Thursday, 29 April 2010

Why RAB? - A view from Finchley supporting political change in Barnet

This following letter was published in the Barnet & Potters Bar Times, Edgware & Mill Hill Times and the Hendon & Finchley Times on the 29 April 2010.

From: Barry Fineberg – Finchley

Out of touch

"The initiative of the Residents Association of Barnet [RAB] [ ‘Independents to fight 15 council seats’. Times Series, April 1] offers the greatest encouragement for real change on the political horizon. It stands every chance of breaking the status quo which is our sickly, disordered local democracy.

Your letters page is the simplest evidence of repeated failures and complaints, despite efforts by overstretched representatives doing their level best. The legitimacy of Barnet Council cabinet decisions would seem often to depend only on a quorate of three specific cabinet members, the kind of shortcut that speaks for one-third of a million citizens.

The council’s grossly extensive geographic territory is also the source of a needles complexity. Decision-making is inevitably secretive by default, lacking transparency, intelligibility or accountability. The council’s physical remoteness from its many communities and the absence of public voice, keep it out of touch with the need or the impact of its policies on residents.

Decentralization of council activity can greatly empower local representatives and their electorates whilst enabling sharper overall strategies through corresponding reductions in administrative and political congestion at the centre. The localised whole will offer greatly enlarged public arenas for residents to find themselves better able to scrutinise and comprehend local issues and expenditures.

Many will think such radical ambition is wildly impracticable, but this is a special time, with public trust in both parliamentary and local government in peril. Scope for the redevelopment of local community through its politics and economy should not lightly be set aside.

RAB’s intervention is indeed praiseworthy, deserving a generous mandate. At best it may hopefully break the mould of established politics and foster wider dialogue with other councillors and with the public on the need, the process and the method of swingeing change."

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

RAB canvassing feedback

Dorthy Badrick Chairman of RAB writes:

As I have been canvassing two observations are being made to me that I would like to answer.

Firstly, what are our policies?
Well, we formed because we were and are dismayed at the juggernaut that our local authority has become both in terms of size, power and blindness to us the residents. We are a broad umbrella but all our candidates subscribe to independence and NO party whip so that issues are debated and discussed in terms of their value to the local community not to what a political party wants. This has been demonstrated with a site in Finchley, The Brent Lodge Orchard Site. We have three candidiates who appeared to have very different views on the use of this site. But by dint of meetings and discussions we have been able to broker an agreement to the satisfaction of all the parties involved. This was achieved by not imposing a solution which sets opposing parties at each other throats but by working through the issues and concerns of everybody, a process that this administration appears not to understand. I mention this site in particular because it demonstrates our commitment to upholding the public ownership of publically owned assets, which we believe that an administration holds only in trust. Therefore we are absolutely opposed to the Conservative plans for “asset backed vehicles” which are the equivalent of selling the family farm. The Finchley site also involved a charity for vulnerable adults. The agreement reached also benefits them – we in RAB have a commitment to the well-being of all vulnerable people. We do not support the removal of wardens from sheltered housing. We are opposed to any cutting of essential front line services. We think that substantial savings can be made by cutting “back end administration”. We do not support “Future shape” or “EasyCouncil.” Why should we pay for extra administrative functions instead of paying for services?

My second observation involves Faith.
We are blessed in Barnet with numerous Faith groups all of whom work to high moral values and provide substantial charitable support to their own and other communities. The “Churches Together” organisation fosters communication and understanding between Faiths. Many of the various Faiths have organised local and national “hustings” believing that their Faith must be a working and practical force for good in the community. Whether or not you are a person of Faith the work of the religious groups is huge and beneficial. In RAB we have candidates who are atheist, greens, Jewish and Christian. We are united in our desire to bring back respect to local government.

Finally, we are committed to the community and I firmly believe that a community needs to be local. Locating your local authority about as far away as you can from the majority of the electorate, badly served by public transport is, frankly, an insult. As is using residents’ money to sue them if they have the temerity to complain or protest. I have been shocked at the awful stories that have been related to me. People have been made seriously ill by how they have been treated. This is not democracy in any way that I understand it.

I hope this statement helps voters to make up their minds. And I do most urgently encourage everyone who is eligible to vote to do just that. Change is possible we can all contribute to making a difference. If we do not then our local authority will become as remote as the EU and about as useful.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Council employees are also council tax payers.

We must not forget that many of our council employees are also Barnet residents and tax payers. They are generally loyal public servants who want to do a good job for a decent wage – no different from anyone else. It is not often that we hear their views, even though they have the advantage of knowing what is happening inside Barnet council.

Anecdotal evidence gathered during canvassing indicates an untold Barnet council story; and whilst we rely on the media to expose scandals not even their diligent investigations can identify all that may be wrong within the council.

It is a difficult situation. It would be wrong to expose further scandals of council secretiveness, waste and mis-management without independent corroboration, but the apparent frustration of the council employees / council tax payers in these matters cannot be ignored.

Of course, with a new council membership we would hope for significant changes and improvements as to how the council conducts its’ future business on our behalf. It would be hoped that greater transparency from the council will help achieve this. There should be a role in this transparency process for council employees to expose that which may be wrong, and in doing so help create the better council that we all want. But only if residents and tax payers vote for these changes!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Local Democracy - your influence

As a long term resident I know that we have experienced many changes in Barnet – some good, some not so good. However, despite the increasing size and cost of our local council organisation we residents do not seem to have had a proportionate increase in the quality and number of council services that we require.

