Saturday 23 January 2010

Only 1 in 3 residents say the council provides good value for money

Ipsos MORI have published the results of a survey of the public’s view of council services.

After 8 years of a Conservative administration, only 33% of Barnet residents believe that the council provides good value for money, compared with 61% for Westminster and 73% for Wandsworth. (Click image to enlarge)

A mere 50% of residents are satisfied with the way the council is run, compared with 70% for Westminster and 75% for Wandsworth.

The public have spoken.

Friday 22 January 2010

Whip me with your rhythm stick!

The Daily Mail and Ham&High newspapers have both published articles about the recent resignation of the former Conservative councillor for Golders Green ward Christopher Harris, who is now living in Australia.

If there is just one character trait which best exemplifies Cllr Mike Freer, it is his ability to deny knowledge of anything and everything untoward which occurred on his watch as leader of the council, and the Chris Harris scandal is no exception.

Freer claims that he thought Mr Harris had just gone abroad for an extended holiday and didn’t realise he had been away for four months. Does anyone seriously believe that the leader of the council would not have noticed sooner? Perhaps Mike Freer’s ivory tower was taller than we had first suspected?

But if Freer genuinely didn’t know, what does that say about Cllr Andrew Harper, who receives a taxpayer funded allowance of nearly £6,000 a year for his job as Chief Whip, supposedly keeping the Tory troops in line? Has Cllr Harper taken our money under false pretences, or is Cllr Freer being slightly economical with the actualité as to what he knew and when he knew it?

Either way, it is yet another sad indictment of this ever more dysfunctional Administration.

Thursday 21 January 2010

£9 million down the drain and still no apology

The Barnet Press reports as its lead story that Barnet taxpayers’ stand to lose £9 million of the £27.4 million the council deposited in failed Icelandic banks.

When we first reported on this scandal in October 2008, former leader and cabinet member for resources Mike Freer tried to deny that the council had done anything wrong. When that tale was exposed for the complete untruth that it was, Freer changed tack and insisted that all the money would be recovered.

That was never a realistic prospect and the latest news proves that Mike Freer was either hopelessly naïve or he was hoping to spin the tale out until after the General Election when it wouldn’t be his problem.

What made matters worse was that instead of apologising to taxpayers, Teflon Freer was more concerned at passing the buck than accepting the responsibility that comes with being leader. This evasiveness continues under new leader Lynne Hillan who told the Press: “What Glitnir has done came out of the blue.”

What nonsense! Perhaps Hillan, like Freer, buried her head in the sand because the Icelandic finance minister Gylfi Magnusson stated publicly last February that creditors would not get all of their money back.

Hillan added: “The money was a very small part of what we had invested. You can’t have millions sitting in your current account, and who could have predicted what happened?”

Actually, Lynne, many councils predicted what was going to happen and withdrew their deposits in good time. The fact that the Icelandic bank ratings were dropping was a major clue if only the Cabinet Resources Committee, of which you were a member, had bothered to read the reports.

Perhaps Hillan thinks we have forgotten that the council actually borrowed £40 million from the Public Works Loan Board (intended for the schools investment programme) and then put the money on deposit in Iceland at a higher rate of interest in a process known as arbitrage. Which just happens to be unlawful for councils.

Although the council readily admits that the interest on its investment income forms part of the budget, Hillan went on to claim to the Press: “This has no affect on council tax because it’s nothing to do with the revenue budget.” Presumably Hillan also believes in Father Christmas and thinks that the moon is made out of cheese.

Barnet fought the law, and the law won

Following a complaint from Hendon’s Labour MP Andrew Dismore, the Information Commissioner has ruled that it was “unlikely” Barnet Council had complied with the Data Protection Act in passing information to Mr Dismore’s Conservative opponent Matthew Offord.

This is not the first occasion that the council has breached the Act. Last year, Don’t Call Me Dave complained to the Commissioner when former leader Mike Freer made a demonstrably untrue allegation about Freedom of Information requests. The Commissioner ruled that the publication of DCMD’s details without permission was a breach of the Act.

He told DCMD that the council had given an undertaking not to repeat the breach. Perhaps now the Information Commissioner will realise that the council’s word is simply not to be trusted.

When it comes to breaking the law, Barnet does have form. Only recently, the High Court ruled that Lynne Hillan’s proposals to axe the warden service were unlawful. Most famously, the council’s decision to sell Underhill stadium in 2002 was ruled unlawful as it did not comply with s.123 Local Government Act 1972.

