Monday 31 January 2022

Barnet Council - An organisation that is not interested in engagement with the public

 On Friday, we published our analysis of a very disturbing report by the Chief Financial Officer of Barnet Council. This should be of interest to anyone who lives in the Borough, pays business rates or Council tax or has any interaction with Barnet Council. One such resident emailed me in despair today. They had read my report and had a serious question for the committee about the report. Their question was

The financial report of the Chief Financial Officer of Barnet Council was released after the deadline for questions. 
I have only just been made aware of it's release. 
Please can you ask the following question in relation to this item at Financial Performance and contracts committee:
It appears that Barratts PLC aka Barratt Metropolitan have substantial outstanding debts to Barnet Council. 
Please can you explain the nature of these debts ie what are they in relation to and why Barratts have not paid them?
Finally, where can we find copies of the relevant invoices on the Barnet planning portal?
If this is one too many question, please disregard the latter re invoices.
Could you also confirm your receipt of this e.mail.
With thanks and best wishes,
 This seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable question that any reasonable public authority, with a committment to transparancy would be only too happy to answer. You may be surprised at the response

Thank you for your email. Late questions can be allowed however this agenda item has already received two public questions and in accordance with the Council’s Constitution Article 3:
A maximum of two questions from residents may be asked per agenda item. These will be accepted in order of receipt. Any additional questions received will be not be accepted.
Therefore unfortunately this cannot be accepted. 

You may find the reference to the Constitution interesting. Barnet Council used to set a time limit of 30 minutes for public questions, with no limits on questions. One of the first Acts of Councillor Daniel Thomas, when he became Leader was to change the constitution to remove this scrutiny. This report, as I highlighted, is extremely important, but in a Borough of over 300,000 residents they only allow two questions. Back in 2019 when this change was made, I highlighted the risks. I take no pleasure in being right. 

My objections at the time of the changes were as follows

Let me spell out the issues (My comments in Red Italics)

1. Questions and comments should be amalgamated; it is perfectly possible to raise a comment as part of a question.  The number of words for each question/comment should be limited at 100.

If there is a complex technical issue to raise as a question, an arbitrary 100 word limit will prevent a properly constructed question, this is especially true for issues on budget. It will result in simple, inane, sloganistic questions, rather than sensible, well thought out, detailed questions.

2. Questions/comments should be raised under the current rules for questions.  This means that the council and lead officer would have notice of the question/comment before the meeting and would therefore be in a position to amend the committee report (if necessary) to include a relevant matter raised in the question/comment, if not currently within the committee report.

This is a sensible amendment

3. Residents may raise one question/comment on an agenda item.  The question/comment must relate to the substantive matter to be determined by the committee.  No more than two questions from residents will be allowed per agenda item taken in the order of receipt by the Governance Service.

If a resident notices multiple problems within a report, it will now be impossible for more than one to be addressed. This will mean that there is no opportunity to correct obvious errors. This will also favour organised pressure groups, trades unions and political campaigns, who can muster a gang of questioners, over ordinary, concerned residents. 

4. Residents may raise one question/comment per committee meeting in order to allow as many residents as possible to raise questions/comments and ask a supplementary question at Committee.

This is highly dishonest. Under the present system, residents questions are round robin'd so that you ask a question, then the next resident on the list does. When all residents have had a turn, the process starts again. No resident misses an opportunity under the existing system. 

5. The deadline for submitting a question/comment be extended to 10am two clear working days before the meeting.  Questions/comments will be responded to verbally at the meeting only.  Residents will be able to ask one supplementary question for each question/comment made.  If there is insufficient time to deal with all questions in the 30 minutes of allocated time, a written response will be provided within a reasonable period.  The Chairman should also have the discretion to request that a question answered at the meeting also be responded to in writing.

Whilst I welcome the extension of the deadline, the lack of a written answer is a clear attempt to a) limit the time available for questions. By answering the question, rather than supplying an answer, the half hour will soon be eaten up. Furthermore, it gives little opportunity for residents to ask supplementary questions. In short this is a ruse to stifle debate.

It is clear that the leader of the Barnet Tories, Councillor Dan Thomas, is not keen on the public, transparency or engagement. This was his first action as leader and it is quite frankly despicable.  Everyone in Barnet should be concerned. If for no other reason than the fact that the Borough would be £2 million worse off if these rules had been in place in 2012, when local residents and bloggers identified the Metpro Scandal. What sort of regime excludes the public and stifles public debate?

What has fascinated me is that I've seen a huge response to the recent articles, I've had eight times more blog views than usual and a huge amount of debate, comments, shares and retweets etc. A couple of Conservative councillors have privately contacted me to share their concerns about the corporate debt and other aspects of the report. There is a frustration that excuses get cut and pasted from one report to the next with no real effort to actually do anything. It strikes me that excluding the public from the scrutiny process has made the whole issue of scrutiny even more opaaque. I am not saying there is Corporate fraud in Barnet Council, but without proper scrutiny the environment where it can happen becomes a serious concern. What sickens me is that there is no real method for residents to raise this formally. 

