for the crews for the coming missions and pray that they all got home safely. My Father explained that attendance was near 100%. Aircrew were notoriously superstitious. He told me that he had several friends who were atheists and he'd asked several about the service. The answer had always been the same, that it was probably the sanest moment of the week.  He told me that the Padre  was great friends with one of the senior officers who made no bones about his lack of religious belief. My Father recalls having a chat with the officer about the subject and he said that in his opinion, the service was not about religion, it was about being part of a team and caring about your comrades. He said that singing the hymns and saying the prayers did not endorse anything other than the fact that everyone was working to create a better world.

I can remember the last time my Father attended a reunion of 40 Squadron crews. He came back and was absolutely bladdered. He'd met up with many friends he'd not seen since the war. he was so excited that he spent about four more hours drinking with me and telling me stories. Towards the end of our little session, he told me a story. He said that as his plane was being shot down, he said that he'd said the "Hail Mary" and asked the Lord to give him his three score and ten years. He said that his survival was remarkable and he always attributed it to the intervention of the Virgin Mary. He said that he hit the ground, in pitch black five seconds after he pulled his parachute cord. His plane hit the ground and exploded about 300 yards from when he landed. He said that at that moment, he knew he'd see the war out. He also told me a very strange thing. When he got shot down, his plane was flying towards Ploesti to bomb the Romanian Oil Refineries. He said that as he was just doing his final checks, he looked and in the co-pilot seat, a member of another Air Crew, Jack Schinder was sitting. Before my Father could say anything, Schinder said "It's a killer the way these Wimpeys go down Titch". At that second, he heard a burst of machine gun fire and he realised that his plane was being engaged by an ME109 night fighter. His plane was breaking up and his rear gunner was dead,. The plane was in flames and his first priority was to get his crew out safely. Fortunately, all apart from the unfortunate Murphy survived.

My father took these events as complete affirmation of his faith. I asked him if any athiest had survived similar scenarios. His response was "Of course they did". I asked him if he'd ever asked any of them if they'd prayed during the experience. He said "Yeah, they all did. It's what you do when you are getting shot down". I asked what his opinion of this was. He replied that he thought they were all "ungrateful bastards" humourously. He said that at the reunion all manner of strange stories came out. He said that for many, they hadn't discussed it since the war. His parting shot as we wrapped up our chat was to say "The ones who got through were lucky. The best thing you can ever be in life is lucky". I have often thought about what happened to my father on that night. It is really quite disturbing. He wasn't a man given to flights of fancy or making things up, so I 100% believe his account. I accept that there are plenty of other explanations. It is up to you to choose your own one. Whenever I think of remembrance Sunday, my mind always comes back to the events back in 1944 and the horror my father endured. He got through and had a great life. 55,000 members of Bomber Command didn't. We do owe them a debt.

However we choose to remember the ones who were lucky and the ones who weren't (and I hope we all do remember them), let us remember that they were fighting for justice, tolerance, democracy and fairness. I believe we best express our thanks to them by standing together and putting our differences to one side.

Saturday 26 October 2013

The Saturday List #45 - Five hints (David Cameron style) for keeping warm in Barnet in winter

David Cameron has been giving advice to cash strapped pensioners on how to keep warm this winter, in the face of ever spiralling costs. The Barnet Eye shares the Prime Ministers concerns and so has compiled our own list of handy hints on how to keep warm.

1. Sit in Starbucks. As we all know, Starbucks have a clever wheeze to avoid paying taxes. Given that the vast majority of pensioners have spent their lives paying taxes, we suggest turning off the heat at home and sitting in Starbucks reading the paper all day. When you get thirsty or hungry, just nip down the road to another establishment, or bring a flask and sandwiches. If they get irate and call the Police, I'd suggest that that you inform the Police that Starbucks haven't paid there taxes, so should not be entitled to help from the constabulary.

2. Find a nice library which the council has closed and go and squat in it. When Occupy took over Friern Barnet library last year, they were amazed to find the Central Heating had been left on. It seems to me obscene that the taxpayer pays to heat empty buildings, whilst pensioners are freezing to death.

3. Have a non serious accident and go to A&E. You will have hours of fun waiting to be seen, but at least you will be warm.

4. Attend any Council meeting where Councillor Rajput is speaking. Councillor Rajput is not known for his brevity. Whilst some councillors like to wrap things up quickly, Councillor Rajput likes to give you the full value for your money. He also produces copious amounts of hot air.