Is it any wonder that Barnet has such a problem acting lawfully? The Borough Solicitor who was required to approve the terms of the Underhill sale (and, indeed, signed the contract on behalf of the Borough) was not dismissed from his position but promoted to Head of Corporate Governance. That taught him a lesson!

Council tax slashed by 4%!

Sadly for Barnet residents, it is the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead Council which has achieved this magnificent feat.

Read here how councillors have delivered huge savings whilst refusing to cut front line services.

This is not a once off gimmick in an election year. Over the last three years, Windsor & Maidenhead has delivered real cuts of 7%.

Leader of the council David Burbage is to be congratulated for reminding us what real Conservative councils are capable of achieving. Perhaps instead of wasting £5,000 of taxpayers' money flying off to America business class, former Barnet leader Mike Freer should have taken a short drive along the M4 for a lesson in how to run a council.

Happy Birthday Archie!

Not The Barnet Times is delighted to congratulate former councillor Archibald Smith, who has just celebrated his 100th Birthday.

At the last council meeting, Mayor of Barnet Brian Coleman tabled a motion paying tribute to Archie’s distinguished service and David Cameron also praised the centenarian, saying: “You can certainly be proud of all you've achieved for the residents in your period of office.”

Archie’s daughter Geraldine told the Barnet Times: “He never claimed expenses as a councillor because he thought that his role was to serve the community and he didn't think it was right. His whole mindset was to help other people.”

Come back Archie. We need you!

Do we really have to obey the law?

Barnet Council has announced that it is to appeal the recent High Court ruling that its plans to scrap the sheltered warden service were unlawful.

Council leader Lynne Hillan, architect of the proposals, has taken exception to the Judge’s finding that members of the Cabinet failed to consider their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act. She said:
“The judgment suggests that a council has to demonstrate that every member, not just officers, involved in the decision making gave full and stated consideration to all relevant legislation and guidance. This raises profound issues for the working of local government.”
How outrageous for the Judge to insist that highly paid members of the Executive comply with the law!

Whilst Hillan’s predecessor Mike Freer made a career out of buck-passing, in the real world decision makers are expected to take full responsibility for the decisions that they take. That is why the money she receives from Barnet's hard pressed taxpayers is called a Special Responsibility Allowance.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

These boots were made for flying

On Monday, Barnet blogger Rog T drew our attention to an astonishing interview on Radio 4 with warden snatcher council leader Lynne Hillan in which she revealed that the council’s planning department employs a “relationship manager” paid for by housing developer Fairview Homes. No conflict of interest there!

Don’t Call Me Dave
wonders whether this most unusual appointment was made before or after 24th September 2009 when Cllr Hillan and her predecessor Cllr Mike Freer were taken by Fairview on a helicopter ride and given a pair of boots each?

Pot Accuses Kettle (Again)

Barnet Council has just published the questions and answers from the full meeting on 15th December 2009. Councillors table questions in advance to Cabinet members and can ask supplemental questions on the night. These tend to be more interesting than the main questions. Take this example:

Question 36 Councillor Alan Schneiderman
When will meetings of the Local Strategic Partnership finally be held in public rather than in secret?

Answer by Councillor Mike Freer, Leader of the Council
The meetings of the LSP Executive remain private meetings and there are no plans to change this.

Supplementary Question 36 Councillor Alan Schneiderman
Thank you Mr Mayor. What has Councillor Freer got to hide?

Answer by Councillor Mike Freer, Leader of the Council
Absolutely nothing. If Councillor Schneiderman actually turned up for some of his Officer briefings, in the past year he actually had half a dozen meetings with Chief Officers, he could actually ask the questions himself. If he actually did the work that he is paid an SRA for he would actually have the information he is seeking.

An SRA is a Special Responsibility Allowance. There used to be a rule that no councillor could receive more than one SRA, but when Mike Freer became leader of the council, he actually had the rules changed so that he could actually stack up SRAs like boxes of cornflakes in a supermarket. No councillor in the history of Barnet has ever received as many SRAs at one time as Mike Freer.

And yet, despite all the Special Responsibility Allowances that Mike Freer received, he has actually refused to accept any responsibility for the £27.4 million of council taxpayers' money recklessly deposited in Icelandic banks - despite the fact that as Cabinet Member for Resources he was actually supposed to be monitoring the council’s investment activity.

Perhaps if Cllr Freer had actually done a mere fraction of the work that we paid him to do, the council would not actually now be looking at biggest black hole in its finances since the dawn of time.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Zac Attack!

Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate for Richmond Park, has launched a breathtakingly refreshing attack on the political classes. Talking to the London Evening Standard he said:
“I hate politics. I hate the game of politics. I have seen enough of politicians to know that it is not a class of people I particularly want to spend my time with. I don't like career politicians, I don't like what they stand for. I look at a politician who votes 100 per cent with his party and think: why did you do that? It is all about career.”
Don’t Call Me Dave wonders who Mr Goldsmith was thinking of? Surely not Mike Freer, who once described his critics as “cosseted by family wealth” ?

Saturday 16 January 2010

Free pizza: Coleman heads the queue!

The Barnet Times reports that Papa John’s pizza in Barnet is giving away free pizza today to celebrate being named pizza delivery chain of the year.

And who will be on hand to unveil a plaque to record this momentous occasion? Why, none other than Barnet’s premier freeloader, Cllr Brian Coleman.

Sometimes, these stories just write themselves!

Friday 15 January 2010


Don’t Call Me Dave received a telephone call today from one of our esteemed councillors regarding last night’s blog concerning a planning application for a property owned by warden snatcher Cllr Lynne Hillan.

“What difference does it make,” the councillor asked, “whether Cllr Hillan has registered her interest or not? She was not the person making the planning application.”

For the record, DCMD does not know whether Cllr Hillan had registered her interest prior to the planning application being submitted but, if not, he is sure that she will now wish to do so.

But the answer to the councillor’s question is really quite simple. The property has been empty for some time, which is costing Cllr Hillan’s company money as it has to pay business rates. With no tenant in the property, there is also a loss of potential rent.

If the application for a change of use is approved by the council, her new tenant will be able to take occupation and pay the rates and rent. There is therefore a material financial benefit to Cllr Hillan in this application being approved. That is why her interest needs to be recorded.

Given that the applicant, Mr Antoniou, is unlikely to sign a lease for the property without the change of use being approved, Cllr Hillan must now say whether she had any involvement in the submission of the planning application.

Thursday 14 January 2010

The Declaration Of Cromwell (Road)

The interweb is a fantastic invention. In the old days, if members of the public wanted to inspect a planning application, they would have to make a personal visit to the council’s offices. Today, all it takes is a one handed mouse click to view the details of any current application, including this one and this one.

Not only can you now inspect documents on-line, but you can also download a copy of the actual planning application itself, like this one submitted in respect of 60 Cromwell Road, Friern Barnet.

On the face of it, this appears to be a pretty ordinary planning application submitted by a Mr Wahed on behalf of his client Mr Antoniou, who is seeking a change of use for the building so that he can operate his business as a car mechanic and MOT centre. Mr Antoniou’s application states that he is looking to increase the number of staff he employs from his current premises, so the very best of luck to him!

What is not apparent from the application, however, is that the building is partly owned by warden snatcher Lynne Hillan, leader of Barnet Council. According to Land Registry records, the building used to be owned by Ashurst Direct Marketing Ltd, the company which Hillan ran into the ground leaving behind a trail of creditors including the taxman. Land Registry now records that the property is owned by a company called Silverdale Ltd which, according to the latest Annual Return filed at Companies House, is 50% owned by Hillan.

When you submit a planning application, you are required to sign a Certificate of Ownership. Mr Wahed has signed Certificate A which means that either his client owns the freehold of the building (which he does not) or he has a lease of at least 7 years outstanding. Land Registry rules require all leases of 7 years and above to be registered, but there is no lease registered against this property. This means that either the Land Registry records are incorrect or Mr Antoniou’s lease has not yet been registered.

Another possible explanation is that Mr Wahed might have mistakenly completed Certificate A instead of Certificate B, which shows the property owner’s details.

Of course, there is no suggestion of any impropriety whatsoever and no doubt Cllr Hillan will welcome the opportunity to notify council officers of her interest in the property before a decision is taken whether or not to grant planning consent.

If nothing else, this planning application puts an end to the scurrilous rumour that Cllr Hillan wanted to pull the building down and build much needed rabbit hutches flats in its place. It was clearly just a coincidence that she recently lobbied David Cameron to change the planning rules if the Conservatives win the General Election.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Gordon Brown’s latest protégé - Lynne Hillan

Don’t Call Me Dave was reading Simon Heffer’s erudite commentary in the Daily Telegraph today and was immediately struck at the similarity between Gordon Brown and new Barnet Council leader Lynne Hillan.

