Monday 19 December 2011
Friday 16 December 2011
Earlier this week, Mr Tony Kleanthous, Chairman of Barnet Football Club, announced that the club was going to leave Underhill at the end of the season. A petition has been set up to keep the club at their current home and you can sign it here. Don’t Call Me Dave urges everyone to sign it, even if you are not a football fan.
Mr Kleanthous blames his ongoing disagreements with Barnet Council as being the reason for the proposed departure. But he has been arguing with Barnet Council for as long as most of us can remember. Even back in the days when Labour and the LibDems were
The reality is that it doesn’t matter how much the council gives, Mr Kleanthous always seems to want more. In 2002, the Labour led administration secretly sold the freehold of Underhill to Barnet Football Club Holdings Ltd (a company controlled by Mr Kleanthous, but separate to the football club, despite its name) for the princely sum of £10,000. Yes, £10,000 for a three acre site in a prime residential location. Many BFC fans have been posting messages on the internet demanding that the council supports the club. How much more support is the council supposed to give?
The High Court actually ruled that the sale was unlawful, but it was powerless to overturn the transaction, meaning that the taxpayers of Barnet received very poor value.
Under the agreed terms of the sale, the council was due to receive a percentage of the future development value. The percentage split was 60/40 in the council’s favour. However, due to an elementary cock up in the contract, which the highly paid Borough Solicitor, Jeff Lustig, failed to spot (even though he was legally required to approve said contract), the agreement was time limited to ten years. In other words, if BFCH sold the land within 10 years of purchase, Barnet taxpayers would receive a share. If BFCH sold after 10 years, they kept the lot.
DCMD is sure that it is simply a very happy coincidence that Mr Kleanthous has made the decision to move out now, just as the 10 year anniversary (March 2012) is rapidly approaching.
Of course, if Barnet Football Club remain at Underhill forever, the land cannot be developed into housing and private individuals will not be able to profit at the expense of taxpayers, whose land was sold without their knowledge or consent.
It is therefore imperative that everyone does whatever is necessary to Keep Barnet Football Club at Underhill.
Friday 9 December 2011
The BBC have shelved tonight’s episode of Q.I. featuring Jeremy Clarkson. This is apparently in response to complaints by thirty thousand humourless twats over Clarkson’s recent comments calling for public sector strikers to be shot. The fact that sixty million people have not complained is irrelevant in the eyes of the unelected and unaccountable PC brigade who now run our once renowned and independent State broadcasting corporation.
The episode is being replaced by one featuring Jimmy Carr. This is the same Jimmy Carr who recently made a 'joke' about the disabled children who travel on Variety Club Sunshine buses. The same Jimmy Carr who has also made jokes about children with Downs Syndrome.
The hypocrisy of the left who feign indignation when someone on the right makes an obvious joke, whilst ignoring gratuitously offensive remarks by one of their comrades, is positively nauseating.
Wednesday 16 November 2011
In recent years, the West has launched military campaigns against dictatorships, or actively encouraged citizens living under such regimes to rise up and overthrow their oppressors.
Yet amazingly, these same Western leaders actively supported the removal of Silvio Berlusconi as Italian Prime Minister, to be replaced by an unelected ‘technocrat’ Mario Monti.
Whatever Berlusconi’s faults - and he had many - he also had a democratic mandate to govern. He may have turned Italy into a laughing stock and economic basket case, but the Italian people knew who and what they were voting for when they elected him.
The new Prime Minister, Signor Monti, has announced that his new cabinet will be comprised of fellow technocrats. Not a single member will have been elected by popular vote. This is an affront to democracy and, given Italy’s not too distant history of dictatorships, a dangerous precedent.
To the unelected and unaccountable EU bureaucracats who are desperately trying to prevent the Euro from collapsing, Monti’s appointment is like manna from heaven. They cannot bear the idea that the voters of Europe, who must now pay for the reckless folly of the Euro zone, should actually have a say as to how to resolve the crisis.
Berlusconi might not be missed on the international stage, but his replacement sends out a chilling message that democracy will no longer be tolerated in Europe. Will David Cameron commit British troops to help restore democracy in Italy, or will he simply roll over like a puppy and do as he is told?
Saturday 5 November 2011
Article updated: See below
Don’t Call Me Dave stopped writing blogs about Barnet Council some time ago because (a) it was taking too much time to research stories thoroughly and (b) there were plenty of other bloggers out there doing a far better job. See the panel on the right hand side of this page for a selection. Not blogging about Barnet does not prevent DCMD from posting comments on other blogs when the mood takes him.
All the bloggers welcome DCMD’s contributions, even if they disagree with him, with the exception of Mrs Angry who regularly refuses to publish his comments. The irony will not be lost on readers that in a blog posted today under the title Freedom of Expression: another victory for the Barnet bloggers, Mrs Angry refused to publish one comment from DCMD, published a second and then removed it shortly thereafter.
Mrs Angry’s blog was a commentary on the excellent investigative work by Rog T who had forced Barnet Council to admit that it had lobbied the Information Commissioner in an attempt to silence opposition from local bloggers. The importance of Rog’s exposé cannot be underestimated. It is the first act of a tyrant to try and silence those with whom you disagree. And so it has proven to be the case, yet again, with Barnet’s leading Trotskyite, Mrs Angry.
At this point, dear Readers, you may be wondering what seditious commentary had DCMD tried to post to the Broken Barnet blog? The answer is that he merely pointed out to Mrs Angry that every time he tried to report that Barnet’s chief legal officer Jeff Lustig had signed off the contract to the Underhill sale - a transaction that was subsequently ruled illegal by the High Court - the dear lady refused to publish the comment.
DCMD refuses to believe that Mrs Angry was simply too lazy to read the many public documents relating to this matter which have been published in local and national newspapers (to say nothing of the esteemed Not The Barnet Times blog) for verification of the facts. The simple truth is that the transaction in question took place when Mrs Angry’s beloved Labour Party were
You cannot claim to support freedom of expression but then remove a comment that is lawful and relevant to the debate. You either believe in freedom of expression or you don’t. Now we know in which camp the fragrant Mrs Angry sits.
Update: 7th November, 2011
DCMD temporarily took down this blogpost yesterday as a gesture of goodwill to Mrs Angry so that he could consider her complaint that it was an unwarranted personal attack. Mrs Angry contends, and DCMD accepts, that she has no knowledge of the facts surrounding the Underhill sale. Without being availed of the facts, Mrs Angry’s argument is that she does not want to open herself up to legal liability in the event that someone posts a defamatory or libellous message. That is fair enough, but only to the extent of dealing with unknown persons. Perhaps unintentionally, by removing his comments, Mrs Angry was effectively saying to DCMD “I do not trust what you have written”.
The facts of the matter are publicly available, and have been for several years. That Mrs Angry exercises her right not to read these documents does not make them any less valid.
