Thursday 31 May 2018

Why the new Thameslink Timetable is in meltdown

For many living in the London Borough of Barnet, the Thameslink services, run by Govia, is the main transport network used on the daily commute. Trains are run on both the Mildand main line (Mill Hill, Hendon, Cricklewood) and the East Coast Main Line (Hadleigh Wood, New Barnet, Oakleigh Park) to stations in the Borough and residents rely on the service to get to work. For many of these commuters, their employers operate a system of appraisals to determine bonuses and pay rises. Therefore a poor train service can have a highly detrimental effect not only on the quality of life of Barnet residents, but their paypackets.

Last week, Thameslink introduced a new timetable. This included a radical shakeup of times, new destinations (such as Rainham in Kent) and full introduction of a through London service from the East Coast Mainline destinations. For commuters from Mill Hill, a massive increase in train frequency throughout the day was promised. 

Sadly what has actually happened has been complete chaos. So much so that on Sunday, train companies sent a private email to their staff (you will note that they didn't bother notifying media or passengers), informing them that they should check any journeys before setting out as a meltdown was expected. This memo was leaked by the Association of British Commuters in a tweet.

Further research and digging revealed that Govia were misleading passengers about the cause of cancellations. The operators have full access to a system which shows why trains are cancelled. There is a code "PG" which means a planned cancellation by an operator, which means the train was never going to run. This tweet gives one such example and the trail shows how the operator actively mislead a passenger, until such time as another commuter stepped up to put the record straight.

Sadly the train operators do not share this information with passengers, resulting in disrupted journeys and inability to plan. There is nothing more frustrating than to check to see if a train is running on the company website, only to find that it has been cancelled when you get to the station. The fact that these are scheduled cancellations is quit appalling.

The question that has been asked is why, when the timetable has been being planned for months, can they have a shortage of drivers. Surely, they know how many drivers they need and how many trains they have? A question many are asking is that given that there is not a major rabies epidemic amongst drivers, it should not be hard to run the service.

The answer is that the company has an adequate number of drivers and an adequate number of trains to meet the timetable. Where the problem lies is that before a driver can take a train load of passengers out, they need to be trained on both the route and the train. A certain number of hours operating the train and journeys over the specific pathway are required. As the Thameslink service has new routes and new trains, there are not the drivers available who are certified to actually operate the required number of trains over the routes. One example was given to me a service from Hitchin to East Croydon, which required five different drivers to complete the journey. The first driver took the train from Hitchen to Finsbury Park, this journey was on the classic East Coast Main Line service. The driver then changed, as the section between Finsbury Park and St Pancras is through a new tunnel and there are limited numbers of drivers certified to run this section. At St Pancras, a third driver boarded and took the train to Blackfriars, where a fourth driver was then embarked for the journey to London Bridge, over another new bit of track, which there are still limited numbers trained up for. At London Bridge, the fifth Driver took the train to East Croydon. Each of these changes adds time to the departure and if any driver is unavailable or late, it soon cascades, with dozens of trains running through central London every hour. The timetable does not cater for multiple driver changes and even small increases in waiting times at stations, soon has a knock on effect.

The Thameslink website now has a cursory apology on it
We apologise to passengers for the continued disruption linked to the introduction of the new timetable. We are working on a recovery plan with rail industry partners. Meanwhile, as late notice changes continue to be made, we ask passengers to check train times on the day of travel using our service updates page. We expect disruption to ease over the coming month. 
As drivers learn the route, clearly there will be an improvement. Thameslink have also introduced an amended timetable, to more adequately reflect the services they can actually run. Sadly I can't seem to find it, but maybe I've just not looked hard enough.

Given that many of his constituents are affected, we were shocked to see that our MP, Mr Matthew Offord has no word on his website about the chaos. We should expect our MP to be taking up the cudgels on behalf of taxpayers, who both elect him and pay his wages. even worse is the response of the Transport secretary Chris Grayling, who has adopted a "not my problem guv'nor" approach.

Voters should not wear this nonsense. It is totally Mr Graylings fault. He is the transport minister, and if transport fails due to incompetence and bad planning, he is the person who should take responsibility. He should have been spending the last three months asking "will the timetables work?". He should have informed Govia that if they couldn't deliver on commitments, then they would face harsh penalties or even be stripped of the franchise. He won't do this, because his ideology states that outsourcing and privatisation are the way to go. I have used the Thameslink service since its inception. I have seen four different operators, BR, Govia (Mk 1), First Capital Connect and Govia (Mk2). All have had their problems, but Govia (Mk2) are the worst (closely followed by First). I actually thought that when the franchise was returned to Govia, it would improve, but quite the opposite has happened.

