Friday 24 December 2010

£200k for more senior council posts

So next year we face some pretty swingeing cuts. Front line services will be cut, the quality of life will deteriorate. Crossing patrols will get the chop, our museums look like they will close, libraries are in jeopardy and the future of the Artsdepot is in doubt. So what do Barnet Council do? They go and authorise another £200k a year to be spent on the HR department to accommodate the needs of that wondrous programme, One Barnet. So how many extra posts are they creating? Er well actually the number in the HR department will fall from 81 to 80. So why the additional cost. Ah we need some super human HR professionals, an Assistant Director to HR, Resourcing and Performance Manager, and Reward Manager which is costing £191,790, including on costs. In addition there is a further £12,489 of costs. Originally this was due to come from savings within other department budgets but it now appears that it is coming from contingency funds. This is all set out in the delegated powers report 1133 . This just strikes me as madness!This report was drafted back in July but it was only signed off by our sub-contractor Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Financial Officer (Halliford Associates) on 22 December.

Mr Reasonable wishes all of his readers a very merry Christmas/season's greetings (including those members of Barnet Council who regularly drop by) and hopes that next year the council will see reason and start listening to what the residents of Barnet are saying. Oh well I live in hope!

Monday 20 December 2010

A (very) small victory

I am pleased to report that even though the powers that be sought to gag Mr Reasonable, common sense prevailed at tonight's Budget & Performance Scrutiny Committee. It didn't look promising when all of the Conservative councillors stated that they were being whipped to go along with the cabinet recommendations on the budget, something which Cllr Schneiderman said set a worrying precedent in a scrutiny committee. When we got to public questions on the agenda, Cllr Schneiderman was the first to intervene to make it clear that there were public questions but that they had been disallowed. The council officials consulted the constitution and the Chairman looked perplexed. All credit to Cllr Rayner, who I have always found to be a fair and reasonable chap, who made it clear that he would vote for allowing me to speak if it could be done. Eventually it was agreed that they could suspend public participation rules to allow me to speak if members voted for it. Much gnashing of teeth from the cabinet members who were sitting behind me saying it shouldn't be allowed. Credit where credit is due, all the committee members (except Cllr Seal who was late) voted to allow me to speak. My questions were not particularly taxing and frankly I don't know why they kicked up such a fuss in the first place. The answers didn't really enlighten anything although the issue of reviewing the top contracts is something that got picked up for further investigation.The meeting lasted nearly three hours, with plenty of questions asked - certainly better that the 30 minutes the cabinet spent (not) discussing the proposals. Cllr Thomas made one very telling comment when asked about the proposed cut in the Museum grant. It was agreed that actually it is run by volunteers and that the costs amounted in large part to the notional rent charged by Barnet Council. Cllr Thomas made the point that Museums were a "nice to have" and that it didn't necessarily need a building to house the exhibits, they could be spread around the borough. I think many of the committee were unconvinced that the proposed savings will be fully realised especially as this years budget is overspent.

Friday 17 December 2010

Mr Reasonable is GAGGED

There is something very wrong in Barnet Council. We have a scrutiny committee system which is there to provide checks and balances on the Cabinet. This coming Monday, the Budget and Performance Scrutiny Committee are considering two reports. The first is on the financial business planning which sets out where all the savings will be made over the next three years. The other is the Monitoring Report for 2010/11. Both of these reports are substantial and the committee papers run to 226 pages. As someone who has a great interest in how Barnet Council is run, I took the opportunity to submit three questions under the public questions slot in the agenda.

Sadly Barnet Council don’t like my questions so they have found a loophole in the constitution to stop me asking questions or speaking at the scrutiny committee meeting.

