Thursday 30 April 2009

Dismore Betrays Gurkhas

When the history of this Labour government is written, and a list of their treacherous acts compiled, close to the top will be their shabby and shameful treatment of the Gurkhas.

Despite a previous High Court ruling, the government has gone out of its way to evade its obligation to a relatively small number of brave and loyal people.

Yesterday however, the Liberal Democrats - with Conservative Party support - inflicted a defeat on Gordon Brown with a motion calling for the scrapping of the immigration rules which prevent Gurkhas from coming to live in the UK.

It seems incredible that a government which opened the floodgates to tens of thousands of economic migrants, should deny residency to a group of people willing to fight and die for our country.

Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers voted in favour of the LibDem motion to allow more Gurkhas to live here. Finchley MP Rudi Vis was absent from the House. But to his shame, Hendon MP Andrew Dismore voted to keep the current rules - unlike 27 of his Labour colleagues who were wise enough to recognise the injustice of the Government’s position.

In a little over a year’s time, the voters of Hendon will be able to tell Mr Dismore exactly what they think of his callous act of betrayal.

Ahoy, Captain Sensible!

Fellow Blogger Rog T has unfairly criticised Deputy Council Leader Matthew Offord, whom he describes as Captain Useless. Earlier this year Cllr Offord did make a rather foolish remark by suggesting that the council tax rise was actually a tax cut because it was lower than the rate of inflation (which it wasn’t), but on this occasion the prospective parliamentary candidate for Hendon has made some rather sensible comments in his blog on the Barnet Times.

Matthew is taking part in the Fastnet sailing race and as someone who has never attempted anything more daunting than the paddle boats at Alexandra Palace, I admire his courage.

In his blog, Matthew says: “A criticism of politicians is that many do not have any interests outside of politics – making them very one-dimensional. This leads to a cerebral paralysis where they can’t see anything but what they are doing and often cannot accept that other people’s experiences are just as, if not more, valid than their own.”

This is a refreshingly frank admission from an aspiring MP. There are far too many politicians who have no life whatsoever outside of the political village, whose only friends are politicos who only ever want to talk about politics and their socialising consists entirely of cosy Friday night dinners with fellow members of their little clique.

Mathew concedes that having outside experience makes politicians better at their jobs and he also acknowledges that those of us who live in the real world do generally know what we are talking about.

Cllr Offord’s blog also contains a coded message about the value of teamwork. I wonder who on Earth he could possibly have been referring to when he said that no single person can do everything?

Wednesday 29 April 2009

All change at the top

You may have noticed, dear Readers, that there have been a few changes to the layout of this blog. The “Not The Barnet Times” logo has moved from the side panel to the masthead, with the “Barnet Council Watch” logo moving in the opposite direction.

The reason for the change is that I have started a second blog called Not The Telegraph and marketing people tell me that it is important to create a brand image.

This blog will continue in the same format as before an can be accessed through the usual addresses of and

If you subscribe to this site using RSS, you shouldn’t need to change anything!

Not The Telegraph will deal with national issues. It will not replicate the work of the many hundreds of other blogs already in existence, but will instead discuss current issues in a slightly non conventional way. I hope you will enjoy it - and continue to enjoy Barnet Council Watch / Not The Barnet Times as well.

I write this blog under the pseudonym “Don’t Call Me Dave”. Not The Telegraph is written under the name “The Grim Ripa”. This is a reference to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - known as RIPA for short - a piece of anti-terrorism legislation introduced by Tony Blair but which is now widely abused by local authorities across the country. It has become a snoopers charter for civil servants and I hope to play my part in having this legislation repealed or amended to keep public officials in check.

If you look at the right hand panel to this blog, you will see that I have now included a list of some of my favourite blogs which you might also enjoy. I have not included The Leader Listens because he doesn’t. If/when he does, I will be happy to add a link.

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Richard Cornelius Sees The Light

When Barnet Council announced the closure of Totteridge Library, local resident Richard Cornelius stepped up to the plate and put himself forward for election. But despite the rookie candidate knocking veteran councillor Brian Coleman into second place in the poll, Richard was unable to save the library.

