Saturday 30 June 2018

The Saturday List #178 - NHS Birthday Special - 10 reasons why the NHS has my undying gratitude

Image result for nhs birthday
NHS is 70 today
Every day I thank the Good Lord for giving me the privilege of being born British. I am a patriot, I love my country, I love our democracy, I love London and I love the NHS. My patriotism is not the sort that spits in the face of anyone for difference. I celebrate the fact that everyone is welcome here. Today is the 70th Birthday of the NHS. In some ways I am lucky, my Mum was born in 1925 in Oldham and she remembers life before the NHS. She told me horror stories of families pushed to insolvency by illness. Her mother had all her teeth removed as a 21st birthday present, as it was seen as a way of saving money on dental bills. In 1938 aged 13, she had Diptheria during the mass outbreak. She was in hospital for six months and the experienced the sad sight of other children coming in, weakening and dying. She said that her family experienced massive hardship and suffering as a result. 

That is something our generation have no clue of. The NHS has done so much for us, I thought I'd list the top ten things I can think of that I have to be grateful to them for.

1. I was born six weeks premature, in August 1962 and immediately had to have three blood transfusions, due to the "rhesus factor", I was what is known as a 'Blue Baby', which may explain my allegiance to Manchester City FC. I nearly died and was in hospital for the first three months of my life. So the NHS saved my life, before it had really started.

2. In 1970, my Mum was diagnosed with Stomach Cancer. She had a total gastrectomy, a procedure which at the time had a zero survival rate after five years. She lived another 38 years. That is the greatest gift of all.

3. All of my children were born under the NHS. We had excellent care and weren't lumbered with a bill at the end. 

4. In the late 1970's my nephew Chris contracted meningitis. He ended up in Great Ormond St. He nearly died. Happily due to the amazing treatment, he survived. He is now a BAFTA winning animation director, his biggest claim to fame being the Clangers reboot. 

5. A couple of years later, another of my nephew's, Damian had a collapsed lung, and also had a long stay in Great Ormond Street. He is also still around and runs marathons and does websites for bands. 

6. In 1983, my sister and her husband were on a cycling holiday in Scotland. She had a terrible accident, which resulted in eight hours of emergency brain surgery. Thankfully she pulled through. She recently retired as a hospice nurse, having done her best to give back what she could.

7.  I'm a musician. I need my ears. Back in the mid 1980's I was having terrible hearing problems, following a serious ear infection. It ended up with two bouts of surgery. Thankfully, I still have a degree of hearing, although I am partially deaf.

8. In 1984, I suffered a Mallory Weiss stomach bleed. In truth I wasn't really taking the best care of myself. It resulted in six weeks in hospital (and six months off the booze). My weight went down to nine stone and I had to be taught how to walk again, when I could finally get out of bed. It was pretty scary.

9. In 2000, my mum had a major stroke. She had treatment and rehabilitation, to the point where she lived the last eight years of her life in her own home, independently, albiet with family support.

10. In 2011, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In 2015, I had Ultrasound treatment as the cancer had become aggressive. Thus far, fingers crossed, all is well. I have been keeping a running total. All of the blood tests, biopsies, MRI scans and other treatments would have cost me approx £45,000 had I been born in the USA. I am lucky, whatever worries the cancer has given me, the cost is not one of them. 

I have no idea how much all of the other treatments may have cost. Probably a million quid at todays prices. So as far as I am concerned, the NHS treats us all like millionaires, remember that the next time a politician talks crap about the NHS.

Friday 29 June 2018

Help us put Cherry Lodge Cancer Care appeal back on track after devastating theft

The False Dots raising money for Cherry Lodge Cancer Appeal
Perhaps the most depressing piece of news in Barnet this week as been the theft of £45,000 raised by the Summer Solstice Festival for Cherry Lodge Cancer Care in Barnet. The festival was staged last weekend, and the money was stored overnight in the safe in the Old Elizabethans clubhouse, to be paid into the bank on Monday.

The money was to be used to fund a community cancer nurse for the charity. When the Barnet Eye heard the news, we were appalled. As a cancer sufferer, this is a subject very close to my heart. As we are holding a summer festival today and tomorrow in Mill Hill, we thought it would be most appropriate to try and raise some money to help plug the shortfall suffered by Cherry Lodge. My band, The False Dots will be playing at 7pm tonight and we will be inviting the audience to contribute to the cause. A hat will be passed around.

As there are many people who will not be able to attend the festival, I have also set up a JustGiving page. This is an even better way to contribute. The money goes straight to the Charity and if you tick the gift aid box, then it gets an extra 25% courtesy of the taxman, if you are a taxpayer.

Please visit the page and give something, no matter how small. Just click here to make a donation

JustGiving - Click here to donate to Cherry Lodge Cancer Appeal

We are a community, we stick together through thick and thin. Please support this. If you appreciate the efforts put into putting this blog together, then a donation  to Cherry Lodge is a great way to show it.

If you can make it down tonight, this video will give you an idea what the False Dots sound like. This is our latest track "They Cleared Out Your Desk", this is the anthem of the #KickOutCapita campaign in Barnet and has a very Ska feel to it.