5. Make a poster urging voters not to vote for a bumtuous local politician. Local Cafe owner Helen Michael did this and got to visit a nice warm police station with two members of Special Branch, keen to find out whether in between making bacon rolls, she had a secret Lara Croft like persona, where she would pose a grave risk to the safety of local councillors. Sadly Helen had to rush back to the cafe, but you could drag it out for weeks. You'd get lots of free cups of tea and all the dinners you can eat. You might even get a few free ciggies if you are lucky.

Of course the best advice I can give you is not to vote for parties lead by crass idiots who make stupid pronouncements about people who are in circumstances they clearly cannot comprehend.

For the absence of doubt, this blog entry is a rather trite attempt at humour. My personal advice is to keep your house warm and if the companies want to sue you, then fight them all the way. You will find they are not allowed to turf you out on the streets or put the bailiffs on you.

Barnet Council Perking Permit Refunds - Have you had yours yet?

In August Barnet Council announced the procedure for claiming CPZ parking permit refunds. I immediately applied for a refund for each of our cars. The Council had been illegally overcharging us for permits and having been actively involved in the campaign, I felt entitled to my cash back ASAP. We also put details up on the sidebar of the blog, so everyone could see it.

As well as this, we also distributed a bunch of leaflets to neighbours on behalf of BAPS telling them that they were entitled to a refund.

That was August, it is now nearly November and we've not seen a penny of our cash back. We hear that since Capita took over running Barnet Council, they are supposed to bring private sector efficiency to such processes. We hear anecdotal stories of a far tougher regime chasing up debts at Barnet Council. Could this be because Capita are using their own bailiffs and make more cash if they send them in? It seems to me that two months is far too long to wait to get my own money back.

Has anyone had a refund yet? The council have no right to hold on to our money. They were found to have acted illegally. I for one don't like being robbed and I don't like being skint. If you haven't received your refund yet, let us know and we'll chase it up. I will be writing to Barnet Council Leader to ask. We will keep you informed.

Dyslexia Blog - Sorry but my needs really aren't that special

For those of you who have read my dyslexia blogs before, you may wish to skip this paragraph as it is just the background. If you haven't read my dyslexia blogs before, here is a little preamble and introduction, so you know who I am and what I do and why I write this stuff. For those of you who know the story, skip to the end of the paragraph for todays installment. Let me give you a bit of Background so you know who I am and what I do. I was born in 1962. I didn't start talking until I was 4 years old (at all, not a single word). My parents thought I was deaf. My reading age at eleven was 5. When I was fifteen I started a rock and roll band called the False Dots, the band is still going strong. When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 31, a friend suggested I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion.

A man I have huge respect for, who has an adult daughter who suffers from Downs Syndrome sent me an email querying the blog I wrote this week entitled "The Scum of the Earth". His specific query was that I hadn't specifically mentioned people with learning difficulties in the comments I was making. He was concerned that the abuse adults with learning difficulties receive in some institutions is becoming invisible. He was of course right about his comments. Often, in hindsight when I read comments I wish I'd said things in a different way and raised additional points. Whilst this was one case in point, I must admit I am not quite sure how I'd have phrased it. You see I have a small problem with some of the terms we use to describe the various disabilities we have to face. Take the term "learning disability". As someone who had "learning difficulties" at school, I find the term to be too broad a brush. I had extreme problems with reading and writing until I was about ten years old. I also found maths challenging and couldn't do long division until I was at secondary school. It just seemed like an impossible challenge. Once i developed a coping mechanism (with no help from anyone) and understood how I had to train my brain to learn, I was able to cope. I didn't shine but I got nine O levels and three A levels, amazingly passing an O level at Grade C in English language and doing A level Maths. 

I have found that I read at around 2/3rds the speed of an average person. Think this through. Exams are timed to allow enough time to complete the paper. If you have my level of dyslexia, this means that realistically you can only get through 66% of the paper. Therefore to get anything above a C grade is pretty much a miracle. Like most people I devised a strategy for dealing with exams. I'd skim through and do the easiest ones first. If I was going to miss out questions, I'd miss the ones I couldnt do anyway. What it did mean was I never ever completed an exam where I felt I'd done it justice. Even worse was the numerous occasions where I'd misread a question and given completely the wrong answer. Again a product of not having enough time. Let me give you an example. If I look at a newspaper headline for 1 second and write it down and then look at it again properly, often the two things are completely different. I tried this with yesterdays Guardian. On page 5 there is a story about Prince Charles. When I briefly glanced and wrote it down, I wrote "Charles doesn't get what people are on about". What did it really say? "Charles: People don't get what I am on about". If this was part of an English exam and at the end it said "Discuss", imagine the scope for things going wrong. Now in normal everyday life, I don't look at things for one second, I look at them for far longer, until the jumble of words is clarified. I read every sentence a couple of times, sometimes three if it lacks sense and context. It's just that in an exam setting, you don't have the luxury of time and you also have added pressure. The dyslexic brain tends not to read words in a linear fashion, so we have to reassemble sentences. Although I am 51 years old and reasonably successful and intelligent, I still ask my wife to fill in application forms etc. If I do, I tick all the wrong boxes. The issue with the term learning difficulties for me is that society perceives the term as one of separation. 

