Sunday 30 September 2018

The Tweets of the Week in the London Borough of Barnet - 30/9/2009

We are nearly at the end of September. The days are sunny and the nights are chilly. What has been tickling the fancy of the Tweeters of Barnet this week? Here is my round up.

By the way, I was harangued earlier this week for choosing "Bland, non political tweets for my selection". This is a deliberate policy. Sunday is my day off from Politics and the day when I choose to look for what is interesting in Barnet beyond such issues. It is a chance to give a platform to a few great organisations and to give a little window into what tickles our fancy as a community. If anyone wants to see a roundup of political tweets, then why not start your own blog and do it! Don't moan about my personal choices!

1. How could I possibly start with any other tweet this week!

2. Mark Amies AKA Superfast72 has been working like a Trojan to Save The Railway in Edgware. He deserves our support. Follow this man on Twitter!

3. This really has broken my heart. An amazing local shop, run by great guys. I am so angry that a greedy Landlord could do this

4. This is a sentiment we thoroughly agree with

5. There may be some of our readers in Burnt Oak who would wish to be aware of this. Basically it is called conning the public.

6. I think we can safely say that Joseph enjoyed his Salted Egg Yolk Molten Lava Buns. Maybe I may try them later!

7. Click the link and checkout these amazing causes

8. Fancy an evening of conceptual absurdity in Finchley? Check this out now!

9. Sadly no marrows on show, but there is a rather fetching Vole and a rather georgeous Jay

10. And finally, we hope to see you all next Saturday at this event. I'll be manning the sound system between 3-4pm, so please come along and say Hi

That's all folks!

Saturday 29 September 2018

The Saturday List #190 - The amazing modern art of Mill Hill courtesy of Barnet Council

Today we salute the amazing people at Barnet Council, who have turned the streets of Mill Hill into an amazing gallery of modern artwork. Many less enlightened council vandalise such amazing sights by painting over them etc, but here in Barnet we love to encourage the young to express themselves and brighten our streets. The Barnet Eye is delighted to bring our gallery of some of the best of these to you!

1. We start with this amazingly colourful piece on the wall of the alley between Millway and Glendore Gardens. I love the way the light shimmers through the trees  onto the piece. I congratulate the artist on their amazing use of scene to bring out the best of what would otherwise be a dull concrete wall.

2. Just around the corner as we walk to the M1 overbridge, we have this amazing piece. Whereas #1 is all colour, this juxtaposes brilliantly with its monochrome tones. 

3. Then we have this amazing piece of sculpture on Hale Lane. This is entitled "Broken post" and symbolises the ethos of Barnet Council and the administration. There is an old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Barnet Council have a new saying "If it is broke, leave it there for the enjoyment of residents".

4. Many see telecoms junction boxes as bland eyesores. Fortunately the artists of Mill Hill see them as a canvas for their amazing work. Whilst many councils cover up such amazing talent, in Barnet, we make sure residents can enjoy it. 

5. I love this piece at the top of Lillie Lane. What was an old, flytipped panel has become a bold statement. By turning the piece on its head, it represents the way the old standards of civic pride have been turned upside down and now we glory in destruction and decay as a society. Truly awesome.

6. Another amazing sculpture courtesy of Barnet Council. Whilst most councils ensure that their street signs are straight and upright, all over Barnet we have examples just like this, boldly making the statement "This council is not straight with you and we do not stand for upright people"

7. This is another example of a brilliant piece of artwork on a telephone junction box on Bunns Lane. The artist has a witty and intelligent riposte to the statement by BT that Fibre Broadband is here!

8. In the Flower Lane section of Mill Hill Park, you can see this awesome piece by Mill Hill's answer to Picasso. Like the great master, there is stunning use of colour and form.

9. Mill Hill is lucky not only to have it's own answer to Picasso, here is Mill Hill's answer to Andy Warhol. I love the crafted brashness of the statement "Bam Bam".

10. Finally, just down the road from the Shul on Station Road we have this amazing piece that brings together fine art and sculpture. I wondered if possibly this was the work of Tracy Emin? It is simply perfect. The broken stones, the discarded burger box and the insightful message "Snad Noke". 

Why not tweet us you favourite pieces of artwork from around the Borough. Share the joy!

The practical guide to watching someone die

"I just thought he'd close his eyes and peacefully fade away". These were the words my best friends girlfriend said on Sunday, explaining how the experience of watching her partner die had traumatised her. As I pondered the events of the terrible day, it struck me that nothing had prepared me for the experience. When my eldest daughter was born, in the run up to the birth, I attended NCT classes with my wife. The idea of this to ensure I was mentally prepared for any challenges facing us. Being prepared for the experience enabled us to have a mostly positive experience. I am not someone who found the birth experience  "wonderful", I attended out of a sense of duty. I was glad that I had bothered to get the practical advice before, so I understood the process. It occurred to me that I really wish I'd prepared myself in a similar manner for the experience of watching my friend die. We approach death from a different perspective. We all hope that if we pretend it isn't happening, it may go away. We feel that if we talk about the practicalities of the event beforehand, we may in some way be betraying the person we love.

Let me advise you of the lessons I have learned in the aftermath. This isn't comprehensive or definitive. You may well feel there are many things I've missed or many things I've got wrong. If that is the case, please leave a comment. Please not that to comment on this blog, you must be a registered user. If you want to advise me of something privately, you can email me using the link in the top right hand link. I am sure there are all manner of organisations who can help. As I've not had experience of any, I can't recommend them.

General advice for everyone in good health or bad

We are all going to die and none of us have a clue when this will be. Please consider doing the following if you have not yet done them.

1.Make a will. If you walk out the door today and get hit by a bus, if you have no will, you will leave a messy and difficult situation. You can buy a "make a will" pack from WH Smiths. If you have a simple estate this will do. If your estate is large enough to fall into the inheritence tax, get some professional advice as to how to deal with this.

