Information about my work as a Labour Councillor for East Finchley in the London Borough of Barnet

Thursday, 28 February 2013

East Finchley Festival

After the Westminster training, I went to the East Finchley festival committee, to plan ahead for this year. Colin Rogers is a highly efficient chair, and we got a lot covered in good time. we planned for the stalls, security, stewarding (which is henceforth my responsibility), food and entertainment.

I am always struck by how well served by what a dynamic and talented group co-ordinate the event. They are well organised and capable, which leaves me wondering why on earth they need the services of a bumpkin like me.

I thought I would advertise that the battle of the bands will be held at the East Finchley Constitutional club on Saturday 16th March from 2pm. There are some excellent acts lined up, and our newest member Pat is full of brilliant innovative ideas, so I expect the festival will be bigger and better than before.

Committee training in Westminster

On Monday afternoon, a delegation of Councillors and governance officers went to Portcullis House in Westminster as part of a Parliamentary outreach program, looking into how committees should run.

We met the chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts MP and the committee clerk, Glenn. They explained how the system works in Parliament and the kind of things they do, the kind of things they look into and how they do it. They gave us some good advice about how to manage them too.

Parliamentary committees clearly have more powers, better resources, better media coverage and clearer rules, but there was a lot we could take back. I am particularly keen to see that we make better use of members items, so that we can talk about our priorities, not just what we are told to talk about. I already have plans for the residents forum!

Sadly, the quality of Parliamentary committees will never be replicated in Barnet, as demonstrated in my last article about the Budget Committee meeting. We can, however, try to reform them. There are efforts afoot to return to the the old fashioned Committee structure, and I now have a better idea of how they would work, but I hope they are not run on the same lines they were before, and that there will be some reforms.

I find that in Barnet, committee works well when there is a good chair, who wants to know the answers, rather than protect their own side.

I was joined on the day by Alison Moore, Barry Rawlings, Andreas Ioannidis, Anne Hutton, Alan Schneiderman, Ansuya Sodha, Kath McGuirk, Jack Cohen, Brian and Kate Salinger and Sury Khatri.

(It was during the meeting that I noticed how many Labour Councillors names start with an "A". Myself, Anita, Alison, Alan, Anne, Andreas, Angnes, Ansuya and Alex. 9/22! Last year, when I, Andrew Dismore and Andreas Ioannidis won, we joked that Barnet Labour were Triple A rated, how prescient that was!)

Budget and Performance

I always hold the Health Committee as a model of a good working committee, with knowledgeable members who contribute a great deal of expertise and do so in a non partisan manner. The committee is chaired by the excellent Cllr Alison Cornelius, who is fair minded, and wants to get to the bottom of issues, rather than hide them away. The same cannot be said of Budget and Performance.

Given we had important cabinet members and officers, such as Cllr Rajput, Cllr Thomas, Cllr Harper, Cllr Dean Cohen. it's sad that the Tory Councillors waste time being counter productive. When questioning Cllr Thomas and Mr Hooton, Cllr Marshall asked about our banking with the Co-op Bank. The Co-op Bank won the contract fair and square, and won the re-tendering as well. The Tories want to get a "better deal" out of the best deal they had, they want abank that offers a higher rate of investment. I pointed out to them that they had tried that with the Icelandic Banks. Cue a hail of abuse. None of it stopped by the chair, except when I tried to reply to some of it. Cllr Rayner said he had wondered when the Icelandic Banks would be brought up.

Isn't it extraordinary that people who spend their time blaming their failing policies on the last Labour Government can't handle it when their recklessness that cost the borough is even mentioned? And isn't it typical of the coward and bully that when you stand up to them they resort to abuse and whining to the chair. I suppose if you are winding these lot up then you are doing a good job.

Then we were treated to a series of fawning softball questions from the chair, who, completely coincidentally, is also the Tory Group whip. How many years has CTAX been frozen is it? Can you keep carrying on with your excellent budgetary management? Aren't you marvellous Daniel? Ok I made the second one up.... I have never seen Alison Cornelius ask soft questions to Cllr Helena Hart like this.