When people look at me, they do not think "learning difficulties". I listened to a conversation on the train between two people on the subject. One man was telling the other that he was annoyed at the school his daughter was attending, because she'd been classified as having "learning difficulties". His concern (using his words) was that she now had it on the record and that she'd be classified "with all the spastics and other freaks". His daughter was moderately dyslexic and needed some help. He seemed to have a problem with her being separated from the rest of the class and "stuck with a load of kids dribbling in wheelchairs". Then he gave the punchline. He felt that as she was only getting an hour a weeks special help, it was a waste of time. His solution? He was getting his daughter private tuition and she'd come on in leaps and bounds in only three weeks. 

It is clear to me that his problem was simply one of labelling. His assumption that "learning difficulties" = "spastics in wheelchairs dribbling" was one of extreme ignorance. For many confined to wheelchairs, education is no issue at all, if your brain works properly you can achieve. I wondered what my travelling company thinks of Professor Stephen Hawkings? Having assisted as a helper with a charity for people with disability, I've seen countless examples of people talking to the person pushing the wheelchair rather than the occupant as they felt the person in the chair was a moron. The classic case was when another helper fell and broke her foot. She spent the rest of the trip in a chair and said it brought home to her the way perfectly intelligent people are treated, purely because of their lack of mobility. 

Another term I don't particularly like is "special needs". I have given the issue a lot of thought and I have concluded that what most dyslexics have is not "special needs" but extremely mundane ones. Is it too much to ask for teachers to get training in helping dyslexics. Is it too much to ask for schools to give such pupils extra help. My travelling companion claimed that the school had failed, because his daughter had come on in leaps and bounds with 1 to 1 private tuition. My assumption would be that any child would see an improvement in results with private lessons in subjects they were struggling with, regardless of dyslexia. The difference is that for dyslexics it is imperative to identify and help them. The alternative is that many give up on education. 

Let me put a proposition to you. What is the alternative to giving dyslexics a proper education? Well there are several outcomes. If they are lucky, like me, they figure it out for themselves and do ok. Sadly there are surveys of the prison population that show as many as 60% of prisoners may be dyslexic. If you are intelligent, but can't succeed at school and always feel like an outsider, drug and gang culture can seem like an attractive alternative.  Drugs can take away the feelings of otherness and replace them with oblivion or euphoria. Drug dealing can offer access to cash in quantities that would be impossible by legal means for someone who is unqualified for anything. Gang culture can offer kudos and status for those who have always been laughed at, bullied and picked on. Sadly all of these are very short term fixes for long term problems. Such lifestyles end happily for few. Occasionally there are cases where people manage to use the experience for positive benefit, developing themselves once they have realised that they don't need drugs and gangs for confidence and happiness. For many though, the damage is too great and too devastating. 

The tragedy is that for many of these young people, if our educational system was fit for purpose, all of this could be avoided.  Let me give you two hypothetical examples. You have two boys born today. One is called Jimmy and he's born to a well off middle class family in Barnet. The other is Johnny and he's been born to a deprived background in a high rise flat in a sink estate. Both have an IQ well above average. Both are dyslexic.What will Jimmy and Johnny be doing in the year 2033, when they are twenty? No one knows. What we can say is that on the balance of probability, if both have problems with the education system, Jimmy's parents can throw money at the problem, using private tuition, special educational help and all manner of technological aids to help his educational achievement. It doesn't mean he'll do well, but he has a much better chance. For Johnny, whatever his parents intentions, £30 an hour for private tuition is prohibitive. Unless the school can provide the technology (and many schools in deprived areas have kids with far bigger problems than dyslexia) he will be left to fend for himself. Wheras Jimmy will be shuttled around from Tarquins house in the mum/dad Taxi service, Johnny will be hanging around with his mates on the estate. Again Johnny may make all manner of choices, but when offered kudos and cash in gang culture and no prospects from the local economy, his opportunities are far more restricted than Jimmys. 