2. Make a "living will". This is a document that advises the hospital and doctors and your relatives what your wishes are, should you become to ill/injured to make decisions. Typically the things you may wish to put are whether you would like doctors to not intervene to keep you alive, if you have no chance of recovery. Typically this is called a "DNR" (do not resuscitate) request. This means that if you are fatally injured, the doctors will make you comfortable but not aggresively intervene to keep you alive as long as possible. It avoids putting a terrible burden on your loved ones of deciding what to do in a difficult situation.

3. Make a file of all your financial affairs. Have a single point of reference for any financial arrangements you may have. Bank accounts, shares, Insurance policies, title deeds for homes.

4. Keep a list of anyone you'd want to notify. For example, if you belong to a golf club or yoga class, but your partner hates golf/yoga and doesn't know any of your friends there, make sure that they have a contact for someone there. There is nothing worse for people than finding out that they have missed the funeral and have no chance to pay their respects. It is also bad for a grieving person to be challenged with "why didn't you tell us".

5. Make sure your loved ones know who you may want to share the moment with when you die.

Advice for people who are expecting an imminent bereavement.

1. Engage a funeral director when it becomes clear someone is likely to pass away soon. This may sound grim, but it means that you will not have to deal with it when you are in a state of turmoil. If you are not personally able to cope, ask a friend to help. The funeral director will have to be engaged and they are sympathetic and helpful. Don't feel embarrassed to get "shop around" as funerals can be very expensive. The cost of the funeral can be reduced by having a service early in the day, for example a 9.30 ceremony is significantly cheaper than one later in the day. Discuss these options if cost is a problem.

2. If you are on benefits, you can claim for the costs of the funeral, up to £2,000. Check out this webpage - For many people, the cost of holding a funeral is their biggest worry. Knowing what help is available is a vital part of the process.

3. Make sure that friends and family are prepared and kept informed. If someone has a terminal illness, make sure that anyone who it would be appropriate to share the final moments with, is prepared. Ascertain whether they will be able to attend, if they get a call in work time. Keep them as informed as possible. Sometimes it is impossible for people to attend, due to work or other commitments. Make sure that you plan and let people know you may have to zoom off at short notice.

4. Give some thought to practicalities. When you get the call, you may be there for hours (days). If someone is in a hospital or hospice, you may have to sit with them for a very long time and not want to step out for food. Take something with you. Stop at a garage and get some sandwiches for later, or make some and put them in a freezer to take later. Just as a practicality, if you have medication which needs to be taken regularly, you may wish to take this with you as if you are at the hospital/hospice for hours on end, you may need it. When my friend died, we were called at around 10am and told it was imminent. My friend passed away at midnight, fourteen hours later. This is not unusual.

5. Organise a Lasting power of attorney.  Ensure that someone has arranged a Lasting Power of Attorney for Health/Welfare and Property/Finance. Ensure it is registered with all Financial Institutions and Utilities. This will save untold problems if someone is unable to deal with issues themselves. The rest of the world continues and banks, utilities etc still expect the bills to be paid by those who are suffering terminal illnesses. Ensuring someone is empowered to deal with these issues is a very sensible step.

What will happen whilst I watch my friend die?

1. I've seen the process only once. I am sure that every experience is different. For me it was harrowing. My friend was 47 and did not want to die. He fought cancer until the end. Several times he stopped breathing only to rally himself, grab a few breaths and then settle down. This went on for hours. He didn't open his eyes whilst I was there. He was too sedated to say anything or give any message. He just looked awful and watching him fight to the end was horrible.

2. Be prepared to see distressing changes in the physical appearance of your loved one. As my friend struggled, his appearance changed. His colour became a sort of yellow green. His legs turned white. It was shocking and alarming. It hadn't occurred to me that these changes would take place. Be prepared for such changes. At one stage, I went for a cup of tea. When I came back, it looked as if a completely different person had taken their place. If you haven't seen someone for a few days, be prepared for them to look completely different and for it to be shocking, when you arrive.

3. Be prepared for other horrible things to happen. The most distressing was the awful smell given off by the body as it was shutting down. This is indescribable. The worst period was several hours before my friend died. Strangely this went when he passed away.

4. My friend passed away whilst people briefly left the room. The hospice nurses said this happens quite often. People sometimes don't like to pass on with people there. Be mindful of this. If you need to leave your loved one alone, tell them they will be on their own for a couple of minutes. If this is how they want to go, give them that opportunity.

5. Be prepared for people to say and do things which you'd rather not see or hear. People get into a highly emotionally charged state. They sometimes feel the need to say things which may be shocking during the process. This is actually a good thing and part of the process of reconciliation. None of us have the right to judge anyone for anything they've done. You may not like what you've heard, but if it is important for someone to share it, that means they needed to and need to move on. Don't judge.

6. When someone dies, the body is still warm for a while after. This may seem obvious, but my friends partner was shocked. She expected him to be cold. She had trouble with this as a part of her wanted to believe that this meant he was still somehow alive. The body becomes cold in the way a hot water bottle does, over the course of an hour or so.

The aftermath.