Once elected, and with a few tasty allowances tucked under his belt, Richard soon discovered that the council was not quite as bad as he had previously thought. Speaking to the Totteridge Residents Association last year, Cllr Cornelius said:

“Once I joined the Council almost two years ago, I had to overcome one big misconception. I found that the Council is competent in most things that it does.”
Like investing £27.4 million of taxpayers money in Icelandic banks, contrary to the council’s own investment guidelines?

Or overspending £4 million on the Aerodrome Road Bridge project?

Or buying £1.4 million worth of near obsolete laptop computers, with half of them still in storage 12 months later?

Or spending over £91,000 on audio visual equipment (including £14,000 on wide screen TVs for chief officers) in order to save £4,400 annual hire costs?

Just imagine how much worse things would be if the council was run by incompetent fools!

Monday 27 April 2009

Mind your language!

This week Barnet Homes is running an open day for non English speaking council tenants.

Barnet Council has a translation and interpretation policy which states:

“Communicating effectively in English is believed by Government to contribute to the creation of strong and cohesive communities who have shared values and experiences as defined by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion.”

“The Government recently issued guidance on the translation of publications which emphasises the importance of the universal use of English, and recommends that translations should only be used in a selective and targeted way, be part of a wider communication strategy for communities, and act as a stepping stone to encourage people to learn English. Barnet’s draft policy is consistent with this guidance.”

This is a particularly delicate subject because obviously the council does not want to discriminate against any residents or be considered racist. On the whole, I think the council has got this policy right.

Tracey Lees, Chief Executive of Barnet Homes said: “We aim to provide services that meet the needs of all our tenants and to make everyone feel welcome and included.”

I have no argument with that guiding principle, but is it being unreasonable to ask that people who are in receipt of a council property should learn to speak English?

My paternal grandparents arrived in this country at the turn of the last century fleeing persecution. They were warmly welcomed into British society and, in common with most refugees at that time, they learnt to speak the language.

The United Kingdom has a long and proud tradition of accepting genuine refugees to our shores and, needless to say, I am in full support of that policy. But it almost goes without saying that unless they can speak English, they will never be able to fully integrate into society.

The danger is that if immigrants are perceived to be receiving special treatment, it can breed resentment amongst the indigenous population and gives an excuse to extremist groups like the BNP to whip up racial tension.

If people are entitled to benefits, they should receive them. But rather than spending what must be a small fortune on providing interpreters and translation services, wouldn’t the money be better spent teaching immigrants English?

Friday 24 April 2009

The Barron Knights

Duke D'Mond (real name Richard Palmer), former lead singer of comedy pop group The Barron Knights, has sadly died at the age of 66.

The group had UK hits in the 1960s, 70s and 80s with satirical songs and parodies of the work of other artists. In their heyday The Barron Knights supported The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Here is one of their songs from 1979 about the fuel crisis. It’s still relevant today.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Freer Condemns Smear Tactics

Somewhat belatedly jumping onto the bandwagon, Council leader Mike Freer has joined the calls for Finchley resident Damien McBride to be expelled from the Labour Party for his role in the shameful attempt to smear leading Conservative MPs, including David Cameron and George Osborne.

Mr McBride’s disgraceful behaviour was exposed by top blogger Guido Fawkes.

Following the condemnation of Mr McBride by Finchley & Golders Green MP Rudi Vis (himself no stranger to controversy following the disclosure that he effectively paid for his retirement home on the Suffolk coast at our expense), Mike Freer told the Ham & High Newspaper:
“Smear campaigns and gutter politics should have no place in the democratic process.”
Like Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Mr Freer was not elected leader by the people he leads, so we are unsure of his suitability to lecture anybody about the democratic process.

However, in the light of Cllr Freer’s comments, Barnet Council Watch wonders whether "Assassin in Heels” Spin Doctor McGearson will be receiving her P45 anytime soon?

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Barnet’s Green Belt Saved!

Barnet has a new hero! Step forward Mr Michael Dawson, whose letter to the Cabinet forced them to ditch Cllr Melvin Cohen’s proposal to scrap the council’s right to determine its own green belt policies.

You can read Mr Dawson’s full letter here.