It all hinges on the rule that you cannot ask a question or speak on a topic that has already been decided at a committee meeting. Not a decision made by the committee at which you are asking the question, but any committee or sub-committee of the council. Because both of these reports have been approved by the Cabinet and Cabinet Resources committees there can be no public debate. Cabinet Resources Committee has only 6 members drawn from the Cabinet and a quorum of 3. The Cabinet has 10 members and a quorum of 5. No members of the opposition parties or conservative backbenchers sit on these committees and that is why we have a scrutiny system. Most of the time reports go to the scrutiny committee BEFORE a decision is made so that they can provide input. However, in this case, both of these contentious reports have been submitted to scrutiny AFTER a decision has been made. This means no public debate in the scrutiny process – full stop.
Although I would have liked to ask a dozen questions I had restricted myself to three - trying to be reasonable simply doesn’t seem to work. The questions are set out below. Judge for yourself if you think these questions should be answered.

1. Given that £21.3 million of the projected savings over the next three years are rated as at high risk of not being achieved, is this committee satisfied that sufficient consideration has been given to alternative scenarios if these savings are not realised.

2. Reviewing the top 100 contracts received a high number of votes on the Ideas website and had most comments. The Cabinet report stated that “A review of spend activity has taken place and a programme of work is underway with all service areas, to review the contracts that are in place, confirm that activities remain appropriate and that discussion with contractors has started to ensure we continue to deliver value for money”. However, according to a response on the Ideas website, at the Corporate Risk Committee on 2 September 2010, a report stated that "Low targets were set for % of contracts held by the Council which have been reviewed and renegotiated for Quarters 1 and 2 (0% for Q1 & 5% for quarter 2). Because this is complex work involving in excess of 240 contracts it will take a period of months before reviews and renegotiations are completed. Preliminary work to locate and begin reviewing has taken place through Q1 and will continue through Q2. We expect 30% of contracts to have been reviewed by end of Q3 and 50% by end of Q4. We expect to have renegotiated 5% of those contracts deemed necessary by the end of Q2, 15% by the end of quarter 3 and 30% by the end of quarter 4". Are Committee members satisfied that a review of the top 100 contracts is receiving the attention it deserves?

3. At 9.8.2 in the CRC Monitoring report, it states that £390,000 was drawn down from contingency to cover rental for buildings 2 and 4 at North London Business Park. Given that rent is a known consideration and that the rent free period must have been known at the time of signing the lease, why was it not adequately budgeted for resulting in the shortfall having to be taken from contingency. Does this suggest a lack of financial planning?

Monday 13 December 2010

High risk of not achieving £21.3 million of savings.

Reading through the cabinet papers for the meeting this evening I am some what surprised that £21.3 million of the proposed savings over the next three years are rated as having a high risk of not being realised. That includes the £1.2 million of savings on the leisure contract - this may mean closing leisure centres to achieve the savings. It also includes the £1.5 million of highway maintenance which may lead to higher costs in the future. Adult and children's social services are also hit hard. Sadly the proposal to remove school crossing patrols and road safety officers (savings £117,000) is only rated as medium risk although it does note under performance impact, "Could affect safety".

Actually reading through the list of proposed cuts is tragic. It appears to be hitting those in most need hardest, adult and children's social services. No mention of cutting the sky high salaries enjoyed by some of the senior managers. In fact in a separate report it identifies that the council is raiding the contingency fund to pay for the additional £530,000 to fund new posts in the commercial department. So in addition to the Commercial Director (£180,870 inc. on-costs) and the Assistant Director (£137,010 inc. on-costs) they have recruited another Assistant Director on £119,560 – £130,300 (inc on costs) and a corporate programmes manager on £72,420 – £77,680 (inc on-costs) to name but two.

I remain incredibly concerned that this budget cutting has picked on those least able to defend themselves whilst featherbedding those with the most to gain. We need a full and open dialogue on the budget cuts not some stage managed citizens panel and an ideas website that was the conduit for senior council management proposals. Come on Barnet Council, start talking to the residents, the people you are suppose to be here to serve.

Monday 6 December 2010

Grant Thornton - High Risk Actions for the Council

Grant Thornton have provided their latest views on the Use of Resources and Value For Money in the Audit Committee Papers here Some of the comments make quite worrying reading. For example:

"There remain opportunities to improve the understanding of links between costs and performance at service level. The view supported through our discussions with management is that there is not a clear understanding of unit costs, which in turn affects their ability to assess value for money or make best value decisions. The Council should look to routinely use cost and performance information to challenge whether it is achieving value for money".

