Friday 30 November 2018

Barnet Council Bin collection chaos - I hate to say I told you so but...

Uncollected bins in Finchley
Barnets bins (courtsey
Back in October, I was privately contacted by members of Barnet Council refuse collection staff. They told me about the forthcoming reorganisation of bin rounds and explained a number of issues which were causing them concerns. Amongst the litany of woes with the rounds, they explained that by getting rid of special bin lorries that are narrow, for collections in tight roads, would result in rounds becoming uncollectable. the new 28 ton bin lorries simply wouldn't be able to access the roads, causing huge delays and missed collections. Here is what I said in my blog dated 10th October 2018

"I also have concerns that there are reports that Barnet Council are getting rid of the special dustacarts used to access narrow streets. From 5th November, I've been told that the council will only be operationg the 28 ton dustcarts. It is unclear how the council will be able to collect waste from narrow roads. If you live in such a road, please be aware of this change."
Despite this public warning and private conversations and emails to councillors, no action was taken. The emails were ignored and I was actually told "do you think you know better than the people who run the service" by one councillor. When I said "I was told this by the people who run the service for you, have you spoken to them?", I was simply told that "You don't have all of the relevant information".

What I hadn't fully grasped was the fact that incorporation of the narrow streets into normal roads, wouldn't only affect the residents in narrow roads, requiring the old narrow lorries. But as the councillor stated, "you don't have all the relevant information". The council were warned of this.

We weren't the only ones. The Barnet staff trades union asked the following questions to the Council on October 5th

1. How many vehicles do we currently have available for the new round restructure?
2. How many refuse rounds will there be in the new round restructure and what is the staffing numbers?
3. How many recycling rounds will there be in the new round restructure and what is the staffing numbers?
4. How many Trade rounds will there be in the new round restructure and what is the staffing numbers?
5. How many green waste rounds will there be in the new round restructure and what is the staffing numbers?
6. Currently the Hazard vehicle round operates three days a week. Will it still be operating and what are the crew numbers?
7. Impact Vehicle (IPV) currently operates three days a week what is the plan for this service?
8. Will there still be a Bin delivery and if so what are the staffing numbers?
9. How many shunt vehicles will be available on a daily basis?
10. What rounds will be getting shunts?
11. What is the estimated down time for shunts?
12. How many spare vehicles do we have?
13. What are number of locations per round?
14. How many bins and size per location?
15. Please provide the mileage walked by loaders per round?
16. How will flat refuse be collected?
17. How will flat recycling be collected?
18. What are the days for each postal district?
19. How are the locations with more than one collection day be collected?
20. Will there be maps provided for each new round?
21. When will public be informed?
22. When will staff be consulted and be informed about their round?
23. What are the contingency plans in the event of failure to collect?
24. What is the plan for the ever growing number of new developments to be incorporated into the new round?
25. Will agency staff still be used?
26. What are the estimated travelling times for each round to and from depots to the prescribed five postal districts?
27. What are the estimated tipping times from each area to Hendon or Edmonton?
28. Will black sacks be used, if so who will deliver them?
29. Where access for large vehicles is prohibited how far are staff expected to pull bins from bin areas to vehicle?
30. Have risk assessment’s been done for each new round?
31. Have Round Descriptions been completed for each new round?
32. Will the Round Descriptions include the presence potential hazards and restrictions such as;
  • Parked Vehicles
  • Narrow Lanes
  • Steep Slopes
  • Pedestrian usage
  • Schools/Care Homes and other buildings that may present increase risk, hazards or restrictions Poor Lighting or Visibility
33. Will the Round Descriptions include the nearest locations of:
  • Public/Staff Accessible Toilets
  • Hospitals
  • Nearest refuelling point (in case of emergency)
34. Have the rounds been walked and tested?
35. What is current overall capacity in tonnage for each existing refuse round per day?
36. What is the overall capacity expected in tonnage for each new refuse round per day?
37. What is current overall capacity in tonnage for each existing flat refuse round per day?
38. What is the current overall capacity in tonnage for the existing food waste round per day?
39. What is the current overall capacity in tonnage for RATS/FLASH collection rounds per day?
40. What is the current overall tonnage for each existing recycling round per day?
41. What is the overall capacity expected tonnage for each new recycling round per day?
42. What is the current overall tonnage for the food waste collected by the recycling rounds per day?
44. What is current overall tonnage for all (mid-week and Saturday collection) flat recycling rounds?
45. What is the current overall tonnage for each existing refuse restricted access round per day?
46. What is the current overall tonnage for each existing recycling restricted access round per day?
47. Currently we have restricted access rounds. How will the new round collection service address restricted access to locations?
48. What is the current overall tonnage of the Saturday green waste rounds?
49. Will the crews be alternated between refuse and recycling each week?

These questions were submitted as a result of the feedback and worries of the staff who do the job. They were completely ignored. The Leader of Barnet Council, in a very complacent manner, told the environment committee "It was the first reorganisation for 15 years, therefore there were bound to be teething problems". This wasn't only complacent, it was incorrect, a reorganisation was done in 2013.

The bottom line with all of this is that if you ignore the public and you ignore your own staff when you make changes to public services, you get chaos. Whatever you may think of Barnet Council and the people running it, there is no way that you can consider this anything other than a complete shambles. BBC London has been covering the story over the last couple of days. I do wonder if they realise that this whole mess was completely avoidable.