There can only be one conclusion to be drawn. When Govia (Mk 1) were operating the Franchise, there was a Labour government (albiet a very right wing one), which was quite happy to renationalise failing rail franchises. As a result, Govia by and large behaved for the term of its Franchise. Even so, the Department of Transport still booted them out as they weren't exactly amazing. First Capital Connect got away with many things, but their tenure coincided with a major redevelopment of St Pancras etc. Eventually though, they were booted out, much to the relief of many commuters. It strikes me that we are now seeing how Govia operate in an environment where the Government has an ideological addiction to outsourcing and cannot admit that it doesn't work for national infrastructure. In short, why would any service provider go the extra mile for customers, when there is no pressure on them. Chris Grayling has actually had the brass neck to blame Network Rail for the failings of the operators to train up drivers and provide a coherent timetable. 

It is no wonder that the whole system is in meltdown, with such a useless incompetent minister running the show.

Wednesday 30 May 2018

The Wednesday Poem #45 - Times Up

A found poem is a poem comprising of extracts of other peoples work. I was sorting out some old lyrics etc, when I found one I wrote in 1981 or 1982 for an ex girlfriend (she wasn't best pleased about it, for reasons at the time I found unfathomable). It is  a conglomeration of lines from my favourite punk rock songs. At the time I was rather pleased with how clever I was, but now I think it's rather rubbish! But I was wondering how many of the punk rock aficionado's out there can "name those tunes". A free pot noodle at Mill Hill Music Complex to the first to get them all!

Times Up

You're only seventeen, you got a lot to learn!

When you come to the phone your voice is thick and sexy

Goes straight to my head 

You're only seventeen, you got a lot to learn! 

Oh you're so pretty and the clothes you wear, they're so fine

You're only seventeen, you got a lot to learn! 

I'd like to get to know you, you're deep frozen like ice

You're only seventeen, you got a lot to learn!

Oh you're so pretty and the clothes you wear, they're so fine

You're only seventeen, you got a lot to learn!

But things don't last forever and somehow baby They never really do 

You're only seventeen, you got a lot to learn!

What is this feeling called Love, what is this crazy scene I can't work out

You're only seventeen, you got a lot to learn!


Here's a little clue to one of them!
There's always a good excuse to play The Ramones

Tuesday 29 May 2018

You've Bin Conned!!! Tories break their election promise after three weeks

Tory Pledges
Three weeks ago the Barnet Tories won a spectacular election based on the premise that they'd keep the weekly bin collections. What they didn't say is that rules and conditions apply. As with many things to do with the Barnet Tories, *Conditions may apply. 

In this case, there is a fairly major condition. They are proposing to cancel all collections of food waste and all the of garden waste for the winter period. The justification for doing this is that there is a lower volume of garden waste produced in the winter. For many keen gardeners, the winter period is one of intensive preparations and reconfigurations of gardens. Whilst plants are dormant, old flower beds, shrubs etc can be removed and replanted. Now residents will be faced with a situation where once your bin is full, you are stuck. One does not have to be a genius to figure out that when the service restarts, many bins will be full to bursting and that rounds will take far longer top complete. How long will it take to get the service back to normal.

The council has also announced that the dedicated Food Recycling scheme is being abolished. Sadly rather than creating energy through anaerobic digestion processes, it will now be sent to be burned, producing emissions. I m concerned that Barnet may be increasing its contribution to Greenhouse and CO2 emissions.

The council are also removing the small recycling bring sites, which are designed for residents of flats with no access to recycling sites. One of the reasons they cite is that causes fly tipping. To quote the report

"While the Bring Bank service provides a means for a limited number of residents to recycle who may not have direct access to a household collection (such as residents of flats that are not served using communal recycling bins) the service also generates significant costs to the Recycling and Waste, and Street Cleansing operations due to the need to regularly clear fly tipped materials that arise around the banks."

This is a calamitous example of things not being thought through. Let's take a step back. At present, fly tippers are concentrating activities in localised spots around the bins. Not ideal, but as they are all in one spot, manageable. Without the recycling locations, the flytippers will not disappear, they will simple do what other flytippers are doing on a regular basis and pick another spot, usually a secluded spot on one of Barnets picturesque country lanes.

I have submitted three questions for the committee. I know that our councillors find such public interest boring, but some of us do consider it important (Mr Frost is the council officer responsible for collating questions) - You can read the full report here.

Dear Mr Frost,
I have three public questions for above listed meeting.
1. With regards to removal of recycling drop off points. One of the justifications for the removal of this service is that the sites are used for flytipping, which is adding costs to the budget. It seems unlikely that flytippers will desist in their activities, just because the recycling points are removed. The most likely result is an increase in flytipping at secluded spots and areas of natural beauty. This will have a greater impact on residents and will most likely increase costs, as the chaotic nature of the distribution will make it more costly to remove and more impacting on residents. Has any risk assessment or study been conducted to assess the relative costs of clearing up such randomly distributed waste vs the cost of regular planned cleaning of the drop off points? What are the comparative figures.
2. With regards to the suspension of Green Bin activities for three months, has any study been performed as to whether when the services are resumed, how long it will take to clear a three month backlog of waste? Does the council expect all green bins to be fully emptied in the first week of resumption.
3. With regards to the abolition of the existing food recycling scheme, please can you supply the comparative estimated impact on CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gasses as a result of the planned change. Will the changes attract any additional greenhouse taxes gas taxes?
Roger Tichborne
PS I do hope that the administration does not find these questions too boring and can make time in their busy schedules to provide full and comprehensive answers

Monday 28 May 2018

The Tweets of The Week 28/05/2018

We had a day off yesterday, so here we are, a day late, with our fave regular feature, and we have some crackers!