Mrs Angry believes that DCMD’s comments about Jeff Lustig are an attempt to re-open the debate about the Underhill sale. They are not, and despite him telling her so several times, she still persists in this belief. The issue is one of corporate governance.
Mr Lustig was the council’s senior legal officer in charge of the Underhill sale. It is his signature which made the contract legally binding. In the private sector, if an employee carried out a transaction which caused his employer to incur losses of hundreds of thousands of pounds - if not millions - and then suffered the ignominy of that transaction being declared unlawful, he would be summarily dismissed. Not so in Barnet. Mr Lustig was not removed from his post, as he should have been, but promoted to Head of Corporate Governance and given a salary rise.
The majority of the scandals recently exposed by Barnet’s Bloggers can be attributed to a failure of corporate governance. The Metpro scandal, for example, came about because nobody bothered to check the council’s own rules and regulations for the awarding of external contracts. When council employees see that the rules can be ignored with impunity and that the people responsible for major cock ups are never held to account, it is no wonder that standards fall.
But it is the job of the Head of Corporate Governance to ensure that standards don’t fall and that the letter of the law is applied to everything done in the Council’s name. In this regard, Mr Lustig has failed spectacularly in his statutory duties.
Rog T’s revelation of the attempt by Barnet to legally gag its opponents also has Mr Lustig’s fingerprints on, although Mrs Angry does not seem to accept this. The Council’s complaint to the Information Commissioner was based on a legal argument regarding the Data Protection Act. It is inconceivable that Mr Lustig would not have been aware of the action being taken in the Council’s name.
Mrs Angry doubts whether Mr Lustig came up with the idea of the complaint to the Information Commissioner. That may very well be so, but as the Council’s senior legal officer, he should have stopped the application in his tracks. It is his job to give advice on legal matters. Did he advise the council to drop the action? If so, why was he ignored?
Mr Lustig’s position is untenable as his credibility has been irreparably undermined. He is not employed to allow public funds to be used to pursue a vendetta against Bloggers. His job is to serve the people of Barnet and ensure that the council complies with the law. Until such time as he is removed from his position and replaced by someone who will carry out his duties without fear or favour, these scandals will continue to occur.
Mrs Angry is seemingly so determined to portray every council cock up as the work of the evil Tories that she sometimes loses sight of the bigger picture. It is to Mr Lustig’s good fortune that Mrs Angry will not countenance this debate on her blog.
Tuesday 1 November 2011
It is widely accepted that the Greeks ‘created’ democracy as we know it some 2,500 years ago in Athens; and it is to Greece again that we must give thanks for reminding the morally corrupt dictators of the modern world - Cameron, Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel, Berlusconi et al - that it is the public who grant politicians the power to govern. Not only do we, the people, require politicians to listen to us, we actually expect them to govern in our interests, not theirs.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has caused widespread panic in the global financial markets by declaring that the bail out package recently agreed by EU leaders (without any democratic mandate) must be put to a referendum of his electorate. What an outrageous proposal to let the people decide!
Given that the majority of Greeks have consistently opposed the country’s half hearted austerity measures, it seems certain that they will similarly reject the EU’s draconian proposals. This is causing the other EU leaders to shit themselves because they know that the consequence would not simply be the formal bankruptcy of Greece, and the subsequent default on its debts, but the beginning of the collapse of the Euro itself.
Greece should never have been allowed to join the Euro, but due to a deliberate cover-up of the true state of its economy, unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats were able to fiddle the figures and allow the country to qualify for entry. Now the rest of the EU is required to pay the consequences. Why should German taxpayers pay for the profligacy of another sovereign state? Why should the UK contribute to bail out funds when we are not even part of the Euro?
The reality is that the swivel-eyed Trots who have been running Europe for the last 40 years thought that Governments could just keep on spending forever, to keep alive their dream of a centralised European Super State. They simply can’t face reality and have decided instead to attack the Greek Prime Minister for his temerity in seeking the consent of the people who have to pay the bill.
Of course, bankruptcy for Greece will be painful for its citizens in the short to medium term, but that is the price to pay for living beyond your means for so long. Many Western banks will take big hits on the default of Greek bonds, but that is their own fault for being so greedy. If banks lends money without carrying out due diligence, it is their own fault. Taxpayers should not have to pick up the bill.
The West has been living on tick for far too long. In the UK, Gordon Brown almost bankrupted this country with his reckless spending spree designed for no other purpose than to win votes for Labour. The taxpayer funded party is well and truly over, and the sooner weak economies are allowed to collapse, the sooner a genuine rebuilding process can begin.
It would be nice to think that the West has learnt its lesson and will be more financially responsible in the future, but people probably thought the same thing in 1929 after the Wall Street crash. Politicians never learn the lessons of history.
Sunday 16 October 2011
Tuesday 11th October 2011 was a very important day. Not simply because it was the third anniversary of the Barnet Eye blog; it was the day that the world said goodbye to Neil Mosesson, aged just 52. Neil fought a heroic battle against liver cancer with such fortitude that there was a time when it appeared as if he was going to beat it. He never gave up hope, and his brave fight will give inspiration to other people suffering from the same awful disease.
Neil was a huge supporter of this blog, and gave me an enormous amount of help and advice in my many battles with bureaucratic officialdom. He was the champion of the small guy fighting against the system.
Even when he knew that the end was not far away, and his physical strength was failing, Neil insisted on putting his affairs in order so that his wife would not have the stress and worry of having to deal with them. His mental strength was truly remarkable in the face of such adversity.
The world would be a much better place if there were more Neils around. It will be a far lesser place without him. He is survived by his wife, daughter (aged 5) and by his mother and four siblings.
Not The Barnet Times is dedicated to the memory of Neil.
The biggest political news story of the week was the resignation of Defence Secretary Liam Fox, whose position had become untenable following disclosures that his friend Adam Werritty attended numerous meetings with Fox, despite not having any security clearance or an official government position.
Fox, afflicted by the hubristic malaise typical of the political classes, tried to cling on to his position seemingly oblivious to the impropriety of his actions. It proves that David Cameron, when in Opposition, was correct to warn of the danger of the influence of lobbyists - leaving aside the hypocrisy of his failure to address the problem once elected to office.
There is, however, an unpleasant undercurrent to this story. Newspapers have published photographs of Werritty as Fox’s best man at his wedding. Other pictures show Werritty dressing similarly to Fox. The media has implied, and we have inferred, that there is more to their relationship than mere friendship. There is no evidence for this which, in any event, is totally irrelevant when compared to the more serious failings by Fox in the conduct of his ministerial duties.
Even if the innuendo was founded, it would not be the first time that a Conservative MP has married in order to disguise his sexuality; but in the 21st Century most electors cast their vote according to the perceived ability of the candidates rather than who they might be shagging.