Thursday 29 November 2018

Why the new generation of Tories simply don't understand old school Labour ire

I had a good conversation and a coffee recently with one of our newer Barnet Conservative Councillors (I regularly have friendly off the record chats with councillors etc of all colours, it's what you do if you want to write a well informed blog). As with all of these chats, unless given permission, the contents remains out of the public domain. The councillor did however make one comment that I thought deserved a little bit of thought. They mentioned that one of the veteran Labour councillors had been extremely rude and hostile towards them. This had rather shocked them, given that they'd never met said councillor before. They asked if the said councillor was always like that. I had to respond that I suspect the ire is reserved for Conservatives, as I've never been on the receiving end.
Image result for Prime minister in 1962
Harold MacMillan

What most surprised the newbie councillor was that tribal party rivalries should generate such a degree of personal animosity towards strangers. I didn't ask the age of the councillor, but for arguments sake lets say 30. That means that the Councillor was born in 1998. When I was born in 1962, Harold MacMillan was PM. It may or may not surprise you to know that I know the square root of BA about MacMillans reign. I know that the Profumo affair terminally damaged his regime (ironic I suppose given the alleged links between the US president and Russia). I know "Supermac" had told us we'd "never had it so good". He was succeded by Sir Alec Dougless-Home who I know even less about. I mention this, as the councillor I was chatting to would have been born at the dog end of Margaret Thatchers reign. They would have been eight or nine when John Major's reign ended and a long period of Labour domination began. For them the highly divisive policies of Thatcher, the Poll tax riots, the miners strike and support for the South African Apartheid regime (Thatcher famously described Nelson Mandela as a terrorist) are about as relevant and current as the Suez crisis is for me. A historical fact that was clearly a terrible thing but happened years before I was born.

For them, the things which shaped their view of politics was seeing New Labour wrap the UK up in a war of dubious legality and trash the economy with the crash of 2008, which we are all still paying for. These are hugely relevant. Their political views were developed under a backdrop of the the machinations of the Blair regime. Thinking it through from a rational perspective, if I was growing up through the Blair years, I would be totally antipathetic towards them. I am not at all sure where my allegiances may have ended up. I believe in social justice and I hope that would have survived Blairism. What us old timers simply don't get is that this generation of Tories have a completely different view of politics. Whilst we see Cameron as simply an extension of the Thatcherite attack on the worst off, the post Thatcher/Major generation of Tories see a completely different reality. They can excuse the austerity policies of Cameron as a necessary response to a huge financial crisis. Had Gordon Brown won in 2010, it is likely that there would have been cuts as deep as those of the coalition. They may not have persisted as long, they may have targeted different sextors of the economy, but the financial base of the UK needed rebuilding and there was absolutely no way that this could have been avoided. The chaos of the post coalition era is a different matter. I suspect that the new Tories are struggling to get their head around the fact that the party they thought was competent and capable has been shown to be a complete basket case. The strangest thing is the number of Tories who hark back to the coalition as some sort of golden era, whilst at the same time detesting the Liberal Democrats, who if nothing else, ensured the Conservatives didn't put their foot on the accelerator and drive off the edge of the cliff. If nothing else, what has happened since the 2015 election has demonstrated beyond doubt that if you have to have a Tory government, it only really can work if you have the Lib Dems to stop them committing suicide. It is interesting just how fratricidal the Tories really are, when they don't have grown ups telling them to behave. It is always worth remembering that Thatcher was shafted by her own party, not the electorate. John Major was constantly at war with "the Bastards". David Cameron had five years of competent administration when the grown ups such as Vince Cable were there to keep the Tories in line, but as soon as the electorate sent the Lib Dems to the naughty corner for sanitising such a bunch of basket cases, all hell broke loose.

Chart showing a comparison between inflation and wage growth
Earnings vs Inflation
Since the 2015 election, we've seen the true face of the Conservative party. Two leaders, neither in control of events. An economy where inflation is rising and will continue to rise, as a tight Labour market forces earnings up. Anyone who understands economics knows what happens next. Interest rates go up. When you hear there is likely to be a 2% rise over the next couple of years, it sounds fairly benign. When people realise that this means the cost of their monthly mortgage payments will double, maybe they will feel less happy.

My personal view is that after five years of administration, the point where you can blame the previous government for your woes has gone. A new government has three years to take tough decisions and two years to start building a popular platform for re-election. The Conservatives are eight years in (one way or another). The new councillors who joined Barnet Council in May are only responsible for the decisions in the council since May. I can understand a sense of bemusement about antipathy harboured from things that happened before they were born. I can well understand why mining communities still hate Thatcher and all she and the Conservatives stood for. I can understand why people of my age, who felt Apartheid was an abhorrant evil may think anyone who actively supported such a regime is beyond the pale. But by the same token, I can also understand why a 30 year old Barnet Conservative may be bemused. Of course I am sure that Labour members will quote injustices like the bedroom tax, universal credit and the other benefit changes that hit those at the bottom, but I doubt that the new intake of Tories are even aware at this stage of their effects. I'd personally take the view that blind hostilty is simply counter productive. A cup of tea and a friendly chat explaining why they joined Labour and why they believe in social justice would be a far better path to take, if you are serious about getting things done in Barnet.

The sad truth is that the Barnet Conservatives won and Barnet Labour was trounced at the Council election in 2018. Whilst I personally would have preferred a different outcome, if we are to do our bit for the Borough, we really need some fresh thinking from the Tories. This clearly will not come from the old guard, so the only rational way forward is to engage with the new intake and try and persuade them to moderate the ideological excesses of the old guard. One thing I am sure of is that any rational person would conclude that the polices the council have been following are failing and residents, especially the most vulnerable. That is why sensible dialog rather than animosity towards the new Tory intake is sensible.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Can the new intake of Barnet Tories salvage the parties local reputation and credibility?