1. The Mill Hill Litter pickers will be out and about this Saturday from Eleven (Click here to find out more). Sadly it seems like their efforts are needed.

2. This is not a sight we want to see in Edgware

3. I guess everyone had something to report about the lightning at the weekend. Hernan has a great clip!

4.Colindale also has it's own dedicated band of litter pickers. Great work from the team!

5. Some pretty dramatic pictures of the burst water main in Hendon

6. A rather fascinating mystery in East Finchley

7. Fancy some Jazz on Wednesday night

8. There are still some amazing spots in our amazing Borough

9. Fancy some great comedy in Mill Hill?

10. Fancy a bit of a bargain? Cheap guitar strings, drum sticks and band rehearsals

---- That's all folks!

Saturday 26 May 2018

The Saturday List #176 - My Top Ten Culinary Moments in the London Borough of Barnet

Have you ever tasted something and simply gone wow! As I've lived in Mill Hill for nearly all of my life, I've had some amazing culinary moments in and around the Borough. I'd say some were life changing. I thought I'd try and list them in as near to chronological order as possible.

1. Tonibell Ice Cream - Burnt Oak. This was probably the first time I realised just how good food could make you feel. It was a roasting hot Saturday, my Dad returned from MacMetals for lunch and my mum informed him he'd have to look after me in the afternoon as she was busy. This meant a trip down to Bunns Lane Works to watch him mend motors. This to me was bliss. He'd set me menial tasks like sorting out screws and washers. When we left he turned down to Burnt Oak, announcing he had a special treat. We went to the Tonibell ice cream shop and he ordered me a 99 with flake and raspberry sauce. I had never tasted such pleasure. When we returned, my siblings were so jealous. I miss the old man and I regret that I can't take my kids to Tonibell.

2. The Chinese restaurant on Burnt Oak Broadway. In the 1960's our big family treat was going out for "chinese nosh". The order was always the same, scampi, spring rolls, sweet and sour pork, water chestnuts, special fried rice and some gloopy soup. Pudding was lychees with ice cream. It was the best. The restaurant had the paper lantern type lampshades and was decorated with images of paddy fields and oriental scenes. I considered this like the Tardis, transporting you from Burnt Oak to a place unimaginable. The food was delicious. I still love a good chines, but you simply cannot get proper spring rolls anymore.

3. The barbecue stall at St Josephs College Garden Fete. I always liked a sausage and a burger. Sadly in our house, this meant Tesco's own brand sausages and Birds Eye burgers, which taste of the square root of nothing. My Mum was always keen to balance the household budget. My Dad took the opposite view and would buy the finest steaks, but as an Aussie he held British meat in contempt. That was until a certain Garden Fete at St Josephs College in Mill Hill. Someone organised a barbecue stall selling burgers and sausages. These were most definitely not Tesco's own brand. They were the first proper sausages and burgers I'd ever tasted. Furthermore I'd never tasted barbeque food before. It was a revelation. To this day, a good barbie is something I love, but it all stemmed from that. Oddly, my Dad never barbecued anything. He preferred to cook on an electric hob and incinerate all meat.

4. The Mill Hill Tandoori. I can remember when this opened. My Dad was a well travelled man and loved Indian food. My Mum hated it. Therefore, we didn't go for a couple of years. Then my Mum went away with her sister and so my Dad took me out for a curry. I didn't know what any of the dishes were, He said "be careful, it's very spicy". At his recommendation, I started with a Chicken Tikka and had a Lamb Korma and some pilau rice. I was blown away, food had never tasted like this. It became a tradition that when Mum went away, we'd have a curry. I still go far too often.

Image result for Katarina restaurant 1960 mill hill
La Katarina - Mill hill
5. La Katarina, Mill Hill. Where Pizza Express is situated, there used to be La Katarina restaurant. It was my Dad's restaurant of choice for birthdays, my Mum disliked it because she thought it was "expensive". It was always steaks, which were frazzeled to perfection for my Dad. He liked them burnt to death. But what we loved was the puddings. The Crepe Suzettes were amazing. As a kid, the fact they had alcohol made them a bit naughty and the fact that they were set on fire appealed to the pyromaniac in me. They were delicious. My father always loved anything involving fires and explosives. I don't suppose too many people's Dads taught them to make Nitroglycerene in the shed. It is amazing we all survived!

