Wednesday 16 August 2023

The Tories destroyed the Borough of Barnet, Labour are burying it

 When I started writing the Barnet Eye, I was not really aware of what Barnet Council did, how important their work was or the impact they have on people's lives. A year before the birth of this blog, I started to realise. My mother, who was housebound and frail, relied on meals on wheels for her main meal. She lived independently, despite having suffered a major stroke and not being very mobile. This was how she chose to live. She could afford a daily carer to help her get up in the morning. Once she was up, she could make a cup of tea, read, watch telly and tend for herself. Due to the stroke, cooking was an issue, so she paid the council for the meals on wheels service. These were good quality. healthy and nutritious and prepared in house. They would turn up, like clockwork at noon. If she didn't answer, the delivery driver would call us. She'd have a chat with "The nice lady" and she was improving. In 2007, the council announced the service was being outsourced. The nice lady was sacked. The meals became cheap to the point of being inedible. Mum, hating waste, would ring Clare, who would get her a sandwich and our dog would get the slop for dinner. Worst of all, the dinners were often late or didn't come at all. Being a stroppy person, I made a massive fuss, engaged councillors, wrote letters. This was the moment the blg was conceived. The stress this caused my mother was, I believe, responsible for her death. She was 83 and not in good health, but it rammed home that her independence was an illusion. She was angry for the nice lady. She lost weight. She became depressed. 

I did some research. The company, a French conglomorate, that won the contract, had set up a delivery round where 40 dinners were supposed to be delivered in 3 hours. That was 4.5 minutes per meal delivery. bear in mind, some times, it took my mum a minute or two to open the door. She was deaf and moved slowly. Sometimes meals were left on the doorstep. We weren't told. It was horrific for my mother. In short, to save money, they had taken a cheap bid that simply didn't work. The round took no account for traffic. My road, where my mum also lived, is Millway. Some days you can wait 4.5 minutes to get onto the Broadway at lunchtime. At that moment, I realised that outsourcing of vital services to save cash did not work. In the end, it cost the council a fortune to fix the problem. When I blogged about it, anonymous bloggers, who later turned out to be young, ambitious Tory councillors, set up accounts to slag me off. Why should the council help my mum? Why didn't I make her lunch? Why was my mother 'poncing off the council'? I was quite shocked. The reason was that my Mum had paid tax all her life. She wanted to live independently after she completed her rehabilitation and arranged the service with her care team as part of her discharge from Finchley Memorial Hospital. 

I realised that if you put your head above the parapet, you get shot. Many back down. I started a war and the Barnet Eye was born. One of my key themes was that outsourcing of key services was a threat to the quality of council services. What I found was horrific. The Barnet Conservatives had plans to outsource the whole council. Parking, Planning, HR, Revenue collection, everything. They had a policy called "future shape". What I found was that every service they had outsourced had ended up in disaster. The meals on wheels was just one instance, where the service had failed. They had ourtsourced care homes to a company called Catalyst/Freemantle. The homes had become ridden with Legionella disease. The contractors sued the council as they weren't making as much money as they hoped and won millions of pounds of compensation. Did Barnet Council learn? No. The Tories brought in Capita to run the council. Future Shape became Easycouncil, that became One Barnet. Guess what? It failed. By 2020, even the Tories were admitting this. Services were being brought in house, at huge costs as all of the capabilities had gone. 

Of all the aspects of Future Shape/One Barnet, the most destructive was the outsourcing of planning. As the council sought to shore up it's failing finances, planning became a cash cow. Barnet Council realised that mega developments offered a short term cash boost to the coffers. The planning system in the UK was already dysfunctional, but One Barnet meant that the only view that really mattered was the view of the developers with deep pockets, who could pay the fees. The Tories were not stupid. They realised that big schemes in Tory wards, such as the NIMR in Mill Hill would be unpopular. They also knew they'd bring in huge sums of cash. So they launched a very crafty ruse. They'd let officers develop plans that would be awful for locals, but roughly conform to the London plan. They picked a huge fight with the Mayor Sadiq Khan, declaring him an enemy of the people (I kid you not). Then they rejected their own plans, which were referred to the Mayor, who gleefully passed them. The Tory council got the cash and Khan got the blame. Once passed, the Council didn't bother to enforce any of the planning conditions. Locals had years of misery. Dust, parking and congestion and noise complaints were simply ignored. The po faced Tory Councillors, who had made such impassioned speeches against Khan's plans to pass the schemes, ignored the pleas of locals to enforce the rules that were supposed to ensure that locals were not impacted. This blog made videos, complained to enforcement, produced irrefutable evidence, but nothing was done. No fines were imposed. After a couple of years, the penny dropped for me. The Barnet Tories were always on board with the developers. 

In May 2022, there was a tectonic shift in Barnet politics. The Tories were booted out. Labour formed a new administration. It seemed like the Tories had finally received their comeuppance for the destruction of Barnet. They took over a council that had seen every aspect of it's business trashed.  They announced that they would get rid of Capita, for once and for all. Sadly though, there seemed to be no great hurry. They simply carried on with the plans the Tories had enacted in their dying days, to gradually unwind the relationship. What is clear is that Capita will squeeze every last penny from Barnet taxpayers. You may wonder what the real relationship is between the Labour Party and Capita? What is the Labour parties key policy in London? Unless you have been in a coma for the last two years, you will know it is ULEZ. Who runs ULEZ for Mayor Khan? It may surprise anyone familiar with Barnet to know that it is Capita. It seems that despite standing on the barricades, wearing #KickOutCapita T-Shirts, our Labour Councillors are far keener on the company than they've previously let on. I spoke to one about this a while back "Oh, this is different, Capita are experts in this field" I was told. This was exactly the argument that Tory Councillors made when they brought Capita in to run the council. 

So what have we learned about Barnet Labour in the last 15 months? I have a degree of sympathy with them. The scenario at Barnet when they arrived was nigh on apocalyptic. They'd lost expertise, the finances were a mess and they were bequeathed a stack of unpopular development schemes, such as Hendon Hub, Edgware SPD and Brent Cross. What I had hoped would happen would be that we'd see a new regime that sought to get the people of Barnet on board. Barnet is screaming out for new, good quality social housing. We need proper council housing, not lxury flats. We need better infrastructure to support it. If you've used Barnet General hopsital in the last few years, you will know that it is overloaded and overrun.

Sadly, Barnet Labour are not talking about a radical new plan to fix the housing crisis.  We are just seeing big developers running riot. There are social housing elements in the scheme. These involve different doors for the poorer tenants, can't have the premium residents mixing with the riff raff. A scandalously small number of dwellings will be for the people who need them most. They will not have gardens for families and they will be excluded from the plush gyms that come with the scheme. 

Barnet is being buried in concrete. This is the policy of Barnet Labour. The Tories may have destroyed Barnet but it is Barnet Labour that is laying it to rest. The tombstone will be 27 story tower blocks, with side entrances for the poorer residents. 

If anyone can tell me it is not so, feel free, I'll publish any guest blog that demonstrates that Barnet LAbour have a coherant pln to fix the housing crisis in Barnet. I'd stomach the towers of Edgware if this was what they are being erected for, but they are simply a money making scheme for a very large property developer. That is the truth

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