Poor Melvin sat isolated at the cabinet table trying to defend the indefensible report drawn up for him by officials. The rest of his colleagues knew that it would have been political suicide to vote down their own manifesto pledge.

Officers had argued that the council’s green belt policies could be scrapped because they were identical to national policies. Mr Dawson’s forensic analysis showed that this was simply not the case.

You can convert a house into flats and then back again, but once you concrete over the green belt, it is gone forever. Tonight, Barnet Council Watch raises a glass to Michael Dawson, saviour of the green belt!

Memo to Melvin Cohen: Next time, read the papers your officials send you before they are published on the council’s web site.

Brian Coleman and The Angel of Death

Older readers will recall the sale of three cemeteries by Westminster Council in 1987 for the grand sum of 15p - only to buy them back five years later for £4.2 million.

Having increased child burial charges by 6.25% earlier this year, Brian Coleman now proposes to effectively privatise Hendon Cemetery & Crematorium. Could this turn out to be yet another expensive mistake at the taxpayers’ expense?

According to the report being considered by the Cabinet Resources Committee tomorrow night, the council proposes to
“enter into a partnership contract for external investment in, and operation of, the crematorium and cemetery and the maintenance of redundant cemeteries in order to enhance and protect the future operation of the service.”
Read further into the report and the reason for giving up responsibility for the cemetery becomes clearer:
If the Council continues to manage and run the service in-house, it will need to make investment in the site, including mercury abatement equipment by 2012, and in the medium term to the gatehouse, the costs of which are estimated to be in the region of £1.5m.
You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that if a private company has to splash out £1.5 million on improvement works, they will have to recoup the money somehow, and the only way to do that is by increasing burial fees and charges, or cutting back on tending the grounds.

Now at this point, I must declare an interest. A very close friend of mine died last year and is buried at Hendon. The idea that the grounds will be maintained by a for-profit company makes me sick to my stomach.

Whilst I believe in the free market and a small state, I also believe that there are some services which should not be operated on a commercial basis, and this is one of them. Barnet Council, however, sees cemeteries as a way of making money. According to the report:
“…the aim is to retain a significant financial return for the Council whilst reducing the risks on income and cost.”
Making money out of the dead and the bereaved is about as low as you can get.

The proposals in the report were developed by Sector Projects, a company owned by Capita Group - or Crapita as it is known to Private Eye readers. Sector give the following reason to justify their recommendation:
“The management of the whole business by a private operator provides the best way forward for the service as it is likely to be managed by an organisation that understands the service better than the council…”
This cemetery has been in operation since 1899. What the council doesn’t know about operating it, isn’t worth knowing.

Taxpayers have paid for consultants to produce a report about a very sensitive matter yet we are not being consulted for our views. But, then again, since when did Brian Coleman ever care what the public thinks?

Monday 20 April 2009

Green Belt under threat in Barnet

Another Barnet Council Watch Exclusive!

If there is one policy, above all others, for which the Conservatives in Barnet are justly proud, it is their relentless determination to preserve the green belt. Indeed, it was former Chipping Barnet MP Sir Sydney Chapman’s resolute defence of the green belt which persuaded me to join the local party.

In the 2006 Election Manifesto, Barnet Conservatives pledged:
  • We will protect our Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Space from the plans that the Government has to develop every piece of land.
  • Protecting the green belt has been paramount and no planning permissions have been granted by the Borough in the last 4 years that breach our commitment. We happily re-state that commitment.
You can’t get much clearer than that, so it is with absolute horror to discover that Cllr Melvin Cohen, Cabinet Member for Planning and Environmental Protection, is proposing to give up the council’s right to determine the fate of Barnet’s green belt land.

Previously, Barnet operated a Unitary Development Plan (UDP) which was effectively a rule book for all planning, development and regeneration decisions. Every council created its own UDP based on its own local requirements.

But the government just can’t help interfering in our lives and fixing things which aren’t broken, so UDPs are set to disappear to be replaced by Local Development Frameworks.

However, councils do have the right to save policies from their UDPs by making an application to the Secretary of State for Local Government. On 22nd April, the Cabinet will be considering Cllr Cohen’s report which contains a list of policies to be scrapped and, unfortunately, protecting the green belt is one of them.