*** Update - As promised we passed the hat around during our performance. The response was brilliant and we raised £124.28 from the collection. We'll be passing the hat a round again today before the performance by Radfax at 7pm. ***

Thursday 28 June 2018

Guest Blog - Kick Out Capita – Campaign Launch of BARNET ALLIANCE FOR PUBLIC SERVICES– 26th June 2018

Guest Blog by 
The Barnet Alliance for Public Services

On Tuesday 26th June at 11am, Capita PLC held their AGM. In attendance were a dozen or so residents from the Borough of Barnet, four of whom were in possession of 1 Capita share each, and so took up their right to attend and to speak at the meeting. The AGM was held in the City of London and was a fairly low key affair, with no more than c. 50 shareholders in attendance in total.

The non-shareholding members of BAPS, remained outside the venue wearing “Kick Out Capita” T-Shirts and handing out leaflets to Shareholders arriving & departing.

Some interesting discussions were held with shareholders – many of whom left early, seemingly in disgust. Whilst none were willing to speak on film, some notable quotes were as follows:
“The meeting was very bad, and they’re going to go bankrupt”
“They’re hopeless, you have our sympathies, you really do”
“They [the Board] are trying to blame the former Directors for the current shambles”
“I’ve lost £40,000! The Capita CEO was blaming Barnet Council for the poor quality of services , and says a meeting has been set up next month with Barnet’s CEO”
“It’s scandalous what’s happening, and a disgrace that [Capita] was set up by former public servants. They’re running it into the ground”
To put these comments in perspective, the Capita share price has plummeted over the last 2 years from when it was running at between £10-15, it is now at c. £1.50. This year there has been a suspension of a £200m dividend payout, and a £700m share issue in order to keep the company afloat. The new CEO, Jon Lewis was appointed in Dec 2017, and given the task of a “turnaround”……
Talk from the Board inside the meeting was reportedly largely along the lines of assigning blame to those who’d been in charge before; & to those (like Barnet Council) who were employing their services but directed them on tasks in a way that made the services poor…?! As well as optimistic talk of future endeavours and prospects for the business – all fairly vague with the exception of the recently awarded £500m MOD contract by the Government (to a company with a risk rating of 10/10), which all sounds very familiar and as if no lessons have been learned from the collapse of Carillion.

Pertinent comments from the Board in response to questioning from our shareholders, include:
“[Those problems] are down to past behaviours of the group; we intend to run things differently in the future”
“I’m reluctant to get into specifics about Barnet, because we are currently in discussions with Barnet about how the contract might evolve in the future. It is important to remember, that we manage those contracts but take direction from the Council about the tasks we are asked to perform.”
“We are making a profit from our contract with Barnet Council. We make a modest profit from our public sector contracts”
Regarding the need of the Council to pay for “extras” and “gainshare” from reserves:
“That’s within the control of the Council’s responsibility, not ours….”
“We operate in a different segment to Carillion and offer very different services. We have assets we can sell off readily at a premium and our cash flow is much better….”
“We feel that that was an overly negative review, it was pre re-structure & rights issue. We have since taken steps to de-risk, invest & re-invest and reduce our leverage to between 1-2. Our disposal programme [selling off construction & parking divisions] will make us much more sustainable in the future….”

All in all, we feel that the actions of a small number of us have made a difference, and have set off quite a few ripples towards our goal of kicking Capita out of Barnet.
The CEO (and the PR representative of Capita) have promptly been in touch with members of our group asking to set up meetings with us to discuss the issues raised. Many of the shareholders we spoke to took real notice of the Barnet issues raised in the meeting.
Watch this space……… and if you’d like to help us on our mission, we meet every Tuesday at 6.30pm in the Greek Cypriot Centre. You can also follow us on twitter @BarnetAlliance, on facebook @OurBarnet and sign up to our mailing list by emailing barnetalliance4publicservices

Wednesday 27 June 2018

Live Music for free this weekend in Mill Hill Broadway

This weekend promises to be an absolute belter! Sunshine is forecast and we are lucky to have a live, free open air music festival in Mill Hill Broadway at the new town square! There will also be amazing food and a bar, set up on the Broadway Town square next to Boots.

There is an amazing line up over two days. We are really excited to see some firm favourites of the Mill Hill Markets Festival back on the Broadway. Regulars will know the excellent sounds of Simply Gray with their Rock and Roll classics, Drop Pink, Bossa Bandits and Radfax. There are also some excellent new artists for the festival, such as Ukulele band The Uke's and the amazing Dire Pitan.