6. The Perfect Pizza, Edgware. The first five choices are ones guided by my parent. When I got to 15, I started to venture out on my own. I soon discovered that after beers, food is a necessity. Edgware was a favoured haunt, not least as the Beehive was packed with Au Pair's. Around the corner was The Perfect Pizza. I vividly remember them launching a new flavour - The Hawaiian, they gave us all a free slice. It was a pizza with Ham and Pineapple. It was the most glorious end to an evening in the Beehive. I soon twigged that the offer of a post pub Pizza was a great way to persuade the Au Pairs to come back for a chat. As I don't do Dairy and the Perfect Pizza has long gone, that is something that I do miss.

7. Valentino's, Hendon. This little family run restaurant has been a regular stopping off point for me over the years. For many years, I'd have baked mushrooms to start and Penne Arrabiata for a main. Well priced and truly delicious. More recently I have the King prawns in Garlic. Amazing.

8.  Day of The Raj, Mill Hill. Whilst I've always loved the Mill Hill Tandoori, for many years, the Broadway was also blessed with The Day of The Raj. They do the most amazing Lobster Sizzler. They still do Take Away deliveries, but it should be sampled in a restaurant with a pint of Cobra!

9. Alki's Kebabs, Colindale. For many years, a regular stop off for us was Alki's Kebabs in Colindale. I will never forget the first Kebab I ever purchased was from there. My eldest Brother Laurie recommended it. We were teenagers and my good friend, who we called Derm The Sperm, had just passed his driving test. We all piled in his car and ordered large Chicken Shish kebabs, as recommended by Laurie. They were glorious! These days, Cobains Kebabs in The Broadway are great, with an amazing Felafel for my veggie wife to boot!

10. My back Garden. I do a mean Barbie, even if I say so myself. I'm always on the lookout for new dishes. A few faves are Choriso Sausage skewers (sausages from Gerards Boucherie on Daws Lane), Haloumi cheese skewers and grilled pineapple. Oh and of course, steaks, burgers, sausages and kebabs. I rather like grilled Sardines in lemon marinade, if it's sunny, we'll be doing that on Monday!

Enjoy the weekend.

Friday 25 May 2018

Why your council tax is set to soar and your bins won't be collected - Guest Blog by John Dix

By John Dix AKA Mr Reasonable

Over the next three years Barnet is going to experience a serious financial shortfall. By 2020/21 there will be a budget gap of £32.5 million. Those aren't my figures; they are the forecasts in Barnet's Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) which you can see here. To set that £32.5 million shortfall in context, the total revenue raised from council tax is around £160 million so the shortfall is around 20% of the total council tax revenue.

Part of the problem is the cuts from central government. However, Barnet have insisted on a policy of council tax freezes since 2010 which has stored up a massive problem that will now be coming home to roost. The cynic in me thinks that the Conservatives didn't take a council tax rise in April (other than the social care precept) because they thought Labour would win and be forced to increase council tax, labelling them as the tax raising party. Barnet could have increased the council tax element by the 2.99% allowed. Many councils have taken that rise knowing that come 2020/21 there is going to be a meltdown in local authority finances.

This year there will be £9 million of service reductions and next year that rises to £12 million but come 2020/21 who knows what cuts will be made? They will have to be huge. A very bleak outlook.

So that leads me back to the title of this blog. Barnet are making cuts to lots of services. They, or rather Capita who run the finance function in Barnet, are reviewing all of the contracts and services to see where savings can be made. However, one of the largest contracts seems to be exempt from this process and that is Capita. Well that's no surprise; why would Capita look at saving money on its own contract; Turkeys, Christmas and all that?

If you look how much money we have paid Capita since the start of the contract it is a somewhat shocking £335 million.  The CSG contract contains an indexation clause which means it automatically rises each year and because services are contractually specified it is very hard to make savings by reducing the service Capita provide.

If we look at the CSG contract, Barnet say they have made savings on the core contract. The problem is we are paying a fortune for everything else. Set out below is a chart that shows how those savings have been eroded even before you add in the massive payments for special projects, charged at consultancy rates which we are forbidden to know.

According to the Council's figures, the savings to date on the core contract are £17.2 million, which looks good, but then you have to deduct all the elements which Capita claim back from Barnet. The scale of contract variations illustrate the complexity of the contract, the problems of missing out elements and the fact that with such a long contract period (10 years with the option to extend for another 5 years) means that requirements will inevitably change.

The gainshare on reducing the number of people claiming the Single Person Discount and additional council tax income seems strange to me as Capita are already being paid to provide those services. So in effect we are paying for poor service and rewarding them extra for delivering the service we have every right to expect in the first place.

I haven't seen the specific details of what they have generated on the additional income but Capita are allowed to offset all of their costs before claiming a share. As a result, they take 47% of the additional income generated and that doesn't seem fair to me.