Sunday 30 January 2022

The tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 30th January 2022

 So how has your week been? Mine has been pretty good. Nice curry in Aldgate yesterday (as mentioned yesterday), five a side at Powerleague on Thursday, a classic game! On Friday had a nice curry in Mill Hill and a couple of beers at The Services club with my old mate Boz Boorer. Yesterday, it was up to Brickfield Lane for football at Hadley FC for a very enthralling game of footie and today it's off to The Pizza Express for a Jazz lunch with Ian Shaw and Joe Stilgoe. Oh yeah, made a little video for the Save London Music Campaign as well, Please have a shufti. It's at the bottom of the page

But that's enough about me, what have Barnet's Twitteratti been up to? Here for your delectation, is my selection of the best tweets. 

1. Lets start with a follow up to one of last weeks tweets of the week. This was fascinating and hats off to the Mill Hill Historical Society for amazing slueth work

2. This has to be the most hilarious tweet of the week. My Father in law did the same thing with my sister in law!

3. Hats off to these fine people!

4. Nice!

5. Can anyone throw any light on the Cricklewood chipmunk uprising?

6. Love a good Ford Capri. My Dad had a souped up three litre Mk1 Capri, with a fancy paint job and a go faster stripe!

7. This is pretty damn good. Wish I'd know this was on

8. Always love a tweet with a handsome doggy in, especially if it's promoting something wonderful

9. Why not indeed?

10. A date for your diary, watch this space

Please have a look at this if you've got a minute and read this from The George Tavern in Shadwell

Saturday 29 January 2022

The Saturday List #335 - Ten great beer and curry locations I go to with my mate Keith from Croydon

 For the last 40 years, I've been meeting up with my mate Keith every month or two for a beer and a curry. He comes from North Wales and lives in Croydon, so we meet in town, visit a pub or two that serves proper ale (Keith is a Camra member) and then have a curry. Last year, when lockdown was lifted, he was probably the first mate I met up with. We met at Borough Market, had a pint at The Rake and adjourned to Est India in Union St. That was when I knew we'd come through the worst of the pandemic. I thought it would be good to list the best of our curry and beer routes.

1. Borough Market Area 1. I worked in Park St with Keith for a while, so I have a couple of takes on this, I've mentioned the Rake and Est India, which are both  wonderful.

2. Borough Market Area 2.  Another popular one on the list and if I am meeting with out of towners, I'd meet at The Globe in Borough Market, a real old atmospheric pub. It is nice to have a look around the market. There are plenty of other decent pubs, if you want a quiet one, I'd recommend the Mudlark. I'd adjourn to the Mango in Redcross Way. The Mango is a bit pricy but the food is good. 

3. Euston 1. There are a plethora of good pubs and Indian restaurants in and around Euston. If you like Veggie then I'd recommend a trip to Drummond St, however as Keith is an avowed carnivore, that's not on our radar. We usually meet at The Doric Arch, the pub in the Euston Bus Garage. A great selection of Real Ales, a Fullers pub. I love station pubs, they have a unique atmosphere. People don't often hang around too long. From there we'd adjourn to The Woburn Tandoori on Woburn Walk. A proper old school Indian.

4. Euston 2. Another popular run we do is more a Summer treat, we start at The Euston Tap (one of the little buildings at the front of Euston Station). In years gone by, we'd adjourn to the Bree Louise, which was a wonderful real ale pub, but was demolished for Crossrail. We'd then nip up to the Great Nepalese on Eversholt St.

5. Aldgate 1. This is what inspired me to write todays blog. On Tuesday, I met Keith for a beer at The Swan on Alie St and a curry at The Halal, London's oldest Tandoori. The Halal no longer serves beer, but you can get cans at the Sainsburys around the corner or take away from The Swan. It will be the cheeapest curry you will have in London.

6. Aldgate 2.  We were having a discussion about our next trip. We are both fans of the Lahore Kebab house on Commercial Road. We have decided to start with a trip to the Krays old haunt, The Blind Beggar near Whitechapel Station. The Lahore Kebab house is one of the best places to go if you like meat. It is great value.

7. Tottenham Court Road. This was where I was working when I first met Keith. At the time the area was buzzing with Indian Restaurants. Our favourite was the Neel Kamal on Percy St. Sadly, nearly all are no longer with us. We've not been down TCR for a beer and a curry for a long time, but we will and when we would have a beer at The Rising Sun, a beautiful pub on the corner of Windmill St and go to the Lal Qila, which is the last man standing of the restaurants we'd frequent back in 1984.

8. Blackfriars 1. There are a few good pubs and Indian Restaurants in Blackfriars. I worked around there in both the mid 1980's for BT and more recently until 2014, so I know it well.  There is no way that anyone should not visit the Blackfriar Pub at least once. It is a wonderful building and serves excellent beers. Indian City is a none too bad traditional curry house and well worth a visit. 