The Barnet Eye is also thrilled to be performing in person with my Band the False Dots. Our very first gig was up the road, a mere 39 years ago at The Harwood Hall! We've changed  a bit and are absolutely thrilled to be playing in the week when we release our brand new video, "They've Cleared Out Your Desk". The track features several amazing guest performances. We were honoured to have additional percussion added by Gavin Sorochan, who has played with The Drifters, The Coasters and Sweet to name but a few.  The track also features a superb Rap by Arjay, a young rapper with a very brightg future ahead of him and Millie, a brilliant young student at The Brits School. Mill Hill Music Complex has form with talented female artists from the Brits School, as both Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash were students. Musically it is a massive departure from the bands normal sound and the video has won plaudits and praise from many sources for its illustration of life in London in 2018. There is some amazing footage shot in locations in Mill Hill, especially using the demolition site of the National Institute for Medical Research. The track is a Ska/Rock mash up. Have a listen and please join us at the festival. It has been released in association with the #KickOutCapita campaign and The Barnet Alliance for Public Services.

Hopefully see you for some fun on Friday at 7pm. If you can't make it for the False Dots, come down anyway, as I will be there most of the weekend and all of the artists are awesome.


Thieving scumbags stole £45,000 from a fundraising event for Cherry Lodge Cancer Care at the weekend. Please help this amazing charity to recover.
Read this link -
The False Dots are playing live at the Mill Hill Markets Festival on Friday at 7pm and we will be passing a hat round to try and raise cash. If you can't attend the gig, or even if you can, please donate something here -

Barnet Residents protest at CAPITA AGM about the failing One Barnet Outsourcing project

Barnet Eye TV visited the Capita PLC AGM yesterday to speak to Barnet Residents, many of whom were associated with the Barnet Alliance for Public Services, who were protesting at the Capita Annual General Meeting. Residents gathered outside to hand out leaflets and speak to shareholders. Several Barnet residents, who are also shareholders, took the opportunity to address the Board. Watch what happened here.

One small Capita Shareholder claimed they'd lost £40,000 on their investment. Another told protesters that "council tax is going up to pay for this" (this is audible in the film). Capita bosses blamed Barnet for not managing the contract.

Back in 2012, former Councillor Hugh Rayner called out how Capita would make money. This was caught for posterity by the late, lamented Barnet Bugle. The answer is quite instructive.

Capita told shareholders that Barnet Council were not managing the contract properly and that it was not "mutually beneficial". They also stated that they would be meeting with the CEO of Barnet to discuss ways that this could be resolved. This means one of two things. More money for Capita or an exit on some of the contracts. We have submitted a further two questions to the Contracts monitoring committee next Monday night.

Q1. At the Capita AGM, the management of Capita informed shareholders that they would be meeting to discuss "problem contracts" with the CEO of Barnet. What are these contracts and what are the problems.

Q2. When Capita senior management meet with the Barnet CEO are the discussions to be about exiting problem contracts or raising charges to Barnet Council (and by implication tax payers)?

It is worth noting that Capita's PR company are keen to open a dialog with protestors to try and improve the image of Capita. We are more than happy to make some suggestions.

As it now appears that One Barnet is not working for Capita, Barnet Council or Residents, surely the time has come to draw a line under the project and start exploring an in house solution for everything that is not delivering value for money for residents. Barnet Council sold the scheme as good for residents, good for the Council and good for Capita. As none of this has been born out by events, now is the time, as the elections are done, for the council to put its hands up and admit what the board of Capita was saying yesterday. That was that Barnet Council does not have the expertise to manage such contracts.

Yesterday the Official #KickOutCapita campaign was launched. We produced this short video to illustrate what the effects on outsourcing are on the people involved. Please check this out

Monday 25 June 2018

Council papers indicate that Council tax rises may be "maximised" in by Barnet Council

Last month many people voted Conservative as they believed the Conservative Party in Barnet are the party which will be most likely to manage the council finances properly. It may come as a bit of a shock to them that there is a huge budget overrrun and that Barnet Council Taxpayers will have to pick up the bill. It may seem strange to find out that this black hole, which is millions of pounds was apparently not known about just six weeks ago before the Council elections. Next Monday, we have a meeting of the Council Financial Performance and Contracts committee. The reports pack for this meeting lay bare the size of the deficit.

 The General Fund revenue outturn for 2017/18 is £290.674m, which is an overspend of £13.479m (4.9%) compared with the revised budget of £277.195m (see table 1 below). This outturn is stated before the net drawdown from specific and general earmarked reserves totalling £5.594m. Including net drawdowns  from reserves, the outturn is £285.080m, which is an adverse variance of £7.885m (2.8%).