In May, 18 new Tory Councillors took their places on the Tory benches of Barnet Council. Some were awarded relatively safe seats to reward loyalty to the party, in a bloody process that involved shafting some well established councillors (Joan Scannell in Edgware, Sury Khatri in Mill Hill, Maureen Braun in Hendon), some got in because they were prepared to work their socks off in wards that the Tories thought were unwinnable (West Hendon, Hale). All of them have one thing in common. They have no reason to want to share the collective blame for the mistakes of the past. Those in the marginal wards must be well aware that the conditions that gave them their seats are reasonably unlikely to be prevalent in four years time. If they are to hang on, they'd better work hard and carve themselves out a role for their constituents. The new term has not started well. The bin round reogranisation has been a disaster. As the Tories made efficient bin collections a key election theme, they have walked into a minefield. There is also the little matter of the huge budget defecit that the Tories hid from the public before the election. Tomorrows Environment committee papers detail just how bad the deficit is. To plug this works our as £150 per household
Looking forward, it is anticipated that these challenges will continue. Through refreshing the council’s Medium-term Financial Strategy (MTFS), the organisation now faces an anticipated budget gap of  £69.9m to  2023/24. This includes the savings of  £17.3m already identified for 2019-20, plus a further gap of £52.6m to 2023/24.
I don't believe that the new councillors expected this to be what they found themselves responsible for. Unlike the old guard, they can reasonably claim this is not their fault. We've already seen some welcome signs of independent thought with Councillors Prager and Jajeh breaking ranks in the Audit committee. Another positive sign has been the fact that they are keen to distance themselves from the misogynism and sexism of the old guard. This has seemingly upset one of the biggest dinosaurs of the modern Tory era. Most readers of the blog will know of how disgraced ex Tory Mayor Brian Coleman pleaded guilty to "assault by beating" of shopkeeper Helen Michael. Councillor Weedon-Sanz posted a perfectly reasonable tweet, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, but rather revoltingly drew the ire of Coleman. I hope that all of the new councillors are aware of the legacy that they have picked up, as demonstrated by Coleman.

The Barnet Tories, especially the new new breed would do well to make sure that such behaviour is consigned to the dustbin of history. As they are a large group, they have the ability to shape the way Barnet Council deals with the challenges.  This is a key time for the Council, perhaps the most important in the next five years. A review of Capita is currently being undertaken. It is clear that the deal isn't working. The new councillors have an opportunity to make a big difference. I fully understand that they are Conservatives, but they should be aware that most Tory Councils have run a mile from Capita style mega deals. We have recently seen the CEO of Barnet John Hooton trying to sidetrack the democratically agreed decision of the PRC to get proper business cases for the three possible options for the way forward for Capita. New councillors should make it clear that this isn't good enough. If a business case can be made to demonstrate that Capita is the best option for Barnet, I would not criticise the new councillors for supporting it. If they meekly allow themselves to be steamrollered into approving a deal without proper numbers and proper scrutiny, then they will be as cuplable as the old guard. I run a business, I understand the need to take difficult decisions. I understand that sometimes you have to change the way you do things and this puts existing staff on the defensive. I also understand that this should only be done on the back of a robust business case. And it will only ever be done if I am happy with the numbers. So long as all of the new councillors can look the residents of Barnet in the eye when the decision is passed and say "I read the business cases and we approved the best one" then they will have done their job. That will go a long way to salvagining their reputation following the bins scandal. If they can't say that, sadly the people of Barnet will form a rather different conclusion.

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Watch the Leader of Barnet Council apologise for bin collection failures

The Leader of Barnet Council, Richard Cornelius has issued an apology for the chaos following the reorganisation of the bin collections. Some residents have not had a collection for three weeks.

Given that Mr Cornelius and the Conservative party won the council election in May promising uninterrupted bin collections for Barnet Residents, we do wonder whether Mr Cornelius and his team have considered whether their position is tenable?

My fellow blogger Mr Mustard has uncovered council papers showing that the council are planning a £50 charge for collecting green bins. Yet another surprise for the voters, who thought voting Tory would guarantee a weekly bin collection (without extra charges).

Barnet have issued another press release today.

Barnet’s new recycling and waste collection days began earlier this month. Please see below for our latest service update.
We are continuing to work hard to complete all collections on their new scheduled collection days. We are now in the fourth week of the new schedules, meaning our crews are working
on their new rounds for the fourth time, and are still familiarising themselves with the roads
and routes involved.
We are aware that a number of residents have experienced issues with the new waste and recycling collections and this has meant that their bins have not been collected as expected.
The Leader of Barnet Council, Councillor Richard Cornelius, has issued the following response: “We’re working to get it right and I believe we have turned a corner - and that we
will start to start to see an improvement in the service this week.
“Council staff have been working very hard, from early until late. The council also have crews out at the weekends and have additional teams working to complete collections. I accept that it has been difficult to contact the council and speak to people in the recycling and waste department. This is simply because all the supervisors are out as part of a huge team effort to catch up with the backlog.
“We are doing our utmost to fix this. The new rounds should become business as usual
over the coming weeks, and we are working hard to getting back to having the successful waste and recycling service that we’ve had for years. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience
once again. Please do bear with us a little longer, and thank you for your patience and understanding.”
If your bin has not been emptied as scheduled, please leave it at the boundary of your property and we will collect it as soon as we can.  Residents can also report missed bin collections via the council website.
Let's just recap. Childrens services was put into special measures following a failing rating from OFSTED, and management was taken over by Essex County Council last year. Capita have received a scathing audit report from Grant Thornton listing over 30 major deficiencies in how they conduct business for Barnet Council. The audit of the Cocuncils pension fund missed its statuatory deadline.
The bins across the Borough are not being emptied .We can only speculate what the next Council service to collapse will be.