Take things forward another thirty years. Johnny and Jimmy are now 50. They have the same IQ. Would you bve surprised if Jimmy had turned his experiences with dyslexia to his advantage and done well. Would you be surprised if Jimmy owned his own business, had his own house, had a wife and a happy family. Would you be surprised if Johnny had the same things? 

I volunteer at the Passage daycentre for homeless people. I was chatting with one of the clients a couple of weeks ago, who was my age (51). He is dyslexic. He was clearly very intelligent, as well as clearly caring and kind. He didn't seem to have major issues with drugs or alcohol. He confided to me that his problem was that he couldn't cope with pressure and couldn't read or write properly. He said he was getting some help with it from the centre. He told me his only problem was he couldn't manage his money. He'd lost his accomodation as he'd been hit by unexpected bills and didn't know what to do. He'd simply walked away and left everything - job, family, home. It made me think. If you can't read effectively, how do you cope with things like bills for council tax?

So anyway, I locked myself in my meditation room (well actually I sat on my own in the pub and had a pint of Guinness) and thought about it. Special needs, learning difficulties? When it comes down to it, there is a simple way to classify people, where you can easily assess what their needs are.

1. People who can read and can manage their financial affairs
2. People who can read but can't manage their financial affairs
3. People who can't read but can manage their financial affairs
4. People who can't read and can't manage their financial affairs

For the sake of this blog, lets look at people in the third and fourth groups only.  Here there is a few simple questions. The most important is "Do they have the potential to learn to read with help". If they can learn to read (and by learning to read, I mean able to read and understand council bills and letters from official authorities, not just "jack and jill" books). If we can fix the reading issue, then we can solve many problems. My view is that no child should ever leave school unable to read effectively, unless they have such severe medical issues that it is not practical. Every schoolchild should have their reading properly assessed at age 11. Any child that cannot read should get priority and be given any possible resource that would help them. Any school where there is a problem with helping children read should be put in special measures and the problem should be fixed. 

I believe that dyslexia is the major cause of illiteracy in the UK (amongst the native population). I believe that if we took action to fix this, many other social ills would abate. A friend of mine spent a year in Bellhaven prison in Oxfordshire a few years ago. He told me that he was shocked at how few people could read. He said that what was even more sad was that as a result many people would simply stare at the wall all day. He was able to take solace in reading. Given the dyslexic population of prisons, this doesn't surprise me at all. We should make education and reading skills for the prison population a major priority. I asked my friend about this and he said that people were scared of education and hated it. I asked him how he thought this could be changed. He said that people in prison play the system, so if you gave people better food and priveliges in return for enrollment in courses and progress in the subjects. 

I don't know all the solutions, but I do know that we need to address this issue. We are failing our fellow citizens. I don't think that the needs of dyslexics are special, unless you consider the rigth to an education "special". 

Friday 25 October 2013

The Friday joke 25/10/2013

Q: Whats the difference between Albert Einstien and Capita? A: Einstiens black holes dont cost £1 billion !

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR PENSIONERS - (The Friday Joke 25/12/2013 or maybe not)

About this time of the year, older taxpayers will again be receiving another 'Winter Fuel’ payment. 
This is indeed a very exciting programme and I'll explain it by using a Q & A format:

Q. What is a 'Winter Fuel’ payment ?
A. It is money the government will send to taxpayers.

Q. Where will the government get this money ?
A. From taxpayers.

Q. So the government is giving me back my own money ?
A. Only a smidgen of it.

Q. What is the purpose of this payment ?
A. The plan is for you to use the money to purchase gas and electricity...or a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.

Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy of China ?
A. Shut up.

Below is some helpful advice on how to best help the U.K. Economy by spending your 'Winter Fuel’ cheque wisely:

* If you spend the money at Asda or Tesco, the money will go to China , Taiwan or Sri Lanka

* If you spend it on petrol your money will go to the Arabs

* If you purchase a computer it will go to India , Taiwan or China

* If you purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico , Honduras and Guatemala
 If you buy an efficient car it will go to Japan or Korea

* If you purchase useless stuff it will go to Taiwan

* If you pay off your credit cards or buy shares, it will go to management bonuses and they will hide it offshore.