On the procurement gainshare I have blogged about this repeatedly. I have challenged with the external auditor the right of Capita to claim gainshare on framework contracts (contracts that are available to public sector organisations) and which could have been accessed by Barnet council staff.
In total Capita are forecast to claim £23.4 million in procurement gainshare and "Agreed Procurement Price Recovery".

There is then additional work. For example, last year Capita claimed £428,267 for additional caseload on revenues and benefits work. Every element of work in the contract has a volume attached to that and if we go over that limit we pay extra. I thought the number of people claiming benefits was going down but apparently not in Barnet.

From my perspective, the payments to Capita at £335 million should be one of the first areas Barnet looks at to save money if there is any chance of meeting the £32.5 million shortfall come 2020/21. But because the outsourcing programme is so high profile there seems a complete reluctance to look at any possible changes. Barnet need to be brave and look at their contract with as much rigor as they are for other vital services, such as Children's Services and Adult Social Care. So to Capita I would say - Physician Heal Thyself .
This blog was originally printed on John's Mr Reasonable Blog. I have reprinted it at the Barnet Eye as it is absolutely vital that every Barnet Resident is aware of this information and I could not have improved on what John wrote. I suggest that every Barnet resident follow John's blog.

In 2014, I did a short interview with John about his views of how the Capita Contract would work out. It is well worth listening to what he says at 2.42 into the interview. John has been shown to be on the money. Isn't it about time people started to listen to him?


The Friday Joke 25/05/18 - Politics Explained

Image result for Politics for dummies
Little Johnny goes to his dad and asks, "Dad, what are politics?"
His dad replies, "Put it this way; I am the breadwinner of the family so I am a capitalist and Capitalists vote Conservative. Your mum is the runs the house and looks after the budget, so she is the Government. government. The government is the looks after the people so you and your baby brother are the people. The nanny is the working class and the working class are Socialists because they want to have a bit of what the capitalist has without working for it! Now think about that."

So little Johnny went to bed. He was woken by his brother. The baby had poo'd in his nappy. He went to tell his parents, but he only found his mum in bed and she was fast asleep in the bed. He didn't want to wake her, so he went to the nanny.

The door was locked. He checked through a hole and saw the dad on top of the nanny giving it hammer and tong while she screamed in ecstasy.  Deciding that there was nothing to be done, he went back to bed.

The next morning, he went to his dad and said, "Dad, now I know what you mean about how politics works"
"You do? Tell me."
"OK, while capitalists are screwing the working class, the government is sound asleep, and the people are left in the $h1T!!!"

Have a great bank holiday weekend.

Thursday 24 May 2018

Why do the Barnet Tories reward abject failure and despise compassion?

Firstly, apologies. I intended to write this blog yesterday, but I simply couldn't face immersing myself in the sewage that is the behaviour of our local Conservative group. So I had a day off, a pleasant cup of tea at Cafe Buzz, a long walk around Arrendene with the dog and a night on the tiles with my good mate Keith in Blackfriars, discussing football, children and the wedding (his forthcoming one, not all that business last weekend).

Sadly, my blissful day was interrupted by a phone call from Simon Allin at The Barnet Times. My attempts to bury my head in the sand and pretend that everything was fine and dandy in the world was ruined. Simon is the hard working and conscientious local politics reporter for the paper. He suffers all manner of infantile sniping from the likes of disgraced, convicted woman beater and ex councillor Brian Coleman on Twitter, who pedantically relish pedantically correcting Simon on a regular basis, for his lack of understanding of the byzantine ways of Barnet Council.

It comes as no surprise to me that Coleman was also enthusiastically retweeting the news that Councillor Reuben Thompstone has been elected by the Tory group as the new Mayor. Long time readers will remember that Coleman himself was Mayor in 2009. He has the inglorious title of being the only Mayor of Barnet found guilty of breaching the standards code whilst in office. Coleman revels in being an "ex Mayor", despite the fact that he was undoubtedly the least successful holder of the office and that his subsequent criminal record brings the whole office into disrepute. My own view is that any Ex Mayor who pleads guilty to beating women in court should have his picture removed from the Town Hall wall. There really should be a zero tolerance of such behaviour by the council.

I suspect that one reason that Coleman is so excited about the appointment of Reuben Thompstone is that he knows he may have the title of "worst Mayor of Barnet" wrenched from his sweaty palms. The newly elected Mayor has shown himself to be the most catastrophically ineffective councillor in the history of Barnet. For all his sins, Coleman was at least a mildly competent administrator, when he wasn't falling asleep at the desk or insulting people.