9. Blackfriars 2. There are many nice pubs in the area, which over the years we've frequented. I'd recommend a walk down Fleet St, taking in Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, The Tipparary and The Old Bell, then a curry at The Bengal Tiger on Carter Lane. A more modern menu. 

10. Victoria. We also worked together in Victoria. We try and get down there once in a while, we quite like The Jugged Hare for its great range of beers. Our curry house of choice was The Jomuna, which did the best prawn curry in London. I've just googled it and it is now the Lovage, which means I cannot recommend it, but I hope that we'll get down there sometime soon. It is handy for Keith as he's a Croydon boy and it's convenient for Victoria. 

What are your favourite beer and curry night destinations in London? Always interested to find new places.  

Friday 28 January 2022

Barnet Council chief financial officer releases his report and it is a nightmare.

 The Chief financial officer of Barnet Council has released their report, very late. The deadline for questions to the committee reviewing it was 10am yesterday morning. We've secured an extension, so questions can be taken. There are several highly concerning issues.

Here are my main concerns. 

Corporate debt.

It seems that Barnet Council has lost control of it's debtors. It has over £17 million of corporate debt, eleven million of which is more than 90 days old. Interestingly, Capita, who feature prominently in the list are responsible for debt collection. 

Click on image for more readable image

5.18 Regular discussions are taking place relating to NHS North Central London CCG debt. A payment of £4m expected to be made in Month 8 will now be made during Month 9. There has been recent agreement to pay on account for sums in respect of client recharges this will result in a further £4.5m of invoices outstanding being settled during Month 10. The account remains under close monitoring. 

5.19 Legal discussions with The Fremantle Trust are ongoing. 

5.20 The Comer Homes debt was cleared in Month 9. 

5.21 Barratt Metropolitan LLP have paid £0.473m in Month 9. The remainder is under discussion with property services. 

5.22 There are on-going final account negotiations with Conway to recover the outstanding debt, it is not known as yet when this is likely to be concluded. 

5.23 Capita Business Services Ltd have paid the older than 30 days debts in Month 9 and the Accounts Receivable team are in discussion around the other balances. 

5.24 Discussions are ongoing with the Metropolitan Police to reconcile the council invoices to their AP system and purchase orders. 

5.25 Discussions are ongoing regarding the NHS Enfield CCG debt alongside the other CCG debts. 

5.26 Capita Property & Infrastructure Ltd have paid £0.105m in Month 9 and they are investigating why the remaining balance has not been paid.

This really should be the subject of an Audit committee investigation. It is simply not right that taxpayers should have to carry the can for corporate debt running out of control. All I can really say is that the council needs a big overhaul of its debt management processes.

A  few other notes

Brent Cross – The current 2021/22 position for the overall scheme is £4.849m over budget prior to the re-alignment virement agreed at P&R on 9 December 2021, which has aligned the forecast to the M7 detailed position. The overall programme has acknowledged potential inflationary pressures due to the impact of Covid-19. At present a detailed risk register is maintained within the service which includes pressures and efficiencies. As and when these potentially crystalise these will be included in the forecast as appropriate. 

I am not at all sure why Barnet Council should be losing money on a commercial development risk. These things should be earners for the council. Once again Barnet Council shows it cannot manage large projects.

Depot Relocation – slippage of £2.082m into 22/23 relating to land purchase costs materialising in 22/23, adjustments to works programmes, and rescheduling of works at the Brogan’s site

This has been a fiasco from start to finish, another £2 million down the drain. 

Environment – At Month 8 Environment is forecast to spend to £22.765m against budget, with £4.649m slippage. 

Another four and a half million 'slippage' here. More proof that Barnet Council is not managing its budget.

Collection Fund – Council Tax 

5.0 Overall collection continues to slightly improve compared to last year at 70.66%, which is 0.05% more than November 2020, but 1.11% lower than the previous year (i.e.prepandemic). In cash terms, current collection levels are £13.99m higher than last year and £15.4m higher than November 2019 (pre - pandemic) – this is due in part to annual increases in both the council tax base and the household charge over two budget cycles. 

It seems that over 30% of people in Barnet have not paid their council tax. This is appalling. More than three in ten households in Barnet are not paying council tax.

The summary contains a truly bizarre statement

The financial position for the current year continues to be marked by uncertainty, however as we get closer to the end of the financial year, the uncertainty levels are reducing and increasingly the risks and opportunities on the budget are either falling away or converting to actual costs and overspends, from a combination of the impact of Covid-19 and other pressures including inflationary increases and supply chain and distribution challenges. 

Suggesting that risks are falling away because they are turing into 'actual costs and overspends' is perhaps the strangest statement I've ever seen on a Council report. 

To summarise. Barnet can't manage projects properly, can't manage corporate debt and can't collect council tax properly. In short, the Barnet Tories have destroyed the ability to function as a council over the period since Mike Freer MP was leader and launched the One Barnet Outsourcing programme. You may not believe me, but the evidence is there in black and white from the chief financial officer.