1. Don't be afraid to cry, to hug each other to hold hands or to show affection. This helps. Keeping a stiff upper lip will not help anyone. Talk. People are weak, numb and vulnerable. Support them

2.  Don't judge people by their actions after. Immediately after a death, people can do strange things. Drink too much, talk too much and all manner of other things which may be shocking. A partner may be devastated and be unable to see any point to life in the immediate aftermath. This is when they need companionship and company. The things they need most are sleep, company and food. They may feel they need drink (or stronger things) to an extent which worries you. Remember that if someone is an adult, even if they are bereft, it is their choice. Support them, but be honest. Don't say "no, you mustn't do that" but say "I'm having a cup of tea, why don't you?". If someone is hitting the bottle, this isn't necessarily the worst thing. Just make sure they are OK. Make sure they have a full fridge and lots of snacks. I made sure we got a full stack of provisions and snacks. I also bought a couple of bottles of wine for my friends partner. In hindsight, I should have bought one bottle and a  couple of bottles of mineral water. This isn't a criticism, but when people are upset, they tend to drink what is there. I would do the same in there shoes. I certainly would not buy anyone a couple of bottles of vodka now, but I didn't realise that before.

3. Give people time. Don't say "I can only stay for half an hour", stay until they don't need you any more. If you can't stay too long get a friend to take over. Work with your friends friends. If you are the partner, ask your friends/family to rally around and support and share time. Be practical, it is far better to have a few people come one at a time than five people turn up at the same time and then all go, leaving someone alone. Work together to do this.

4. People these days have messy lives. People have ex's who may have issues with the new partners. Try and work together to make sure that everyone gets the support they need. Sometimes people may want to attend a funeral who may cause an issue. Try and make sure that this is managed by friends as much as possible. All I can really advise is sensitivity.

5. Counselling is a good thing. If you have a trauma and you are not Superman or Superwoman, you WILL benefit from some help. This may be a chat with friends, but you cannot expect friends, most of whom have little or no experience of what you feel, to be able to help or understand. That is where a counsellor may help. It is there job. If your gas boiler breaks down, you call a professional, don't you? Don't feel ashamed to speak to someone who is a professional counsellor, if you've just suffered the worst day of your life. It is there job to help you. Take it and accept that we are lucky enough to live in a society where we are able to seek professional help and not feel embarrassed. 

I hope something I've written here is of use. I've avoided the religious and spiritual aspects of death as these are all personal. If you believe, speak to your priest, rabbi, Imam etc if you think it will help. It is there job to help, so don't be ashamed. Even if you are not practising, but have a belief, they will be happy to help.  Most of them are very good at it. I am not sure where Athiests, agnostics and other assorted non religious go, . Please feel free to advise by leaving a comment.

*** This blog was first published on 24th April 2012. Due to the responses and advice of kind people it has recently been updated.

Friday 28 September 2018

Is British Rail Mk II the solution to the problems on our railways?


This week, we saw the Labour Party have a hugely successful party conference. I am not a Labour Party member (I'm a member of the Lib Dems for the record), but I was hugely impressed by much of what was said. Whether you are green, red, blue or orange, it is simply impossible to ignore the program laid out by shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. I've been quite surprised by the knee jerk reaction to much of this from the right wing press. It seems to me that calling schemes such as employee share ownership schemes and worker participation in the boardroom are eminently sensible. German companies such as BMW have been doing this for decades and by any measure they do rather well. I will return to this theme in a later blog, but perhaps one of the most tempting policies laid out by McDonnell was the scheme to renationalise the railways. This has huge public backing, even amongst Tory voters. But is it the right way to go?  Let consider a few facts.

Line graph
Rail Usage in the UK
The railways had there origins in the Victorian age. Britains industrial revolution and wealth was built on the work of the navvies who built the railways. They were held in private ownership until 1948. Then they were nationalised. Between 1948 and 1997 British Rail ran the network as a privatised single entity. They ran trains, built trains, ran the tracks, maintained the tracks and even made their own sandwiches. This wasn't exactly a successful period for the railways as the graph  on the left (courtesy Absolutelypuremilk/Wikipedia). Given the two world wars had a huge impact on the railways and the economy, we can't draw instant conclusions, however, there can be no argument that in terms of passenger usage, privatisation has resulted in huge passenger growth. 

Another aspect of the British Rail era that advocates of a private railway point out is the huge contraction of the rail network under the nationalised management. Sadly this was ill thought through and many of the lines which were closed during this period would now be vital arteries. Had Beeching not closed the Great Central Mainline, it could be argued that there would be no need for HS2. Similarly the closure by BR management of the Woodhead Route, the UK's first mainline electrified route, between Manchester and Sheffield, would have been the spine of the Northern Powerhouse. Many routes that were closed, have been reopened at huge expense to the taxpayer. In London, the best example of this was the reopening of the Thameslink route between Farringdon and Blackfriars. How anyone could have missed the potential of a mainline rail route through London is beyond me. Other examples of routes being (often partially) reopened is the Varsity line between Oxford and Cambridge and the Waverly Route, which used to run between Carlisle and Edinburgh. The Waverley Route was reopened on the cheap and is now suffering from overcrowding. The justification for the single track solution, which has been demonstrated to be totally inadequate was that it would be impossible to have made a business case for a fit for purpose line.

In short, we are spending what  will likely be hundreds of billions of pounds just to undo the damage done by the government and the nationalised railway management. If you simply look at the railways in these terms, then Nationalisation is completely bonkers. However, there is a bigger picture. The track infrastructure is already nationalised. It is run by Network Rail, which had to sort out the mess left by Railtrack, which was a complete disaster and saw the network virtually collapse, after several lethal crashes caused by shoddy work and bad planning. No one familiar with what happened in the Railtrack era could possibly make the case for privatisation on that basis. Then there is the East Coast mainline. This has been privatised and renationalised three times. This was not because the government wanted to. It was because the private operators failed. Commuters in Barnet have seen the massive failure of the new timetable for the Thameslink route. This was a systemic collapse, with both Network Rail and the private operator Govia completely failing. There is a fantastic analysis of this on the London Reconnections website, which demonstrates how the cock up happened.