I asked what Plan B was if the judicial review of One Barnet was successful. Apparently, there is no Plan B. They can afford one month delay before it starts costing, but if it all falls apart, there is nothing there. And then they made the threats. If One Barnet doesn't go through then we will have to close libraries and stop services. So if the people dare say what they think, if you stop us from going ahead with something we never asked for permission to do then you're all in trouble. It's your fault for stopping our wonderful plan. I don't recall in my A Level Geography where exactly Cloud Cuckoo Land is, but I'm sure the Barnet Tories have some serious real estate there.

The questions sessions with Cllr Rajput and Cllr Harper and Kate Kennally went well I thought- a little less partisan, so better questions about budget lines and we got to tease out some details, and have queries answered. All three are very fair minded when answering questions.

The questions with Cllr Cohen and Pam Wharf were productive, but due to time we weren't able to explore things fuller. I do keep insisting when I see them that I hope there is money in the street scene budget to maintain a proper works program. I report a fair few things in East Finchley, and I hope there is the budget to deal with them.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Energy costs could rise again soon

It isn't often I read the Guardian, but they have an interesting article about the UK power network, and how their physical assets are getting old, and reserves are low. Significant investment is needed, and it may come at a price, such as asking for 40 year contracts for nuclear power.

I always find it galling when I get the letter saying "we haven't increased our prices for two years, what a good job we've done. So now were going to increase it by 18%" and that sort of thing. For the poorest, after a decade of progress, energy bills, food bills, travel costs and clothing costs are rising as a portion of household expenditure, leaving little money left in family budgets to enjoy life with. I for one will be asking the council what they plan on doing to help reduce household bills on these necessities of life. Let's be honest, but there isn't much they really can do on those blls, but it will be interesting to see the response.

East Finchley is a community with strong ethical and environmental standards, so if anyone has any projects going to help in these kind of areas, please let us know, and we will help in whatever way we can.

The Northern Line

Commuters will know that the Northern Line is usually very busy, and is a vast service that covers the top to the bottom of London. Here are some interesting tidbits about the history of the line. You can also stay up to date on the weekend closures as well.


I hope you will join with me and sign up to the London Labour Party campaign against emergency service cuts. You can sign up here.

Monday, 18 February 2013

More support for East Finchley Post Office

You can sign the petition against the proposed changes to the East Finchley Post office here.

The local papers have been talking to local residents, who seem to share many of my concerns.

GP funding shortfall

The Barnet Labour Group have called for an extraordinary Council meeting to discuss the whopping £110 million shortfall in GP funding, despite the Prime Minister's pledge to keep NHS funding rising above inflation. The initial agreement with the Clinical Comkmissioning Group (CCG) was for £470 million to just £380 million.

There are many issues to consider, and there are wider ramifications, which we will go into during the debate. They are very worrying, and I hope all parties will respond positively to our call.

What is Barnet telling Boris Johnson?

In a brief follow up on the residents perception survey carried out by Barnet, the top concern, expressed by 31% of respondents was crime.

The survey findings show that there is real concern about burglaries, which I find comes up with alarming regularity on the doorstep in some ares, especially Friern Barnet, but also Childs Hill and North Finchley (both of which are the worst in London for burglaies).

Resident priorities were greater police visibility, more CCTV, naming and shaming, better neighbourhood watches. ensuring criminals pay back to society and better street lighting.

I simply cannot see how Boris Johnson is listening to Barnet residents, given what they say, and his policy response, which is to close down police station front desks and reduce neighbourhood policing teams.

As we have said before, residents of Chipping Barnet will have to go to Edmonton or Colindale for a 24 hour desk to report a crime, which is a gross neglection of a constituency which turned out in high numbers to vote for Mr Johnson last year. Don't expect a defence by the local MP, or the Tory Councillors. Their petition, set up by the Council Leader himself has just 66 signatures on the Council website, even though one of the closing stations is in his ward.