I have submitted the following question to the committee on this subject

"Given that the CFO's report details that corporate debt is being mismanaged, council tax collection is less than 70% and that several major infrastructure projects have millions of pounds of cash overruns, what level of confidence can we have in this adminstration to manage taxpayers finances?".

Thursday 27 January 2022

Don't let Twitter Trolls bug you. Block them and enjoy the good stuff

When I first learned of Twitter (which then had a 128 character limit), I thought it dangerous and felt it risked trivialising serious issues, I avoided it like the plague. How can you have a serious debate when you have so few letters to make your case? I was persuaded to relent, as friends pointed out that I was missing the opportinity to promote my blogging activities, which are important to me. I am still not sure I made the right decision, although having just shy of 3,000 genuine followers, all of whom are lovely, I do realise I shouldn't judge the community by the dozen or so vainglorious fools I've blocked. 

Almost immediately I regretted joining. I discovered the appalling world of Trolls. I discovered that people actually think having lots of fake and phoney accounts following you is not only desirable but worth spending time and money on. I learned that some rather silly people judge you by the size of your following, rather than the quality of what you post. I found that some people see Twitter as a game of "Gotcha!". I discovered that some people set up accounts where they pretend to be someone else, purely to congratulate themselves on the marvellous quality of their own tweeting. For the first few years, with a sense of pompous self importance, I had a policy of blocking no one and always responding to lies, misinformation and all of the other rubbish we have to endure. Then I was diagnosed with cancer, took a long, hard look at myself and realised that not only was this futile, it was stupid and damaging. I took a different path. If I think someone is an idiot, I block them and ignore them. Quite often, friends screen shot and send me details of the stupidity of some of the worst people I've come across, but I have no interest in them. Why would anyone choose to fill their life with nonsense? Very occasionally, today was one such day, I get sent a screenshot and my curiosity gets the better of me and I have little peek at what the Trolls have been up to. 

Invariably, I see a stream of banal rubbish, that any sane person would block. It has absolutely confirmed my determination to exclude such rubbish from my timeline and my thought processes. In some ways, the worst trolls I've encountered have done me an enormous favour, as they made me realise that blocking stuff that is boring, stupid and plain idiotic is a great idea. If it isn't directed at me, I just unfollow the account, but if stupid people want to start a dialogue that is purely done to irritate, it is very much C U Next Twaterday mate. 

What is interesting is how Trolls are almost universally narcissistic, thin skinned, very unintelligent (often pretending they have degrees from Oxbridge, when their tweeting displays that the only time they've been to Oxford is to buy a tin of beans from Aldi) and compulsive liars. They regularly contradict themselves. They adopt confrontational positions, which they post remorselessly, posting links to dubious websites and Daily Mail comment articles as 'proof' and 'facts'. They develop unhealthy obsessions with unsavoury characters, who they see as fellow travellers, remorselessy retweeting them. They will manically post dozens of tweets, then completely disappear for a while, only to re-emerge (I wonder if it is when the Largactol wears off?). They love to tweet how wonderful they are, how many followers they have, how they were the first to do something, yet never actually post any content of their own, preferring to nick the pictures of others. I am constantly surprised that when Trolls do post original content, it is always awful. Pictures are badly composed, websites they create are dull and unoriginal, which look like adverts for 1970's cats home bazar's. It seems that many Trolls seem to think that their imaginary friends are real people. I am sure many of them could do with some counselling ( I am not saying this as a dig, I'd genuinely like to see them get help and get a life). 

When I say this, I am, of course, completely ignoring the good side of Twitter. The side we highlight on the Tweets of the Week. The interesting info, the good guys. The rich goldmine of fascinating information. These keep me engaged with the medium.I have a small hope that Twitter will become what it should be, interesting and fun. This will happen, when people stop getting sucked into battles with Trolls and simply ignore them, block them and move on. You don't deliberately pull up a chair at the Pub Bore's table if you see them in your local. You move on to the next pub. Do the same with Twitter

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Barnet Council finally releases the much awaited review of Capita contracts and it is rather embarrassing

 Yesterday, the Barnet Eye revealed that Barnet Council was late releasing the much awaited review of Capita contracts. We have now obtained this report and it is posted on the Council website. I must confess that I was verbally tipped off by one of my moles as to what to expect. It is clear that the council has 'sanitised' the report from what I was orginally informed would be in there, although with my Inspector Clouseau hat on it is pretty appalling.

Lets start with the recommendations.

Officer Recommendations 

That the Financial Performance and Contracts Committee: 

1. Notes the current position in respect of the contract extension proposals, as set out in section 2 of this report; 

2. Agrees that further work is required to inform recommendations on the future delivery of services; and 

3. Notes the next stages of activity, as set out in section 4 of this report.

In short, there only real recommendation is that the Council does 'more work' on the reviw.

So what does it say in Section 2 of the report?