The cause of this is also detailed in the paperwork

1.2.4 The main reasons for the overspend are set out below.
1.2.5 The revenue budget for Adults and Communities overspent by £2.924m, whichhas been reduced to £1.207m following the drawdown from reserves. The overspend is predominantly driven by an overspend of £3m in the care placements budgets.
1.2.6 Adult Social Care (ASC) has experienced increasing complexity and demand for services since 2014/15. The learning disability budgets have been experiencing 15 pressure as a result of the transforming care (Winterbourne) agenda. The outturn includes c£0.275m spend on three supported living placements where responsibility for individuals has been transferred from the NHS to local authorities but funding to cover all of the cost has not. The average weekly cost for LD Supported Living increased by 18% from 2016/17.
1.2.7 The overspend also includes expenditure relating to backdated claims for Ordinary Residence that have been lost. This results in a one-off impact on the 2017/18 outturn of £0.479m and an ongoing budget pressure of £0.116m.
1.2.8 In terms of ongoing commitments, there is also significant pressure resulting from homecare, equipment and nursing care placements. The council has been working hard to support local NHS partners to cope with the pressures on the health system and reduce delayed discharges of care. The growing demand from health led to an increase of 7% in commissioned homecare hours (£0.933m) compared with 2016/17. The increase in homecare activity was also compounded by an 8% average in crease in contractual rates (£1.066m) as a result of inflation and changes in market conditions. This increase followed a period of suppressed inflationary  increases and contributes to stabilising the care market. The weekly cost of nursing
care in Older Adults increased by 6% in 2017/18, with new clients costing £144 per week above the council’s minimum sustainable price given market pressures and additional complexity of need. 1.2.9 Non-placements budgets underspent by £1.3m, which offsets some of the pressures on the placements budgets. The underspends in this area are from inyear vacancies, one-off savings and additional income identified.
1.2.10 Community equipment costs have increased by £1m predominantly on items funded by the CCG. Equipment costs capitalised via the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) budget (£0.483m) resulted in a £0.3m underspend. The Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS) service continues to be a significant cost pressure (£0.145m) in 2017/18 as a result of Supreme Court judgements in 2014/15 and a loss of grant funding since 2015/16. 1.2.11 Assurance was overspent in 2017/18 by £0.638m (10.5%). This relates to instructions to HB Law activity and disbursements being greater than the budgeted
1.2.12 The underspend for Central Expenses in 2017/18 was £2.968m, which represents 7.2% of the budget. The underspend is mainly due to the cost of financing the borrowing related to the Capital Programme (£3.700m). This is due to slippage on the anticipated profiling of capital expenditure and, as such, is not expected to be a recurrent underspend. This is offset by a one off overspend on Insurance of £0.702m which has been caused by a requirement to increase the value of the insurance provision following the annual external review..
1.2.13 The underspend for the Commissioning Group was £1.139m after contributing a net £0.675m to reserves. There were three significant variances in this area. Firstly, the Public Health budget delivered an underspend of £1.754m which, in line with the ringfenced grant arrangements, has been transferred to the Public Health reserve. The second major variance relates to the Resources section. Housing Benefit overpayment recovery over achieved by £1.7m. This variance can be very 16 volatile and relies on a number of external factors therefore has been transferred to the Housing Benefit Reserve to offset likely future deficits. The other major variance within the  Commissioning Group is an underspend on the North London Waste
Authority (NLWA) levy of £0.876m. There are a series of variances below £0.250m relating to staff costs in a number of areas, including one-off redundancy costs, and the income budget for the registrar service not being achieved.
1.2.14 The overspend for CSG and Council Managed Budgets before drawdowns from reserves was £5.452m which represents 25.0% of the total Delivery Unit budget (£21.833m). After reserve drawdowns, this variance was £2.817m which represents 12.9% of the total Delivery Unit budget. The Estates Managed Budgets have had significant challenges to manage during the year which has resulted in an overall overspend of £2.550m. Additional costs of £0.379m have been incurred as a result of additional security requirements and management of operational, void and/or vulnerable sites. The relocation of Street Scene and Greenspaces services that were historically accommodated at the Mill Hill Depot has also created an adverse budget variance of £0.757m which now needs to be included within the MTFS. The outturn includes an overspend of £0.680m due to the unbudgeted costs of leasing Building 4 at NLBP following an inability to relocate the services contained within when the original lease expired. The
Estates service’s responsibilities include the management of building compliance of the entire council maintained asset portfolio and the cost of
managing and maintaining void buildings. The budget level has remained
unchanged whilst the portfolio of buildings managed by the service has
increased from 5 to approximately 95. Operationally, this provides much
more assurance that statutory building compliance is being managed
appropriately, however has resulted in an overspend of £0.390m. Other
miscellaneous variances total an underspend of £0.053m. There was an overspend in 2017/18 on the CSG management fee of
£0.037m, mainly due to approved change requests. Procurement and
Collection Fund gainshare payments totalled £2.428m. Procurement
savings generate benefit across the Council, however the gainshare
payments are paid for centrally. This was offset by a rebate from
Comensura and administration charges to other services, totalling £2.178m.
The net overspend was £0.250m. Income levels were below the budget due to a shortfall in schools traded income of £0.704m and in print / photocopying recharges of £0.432m. The corporate programmes budget is based on historical levels of recharge and does not reflect the current service delivery arrangement leading to an
overspend of £0.467m. These income targets have been identified as
structurally unachievable and will be reviewed as part of the MTFS
programme during 2018/19.
1.2.15 The final revenue outturn for Education and Skills was broadly in line with budget.
1.2.16 The overspend of £2.438m for Family Services represents 4.2% of the total Delivery Unit budget (£58.504m). This represents an increase of £2.161m from Quarter 3 relating to expenditure on placements and employee costs. There was a 17 £2.300m overspend relating to external high cost specialist placements and associated services and the additional directed requirement for two assistant heads of service, three duty assessment team managers and eight duty assessment team social workers resulted in a £0.400m pressure. The ongoing improvement programme will continue to place pressure on existing resources. These pressures were offset by additional one-off grant funding (£0.416m) and realignment of the  additional budget allocated by Policy and Resources Committee in June 2017 to high cost placements (£1.200m).
1.2.17 The overspend of £0.888m for Housing Needs and Resources represents 12.9% of the total Delivery Unit budget (£6.859m). The overspend reflects the ongoing cost pressures associated with the rising cost of temporary accommodation in the borough set against restrictions on rents that can be charged and remain eligible for housing benefit. Actions have been taken to mitigate this pressure, including purchasing homes on the open market as a cheaper alternative to existing temporary accommodation options, an increase in homelessness preventions and a focus on reducing the use of temporary accommodation. This overspend is after a permanent allocation from contingency of £1.300m.
1.2.18 The overspend of £3.954m for Re represents 1,231.8% of the total delivery Unit budget (£0.321m). This figure is after reserve drawdowns of £2.746m. The overspend primarily relates to two one off items that were resolved late in the financial year. The first key variance related to £4.5m included within the calculation of guaranteed income in the General Fund which, following legal advice, is instead accounted for within the HRA. The second one off item is contractual amount of £2.647m liable to Re upon the award of Planning Permission for Tranche 1 Phase 1 of the development pipeline or the 30th April 2018, whichever is the sooner. As the liability relates to periods prior to 2017/18, although this has been recognised in 2017/18 it has been funded from earmarked reserves. An agreement with Re to defer an element of both the management fee and guaranteed income provided an in year £1m favourable variance reducing the overspend.
1.2.19 The overspend of £0.100m for the Street Scene service represents 0.7% of the total Delivery Unit budget (£13.794m). The service has a number of variances both favourable and adverse which broadly equal out to leave a residual £0.100m overspend.
1.2.20 The outturn (after reserve movements) has increased by £5.951m since the forecast reported at quarter 3. The main movements are in shown in Table 2 below.
So how will the council deal with this? There are some clues in the papers.
"The council will seek to further reduce this pressure by ensuring that all possible external funding sources are maximised. It is anticipated that an additional £1.5m income can be achieved by reviewing its recharges and the identification of additional income within the Environment group of services."
"Chief Officers are working to mitigate this pressure. Actions being put in place to manage the position include a vacancy freeze, control and review of all agency placements within the organisation, a review of all budget areas for non-essential expenditure and the introduction of recovery plans across all overspending services. "
"Whilst the in-year position being mitigated displays an overspend of £9.5m, this is after the planned use of £4.04m of reserves meaning an in year detriment to general fund reserves and balances of £13.54m (2017/18 £21.148m). "