It is rumoured that Mike Freer MP, who failed to be elected in Harrow West in 2005, fell out with the local Conservative Association over claims that he had tried to hide his sexuality from them. Don’t Call Me Dave finds this story hard to believe. Freer has always been open about his sexuality and, indeed, his Civil Partnership ceremony was held in the most public of venues - Barnet Town Hall.
In 2010 Freer was elected as MP for Finchley & Golders Green - a constituency in which the orthodox Jewish community makes up a significant part of the electorate. It is often claimed that people with deeply held religious convictions consider homosexuality to be a sin (Leviticus 20:13 and all that). However, it is self evident from Freer’s election that voters have more important things to worry about.
LibDem MP David Laws resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2010 after less than three weeks in office because he tried to cover up aspects of his personal life. Liam Fox was forced to resign because he too tried to cover up aspects of a personal friendship. MPs wishing to hold on to their jobs should take a leaf from Mike Freer’s book.
Thursday 6 October 2011
As most readers are aware, Don’t Call Me Dave is not the biggest fan of LibDem Prime Minister David Cameron. However, in a speech which Mr Cameron was due to give to the Conservative Party conference, DCMD is in full agreement. What a pity that the Prime Minister chickened out and changed it.
In what is now being described by spin doctors as a misinterpretation, the original speech called for householders to pay off store and credit cards because “the only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households – all of us – paying off the credit card and store card bills.”
Unfortunately, Mr Cameron gave in to pressure from the retail lobby and dropped this section from his speech. As Margaret Thatcher would have said: he’s frit!
The simple and undeniable truth is that we are all spending beyond our means, individually and collectively.
It is very easy to place the blame for the current economic crisis on greedy bankers, but they are not the only culprits. Gordon Brown is partly to blame for his irresponsible and inflationary expansion of the monetary supply which reduced the cost of borrowing, creating an artificial boom. But we, the people, must accept our share of the blame also. Nobody put a gun to our heads and forced us to borrow more money than we could afford to pay back.
The banks were utterly reckless in issuing credit cards like confetti, but consumers were equally reckless for accepting them. It was insane for banks to grant mortgages of 125%, but we were insane for borrowing more than the asset was worth. You did not need a degree in finance to realise that this could only ever end in tears.
House builders now sell their new homes with fitted carpets and kitchens and all the so called mod-cons. If buyers think about what they are doing, they will come to realise that they are taking out 20 year mortgages to pay for a washing machine. They will still be paying for it long after it has gone to the great laundry in the sky!
The public are not alone in this cavalier attitude to credit. In the People’s Republic of Barnet, the council has borrowed money to resurface the roads with repayments spread over 20 - 40 years. But the roads will require resurfacing again in about 10 years time. Future generations will be left paying the bill for something they never had. Government PFI contracts are nothing more than credit time bombs providing short term gains for politicians, to be paid back by future generations.
Our forefathers did not rush out to buy the latest consumer goods on tick. They knew very well that you only bought what you needed and what you could afford. The latest flat screen TV might look very nice on your wall, but if you haven’t got the money to buy it, then you will just have to make do with last year’s model.
This explosion of cheap credit has resulted in massive over consumption by the West. The planet is being systematically raped of its natural resources to fuel our insatiable appetite for the latest gadgets and gizmos. We are not only risking economic collapse by our financial profligacy, but an ecological disaster as we consume precious resources at a faster rate than nature can replace them.
The Bank of England has today announced another round of quantitative easing - or printing fake money as it should be properly known - to the tune of £75 billion, in an attempt to stimulate the economy. This is on top of the £200 billion ‘created’ by Labour. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Boy George Osborne, is supposed to be a history graduate. Did he not learn about German hyperinflation in the 1930s caused by printing more money? Or post war Hungary where prices doubled daily? Or Zimbabwe, where just 3 years ago, inflation rose to more than 2 million per cent?
The politicians and bankers would have us believe that the solution to the economic crisis is to spend money that we don’t have to buy goods that we don’t need. This might help retailers in the short term and make the government popular, but the long term consequences will be catastrophic. Of course, Cameron and his cronies won’t care about that. By the time the shit really hits the fan, they will have long since left office and the next generation will be left to pick up the pieces.
Mr Cameron was correct when he said that we can’t borrow our way out of a debt crisis. The swivel-eyed Trots who think otherwise should heed the succinct advice from the gentleman in the video below.
Thursday 15 September 2011
Bernie Ecclestone donated £1 million to the Labour Party. Formula 1 was subsequently exempted from new advertising regulations introduced by the last Labour Government. Mr Ecclestone’s donation was then refunded with Tony Blair declaring that he was a “pretty straight sort of guy”. Blair was highly criticised by the then Conservative opposition - rightly so, given the subsequent ‘cash for honours’ scandal.
Now that the Tories have one hand on the reins of power, they are seemingly not averse to amending the planning laws to suit big property developers who have made substantial donations to the Conservative Party.
David Cameron is unlikely to repeat Blair’s mistake of claiming to be straight, given his previous £680 expenses claim to have wisteria removed from his home, so the only question which remains unanswered is whether the developers will receive their money back before or after the law is changed in their favour?
Saturday 13 August 2011
Arsenal have long since lost their “boring, boring” tag, but the result today against Newcastle was as predictable as it was frustrating for Arsenal supporters. Last season Arsenal threw away a four goal lead to Newcastle, having a player sent off in the process. Today, new boy Gervinho was dismissed for stupidly retaliating to provocation from Saint Joey of Barton.
Arsène Wenger was forced into playing the second string midfield with Jack Wilshere absent through injury and Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri left out pending their big money transfers to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively. This was a completely avoidable situation.
All 6.9 billion people on the planet, except Wenger it seems, knew that Fabregas was going to leave. It was obvious for all of last season that he wanted to return to Spain. Nasri’s refusal to sign a new contract should have set the alarm bells ringing. Instead of deluding himself that he could keep these players, Wenger should have sold them both at the end of last season and bought in replacements straight away.
Sir Alex Ferguson did most of his transfer business at the start of the summer, giving his new players time to settle in. He knew who was leaving and who was joining. Arsenal, by comparison, have left everything so late, that even if they do now buy the defenders they desperately need, the team will be unsettled for at least the first month of the season, if not longer.
Last season’s capitulation to Newcastle marked the beginning of the end of Arsenal’s Premiership aspirations. The season rapidly went downhill after that match and they never recovered their early season form. The consolation this year is that the only way now is up. But even allowing for new season rustiness, it is quite clear that Wenger has failed to address the ongoing problem of indiscipline amongst the team - Alex Song was lucky to avoid a red card for stamping.
Through pig-headed obstinacy, the Manager has allowed Arsenal to start the season from a position of weakness compared to Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. Football has changed rapidly over the last few seasons, and Wenger has failed to adapt to the times. The so called Professor has lost his magic touch. It may only be the first week of the season, but it’s time for Wenger to go.