When residents want greater visibility, Mr Johnson fudges the numbers so badly, the GLA Labour Group have reported him to the UK Statistics Authority, as Andrew Dismore AM reports. He is fixated with his 32,000 figures that he is willing to risk incredulity to sprout it. It's a sad and shocking indictment of the press that Mayor Johnson never gets properly exposed to the public for these sorts of things. He just seems to pluck these figures out of thin air.

Residents want stronger neighbourhood teams, and a visible presence, so why is Mr Johnson reducing the number of dedicated ward officers to just one? this is a mockery of community policing. These officers are extremely important intelligence for the police, and build those links with young people that make the police a more trusted and friendlier face than they were before. Now they are being decimated so Boris can keep his 32,000 figure, which no one seems to know how he gets to.

Barnet residents want to see the police on the streets and they want community policing, but they won't get it from this Mayor.

Residents perception survey

I am going through the Budget and Performance Committee papers for this Wednesday (7PM Hendon Town Hall) and looking at the business planning report, which is pre-decision scrutiny on the budget. There are plenty of goodies, but it's in the residents perception survey that something very interesting crops up.

Top of the worries were crime, and I have written before about the shambolic and incompetent performance of the Mayor of London in regard to his crime strategy.

Second was an issue I have raised many times before, which is the state of roads and pavements. I find this fascinating. As we know, the funds available to fix them has been badly hit by the Tory Parking policy omnishambles of 2012. Residents are more and more worried about pavements, because they can see the Council just aren't interested in them.

Apparently, the Council have a target of 90% of all potholes being made safe within 48 hours of reporting from members and residents. How many of you recall my article about the chasm in the middle of Beresford Road when I first started this blog? Making safe is not the same thing as fixing, which is thier statisticl flexible friend. The survey (on page 57 of the BPOSC papers) says "[repair rates for potholes] were not of good quality and damage soon reappeared" wich was exactly the point I made, especially in relation to the large boulder that came loose on Market Place.

Residents also raised concerns about the scarcity of grit. I have been concerned about this in hilly areas, where icy pavements can really do damage.

There are many interesting things in these reports, and I will report more on them after I raise them at the meeting. I would reccommend these fascinating papers for all to read if they want to know what people really think.

You can read all 243 pages of the report here. It's a large file though, so not sensible to open on some computers or on mobiles.

Say NO to the DRS

Please sign the new petition against the privatisation of the regulatory services, such as environmental health. The petition against One Barnet as a whole has over 1200 signatures, and we need to keep the pressure on them.

We have them on the run, and they are clearly very worried about it now, as you can see from the new budget papers!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The future of East Finchley Post Office

We have launched a petition to stop the sale of the East Finchley Post office to a private franchise. You can read our press release here.

The Times have also picked up on the story.

I am concerned that moving the Post office and merging it with a private provider will be damaging to the local area. During our Saturday stalls, we see just how many people go intot he post office and then visit other local shops. I would be worried about moving away from the "town centre" near the junction. It is currently ideally located, prominent and attracts a large footfall. Given the economic state of the High Road is not good after the Council's disasterous parking policies, this could be a poorly timed blow, as people get used to a new system.

I am also worried about the quality of service. That post office is usually packed, and the existing staff are kept very busy. I'm not convinced yet that they can move, retain services and retain all staff, and this is why we want to listen to resident views. Also, if they move to a smaller premises (which is how I assume they will make savings, if there is no reduction in staff) They need to provide reassurance they can carry out all the same services, and not leave customers huddled together with undesired familiarity!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Grit bins

Some East Finchley residents I spoke to today said they were concerned about making sure that rubbish is collected during this snowy period, and wanted to know about getting grit bins in thier areas for residents.