So what does this mean? Well "all possible external funding sources" means you and me - The Council Tax Payer. Whether we own a business and require licenses, own a car and pay for parking or have any other reason to transact with the council, they want to maximise how much they charge us. They then say they are going to review staffing arrangements and all non essential expenditure. Just bear in mind that the Tories have been running the council since 2002. It would be reasonable to expect that in the last 16 years, if they'd been doing the job properly, this would have been reviewed a fair few times. They are either saying "we haven't been doing our job properly previously" or they are saying "over the past four council elections, we've mislead the people of Barnet about how seriously we take saving money".

And then there is the final one. They will be raiding the reserves. Do you remember this tweet from the Barnet Tories before the election?

The Barnet Tories are doing exactly what they berated Labour for. It really is a shame that there is no mechanism for sacking politicians when they are elected having mislead the public so badly.

I have three questions for the Committee that I have submitted.

1. The papers for this committee meeting demonstrate that the council can only maintain its budget by raiding council reserves. Does the chair of the committee agree that such a large scale raid on the council reserves simply to keep "Business As Usual" functions running is unsustainable?

2. The reports state that "chief officers are working to mitigate these pressures". At what point did they identify the crisis and start working to mitigate the pressures?

3. The report states that the crisis will be resolved  "by ensuring that all possible external funding sources are maximised" - Given that Council tax is the major source of external funding for the council and that the papers say this will be maximised, does this mean that over the next two financial years, the taxpayer will be charged the maximim possible increase? IF not please state exactly what these sources are and what is meant by "maximised".

Sunday 24 June 2018

The Tweets of The Week - 24/06/2018

Some very interesting tweets this week, we are very much a local noticeboard with so much going on!

1. There is some amazing music in Mill Hill Broadway next week

2. And there is some great comedy tonight!

3. There was some great fun and great music to be had at The Crickelwood Festival yesterday!

4. And some more in Burnt Oak

5. And today there is even more fun in East Finchley!

6. Tomorrow night we have the Buzzing Business club in North Finchley

7. And a date for your diary if you love amazing food!

8.Some rather sad news.