2.1 Capita’s extension proposals were received by the council at the end of October 2021. As reported to this Committee in November 2021, whilst this is not a procurement exercise in the usual sense, a rigorous evaluation process had been developed that is consistent with normal tender evaluation procedures. The process involved colleagues from the commercial and financial teams, as well as client leads, and was based on the criteria previously applied during the 2018/19 review of the contracts: 
Strategic control 20%
Quality 35%
Value for money 35% 
Social value 10%
2.2 In accordance with good practice, each officer involved evaluated the proposals independently and then a series of moderation panels were held, where individual views were discussed and an agreed score and commentary were recorded.
2.3 The evaluation process envisaged a two-stage approach, with feedback being provided to Capita following the first stage to enable modifications to provide a “best and final offer”. The council reserved the right to reject the proposals at any point.
2.4 As anticipated by the two-stage process, the initial proposals did not meet the council’s expectations to the extent that they could be considered to be acceptable. In particular, the proposals fell short of expectations in relation to the value for money criteria that had been set.
2.5 Detailed feedback on the evaluation outcomes was provided to Capita and they submitted a document titled “Update to Proposal for Extension of Services” on 17th December 2021. This Update acknowledged that further dialogue would be required, before a “best and final” offer could be formulated.
2.6 The Update has been evaluated using the same process as was applied to the initial proposals. In some areas, the Update has addressed evaluating officers’ feedback to the extent that the proposals are now considered to be acceptable. However, in other areas, whilst the Update has demonstrated some movement in the right direction, it has not fully addressed the feedback to the satisfaction of the evaluating officers, so has not yet reached the necessary threshold to be considered acceptable.
2.7 In respect of the value for money criteria, additional information was provided in the Update document to explain the financial aspects of the proposal, but no significant amendments were made to them. The financial and commercial elements of the proposal are complex, which also means that further work is required to fully understand the relationship between the proposals and the current budget envelope. As a result, it is not yet possible to confirm that the proposal meets the council’s expectations in respect of value for money.
2.8 It has, therefore, been concluded that officers are not yet in a position to make firm recommendations regarding the extension of the contracts and there will need to be further dialogue to reach that position. 
2.9 Alongside the evaluation process, the council has received details from Capita of the current costs of providing these services. This information is essential to inform our assessment of the potential cost of bringing any services back in-house. At this stage, it is not possible to provide a definitive view of the cost of running services in-house, due to the complexities referenced above. Further information and clarification is being sought from Capita in order to fully understand the position.
2.10 Under the terms of the two contracts, the council is required to make a decision on any extensions and notify Capita of its intentions no later than 1st September 2022. Capita has indicated its willingness to continue to work with the council to resolve the concerns relating to the extension proposals and ensure that the final proposals are acceptable to both parties. At this stage it is considered that such an agreement should be achievable.
2.11 Officers are also investigating the viability of further alternative options that could be affordable in the context of the current budget envelope, if agreement is not reached. 

So lets look at a few points here. From 2.4 "In particular, the proposals fell short of expectations in relation to the value for money criteria that had been set."

 It would come as no surprise to anyone who has followed this saga, that Capita's proposals were not deemed value for money. 

In 2.6, it was noted, in respect to the amended proposals by Capita "in other areas, whilst the Update has demonstrated some movement in the right direction, it has not fully addressed the feedback to the satisfaction of the evaluating officers, so has not yet reached the necessary threshold to be considered acceptable."

In plain English, this means that the proposals were still completely unacceptable.

Which takes us on to section 2.8 which states "It has, therefore, been concluded that officers are not yet in a position to make firm recommendations regarding the extension of the contracts and there will need to be further dialogue to reach that position. "

In plain English, Capita have not made viable proposals, upon which the Council could make a proper decision. I find this quite disturbing. Capita have been involved with Barnet Council for many years now. The concept that Council officers do not have the information to make a decision is ridiculous. It is not 'further dialogue' that is needed. What is needed is either substancial amendments to what Capita are offering, to deliver value for money, or a decision to move away to an in house solution or a more cost effective supplier.

Even more disturbing is the information in section 2.9. It is clear that Capita are not providing the information required by Barnet Council to make proper cost comparisons to support a move back to an in house service. The only conclusion that a fair minded observer can make is that the Council's biggest supplier is being unco-operative. It would appear to us that the reason for this is because Capita are aware that an In house service is likely to offer better value for money.

Section 2.11 states that "Officers are also investigating the viability of further alternative options that could be affordable in the context of the current budget envelope, if agreement is not reached." 

In plain English, we assume they are working on a plan B, if they have to boot Capita out and trying to see if this can be met within the constraints of the existing budget.  I have been privately informed that the issue is not that an In House solution will be more expensive over the lifetime of the contract. It won't and everyone within Barnet Council knows this. The issue is that there will be a huge spike in costs as services are moved back, before the savings can be realised. The issue for Barnet Council is that whilst the changeover is going on, it will be very painful for the council finances. It is not clear whether the reserves support this (as I understand).

Anyway on to section 4.  This says


4.1 Dialogue will continue with Capita with a view to shaping the proposals to ensure that they meet the needs of both parties. 