They also appear to pass comment on the long and turgid reports by stating, "Monitoring reports sent to Cabinet Resources Committee (CRC) include budget and performance monitoring. There are however opportunities to make the reports more concise for members to make the best use of time for decision making purposes.

It would also be helpful to the other stakeholders - including the council taxpayers - if these reports were a bit more understandable. Grant Thornton also set out 8 high risk areas for the council to consider as follows. It doesn't make encouraging reading.

- The Council needs to demonstrate that it has an understanding, at a service level, of the links between costs and performance and achievement of value for money.

- As part of the One Barnet programme the Council should develop sound contract monitoring arrangements with third party providers.

- The Council should ensure that it is consistent in its approach to evaluating procurement options.

- The Council should follow a systematic approach to options appraisals, which includes being specific about benefits/outcomes expected and their measurement.

- The Council's Risk Management Strategy should be revised to include tolerance levels to assist officers in making important decisions, particularly around One Barnet.

- The Capital Assets Property Management Strategy (CAPS) should be reviewed to emphasise the focus on partnerships that is apparent within the One Barnet programme.

- Once the Council has robust fit-for-purpose data for its workforce it should develop a workforce strategy which links in with how One Barnet is to be delivered.

- There should be a focus on equipping senior managers with the necessary change management skills to ensure that the One Barnet is successful.

Some of these comments are a damning indictment of the process being used to push through the One Barnet proposals. Frankly I am staggered that at this stage these sorts of risks are being identified - although the GT report does seem to suggest that the council doesn't understand risk management when they say, "there is evidence to suggest that risk management is not widely understood within the Council." Loss of credibility in the One Barnet programme is escalating. Very soon I think a point will be reached when the programme must be temporarily halted to allow a root and branch review of how the whole scheme is being managed.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

One Barnet - The numbers don't add up!

Last night Mr Reasonable attended the Cabinet meeting to ask a question about the costs and benefits of the One Barnet programme. Having read all of the details (or should I say lack of details) it strikes me that there are some huge gaps in the thinking about One Barnet. Last night I asked if Cabinet members had checked the figures to which I got a charming but evasive response from the Leader. I then asked why none of the figures stated in various documents actually reconcile against one another. I gave the example of the E recruitment programme where the figures in three separate council documents are all different - "so which one is correct" I asked. A very neat pass to the Deputy Chief Executive who looked a little flustered and said he would look into it. Disappointing especially as the next agenda item which was considering the privatisation of a raft of council departments contained a £1.25m error (Page 33 section 6.3). We, the council tax payers of Barnet, are paying a fortune for all these highly paid council officials. We are paying a fortune for a host of assorted and highly paid consultants. Why then can we not get a single, clear and evidence based set of figures on the costs and benefits of One Barnet.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Register of Members' Interests

Having booked my appointment last week, today, I got to inspect the Register of Members' Interests for those six councillors who chose to opt out of the on line version (Cllr Shooter's is now on line). I would love to tell of the startling revelations I discovered but sadly I can't because there weren't any. They were generally rather uninteresting. There were a few records of hospitality but nothing of any great interest. Attendance at a conference with train fare and hotel but it was directly related to the service they oversee, it was a standard class rail fare and normal hotel price. I could not complain at that one. A trip to Morphou but the plane fare and hotel were paid for by Morphou who we are twinned with. A few meals and a bottle of wine as a gift. Given that it all seemed rather normal, what I can't understand is why they all chose to opt out. They may not want to reveal their home addresses but surely people should know where their councillors live. I am mystified.