9. Our nature tweet of the week from a real regular of this feature! Great work Donald

10. Ever wondered how great Rock and Roll bands are conceived? Like this!

That's all folks

Friday 22 June 2018

The Friday Joke - 22/06/2018

My good friend Jeff told me a sorry tale of woe. Jeff comes from a very priviliged background. His Father set up a major hedge fund, now worth billions. Jeff's Dad, was a believer in hard work, never gave Jeff a penny and told him that he'd have to make his own way. I met Jeff at my old Comprehensive school, where his father insisted that he worked like a trojan whilst we all partied. Jeff was lucky because his mum was kind and loving but his dictatorial Dad thwarted him at every junction, insisting that it would make him strong and teach him to deal woth the world. Five years ago, Jeff was heartbroken when his beloved mum died.

When I met him I asked how things were going, he nearly cried "My Dad was told he has cancer and only has six months to live".

I replied "That's terrible Jeff, I am so sorry"

Jeff replied "That's not the problem Rog, I was out six weeks ago celebrating. In six months I would become a billionaire and I can finally move out of Burnt Oak and quit the job. I splashed out and was buy rounds of Champagne. I met this absolutely stunning woman. She was fascinated when I told her I was soon to be a millionaire. She wanted to know the whole story, exchanged numbers and two weeks ago I introduced her to Dad as my  new fiancee".

I replied that "That sounds great, Jeff what's the problem".

Jeff replied "Not really, this morning Dad married her. She's my new stepmother!".

Thursday 21 June 2018

Housing in the Borough of Barnet - Mismanagement and financial problems hit the homeless and vulnerable

Tonight we have a meeting of the Barnet Council housing committee. There are some interesting key facts in the reports. Some of these are very worrying.

There appears to be a crisis in provision of Temporary Accomodationn for vulnerable people, with costs spiralling

The papers report that Barnet council is having severe problems housing people in emergency temporary accomodation (This has a RAG status of Red which means that it is in the highest risk category on the councils monitoring system). The reason is in part due to financial constraints meaning the council cannot secure accomodation.

BH/S1 Numbers in Emergency Temporary Accommodation (RAG rated RED) –
244 against annual target of 175. Numbers have risen due to reduced supply of available longer-term temporary accommodation (TA) due to a high volume of 58 properties handed back to the provider and due to reduced procurement of longer-term TA for financial reasons. However, overall numbers in TA reduced for the fourth successive quarter to 2,579 due to focused TA reduction activities, which include providing hand-holding support to assist clients with move-on opportunities. Over the past 12 months the average time spent by clients in emergency TA dropped to 38.7 weeks (from 67.8 weeks last year).

When financial problems impact the most vulnerable people in Barnet, clearly there is a crisis that needs to be addressed. The papers also show that homelessness remains far too high. This is a disgrace. It also details that there has been a 7% reduction in the council accepting cases. I personally object to the council referring to homeless people as "customers", but I guess I'm just old fashioned.

1,554 homelessness applications were made (compared with 1,583 last year), of which 506 (33 per cent) were accepted (compared with 632 (40 per cent)) last year. Mitigations focusing on early intervention, prevention, family mediation and reduction in the use of temporary accommodation (TA) continued to deliver positive results. Homelessness preventions stand at 1,140 in 2017/18 (compared with 972 last year). The piloted Family Mediation Team saw 88 applicants who faced eviction from family or friends’ accommodation for reasons of overcrowding, relationship  breakdown and affordability. The Team prevented homelessness in 24 of the 88 cases, and mediation work resulted in only 9 out of the 88 customers moving into TA. Overall numbers in TA reduced to 2,579 (from 2,757 last year). The team prioritised moving customers who were  entrenched in Emergency Temporary Accommodation (ETA) and the average time spent by customers in ETA fell to 38.7 weeks (from 67.8 weeks last year).
One other disturbing feature is that it appears that the contractors building the Moreton Close scheme have bodged the laying of the foundations.
"Providing suitable housing to support vulnerable people – the contractor for the new build extra care scheme at Moreton Close reported a delay due to the foundations of the scheme being under-engineered. Remedial work was undertaken and construction fully recommenced on the remainder of the scheme unaffected by the potential loading issues. This resulted in a delay in completion until December 2018. Clients are being identified to move into the extra care scheme and units are being allocated. A  communications plan and information about the service is being developed so that the scheme can be promoted to staff and potential residents."
This has impacted vulnerable people hoping to be rehomed. This appears to be the second major case of "under engineering" by council contractors impacting local residents. There was a huge impact on residents when refuse collections were affected by a badly laid floor in the new council depot in Oakleigh park. 

There are some rather interesting slides detailing the what is happening in Barnet and why housing pressures will increase.

We are due to see massive population increases in the Borough between now and 2041. It is interesting to note that the Council expects Barnet to get less diverse between 2015 and 2021. I wonder if this is due to their policy of gentrification?

What is clear from these figures is that there will be ever more pressure on the green belt, ever more large scale buildings and ever more rabbit hutch flats.

Wednesday 20 June 2018

The Wednesday Poem #48 - The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair

Sunday Lunch.
It's so unfair.
I want my Dad.
Not an empty chair.