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.

Monday 26 November 2018

Who are the 11% who will survive the forthcoming holocaust

Film director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie), posted a very thought prooing post this morning.

Image result for Burnt Oak
The future?
This was in response to a discussion as to the ability of planet Earth to support more than a billion human beings. It really got me thinking. Who are the 1% and who are the other 10% they'd have to rely on to keep them in the lifestyle to which they've become accustomed?

If the population of Planet Earth is seven billion, I suppose we can assume that the 1% is the seventy million richest/most powerful/most influential people. My assumption would be that these would be largely, but not exclusively based in first world countries. I think we can take it as a given that politicians, army generals, billionaires, police chiefs, heads of multi national corporations would be in the 1%. It is also likely that superstar celebrities and other high profile people will make the cut. But how much do you have to be worth. I did a little bid of research. In America this table gives you some idea of how much money you have to have to be in the 1%

Image result for how much do you need to be worth to be in the top 1

Globally, the figure is much lower, as America is the worlds wealthiest economy.  I'd hazard a guess that you'd need £4-5 million of assets to make the cut in the UK. I do wonder if bloggers profile would add a few points to our "social worth" although I suspect we are more likely to be first up against the wall (well ones like me).

The more interesting debate would be who are the 10% who the  1% need so they see no changes to their lifestyle. The first things that would be required are uninterrupted food and power supplies. One has to assume that the mega rich still want to eat strawberries in December, the finest smoked salmon and Beluga cavier, so you are probably safer if you work in these sort of industries. If you work in the Beans factory, I suspect that you may have to start looking over your shoulder. Electrical engineers working in the power industry clearly would be OK. The 1% also need medical services, drugs and care. So if you work in a private health clinic or pharmacutical industry, you may be ok. All of these areas are vital. But what about the non vital areas. One assumes 1% want to watch football, have their hair curled, their toilet cleaned and their nails manicured. I've no idea how the 1% will ensure a constant flow of Messi's and Ronaldo's if we don't have the street football of the Brazilian Cities etc. I don't think that watching a bunch of Etonians kicking a ball around the Etihad would be quite the same as watching David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne. Given the number of Billionaires who buy clubs, this particular issue can't be discounted.

Then there are the luxury cars, helicopters, private jets. All of these are necessary to enjoy nice visits to your private island. I really am not sure how these could be maintained on a world population a seventh the size. This would be a big challenge. Back in the 1970's, the Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy came up with the concept of  "B Arkers". These were all the people who added nothing. Hairdressers and Estate agents were identified, however if you are mega rich, both are quite handy. Then there are banks. Much as many of us dislike banks, the 1% find them very useful.

I short, I really can't see how you could decimate the earths population without destroying the very wealth that the 1% need.

The other issue is how you actually decide who in the 89% you murder and how you do it. The big problem you have is that if the 89% get the idea they are in for the chop, you may find the 1% disappears in very short order. The policemen and soldiers who you need to carry out the extermination would be very unlikely to be complicit once they realise that mum's, dads, brothers and sisters will be in the firing line. I would suspect that the easy way would be to let a virus loose and simply innoculate all the people you want to save. The problem with that is that viruses mutate and innoculations sometimes have side effects. It would also require a huge amount of secrecy, which seems unlikely as people will seek to help mates out etc. It is also a hell of a lot of people to bury (or dispose of). Once people start dying in droves, society is likely to break down. In such scenarios, the rich become targets.

Of course the mega rich could adjourn to private Islands, but as Richard Branson learned, such places can suddenly become less than idyllic if a hurricane turns up. If the food supplies stop, the diesel runs out and the toilets break, all of a sudden you are not really having a good time any more.

In short, I can't really see how such a holcaust could be enacted. It wouldn't surprise me if there are evil people who fancy the idea, but have they thought through all of the consequences? What is a completely different question is whether or not a structured program of population reduction is desirable and even feasable. The first issue is that if you cut the number of births, you end up with the problem of an ageing population. The elderly tend to be the most wealthy, so are unlikley to submit willingly to a cull. With ever improving advances in medical care, that is a circle that is going to be very difficult to square.

What we really need is a far more sustainable economic model. We need carbon free fuels, massive tree planting schemes, a huge shift towards a more eco friendly diet (less meat and less pesticides). We need better public transport, more walking, better insulated buildings, better public spaces.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that the 1% has the wealth to invest and make all these things happen. Green technologies are the way of the future. As I see it, there is a huge missed opportunity, which the richest people, who have the dosh to invest really should be filling. Some, such as Elon Musk, have seen this, but woefully few.

I was thinking of whether I'd really want to be in the 11%. I quite like the 89% myself. That is the demographic most of my friends occupy. I don't know about the rest of you, but if I get wind of an evil plan, I won't go quietly. The one solace I take is that Duncan is the director of fairly Apocalyptic films. He probably has more reason to think about such scenarios than the rest of us.