No one can make such a comment about Thompstone. In 2014 Thompstone was chair of the Budget Overview and Scrutiny Committee. His keynote policy was to cut the budget at Mapledown School ( a highly regarded special needs centre, looking after the most severely disabled children in the Borough). The cut specifically centred on afterschool and respite care, vital for parents with a 24 x 7  commitment to their children. The policy caused outrage. To their credit, three Tory Councillors, lead by Maureen Braun lead a revolt and threw out the cut. As best as I can remember, it is the only time that I've seen the Tories vote down one of their own policies. My blog from the night records the scenes for posterity.
"Councillor Maureen Braun, not a friend of this blog asked Rubes "Who is more vulnerable than disabled children". Rubes tried to string a sentence together, but failed. Braun had summed up the general feeling in the room. Rayner had sensed early on that the Tories were on a loser. He had spent the evening trying to figure out how to extract his reputation from this situation. He clearly didn't want to shaft Mapledown, but couldn't work out how to protect his Tory friend. He moved to a vote and to the amazement of all, Salinger and Braun, to their great credit voted to send the report back to the cabinet. In short a Tory Committee had agreed that the Mapledown cut was unfair and unjust and needed review.
Rayner realised that with an election looming, this presented a constitutional issue. He tried to get a council officer to help him out but no one really seemed to know. Rubes, a large man, seemed to have shrunk and seemed to resemble a demented leprechaun. He looked totally gutted."
It is interesting to note that the two councillors who had the guts to stand up for disabled children have gone. Salinger retired and Maureen Braun was deselected, much to her surprise, before the recent election. Reuben Thompstone is a big friend of the arch Tory plotter Daniel Thomas and it is pretty clear to me that this was payback.

But what of Thompstone (or Rubes as we lovingly call him). What did Big Rubes do next? One may have thought that having made such a monumental cock up, the Barnet Tories might have learned? Clearly not. The man was given the Children, Education and Libraries subcommittee chair (with the big fat allowance that goes with it). Barnet has long had a reputation for good educational services and excellent libraries. What could possibly go wrong? Where shall we start?

As the head of this committee, the first duty of Reuben Thompstone is to care about local children. Given that his former colleague Maureen Braun had noted that he didn't recognise that no one was more vulnerable than disabled children, it is not surprising what happened next. Thompstone embarked on a scorched earth policy with regards to libraries. The library space was halved, with libraries remodelled to create such things as "hubs" where businessmen can drink coffee and access the internet, where children used to read books. Librarians who welcomed people and helped them read were replaced with security guards, who sent them away if they didn't have the right card. Under 16's had access removed, meaning no quiet place for exam revision and no access to books for study. And all of this money saving came at a cost of £14 million. You really couldn't make it up.

That would be a massive scandal in itself. There is currently a challenge going to the secretary of state as there is evidence that it may be illegal. It is certainly discriminatory and many believe not compliant with the Libraries act. However it is dwarfed into insignificance by the failure of Childrens Services. An OFSTED report deemed the council to be failing. Essex County Council were brought in to take over and turn things around. Click here to read the whole sorry tale of woe. It seems that with competent management lead by Essex, things are now improving, but surely the councillor responsible - Rubes - should have been sacked? What organisation on earth would reward someone for such abject failure? The answer is The Barnet Conservatives. Reuben Thompstone has been reward with the Mayoralty. This is normally given to councillors with long service as a reward for doing a fantastic job. The outgoing Mayor was Brian Salinger. He was one of the longest serving councillors, former leader and a man steeped in public services. He was kept waiting nearly a decade for the honour. The difference was that he wasn't mates with Dan Thomas. He wasn't a yes man. The message that the elevation of Rubes sends loud and clear to all of the other Tory councillors is that "failure is fine so long as you put your hand up when we tell you".

Back in 2012 we made a film called "A Tale of Two Barnets". There is a modern update. "A Tale of Two Tories". One, Maureen Braun showed compassion for disabled children. Her payoff? A sneaky deselection. The other, Reuben Thompstone, showing no compassion, cocking up Childrens services and spending a fortune on making libraries less accessible. His reward, the best job in Barnet, a free limo, a big robe and load of bling.

It makes me sick. Over the years, I've always done what I can to support the Mayors Charity. I've given thousands of pounds, logisitical support, attended events etc. I am sorry to say that I will not be doing so this year. Councillor Reuben Thompstone is a complete disgrace and I will not be supporting this vicious charade. It seems I am not alone in this view.
Julia Hines is the former chair of Age UK Barnet.

I really have only one question for the Barnet Tories - Why do the they reward abject failure and despise compassion?

Tuesday 22 May 2018

The North Finchley Festival 2018 - A weekend of fun in the Sun!

What a weekend that was! It started at around 12.30pm on Saturday with Keith Martin and guitarist Mike Ryan playing in Cafe Buzz and ended with The Silencerz at The Bohemia. 50 different acts at six venues. Six months in the planning and a weekend with virtually no sleep for us crew.

All in all approx 300 people performed across the six venues. We estimate that across the two days, 1,400 people showed up. Considering the Royal Wedding and The FA Cup were also taking place it was an amazing turnout. The festival was set up to give North Finchley a boost and certainly did that. On the Saturday night at The Elephant Inn, I spoke to several people who said they'd not been to North Finchley for live music since the heady days of The Torrington.