When John McDonnell talks of renationalisation, my first question is what exactly will he renationalise? Will it be BR MkII with even the sandwiches being made in Crewe under direction of the British Rail Board? Will the trains all be owned and built by BR? In some ways this is attractive. In the 1970's and 1980's BR made some excellent trains. The Inter City 125 trains are 40 years old and still going strong. In Mill Hill, we have the Thameslink line. The 319 class trains, introduced in the mid 1980's  were replaced only last year. These have not been scrapped, but transferred to other lines. It is pretty clear that they were well built. They have outlasted some designs made since by private train builders.  I think from an engineering point of view BR was exceptional, but it would be hard to put British Rail Engineering back together. As train builders now need a global perspective, I am not convinced that it is desirable. As to owning the rolling stock. Clearly this doesn't work with 7 year franchises, which is the Tory governments preferred option. With both long franchises and nationalisation, then it can become highly cost effective. The issue is that UK governments are short term in their thinking and they don't want to spend billions up front, which is why we get lumbered with Train leasing and PFI schemes.

And what about the good rail franchising companies? Not every franchise is like the GTR franchise that has run Thameslink so awfully. I am reliably informed by friends who commute into Marylebone from Oxfordshire, that their line is well run and they would not like a return to the BR days. My preferred option would be for McDonnell to make sorting the network out his priority. I would love to see Thameslink run by TFL, as I would with many other suburban routes. I would love to see failing franchises booted out and replaced by nationalised entities. Where I would disagree with McDonnell is that I wouldn't boot out well run franchising companies for ideological reasons.

The way the UK runs, builds and manages rail is a mess. To open or close a railway requires an act of Parliament. To me, this is insane. I can understand why a major route such as HS2 may require such an act, but just imagine that there was a viable business case to put a short spur on the Thameslink line from Mill Hill to Edgware along the disused former rail line (no such plan exists). Does it  really justify an act of Parliament? Small schemes that are non controversial should be freed of all such red tape.

I congratulate McDonnell on putting the topic on the agenda and up for discussion. It is clear that the current Tory government and the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, are clueless. They have totally mismanaged everything related to rail. Grayling has made it clear that he is not up to the job of managing private monopolies (that most franchises are). I have no doubt that he'd be even worse at managing a nationalised railway. My biggest fear of McDonnells plan is not that Labour will mismanage the railways, but that when the electoral mood shifts, as it always does (assuming a Corbyn government ever gets in) and the Tories get back in, they will do what they've always done to our Nationalised railways and decimate them.

If you ask any regular rail user what the problems with Britains  railways are they will say they are expensive, unreliable and overcrowded. The sad truth is that until a politician comes out and says "The problem with our railways are that they are expensive, unreliable and overcrowded and here is a plan to solve that" we are doomed to have this ideological debate which does nothing apart from waste peoples time, money and effort and gives them an awful service. If you look at the railways in France and Germany, it is clear that nationalised rail can work rather well if it is managed properly. I suspect we need more nationalisation to sort the mess out, but I don't think BR MKII is the answer. What we need is a solution lead approach, where we look at what we are trying to fix, before we propose a solution.

The Friday Joke - 28/9/2018

Image result for old couple joke
A couple, both age 78, went to a sex therapist's office.

The doctor asked, "What can I do for you?"

The man said, "Will you watch us have sex?"

The doctor looked puzzled, but agreed.

When the couple finished, the doctor said, "There's nothing wrong with the way you have sex," and charged them $50.

This happened several weeks in a row. The couple would make an appointment, have sex with no problems, pay the doctor, then leave.

Finally, the doctor asked, "Just exactly what are you trying to find out?"

"We're not trying to find out anything," the husband replied. "She's married and we can't go to her house. I'm married and we can't go to my house. The Holiday Inn charges $90. The Hilton charges $108. We do it here for $50...and I get $43 back from Medicare.

Have a great weekend. 

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Political map of Barnet set to change - Boundary change consultation

The independent Local Government Boundary Commission for England is asking local people for their help to draw up a new pattern of council wards for the London Borough of Barnet.

Barnet Ward Map
The consultation is the first part of an electoral review which will re-draw ward boundaries across the borough. Submissions can also be made by email to and by post to The Review Officer (Barnet), LGBCE, 1st Floor, Windsor House, 50 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0TL.

The Commission has also announced that Barnet Council should have 63 councillors in future: no change from the current arrangements.

In drawing up new boundaries, the Commission aims to deliver electoral equality for voters in council elections so that each councillor represents roughly the same number of voters. The review also aims to ensure that the new council wards reflect, as far as possible, the interests and identities of communities across Barnet.

Professor Colin Mellors, Chair of the Commission, said: “We are asking local people and organisations to help us draw up new wards for Barnet. As we develop the recommendations, we will take into account local community identities as well as ensuring electoral equality for voters.

“If you have a view about which communities or neighbourhoods should be part of the same council ward, then we want to hear from you. And if you think a road, river or railway makes for a strong boundary between communities in your part of Barnet, then this consultation is for you.

“If you’re interested in the way the borough is run, just log on to our website to explore our interactive maps and have your say.

“Your views will make a difference.

“We will carefully consider all evidence that is provided during this phase of the review, whoever it is from and whether it applies to the whole of Barnet or just a small part of the borough.

“Residents will then have a further chance to have their say after we publish our draft recommendations in February 2019.”

Local people have until 3 December 2018 to submit their views in this consultation. Further information on the review and interactive maps of the existing wards can be found at and

This press release from Barnet Council was originally published here. It is highly important that all Barnet residents concerned with the future of our Borough. These changes could have a huge impact on the political complexion of the Borough. At present some council wards are nearly twice the size of others in terms of population. The changes are designed to rebalance this and ensure that councillors all represent roughly equal populations. Without scrutiny the process can be abused. Small changes to boundaries can make previously marginal wards very safe for a party. That is why it is important that we are involved.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Why London needs space for artists and musicians

Can you imagine a world without music and art? There are few activities that we do for enjoyment that don't have a musical element. Whether it is a romantic dinner, a visit  to a gig, dancing, driving the car or just sitting at home relaxing. As for paintings, sculptures etc, these brighten up our public spaces, give us pause for thought. Many artists survive by doing commercial works and commissions but it is always a precarious existence.