Instead, keep the money in the  UK by:
1. Spending it at car boot sales
2. Going to night clubs
3. Spending it on prostitutes
4. Buying beer or whisky
5. Getting yourself a Tattoo
6. Visiting a bookie

(These are the only UK businesses still operating in the U.K. )

Conclusion: Be patriotic - go to a night club with a tattooed prostitute that you met at a car boot sale and drink beer day and night !

Thursday 24 October 2013

The scum of the earth

I am not stupid or naive. I have run a successful business for 34 years and I have travelled the world. I visited the USSR under communism, travelling widely (and illegally) around the country, talking to people. I visited China the year after the Tiannaman Square massacre and stood on the spot where people were mown down. I've also been many times to the rampantly capitalist USA. I've visited Asia and I've visited Africa. I've also been to see my rellies back home in Oz.

So yes, I've been around a bit and with the exception of South America and Antarctica, I've set foot on all of the continents. When I was a kid, my ambition was to go to the moon. I used to have the iconic picture of the crescent earth viewed from the moon on my wall. I'd dream about being an astronaut. When I was I kid I'd sneak out and lie in the garden in the hope that a UFO would abduct me, so I could see more of the Universe. I thought it was a risk worth taking.

Now I am happier living in Mill Hill. I no longer fantasize about being taken away in space ships to the moon. I used to be an avid reader of Sci Fi as a teenager, but I got more interested in history and social justice. I can't remember the last sci fi book I read. I also used to love horror. Sadly it dawned on me that real horror was not caused by demented monsters and psychopaths with mystical powers. Real horror is usually caused by a bloke in a grey suit in an office, who casually cuts a budget with no thought to the misery and pain that will inflict. Behind every truly awful story there is a failed bureacracy and a long list of missed opportunities to mend things. Take the baby P case. This was a horror story so sick that no film company would dream of dramatising it. Why did it happen? Failed bureacracy. Another example is what is going on in certain private care homes. We have seen horrific stories of abuse in Winterbourne. I cannot imagine how anyone could gratuitously inflict pain on a defenceless person with disability, but it happens. I got sent a file about the Winterbourne care home case - - and it made me feel physically sick.

One has to ask the question "What processes are in place to ensure this can never happen again". In Barnet a care home provider was recently taken to court by Barnet Council over the death of a vulnerable person in their charge. Quite extraordinarily, the company was awareded a contract extension despite this. Mrs Angry attended the court case and wrote a piece detailing the case - - which is shocking.

As I said at the top, in the words of the song by the Anti Nowhere League I've been here, I've been there, I've been every F***ingwhere, so what? The sad truth is that there are horror stories on our doorstep. They aren't perpetrated by aliens, monsters or vampires. They are perpetrated by the scum of the earth. Mark my words, you may not give a s**t about this now. Just remember that we can all grow old, we can all have a stroke, we can all get dementia. The seeds you sow today, you reap tomorrow. If you ignore what is being done in regards to care for the elderly and infirm in Barnet, you are writing the first chapters of a horror story. You do realise that when the final chapter is written, you could well be the victim, don't you?

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Exclusive - Barnet Council - Incompetence and mismanaging resources in the face of a crisis

I was quite alarmed to see just how badly Barnet Council are managing their finances at  present, as detailed by a recent report on the Council website. The local administration would have you believe that they run a tight ship, but in fact they are proving themselves unable to manage the borough, causing all manner of problems for residents. A report on the Capital resource allocations on the council website demonstrates just how bad the council are at implementing their own policy decisions.

Section 9.14 of this report details how many projects, which have capital allocations, are in trouble. Here are the main highlights

There has been a 13% reduction in the capital programme this quarter. The main projects
affected are as follows:
• Deletions in Children’s Education for Schools Modernisation & Access Improvement Programmes (£1.523m).
• Deletions in DRS for Highways non TFL (£0.146m).
• Slippage in the Commissioning Group for depot relocation (£10.140m).
• Slippage in Children’s Education for:
Schools Modernisation & Access Improvement Programmes (£1.992m).
Urgent Primary Places (£2.000m).
General Schools Organisations (£0.559m).
Other Schemes (£0.253m).

• Slippage in Children’s Family Services for the implementation of libraries Strategy
• Slippage in the DRS Delivery Unit for:
General Fund regeneration (£1.050m).
Highways TFL (£0.678m).
Highways non-TFL (£0.621m).
Disabled Facilities Projects (£0.400m).
Other EPR projects (£0.300m).