We had a team of six sound engineers running around keeping the show going, many thanks to Vince,  Boz, Gavin, Ted, Fil and Gerry who all put in long shifts (special thanks to Boz, who worked on his birthday weekend, to keep the sound going, having just got back from playing in Mexico with Morrissey!). I am lucky to be blessed with such a crew at Mill Hill Music Complex! We were sorry that our regular PA guy Stuart couldn't join us , and must say a special word of thanks to Gerry who dropped everything to assist with the transportation logistics.

The artists and bands all put in great shifts as well. I think we ticked just about every genre of popular music, Rock, Pop, Jazz, Folk, Rap, R&B, Indie, Choirs, Soul, Reggae and Ska (and apologies if I missed a few). As the logisitics co-ordinator, my job was to hop from venue to venue, ensuring all was OK. As this was the second year we ran the festival, it seemed to go far more smoothly than the 2017 festival. At each venue, a quick headcount of bums on seats so we can estimate the attendance, a conversation with the engineers, and running around picking up items such as spare amplifiers, leads and drum keys. Whilst everyone else was enjoying themselves, I had to make do with a couple of sneaky shandies to stave off dehydration.

As for the venues, Senan at the Bohemia is a star. He has supported the festival since its conception and works harder than anyone, whilst still trying to run a pub. Helen at Cafe Buzz is also a Trojan! (I guess that is not the best compliment for her, given the history of the Hellenic wars, but you know what I mean). The teams at the Elephant, M's and Asoo's were also most hospitable. I will definitely be checking out Asoo's Bollywood night on a Saturday which looks brilliant, we only saw the start as we were taking PA systems out. I didn't make it down to Toolan's as they sorted out their own sound system, but the reports were good!

As well as being a festival organiser, I also had the pleasure of playing at The Bohemia with The False Dots. We had a decent audience and they got quite lively during the set. Last year, the gig was held downstairs, this year upstairs. Both had their advantages and disadvantages. We brought in a stage and some lights and with Vince doing the sound, it was a really pleasant gig to play.

We owe much to our sponsors, who's generosity meant it could happen. A big shoutout to Joseph Partners, Barnet Council, Waitrose and Jeremy Leaf & Co who stumped up the cash to pay for  the running expenses. Also thanks to Keith and Pam for the work behind the scenes on Festival finances, and all the back office crew who did the social media and mailing.

On the thanks front, we finish with a shout out to Robert Elms and Jo Good at BBC Radio London for their support plugging the festival on their respective shows. Many of the punters mentioned this and with the cup final and the wedding, it was essential to have the plugs! Thanks!

We put together a little show reel for posterity of some of the finest acts at the venues. We hope you enjoy!

We are all looking forward to doing it all again next year!

Monday 21 May 2018

The Great Thameslink Timetable fiasco

Today we see the new Thameslink Timetable. The good news is that there is a massive increase in the number of tranis to central London and a whole selection of new destinations, such as Rainham in Kent. The bad news?

At the moment 40% of the next trains are cancelled. The Thameslink Twitter feed is packed with comments that trains aren't running and there is total chaos. Every tweet is from a person who is late for a job, medical appointment, flight..... It is simply not good enough. One has to assume that in this day and age, they know how many trains they've got, when they should get there and how many people will be on them. It simply isn't good enough. Since Govia took over running the franchise we've seen continual mayhem.

The excuse seems to be "it's a new timetable so we are having teething problems". I really find this quite hard to square off with what has happened. One has top presume they have enough trains and drivers to run the service and know when trains have to be in place. I could understand a few turning up late if services end up busier than anticipated, but as there are more trains, can't really understand this causing so many cancellations etc. You would think that on a day when a new timetable is launched, they'd throw the kitchen sink at making it work and do everything possible to make sure the service runs.

If the timetable doesn't work today, will it work tomorrow? I do hope this is a one off caused by a few train drivers having hangovers and throwing sickies after the Royal Wedding. I sincerely hope it's not a case of  "The wrong type of timetable" and this becomes a permanent feature of the daily commute

Saturday 19 May 2018

The Saturday List #175 - 10 acts you shouldn't miss at The North Finchley Festival today!

Today is the day. A years planning and a shedload of effort. The North Finchley Festival is here! All of the acts are great, but here are my personal picks (I've listened to all of them!).

1. Well its my blog, so it's only natural that  we'll start with my band, The False Dots! We are playing at 9pm at The Bohemia tomorrow.  I like to think we're rather entertaining. Please say hi when you come down.

2. At 5pm this evening we've got the amazing Scarlett Coast at Asoos. A great accompanyment to a swift lager and a few bhaji's!

3.The Amazing Fil Ross and The Rock and Roll Sons are headlining at The Elephant Inn tonight at 10pm. If you like Rock and Roll, you'll love these boys!