Sunday 25 November 2018

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet 25/11/2018

It's that time of the week again. Local news through the eyes of our local tweeters. Don't forget to follow any tweeters who tickle your fancy

1. Where else could we possibly start than with the latest sorry update from local pub champion Superfast72. It is quite incredible that both Historic England and Barnet Council have done nothing to enforce the law

2. Christmas is coming. Spare a thought for those who will be hungry. A small donation would be highly appreciated

3. Next weekend we have carols in the square in Mill Hill

4. Historical Tweet of the week. Hendon was where England conquered the World cup from

5. I'm sure a few readers will be interested in this

6. We had to mention this. Unacceptable

7. Lets hope it doesn't snow this winter!

8. Any businesswomen out there,interested in networking

9.Good to see some positive news about young people in Barnet

10. Any musicians out there? Some helpful advice here

That's all folks!!!

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Barnet Conservatives admit they can't run the council properly on Facebook

I kid you not. The Barnet Conservatives have just posted a Facebook post which admits that the council they run is failing to deliver the level of services residents expect.
Barnet Conservatives Twitter Post

The post states 
2 hrs
We were out speaking with local residents in Friern Barnet this morning with Theresa Villiers MP, Gareth Bacon AM, local Cllr Roberto Weeden-Sanz & Cllr Tom Smith. Many residents have noticed increasing levels of fly tipping, lack of street cleaning, issues with local street parking, and most worringly crime and break ins on their streets. Residents were disappointed with the police response in the area. The Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn isn't providing Barnet with the police it needs despite us contributing more to the Metropolitan Police than any other London Borough.

The Barnet Eye has been highlighting these issues for a decade.  The issues with fly tipping, lack of street cleaning, issues with street parking and usage of local CCTV are down to Barnet Council, which is run by the Barnet Conservatives. It is great that the new crop of Conservative Councillors are admitting that the regime they represent is failing and we cordially invite them around to our place for a cup of tea and a discussion as to how this can all be sorted out.

The Barnet Eye would recommend that the council makes a priority of getting rid of  Capita and their gravy train contract. The sad truth is that areas like street cleaning have suffered as the budgets had to be cut to protect the contractually obliged payments to Capita. Capita are currently trying to negotiate a £4 million payout to the Council to get out of a commitment to save the Council £30 million. I've no idea what sort of idiot would accept £4 million when they were supposed to get £30 million, but it appears that Barnet Council are keen to a push this through.

As to fly tipping, enforcement is run by NSL who have a contract that allows them to keep the fines they impose on anyone fly tipping. Whilst the problem of fly tipping runs out of control, we know of three cases of businesses being fined for fly tipping, for mistakes with leaving contractually agreed refuse collections. In one case, a fine was issued when a restaurant left a bag of waste in a non council approved black bag, rather than a Barnet purple bag, because they'd run out of the council version. A £400 spot fine for tipping was issued. The restaurant contacted the Barnet Eye, who worked with councillors to get it revoked, but we were disgusted that a law abiding business was treated in this way when around the corner, there is a fly tipping hotspot that has had no action at all.

The Conservatives blame the Mayor of London for the lack of police numbers in Barnet. Given that the Conservative Home secretary has cut police budgets, this is highly dishonest. Sadiq Khan offered a 2 for 1 deal to Barnet Council, where he would fund extra police if Barnet Council paid half. The council refused.

Sadly the whole sorry mess at Barnet Council is the result of Barnet Councils ill thought out program of outsourcing, coupled with an ideological refusal to raise council taxes to fund legally required services. Now there is a crisis, the council are planning to raise the council tax by the maximum legally allowed and Conservative canvassers are having to admit that the council isn't doing its job. I wonder if they have been honest enough to explain why.

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.  

The Saturday List #196 - My favourite coins in old money (and how I developed the love of the old coins)

What's that in old money? Do you remember old money? Massive great big coins. I have always believed the world changed massively for the worse on 14th February 1971. I was eight years old at the time.I loved old money, before my list, let me share a little story of how I developed my love of coins. I was inspired to write this blog as I had a rather bizarre dream about my eldest brother Laurie last night. There is a little story about coinage and my brother, which I often mull over. Whilst I love my brother to death, he's always took great delight in robbing me when I was a small child. As he was 16 years older, this could be rather annoying. This little story tells how I came to deal with this, and how it lead to my love of old money coinage.

As a kid, in our house there was a Saturday ritual. My Dad would give me half a crown on a Saturday morning as pocket money. I'd go to the sweet shop at no 13, Mill Hill Broadway, next to Sainsburys. I'd spend some of it and save a sixpence. The sixpence would be put in a jar, on top of the electricity fuse board. My eldest brother Laurie and myself had made a deal that we'd each put a sixpence in the jar every week and at the end of the year, we'd buy a Scalextrix set. I'd excitedly give Laurie the sixpence and he'd safely deposit it. After we'd been saing for six months, My Dad was doing some work in the kitchen and had a ladder by the fuseboard. I excitedly climbed up, with the intention of counting the cash to see how close we were to buying the set. To my horror, the jar as empty. I was mystified. I asked my brother, who laughed and said "You've been keeping me in fags for the last six months". I went absolutely mad. As was always the way, it ended in my dad giving me a hard smack bum and telling me I had to wise up. No sanction was taken against my brother. I was determined to get revenge. Later that day, an old Catholic priest who was a friend of my Dad turned up. My father, recounted the story, finding it hilarious. I was contemplating Dadacide.It seemed so unfair. The priest quoted a key passage from the new testament, where a disciple asks Jesus how many times your brother can wrong you before you are allowed to feel resentment and take revenge. Jesus replied 77 times. I was devastated. Laurie could shaft me another 76 times before I could legitimately get the hump. As is the way with me, I went off and brooded. The first thing I realised was that he'd actually wronged me 36 times. That was the number of sixpences he'd nicked. In actual fact he only had 41 to go before he was legally doomed. I decided to keep a list (he's up to 56! as he's now in his 70's I doubt he'll get to 77).

