Friday, 29 April 2022

What every Barnet Councillor should do before an election

 We are in the final countdown to the Barnet Council election. Many of the councillors who were elected in 2018 and in subsequent elections are standing again. The first question I'd ask any of them is "What have you done to earn my vote?". There are two things that annoys me more than anything else. 

The first is councillors who won in marginal seats and don't have the balls to stand again on their record. It is known in the trade as "the chicken run". Of course sometimes there are good reasons for councillors moving ward. Maybe they've moved or for whatever reason have developed a stronger relationship with another ward. It is also true that Barnet has seen it's boundaries redrawn, so some councillors, such as Labour's Anne Clarke who is standing in Cricklewood, is standing in a new seat drawn largely from her previous ward. Others such as two of Mill Hill's Conservative candidates have dumped their former electors in Hale, many of whom are in a new ward called Edgwarebury, which is highly marginal, for what they assumed was a safe seat in Mill Hill (more of that later). 

Then there are councillors such as Conservative Alex Prager who won highly marginal West Hendon last time and has moved up the road to what he thought was a safer bet in Hendon, leaving the more deprived and harder to win West Hendon behind.

His former Tory Colleague Helene Richman was appalled at the way her Tory Colleagues dumped the ward when they thought it might be hard to hold. Helene has strong ties to her local ward and was determined to fight it. She fell out with the local Tories over their neglect of the ward and was deselected. The local misogynistic Tories don't seem to like strong women who are outspoken. 

Helene did not want to dump the people she'd built a relationship with and decided to join the Lib Dems and fight the ward. She's had little time to organise her campaign, but I have been really impressed by her efforts. One thing she'd done, that I've not seen any other candidate do is make a video that details her achievements as a councillor and listed all of the work she's done. I watched this video and thought to myself how ridiculous it is that every single standing councillor hasn't followed Helene's example and told us what they've done to justify our vote. Please have a look at her video, even if you won't consider voting Lib Dem. Ask your councillors what they've done. If they knock on your door, they should be prepared to give you an answer. If they've moved from another ward, ask them what they did for the people who voted for them previously, why they've moved to their new ward and why they are better than the opposition. 

The second thing that really bugs me are candidates who don't live in the ward. Now I understand that it can be hard for parties to get a full slate of candidates, if a party has six great candidates in one ward and none in a neighbouring ward, then of course you'd be silly not to choose them for a ward next door. However, in West Hendon, the person roped in to replace Helene boasts on his Twitter profile that he's a 'former lifelong Hackney resident'. Surely if you are a former 'lifelong' Hackney resident, that means you are dead? His profile and postings make no mention of West Hendon. It is beyond me why anyone would want to stand in a ward they are not associated with. 

Which brings me to Mill Hill ward, where I am standing. The sole reason that I am standing is because I love Mill Hill. I was born in the area, I hope I die in the area (but not just yet), I live in the area, my family have since 1948. We've run businesses in the area all of that time.  I've run Mill Hill Music Complex studios since 1979. I eat in the local restaurants, drink in the local pubs, use the local butchers, bakers and I'd use the candlestick maker if we had one. I walk my dogs in the local parks, play football at the local powerleague. I support the nearest local football team, Hadley FC (okay I'll fess up, I'm also a lifelong Manchester City Fan because my mum was born in Manchester). I belong to the Mill Hill Services club, of which I'm a management committee member. I'm also a member of the Sacred Heart Church and on the Finance committee. In short, I get a lot out of this community and I try  to put a lot back into it. Being a councillor would give me access to the council officers to sort things out. 

I also believe that many of the council's processes and methods are not fit for purpose. I believe that there could be huge savings made by overhauling the way the council does it's business. I've run a business for 43 years. I can read a spreadsheet and I know the benefits of identifying savings. The council is highly bureaucratic, everything takes months to do, even the most simple of tasks. I have excellent relationships with the staff and local trades unions and I know that they are amenable to improvement. The local Conservatives do not understand trades unions. They view them as the enemy. They believe that the union are not interested in doing things properly, only in making life cushy for union members. In other European nations, Unions form part of the management teams of councils and efficiencies are delivered harmoniously. I believe that a properly run council would deliver more efficient services, at lower cost to the taxpayer with better conditions for workers. How you may ask? The answer is simple. Cut out the layers of bureaucracy that stop things getting done and give some of the savings to the taxpayer and a bit to the staff, so Barnet Council becomes a place where people want to work. The outsourcing model so loved by the Barnet Tories has not worked. Council tax has gone up, services have got worse and the workforce has got ever more demoralised. 

Now I know I can't do this on my own, but if I'm elected, I can start the process. There is a good chance that the Lib Dems will hold the balance of power in a hung council chambre and I'd make my support for any new administration conditional on the council becoming a more dynamic, efficient and responsive organisation, which both taxpayers and workforce can be proud of. 

You may say "How can he say that? What does he know?". Well, most of you know I run a music studio. What most of you don't know is that I also worked for many years as a freelance consultant working in IT and process improvement, before I decided to concentrate full time on my music business. Unlike many people who work in the field, having run my own business and worked in the family business, I realised that there is always scope for improvement in any process and every saving matters and the best way to identify savings is to talk to the people who are doing the job and find out where the problems are. One example of this was when I warned Barnet Council in October 2018 that their bin round reorganisation would result in chaos. How did I know? I'm not mystic Meg. I just talked to the bin men and friends in the depot. They told me it wouldn't work and the management who'd designed it simply didn't understand the logistics of what they were proposing. The result? Many people in Mill Hill and across Barnet didn't have their bins collected at all for weeks, if not months. 

No one in management had actually bothered to ask the binmen if the changes were feasable. Barnet has spent tens of millions of pounds on business consultants, but they never ask the staff on the ground, who actually had to do the work. If I'd been a councillor, I could have prevented that. I've have dragged the council leader down to chat to the binmen if he'd not listened to sense from me. There is a culture in Barnet Council of councillors thinking that "sending an email" is doing work. It isn't. You need to follow things up and if things are not moving, go and see people face to face to find out why.

Some councillors on all sides get this and if you've read this blog, you'll know their names. I'll work with anyone who is sensible to make Mill Hill and the Borough of Barnet a better place. Isn't that what every Barnet Councillor should do, and not just before an election. 


Anonymous said...

Your attack on the Hale conservatives standing in Mill Hill and on Alex Prager standing in Hendon rather than West Hendon is unfair and disengenuous.
They have not done a 'chicken run' and changed wards. The ward boundaries changed and they are standing in wards that contain parts of their old ward.

Rog T said...

I am sure you know very well that West Hendon ward is still largely in place with only very minor changes, unlike Hale ward which was split up. The small part that was removed was strongly Conservative, hence the chicken run. It's up to candidates what they do, but it is clear that this a raw nerve has been hit with this 'anonymous' poster.