Wednesday, 23 March 2022

The Greatest hits of the Barnet Eye week - Day 2 - The Freedom pass scandal

 In day two of our series, I look at something that clearly shouldn't have happened. One of the things I'm proud about is that people trust me. People tell me things. Sometimes, I see something and I don't know what to say about it. I don't know what to do. On April 4th 2016, I got a message from a young man I know quite well. I consider him a friend. I've not read this blog since it was posted and it is just as shocking today. The young man lives with autism, he had worked at my business as part our work experience programme and he felt I was someone he could trust.

The message he sent me told of how he'd been trying to get the tube and found that his Freedom Pass had been cancelled. This was a stressful situation, he had no idea what was going on. When I received his message, I made some enquiries and checked that he was happy with me publishing it. Please read this, it is the full, unedited transcript of his message. So what had happened? Barnet Council had illegally cancelled hundreds of vulnerable people's Freedom Passes and not all had been told. A fellow blogger saw a similar thing happen on a bus. They did not realise what was going on until they read my blog. I had made enquiries and it immediately became clear what had happened. I then received another email, from a mum who was the parent of friend of one of my kids, who again was vulnerable and had suffered a similar humiliating experience

After discussions with my young friend and his mum, we agreed that he'd go public and share his story in a Youtube video. Within hours, hundreds of people had watched his video. It was a brave thing to do and I was reticent about publishing it, but it was his idea and he insisted. It is worth watching to understand just how a stroke of a pen at a Council meeting can have such awful consequences. 

The local and national press got involved and by May 15th, Barnet Council had apologised and reinsatted the Freedom passes for all involved. I proudly posted this blog celebrating

There is a little subtext that I've not revealed before. A few days later I was at a Council meeting and I collared one of the Tory Councillors responsible for the fiasco. I said that I was pleased that they'd acknowledged their mistake and reinstated the passes. His response shocked me, I was speechless for a few seconds. He said "I can't stand your holier than thou pontificating, everyone knows you only publish these stories to further your own political career". I was stunned. Not least because at the time I didn't belong to a Political party at the time and had no interest in standing. His comment was pretty much the inspiration to rejoin the Lib Dems and stand again in Mill Hill, but at the time it was the last thing on my mind. I was infuriated by the comment, I replied "You do realise that the young man who exposed this is a friend and did work experience and the girl who I featured was at school with my daughter. Please don't judge me by your own standards". That was met with "We all know what this is really about".  I'd expected a bit of contrition, but there was no such thing.  I have to be fair to the Barnet Tories, then Leader Richard Cornelius caught up with me and said "We got that wrong and we are sorry" and former leader Brian Salinger said to me that he was horrified by the situation and it would never have happened on his watch, but there genuinely were members of the administration who were totally unrepentent. Sadly they are in abundance in the current regime running the council.

The final blog in that series was rather full of pathos. It  was a sort of sad postcript, where the young man who started the story came to say thanks for getting it sorted. 

As with the Friern Barnet story, I'm incredibly proud of the role this blog played in getting this sorted out. We broke the story and we made sure it had legs. Other local people, bloggers and the press made it impossible for the council to maintain it's inhuman stance. I am proud that people trust me. I am proud that I've helped a few people. I had a small tear in my eye as I put this together, I sometimes wonder why people trust me and why I have to do these stories. Surely, with 63 Councillors, getting paid a minimum of £10K a year, I shouldn't need to do this as the adminstration councillors should not pass such rules and the opposition should properly scrutinise these changes. But it is left to me, a dyslexic punk rock guitarist to do this. Something is not right, is it?

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