I then made a startling realisation that I also had 77 hits at pissing him off before he could bear any resentment. So I decided that what was good for the goose, was good for the gander. Whilst I was 7 at the time, he was 23 and liked to go to the pub. When he came home, he'd be sloshed. In the morning he'd sleep like a log til 10am, then go to the loo for a long constitutional. I would nip into his room and help myself to some of his cash. I had a simple rule. If I nicked the lot, he'd guess. So I had a simple rule. One coin of each denomination for 36 weeks. I wouldn't spend them. I made a hole in a teddy and hid the coins in it, under the bed. That was my favourite teddy. My Dad then decided on a little scheme for me and my sister Caroline. She was older and got two half crowns, I got one. My Dad said that every week, when the cash as doled out, he'd double what we had left.

My sister could never understand how I always had a half crown to get doubled, when the pocket money was doled out. Especially as I'd spend it immediately. One time my mum caught me in Lauries room. She said what are you doing? Being a quick thinker, I said "Laurie said he had a really interesting edition of Scientific American with big telescopes in it. I was looking for it". My mother wasn't a mug and said "but you can't read?". I said "I want to look at the pictures". She made a point of making Laurie read me the article.

As I didn't really feel too good with myself about the wages of sin, and justified it as Dad had pointed out that we have to learn the ways of the world, I decided to buy everyone really nice presents. At Xmas I had about £20 which was  a huge sum in old money. As my sisters and my other brother Frank had been nice, I bought them all decent presents. Frank got a Jim Reeves Xmas Album, Catherine got a nice plant, Valerie got some nice paint brushes. Caroline got a box of chocolates. And Laurie? I got him a jar of pickled onions, a really spicy variety. He rather liked them. My mum was very inquisitive as to how I had so much cash. I explained that ever week Dad was doubling my half crown if I hadn't spent it. My mother, being a bit tight, immediately banned the practise (which Dad totally ignored). I figured that Lauries dosh had been put to far better use than if he'd simply spent it on fags. He used to moan "I can't understand why I'm always skint".

During the height of my little scheme, I got hold of a series of bank bags. I would sort the coins out into the different denominations, and different monarchs. I would keep the oldest ones and only spend the newer coins with Liz on the front. I built up a fine collection. These were the Ha'penny, the Penny, the Thruppeny bit, the sixpence, the shilling, the two shillings and the half crown. I used to sort through these. I was fascinated by really old coins. Here are my top ten, in order of preference and why.

Image result for old coins penny
Old Penny

1. The old penny. I loved the old penny. Until decimalisation, you'd regularly get coins of up to 100 years old, with old men's images on, with big tashes. There were few of the older silver coins, as these had been withdrawn when the silver content was removed. The older they got, the darker they were. I always imagined that this was caused by the war and the bombing, although it was simply the oxidation of the copper. For me, it was how I knew when various monarchs had been on the throne.

Image result for old coins threepence
thruppeny bit

2. The Thruppeny bit. As kids we loved the thruppeny bit. It was unique in that it wasn't round. We loved the portcullis on the back of it. It seemed to be a rather strange, other worldly coin. I was also the coin you could afford a bag of crisps with. That was a highly significant amount.

Image result for old coins Half Crown
Half crown

3. The Half Crown. I liked the half crown as this was what I got for pocket money. It was a great big coin, I believed it was the biggest coin in the world at the time! It always looked to me as if the lions on the bottom right quadrant were trying to play the harp in the bottom left quadrant. The half crown was a very reassuring coin. You could buy almost any sweet that wasn't in a big box and you felt like you were someone if you had one!

Image result for old coins Sixpence

4. I wasn't much of a fan of the sixpence. It wasn't much of a coin. It was small and unimpressive. My mum used to put them in Xmas puddings. She blamed my conception on the one she lost at Xmas 1961. She put two in and neither turned up. Aunty Audrey came round for lunch and she also got pregnant (my cousin Anita was born). It was all the fault of those blasted sixpences. Somehow they managed to survive decimalisation for a couple of years, despite not being a logical denomination of money (2.5pence).

Image result for old coins Shilling
The Shilling

5. The shilling. I didn't really like shillings. They always struck me as a rather dull coin. They also survived decimalisation and became re designated as five pence piece. Eventually they were remodelled as the annoying coin that falls through the hole in your wallet. A fittingly bad end for a dull coin.

Image result for old coins two shillings
The Two Shillings

6. I especially disliked the Two Shillings piece. It was the only coin that didn't have a proper name. It also survived decimalisation as the ten pence. It was a coin that wanted to be a half crown, but didn't have the balls.

Image result for old coins half penny

7. The Ha'penny. As a kid, I was an alter server. One of the perks was that you'd get a tip when you served at a local wedding. If you were given one of these, you really didn't appreciate it. This was a bad imitation of the penny. It even had the Blue Peter ship on the back (I hated Blue Peter, I was a Magpie man).