Friday 12 August 2011
If you steal a case of water worth £3.50, you go to prison for six months. But if you steal £680 from taxpayers to have your wisteria removed, you become Prime Minister.
What’s that you say Sooty? Mr Cameron repaid the money? Oh well that’s alright then. Taking something that belongs to someone else is OK as long as you give it back to them when you are caught.
How silly to think that the law makers should be subject to the same rules as the hoi polloi.
Friday 5 August 2011
When Labour were in power, the Conservatives rightly condemned Gordon Brown for selling off our gold reserves when the price was at an all time low.
Eric Pickles, Conservative Secretary of State for Local Government, has now instructed councils to dispose of their property assets when prices are not only low, but still falling.
It doesn’t seem to matter which political party is in power. None of them have got even the vaguest idea about asset management, and, as usual, it is the taxpayer who will pay for their mistakes.
When Arsène Wenger decided to ply his trade in England, there were only two clubs he could consider joining - Arsènal or Queens Park Wengers. Fortunately, for Gooners, he chose Arsenal and there is no question that he destroyed the “boring, boring Arsenal” tag by introducing free-flowing football of the highest quality. He also ended a 5 year trophy drought for the club.
He was praised from all quarters for buying relatively obscure players that nobody else had heard of, at knock-down prices, and turning them into superstars. Under his guidance, Arsenal won three Premiership titles (including two Doubles) in considerable style.
But since moving to the Emirates Stadium, the trophies have dried up again and the quality of football rarely matches the dizzy heights seen a decade ago (yes, it really is that long). The reason is three-fold:
First, other clubs have spent hundreds of millions of Pounds buying experienced players at the top of their game. There is no question that spending £50 million + on one player is obscene, but that is the reality of the business. And it is a business: there is surely nobody alive who thinks football is still a sport? The Arsenal Board can talk about their self sustaining business model until the cows come home, but if you don’t have players who are as good as, or better than, the players in your opponents’ team, then you are going to win diddly squat.
Second, Wenger refuses to take off his rose tinted glasses. Nobody expects a manager to slate his own players in public, but even in private Wenger refuses to concede that not all of his purchases have been up to the mark. Senderos and Bendtner, to name but two, were kept in the first team for far too long to the detriment of the whole squad and the frustration of supporters.
Third, the players have an attitude problem which the manager has failed to control. Arsenal lose far too many games to the so called smaller sides. Wenger has a reputation for being a bad sport and this filters through to the players. He once famously remarked: “Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser”, but that misses the point. If you lose a game because of poor decisions by officials, then you have a right to moan. But if you lose because the other side played better than you, then you should have the good grace to admit it. The players assume that they have a divine right to win just by turning up on the pitch, and are consequently unable to cope when their opponents raise their game.
It is all very well Wenger talking about the supposed great team spirit, but the reality is that in each of the last few seasons, the players have regularly suffered an embarrassing collapse in form. When Wenger declared in the New Year that Arsenal were on course to win the quadruple, you knew that another trophy-less season beckoned. To throw away a four-nil lead away to Newcastle was unforgivable. Wenger is seemingly unable to motivate his players to recover their self confidence after a bad run. He is also quick to blame injuries for poor results. Other teams have injuries too - but top teams have a strength in depth to cope with such eventualities.
Nothing can take away the fact that Arsène Wenger is the best manager that Arsenal have ever had. But he is surviving in his job purely on the strength of his past performance. A few months ago, someone posted a message on the BBC website saying that Arsenal did not need to change their manager - they just needed their manager to change. But all the evidence suggests that Wenger is incapable of change. As in seasons past, supporters were promised a summer of high transfer activity but, as usual, it has not materialised. Instead Wenger has adopted a high risk policy of trying to hold on to players who have no desire to play for the team anymore. Compare this to Kenny Dalglish’s astute summer purchases which will give Liverpool a really good chance of a top four finish - most likely at Arsenal’s expense.
Unless, and until, Wenger accepts that a title winning team needs an experienced backbone, Arsenal will continue their dry spell. If he really cannot understand this simple concept, then it is time for him to go. The days of winning with kids are long since past.
Monday 4 April 2011
Don’t Call Me Dave has lost count of the number of times he has tried to retire from writing this blog. At least three. Perhaps more.
However, for personal reasons, this time it really is the last post for Not The Barnet Times.
Just out of curiosity, DCMD looked at the stat counter this evening - over 120,000 hits in the last two years. Thank you all very much for your support.
The following press release has been issued today by a number of Barnet’s prominent bloggers. Not The Barnet Times supports the demands for a full public enquiry into the council’s relationship with MetPro Rapid Response / MetPro Emergency Response.
Press release — 4 April 2011
Call for a public inquiry into the relationship between MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response and Barnet Council
Call for a public inquiry into the relationship between MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response and Barnet Council
Barnet Council has been engaging private security firms MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response to control residents’ access to council meetings, in particular the council meeting on 1 March 2011. One of the company directors claims the company has also monitored blogs by Barnet residents, and filmed Barnet residents at Council meetings.
Despite holding contracts worth several hundred thousand pounds with Barnet Council, MetPro Rapid Response collapsed recently owing around £400,000, including £245,000 to HM Revenue & Customs. The firm is now in the hands of liquidators; however, MetPro Emergency Response, a company recently set up by the same company directors associated with MetPro Rapid Response, continued for a while to be employed by Barnet after the collapse of MetPro Rapid Response.
As well as providing security for Council meetings, these firms provided security at several council locations, including some housing vulnerable people.
At the meeting on 1 March, it appears that MetPro security staff did not wear visible identification, breaching Security Industry Authority (SIA) regulations, whilst working for Barnet.
Statements made by directors of the company regarding the scope of their work for Barnet have been contradicted by executive officers of Barnet Council.
The full facts regarding Barnet Council’s contract/s with MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response must be revealed to the public. We need to know about the use of data collected by the company (with full consideration for data protection and human rights implications). We need Barnet Council to reveal the extent of the MetPro companies’ activities on behalf of the Council. Residents and Council staff have a right to know what activities their Council undertake. They have a right to expect the Council only to engage firms with a proven track record for such activities and to monitor such, ensuring, for example, that they comply with legislation, eg, SIA regulations.
The only way that trust can be restored in Barnet Council, following the MetPro debacle, is to hold a full public inquiry. We the undersigned call on Nick Walkley, CEO of Barnet Council, and Lynne Hillan, Council Leader, to immediately engage an independent investigator, enjoying the confidence of Barnet residents, to look into the relationship between MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response and Barnet Council. We demand to know what Barnet Council asked MetPro Rapid Response/MetPro Emergency Response to do and what Barnet Council has done with any information about residents it has had access to as a result of MetPro’s work.