The UK makes a huge amount of money from our creative industries. Our music, film, advertising and design industries are underpinned by brilliant people and the UK has a massive bank of talent. Whilst many things can be automated, creative brilliance and left field thought is not one of these things. This weekend, I drove my daughters to York and Leeds Universities. In each direction, the journey was over three hours. To relieve the boredom, I listened to a selection of my favourite CD's. Amongst the classic albums we played were Never mind the bollocks by the Sex Pistols, Today Wonder by Ed Kuepper, Transformer by Lou Reed and a live bootleg of the Steve Miller band recorded in 1973. Each of  these is a work of genius in its own way. Without this soundtrack, the journey would have been awful.

But as a society, we put no value on these skills. Many even resent paying for music. For many, if you say that there is a great new album, the first thing they will do is try and download it for free. We don't  expect to "download a crate of beer for free", do we? But musicians who massively enrich our life are expected to work for nothing.

London is the heart of the UK arts and music industry.  Back in the 1970's, when I started playing guitar, London was full of squats teeming with artists and musicians. At the time the UK was in what seemed like terminal decline and there were hundreds of empty buildings, being used as studio and living space. As a result, there was a huge explosion of creative talent, the independent music scene started. Artists lived and worked in places like Kings Cross. As the financial situation in the UK improved, these properties became valuable assets and the artists and musicians moved out. Several years ago, one of Barnets MP's, Mike Freer championed a bill banning squatting in residential properties. This was as a result of squatters taking over a property owned by Libyan Dictator Colonel Gadaffi. Squatters were banished to commercial properties. Many long standing communities of artists and musicians were decimated. It seems to me criminal that people are thrown out on the street, to leave residential dwellings empty.

Back in 1979, I found myself in the dilemma that many musicians have. I had a band with nowhere to rehearse. I was extremely lucky. My Father was a businessman and he had an unused area (a derelict caretakers cottage) which he was prepared to rent to me for a modest sum. By forming a consortium with other local musicians, we were able to fit it out and have somewhere to practice. I charged the other bands a nominal amount for the space and as I was at school, this covered the costs of the rent, electricity and gave me a few quid to spend.

As the business evolved, my former partners departed. By 1994, we were running the studios on professional basis and actively marketing it. We had a business plan to build the studios into one of the major arts facilities in London. In 2012, we saw a major step change in the business, with the opening of our new studio and reception block, which cost us over a million pounds to put up. This was a huge commitment on our part. One of the biggest dilemmas we've had from day 1 (which was the 14th Feb 1979), was that we wanted to ensure that everyone could afford to rehearse.

Our solution to this problem was to bring in peak and off peak rates. Our reasoning was that people with jobs could afford to pay a commercial rate and so we made evenings and weekends peak rate, with daytime rates in the week being cheaper. We also did something uprecedented for a commercial organisation. We decided to run a studio at a loss. Our reasoning was that by only charging £3.50 an hour for a  fully equipped studio in off peak hours, bands who were on the dole or had other challenges could afford to rehearse in a proper studio. Our theory was that they would develop and as they got more proficient, they would move to other studios. We equipped the room with the most basic equipment, that did the job, but with no frills at all. A couple of years ago, we had to raise the charge by 50p an hour to £4, as many bookings were being made using Paypal and with the charges, it was totally uneconomical.

Studio 10 – London’s Cheapest fully equipped Rehearsal room

From £4 per hour
Ideal for 3-4 people
Read more
Whilst there are various deals and charities that offer free space, it is the cheapest space you will find in London in a commercial studio, which you can book without any strings or restrictions (other than it has to be in a off peak time (11am-6pm Mon-Fri, 11am-2pm & 5pm-8pm Sat, 11am-2pm & 8pm-11pm Sun).

The studio is extremely popular. Musicians travel across London to take advantage of it. I was shocked to speak to one band, who had a block booking for every Saturday morning for nearly two years to find that they travelled from Mile End. They explained that travel time wasn't an issue, wheras cash was. That band toured the USA last year. In short their hard work and our cheap space worked for them. What really troubles me is just how many spaces such as ours have closed. In the vast majority of cases, this is not because their business model is flawed, but because Landlords have cashed in on the property boom. The most recent and most tragic for me is the closure of Survival studios in Acton. They started at the same time as us, were our biggest competitors and used as an alternative by most of our customers. Unlike many short sighted businessmen, I see a thriving scene as vital for the health of London.

Every time you hear some music on the radio, being played by a band, they have had to rehearse somewhere. Every band you see at a gig or on telly has had to rehearse somewhere. One way or another they have had to pay for the privilege. They also have to live and eat. I've done my bit, by keeping a rehearsal space alive and thriving for the last 39 and a half years. What we need is for London Councils to recognise the need for space. My preference would be for councils to work with independents and co-operative groups to establish both studio and living space. Our studios are proof that you don't need a public subsidy, but you do need a landlord with a long term commitment to the space.

Anyway, I am currently working on a little scheme to open up some studio space for artists in Mill Hill. This is at a very early stage. All I am asking at this point is for any artists who may need studio space in NW7 to let me know how much they need and how much they can afford to pay. If I can make it work, I will. I would urge anyone else who has commercial space in other parts of London, which they are not using, to investigate whether there is any way that this can be recycled as studio space. And I would urge council planning committees to take a positive view of any such proposals.

