Monday, 12 October 2015

Barnet Libraries - Big Rube bottles it!

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A packed public gallery for the Libraries
Lets, start with a little deviation. Lets face it we all need a bit of deviation of occasion. Lets have a look at Childs Hill ward of Barnet Council. Until May 2014, it had three Lib Dem councillors. In May 2014, the Lib Dems were a demoralised force nationally, like lambs to the slaughter. Two of the Childs Hill Councillors, the much loved Palmers were retiring. Monroe Palmer had received a Knighthood and wanted to concentrate on the House of Lords. The local Tories licked their lips, sensing that the Lib Dems were a spent force. Two new unknown candidates, no track record and no history. Easy pickings. And there was veteran Lib Dem Jack Cohen. With a demoralised machine party machine Jack could be put out of his misery.

Despite many locals having no time at all for the Lib Dems nationally or Nick Clegg, amazingly Jack Cohen held on. The years of work acted as a bulwark against the might and the money of the local Tory Machine. The other two Lib Dems were despatched with ease, but Jack hung on. I believe that every decent person in Barnet, who has ever been to a council meeting in Barnet was delighted to see Jack remaining in the chamber.

What has all this got to do with Barnet Libraries? Well the two new Tories in Childs Hill saved the Tory regime, Shimon Ryde and Peter Zinkin. The Tories have a 32-31 majority in the Town Hall. These two gained seats swung it. That is why we saw a tiny cut in the Council Tax and why we are seeing a major threat to our library service. Whilst some Boroughs have shut Libraries, the Barnet Tories have a different plan. They want  to shrink them, get rid of the staff and make them self service or volunteer run for the majority of the time. So they can say "we've not shut a single library" and "We are actually increasing opening hours". They say, we are using technology to replace librarians.

Let me give you an analogy. Just suppose the government wanted to save money in the NHS. Just suppose they said "Right we'll sack 42% of GP's and we'll put self service ATM's that you can get a diagnosis and a prescription from instead" Just suppose they said "We are increasing the opening hours, so you can use the self service ATM machine any time", justs suppose they cut the size of the building by 80% and let the rest of it out to Starbucks. Would you think you've got a better NHS. Well if you could get a repeat prescription at 10pm, or a letter to say why you were off work, I suppose you may. For some people it would work better some of the time. Just suppose that if you opposed this, because like me you have a serious requirement on occasion to see a trained doctor, you are told "But unless we do this, we'll  have to cut cancer drugs for babies, do you really want babies to die?" You'd feel pretty bad.

This may seem a ridiculous analogy, but that is how it seemed to me. The local Tories are trying to get away with dismembering the library service. They want a chip and pin based access system, to allow you to access an unmanned library. This is fine if you know exactly what you want and where to get it. But what if, like my mother in her final years, you have poor eyesight and you need help finding suitable large print books. Suppose you've read all the Jane Austen books and you want someone to point you at something similar? Just suppose like my mum, you have trouble with CHIP & PIN technology? There may be a library around the corner, but its no use at all. Or just suppose you are a student aged 14 or 15. You won't be allowed in. At present, you can sit in a safe environment to study. In future you will be excluded. They won't let you in.

Tonight we had a meeting of the committee which was supposed to decide whether to implement this cut. The public were allowed to make representations. BAPS leader Barbara Jacobson and blogger Mrs Angry did this. They made excellent points, but the Tory chairman summarily dismissed them. The public were allowed to submit questions. Written answers were supplied and the public were allowed to ask supplimentary questions. Sadly the written answers were not answers in many case. They were unrelated statements. Jack Cohen wryly tweeted

Barnet Eye asking again why his questions are not being answered , Yiddish proverb roughly 
translated says " no answer is also an answer"

I asked a few questions. We ascertained nothing much except that Barnet Council don't like answering questions. One thing became clear. Barnet haven't budgeted for training volunteers. I asked and despite trying to evade the question, this was eventually admitted. It was also admitted that volunteers will have nowhere near the expertise of trained librarians. Barbara Jacobson pressed Cllr Thompstone, the committe chair on the number of people prepared to volunteer. She said she'd attended one meeting where eleven people attended with a view to volunteering. By the end, all but one had reconsidered. There was a council officer, who endlessly droned on in meaningless jargon, arguing that black was white. It was clear to the audience that this was pure waffle, but for some strange reason, Cllr Thompstone was mightily impressed.

As the meeting progressed to members questions, we saw a tour de force from Councillor Naqvi. I've not seen him in action before. He is very good indeed. Cllr Thompstone was clearly rattled. His efforts to patronise Cllr Naqvi failed miserably and he was starting to make a bit of an arse of himself. Councillor Thomas, Deputy Leader of the Council started making frantic hand gestures to Cllr Thompstone. I am not an expert in Makaton sign language, but it appeared to say "Shut the F*ck up before you scr*w us completely".