That is my highly irrational round up of old money. Did you have any pet hates for the old coins. Oddly whilst I loved/hated the old coinage, I have no real feelings at all about the awful monoculture that is modern British coinage.

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free. 

Friday 23 November 2018

The Friday Joke (and a little matter related to Barnet)

Image result for teenage drivers joke
Teenage Drivers
First of all apologies. This is three blogs in one. The first is our regular Friday Slot, the Friday Joke. If that's all you want, don't read the second bit. The second bit is my reflections on last nights Audit committee. The third is a short note concerning the current situation with the bins. I had a beer with one of Barnets dustmen in the Bridge last night. It is worth a quick look

I would normally write three seperate blogs, but as today is Black Friday, things are pretty chaotic at Mill Hill Music Complex. We are overrun with people taking advantage of our 15% off offer on musical instruments, so I'll have to dash.....

1. The Friday Joke

A teenage boy had just passed his driving test and inquired of his father as to when they  could discuss his use of the car.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
His father said he'd make a deal with his son: "You bring your grades up from a C to a B, study the Bible and get your hair cut.  Then we'll talk about the car".     

The boy  thought about that for a moment, decided he'd settle for the offer and they agreed on it.                                                                                                  
After about six weeks his father said: "Son, you've brought your grades up and I'm impressed that you have been studying the Bible, When youget your hair cut, I'll be happy to let you drive the car".
The boy said:  "You know, Dad, I've been thinking about that, and I've noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, John the Baptist had long hair, Moses had long hair, and there's even strong evidence that Jesus had long hair".

Dad Replied "Did you also notice that they all walked everywhere?"
And on to other business....

2. Barnet Council Audit Committee Round up 

 Last night the Barnet Council Audit Committee met to discuss the latest iteration of the Grant Thornton report into the large Capita Fraud. I addressed the committee, as did my fellow bloggers John Dix and Theresa Musgrove. Several other residents also addressed the committee.

There was also a very short public questions section (myself, John Dix and Barbara Jacobson were given a chance to respond to the non answers we were given.

There were several interesting developments at the meeting. I was first up with my address to the committee. I noted that the two new Tory members of the committee were actively taking notes. Councillor Zinkin, one of the old guard stared boredly into space. For Labour, Alison Moore listened intently. Councillor Mittra had a rather strange look on his face. I do hope that he is not unwell. The independent member Richard Harbord. Mr Harbord didn't look particularly interested in anything I said, and actually fell asleep during another member of the publics contribution. He was woken up when a very naughty member of the public shouted at him to wake up. What terribly rude members of the public we have in Barnet, waking up people from much needed beauty sleep!

I've no idea what anyone thought of my comments, as there was absolutely no response at all. For reasons I don't understand, my Microphone was turned off half way through my contribution. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I'd have thought it was th throw me off my train of thought. That would be silly. I'm a musician and I'm used to mic's playing up. Besides, I'd written out what I had to say. Here it is if you are interested.
Dear Members of the Aduit Committee

I have reviewed the latest iteration of the Grant Thornton report. There are several issues that are of major concern to me, time constraints prevent all of these being raised, in relation to the operation of this committee.

A major concern I have is that it appears Grant Thornton have adopted a new variation of the industry standard RAG status tracking. They have introduced a blue status,
which allegedly means "not tested by Audit". In truth this simply means work not completed. If something is not tested, then there can be no confidence that the work is completed.

As an example, here is the Grant Thornton summary for BACS controls which is blue. It says

"The process has been submitted and verified, however it has not been possible to test the operating effectiveness of this control,
as the control design was not finalised in the testing period. Further testing is required."

In plain English, this means work is not completed and the risk has not been closed. The Audit Committee of Barnet Council should not be complicit in allowing such practices
that brush serious risks under the carpet.

Another major concern is the apparent "positive spin" put on serious deficiencies in rectifiying problems. For instance GT32 "Review of cost
centres and fraudulent transactions" - The work has not been completed. The summary concludes "Significant progress has been made in completing this
recommendation, but some  further limited work remains to be done before the recommendation can be signed off as fully complete. A further verbal update on progress will
be provided to the Audit Committee on 22 November". Verbal updates to the committee are simply unacceptable. There should be a full explanation as to why this workstream
designated High Priority for immediate action has not been completed.

I have to conclude that this report is not fit for purpose and ask for the audit committee to insist that Grant Thornton produce a report that residents and taxpayers can have confidence in.
Next up was Mr Reasonable AKA John Dix. As ever John gave an excellent presentation. He stated that he'd been banned from asking a question by the Grant Thornton auditor. Councillor Finn told him he was being silly and that he'd not been banned from asking the question, the auditor simply wasn't going to answer. I was recalling a meeting around this time last year. Then the chair was former councillor Hugh Rayner. Myself and John Dix addressed the committee. Councillor Rayner spoke to us both before and after and told us how much he valued public comments and the work we were doing. He asurred us that he'd do everything to ensure we got satisfactory responses. Sadly, the new regime takes a different view. Theresa Musgrove made her contribution. One of the new Tory Councillors Alex Prager asked Theresa if she'd bring everything in house after her impassioned contribution. She replied yes she would, but the committee should at least have a proper business case to base their decision on. Councillor Prager looked as if he understood the merit in that suggestion. Next up was Barbara Jacobson from the Barnet Alliance for Public Services. I was shocked by the discourtious treatment Barbara was given. Unlike Councillors, members of the public receive no £10,000 allowance to turn up to meetings. Councillor Finn, the chair, sarcastically commented that there were five people in the public gallery. If that is the level of his scrutiny, no wonder we have had a major fraud. At this point, I broke the habit of a lifetime and took a selfie for posterity of the "5" people in the public gallery and tweeted it.