A fundamental question is of course were these council services not already sufficient and satisfactory for our needs? Did we need change? Could we have avoided these increasing costs if changes were deemed unnecessary? All reasonable questions for debate; but were they properly debated, or just implemented under “delegated powers”?

Next time you’re canvassed for your vote by a councillor seeking re-election ask for an explanation of “delegated powers” and the cabinet system of “democracy” used in Barnet. You will be surprised, and possibly shocked, as to how little influence you have on council decision making - decisions which are made in the name of all Barnet citizens.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Election Candidates. We were told our papers were right

This following letter was published in the Barnet & Potters Bar Times, Edgware & Mill Hill Times and the Hendon & Finchley Times on the 22 April 2010.

Election Candidates.
We were told our papers were right.

As chairman of the Residents’ Association of Barnet, I personally accompanied our paperwork to North London Business Park (NLBP) with two members of the Residents’ Association of Barnet.
On the advice of officers, we made necessary corrections. We even had someone drive from Golders Green to NLBP to sign a form. At the end, we were assured our papers were correct and accepted – we would hope so because at least three people at NLBP checked each nomination.
Apart from telling us that Morton Morris’s wife had signed four nomination forms, and having to correct an entry in the Electoral Roll, the other thing the council got wrong was to relocate Golders Green into Edgware. Easy error to make you may think – or not.
I spoke directly to Nick Walkley, the council’s chief executive and returning officer. He told me no appeal was possible; the last candidate paper in, would have to be refused. In making this decision he has disenfranchised Golders Green, Morton Morris and possibly the council if the elections are close.
Strange that everything is always our fault, but when the council loses £27 million or sensitive data, no senior officer or councillor is ever called to account. Who is running this rotten borough?
Dorothy Badrick
Residents’ Association of Barnet

Brent Cross "Its not an Incinerator

The following is the text of a letter published in "THE PRESS" on Thursday 22 April 2010.

Fascinated to read Jonathan Josephs latest utopian statement about "Slum City". Sorry - the proposed Brent Cross Regentrification - sorry again -Re-generation.
Please, when is an incinerator not an incinerator? This plant will take in rubbish of all sorts, heat it up to provide energy for the proposed development, and spew out the remains via a 140metre chimney. Why is it so high? Well, to "safely" disperse the polluntants, nano-particles that can get into lungs and dioxides - highly poisonous substances. What a delightful scheme; one that Mr. Joseph describes as, "green." No, Mr Joseph, that's the colour the rest of us turn when we envisage your mad ideas for us.
Regarding Clitterhouse Playing fields. This is MOL, Metropolitan Open Land, same status as "green Belt". So, no, you cannot put a cafe in the middle of it, a cafe on the edge would be nice. Ah, that's where Barnet wants to build more "hutches for Hobbits " And you are prevented from developing it into a park by Planning Policy Guidelines that "forbid anything on or around it that affects its open character". Fortunately Gordon Kerr and The Telegraph have run a campaign to strengthen these guidelines. So go away Mr. Joseph, we don't like your scheme and we don't like you.

Dorothy Badrick
Residents' Association of Barnet.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Does Barnet council needs help with financal transparency?

Barnet council lost £27 million of our council tax money in Icelandic banks.

They mis-managed the Aerodrome Road bridge project, wasting a further £12 million of our council tax money.

They are badly organised, having to rely on additional agency staff and consultants at a cost of £20 million in the past year.

That’s a mis-management hit of £59 million to the council tax payer!

From the leaflet accompanying our council tax demands the sparse financial information lets slip that Barnet council tax payers have no option but to contribute over £153 million in this financial year.

It’s election time. The different political parties make their various claims. They tell us in their election publicity that in the past 8 years our council tax has increased by 45%, and also that the council has saved £96 million!

If the political parties are correct then:
a) without a 45% increase in council tax we would only be paying £105 million; and,
b) without the savings of £96 million we would be paying more than £249 million in council tax.

That’s a £144 million difference; and not far short of the £153 million that will be compulsorily collected from Barnet council tax payers this year. But more importantly, the identified cost of council mis-management at £59 million represents nearly 40% of your council tax payments for this year!

The financial details necessary to verify and validate or dispute these claims, are obscured from public view and analysis. This makes it difficult for anyone to make an informed decision, be it which candidate to elect, or if council tax money is being spent correctly.

We need the ability to disperse the smoke, and smash the mirrors used by the council to hide what is truly happening. This lack of transparency, and the consequential failure of accountability for mis-management, is costing the council tax payer dearly.

Let us hope that the council has learnt a lesson, and that future financial scrutiny committees co-opt lay members, who can contribute honest and impartial financial expertise, to assist the them in their task.

Barnet residents deserve honesty, transparency and accountability from the council. They now have the opportunity to elect independent councillors who will support the strengthening of scrutiny committees with qualified lay members.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Barnet’s budget for the 2010/11 financial year is approaching a BILLION pounds.

The Overview & Scrutiny Committees of the council are charged with ensuring, on our behalf, that “Cabinet policies” address the needs of all local residents and communities, that mandated services directed by these policies are delivered efficiently and effectively, that our money is spent correctly, identifying mis-management and other failings; and, ensuring that those responsible for these failures are brought to account.

But this is not happening in BARNET

Councillors belonging to centrally controlled national political parties are prevented from attacking their own party policies; even when these policies clearly fail to meet our local needs. As evidenced by events in Barnet, this restriction on the exercise of a councillors’ judgement can not sit easily with either membership of, or the correct functioning, of Overview & Scrutiny committees. It is only the strengthening of these committees with independently minded councillors, free of imposed national political party directives, that will ensure that residents receive the services, transparency and honesty from the council that they deserve.