Alexander Clayman (N12)
Derek Dishman (EN5)
Adam Langleben (HA8)
Vicki Morris (NW9)
Theresa Musgrove (N3)
Maria Nash (EN4)
Julian Silverman (N12)
Roger Tichborne (NW7)
Adele Winston (EN5)
Sunday 3 April 2011
Last year, on 1st April, Don’t Call Me Dave posted a spoof picture of Tory Councillor Brian Coleman’s head superimposed onto RMT Union Boss Bob Crow’s body.
The two men might be poles apart politically, but they do seem to have a lot in common. They are both political bullies who antagonise their own natural supporters as well as opponents.
They both earn obscene amounts of money at the expense of ordinary hard working people. Coleman earns in the region of £114,000 a year and Crow around £133,000. Both men additionally claim huge amounts in expenses.
Now it seems there is something else they have in common. Brian Coleman lives in a flat owned by the Finchley Methodist Church, where the rent is set by the rent officer. It has three rooms, kitchen and bathroom/wc and costs Cllr Coleman £546 per month. Bob Crow lives in a housing association property - a three bedroom end of terrace house in Woodford Green at a rent reported to be just £150 per week. Both properties were intended for people on low incomes.
Of course, neither Coleman or Crow have done anything illegal. They are within their rights to take advantage of a stupid system that allows people to remain in subsidised housing, even when their circumstances have changed. The government is now looking to close the loophole and remove this anomoly, so that cheap housing can be provided for those in genuine need.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps told the Daily Mail: “With nearly 5 million vulnerable people languishing on housing waiting lists, I would have thought a highly paid union baron would feel somewhat awkward taking advantage of publicly subsidised housing.” Someone should tell Mr Shapps about our Brian.
Friday 1 April 2011
Nick Walkley, Chief Executive of Barnet Council, has sensationally resigned following the debacle over the use of Metpro Rapid Response at the recent meeting of the council. Not The Barnet Times understands that Mr Walkley had tried to ride out the storm of protest, but the latest revelation that innocent and law abiding residents were secretly filmed by Metpro’s henchmen made his position untenable.
A spokesman for the council said: “In any organisation, the person at the top must accept ultimate responsibility, not only for the decisions which are taken by that organisation, but also for the people who carry out those decisions.”
It was recently disclosed that Mr Walkley received a remuneration package worth £250,000 last year, but he has agreed to waive his right to compensation for loss of office. The spokesman continued: “There can be no reward for failure. At a time when loyal and hard working staff are being laid off, it would be entirely inappropriate for a Chief Executive who has presided over such an ignominious act to receive any further payment from the public purse.”
It is understood that the Council will now advertise for a successor, to be paid a salary below that of the Prime Minister, in accordance with the guidelines set out by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles.
Thursday 31 March 2011
Tuesday 29 March 2011
Monday 28 March 2011
Don’t Call Me Dave recently stumbled across the Duff & Nonsense blog, written by David Duff. Mr Duff had posted a comment on VickiM’s blog detailing the estimated increase in public expenditure over the next four years, before adding: Cuts? What Cuts? (A line which DCMD unashamedly borrowed for his last blogpost.)
Like Broken Barnet, Duff & Nonsense is a brilliantly written blog. It is sharp, incisive and witty. Politically, it is on the right side of centre (in all senses of the meaning of the word).
Undoubtedly, many of the swivel-eyed Trots who read Not The Barnet Times, will find Mr Duff’s blog not to their taste. But the truth is often unpalatable to those who do not want to hear it (or think that the world owes them a living).
Saturday 26 March 2011
Amidst the plethora of commentary about the budget, one little snippet of information caught Don’t Call Me Dave’s attention. The new budget box carried by Chancellor George Osborne was commissioned by the National Archives for a mere £4,000. Four grand for a briefcase!!
At a time when public spending has to be drastically cut in order to reduce the budget deficit, nothing epitomises the culture of state profligacy better than this.
In the grand scheme of things, £4,000 might seem a trivial amount. After all, public expenditure is actually set to rise to £744 billion in 2015. (Cuts? What cuts?) But for many - if not most - families in this country, £4,000 would make a significant difference to them.
This year, we will be paying £50 billion in interest alone on the national debt. That works out at £1,585.49 per second - a truly staggering sum which the nation ignores at its peril.
Politicians keep telling us that we’re all in this together, but they clearly have no concept of the value of money. Barnet council spent £14,000 buying 5 flat screen television sets for chief officers. That’s the equivalent of the full annual council tax bill for 14 band D households in the Borough.
The real problem is that the people who make these spending decisions are not spending their own money, and they simply do not care whether something is even necessary, let alone represents good value. It is very easy to ignore all these relatively small sums of public spending as being too irrelevant to worry about, but the old adage “watch the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” applies as much to the state as it does to the majority of the population who live in the real world. Unless this country starts living within its means, we are going to go the same way as Greece, Ireland and now Portugal.
Thursday 24 March 2011
In 1947, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Dalton, resigned after he let slip to a journalist details of a change to the tax system, before he had made his budget speech to the Commons.
These days, an army of taxpayer funded spin doctors regularly leak details of changes ahead of the budget itself. So it was no surprise when the current Chancellor,
Sunday 20 March 2011
At a business meeting this week, Don’t Call Me Dave was asked if he was a supporter of Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks web site. Given that DCMD has long complained about the obsessive culture of secrecy which permeates through every fibre of Barnet Council’s being, it might seem only natural that he should support the WikiLeaks ethos.
There is no doubt that Governments around the world keep far too much information unnecessarily secret from its citizens. More often than not, the reason for the secrecy is to cover up embarrassing mistakes, incompetence or corruption. WikiLeaks is right to expose such practises.
But do we have an absolute right to know absolutely everything? If DCMD asked Barnet Council for details of its civil contingency plan in the even of a terrorist attack, he would quite rightly expect to be refused the information in the interest of national security. Arguably the council should confirm, if asked, whether a contingency plan actually exists, but to divulge the precise details of it could put lives at risk.
This is where WikiLeaks has crossed the line. It has failed to draw a distinction between information which should properly be in the public domain, and intelligence which could compromise national security and endanger the lives of our security and armed forces.
As for Mr Assange himself, he recently gave a very strange interview to the editor of Private Eye, reportedly blaming “Jews and the Guardian” for his current problems. Assange denies he is anti-Semitic. Some of his best friends are Jewish, apparently.
The Jewish Chronicle reports that last month Assange accused the BBC of trying to influence his extradition hearing on rape charges because the producer of Panorama had a “Zionist wife”.
The newspaper also claims that at a debate at the Cambridge Union last week, Assange allegedly accused Israel of permitting torture. Curiously for a man so keen on freedom of information, Assange refused to allow journalists to attend or record the debate.
So, to the question as to whether DCMD supports Julian Assange, his carefully considered answer is simply “no”. Assange is clearly two sandwiches short of a picnic, and he does the cause of freedom of information no good whatsoever with his incoherent rants and baseless accusations. The security of our nation is slightly more important than the deluded ramblings of an attention seeking publicist with a massive chip on his shoulder.