Monday 24 September 2018

Damning report slams Capita and financial management at Barnet Coucil

On Friday this report was quietly made available on the council's website. We have loaded it up onto our Scribd site to make it more easy to find and review for our readers.

Anyone who has followed this blog or any of the other Barnet Blogs will most probably not be surprised by what this report has found.  The fact that there are 32 recommendations in the action plan in Appendix A gives some idea of the scale of the problems.  The fact that 15 are High Priority and require immediate action demonstrates just how badly the council have lost control of their own business and how poor the management is. 

Before we discuss this further, I'd really recommend you watch this video made by Barnet Blogger John Dix in 2014 explaining why the One Barnet Capita outsourcing was a hugely risky proposition. This clip was an extract from a film I produced to try and persuade the council to see sense, called "Capita - The Movie".  This film was a series of videos showing just what the risks and effects were for Barnet Residents. Sadly, I couldn't raise the funding to schedule a release across Barnet as we had done with the other movies in the series (A Tale of Two Barnets and Barnet - The Billion Pound Gamble). Unlike Barnet Council, I can't write blank cheques! However the videos in the series were well received on Twitter. They act as a record of the fact that the Bloggers of Barnet predicted the mayhem

Lets have a look at the major actions. My comments are in Red Italics

These are documented under "Financial Control Analysis".

• (GT1) Develop a Scheme of Financial Authorisation for Re and review of financial roles and responsibilities. 
This is scarcely believable. The implication that there is no proper scheme of financial authorisation for payments from Re (The Barnet joint venture with Capita) is staggering. It is no wonder that a huge fraud was allowed to occur. As for the implication that the roles and responsibilities for financial control have not been properly sorted out, this is staggering for one of the largest local authorities in the UK.

• (GT2) The list of budget holder authorisers to be updated on the Integra ledger system.

So the council has not been maintaining the list of people authorised to spend public money. As a Barnet Council taxpayer, I cannot believe such incompetence and failure to adhere to even the most basic standards of control of purchasing has been adhered to. 

• (GT4) Improve controls over access and authorisation rights on Integra and Bankline to ensure that any changes made are appropriate to role 

What this is saying is that there has been no proper control over who can access, who can authorise and who can add users etc, for the Councils payment and banking systems. As a council tax payer I am appalled that it seems that any Tom, Dick or Harriet could make payments and add their friends, with no audit in place. In short, this is an accident waiting to happen. 

• (GT10) Develop a master schedule of CPO payments in progress to enable cross checking against payments requested. 

What this is saying is that the Council have had no system in place to cross check expected vs actual payments. There are two ways  this could have a big impact on the council budget. The first is that without such a list, any checking would be extremely costly and labourious.
That is assuming that they actually bothered checking payments. Thus far, we've established that there is no adequate control of payment authorisers, no adequate control of payment systens and no adquate controls of what is getting paid. Of course that's all OK, as you the Barnet taxpayer have given Barnet Council a blank cheque to spend your money. 

• (GT11) Develop a clear process for reclaiming CPO and related costs from developers and matching to payments received. 

Any organisation that is managing money efficiently and with due prudence would clearly have such processes in from day one of any outsourcing scheme such as One Barnet. 

• (GT12) Confirm that fraudulent costs have not been invoiced to developers. 

This is rather worrying. They still need to confirm who has paid invoices related to a major fraud. 

• (GT15) Review the adequacy of controls over BACS E-form payments where the purchase order system is not used. 

So at this point, they have yet to review the adequacy of controls of BACS payments (usually standing orders, direct debits and faster payments). Having spent half a million quid on this Grant Thornton review there are still massive holes in the controls that have not even been reviewed.

• (GT17) Develop a process note for journal processing that emphasises the importance of adequate explanation and documentation. 

This is really quite an interesting comment. I wonder how many iterations of changes this statement was subjected to. This states that Barnet Council and their chosen major partner Capita have no culture of providing proper documentation of what they do. This is a massive problem as this means that in the event of Capita being booted out, there will be no instructions or documentation of what they do. In short there is no proper resilience. The statement shows just how deviously words have been twisted so as to paint a "happy picture".  

• (GT21) Capital Budgets to be recorded on the Integra ledger system to improve the accessibility of information to budget holders. 

For those of you who don't know what Integra is ( I was shocked to hear a Conservative Councillor on the Audit Committee ask that question recently) - "Integra functionality includes all the standard financial modules including GL, AP, AR, cashbook, but also includes the E-Series web management tool. This allows users in the organisation to access the Integra system via a web interface to approve invoices, raise sales orders and review the actuals. " What this statement says is that the council hasn't been using its own financial management tool to monitor Capital budgets. You don't need to be an accountant to know what happens if you do not manage and control your budgets. Is it any surprise that immediately after the council elections, the Tory administration revelaed a £9 million budget overrun. 

• (GT27) Prepare documented financial procedure notes for CPO related transactions, provide training to staff and test compliance. 

And finally here is another one of those very highly tuned comments, that hide a multitude of sins. What this implies is that monitoring of financial complaince was found wanting and staff lacked the training to test whether the systems were compliant. What this means in practice is that a competent accountant could under no circumstances sign off anything for CPO related transactions as trustworthy. In short, there is no assurance that your money has been spent wisely. 

The report also notes

Contractual notices issued to Capita by the Council.

 The Council have issued formal remedy and other notices to Capita in regard to remedial action required, with reference to the contractual obligations under the contracts held with Re and CSG. Successful action of the recommendations from this report will provide the key measure of success in regard to the effectiveness and adequacy of remedial action taken by Capita pursuant to the remedy notices. 