Why? Well according to the Cabinet papers, it is because green belt land will instead be protected by national policies. What this means in reality is that Barnet will no longer set its own green belt policies but will rely on the policies determined by the government. This is not acceptable.

Decisions which affect Barnet should be taken locally in Barnet. Otherwise, what is the point of electing a council?

Even if, as many of us hope, a Conservative government is returned to power next year, central government should not be able to determine Barnet’s green belt policies.

Just as Parliament has abdicated many of its powers to Brussels, so Barnet Council seems to want to give up its powers to Whitehall. It would then only be a matter of time before some jumped up European official told Barnet to build a tower block on the green belt and the council would be powerless to stop it.

The Conservatives were elected in 2006 on a clear promise to protect the green belt. No iffs or buts. Any Cabinet Member who votes to remove the green belt from local control will be named and shamed on this blog.

Saturday 18 April 2009

Coleman attacks G20 protestor assaulted by Police officer

Barnet Council Watch strongly supports freedom of speech and the right to protest. We also support the right of Brian Coleman to make an idiot of himself with his increasingly tiresome comments.

Following the incident at the G20 protests, when Nicola Fisher was slapped across the face by a police officer and then battoned to the ground, Cllr Coleman issued the following statement: “Nicky Fisher turned up to this protest, which everyone said could be violent. She put herself in this situation and lo, she was hit. It’s like going gambling and then complaining that you’ve lost money.”

Barnet Council Watch wonders how many people attend demonstrations expecting to be hit in the face by a policeman?

Nobody disputes that the Police have a very difficult job to do. Most people agree that the overwhelming majority of officers diligently perform their duties to a high professional standard. But it is important to remember that no officer joins the force expecting it to be a quiet 9-5 desk job with an expense account and taxi on call. It is a tough job and officers will frequently be required to act under pressure. At a demonstration, it is to be expected that tempers will run high. Most officers act with restraint.

That an officer acted disproportionately should not be grounds for condemning the entire police force. But, as the saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the entire barrel and it is right that he has been suspended pending an investigation.

Speaking to the BBC, Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said: “Have we changed the culture of policing protests in Britain so that officers now believe that their job is to crush dissent rather than manage it?”

You can see the extent of Nicola Fisher’s injuries on the Daily Express website.

Brian Coleman, referring to the protestor, said: “All right-thinking people will have little sympathy for her.” Once again, Mr Coleman is completely out of step with public opinion.

On the Conservative Home blog, the following comment was posted by Mr Nigel Fletcher: “Someone please lock Brian in his office before he finds his way to a microphone or camera. You know it makes sense.”

Mr Fletcher used to work for Coleman and is probably better qualified than most to comment.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Barnet should learn to Welch

Last week, the Council debated the Scrutiny Committee’s report into the way £27.4 million of our money was recklessly invested in the failed Icelandic banks.

Needless to say, the report was watered down to detract any criticism of the Cabinet Member for Resources (Mike Freer) whose committee was required under the Constitution to set and monitor the council’s treasury investment policy.

Politicians are a pretty discredited bunch at the moment. To regain the public’s trust, perhaps Cllr Freer should consider the wise words of Jack Welch, the retired chairman of General Electric Corporation:

“As Leader, you must take the blame and accept responsibility for any failings or mistakes that your people make. Never never never publicly blame another person for a failing. Their failing is your responsibility - true leadership offers no hiding place for a true leader.”

Monday 13 April 2009

Pot, Kettle, Black

Andrew Dismore, the Labour MP for Hendon, recently issued a press statement criticising Councillor Lynne Hillan’s proposal to slash the warden service for residents living in sheltered accommodation.

Barnet Council Watch is no supporter of Mr Dismore, but neither does it support the proposal to cut a service which so many elderly residents have come to rely on.

In response to Mr Dismore, Cllr Hillan issued her own statement saying: “To suggest services should not change and develop as circumstances dictate shows he remains wedded to the past. The fact is he has never been a minister, nor held political office when he was a Westminster councillor, means he has no experience of managing budgets or having to make tough decisions.”