I have put in the questions, and will inform you on this blog on any feedback I have. Regarding the grit bins, please contact me at the usual details on the left hand side if you feel your area needs a grit bin, and I will endeavour to see if it can be done. (Obviously, it can't be done for the whole of Barnet, but I am happy to chase up for those who live in areas where it is dangerous not to). I have a concern about placing bins, because I am not sure they are always re-filled in time. I noticed during a visit to my Dad's last week that the two bins on the way to his were empty last week, and are unlikely to have been refilled in time for this latest snow.

Education Strategy, part 3

This evening was the third session of the Education Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which is really a task and finnish group. After the low turnout at the last session, I'm glad to say we were a full house. I attended out of interest rather than as a member, but was kindly allowed to sit at the table and ask questions by the gracious chair, Cllr John Marshall (Con, Garden Suburb).

Today the group met some parent governors, and has an interesting discussion about the roles they play. It seems that unless you are an academy, once a parent governor is selected they can't be removed, which in the past has apparently been a problem.

I was glad to hear that there were no concerns from them about their relationship with the school changing, and that their children were not treated differently, or that they felt uncomfortable in any way wit thier relationship with the school.

They said that they would like to see more and better training, but felt that the borough's head teachers were trustworthy, accepted criticism and shared information. They felt uncertain about the future because of the changes the academies have brought. It was thought that for small schools, which already have a strong relationship with the Council, would not be well advised to go in with outside groups and clusters if they became academies. They also felt that these outside groups and chains could be foreboding if they forced schools to do things thier way, such as abandon any relationship and service provision with the local authority.

They also expressed confusion about excusions policies, which is something I hope we can resolve.

Another good session, and some interesting points to dwell on.

Dropped Kerbs

After posting about broken bollards in East Finchley, I would make a point about kerbs as well. A residents contacted me to say that they had difficulty because the kerbs were not dropped at the corners of roads they were travelling on. If this is an issue for you and you would like me to chase it for you please email me at or phone 077867902400. Please send me pictures of the kerbs if you have them, so I can send them to the Council and ask them to consider putting them in.

We have a duty to make sure our roads are accessible by people in wheelchairs or with pushchairs and buggies. Needless to say the money for this is not exactly running so it will take some time, but it's best to let the Council know, and when they are able to do the work they know we want it.

I aim to send in a list of places on Friday (15th) so please let me know before then.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I am asking if you have concerns about corner Kerbs, rather than outside homes.

I have also been asked by local blogger Mr Mustard to add the following:

"To avoid a parking ticket you should not park accross a dropped kerb except with the permission of the householder, but not if it's a shared drive, and in a CPZ only outside the hours of operationif it has a single yellow line accross it (some CPZ dropped kerbs have a permit bay accross them which is fine inside zone hours)"

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Broken Bollards

Never mind Broken Barnet, I have noticed the number of broken bollards there are in East Finchley!

I have complained for some time about the one outside Boyden's Pantry on Church Lane, but I noticed recently the one on Manor Park Road and one on Prospect Ring have been broken as well.

It takes seriously long to get them repaired, because the budgets are in a flux, but hope this will not increase risks to pedestrians. In fact, two are on the notorious Church lane, and show to me why the proposed changes campaigned for by the walksafe N2 group are so important.

Needless to say I will be reporting them. If you notice other such broken bollards in East Finchley, please contact me.

Tories U turn on Parking meters

I am glad to see they have had sme sense! two years too late and only half way there, but it's a start at least. I am glad that they will allow for credit cards to be used at machines for parking in town centres.

For those of us who represent High Roads and Town Centres, we have been very worried about the chaotic impact of these unwanted and unconsulted upon parking policies. The Council have lost a lot of money completely needlessly because of it. They have lost goodwill, image and trust. Oh well....

I am frequently told by shopkeepers in East Finchley how much they have struggled with the parking regime. You cannot help but notice how many empty shops there are on the high oad, especially at the junion with Kitchener Road. Some shops say they have seen footfall down 60% and revenues down 40%. It will take a long time to recover from these flawed plans.

Kudos too to Helen Michael, who has led the way in North Finchley, she deserves much credit and praise.