Friday 19 November 2010

Enormous Financial Errors Update

In between trying to earn a living I have carried out a comparison between the two sets of supplier details. It would appear that approximately 3,120 of the 13,563 entries have been changed in the amended supplier payments list. So the original list that was published wasn't just a bit wrong it was overwhelmingly wrong. Now being a reasonable chap I know people do make mistakes but what I want to know is why did nobody check this before it was first published and is the April to June list also wrong. Is this indicative of an underlying lack of quality control. When the council discuss their budget cuts at the budget meeting in December I sincerely hope someone will have checked the numbers then.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Enormous Financial Errors

Barnet Council very kindly put up on their website a list of supplier payments over £500. Mr Reasonable spent a great deal of time going through those figures and some appeared very strange indeed. I posted some of my analysis following my one to one with Cllr Thomas and had a reply back from one of those suppliers Calco Services who stated that no they had not received £1.3 million they had only received £54k. Concerned that there may be a fraud being attempted Mr Reasonable contacted Barnet Council. This afternoon I have received a note saying the figures were wrong and they have now published a new supplier list. Going thorough the top 104 invoices by value (all £100,000 or more) I find that 32 payment details have been changed. These amount to £11.1million of changes. Frankly I have no confidence in the figures and I defy anyone to make a sound contribution on where budget cut should fall if we are not clear what is being spent. The odd error maybe but so many and of such scale and they would have gone completely unnoticed except for Mr Reasonable's intervention. What a shocker!

Saturday 13 November 2010

My One to One with Cllr Thomas

I was very disappointed that the public consultation was cancelled so it was some comfort that Cllr Thomas agreed to ring me yesterday to listen to my views. I will not report what Cllr Thomas said. I respect his privacy and I do not want to mis quote him but I will share my side of the conversation with him.

My starting point was that before we start salami slicing individual services it is important to look at the structure of Barnet Council and how the Council is run. My view is the council is remote from the views and ambitions of the residents and the splendid isolation of North London Business Park (rental cost £1.7 million in the last six months)simply reinforces that disconnect.

I expressed my concern that there is insufficient control over spending and that is evidenced by some of the invoices coming through on the suppliers list. Barnet publish a magazine called Everyone's A Winner and it is distributed at leisure centres amongst other outlets. Great, except according to the accounts this magazine cost £117,154.69!

Why, at a time when people are being made redundant, have the council spent £397,283.38 on job adverts. Why has the Council spent £5.5 million on agency staff in the last six months including £1,292,856.83 since July with Calco Services. I know there is the debate about flexibility of agency staff and the ability to get rid of them when they are no longer required but I question the scale of usage of agency staff.

I have worked on out sourcing projects for many years and I have seen some organisations who see outsourcing as a way of getting rid of problems rather than facing up to them. I fear this could be the case with Barnet.

This led me on to another issue and that is the role of consultants at the council. According to the suppliers list Barnet has spent £19,052,664.44 in consulting fees the last 6 months. Before we start looking at how we cut front line services like the libraries we need to start making inroads into theses big non-essential costs first. I touched on a number of other areas during our 1 hour discussion but I finished up on the point that the Council needs to start talking and listening to residents; we aren't stupid and we do have a contribution to make. I sincerely hope Cllr Thomas listens and takes on board the views of residents. If not I suspect that they will achieve the worst of all worlds, making hideous cuts to services but failing to realise the savings they are looking for.

Please note that all of the figures I have quoted have been taken from the Barnet Council Vendor Payments over £500. I have tried as far as possible to be accurate in analysing the figures but going through the 25,662 separate entries occasional errors may occur.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Budget Consultation Cancelled at 48 Hrs Notice

I have read today on the Barnet Times website that the public consultation meeting due to be held on Thursday has been cancelled because of a "lack of interest". Apparently only four people had called the council to tell them they were interested in attending. So now we have to register for public meetings in advance? This is both an outrage and an affront to democracy. Given that the had large adverts in both the Barnet Times and Press for two weeks which must have cost several thousand pounds they have now decided before the meeting that they shouldn't bother. Mr Reasonable is incensed having spent the last week going through the 24,664 separate entries of Barnet Council suppliers invoices over £500 between April and September 2010. Do the council want a dialogue on this or do they simply want to push through their own ideas. Democracy has been short changed and unless residents complain the council will simply say residents don't care.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Public Meeting Thursday 11 November 6.30 pm Hendon Town Hall

I missed the Council's advertisment for the public meeting to provide input to proposed budget cuts and only found out today that is taking place next week. I want to make sure that no one misses the opportunity to have their say. If people sit at home on their backsides then they can't come back in 12 months time and moan when services are cut. The meeting on the 11 November (6.30pm-8.30pm at Hendon Town Hall) is your chance to say what you think about the budget cuts, so make sure you are there. If people do not turn up that will be seen as a green light to go ahead with so many cuts to services. Please come along!