Creditors of Lynne Hillan’s company, Ashurst Direct Marketing Ltd, which went into liquidation in September 2006 with debts of more than £121,000 (including £10,650 to the taxman) probably have reasonable grounds to question her ability to manage a budget.

Cllr Hillan has yet to make a public statement as to whether she will accept or refuse the 14% rise in her council allowances which she recently voted for herself

Saturday 11 April 2009

Has Brian Coleman been silenced?

Barnet Council Watch detests censorship. Freedom of expression is a central tenet of a democratic and civilised society, so when the Barnet Times removed one of Rog T’s blogs from their web site, it was republished here in full.

The same fate seems to have befallen a press release issued by Brian Coleman which has mysteriously disappeared off the GLA website.

The circumstances surrounding this story can be found on the Tory Troll blog.

Rog T and Brian Coleman are poles apart politically, but they both have strongly held views which they are not afraid to express in forthright terms. Barnet Council Watch defends their right to be heard, even if we disagree with much of what they both have to say.

Therefore we are republishing Cllr Coleman’s press release unedited so that you can read it and decide for yourself whether you think he is the best politician in London or an overpaid egotist with a big mouth.

Friday 10 April 2009

Edgware candidate selected

Another Barnet Council Watch Exclusive!

Hendon Conservatives have selected their candidate to fight the by-election in Edgware ward to be held on June 4th.

Senior Conservatives were reportedly furious when Barnet Council Watch exclusively revealed that Alison Cornelius, wife of Cllr Richard Cornelius, had been selected to fight the by-election in Totteridge before they had issued their press statement. So to give the other local newspapers a fighting chance, all we will say for now is that the candidate is a former actuary and a leading local campaigner who was instrumental in setting up a school in the Borough.

Barnet Council Watch strongly supports the selection of a candidate who understands financial matters.

The by-election has been caused by the resignation of Richard Weider who has emigrated to Israel. However, in a parting message, it seems that all is not well within the ranks of Tory councillors.

Writing on his blog, Cllr Weider says: “Being a Councillor has many benefits, including being able to make a difference for your local community. However, being a Councillor also means that I had to accept collective responsibility and so I had to limit my views made in public, whether I agreed or disagreed with a Conservative Policy.”

A Conservative party member who disagrees with Conservative policy? It seems to be becoming a common event.

Richard continues: “Now that I am relinquishing my responsibilities I will again use this blog to express my opinion on various issues and events.”

It is a rather sad state of affairs when one of our elected representatives feels unable to speak his mind, but we all look forward to reading Richard’s blog in earnest after the election.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Is there anybody out there?

At the last Hendon Residents Forum, I asked the council to provide visitor statistics for the Leader Listens website. According to the answer given, the site had a total of 98,230 page views between October 2008 and February 2009 - an average of 19,646 views per month.

That is a pretty impressive figure! It is also incorrect.

At last night’s council meeting, the leader stated that his site actually receives “in excess of 1,000 page views per month” - a mere 5% of the previously quoted figure. Not quite so impressive.

At the Residents Forum, we were told that for the five months above, the site had been visited a total of 23,664 times - an average of 4,732 times a month. Also impressive and also incorrect.

The figure given last night was just 912 visits over a six month period - an average of 150 visits per month (3.2% of the figure previously claimed).

Now I have no idea why the previous figures were so inflated, but the statistics demonstrate one point very clearly - nobody is reading the leader’s blog.

Rog T recently observed on his blog that the leader rarely posts any new articles - and now we know why. There is no point in the leader wasting his time, especially when most of his readers are councillors, council officers and comrade bloggers.

Hazel Blears MP has apparently praised Barnet for its use of social media. I wonder if the Rt. Hon. Secretary of State has been given the stats?

150 visitors a month is frankly pathetic and proves that the whole exercise has been a complete waste of public money.

If people really want to know what is going on in Barnet, they only need to bookmark this site, and it doesn’t cost taxpayers a penny!

Sunday 5 April 2009

What a bizarre comment!

Regular readers will know that Mayor Elect Brian Coleman recently said that Twitter is for twits. Council Leader Mike Freer is an avid Twitterer.

