Monday 5 March 2018

Barnet Labour Leader Barry Rawlings addresses the North London FSB about Labour and business

This morning, the Leader of the Barnet Labour group, Barry Rawlings addressed the regular meeting of the North London Branch of the Federation of Small Business at Cafe Buzz in Finchley. I've known Barry as long as I've been writing this blog. He is genuinely a very nice chap and I although we have strongly differing views as to what the Labour Party in Barnet should be doing and my vocal criticism, this has never affected his friendly manner when we meet. Barry has been leader of the group since the last election, taking over from long time group Leader Alison Moore. The Federation of Small Business have arranged three Q&A sessions with the local parties, this is the second, it's the Tories next time.

Barry is what you may call old school Labour. His first comments addressed the point that Barnet Labour are odds on to win the council from the Tories in the May election. Barry said that TV and radio are keen to follow the fortunes of the party in Barnet and that he'd probably have to buy a tie!

He then went through what Labour are doing in relation to business. He stated that "we do not have all the answers". He detailed several changes in regards to policies that will affect business. The first of these was a scheme to allow free parking in High Streets for the first half hour. This would involve registering with a parking app and requesting it. The scheme would only be open to registered Barnet residents. He suggested that this would go some way towards helping hard pressed traders. He said that the scheme would also offer opportunities for using the scheme to promote High Streets and possibly to work with loyalty schemes.

Barry then went on to say that Labour was planning to ensure that 50% of contracts let by Barnet Council went with businesses based in the Borough. He said that this would help the local economy. He added that the Council would develop a strategy to promote creative industries in Barnet. He mentioned the bid for "London Borough of Culture" and stated that he hoped Barnet could win this.

He mentioned that creative industries were a young sector and also hoped that this could help give work to our young people. He spoke about housing and the need for new council housing and Labours aim to build 800 homes a year.

Then we had a Q&A session. Local Estate agent Jeremy Leaf had concerns about businesses having to pick up the tab for Labour's initiatives. Barry explained that Labours budget was the same as the Tories and that all of the pledges were fully costed by Barnets finance team. He mentioned that Councillors Allowances would be cut, freeing up £100,000 per annum. He also stated that other savings had been identified. Jeremy also mentioned the Momentum takeover of Harringey and was worried that such things could happen in Barnet. Barry seemed rather amused by the idea. He noted that Barnet Momentum had called for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone for anti semitism and that most Momentum activists in Barnet were new to activism and didn't have any influence over the Barnet Labour party. He pointed out that no Barnet Labour councillor is a member of Momentum.

I asked about creative industries and stated that as the owner of a large local music facility, I'd not been contacted for feedback and that many such initiatives in Barnet fail because they do not consult with people on the ground working in the sectors. Barry stated that it was in its early stage and that such consultations would come.

Local businessman Paul Shea was also keen to press Barry about how the London Living wage could be afforded by small business, after the subject was raised by another chap who's name I didn't catch. It is fair to say that Barry's answer did not really satisfy many of the audience. Many small business owners often work for far less than the London Living wage whilst setting the business up. Many feel they are held back by having to pay salaries set by others with no regards to their business sector. Often small businesses want to take on staff on a fairly casual, loose arrangement when they are getting set up. Business owners find such rules difficult to accommodate. Barry stated that the Conservative government also liked the minimum wage as it meant that people in work were less likely to need top up benefits.

And that was more or less that. I thought Barry did pretty well, in an audience that wasn't entirely receptive to many of the ideas he had made. It was perhaps a shame that none of the younger or female members of the audience got to ask questions. Following a recent blog on the subject of sexism and misogyny in Barnet politics, Councillor Devra Kay suggested that when women put their hands up at public meetings, men are far more inclined to ignore them. I am not being critical of the chair Michael Lassman, who does a grand job, but I do think we need to make a conscious effort to ensure everyone gets a say. Devra suggested that next time I went to a public meeting, I keep a tally of the number of men vs women who get picked to answer a question. I have taken this on board and will be noting this as part of my election coverage, so be warned. Barry brought Burnt Oak Labour candidate Sara Conway to the meeting to assist him. I suspect that Sara will make an excellent councillor and will be a great asset to Barnet Council.

One criticism I have of Barry's presentation is that he didn't point out the equal gender balance of the current Labour group, compared to the Tories. Labour have a pretty equal split of sexes ,races and age groups. I personally think that having a good balance is vital to ensure proper representation. One of my biggest concerns for businesses is that lack of women in senior positions in the boardroom. The FSB group has a good number of female attendees, it would be good to hear more from them in such Q&A sessions.

I look forward to the Conservative presentation next month.

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