Copyright Roger Tichborne 1988

My Dad
My Dad passed away in 1987. I didn't realise for a year. Sure I went to the funeral, but I didn't really get my head around the fact that he'd gone. I thought he was indestructible. Fathers day in 1988 was one of the first times it really struck me. The Missus' Mum invited me around for lunch to celebrate fathers day with their family. 

I'd bought our family home from my Mum shortly after Dad died, Clare had left early as I had said I had things to do. To be honest I didn't want to go and only agreed to be polite. Before I left, I opened a can of Guinness (one of my Dad's favourite tipples) and poured it into two glasses. I sat and had a conversation with an empty chair. Then I asked him if he'd mind if I finished his drink, as it would be a crime to see it go to waste. I got no answer, so I figured he didn't mind. I scribbled these words on a piece of paper and stuck them into my "songs in progress" shoebox. It has sat there ever since. 

I then realised I was late for lunch. On arrival at the in laws, I was given the skunk eye, as they'd all been waiting for me before starting lunch. I explained that I'd been busy. When we got home Clare noticed the two empty glasses and asked who I'd been having a drink with. I couldn't (or didn't want to) give a satisfactory answer, so she simply assumed I'd been boozing with a mate and as such was being even ruder than she at first thought. We had a row and didn't speak for a couple of days. There are days when nothing is right in the world. I've hated Fathers day ever since. I was going to post this on Sunday, but felt it was disrespectful to all of those celebrating your Dads. God bless them all.

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Rog T's Cancer Blog - You can't spend a penny in the digital age!

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, you can skip this first paragraph. I write this blog because knowledge is power and if you know what you are dealing with, you have more weapons in the locker to fight it. It is a personal view, I'm not medically qualified. This is for the sole purpose of information for those who are interested.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 54years old and in October 2011 I  had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gave me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I was put on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9, in 2013 my test was 4.0, Jan 2014 was 3.8, August 2014 was 4.0,  February 2015 it was  up to 5.5  and my latest in August 2015 was down again at 4.6. In October 2015 I had a transperinial Prostate biopsy, that revealed higher grade cancer and my Gleason score was raised to 3+4 (Small mass + more aggressive cancer). On 22nd Jan 2016 I had HIFU (Hi Intensity Focused Ultrasound) treatment at UCHL). My post procedure PSA in May was 4.0 which was down, followed by 3.7 in August, and 3.5 in October  which means that the direction is positive . However in January the follow up MRI revealed "something unusual which requires investigation" After a follow up biopsy, it appeared this was nothing to worry about. My two most recent PSA tests were Ok (3.7 and 4.6) and an MRI scan in March was very positive.  I've no symptoms apart from needing to wee quite regularly and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture? 

Guys, we gotta talk. Seriously. There are many downsides of having prostate cancer. Perhaps the biggest of these is a premature death. Then there are the 3i's Incontinence, Impotence and Infertility that can follow a radical prostatectomy and other procedures. All of these are pretty scary to think about. Fortunately for me, I suffer none of the above. But far and away the most common symptom is increased need to do a wee. It can be a real nightmare for many sufferers. As someone who is sociable and likes a drink with friends, it means that I have to spend an amount of time planning journeys out. You have to think strategically. As you leave a pub or club, you may not need to go to the toilet, but how will you feel in an hour's time, as you are stuck on a bus or tube train? 

Last night I had to suffer a strange and unusual torture, courtesy of the worlds worst train company, Thameslink. As regular readers of this blog will no doubt know, the Thameslink service has been upgraded, with a new timetable and new Desiro trains. For men such as myself, the new trains are wonderful. They have not one but three toilets. That means that I'm pretty well catered for if the need takes me on a journey home. Sadly nothing in London when it comes to transport is ever quite as it seems. I watched the footie in The Rack and Tenter in Moorgate with friends. When the match finished, a quick check of the Thameslink App showed that there was a train at 9.46 from Farringdon to Mill Hill.  It also showed that the next three trains were cancelled. For me, this meant that the pint was finished and we had a short hop to Farringdon on the tube. At the time, I didn't need the loo and I new I'd be on a marvellous new train in 15 minutes, job done. 

That is where things started to go wrong. At Farringdon we found that the train had magically been transformed into a fast service to St Albans. On enquiring with the Thameslink staff, I was informed that the quickest way home was to go to St Albans and then get a train back to Mill Hill. Farringdon is 12 miles from Mill Hill and Sta Allbans is 16 miles. So to do a 12 mile journey I had to do a 32 mile detour. 

At this point, I also realised I needed the loo. The logical thing to do was go to Kings Cross and get a tube to Burnt Oak, but this would mean a loo stop somewhere. I suggested to my companion that we get the Thameslink to St Pancras and transfer onto the Tube. This would mean I could use the loo on the train and that would see me through.