4.2 Work will also be carried out to investigate and assess the viability of the alternative options for each service. This will include further work on understanding the likely cost and other implications of returning services inhouse, as well as the potential for re-procuring services. 

4.3 The outcomes of this work will be reported to the first meeting of the Financial Performance and Contracts Committee after the May elections.

The really disturbing thing is the statement "4.3 The outcomes of this work will be reported to the first meeting of the Financial Performance and Contracts Committee after the May elections."

If, as is looking increasingly likely, the Barnet Conservatives lose control of Barnet Council, an incoming regime will be left with a complete mess. It strikes me as highly likely that this update will be very bleak and impose huge stress on the Council budget. The Conservatives, having created the mess, will blame the incoming regime for the problems and wash their hands of the mismanagement that caused the problems. In the unlikely event that they hang on, I suspect that we will see a ruthless cutting of everything that the council are not legally obliged to provide. They have deliberately pushed this into the long grass, before the Election, to hoodwink the electors of Barnet.

As far as I am concerned, it is disgusting behaviour. It's there in black and white, so don't be surprised.

I have a question for the Committee next week. It was not the question that I expected to be asking, I have to admit. The quesion is this.

"In light of the statement "Officers are also investigating the viability of further alternative options that could be affordable in the context of the current budget envelope, if agreement is not reached." laid out  in  section 2.11 of the Capita Contract review, does the council have sufficient financial resources to manage a transition from Capita, whilst maintaing the current level of services, in the event that Barnet Council cannot agree an extension to the Capita contract and what is the likely impact this will have on Council tax and existing provision of services?"

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Barnet Council deliberately circumventing public scrutiny of key issues - The Proof

Next Tuesday, in a weeks time, there is an important meeting of the Barnet Council Finacial Performance and Contracts committee. One of the key items is the review of the Capita Contract. I logged in today to review the papers and saw this in the order of business.

I was hoping to review the papers for Item 7, review of Capita Contracts and provide my feedback to the council. According to the constitution, this has to be done by Thursday morning - the papers say

"In line with the Constitution’s Public Participation and Engagement Rules, requests to submit public questions must be submitted by 10AM on the third working day before the date of the committee meeting. Therefore, the deadline for this meeting is Thursday 27 January 2022 at 10AM. Requests must be submitted to Salar Rida 020 8359 7113 "

In short, I do not have enough time to exercise my right as a resident and council tax payer to properly scrutinise and provide feedback to the council in regards to this matter, which I have followed on this blog since it's inception. I will be writing to the Council CEO John Hooton to ask that this meeting be postponed and the council discharge their duties to local people properly. I have a full time job, so when the council do not provide papers in good time, it is impossible to properly review them.

I also note that the details of the Chief financial officers report has not been provided and that the Sarancens Loan Review and Brent Cross review are deemed to sensitive for the public to hear. This is how we do democracy in Barnet.

In short, the public are held in contempt. I just hope that in May, when we have an election, we get a council that is not so scared of the public that it won't let them see what they are up to. 

***** Update *****

We have secured an extension to the deadline for comments for this item from the CEO of Barnet Council following our email. Here is Mr Hooton's response




I am aware that these reports are due to be published imminently. We will give flexibility on the deadline for public comments if reports are published late. I have copied Andrew Charlwood on this who will be able to keep in touch with you and ensure that your comments are included in the meeting.


Kind regards,




John Hooton
Chief Executive

Monday 24 January 2022

What was the last gig you went to? Time to support live music

 On Saturday night, I was up at the Black Horse in High Barnet to see my good mates The Silencerz. The band was put together by Madness Sax player Lee Thompson and his son Daley. They are by far the most entertaining band you'll see in a pub or club in Barnet this year and you will be pleased to know you'll have the opportunity to see them at The Bull Arts Centre in Barnet on the 19th February.

It was my first gig of the year.  I have quite a few booked up, as live music is a big part of my life. It was great being in a room that was really rocking! If you are at a loose end, why not make your way down to The Three Wishes in Edgware for the jam night. Alan Warner of The Foundations will be in action and Alan is always wonderful.

As the pandemic is starting to lift, bands are starting to book gigs and promoters and venues are starting to fill their diaries. Grassroots venues are the absolute backbone of the UK Music scene. It is on life support at the moment. Those of us who are musicians need your support as never before.  

I was speaking to Robert Elms on behalf of the Save London Music Festival on Friday on his show on BBC Radio London. As an example of some great gigs, I pointed him at The 100 Club. They have an amazing programme of gigs coming up.

There are some excellent ones coming up! Despite not seeing a gig last year until June, it turned out to be a classic year for me and live music. London is relatively quiet, many restaurants have great deals, transport is quiet. Why not treat yourself?


Sunday 23 January 2022

The tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 23rd January 2022

 How has your week been? I've had a pretty good week. Five a side footy on Thursday, pleasant evening in the services club on Friday and a wonderful evenings entertainment last night at The Black Horse in Barnet in the company of the rather wonderful Mr Lee Thompson of Madness and The Silencerz. It is great seeing a cracking band in a pub again. It was packed.

