Tuesday 20 February 2018

Lets praise the sensible, hard working councillors of all parties in Barnet Council

Regular readers of this blog may think that I have a low opinion of all the councillors in the Town Hall at Barnet. After all, we've generated over two million views of the blog by writing about them! (Well that and football, cancer, dyslexia, bereavement, poetry and my obsession with making lists). You'd be quite wrong. I actually like most of them. People are often shocked when they launch into a rant about Conservative Council Leader Richard Cornelius and I reply that I think he's a thoroughly decent chap and whenever I chat to him he's never been anything other than friendly, honest and decent. I disagree with many of the polices he's implemented and think he's been badly advised by senior Council officers on many issues, but I don't doubt that he does the best job he can. Some have told me they think he's malicious and evil, but in my experience he's a perfectly ordinary bloke who has done his best to try and keep the show on the road in Barnet Council. I completely disagree with his priorities, the top one of which seems to be keeping council tax down. Personally, I'd rather have what I consider a more honest approach and try and set it at the lowest rate required to deliver services to the most vulnerable. I'd rather that efficiencies were delivered in a way that the human cost of the decisions was lower and people weren't forced to the margins of our society. But having said that, I don't think Richard takes the decisions he takes lightly. I am hoping to stand for council and I am hoping that my input will make a difference. I hope that the council starts to be more open, honest and transparent with resident. I'd like to see every resident get a proper bill from the council, explaining exactly what their council tax is spent on every year. I'd like budget consultations to be held at the neighbour forums.

I'd even be keen to see local referendums on issues that would raise council tax. Lets say, for arguments sake that a £1 a week rise in Council tax would mean we could deliver decent social care for elderly and disabled people, maybe we should give residents the chance to vote on it and approve it. We are not living in the dark ages, we could do this with online voting. For those unable to access this, postal voting could be an excellent backup. It would make the job of the decent, hard working councillors easier. If people understood why they were being asked to contribute a bit more, then I don't think they'd feel like they are being robbed.

Across the political spectrum, I have worked with many councillors on all manner of local issues. Edgware Conservative Councillor Joan Scannell is a member of the Mill Hill Music Festival organising committee. I like Joan a lot and she's spent decades on the council. As with Richard Cornelius, I don't agree with all of her policies, but it would be dishonest to say she has not made a huge contribution to civic life in Barnet. On the Labour side, Councillors such as Alan Schneiderman, Kath McGuirk and Ross Houston (to name a few) are thoroughly decent people. Each works hard for their constituents and I've met at many rallies etc, as well as over a coffee in Cafe Buzz or a beer in the Bohemia. In my work as a blogger, all have assisted in providing useful background information to a whole host of issues we've covered and have worked tirelessly when we've exposed scandals, such as the cancellation of Freedom Passes and the Metpro scandal.

Perhaps the best councillor of all is Lib Dem Jack Cohen, from Childs Hill. You may think I'm biased, but this is pretty much a universally held view across all political persuasions in the Borough. Jack is intelligent, hard working and has an amazing eye for detail. During the period of Labour/Lib Dem administration he was Mayor of Barnet and has been an ever present in the Council chamber since the 1980's. Whenever my mobile phone rings and Jacks number comes up, I know that there will be a topic worthy of discussion. Often Jack starts with "I assume you know all about...." then describes some scandal or issue of note. Usually I haven't got a clue. When I say "No, not aware at all" Jack will simply say "I suggest you have a look at paragraph 3 of page 139 of the report on the council website". Jacks style isn't to tell me what to think. He doesn't tell me what I should write. He simply says "have a look, it's rather interesting". It usually is.

A great example of how Jack works in local politics is when I found out that DB rail were constructing an aggregates Superhub in Cricklewood without planning permission. There had been no public comments and it was clear it was being ushered through by the council on the quiet. I immediately phoned Jack. He was away at the time as his wife was unwell. He was most concerned and said "I'll have a look at the planning request immediately". He then suggested I filmed the works and put up a blog, with a link to the planning permission. I asked what he suggested I put on the blog. Jack replied "Put up the video, a link to the council website and keep it as short as possible, let people make up their own minds about it. The local community will do the rest". Within days of the blog being posted, true to his word, their were hundreds of comments. I discussed the matter with Jack later. He said that the difference between the Lib Dem and the Labour/Conservative approach to local politics was that Lib Dems trust people to make up their own minds and don't try and tell them what to think. He said that he likes to put the facts before people and then let them decide for themselves.  He told me that "We like to put the questions before people, Labour and the Tories like to put the answers". He then added that "once they have made up their mind, we try and deliver what they want".

There are different approaches and different ways of doing things. We have a council election in May. I am convinced that most of the candidates on all sides are doing so for the right reasons. People always ask me whether I think Councillors are getting backhanders or are "in the pockets of developers". I don't think any are getting bungs (maybe I'm naive). I do think that some are too close to various vested commercial interests, but this is a tiny minority. I don't think any cross the line, but I suspect that some walk far too close to it for comfort. It is a shame because that casts a shadow over the majority who are decent, hard working and honest.

Whoever you are considering voting for, all I ask is that you do a bit of homework and give it a bit of thought. If you have a sitting councillor who you know is honest, decent and hardworking, then they deserve your vote. If you think they've not met those aspirations, I urge you to ignore your tribal loyalty and consider a better candidate for your neighbourhood. If you know of a candidate who is 100% committed to your area and is a hard worker, a decent person and honest, then give them some consideration. In each ward, there are three candidates. Give each due consideration. If  one is a bad egg, then chose someone else, who you think will do better. It is the only way we can improve our local area. With huge threats to green belt, council finances and services, it really is the most important decision you will make this year

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