Tuesday's residents forum was disappointment peppered with a few jewels of delight.
Most of the issues were, unsurprisingly to do with traffic and parking (as that is just about all we are allowed to discuss at forums these days. There were two petitions submitted from Walksafe campaigns, one in N10 and one in N14. A number of children sat quietly and politely taking it all in while the petitioners were either deflected from their objectives or utterly patronised. Sarah Perman who was putting forward the N10 Walksafe has been to the forum before and when Cllr Evangeli tried to push the item to the October Environment sub-committee she may the point very politely that nothing had happened in the last six months and now they were being asked to wait another 3 months before it could even be referred to cabinet for action. Cllr Kate Salinger seemed pretty irritated (as did most of the audience) and eventually common sense prevailed with the item referred to the meeting that immediately followed on from the forum. Cllr Salinger thanked the schoolchildren for their excellent behaviour and they politely trooped out of the meeting. The next Walksafe petitioner was, in my personal opinion, treated in an exceptionally patronising manner. I am not sure whether it was properly resolved but the way it was handled left much to be desired.
Robert Newton asked a number of questions relating to double yellow lines on corners but again I was not clear if the matter had been adequately addressed. That notorious troublemaker and blogger Mr Reasonable asked a question about the Council's community engagement strategy in light of the events at the Somali Community Centre. I wanted to understand what the council was doing to engage with the community to understand where tensions lay and to help formulate possible solutions. Now is was a genuine concern of mine because I think it falls into the category of the Council "don't know what they don't know". Cllr Salinger said that there was no community tension but I made the point that the event had taken place so clearly there was a problem. One forum attendee also pointed out that there had been some negative comments about the rebuilding of the community centre so maybe there are some tensions. I also made the point that not all tensions are racial. The Government's austerity policy and the difficult economic situation could give rise to serious community tensions but by failing to engage with the community the council runs the risk of being, or being seen to be, complacent. An officer said that someone on the council was working on this but I helpfully pointed out that there is a Community Engagement Toolkit which has been developed and sit on the Communities department website so don't try reinventing the wheel. There was a useful debate on theis topic culminating in the request to ask Cllr Robert Rams to speak to the next forum about the Council's Community Engagement Strategy. Good that is what should happen at forums.
Next up came a presentation about the new recycling bins that will come into use in October. Now residents had already discussed this issue at an earlier forum where a number of residents expressed their concerns about the size of the new recycling bins (240 litre wheely bins). We were told that yes we will have these large bins along with a food bin and food caddy (total cost £3.7 million). several people said they didn't have room. One forum regular made the point that she lived in a maisonette and that didn't seem to have been factored in to the equation. Each comment was met with the reply, "Thank you for your comment". "Who is that woman?" a gentlemen next me asked, " is she stupid or something". Well no actually she is rather senior and paid a very large salary (£91,215 plus £22424 pension contributions). Look of shock and horror on the gentleman's face.
We were told that this will help improve recycling rates and that will help the council save £4 million a year in landfill tax. I'm afraid I couldn't let that one go and told the officer that I though that figure was wrong. Now having looked into this in the past I knew that this £4m figure seemed dodgy and I set out below my calculations:
According to q4 performance report http://www.barnet.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/2928/performance_monitor_quarter4_201213
residual waste was 670.6kg per household and the percentage of recycled was
31.7%. Depending how the recycling is calculated it is either 31.7% of 670.6kg or
as I suspect 31.7% of 981kg to leave a residual of 670.6kg. The officer said the
council want to add 10% point to recycling rates so that is 10% of 981kg per
household or 98.1kg. There are approximately 145,000 households in Barnet
making a total saving of 14,224.5 tonnes of waste from landfill per annum.
Landfill tax is currently £72/tonne so I make that a saving of just over £1
million not £4 million as the officer kept repeating. It also doesn’t take into account the
lower value of the recycled waste caused by co mingling.
My rule as always is check the facts and in this case I am simply not convinced. There may be additional savings due to the reduction in staff numbers - but the May Gurney contract is only £4 million per annum in total so I can't see them saving three quarters of that value by going to co-mingled.
At the very end we were told to fill in a questionnaire about the residents forums and send it back to the council either in the post or scan it in and email it. I made the point that this was an entirely self selected audience and that if they wanted to improve forums they needed to understand about the people who did not come just as much as those that do come. The survey is not on the consultation hub and the results will have to be received collated and turned into a report by Monday - I wonder if the report is already written?
As we were breaking up I had to remind Cllr Salinger that she had promised to make a statement about the Themed residents forums which are a requirement of constitution (or were when I first requested one) and the promise Cllr Richard Cornelius had made to host a forum on One Barnet. Cllr Salinger said that she had reminded Richard of his promise but in light of the Judicial Review he thought now was not the time - well he knew about the Judicial Review when he first agreed to host the forum so what has changed.
Many unhappy residents shuffled out not wishing to prolong the torture by staying for the Environment sub committee - me included!