Earlier today, Cllr Freer posted the following message:-

"Select Committee report into Icelandic Deposits - bizarre conclusions. Charities good - compensate. Councils bad - don't compensate!!"

Unlike most charities, councils employ teams of treasury experts to look after taxpayers money. They have access to all manner of financial reports which warn of problems in the markets. Barnet Council has admitted that it ignored clear warnings not to invest in Iceland.

As all Conservatives know, the government does not have any money of its own. It only has what it takes from us in taxes or, in Gordon Brown’s case, what he borrows from our children and grandchildren. It would be manifestly unjust to expect one set of taxpayers to bail out another.

Those people living in Boroughs whose councils were more financially responsible would, quite understandably, be rather annoyed if they were forced to pay more tax just to spare the blushes of a few reckless and irresponsible councils.

The Icelandic Business Minister, Gylfi Magnusson, has already said that councils are unlikely to get all of their money back - which will result in either reduced services or increased tax bills for people living in the affected Boroughs.

Rather than apologise and face the consequences at the ballot box, it seems some councils think that innocent taxpayers should have to pay for their mistakes, and let them off the hook.

How bizarre.

Saturday 4 April 2009

Spot The Difference

“The credit crisis has hit Barnet but it does not mean that we have lost any money and therefore we cannot at this time say how any services or capital projects, if any, will be affected.”

Leader Listens, 23rd October 2008

“…A lot of creditors will not be paid back in full. There simply aren’t the assets left in the collapsed banks that would be sufficient to pay all creditors.”
Gylfi Magnusson, Icelandic Business Minister, 19th February 2009

“…Residents can be assured that if the Icelandic authorities refuse to honour our deposits I will continue to press the Chancellor for a guarantee that he will provide the taxpayers of this borough with the same protection he has given to the banking sector who exposed themselves to the same institutions.
Leader Listens, 23rd October 2008

“They [Councils] have a duty to the taxpayer diligently to protect the money they are investing on their behalf. Some authorities have shown themselves to be better than others in this regard. Under these circumstances, it would seem perverse to reward those authorities who failed to protect their investment with yet more money from the taxpayer.”
All Party Treasury Select Committee, 3rd April 2009

Friday 3 April 2009

Mr & Mrs Totteridge

As exclusively predicted last month by Barnet Council Watch, sources have disclosed that Alison Cornelius, wife of Cllr Richard Cornelius, was selected last night to fight the ultra safe Conservative seat of Totteridge at the by-election to be held on June 4th.

Cllr Lynne Hillan, who hopes to take over from Mike Freer when he steps down as leader of the council later this year, had previously feared Alison’s selection as this would have meant another vote for Richard who was planning on challenging her for the top job, despite only having been a councillor himself for five minutes three years.

But following his election two weeks ago as the new Chairman of Chipping Barnet Conservative Association, Richard clearly does not have the time to take on any further responsibilities.

Whether Cllr Hillan will be elected leader unopposed remains to be seen. Barnet Council Watch hears that Tony “Safe Hands” Finn is being sounded out by the ABH group of councillors as a possible challenger.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Barnet orders new limousines for Mayor

Another Barnet Council Watch Exclusive!

Barnet Council has decided to replace its two Mayoral limousines at a cost of £60,000 each. Although the existing cars are relatively new, the council is ready to defend the decision against the likely barrage of criticism from the usual suspects that this is yet another example of wasting taxpayers money in difficult economic times.

A spokesman for the council told Barnet Council Watch “The new Mayor will elevate the status of the Mayoralty to a level never before seen in the Borough’s history and he is entitled to carry out his important duties in a vehicle befitting his status.”

When asked how the council could reconcile spending £120,000 on two cars whilst slashing the warden service to those living in sheltered accommodation, the spokesman said: “The office of Mayor brings with it over 800 years of tradition and a direct link to the monarch through parliament. The Mayor is the first citizen of the borough and only the Queen takes precedence. What sort of message will it send out to the public if the Mayor turns up to a civic event in a 5 year old Daimler?”

“Barnet residents are very loyal to the Queen and we are sure they will support the decision to buy these new cars.”

The spokesman claimed that the final bill was likely to be less than £120,000 as the council hoped to secure sponsorship of the new vehicles.