Saturday 19 March 2011
Don’t Call Me Dave wishes a Happy Purim to all his Jewish readers.
It is a tradition to celebrate Purim by wearing fancy dress. Former South African President Nelson Mandela is pictured right, joining in the festivities by impersonating one of Barnet’s most distinguished councillors.
Don’t Call Me Dave received his council tax demand this morning, together with the usual explanatory booklet.
In previous years, this booklet has always contained a message from the Leader, with a glorious photograph beaming out at us. This year, however, it has been replaced by a bland “Message from the Council”.
It seems that every time there is controversial news to be given to the masses, Lynne Hillan is nowhere to be seen. Coincidence?
Friday 11 March 2011
Don’t Call Me Dave has been struggling for 20 minutes to think of a good joke to welcome Barnet’s latest blogger, Mr Mustard, who writes a blog Keeping track of spending at Barnet Council.
DCMD feels sure that Eric Pickles would approve of Mr Mustard.
That’s the best he can think of!
Thursday 10 March 2011
Monday 7 March 2011
When the story of the Westminster expenses scandal first broke, David Cameron was praised for his swift response. He insisted that money had to be repaid, that the worst offenders would be de-selected and any MP named by the Daily Telegraph would have to hold a public meeting to explain their actions to voters.
So how did that all turn out? Well, Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers was named by the Telegraph, but she never held a public meeting to explain to taxpayers why they should have to pay for her second home, even though she lives just 12 miles from Westminster. Her punishment for defying her party leader was to be made a Government Minister on a salary of £98,740 a year. That taught her a lesson.
It has now been reported that Douglas Hogg, who by name and deed epitomised the very worst of the abuse by claiming £2,000 to have his moat cleaned, was turned down for a peerage by the Lords Appointments Commission on the grounds that he was not a suitable candidate given his outrageous claims. But who decided to nominate this eminently unsuitable person for elevation to the Lords? Why, none other than Prime Minister David Cameron.
What the hell was he thinking? Did he think the public would not find out? Or does he really think that greedy parasites like Hogg actually deserve a place in the Upper House? This is not the first occasion when Cameron’s judgment has been called into question. He failed to sack George Osborne over the incident on the Russian yacht with snake oil salesman Lord Mandelson. He failed to sack the seriously deluded Vince Cable over his Murdoch rant which left taxpayers with a multi million pound bill as his department had to be reorganised.
In the forthcoming referendum, Mr Cameron is campaigning against any change to the voting system. On this point he is correct - there is absolutely no point in changing first-past-the-post when the fault lies elsewhere. It is not the voting system which annoys the public. It is the calibre of people who stand for election that is the real issue.
Until decent, honest, reliable and trustworthy people are elected to the echelons of power, the public will continue to have nothing but contempt for the political classes.
Sunday 6 March 2011
You do have to wonder what was going through his
Due to the general decline in moral standards of those who rule over us, the grand old Duke of York has not been removed from his position as a Trade Ambassador. Instead Foreign Secretary William Hague has been wheeled out to defend the man inexplicably nicknamed Randy Andy.
You remember Mr Hague? He’s the married MP who shared a hotel room with his special advisor. Not that there was any rumpy pumpy taking place, you understand.
Wednesday 2 March 2011
The Barnet Times carries an extraordinary quote from
As has been widely reported elsewhere, Hillan and her sidekick Brian Coleman are fighting a rearguard action to prevent residents from recording meetings, even though senior Conservative Government Ministers insist that this should be permitted.
Hillan told the paper: “I don’t think we were about to pick people up bodily and throw them out of the meeting unless we really had to.”
So force was clearly an option under consideration. Hillan should take a leaf out of Dennis Healey’s book. When you are in a hole, stop digging. The poor woman is utterly deluded, but clearly dangerous with it.
Monday 28 February 2011
Rog T has posted a video clip of a segment from Barnet Council’s Business Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting which took place on 28th February 2011. Cllr Hugh Rayner demonstrates his contempt for democratic accountability by trying to prevent the recoding from taking place.
Not wishing to be outdone, Don’t Call Me Dave has now posted an audio recording of the Cabinet Resources Committee meeting of 19th January 2009. Mike Freer was the leader at the time and he is discussing Agenda Item 11 which related to the proposed increase in burial charges.
It is self evident from this clip that there was no disruption to the council’s business whatsoever. Indeed, until now, the council was completely unaware that DCMD had even recorded the meeting. Lynne Hillan’s reason for opposing public recording is her belief that we cannot be trusted to do so responsibly. This is demonstrably not the case.
The issue of public recording is not new. In March 2008, DCMD asked Mike Freer for his opinion on this matter and he replied: “I do not support members of the public recording off their own bat - we would have no control over cutting and splicing. Recording by the council under correct supervision is fine.”
It is typical of the council’s bunker mentality that Freer should have replied in this way. There is no evidence to indicate that the public would want to use recordings improperly.
Freer’s suggestion that only the council could be trusted to make recordings is more in keeping with a Stalinist dictatorship than a forward looking and enlightened English democratic council. But if he was happy for the council to record meetings, why did he not allow it under his watch? Given that you can record about 8 hours worth of video on a DVD costing 10p, the council could easily record all public meetings. If a member of the public did try to improperly “splice” their own recording, they would quickly be found out - assuming that the council itself could be trusted not to selectively edit the disks.
Camden Council not only records its meetings, but makes them available for public download from their web site. So does the Government and the European Parliament, which begs the question as to why Barnet Council considers itself so important that it can operate a blanket ban precisely when other institutions are opening themselves up to greater scrutiny?
The public has an absolute right to observe meetings of the Council and there is nothing in law which says that public meetings cannot be recorded. Given that not everyone has access to the Town Hall, public recordings are entirely justifiable and beneficial for democracy.
At a time when the standing of politicians is at an all time low, especially in Barnet, restricting public scrutiny of proceedings will only add to suspicions that they have something to hide. It seems a poor state of affairs that local councils now have the power to bug our phones as a measure to prevent fly-tipping, but the public cannot make a recording of a public meeting.
A fundamental aspect of democracy is that politicians are our servants and not our masters. The moment they come to think of themselves as our masters, we are on the road to tyranny.
Friday 18 February 2011
On 5th May, a referendum is being held to decide whether to change the voting system for electing MPs to Westminster. The proposal is to decide between the ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) and the alternative vote (AV) systems. Nick Clegg supports AV and that in itself is a good reason to vote against it.
However, if the GLA elections were conducted using the AV system, it is highly likely that Brian Coleman would be defeated.
In 2008, Coleman was elected with a thumping majority of nearly 20,000. But he did so with only 41% of the vote. In other words, almost six out of ten voters did not want him as their representative.