All of this is money which as been allocated to important projects, which have not been delivered. If you are the parent of a child who cannot get a school place, the slippage in the Urgent Primary Places scheme, where £2m has not been spent shows just how badly the council is doing. The £1.3 million not spent on Highways goes a long way to explain the atrocious state of many of our roads. The £.4 million not spent on facilities for disabled people explains why so many vulnerable people are suffering. You can also see that the council has slashed its budget for modernising and improving access to local schools. They have mismanaged the relocation of a depot.
In total the report highlights nearly £211 million pounds worth of important capital investment that is being mismanaged (ie listed as "slippage"). The report states
Analysis of the capital programme over the period 2010/11 – 2012/13 has identified the total amount of slippage over the time period is £211.3m. £99.9m of this slippage relates to Children’s Service which equates to 47.3% of total slippage. Of this 47.3%, £86m relates to school builds, further investigation has indicated this is probably a profiling issue within the programme that needs to be addressed in the future. 

It appears to me that the Council havebeen failing in their statuatory legal duty to manage their finances. This is highlighted in section 7.2:-
7.2 Section 28 of the Local Government Act 2003 (the Act) imposes a statutory duty on a billing or major precepting authority to monitor, during the financial year, its income and expenditure against the budget calculations. If the monitoring establishes that the budgetary situation has deteriorated, the authority must take such action as it considers necessary to deal with the situation. Definition as to whether there is a deterioration in an authority’s financial position is set out in sub-section 28(4) of the Act. 
There is no way that a "slippage" of £211 million in project spend can be designated as anything other than mismanagement on a huge scale. You may ask what the Council proposes to do to fix this problem? Here is what their remedy is
Assessment process to consider deliverability and planning to ensure robust plans are in place before inclusion into the capital programme 
So there you have it. Up until now, the council have not had an assessment process to consider whether they could actually deliver projects or ensure robust plans are in place, before deciding to spend you hard earned cash. The incompetence of this Council is truly staggering. These are not trivial sums and their are clearly no proper controls in place on how money is spent. Does this sound as if they have fulfilled their legal requirement set out in section 7.2? The Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius should resign. It is clear that his regime has completely lost control of the management of the council and officers need proper management and direction. The Tories have run the Council since 2002. There can be no excuse for such failure. I am shocked that no one has picked up on this incredible failure. You would think that it would be on the front page of the local papers. 

You can read the full report here on the Council website. It is truly shocking

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Open letter to David Statham - Managing Director of First Capital Connect

From: Roger Tichborne
Sent: Monday, October 21, 2013 8:30 AM
Subject: Disruption on First Capital Connect 22/10/2013

Dear Mr Statham,
I am writing as a regular user of the Thameslink service operated by your company. I regularly travel between Mill Hill Broadway and Central London on the route. Last night I had to use the service to get to West Hampstead to pick up a connection to Shepherds Bush. I had tickets to see a concert and had arranged to meet friends before.
On arrival at Mill Hill Broadway Station, I saw that there was disruption. An announcement on the message board told me that a tragic incident had occurred at Radlett, where a train had hit a person. Clearly in such a case, a train company cannot avoid disruption and it would be unreasonable to expect a train company not to have issues running a service. What would not be unreasonable would be to expect the train company to inform passengers of what is going on. First Capital Connect have digital noticeboards which should display accurate train information. They also have station staff and a PA systems, linked to a central control.

Every passenger using your service has a requirement to go somewhere and get there at a set time. People do not set off at random times with no expectation of getting anywhere. Often people have appointments or arrangements. All they want a train company to do is get them there and if they can't do that on time, give them a reasonable estimate of when they will arrive. Arriving at Mill Hill Broadway at 18:10, there was no indication at all of when the next train would arrive. The various message boards were completely unhelpful. The first train, a Sutton Service was showing as cancelled. The next service scheduled to arrive was the 18:20. This was running late and was expected at 18:34. With this timescale, I decided that it would be quicker to wait for this service than to take a bus and tube. I waited several minutes before using my Oyster card to touch in. I observed that the ETA of the train was not changing, therefore I had a reasonable expectation that the train would arrive.
Approx one minute before the train was due to arrive, the noticeboard suddenly changed. It said "stand back from the platform edge, fast train approaching". An announcement was made to the same effect. When the message cleared, the 18:20 was still showing as due. Two minutes later it disappeared. The next train then showed as arriving in ten minutes. By this time there were many passengers and all were frustrated and rather bemused. Although the next train did arrive when it said, I missed my connection at West Hampstead and was late for the arranged meeting. This resulted in missing the start of the first band, The Selecter, who I had been keen to see.
As I said, I don't expect miracles from your company when things go wrong. I simply expect you to tell me what is happening. It is not plausable for you to say that no one in your organisation knew the 18:20 would not stop at Mill Hill until two minutes after your noticeboard said it was due. The driver and the signalling system must have known. This information should be relayed to customers. In my case, I used my Oyster to touch in for a journey, based on this information, rather than take another route. Presumably the misinformation has generated a profit for FCC at my expense.
As managing director of the organisation, can I suggest that you conduct a review of your information systems as a matter of urgency.