Ongoing monitoring arrangements 
Grant Thornton UK LLP are in discussion with the Council to extend their period of engagement, in order to help monitor the delivery of agreed actions undertaken by Capita. Weekly meetings are taking place with the Council, alongside more formal monthly project Board meetings that involve the Council, Capita and Grant Thornton UK LLP. In our view, successful delivery of the action plan within the agreed timeframe will facilitate the development of a robust financial control environment for Regeneration Services. 

In other words, five years into the One Barnet Capita contracts, that were meant to save money, improve the quality of financial controls and ensure your taxes are spent wisely, we are faced with a situation that the Council are having to pay Grant Thornton  a kings ransom to simply ensure that the council have some basic controls in place that a junior accountant would get a whelk stall business to sort out. Even your average Whelk stall owner knows who is ordering the whelks, who is paying for them, how much they are paying for their whelk stall, who can access the whelk stalls bank account how you make sure the whelks don't go bad. 

You may wonder who the councils auditors were when Capita were brought in. You may wonder what the Auditors opinion of the robustness of the Barnet Council management of them was.  I hope this letter below goes some way to explain. Maybe you understand why the bloggers of Barnet think this whole thing stinks to High Heaven! You may also want to note the fee for this letter. 

When it comes down to it, Capita is the gift which keeps giving. It is an endless well of stories for bloggers. It is an endless source of revenue to firms like Grant Thornton, who .
There is only one real conclusion that any sane and rational person would draw. That is that we Kick Out Capita. Please watch this video we made to launch our campaign!

Saturday 22 September 2018

The Saturday List #189 - My Top Ten memories of Opportunity Knocks

Earlier this week, I was driving to the Gym and Jo Good on BBC London was on the Radio. She was talking about shows we watched with the family. For some reason it got me thinking of Opportunity Knocks. This was the prototype for Pop Idol, X Factor and the rest of the talent shows. I was thinking of the acts that it put in the public spotlight. It was required viewing for most families, way ahead of its time!

As the old readers will remember, it was hosted by the affable Hughie Green (who turned out to be the Dad of Paula Yates). Hughie was a superstar for a few years. None of the nastyness of Simon Cowell. I miss Opportunity knocks, but really wouldn't want a return. It had its day, here are my top ten favourite Opportunity Knocks moments and alumni. Enjoy!

1.  Mary Hopkin.
Won the show, got a record deal with Apple Records. I remember her for "Those were the days", oddly I thought this was what she sung at The Eurovision Song contest, however in actual fact it was ""Knock Knock, Who's there".  I've always had a soft spot for Those Were The Days. A beautiful song, set to the tune of the Volga Boatman song. Did you know that Mary was a member of  Oasis in 1984! Sadly, this was not the Manc band, but a collaboration with Peter Skellern and Julian Lloyd Weber. 

2. Freddie Starr. 
Freddie was a complete anarchist, later famous for the "Freddie Starr ate my hamster" Sun headline. I once met Freddie. I suspect that eating Hamsters was the least of his sins. He was something way left field of anything else that had been on the show at the time. Could be absolutely hilarious but also horribly cringeworthy.  This is him at his absolute best, if you've not seen this clip, your really should it is genius. Not least because you would need cojones the size of hot air balloons to do that to the greatestHeavyweight  Boxer that ever walked the planet. 

3. Peters and Lee. 
I mainly remember them because my sister in law rather liked them. Very nice homespun pop songs. I especially liked them as it made buying my sister in law an Xmas present easy!
It is hard to listen to this and not remember the 1970s, they simply don't make songs like this anymore. Great harmonies, big production, proper instruments.

4. Pam Ayres.
My mum used to think Pam Ayres was marvellous. She said "It's great when people bring poetry to the masses". As she reminds me of my Mum being happy. I have a soft spot for her.

5. Neil Reid.
I really hated everything about this. A horrible mawkish song by a far too well brushed up schoolboy. What I hated most was that adults thought I'd like it because he was a kid. Neil had a number one hit as a result and was a national sensation. I suspect thet nearly every mum in the country (except mine) got one for her birthday present or at Xmas in 1972. For me, back in 1972, I was far more into Starman by David Bowie. I have often hoped my mum was not too disappointed. 

6. Bobby Crush.
Pianist Bobby Crush was an Opportunity Knocks find. I've never been a huge fan of the Piano, I prefer guitars, but Bobby is a proper entertainer. I love this clip of Bobby Crush. This is another of those video clips that they simply wouldn't make today. Bobby is still going strong, sadly minus the entourage of bikini clad beauties.

7. Lena Zavaroni.
Lena was another of the kids, that adults always assumed I'd like because they were kids.I doubt that a 10 year old singing "Mama, he's making eyes at me" would be let anywhere near a telly show these days. The sad thing was that Lena really could sing and by the time she started making decent records, no one was buying them.  Sadly she passed away in 1999.

8. Bonnie Langford.
Yet another of the annoying kids. When she graduated to become an assistant to Dr Who, for me it signalled the fact that Doctor Who really had run out of ideas. Like all of the annoying kids, Bonnie was and is very talented, but they come from a strand of the entertainment industry that never really did it for me. Having said that, Bonnie is a talented singer and actress. Ironically, 40 years after her telly debut, she won the 2016 British Soap Award for Best Newcomer for her appearance in Eastenders.
Which just goes to show that when one door shuts, there is always another one open

9. Les Dawson.
I used to love Les Dawson. An old school comic who's gruff and miserable delivery simply amplified the humour in his work. A comic genius, especially with his ability to play the piano badly. Dawson was a talented pianist, but found that he could get laughs by playing easily recognisable songs badly. An absolute master of comedy timing

10. Harry Gumm and his singing dog.
The thing I really loved about opportunity knocks was the weird and wacky acts, one of the best was Harry Gumm and his singing dog, who won three times! Sadly both Harry and his dog Jack are no longer with us.  When Jack and Harry won, the agent of Su Pollard who they beat claimed that Harry was squeezing Jack's testicles to get him to howl. As someone who knows dogs, I would expect a rather different reaction if you tried that. Some dogs do enjoy singing along. My wife's mother had one such mutt called Sophie. It put me off Su Pollard for life. If you lose to a singing dog, take it on the chin and get on with your life. 