Anyway, enough of my week. What have the rather wonderful tweeters of the Borough of Barnet been up to.

1. Lets start with a date for your diary from one of our favourite Tweeters

2. A sad little bit of Bunrt Oak history. I didn't know about this, it's one of the reasons I still love Twitter. Ron is a wonderful Tweeter

3. If you want to get on this list, a bit of Rock and Roll memorabilia is a surefire way. The Sparrowhawk in Broadfields, Edgware was a real hub of 70's and 80's rock and roll. The Meteor's are well worth a check out

4. Another great tweet by the Mill Hill Historical Society

5. INteresting bit of local industrial history here

6. This tweet is wonderful!

7. I do like a good console! Nice

8. Goal of the week in the Borough of Barnet (well by a Borough of Barnet team to be correct) - How did the rather marvellous Jordan Edwards get this in?

9. Now this was an impressive setup!

10. And finally.... Ever fancied doing a bit of writing for your local paper? Here's your chance!

That's all folks!

Saturday 22 January 2022

The Saturday List #334 - Ten words or phrases that completely baffle me

This is a list I should have done years ago. Some real bugbears of mine. I make no bones about it. I'm as thick as two short planks. It is a wonder that I've managed to do anything at all in my life. I couldn't read or write effectively until I was 12. I couldn't do long division either. At St Vincents, we'd have a weekly spelling test. If you learned all ten words correctly and wrote them down properly, there was a list of everyone in the class and you'd get a star next to your name. I never got a single star. When my folks went up for parents evening, they were horrified. Both made a concerted attempt to get me to learn the words. It failed miserably. The next parents evening, I was still starless. The teacher suggested that they help me and make sure I did the homework. They told them they had. The teacher sighed and said "You will just have to come to terms with the fact that your son is as thick as a plank". It never occurred to anyone that I was dyslexic. Miraculously, when I was 14, the problems seemed to abate. I am still rubbish at spelling, but I actually started to pass tests and exams and read books. I got into trash Sci Fi, I think the escapeism appealled to me. I even learned to do long division, I'm not too bad at Maths and may even have passed a Maths A Level if we hadn't had six teachers in two years for the course, five of whom were useless. The sixth was brilliant, but got a better job at another school at the end of the first Xmas term. 

However, to this day, I have a real problem with some words and phrases. Some completely baffle me, some just irritate me because they are wrong. Often people assume that I know what they are on about when I am totally clueless. Here are my top ten baffling words and phrases.

1. Non Fungible Tokens.  Someone at the studio was talking about them. I looked up the term on Wikipedia, but I am still baffled. How can a unique item of data be an art scam? 

2. Nouns, verbs and synonyms. I've always got all of these things mixed up.  I had a horror of this as a child. At St Vincents we had a fierce teacher called Miss O'Donovan who would bark "Roger, give me a verb" and my mind would go blank and I'd say "A dog" because my sister had explained that "The dog ate my homework" used a verb. No matter how many times it's explained, I instantly forget and mix them all up. 

3. Crotchet and quavers. This is a bit embarrassing, being a musician, but I also mix these up. When I started writing songs with Pete Conway, I'd say "It starts with three fast chungs like this" and strum the chords out. I'm lucky enough to work with people who know what they are actually doing.

4. Heraldic authority. When I was about nine, my Dad told me he was getting me a very special present for my birthday. I was hoping for Scalextrix or a train set. I was presented with "The Tichborne coat of arms, certified by a heraldic authority". To say this disappointed me would be an understatement. But my Dad was enormously proud of it. I asked him what a heraldic authority was. I've never heard such a stream of meaningless gobbledygook in my life. It was probably the only time I can recall my Dad being pretentious. A few years later, we went to Tichborne Mansion in Hampshire. They had the Tichborne coat of arms on the wall. It was different. 

5. Existential phenominology. I occasionally throw this phrase into conversations to pretend I'm clever, but I have no clue what it means. My sister Valerie took part in a beauty contest in 1970. The host was Monty Modlyn, a big celebrity back in the day. He asked her what her hobby was. She replied existential phenominiology. Monty was taken aback. He whispered something in her ear. We all assumed he had asked her what it meant. She revealed he said "If you come for a drink with me later, I'll make sure you win". All I can really say is that she came second and we all knew she'd been robbed! I asked Val what it meant and she said "Dunno, just thought it sounded impressive"

6. Agile working. I worked in IT for many years. Over the years there were many fads, towards the end of my career, the key one was agile working. People were sent on courses, we were all instructed to "Go agile". I got sent on a couple of courses. I got the feeling that no one had a clue what it was all about. I did my own research. I found that Agile is allegedly based on the 12 founding agile principles. As this resulted in an absolute deluge of useless processes, I was amused to learn that one of the principles is this "The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation"   the truth is that no one really seems to know what it really is and many of those who claim to be experts don't even know the basic principles.