Roger Tichborne

Monday 21 October 2013

North Finchley Traders have won the argument over parking charges

Following a long battle, which ended the career of one of our best known and most high profile Conservatives, Barnet Council has finally conceded that they got it wrong on parking and have admitted that the abolition of Pay and Display was bad for the High Street.

After intense local pressure, some changes were made in December 2012 and credit card parking machines introduced. A council report concedes that the previous regime was a disaster. The recommendations in a new report states that the experimental improvements be made permanent. It says
It has been noted that the introduction of the credit/debit card pay and display machines have had a significant impact on the patronage levels, although it is clear that pay by phone is still the primary method of paying for parking in the North Finchley Town Centre.
At last the council has admitted that it bungled the introduction of Pay by phone and that it has damaged the High Street.It is now clear that a pay on the High Street option is vital. Congratulations to Helen Michael and all of the other Finchley Traders who have been completely vindicated in their stance. The council has now decided to make the recent "improvements" permanent.

You can read the full report here on the Barnet Council website

Sunday 20 October 2013

Christian, Muslim, Athiest? We are all Jews

I recently had a moment of blinding enlightenment. Just as St Paul saw a vision on the road from Damascus which changed his life, I too have had such a moment. Unlike St Paul, I won't be changing my name or writing new chapters of the bible (unless anyone decides to add this particular blog to the New Testament, which I suspect, even with a new, more liberal Pope) is highly unlikely. It happened about four weeks ago and the true impact of this revealation has been festering in my mind since.

The experience happened in a most unlikely setting. It happened in the changing rooms of my gym, just as I was getting dressed after having a workout and a shower (behave yourself and stop sniggering). I had the changing room to myself and as I was drying myself, I suddenly was overcome with the realisation of a major truth. Now this should really be blindingly obvious to everyone, but given the number of people have died as a result of disputes over the nature of the question, it clearly hasn't sunk into our thick, stupid, uneducated brains.

So lets start at the beginning. It doesn't matter what religion you are. Maybe you have no faith. Maybe you despise faith and organised religion. There is a fundamental truth we all have to accept. A long time ago, something rather strange and incredible happened. That strange and incredible thing was a cell flickered into life. Not only that, but it divided in half and the two halfs divided in half. From that event, every creature, every form of life we see took shape. Now if you follow the Richard Dawkins school of thought, an entirely random process of natural selection has got us here. If you are devoutly religious, you think that somewhere, somehow, there has been a divine intervention and what we see is the result of wonderous influences, which we don't begin to understand or comprehend. I'll add a caveat and say that if you are a creationist, you believe it all started a few thousand years ago and the wonderous process happened in a timescale compressed beyond all scientifically explainable comprehension. You also believe that God or the Devil stick loads of strange artifacts around to confuse and confound us. All of that isn't what I want to discuss, but it is an important starting point.

Anyway from that incredible event, a cell dividing and continuing to divide, about 2 million years ago, we saw the first fossil records of someone who looked a bit like us. We don't really know too much about these early members of the family Homo. There were strands, Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthal, and lastly us Homosapiens. We have been quite a successful branch of the family. We've outlived all of our cousins and we have bent the beautiful planet Earth to our needs.

Homosapiens, from our earliest incarnation have sought to do two things. We've sort to understand this chaotic environment we've found ourselves in. We've written books and built up traditions to help us cope with a seemingly impossible set of conditions and an ever changing environment. These traditions are called religions. Then once we've formed our set of beliefs, we have gone to war with everyone who believes something else, no matter how minor the differences are. We seem to need to have a tribe to belong to. Once we are in that tribe, nothing makes us more happy than to wreak havoc on someone elses tribe. We always find some excuse. We always think we are special, we are chosen, we have gifts. These are dangerous, but the most dangerous thing we have is the unshakable belief that we are right. That is what causes the wars, the suppression and the agony. When it comes down to it, we can't stand the thought we might be wrong.