Wednesday 20 October 2010

£50,000 on recruitment fees!

We have just heard Mr Osbourne telling us about all the huge cuts we are facing. "Cut waste, save money!" It is surprising then to read that Barnet Council are to pay recruitment consultants Martin Ward Andersen at least £50,400 to help recruit new finance people. The restructure of the finance department was passed in a delegated powers report in August but at that time no mention was made of having to spend £50k + on recruitment consultants. Don't Barnet Council have an HR department - with so many good people being made redundant in the public sector then surely a few well placed adverts would draw hundreds of replies. No, we have to use expensive recruitment consultants. What a waste!!!

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Audit committee - oops we lost £2m!

Tonight's Audit Committee was both disappointing and disturbing. Mr Reasonable had tabled two questions, one about Future Shape and one about very expensive computers for councillors, neither of which got a written answer nor a reasonable verbal response. The proceedings were dull, Barnet Times reporter looked very bored and then got up an left the meeting before we had got to any of the juicy business. Future Shape was glossed over, "yes in an ideal world we should have done a business cased but we are going to do one now" Mr Travers reiterated that they had only spent £810,000 on consultants last year and it would be £1.5 million this year. What irritates me is that he failed to mention all the senior staff they have appointed in the name of future shape including setting up a new commercial directorate that will cost an additional £500,000 a year. What about the budget of "up to £500,000" for legal advice on how to set up Local Asset Back Vehicles (the structure for flogging off local assets). What about the Implementation Partner Contract that we aren't allowed to know the cost of other than it is "in excess of £500,000). None of that got mentioned. Several Councillors expressed concern that they still didn't really understand what was being proposed and that there was a lack of detail. They were promised that by the next meeting in December there will be more details.

Then a rather interesting point, a number of people have been allowed to join the Barnet Pension scheme who were previously council employees but have been transferred to other employers. The example given was some of the non teaching staff at Middlesex University. Now what is supposed to happen is that the council then claim these pension payments back from an organisation called the Higher Education Funding Council from England. The problem is that Barnet forgot to make the claims and as a result we didn't recover the £2 million we were entitled to. You can't backdate these claims so that money we didn't claim is lost forever. Chairman says well its lost and we can't reclaim it but it is a systemic failure. Why didn't the auditors pick it up? Up pipes one of the Grant Thornton chaps. "Yes but we did identify it in the 2006/07 audit but nobody picked it up. Sharp intake of breath! Serious matter!

Finally onto the matter on computers. The Council have splashed out £106,000 on buying new tablet computers for Councillors. That's £1682 per councillor. I had asked if anybody bothered to check what councillors actually use their computers for to see if they need one of these very high spec tablets. Cllr Palmer decided that actually it was all about the inconvenience of log in and how he wanted an apology from the IT department. Yes but what about these expensive tablet computers. Well they were expensive and probably over specified but it was easier for everyone to have the same machine even if it cost more. I reckon they have wasted £50,000 and more fundamentally did they need to buy these 1700 of expensive machines for all of the council staff. We then have to leave the room so they can talk about the procurement process which we the residents have to pay for. Overall, a hugely disappointing waste of time and a clear indication that the council will do whatever it wants and there is no one there to stop them.