4. The Silencerz close the festival at The Bohemia tomorrow. Awesome for all of you Ska lovers!

5. Alex is amazing, cathc him at Cafe Buzz at 5pm tomorrow.

6. How about some Americana at The Elephant inn tomorrow?

7. Catch Wondrwoman at The Bohemia Sunday at 8pm!

8. Kado are an amazing jazz funk band. Live at The Elephant tomorrow

9. One of my favourite artists the amazing Natalie Miranda is at M's, she is a brilliant singer

10. And some amazing acoustic guitar at Cafe Buzz!

That's all folks!

Friday 18 May 2018

The Friday Joke - 18/05/2018

I was out at one of Mill Hill's more upmarket drinking establishments, when my good friend Big Paul walked in. He came up to the bar, placed a jar on the counter and ordered a Martini. When it was delivered, he took out the Olive, and downed the Martini in one. He then ordered another Martini and repeated the process.  When the jar was filled with olives and he made to leave.  As I was rather puzzled by this odd behaviour, I asked "What was that all about with the jar?"
Big Paul replied, "my wife sent me out for a jar of olives and I couldn't be bothered walking down to the shops"

(All characters and events in this joke are fictional, although loosely based on the behaviour of certain people I know).

Thursday 17 May 2018

Barnet Council Copthall Sports Hub and Mill Hill Open Spaces Draft Masterplan

Barnet Council have published the draft Masterplan for the Copthall Sports Hub and Open spaces. It is a very interesting document and there is much to commend about it.

We have not studied it in detail therefore we do not wish to comment in too much detail at this stage. Clearly there are concerns about aspects of the masterplan, with Green belt issues and cycleways being two areas that aroused most interest and comment. It is good that the issue of a shared cycleway/walkway between Copthall and Mill Hill East has been explored. We would like to see a more ambitious use of the available space, with the cyclewalkway route following the old railway all the way up to Mill Hill East station and to the Broadwalk Shopping Centre in the other direction (where possible).

The wetlands proposal is interesting and adds a new dimension to the space.

 Clearly there is a need for far better sports provision.  It is good to see the BMX provision in the scheme, although I am not so convinced that a "public square" is a step in the right direction.

The section on Mill Hill Park is interesting. I am rather averse to the term "hub". In building terms, to me this says "Jack of all trades". What Mill Hill needs is specific proposals to address specific weaknesses in local community offering. I am not saying the Hub is a bad scheme, but I am not a believer in "open a building and they will come". I've made that mistake myself in the past in my own businesses. We need specific offerings for specific needs.

But this is a draft and so have a read and feed back your comments.

You can read it by clicking here or using the version we've embedded below.


Wednesday 16 May 2018

The Wednesday Poem #44 - Memories of a Free Festival (in honour of the North Finchley Festival this weekend!)

Oh Lord, do I miss David Bowie. I doubt that there is any artist who had such a diverse body of work. Bowie was one of the main reasons I got into music. One of the reasons, I spend my life organising music festivals. This weekend, we have a Free Festival in North Finchley! Six venues and over 50 bands! What more could you want?

We are pleased to welcome a brand new venue to the Festival family. Asoos Indian restaurant are joining in the fun. Why not drop in for a tasty Bhaji, a chicken tikka and a vindaloo before heading on down  to the Bohemia and the Elephant in to dance the night away. What better sort of festival could there be!

As I was sitting, poring over the schedules, Bowie's "Memory of a Free Festival" popped up on my Spotify playlist. This song is a real inspiration for me. I love the concept of Free music festivals. I've played a few over the years. The Montrose Festival in Burnt Oak Park, The Grahame Park Festival, Jesterfest in Fortune Green, The Mill Hill Music Festival and of course last years North Finchley Festival (as well as a few rather less formal festivals that we've played over the years).

This is a beautiful song. I absolutely love the Coda of the song (the bit at the end for you non muso's). What other poem could we possible choose for this weeks Wednesday poem. I was tempted to make a "found poem" using this and a few others, but decided that I really couldn't better the work of the master.

I'd love a few of our readers to submit some poetry about local events (past, present and future). I really love the concept

Memory Of A Free Festival

The Children of the summer's end
Gathered in the dampened grass
We played Our songs and felt the London sky
Resting on our hands
It was God's land
It was ragged and naive
It was Heaven

Touch, We touched the very soul
Of holding each and every life
We claimed the very source of joy ran through
It didn't, but it seemed that way
I kissed a lot of people that day

We scanned the skies with rainbow eyes 
and saw machines of every shape and size
We talked with tall Venusians passing through
And Peter tried to climb aboard 
but the Captain shook his head
And away they soared Climbing 
through the ivory vibrant cloud
Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
And We walked back to the road, unchained

The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party
 The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We're Gonna Have a Party.

Come on down at the weekend and join in the fun!