There is however a deeper truth, one which we seem to forget. This truth is that we are all different to each other in a myriad of ways, but in essence we are all the same. There is not a branch of the family homosapien that cannot procreate with a member of another branch. We all share the same DNA. In fact the wider we spread our net when seeking partners to breed with, the better for our offspring. Genetic deformity seems to be a product of inbreeding, not reaching out, not looking beyond our own community. Geneticisits can analyse our DNA and tell us where our family tree originated. The different strands of the Homosapien family have all manner of strange roots. Geographically isolated communities, such as Australian Aboriginals have a distinct and well defined make up. Residents of cosmopolitan communities such as London have a whole rainbow of strands in our DNA. Whatever roots we have, the net product is the same. We are all human beings, we all bleed when we are cut. We can all be happy, sad, violent, moody, depressed. We can all do great things and we can all do nothing with our lives. What we do is often, but not always dictated by who our parents were and what chances they gave us. As I said, often but not always. Look at Mo Farrah. A twin, who won an Olympic gold. An inspiration. He has identical DNA to his brother but circumstances have given their lives different paths.

So anyway, as we consider this family, of which we are all part, let us consider the religion. For the purposes of this debate, let us consider Athiesm to be a strand. It is a set of beliefs. We classify ourselves as a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Athiest, etc for all manner of reasons. I'd guess that the primary reason for the majority of us is that our parents chose to raise us in a systems. We adopt the tribe and we feel comfortable within it. Many of us, as we reach adulthood may question these beliefs. Many of us will change clubs (as it were). Sometimes this change is imposed on us. Great Britain used to be staunchly Roman Catholic, until Henry VIII fell out with the Vatican. Then belonging to the faith became a crime. In more recent times, religion has seen persecution from Athiest Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Russia and Indo-China. With the fall of Communism in Russia and liberalisation in China, that suppression has thankfully abated. Now the largest cause of concern is the clash of religious cultures between Islam and the West. This is not a simple thing to quantify. Islam has many strands and most believers are decent people who, like the rest of us, simply want to live their lives and go about their business. On the Western side, there is no great desire to convert believers of Islam into any faith. Athiests believe that religion is outdated and education will make radical Islam disappear eventually (I somehow doubt this, but it is a point of view). Christians gave up on the concept of crusades centuries ago. I am not at all sure what the majority Christian view of Islam is. As I understand it, the Catholic Church recognises Muslims as brothers who believe in God (although I am sure there is much "debate" about this in many circles).

Perhaps the greatest friction is between the Jewish community and the Muslim community. The reasons for this largely started with the creation of the State of Israel by United Nations mandate in the 1940's. Prior to that there was little antipathy. What is odd about this is that the Jewish religion does not actively seek converts and Islam categorically states that its adherents should treat "people of the book" (ie Jews and Christians) with respect. Going back to our discussion at the start of this blog, we talked about that cell dividing in half. When that cell divided, it did not start a war with its brother. Eventually and by a mechanism no one understands, those little cells invented sex. This was where two completely different cells did the opposite thing. They came together to make a new cell. The result was that both cells created something different, but also better and stronger.

And that is at the heart of the revealation I received. The human races has spent millennia dividing. We have developed faiths, religions, beliefs and traditions. The time has come for us to all grow up. We have to learn to accept each others differences and learn from each others traditions. There is no tradition and no person that is beyond learning. I spoke to a geneticist who told me an interesting thing. If you look at the typical DNA make up of someone with a strong Jewish ancestry, it is virtually identical to many Palestinians (both Christain and Muslim). In fact there are far more Muslims who are genetically Jewish than there are Jews in the world.

The point is that however we pigeonhole ourselves, we ultimately are all members of the human family. In some ways we are all Jews, Muslims, Christians. Our culture and our values have been influenced by all of these traditions. Muslim scholars invented modern mathematics, the idea of laws is a very jewish tradition. Christianity influenced our views on social justice and forgiveness. Athiesm has helped developed free thinking. We all share the benefits of these developments.  .Whatever threat we perceive from the other tribes, the greatest threat is from our own inability to tolerate the fact that other people disagree with us. Winston Churchill once said "Jaw Jaw is better than War War". We cannot fight closed minds by closing our own minds. Before we seek to "change other peoples ways" we should understand them and seek to engage them. If we believe we have a better way, that doesn't necessarily mean it will be better for someone else. They may be happy with their traditions and beliefs. Aggressive confrontation of those will merely seek to bring down walls. Agree to differ and find things in common. When we have these, I believe the other disagreements will just melt away, unless it is us who is in the person with the problem.