Friday 17 September 2010

Deputy Chief Executive is a contractor

Chipping Barnet Residents Forum on Wednesday evening was a rather poorly attended meeting. 10 people in the audience including two councillors. On the agenda were three questions, two of which we submitted by Mr Reasonable. First question related to the empire building at the council and the recruitment of 8 people to form the new Commercial Directorate which will cost £900k a year to run - was this a good use of money when front line services are being cut. Response from the Council yes but we need to do this to make the savings and it will stop us having to use consultants. In theory not a bad answer except for the fact that on Monday night Mr Reasonable had been at a Scrutiny committee meeting asking awkward questions about the appointment of consultants who will cost in excess of £500k and actually may cost several million pounds. No comment from the panel.
Next question concerned the deputy chief executive and the fact that he is not a direct employee of the council. Yes the council confirmed that he is not a direct employee of the council, he is a contractor and the fact that he gets paid between £15,000 and £17,500 a month through his shell company Halliford Associates is ok because it is within the budget. Mr Reasonable made the point that surely someone who is in such an important position and has a statutory responsibility as the Section 151 Officer should be directly employed by the council to ensure continuity and loyalty. A little debate from the audience noted by the panel - next question! Perhaps if there had been more members of the public there there would have been more debate. perhaps it is only Mr Reasonable who sees this situation as unacceptable. Perhaps people just don't care. We then spent more than 1 hour debating cross overs in High Barnet. Overall a deeply disappointing meeting. I sat there wondering why do I bother.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Secrecy and Expensive Consultants

Mr Reasonable has been very concerned about the cost of consultants being used for Future Shape project. On Monday I went along to the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee to ask a question about the appointment of a company called Agilysis who have been awarded a contract as "Implementation Partner". I had previously tried to ask this question at the Future Shape Scrutiny Committee meeting in August but because this specific contract wasn't on the agenda I wasn't allowed to ask the question.On Monday night Cllr Jack Cohen had asked a general question about this contract so because it was now on the agenda I had the chance to ask my question. When awarding these contracts the council allocate scores for quality and cost for each bid. My concern was that none of the bids got particularly high quality scores. I asked questions about the process and in particular were councillors happy that a contract costing "in excess of £500,000" was awarded to a company with a comparatively low quality score. What came out eventually was that there is no quality threshold on these bids. Whoever gets the highest score wins the bid even if the quality score is low. I know this may sound a bit dull but if the Council are going to spend huge amounts on consultants, then surely they should be of a high quality. As a member of the public you get no opportunity to enter a debate on this matter so I waited until Cllr Jack Cohen asked his question. Having already lit the blue touch paper councillors were now keen to understand much more about this contract. Much talk about blue sheets and things that members of the public shouldn't know about. At one stage Mr Reasonable was asked to leave the room so councillors could discuss the actual costs of this contract. We can't be trusted to know what the maximum cost will be. £1 million, £2 million, or even more - I don't know but your councillors do. So we, the residents and ratepayers of Barnet are not allowed to know how much the council are spending on consultants! Cllr Jack Cohen also asked questions about what these consultants are actually going to do. Quite a bit of management speak but puzzled looks from councillors. The question was asked again but to no avail. So there you have it; a contract for consultants that we aren't allowed to know the cost and for which councillors don't understand what they are going to do! Only in Barnet.

Tuesday 31 August 2010

More Costly Empire Building at Barnet Council

Delegated Powers reports can be a goldmine of information. One of the latest shows that the Council is set on spending an additional £523,000 per annum setting up a Commercial Directorate. In addition to the £180,870-£194,960 paid to the Commercial Director, the £137,010-£147,600 paid to the Assistant Director and the £65,900-£70,730 paid to the recently appointed Strategic Planning Advisor, the council want to appoint a further 8 people costing a further £523,000 a year. In total the new directorate will cost around £900,000 a year to run. At a time when the Council is cutting services it seems obscene that so much money is being spent on back office management. Ironically the report also states that:
The Corporate Plan 2010-13 states that “we will continue to drive costs out of the Council through transforming our internal organisation” and that we will focus on “making sure we get the best value from resources across the public sector, including our people and our assets.” Sorry guys but this looks more like driving costs up than driving costs out.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

A contract a day keeps consultants in pay

Anyone who reads the Council's websites will see that under the delegated reports section there seem to be a number of consultants contracts being let, all of which relate to Future Shape. One of the latest is the Implementation Partner contract valued at in excess of £500,000. Another is the Design Partner for the Prototyping Project or perhaps the Options Appraisal for the Development and Public Health Services Project.
The problem is that all the interesting stuff is kept hidden away in the exempt reports so it is very hard to judge exactly what is going on. All I know is that a lot of money is being spent with consultants at a time when front line services are being cut.