Councillor Thompstone moved to wrap the meeting up. He suggested that all seven recommendations be adopted en masse. Thomas again started gesticulating wildly. Thompstone suddenly said "In light of the huge public interest, I think we should refer this to full council". The last time this happened, was when Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the decision to crucify Jesus. It was a smart move by Thompstone. Him and his four Tory mates clearly don't want to take all the blame for this atrocious policy. They clearly bottled it. They clearly want all 32 of them to be tarred with the same brush.  Rubes obviously thinks his colleagues, to a man, believe his policies are marvellous. I think his faith in his colleagues may be mistakened.

Back in April 2006 Mill Hill and Childs Hill had three Lib Dem councillors each, Mill Hill now has three Tories and Childs Hill has two. How have the people of these wards been repaid. Both have had their libraries downgraded. The motto of this is "Vote Tory and get shafted". At full council, only one Tory councillor needs to break the whip and this awful proposal will fail. If they do, the Tories cannot censure them, because they will lose the council. They have absolutely no excuse. No Tory councillor in any ward that is under threat of losing a full library service has any excuse at all. My guess is that they are all hoping someone else will bite the bullet. I can guarantee that this blog will give unremitting focus to all Tory councillors who vote to disembowel the library service. Some are nice people, but they need to grow some cojones.

So is Cllr Thompstone a bottler? After the meeting, I had a little chat with Councillor Rueben Thompstone on the stairs on the way out. I have to confess, I was shocked. It appears that although he has the build of  a Rugby Player, he is a big wuss. I queried him as to whether he believed that the microscopic cut in council tax, which resulted in the requirement to cut library budgest was a good idea, To my amazement he replied "You are being very aggressive" I was actually quite shocked. I'd assumed that he was a man who was used to a bit of banter and a bit of an argument. It turns out that he is nothing of the sort. He is a sensitive soul, who wants us all to be nice to him and baulks at the idea of chatting to the public. At this I decided to end our conversation. I have come to the conclusion that Cllr Thompstone is a waste of space, a playground bully who can dish it out when he is in the chair, but who lacks the gumption to actually discuss anything with anyone who disagrees with him. He clearly is not cut out for the job.

 I also found out from Councillor Thompstone that he had a in Science. I was surprised. To be a scientist, you have to be able to collate evidence and results and form conclusions based on the evidence. As such I'd expect him to actually understand that simply listening to officers waffle is no basis for formulating a library policy.  Iwas reminded that Tories originally opposed the creation of the Open University. An institution that changed the concept of education in the UK. I wonder if cllr Thompstone realises that institions such as the OU and libraries are the basis of our innovation economy? They give people the opportunity to get a leg up the ladder.

At todays meeting it was clear that the officer have not done their homework and there is scant evidence to support their claims.I am genuinely sorry if trying to have a discussion with Councillor Thompstone upset him. I do have to conclude that he isn't cut out for politics if he gets upset so easily. I've chatted to dozens of Tory councillors on numerous occasions. I am not a shrinking violet, but none has ever compalined before in such a manner. It seems that Big Rube is not quite the bruiser he'd have us believe.

It seems to me that Rubes was genuinely surprised that the people of Barnet were not grateful to him for his bonkers scheme. As he's a scientist, I'd recommend that he sits down with my fellow blogger Mr Reasonable (I've always assumed he chose the name because I am Mr Unreasonable) and have a nice chat about what is wrong with his proposals. For the record, I don't go to meetings with the intention of heckling and winding up Tory councillors. I go hoping to use common sense and reason to win an argument. The trouble is that they refuse to answer questions, they patronise people. They refuse to qcknowledge mistakes, which were obvious to all and sundry. They address the public with a pompous tone when they are caught out telling porkies and people get irate. Then they wonder why we get cross.

Last night there was one lie that went unchallenged. This was particlualry galling. Councillor Thomas claimed that protestors never suggested anything that would address the issues of balancing the libraries budget. This is a lie. This blog published in February comprehensively sets out a whole range of steps. It seems to me that Cllr Thompstone and Cllr Thomas do not want to know. They claim to be Conservatives, but are the opposite. The word Conservative implies that they want to maintain the Status quo. This lot want to put it to the torch. Real Conservatives value the library movement as they recognise that they help breed self sufficiency.  A true Tory Council would have responded to the funding crisis by mobilising their friends to hep maintain the service. Get the old ladies to bake apple pies for cake sales, get their friends in business to help with sponsorships. Get IT companies to come up with innovative ways to engage and enjoy the service. Use solar energy to cut costs and get money back from the national grid. Invest in double glazing to cut energy bills.

All of these have been suggested and all ignored. In my business, we recently installed huge solar panels on the roof. There is a five year payback. It is called sustainable investment. If this had been done in 2010, then we'd no have free power in our libraries. They didn't then because they didn't really want to keep the library estate. Sadly local authorities are told to cut costs, but are not encouraged to invest in the future, that is why the finances are in a mess.

In 2018, we have another council election. It seems like a long way off. The previous library restructure debacle lost the Tories a whole bunch of councillors. In Mill Hill and Childs Hill, will voters forgive a party that destroys their library? I suspect that the self interest of the Tory Councillors in these wards may trump loyalty to the fantastic leadership of the likes of Thompstone and Thomas

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