So on we get, what could possibly go wrong? Well as soon as we boarded, we found all three loo's were locked and out of service. One of the downsides of such occurrences is that as soon as you realise there is no loo, then you become absolutely desperate. But no worry, we had to change at St Pancras, and there is a loo on the platform. Fortunately, the journey was only five minutes. As we disembarked, I made a quick, leaving my companion on the platform waiting. As I emerged, suitably unencumbered, he was screaming at me "Quick jump on the train". He was on the carriage and the beeper went. I don't recommend this, but he put his foot in the door, allowing me to board. I asked "are we going to St Albans then?" He replied "No, it's now all stations".
For once, my need to go to the loo had worked in my favour, as if I'd not needed the loo, we'd have left the platform and been waiting for a tube train.

This is not the first time a Thameslink collapse has severely impacted me. A couple of weeks ago, I was travelling from Blackfriars and again all trains were cancelled. Then I decided to take the tube. I was also pleased to remember that there was a loo on the station. So I made my way down. Then I found there was a problem. You had to pay 30p in cash to use them and I had no cash. Only my contactless card. No worries, I'd get some cash out of the machine. So I go to the station cash machine, it isn't working. Eventually, I remember there is an RBS machine on New Bridge St. So I go up to that with a tenner. The next thing is to get some change. So I go to WH Smiths "Can I have some change please. I need to use the toilet". I am told "Sorry, we can't open the till unless you buy something". The only thing is I don't want anything. So I look around for something. I see a packet of polo's. They are 60p. I hand over a tenner and get £9.40 back. that is made up of a £5 note, a £2 coin, two £1 coins and two twenty pence pieces. As I look at the change, I say "sorry can I have two ten pence pieces instead of a twenty". The young man says "sorry, I can't open the till to give you change". At this I get a bit irate and say "Sorry I don't want the polo's, can you give me a refund". At this, the guy snarls and takes them, returning me three 20 pence pieces". 

At this point, I realised that there were only two options. One would have resulted in a jail sentence and the other was to pay 40p to use the loo and by now I was desperate. I opted for the non custodial option. I was by now quite irritated. Not only had Thameslink cancelled my train making me half an hour or more late home, their coin operated loo had given me a detour to RBS and a potentially explosive encounter with a member of WH Smiths staff. I'd also had to overpay to use a urinal that would have been free if the train was running.

For those of us living with cancer, they say that stress should be avoided. I have no idea how one can possibly avoid stress with the current state of our commuter railways. What I do know is that for people in my position, trains should not have all of the toilets out of use. I do not believe that all three loos were broken, I believe that the company locked them to reduce costs. As to charging for a public toilet in a train station which is required because they can't run a service, it is daylight robbery. As with many things related to cancer and other chronic medical conditions, it is the mundane that grinds you down. I don't know if the bosses of train companies ever stop to think what the real life impact of locking train loos is on people who need to use them due to a medical condition. We (us men) don't like talking about when we wee. That is why these companies get away with this. 

Monday 18 June 2018

When will our local MP speak out about the Thameslink fiasco?

The Boss of the Thameslink Rail networks is standing down following the companies failure to run the new timetable. CEO Charles Horton said: "I recognise that passengers have been hugely frustrated at the significant disruption caused by the introduction of new timetables. It is the right time to hand leadership of GTR to a new pair of hands."

Here are just a few of the Tweets from passengers this week showing just how chaotic the service is. That is bad enough, but the Thameslink App doesn't event appear to be giving the right informations.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

How can your app be so misleading @TLRailUK ? I’m on this train and we are only just leaving Mill Hill Broadway, 11 minutes late. If the app isn’t going to work or be even mildly accurate then maybe add yet ANOTHER apology to the dashboard??

It is a shame that Thameslink haven't issued an apology or even a press release on their website for the benefit of customers about Mr Hortons departure. The Leader of the RMT Rail Union, General Secretary Mick Cash called for GTR to be renationalised.

He said: “Mr Horton may now have gone but the rotten franchise he was steering remains in place and no change at the top will alter that. This whole basket case operation is a failure on every level.  The Horton resignation opens the door for this sorry chapter to be bro‎ught to a close and that means sweeping GTR away and returning the services to public ownership with safety, access and quality the guiding priorities."

We find it hard to disagree. Sadly our local MP, Mr Matthew Offord, who likes to boast on his website about how he wants to get a better deal for Thameslink users (note that it is dated 2012, Matthew doesn't like to work too hard) hasn't actually bothered to post anything about the fiasco. What he has done is ask residents to fill out a survey on his website. So if you are suffering from Thameslinkitus, we suggest that you tell Matthew. 

One of my priorities is a better deal for public transport users. Living locally and using public transport, I am aware of concerns about Thameslink, the Northern line, station access and facilities, cycle routes and bus services.
Many residents are frustrated by delays, overcrowding or cancelled services. This can badly affect working lives, recreational activities, holidays and visits to family and friends.
To help me make the best representations possible to public transport providers - Govia Thameslink, Network Rail, Transport for London (TfL) - I would like to hear about local residents' views and experiences. Please therefore support my campaign by completing my Transport Survey below.
We rather hope that this stirs him into doing something.

With regards to Mr Offord, we are pleased to learn that he has been made chair of the Parliamentary group to prevent people from drowning.

As his constituency has one of the most dangerous stretches of inland waterway in England, I think it is a testament to his hard work that no one has drowned here for a while!