Monday 16 August 2010

Council backs down on allowances!

On the Barnet Council website today looks like people power has won the day and that the Leader Lynne Hillan is backing down on Councillors' allowances. Thanks to all people who signed the various petitons including the Residents' Association of Barnet petition.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Petition Against Councillor Allowance Increase

As Mr Reasonable, I normally stick to issues which are specifically related to New Barnet. However, I feel so angry about the rise in Councillor allowances and their refusal to discuss them at the Residents Forum, that I have set up an on-line petition calling on them to be withdrawn. I ask all reasonable people in Barnet to click on the link and sign the petition. I hope to present it to the Council in September. Please get your friends and neighbours to sign it. There is also a shortened link which may be easier to circulate

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Tonight's Residents Forum

The good news from tonight's residents forum is that we have a cast iron, 100% guarantee from Councillor Evangeli that the traffic lights will not be removed from the junction of Margaret Road and East Barnet Road. I await confirmation of this from TFL.

The bad news was the confusion around the JCoSS travel plan which apparently has been submitted and approved. This seemed to have many people scratching their head as for the past 12 months local residents have been asking when this will be discussed with the community. I suspect that many there will feel they have been hoodwinked. A very long list of questions about JCoSS from a local resident was deemed to have been submitted late and was not answered at the meeting.

The other bad news was that no debate was allowed on the councillors allowances. It is a great shame that the only channel available for residents to express their views about councillors actions is effectively stifled when it raises topics the councillors do not want to discuss. We were told that if residents have any comments or views about councillors allowances they should deal with them at councillors surgeries.

Friday 16 July 2010

Residents Forum Next Tuesday

Next Tuesday 20 July the Chipping Barnet Residents Forum will be held at Chipping Barnet Library at the back of the Spires. It starts at 6.30pm and all residents are welcome. Mr Reasonable will be asking a number of questions including one regarding the removal of traffic lights at the junction of Margaret Road and East Barnet Road. Given the timing of this Residents Forum, the councillors allowances and the removal of Cllr Salinger from the deputy chair role of the forum, I suspect it will be a lively affair. Make sure you get there early to ensure you get a seat!

Monday 5 July 2010

Update on the removal of the traffic lights at Margaret Road

Having done some research on the GLA website, I have found the original studies on which some bright spark determined that removing the traffic lights from the junction of East Barnet Road and Margaret Road might be a good idea. Frankly they are poor and make sweeping generalisations. They are take no account of the benefits or disbenefits for pedestrians - so it's only cars and lorries that matter these days then. Worst of all it shows that the saving made by removing the lights are marginal. I have calculated that if there is just one serious accident in 17 years or one fatal accident in 147 years following the removal of the lights at East Barnet Road, it negates all of the financial benefit!

This is nothing short of a disgrace. If you are against the removal of these traffic lights then send an email to Kulveer Ranger, (kulveer.ranger@ the Mayor's Transport Advisor and the man who appears to be promoting the ridiculous scheme.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Threat to Traffic Lights

TFL in their wisdom are considering removing the traffic lights at the junction of Margaret Road and East Barnet Road . This was proposed a couple of years ago and rejected on the basis that it was dangerous yet TFL are reconsidering it again. How dare some pen pusher at TFL determine what should be done in our community without even bothering to talk to local people. I for one will be sending off a stiff letter to TFL and I encourage everyone else to do the same.

Friday 11 June 2010

LDF Draft Postponed

I went along to the Scrutiny Committee and spoke about my concerns with the Local Development Framework. and how it was failing New Barnet. I followed this up with an email to one of our local councillors along with detailed evidence of how the LDF is ignoring the views of local people and the local elected representatives by continuing to promote New Barnet as an areas for mixed use development (supermarkets).

I am pleased to say having just read the agenda for the Cabinet Committee meeting on 21 June, where the draft LDF was due to be approved for final consultation, it appears to have been withdrawn.