7. "The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams". This is another of the Agile principles. As you can see, Agile really is a bugbear of mine. This is one of the principles that is a totally meaningless statement, yet people fell for this hogwash. In my experience, the best architectures, requirements and designs emerge when you employ people who know what they are doing and give them the resources and trust to do it. It all goes wrong when you employ incompetent buffoons. In my esxperience if you let such people self organise, they create mayhem. 

8. Stereotypical. Of course I know what stereotypical means. But I just don't understand why the word is used. The word stereo, according to the dictionary means "sound that is directed through two or more speakers so that it seems to surround the listener and to come from more than one source; stereophonic sound." I've no idea how this makes someone stereotypical? Baffling

9. Spam. This is another word that I understand what it means, but I have no idea why it was adopted to describe crap emails that you don't want? I was always rather partial to Spam fritters. When you were skint and walking home in the cold, nothing was better than a spam fritter and chips. I can only assume that the Internet and email systems were set up by gastronomic snobs, who think decent nosh is fois gras?

10. Nouvelle Cuisine. This is a phrase I just don't understand at all. I sort of translate it to "a form of food designed for snobbish fools, who are too stupid to realise that being palmed off with tiny portions and charged an arm and a leg for it, is a complete scam". A couple of times I've endured this. The last time, I had to nip into burger king after as I was bloody starving. As far as I'm concerned, if you leave the restaurant hungry, they are a dodgy institution. It literally means new cooking. If you want to overcharge for a service, just spell it in French, although for my business, renting a Salle de rΓ©pΓ©tition doesn't exactly sound sexy!

Anyway, have a great weekend. If you haven't heard my new single yet, please have a listen.

Friday 21 January 2022

When did we vote to abolish the Metropolitan Police?

In 2018, local MP Matthew Offord hosted a Q&A with the local Police chief in Mill Hill, following the murder of a local shop keeper. The meeting saw people tell tales of violent burglaries that no one had been caught for doing and an explaination that the Police really had more important things to do in Mill Hill than catch violent burglars and deal with anti social behaviour You can read what happened here 

Matthew Offord hosts meeting to discuss crime in Mill Hill at Hartley Hall - Part 1

and here

Since those meetings took place, friends of mine have suffered the following:

Stolen cars


Violent Assaults

Thefts from businesses

Vandalism of property

Not a single one has resulted in anyone being apprehended or a conviction being secured. In each case, a crime number was given and an offer was made of victim support. That was it. The victims were given an almost zero expectation of any sort of resolution of the crime. It has become clear to me that we no longer have what we used to call a working police force. We have a semi paramilitary force. which only interacts with the public when there is a strong reason to, ie policing protests, protecting airports. Then we have a bureacratic organisation that simply takes reports doles out numbers and sends people around to dole out sympathy. We are advised to dial 101 for non serious crime. Whenever I've tried this, I've had to hang on for 10-20 minutes before getting through. Usually by this time the situation has resolved itself. A year or two ago, I observed some young people starting fires at Arrandene in the car park. I rang 101. By the time I got through, they'd left. 

If you query this, the answer is always the same "It's not a priority". There is a culture pervading that saying 'we have higher priorities' makes this OK. But I don't know anyone who actually agrees. I have yet to meet anyone who wants to see less police on the street to save the price of a espresso coffee a week. It is almost universal that people want an effective police force and unarmed police walking the street. They want burglars to be caught, kids to be prevented from vandalism. I can't remember an election where any candidate said "We are going to put less Police on the street" or "We are going to try less hard to arrest criminals".

 I was having a drink with a couple of friends last night after 5 a side football and one of them said something that struck a rather disturbing note. He mentioned about getting nabbed by the Police for scrumping as a child. He was marched to his parents house and got a good telling off. I was mulling over this as I was walking to work this morning. The walk is approximatetly half a mile and in the process of this walk, five police cars sped past. Three were unmarked but had blue lights. A blue van with "Territorial Support Group" also sped past, sirens blaring. It made me wonder when I'd last seen a policeman on the street. The answer, rather disturbingly was outside St Pancras Station before Xmas. A couple of Officers were standing guard with machine guns. This is the current state of the police in 2022.

I believe that we need a massive recruitment drive for the Metropolitan Police, not just police, but back office support staff as well. These would free up expensively trained officers to do their job. We need to see the Police back in the community and back on our high street. We need the Police to talk to people on the street and build up good community relations. We need burglars and car theives to have an expectation that they will get caught and punished.

Did we Vote to abolish the Metropolitan Police as we used to know it? I don't believe we did. Quite the opposite. Time and again, we get promises of better policing from both the Tories and Labour parties.  We have a Labour Mayor and Tory government, but between them we have a situation where if you are the victim of a crime, unless someone murders you or blows your place of work up, you are most unlikely ever to get more than a crime number from the Police. This is simply not right. If it is a question of "priorities" that simply means the Police lack the cash to do the job. I cannot believe that us as citizens are prepared to put up with a service that puts our wellbeing at such risk.