Thursday 10 March 2022

How is Barnet Council responding to the war in Ukraine

 When I started the Barnet Eye, I did so because I felt that the local press wasn't doing its job, in relation to keeping an eye on the activities of Barnet Council. The blog is interested in local issues, generally I leave national issues to others, although clearly I have an opinion and I do on occasion blog about these, as the big issues do impact Barnet. I always try and look at issues from a local perspective. 

Which brings me to the crisis in the Ukraine. To me this has been a depressing and devastating war. I had a couple of days when I felt extremely depressed about the situation. I've worried for my children, but over the last couple of days, I've started to gather my thoughts and think about what we can do on a hyper local level. My eldest daughter has left home, so we have a spare bedroom. It strikes me that it is immoral that I have an empty room and there are people who might need a roof over their heads as a result of the crisis. I thought I'd have a look at what Barnet Council are doing to see if there were any local schemes where people can assist. If you read the page, you will realise that the answer is absolutely nothing (apart from putting a page signposting where else to go). 

This is a misconception that councils shouldn't get involved in all of that sort of thing. There are two reasons why this is wrong. The first is that London is the Capital city of the world, we have citizens from just about every nation living in our Borough. They need support, help and reassurance. Ukrainians living in Barnet may have relatives who are fleeing the war and who need a roof over their head. Most people on a budget, unlike me, don't have a spare room. Surely Barnet Council should be leading the way in helping these to find a place near friends and family. I'd be more than happy to help someone out for a few months. The only caveat I have is that they must be OK with large (friendly) dogs. 

The second reason is that there used to be a concept in the Council called 'civic pride'. It manifested itself in many ways. Barnet Council used to take pride in the way it maintained our parks, swept our streets, twinned with foreign towns, had exchange programs and looked beyond the boundaries of our Borough to say 'Barnet is a wonderful place, come and have a look'. How did that manifest itself? The Council had a museum in Hendon called Chiurch Farmhouse Museum. They would have all manner of exhibitions celebrating our local community and heritage. A few that made a strong impression on me were ones such as the Harry Beck (inventor of the tube map) who lived locally. Then there was the one that really excited me, the Sound of the Suburbs exhibition, which celebrated the Rock and Roll history of the Borough. However, the most interesting of all was a collection of photographs, retreived from a skip, following the death of a local press photograpaher, which chronicled the Spanish Civil War. 

Sadly, Barnet Council and the Conservatives who run it, have abolished the concept of civic pride. They closed Church Famhouse museum to save a few pennies. It is now offices for Middlesex University. The argument is always that there is 'not enough cash'. This is complete rubbish. Following the second world war, in 1948, the UK was virtually bankrupt, but we maintanined parks, museums, created the NHS, built council houses. Now we would rather have a cup of frothy coffee or two a week than fund all this. Tax has become a dirty word. Whilst the Barnet Conservatives have given up on 'Civic Pride' and doing the right thing, I don't believe locals have. 

I posted this tweet earlier (At the time of writing I've had no response from Barnet Council)

There were several replies which pointed me at varous individuals and schemes.  I am heartened that we do care. We need a council that reflects this. 

I just want to say a few words about the 'spending taxpayers money' charge that the Barnet Conservatives always reel out. I'm an engineer by trade. As such I've made a career by making things work better. That is what engineers do. If you look at your phone or your computer and think what they did 30 years ago and what they do now, consider this. Because they are designed by engineers, they are cheaper and do infinitely more things. Barnet Council is designed by accountants. It does far less and charges you far more than it ever has.  Even other Conservative Councuil Tories are taunting the Barnet Conservatives for their huge tax rises, trolling them for having raised tax by over 50% more than Tory Hillingdon Council.

But it doesn't need to be like this. I've run a successful business for the last 42 years. I know better than anyone, that the worst solution to any problem is to throw money at it. One of the reasons I want to stand for council is I believe that it is badly run and a better administration would save money and do a better job. Let me give you a simple example.

At the studio, like everyone, we are facing a huge increase in energy costs. This is starting to seriously affect our profitability. So we had a brainstorming session. A few sums showed that replacing all of our remaining non energy efficent bulbs would result in a net saving in six months. We then considered other measures. The easiest and cheapest is simply to turn off lights and heaters immediately that a session finishes. I drove past the buildings of Barnet Council recently after office hours. Maybe a few lights off there would save a few bob? 

All across the Borough I see waste by Barnet Council. I see bodged repairs of potholes and pavements. I'm not a fan of candidates who you never see until just before elections, who then wander around pointing at potholes, pretending they care. They don't. What they should be doing is reporting the pothole and then checking the repairs and feeding back to the council if they are not done properly. Contractors should not be paid for shoddy work. 

In short, we need civic pride. This starts with clean streets, well maintained parks but it extends to a council that says "We will set an example with how we deal compassionately with refugees and we'll take the whole of Barnet with us". 

Here is a little reminder of what civic pride is. This is the video I made the day the Barnet Conservatives shut Church Farmhouse Museum


No comments: