Generally, I don't criticise my fellow bloggers, but I have to confess, a post by Mr Reasonable, AKA John Dix really got under my skin today. I like John and I hope he does not take this criticism personally, but I feel his comments on Twitter this morning were completely out of order. Let me explain. He posted the following comments on the Barnet Council budget consultation
Sadly, out of a population of 396,000 people in Barnet, just 78 people responded to the budget consultation questionnaire (I was one of them). Just don't complain when the council imposes a budget and says there was no public opposition.— Mr Reasonable (@ReasonableNB) February 2, 2021
There are several points I take issue with. First, he implies that 78 people responding to what is a very long, complicated and detailed document is not "no public opposition". As I've been working 80 hour weeks at the studio, as my staff are furloughed, I did not have the opportunity to do the job properly. It normally takes me three days to read all of the documents, papers etc, do the background research and put my response together. I could have spent half an hour and put some glib comments in, but that would simply be wasting everyones time. I am assuming that 78 people put that effort in and to dismiss their efforts as nothing is plain rude. I think that is not a bad response at all, especially given that many of us have other things on our minds in a pandemic.
This year is probably the first year since 2009 that I have not gone through the budget and responded. As I've often stated, this is a time consuming process. When Richard Cornelius lead the Tories locally he'd even have public meetings to discuss these. I wrote a blog of one such meeting that was well attended back in 2018.
Over the period of this blog, I've written blogs on the budget, written private emails to councillors, attended such meeetings. I doubt that in all of that period, the local Conservative adminstration have given one seconds serious thought to the suggestions I made. Now I know they consider me to be a trouble making moron, but unlike most of them, I've run a successful business, that I built myself from scratch for 41 years. I can read a balance sheet, I can collaborate with partners, I can add value. I will give one example. Back in 2010, when I set up the Save Barnet Libraries campaign, I contacted the administration with a plan that would have negated the need for closures ( a plan they spent hundreds of thousands on then dumped when they realised the locals were turning against them). One item was to install solar panels on all our libraries. At the time, the govt was giving generous incentives, including a feed in tariff of 40p a unit. Had Barnet Council adopted this, they would now have over £3 million more in their coffers. Not only that, but it would have been good for the environment. I knew this, because we were putting solar energy in our new studio building complex. They didn't even bother responding to the suggestion, apart from a passing comment when I asked a meeting in council (when you still could) and was told "it is totally impractical". It is somewhat ironic that they now want to put solar panels up in our parks, even though all of the incentives have long gone. As an aside, I still support the concept of doing this for all public building.
When Mr Reasonable takes aim at locals, he is pointing his gun at the wrong target. There is a problem with local consultations. It is that you will spend hours working out responses, reasonable, well written and money saving, and they are totally ignored. The Barnet Tories changed the rules on asking questions at meetings, so it is impossible to ask a sensible set of questions about the budget. Questionairres are prescriptive, so you can only discuss the issues the council wish to discuss on the terms they want to discuss them in. I've more or less given up asking questions of the council as it is pointless. The rules simply encourage grandstanding, which is a waste of everyones time.
I've attended marches in Barnet with over 1,000 people in the snow, protesting about budget cuts. The reason these people are not responding is because Barnet Council and the Barnet Tories have made it quite clear that they would be wasting their time. It is not the fault of an apathetic population, it is the fault of an administration that has deliberately, over a long period, sought to exclude the public from proper, constructive engagement with the council. If you are a developer and want to spend bucks in Barnet, you have the ear of the council. If you are a resident, they don't want to know.
As I said, I like Mr Reasonable, but he has done two very dangerous things in this tweet. The first is that he has given the council permission to ignore any responses they did get. The second and far worse thing is that he's set a narrative that this lack of engagement is the fault of the people of Barnet rather than the administration that has coolly and in a calculating fashion worked so hard to discourage engagement.