Heffer refers to Gordon Brown’s “obsession with his own rightness”. The same applies to Hillan who, despite a Court ruling and the wishes of 85% of residents, is determined to go ahead and axe the warden service for residents living in sheltered accommodation, irrespective of the consequences to the health and well being of those affected.
“Mr Brown has never been ‘joined-up’ enough to appreciate that a consequence of… spending on his clientele (and therefore on something of sectarian interest to the Labour Party) rather than on things of real importance to the country is that you end up failing to provide the things a state should.”
The Barnet Times reports that Hillan proposes “to spend an extra £434,000 to keep and retain staff” which is a euphemism for using taxpayers' money to give a pay rise to the cronies who are propping her up, rather than retaining the front line services we really want (like the wardens).
“We are in this mess because of obsession: not just one man's obsession, though that is crucial to what is happening, but because of the obsessions of others with their own personal ambitions and careers. We live in a democracy (in theory) that enjoys Cabinet government. Parliament is supposed to be the electorate's safeguard between elections; but as Lord Hailsham identified more than 40 years ago, when a government has a large enough majority, it can run an elective dictatorship between visits to the ballot box.”
With Freer installed as leader, Hillan used her position as Chief Whip to ensure that councillors were kept in line. Any sign of dissent from the ranks and they were threatened with the loss of committee chairmanships and the generous allowances which went with them. Councillors with ambition for higher political office fell into line rather than risk obscurity on the back benches or even de-selection.
“At such times, the public must rely on Cabinet ministers to put their belief in the good of the country, and their own sense of integrity, before the arrival each morning of the chauffeur-driven ministerial car. Some have; but not enough. Instead, willing victims of their own ambition, they continue to endorse a man whose record of failure would long ago have had him sacked from the chief executive's job of any private-sector operation.”
When Hillan challenged for the leadership for the third time, victory was assured. Not because she convinced Tory councillors that she had a great vision for the future of Barnet, but because she offered them cabinet positions and other lucrative posts. The councillors who made her leader put their own interests before those of the electorate. They have allowed her to hang on to the vital Resources portfolio despite the fact that she is manifestly unqualified for the position, having run her business into the ground leaving behind a trail of creditors, including the taxman.
“The public are disgusted accordingly; but whether they will be offered a sufficiently appealing alternative remains to be seen.”
Barnet’s Conservative councillors clearly hope that the anti Labour sentiment nationally will be sufficient to allow them to remain in power locally, but that is hardly a great platform on which to fight the election: “Vote for us - we’re not as bad as the other lot.”

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Fined by CCTV. Unless you are a Barnet councillor.

The Daily Telegraph reports today that an increasing number of councils now use CCTV to catch motorists breaking parking rules, generating more than £3 million a year in fines.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association defended the practice: “Parking restrictions are in place to keep people safe on our streets and keep roads clear for the emergency services. Councils will not apologise for giving out parking tickets to stop cars parking illegally. If people do not want to get a parking ticket, they should not park illegally.”

Of course, this doesn’t apply in Barnet where the council still refuses to issue a ticket to Cllr Andreas Tambourgreedy who illegally parked his car on Avondale Avenue last July, despite a London wide prohibition against parking on the pavement.

Perhaps the person from Conservative Central Office who monitors this blog daily would be kind enough to let us know what David Cameron thinks of law breaking councillors?

3 reasons not to vote Labour

Photograph by Paul Grover

Miep Gies. The end of an era.

The world is a lesser place today following the sad passing of Miep Gies, aged 100.

Her name may be unfamiliar to many people, but she is one of the great heroines of the Second World War, who risked her life daily by hiding Anne Frank and her family from Nazi persecution.

Miep denied that she was a hero. On her official website she said: “I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more – much more - during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the hearts of those of us who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then.”

The Diary of Anne Frank is now one of the most widely read books in the world and without Miep Gies, this tragic and fascinating insight into life under Nazi occupation would never have come to light.

May God bless her soul.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Hillan fiddles as Barnet burns freezes

Barnet blogger and LibDem candidate for Mill Hill, Rog T, has posted a hard hitting article today criticising Barnet Council for its woefully inadequate response to the weather crisis and berates the Barnet Times for skating over the issue. It is hard to disagree with what he says.

Why does the editor of our local newspaper think it more newsworthy to publish pretty pictures of snowmen rather than tell its readers that there is absolutely nobody in charge of the situation? Why did they publish an interview with Cllr Sachin Rajput, who was trying to score political points off Andrew Dismore MP about sheltered housing, without asking him the simple question as to how the proposed floating warden service would have worked this week with so many roads simply impassable?