The contempt for Ms Jacobson was palpable. I don't really understand why. Whatever you may think of Ms Jacobsons views, she's a publicly minded citizen who makes intelligent comments. By all means thwart her with your superior intellect or with facts. Plain rudeness though is another matter altogether. There was considerable rowdyness in the public gallery. I was intrigued. I didn't think Barbara made a significantly better or worse contribution than myself of John Dix, but the reaction in the gallery was markedly hostile. The reason was quite simple. The chair would not be rude to a man in the way he was to Barbara. I hope that a video is produced so you can see. There were a couple more public contributions. All calling for proper scrutiny and asking why the council hadn't already slung Capita out given the appalling findings of Grant Thornton.

Then we had public questions. In this section, the council are ased questions, provide 'responses' (the term answers would be misleading). Then the public can ask a supplemental. I had the chance to answer one supplemental. Interestingly, the chair broke with protocol and invited John Dix up before me. I didn't really mind, John asks far better and more intelligent questions than I do, but it was strange. It soon became clear that the chaior of audit hadn't read the papers properly and it was simply a mistake. John got his non answer. I was invited up next.  The question I had asked was as follows
Please can the chair of  the committee explain why the public should have confidence in the Grant Thornton report, given that they were the council auditors at the time that the Capita contracts were set up. Whilst the   report   does appear to be thorough and professionally produced, there  is a clear conflict of interest and surely a    completely independent firm, who had no possible  vested interest in the outcome of the review    
The response was as follows
GrantThornton were the Council’s external auditors for the years 2002-03 to 2014-5 and the alleged fraud took place after this period of audit (the first alleged fraudulent transaction took place in July 2016). The Review considered the controls in place from the time the alleged fraud started and the extent to which controls had been revised since.

Other companies were considered and discounted before the appointment of
Grant Thornton; BDO for example were considered inappropriate as they are the
Council’s current auditors and PwC were discounted given they are the Council’s current internal auditors.GT have considerable experience and skills in this area and this response should give the public the reasons why they should have confidence that GT has carried out a professional review that can be relied upon

No conflict of interest exists.
Given that Grant Thornton were the auditors when the controls for the original contract were set up, as admitted in this response, this response is totally unsatisfactory. I am also very disturbed that the fraud is referred to as an alleged fraud twice. This is at odds with the facts. The fraudster was convicted. This is not alleged.  Is there another fraud? That can be the only explanation (apart from a complete misunderstanding of the law by the council).

The suplimental question I asked was why only three accountancy firms were mentioned and whether any others could have been selected. Councillor Finn announced in a very patronising tone "Yes of course there were". That is the level of response we get.

After public questions, Cllr Barry Rawlings, Labour Group leader addressed the committee. He was concerned about the redacted sections of the report which the councillors were being asked to vote on. He stated that councillors could not provide scrutiny if they were denied access to papers. A  discussion followed and Councillor Moore asked for a vote. Councillor Finn was rather surprised when the two new Tory Councillors broke rank, to allow the Labour motion to pass. For most people this would seem like a fine display of common sense and independence by Cllr's Prager and Jajeh, we congratulate them on their stance. It was pragmatic and appreciated by the public. This resulted in the committee going into closed session later to discuss the secret bits of the papers.

By then however I was long gone. 

3. Bin Collection Chaos.

As I mentioned above, I was long gone by the end of the meeting. I play five a side football on a Thursday (yes bloggers have a life). Afterwards, I usually adjourn to The Bridge in Mill Hill for a pint. As I was drinking with my football buddies, I was joined by one of our local UKIP activists, a regular at the Bridge. He was having a beer with a Barnet bin man. Although some may think UKIP have gone away, they are very much alive and well in Mill Hill and are actively working to recruit council workers, fed up with the Tories and looking for a party they feel can represent them. Odd though it may seem, I am happy to have a beer and a chat with people across the political spectrum.
The chap from UKIP was especially keen for me to hear what the binman had to say. I established that the chap was a UNISON member. He told me that the council knew the new routes were unworkable and furthermore told me that his supervisor had told him "It will get worse before it gets better". He said that in all his years in the council, and after all the changes he'd seen, this was the worst reorganisation he'd ever known. 

The chap fro UKIP's parting shot was interesting. He said "The Tories and Labour in Barnet Council have let down these guys. There is a lot of interest in UKIP in the workforce. You wouldn't see any of their councillors in the Bridge having a beer with real workers". As a Lib Dem who does drink beer in the Bridge with real workers, it put into focus exactly what happened in the council chamber. An out of touch committee chair, a bunch of politicians who would never set foot in a pub to sup with the workers, an executive who treat the public with contempt. Public questions get responses that are not only not answers, but are factually incorrect. 

I run a business. If the loo's are blocked, I unblock them. If an engineer has a problem, I sit next to them and help them. If I had been elected as a councillor, I would have joined a bin crew on a round, to see the problem. I would have spoken with the depot supervisors. I would have initiated  a root cause analysis on day 1 of the problems. None of this has been done. Councillors don't do dustcarts in Barnet. I think we are getting to the point where there is a very toxic mix brewing. As a blogger, I see it as my duty to speak to people from all walks of life and corners of the Borough. What I am hearing is more disturbing by the day. 

 Please excuse me for spoiling the joke.  Now I really must sell some guitars.

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free.