Under the AV system, the votes of the smaller parties would have been redistributed amongst the other candidates until someone passed the 50% barrier. We cannot say for certain which candidate would have picked up the bulk of the second preference votes, but it is highly improbable that they would have gone to Coleman. Voters tend to fall into two camps - Conservative or Anyone but Conservative.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the GLA elections next year will be held on a combination of the traditional FPTP system for some seats and PR for the balance. Coleman is standing for a constituency which elects its representative on the FPTP system.
Therefore, if the opposition wish to defeat him, they need to have a coherent strategy to avoid splitting their vote. There is no point in the LibDems even putting up a candidate - they are finished as an electoral force whilst Nick Clegg remains in charge. Andrew Dismore is hoping to stand for Labour. He rather blotted his copy book with his petulant outburst when he lost to Manuel Offord in Hendon at the General Election. Don’t Call Me Dave thinks that Mr Reasonable would make an excellent independent candidate but he is probably not well known enough in Camden, which makes up half of the constituency (sorry Mr R).
This is a unique opportunity. The coalition Government is trailing in the polls, Barnet Council is a laughing stock and Brian Coleman is widely despised, even within his own party. Nonetheless, overturning a 20,000 majority will not be easy - but it is not impossible if the opposition gets its act together. Unfortunately for democracy, the Labour opposition in Barnet are an utter shambles, incapable of organising the proverbial in a brewery. That will remain the case for as long as the very pleasant, but completely ineffectual, Alison Moore remains their leader.
Local Government Minister Bob Neill has rightly complained about the proliferation of non-jobs created whilst Labour were in Government. For example, Angus Council hired a Bouncy Council Attendant at £13,000 a year and Falkirk Council employed a Cheerleading Development Officer.
Whilst some of these jobs are quite clearly unnecessary, Mr Neill has seemingly overlooked Conservative controlled Barnet Council which is also guilty of creating superfluous positions.
When Mike Freer was leader of the council, he created the new position of Cabinet Advisor, even though this ‘job’ was already within the remit of the Chief Executive’s duties.
The first person appointed to this supposedly non-political position was his friend, the former Tory Councillor Vanessa Gearson (she’s the delightful lady who stabbed Iain Duncan-Smith in the back when he was party leader). Her salary was a mere £59,860 a year.
Was the Chief Executive’s pay reduced by a corresponding amount as a result of Dr Gearson taking on some of his responsibilities? Hardly! In 2002, when the Tories took control, the Chief Executive was paid £113,000 a year. Today, his salary is over £200,000.
When Dr Gearson was promoted to the Communications Department to become the council’s chief spin doctor, her Cabinet Advisor position was filled by another of Freer’s friends, Richard Robeson, who was also a prominent Conservative Party supporter.
Robeson had previously been a political advisor to the Conservative Group on the council. Labour have a political advisor as well. Total cost to the taxpayer in 2009 was £85,360 (plus benefits).
Why should taxpayers have to pay for blatantly political appointments? These are precisely the type of positions that the council should scrap before making the sheltered housing wardens redundant, or putting up CPZ charges.
Unfortunately in Barnet we have a political leadership that would rather insult its residents and surround itself with taxpayer funded cronies than cut out waste and bureaucracy.
Tuesday 15 February 2011
As regular readers know, former Barnet Council Leader and now MP for Finchley, Mike Freer, could barely disguise his contempt for bloggers whom he suggested masturbated whilst writing about him.
Reports in The Independent and the Sunday Times have shown that blogging has significantly improved literacy rates amongst children at one primary school in Bolton. Something which the barely literate Mike Freer might wish to reflect upon before coming out with any more garbage.
The full story can be found on the Verbum Sapienti blog.
Original picture borrowed from the Daily Mash
Don’t Call Me Dave makes no apology for repeating a video clip he posted in December 2009, but an article in today’s Evening Standard highlights a problem in Woodfield Avenue where Barnet Council has started issuing fines to residents parking their cars on the kerb - as has been the practice for years due to the very narrow road.
A council spokeswoman told the Standard: “Parking on footways is against the Traffic Management Act unless there are clearly marked bays and signs. Parking on the kerb presents its own dangers by restricting access for pedestrians, wheelchair users and those pushing children's buggies.”
Fair enough you might think. Except when Cllr Andreas Tambourides was caught parking on the pavement, the council refused to take any action whatsoever, even though they acknowledged he was breaking the law.
Monday 14 February 2011
There has been considerable debate in the media over the weekend about David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and what it actually means.
It is really a very simple concept.
In the past, the Government and Local Authorities provided citizens with a wide range of public services. These services were paid for through the imposition of income tax and council tax.
Under the Big Society initiative, public authorities will no longer deliver these services. Instead they will be provided by volunteers, free of charge, out of the goodness of their hearts.
The public will continue to pay the same amount of tax as before.
Friday 11 February 2011
Professor David Crystal is President of the UK National Literacy Association and an internationally renowned expert on linguistics.
Last month he gave a paper to the Friends of Rhosneigr Library in Anglesey, North Wales which he described as one of the tiny jewels in the UK library system, desperately fighting for survival.
Prof. Crystal has made his paper available in support of the national library movement as his references to Rhosneigr and to Welsh could be replaced by similar local references elsewhere. DCMD reproduces it below unedited.
Why care about Libraries?
I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with ... L.
It's a library.
L proves to be an interesting letter in English, because it introduces so many words strongly associated with the venture we are launching today: Literature. Language. Living. Loving. Lending. Learning. Leisure. Legacy. And also: Loss. Liquidation. Lament. Lunacy. We can tell the story of our enterprise by exploring the letter L. (We can do it in Welsh too, if you want: Llyfrau (books), Llenyddiaeth (literature), Llythrennedd (literacy), Lloerigrwydd (lunacy).)
Long before I was asked to give this talk, in Chapter 3 of my autobiographical memoir, Just a Phrase I'm Going Through, I had written about one of the magical worlds I experienced as a child: '...the world of reading. I learned to read very quickly and, according to my mother, I was always reading. We couldn’t afford much by way of books, but the local library was only two minutes away. I got to know every inch of its children’s shelves, and steadily worked my way through them, using my allowance of two books per person per week. ... And then there was the joy of ownership. A book was my book, even if it was due back at the end of the week. The words were mine. I was their master. Years later, when I came across Jean-Paul Sartre’s Words (Les Mots), I was delighted and amazed. This was my story, too: "I never scratched the soil or searched for nests; I never looked for plants or threw stones at birds. But books were my birds and my nests, my pets, my stable and my countryside; the library was the world trapped in a mirror. ... Nothing seemed more important to me than a book. I saw the library as a temple." A temple indeed, but so much more. A library is a refuge, a second home, a leisure centre, a discovery channel, an advice bureau. It is a place where you can sit and draw the shelves around you like a warm cloak. Those who threaten any library service with cutbacks and closures are the most mindless of demons.'