Friday 21 September 2018

Has the Metropolitan Police ceased operating in The London Borough of Barnet?

You may say "What a ridiculous question, why would anyone ask such a question?". If I saw a blog with such a title, I'd say the same thing myself. Or maybe I would have yesterday. Today it seems a perfectly rational question. You see between last night and when I sat down to have my lunch today, I've spoken to four different people who have all been victims of crime in our locality. All of them declined to go "on record", but each of them story ends with the words "and the police did nothing". I have no idea what the priorities of the Metropolitan Police are in Mill Hill or for the rest of Barnet. I know for a fact that they are stretched in a way that has never happened before. I was due to go for a weekend away this week with a friend who is a serving officer, but had to defer as we are dropping my daughter at Uni. I have every sympathy and I in no way blame the officers at the coalface. It is the politicians who have taken their eye off the ball. In light of my conversations, I decided to look at the local crime statistics for Mill Hill. I would imagine that Mill Hill is fairly representative of Barnet generally and I chose it as I know the area well. Have a look at these shocking facts. The first one is the latest figures for Mill Hill (for July)
Mill Hill Crime Map for Mill Hill July 2018

Breakdown of crime types 2017/2018

Breakdown of Outcomes 2017/2018

Ask anyone what the principle job of the Police is. Most people would say to "catch criminals and lock them up". Of approximately 1,500 crimes in the year in Mill Hill, 1.98% ended in a court appearance and 0.33% ended in a criminal going to prison. That is five people. Forgive my stupidity, but given that there were 316 instances of violence and sexual assault, 41 robberies and 7 cases of possession of weapons, all of which I'd expect a high number of convictions amongst, what can we conclude? Of course there are 14 where the "court result is unavailable", however this hardly makes a dent. I note that only one person was fined. Given that there were 310 instances of Anti Social behaviour (which I'd say a fine is generally a most appropriate penalty), this is truly appalling.  The vast majority of these crimes, 954 are "under investigation" (Whatever that means). There were 466 cases where the investigation was dropped with "no suspect identified". 

I am making an assumption that Mill Hill mirrors the rest of the Borough of Barnet. I am making a further assumption that the crime patterns are largely similar. In January, our local MP, Mr Matthew Offord staged a public meeting at the Hartley Hall in Mill Hill, with the Chief of Police from Barnet Police, Simon Rose. This followed the appalling killing of shopkeeper Vijay Patel. The three young men involved were caught and prosecuted. It does seem that when there is a priority such as a murder or a terrorist incident, we can expect the police to respond. But for assaults, robberies, weapons offences, sexual offences and burglaries can we expect anything at all. 

One of the people I spoke with told me about their frustrations with "Victim Support". They said "The job of the Police is to nick the bad bad guys, not drink tea and tell me how sorry they are". They suggested that our community should organise itself so we do the community support ourselves and free up the bobbies to catch the villains. Another victim, who was suffered from a burglary and are yet to see the police, said "The only reason I called them was so I had a crime number for the insurance company". This particular person is a staunch Tory and a hard line outsourcer. They made an even more radical suggestion "Why don't they simply out source burglary investigations to Capita. Then you could ring up, wait half an hour on the phone for an answer, have to navigate an impossible switchboard and eventually be given a number, safe in the knowledge that no one will ever bother to do anything with it. It would be a crap service but at least it would free up a few coppers and we'd not have the false hope that something might happen".

What I find upsetting is the repeated comments that "The Police are absolutely useless". I honestly don't believe they are. What they are is completely underfunded. Any criminal reading these figures will sleep easy in their bed. The only time that any crime, other than murders and terrorism are punished is when the offenders are caught red handed, usually by members of the public. I don't believe that there is a single law abiding resident of the London Borough of Barnet who believes we have enough police to do the job. I don't believe that there is a single, law abiding resident of the London Borough of Barnet who would object to a small rise in taxation (say £2 a week) to get the numbers of police we need back on the streets. I have daughters who I want to feel safe on the streets. The 316 cases of violence and sexual assault scare the hell out of me. I have to say that if I ever caught anyone sexually assaulting my wife or daughters, then there would most likely be one more person added to the number of people going to prison, just about everyone I know who has daughters would say the same thing. I want the police to be the ones bringing justice to such people, but what happens when they give up? Having reviewed the statistics, the only conclusion I can draw is that they are not doing anything to seriously deal with the 316 violent and sexual assaults. That is truly horrific.  I am a law abiding citizen who takes my civic responsibilities seriously. When I look at this I realise that there is simply no way as a society that we can let things proceed as they are. 

Back in January, Matthew Offord assured a packed audience that he'd do something to sort the situation out. On his website he says "Under Labour the police spent 50% more time on paperwork than they did out on patrol. Labour’s obsession with targets and box-ticking hindered the fight against crimes like burglary. Getting more police on the beat is a top priority for me."

We've now had eight years of Conservative government, which Matthew Offord has been a member of. Surely the time has come where Labour can no longer be blamed. We don't want a political football, we want action. We want to feel safe in our homes and on the streets. We are crying out for leadership from the likes of Mr Offord, people who have the guts to say "It may add the cost of a Starbucks coffee a week to your tax bill, but we simply need more police, so they can do the job properly". That is the only way that Mr Offords desire for " police on the beat" will ever be realised.

Have you been the victim of a serious crime and had no response from the Police? Let us know

Many thanks to Lydia Wolfson for pointing us at this petition to improve policing. Readers may wish to sign