Don’t Call Me Dave received a phone call from a reader whose elderly mother has been unable to go to her day centre all week because of the weather. This entirely avoidable change to her routine has left her in a very distressed state of mind. What have you go to say about that, Cllr Rajput?

Politicians cannot be blamed for the bad weather, but they can be blamed for their inability to prepare for, and deal with, the crisis. It simply beggars belief that the leader and deputy leader are both absent at the same time, with no effective backup system in place.

It is rare for DCMD to have sympathy with Cllr Brian Coleman, but he was made to look foolish on Thursday when he gave an interview on BBC Radio London (audio clip below) in which he said that there was enough grit for the whole of London, only to be immediately contradicted by Cllr Daniel Thomas who admitted that stocks were running out. DCMD does not believe that Brian Coleman deliberately mislead listeners, but when there is no management control, how is anyone supposed to know what is going on?

In the interview, Cllr Coleman was nostalgic for the time when people cleaned the paths in front of their own homes (whilst reluctantly admitting that he had not done so himself) but DCMD remembers when road sweepers (as we were once allowed to call them) would help clear the roads and footpaths in bad weather. Why are they not doing so now?

Instead of sitting in his ivory tower watching his £3,000 wide screen television, why isn’t £185,000 a year Chief Executive Nick Walkley instructing all the dustmen who are unable to make their usual rounds help with the effort of making the side roads and footways safe for pedestrians and motorists? DCMD will tell you why. It is because of the pisspoor political leadership we have in this Borough where narcissistic troughing takes precedence over public service.

If Hillan was a real leader, she would have cut short her sun drenched American holiday to take charge of the situation, although, to be fair, even if she had returned, it wouldn’t have made any difference because she is massively out of her depth and just does whatever the officers tell her to do. For all his many faults, at least under Labour leader Alan Williams, officers were left in no doubt as to who was in charge.

Conservative councillors should hang their heads in shame for electing Hillan as their leader. This is the woman who decided to axe the warden service for residents living in sheltered accommodation, but not before her own mother was moved to a new home unaffected by the cuts. Hillan ignored the public consultation even though a massive 85% of the electorate opposed her plans. She even thinks she knows better than a High Court judge and has decided to waste taxpayers money appealing the ruling that her plans were unlawful.

Hillan is also lobbying David Cameron to persuade the next Conservative Government to change the law after she was told that it would be illegal to allow residents to pay a fee and fast track the normal planning process. Not The Barnet Times is sure that Hillan’s desire to see the planning rules changed has nothing whatsoever to do with the outstanding application for a change of use of 60 Cromwell Road in Friern Barnet, where she operated her business before running it into the ground leaving a trail of unpaid creditors, including the taxman.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Keep On Troughing!

Last week we reported how Cllr Mike Freer had yet to give up the trappings of power. A report published by the council today reveals that, far from giving up his perks, the greedy trougher is actually taking on more.

There is a motion before the General Functions Committee for Mike Freer to be put in charge of the Corporate Joint Negotiation and Consultation Committee (CJNCC) - a position which carries an allowance of £5,984 a year.

Don’t Call Me Dave would like to know the justification for appointing Freer as Chairman of this committee given that he is leaving the council in less than 4 months.

His allowance is in addition to the £9,974 he receives as chairman of the council’s Pension Fund Committee, £2,493.50 as a member of the Pension Fund Management Advisory Panel, £14,000 as a member of the London Development Agency Board. Not forgetting his ‘basic’ council allowance of £9,974.

That’s over £42,000 a year of taxpayers’ money for someone who claimed he was relinquishing his public duties in order to concentrate on fighting his General Election campaign. David Cameron will be impressed!

Don’t Panic - Melvin’s in charge!

With Cllr Lynne Hillan away in sunny Florida spending her new leader’s Special Responsibility Allowance of £34,909, the public are reasonably entitled to expect her deputy Andrew Harper to take charge of the problems caused by the current bad weather. The only problem is, Cllr Harper is away as well.

So who has been left running the shop? Step forward Melvin Cohen, Cabinet Member for over-development, who secured only three votes in the recent contest for Deputy Leader.

Former Deputy Leader Matthew Offord would have been the obvious candidate to take temporary charge, but warden snatcher Hillan still hasn’t forgiven him for taking the job she thought was rightfully hers in the bloody coup of 2006.

Not The Barnet Times has frequently reported how the Council treats the public with contempt. What better proof of that than for the leader and deputy leader both to be absent at the same time.