There is, indeed, something that literally takes away our minds when we lose a library. Or put it the other way round: when we gain a library we gain a source of wellbeing. The inscription over the door of the library at the ancient city of Thebes read (in classical Greek): 'The medicine chest of the soul'.
How best to capture the spirit, the ethos, the value of libraries? Over the centuries, people have marvelled at them. It doesn't have to be a huge establishment, such as the National Library. Even the smallest village library captures the magic described so well by the Scots poet Alexander Smith (1830-67): 'I go into my library, and all history unrolls before me. I breathe the morning air of the world while the scent of Eden's roses yet lingered in it, while it vibrated only to the world's first brood of nightingales, and to the laugh of Eve. I see the pyramids building; I hear the shoutings of the armies of Alexander.' And the American political writer Norman Cousins (1915-90) agrees: 'A library ... should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas - a place where history comes to life.'
The lauding of libraries crosses centuries and cultures. First and foremost they are seen as repositories of knowledge, windows into history. 'A great library', said Canadian scientist George Mercer Dawson (1849-1901), 'contains the diary of the human race.' And American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) echoes the theme: 'Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library. A company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil countries, in a 1000 years, have set in best order the results of their learning and wisdom. The men themselves were hid and inaccessible, solitary, impatient of interruption, fenced by etiquette; but the thought which they did not uncover to their bosom friend is here written out in transparent words to us, the strangers of another age.' Women too, of course. Emerson's phrasing is of his age, but his sentiment is universal.
The metaphor of a library as a treasure trove is a recurrent figure. Here is British poet and journalist John Alfred Langford (1823-1903): 'The only true equalisers in the world are books; the only treasure-house open to all comers is a library.' And Malcolm Forbes (1919-90), the publisher of Forbes magazine, is in no doubt about the appropriateness of the wealth metaphor: 'The richest person in the world - in fact all the riches in the world - couldn't provide you with anything like the endless, incredible loot available at your local library.' But writers seem almost to be competing to find a metaphor that best captures the function of libraries in society. This is English clergyman William Dyer (1636-1696): 'Libraries are the wardrobes of literature, whence men, properly informed may bring forth something for ornament, much for curiosity, and more for use.' And, 400 years on, this is writer Germaine Greer (1939- ): 'libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy'. For Norman Mailer (1923-2007), a library was 'a sanctuary', for Francis Bacon (1561-1626), 'a shrine', for Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) it transcends life itself: 'I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library'.
I like the reservoir metaphor - a library as a source of knowledge, waiting for us to simply turn on a tap. Like water, libraries are essential to our wellbeing. As the American social reformer Henry Ward Beecher (1813-87) said, 'A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.' It is a means of self-improvement, of advancement. As American historian Arthur Meier Schlesinger (1888-1965) put it: 'Our history has been greatly shaped by people who read their way to opportunity and achievements in public libraries.' Or, as poet and humorist Richard Armour (1906-89) put it in 1954: A library...
Here is where people,
One frequently finds,
Lower their voices
And raise their minds.
And it brings together people from all walks of life. As 'Lady Bird' Johnson (1912-2007), former American first lady, commented: 'Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.'
Along with these brief observations, we must not forget the longer and more thoughtful recollections. Esther Hautzig (1930-2009), deported to Siberia as a child during World War 2, wrote an account of her time there, called The Endless Steppe (1968). This is what she says:
'There was one place where I forgot the cold, indeed forgot Siberia. That was in the library. There, in that muddy village, was a great institution. Not physically, to be sure, but in every other way imaginable. It was a small log cabin, immaculately attended to with loving care; it was well lighted with oil lamps and it was warm. But best of all, it contained a small but amazing collection from the world's best literature, truly amazing considering the time, the place, and its size. From floor to ceiling it was lined with books - books, books, books. It was there that I was to become acquainted with the works of Dumas, Pasternak's translations of Shakespeare, the novels of Mark Twain, Jack London, and of course the Russians. It was in that log cabin that I escaped from Siberia - either reading there or taking the books home. It was between that library and two extraordinary teachers that I developed a lifelong passion for the great Russian novelists and poets. It was there that I learned to line up patiently for my turn to sit at a table and read, to wait - sometimes months - for a book. It was there that I learned that reading was not only a great delight, but a privilege.'
Let no one forget that. If you want to truly appreciate the value of reading, imagine it being taken away from you. Imagine a Siberia with no library. Or a Rhosneigr.
Of course, we are not the first to ponder the implications of losing a library. Listen to the claim made by American cardinal Terence Cooke (1921-83): 'America's greatness is not only recorded in books, but it is also dependent upon each and every citizen being able to utilize public libraries.' Listen to American astronomer Carl Sagan: 'The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.' Listen to science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov (1920-92): 'I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.' And in Britain, listen to Victorian critic John Ruskin (1819-1900): 'What do we, as a nation, care about books? How much do you think we spend altogether on our libraries, public or private, as compared with what we spend on our horses?'
Have you noticed? I've just quoted from a Roman Catholic cardinal, an art critic, a scientist, and a science fiction novelist. All sending out the same message. There can be few subjects like libraries to unite such disparate and distinguished minds. And the reason is clear. Libraries are truly special. As American writer Lawrence Clark Powell (1906-2001) put it: 'To be in a library is one of the purest of all experiences.' The point has long been appreciated here in Wales. In 1916 the Welsh Department of the Board of Education published a booklet, A Nation and its Books. On page 11 we read: 'The future of our people depends largely on our books and on our libraries. No teacher is more helpful or more candid than a book, no friend is a better friend than a good book, no school is so inexpensive as a library. ... Every town should have ... its library... Every village ought to have a library.' And if it already has one, it ought not to lose it.
Once a library is gone, it is gone. It cannot suddenly be resuscitated. As the British politician Augustine Birrell (1850-1933) once said: 'Libraries are not made; they grow.' That takes time. Behind each library, no matter how small, is a history of growth, watered by the professionalism of the library's caretakers and the enthusiasm of its readers. It is not an enterprise that can be measured by numbers. It is quality that counts, not quantity. No political body should fall into the trap of judging the success of a library solely in terms of the number of its visitors. That lone reader in the corner: who knows what personal potential will be realized in the future because of today's library experience? As American poet Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) said: 'What is more important in a library than anything else - than everything else - is the fact that it exists.' If it exists, it will be used. And French writer Victor Hugo (1802-85) sums it up: 'A library implies an act of faith'.
A century ago, in 1911, a king and queen symbolized that faith. They visited Aberystwyth to lay the foundation stone of the National Library of Wales. In 2011, a future king and queen will come to live nearby. In my poetic imagination, I hear Prince William looking towards Rhosneigr - down on it, even, from his helicopter - and repeating my I Spy rhyme. 'I spy, with my royal eye...' - but will he have to end it with 'nothing beginning with L'? It is a scenario that I trust our political leaders will ensure we will never see. It is time for them too to make an act of faith.