2 week licence agreed for Friern Barnet

The Council have agreed on a 2 week licence with local community groups to run a community library there. This is very positive news, and we hope it will lead the Council to work better with community groups, rather than rush in and take decisions without listening to residents.

Huge Kudos to the community group, but especially my colleagues Cllrs Rawlings and Coakley-Webb. There have been two very difficult issues to deal with in the ward, but Barry and Pauline have worked tirelessly to get results on both. The whole Labour group is very proud that they have put in such time and effort, and stood shoulder to shoulder with their residents.

And it isn't easy being politicians who do the hard work, even when the cameras aren't there, then make sure the community groups take credit. It is very classy of them to do that, and I hope other parties do not shamelessly try to claim credit for themselves.

As a proud member of the Co-operative Party, I am glad to see Co-operative solutions. They sure are better than One Barnet solutions!

Following up on Stirling Corner

You may remember my concerns about Stirling Corner in Underhill ward, on the border with Hertsmere. Andrew Dismore and Cllr Anita Campbell have been campaigning for this for years, and Andrew has an update for those interested.

Policing "blue hole"

Londoners are reacting with anger against Mayor Boris Johnson and his decision to axe Police front desks and Fire stations. Barnet and Camden Assembly Member Andrew Dismore has campaigned against both, siting the damaging effects to frontline services and customer access.

He has also written on his website about the very dangerous blue hole in Chipping Barnet, where there will be no 24 hour front desk open for several miles around.

We have already managed to put paid to the plan to close Golders Green, and we hope to force the Mayor into further U turns. This decision reflects especially poorly on the Tories, as they recently selected their candidate in #1 target seat Hampstead and Kilburn, who campaigned and won his Camden council seat last year based on pledges to keep open the Hampstead Police station. Needless to say Boris is closing it.

It is part of a wider attack on frontline services, such as A&E services which we called the Tories in Barnet on at the last Council meeting, through our opposition business item.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

On Richard III...

Constituents who read my blog looking for information about my work as a ward Councillor for East Finchley must kindly forgive me for a small rant about a personal matter.

History is what I live for. Why I never studied it is a mystery beyond rational comprehension, but it is my favourite subject by far. So with the news today that the digging up of a car park in Leicester had found the remains of King Richard III would, you might expect, bring me joy.

Well it doesn't. I enjoy Tudor history, but would not class myself as a Tudor "fan". They were brutal times after all. I am, first and foremost a seeker of historical truth. That is why I feel a need to respond to all the claptrap in the media today.

Fashion amongst historical writers is to rebut conventional wisdom and say "well you thought this was true of X when in fact it isn't..." It's usually fair to reinterpret some of it. Cleopatra, for example, was a remarkable political player, and deserves to be reconsidered as more than the woman who turned Julius Caesar a bit wrong. It goes the other way as well, King Richard I was lionised (see what I did there) by the Victorians as a defender of Christianity. We know that he was a mass murderer who hated the country he was King of and bankrupted his kingdom.

Richard III has certainly had a degree of "spin" against him. But the level has been much exaggerated. Today they proved he had a curved spine. One of the chief complaints of the Richard III society is that how would he wear armour if he had a hunchback. Lets forget he was a very rich man who could afford to hire armourers o make fitting armour (All armour for nobles was bespoke anyway). Well it seems Polydore Vergil and Sir Thomas Moore (another one being re-evaluated from martyred saint to religious zealot) got it right.

King Richard's fame is best know through the Shakespeare play about him, and the complaint is that this play is "spin" against poor Dickie. Apart from the fact Shakespeare was a critic of the Tudors (in as far as one could be in those days) and his play Richard II got him into serious political problems, again, much of the play is not wrong. They were written from the best historical tracts available at the time, and many of the characteristics are true. Ok Richard didn't have a withered arm, and the name of the Duke he had killed was wrong, but the basic facts are in place.

The reality is that Richard betrayed his brother, King Edward IV, by usurping the throne from his son, Edward V. He declared the children of his brother to be illegitimate, abducted one (and murdered a retainer) and they both went missing under his reign without a doubt. That it was widely believed that there was no doubt in the princes murder is in the action of their mother. If you had a hope your sons were alive, would you plot for another man to marry your daughter and take the throne? Surely you would continue to support the claims of your sons, no matter how remote the chances of them being alive is.

And why was sainted Dickie planning on marrying his niece? Not as odd the as now (remember the totally inbred Hapsburg dynasty) but still a bit weird. And why was he making plans whilst his existing wife was still alive? This has been covered in the most ridiculous of fashions in the historic fiction that gets pumped out.

The reason I get annoyed by the re-writing of the history of Richard III was that I read a book "the Kings Daughter" by Sandra Worth. It was recommended to me, and I hate not finishing a book, which is why I read the whole damn lot of rubbish. As with all these revisions of history, it says Elizabeth of York was wildly in love with her own uncle, and hated her husband King Henry VII. Bollocks. The marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York is considered to be a model of happiness. The happiest since Edward III and till Charles I, or 248 years. If you are going to embellish history, why lie about something well documented? Isn't this the sort of spin that is being accused of being deployed against Richard III?

And then we come to the shambles of today. It says something very sad about the state of British Archaeology that we left such an important dig to the funding of a partisan, who gave the appearance of being a grieving relative. Leicester University have thrown professionalism out of the window for sensation and publicity. And let us not let Channel 4 get away with a truly dreadful, one sided calamity of a programme. What we saw today was not serious academic study, or the excavation of a burial site of a monarch, but a freak show.

I hope that if there is a reappraisal of Richard III, it will be an honest one. It has become too fashionable to write about what a lovely man the nephew imprisoner is. If it isn't Horrible History, which claims to be factual, telling children matter of factly that he did not have any physical deformations (which we have proven today he did) then it ought to be the fiction writers who come up fantasy theories about the disappearance of the princes, and ignore the facts that still exist.

And I seriously hope someone has the courage to stand up to these Richard III society people. Like all myths, they have been seized on by some American nutters, who use the same sort of twisted logic and lies that have made the American right such an obnoxious joke.

One of the reasons I detest this re-writing of history, rather than re-evaluation, is that we can see the seeds of it in our time. I wonder how today's Ugandan Asians would feel about a reappraisal of Idi Amin? Or how victims of Assad in Syria would feel aggrieved if people forgave him "because he was an eye doctor". Genuine re-evaluation yes, fashionable re-writing no. Real historians and history lovers want truth, not spin.

Thank you for allowing my rant. I can't promise this is the last....

N.B Please note this blog post is entirely personal!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Later life conference

Last Thursday I attended a later life conference in the Barbican. I was most struck by the sessions on Palliative care and dignity.

Palliative (end of life) care is of high importance to me, for those of you who know i was a carer for my terminally ill uncle. recieving proper palliative care is vital. according to a survey, 83% of people are afraid of dying in pain, 67% of dying alone and 62% of dying in hospital. making sure people die in the circumstances they would most prefer, as offered by a health service is a vitally important function for a service billed as being from cradle to grave. There was an interesting presentation which left a lot to think about.

I was also interested to hear of the work being done at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, who have a dignity programme designed to make sure patients feel involved in thier treatments, respected during thier stay in hospital, fell as comfortable as possible and have their needs taken care off. I can't imagine what working a 137 hour week, or 60 hour shifts are like, (or can I?) but I have experiences where I felt those were lacking in the treatment some of my relatives have recieved. I will never forget one nurse, Patricia, at the Royal Free stroke unit who exemplified a compassionate and responsive medical professional. I wrote to her superiors thanking her, and she was even modest about that.

The conference showed that even in the later stages of a natural life, one does not need to give up, and there is still plenty that can be done (bucket list anyone?), but, as with the vision strategy, you need a working system in place that assesses needs and circumstances, and explains to patients what they are and are not able to do.