I am sure it will reappear again at some stage but for now we have got the Council to pause for reflection. Mr Reasonable will continue to keep an ever vigilant eye on any planning matters affecting New Barnet - next will be the Town Centre Framework.

Friday 21 May 2010

Barnet Council still not listening

Imagine my frustration when reading the latest version of the Local Development Framework (LDF) which will be presented to the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee next Thursday. At the end of last year, 271 people from New Barnet took the time to send their views on the LDF and the overwhelming view was we don't was a mixed use commercial development (for which read supermarket and flats) in New Barnet. We duly went through the consultation on the New Barnet Town Centre Framework where again opinion was overwhelmingly against new retail development in New Barnet. Yet the latest draft of the LDF published yesterday states clearly that New Barnet is a priority town centre "having a character more appropriate to higher density mixed use development". It has not waited for the Town Centre Framework to be published and to incorporate those policies. It has cleverly deleted a few words but the rump of the issues remain outstanding.

Yet again the Council are bulldozing through a policy which local people simply do not want. So much for consultation!

Saturday 8 May 2010

Holding people to their promises

With the elections over I suspect we can now expect to see Tesco and Asda sticking in their planning applications. If they do, I hope our newly elected councillors will stick to their promises of opposing any new superstore development in New Barnet. I also hope they will urge council officers to reconsider their desire to "intensify" housing along East Barnet Road which will mean family houses being pulled down and replaced with blocks of flats.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Why I am voting for The Residents' Association of Barnet

Set out below is the text taken from the RAB blog.

Many Barnet residents were, and remain, deeply unhappy about the way in which Barnet Council is run. Amongst many of the concerns expressed is the character and integrity of those who were elected to represent residents in the one organisation that effects all our daily lives; and is paid for from our taxes.

Set out below are the seven key principles that should apply to all aspects of public life as set down by the Committee for Standards in Public Life.

Now when reading them please consider and think very carefully. Do you believe that the Barnet Councillors seeking re-election have lived up to these standards in both the letter and the spirit of the principles over the past four years?

If you do, then vote with a clear conscience that your selection will, at the very least, be qualified for continuing public life.

If not; then surely you must vote for the people who will not only live up to these standards but embrace them wholeheartedly and unequivocally. The independent candidates supported by The Residents' Association of Barnet candidates, are these people.


SELFLESSNESS - Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

INTEGRITY - Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

OBJECTIVITY - In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

ACCOUNTABILITY - Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

OPENNESS -Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

HONESTY - Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

LEADERSHIP - Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Friday 30 April 2010

Candidates opposed to superstores - week 2

This week's East Barnet Advertiser sets out the views of the remaining three sets of candidates, Conservatives, Lib Dems and BNP.

Firstly starting with the Conservatives, they continue to claim that they are "leading the battle against the supermarkets". I think that is a somewhat exaggerated claim and I am shocked that they are claiming option one of the town centre framework is only there because of them. Personally, I think the stalwarts at the Save New Barnet campaign deserve the credit for that one. The Conservatives make no reference to the Local Development Framework which will encourage developers to build blocks of flats all along the A110 in a similar fashion to the block of flats that have sprung up along Station Road. I think that is worrying for the area.

Moving onto the Lib Dems they make clear their opposition to the supermarkets but again no mention of the Local Development Framework and the impact of lots of new flats on the area. I also think it is a bit rich to knock the Tories for not living in the ward when only one of the Lib Dem candidates does so.

As for the BNP they make no mention whatsoever of supermarkets, flats, planning etc so I think I'll leave it there.

Overall it appears that only the Resident's Association of Barnet have stated clearly that they are opposed to both new superstores and blocks of flats along East Barnet Road. I know who I will be voting for!

Saturday 24 April 2010

So who is opposed to Superstores?

Reading the East Barnet Advertiser it is interesting what the Labour, Green and Residents' Association of Barnet are saying or not saying about superstore development in New Barnet. Reading what they say carefully, only The Residents' Association of Barnet candidates specifically say they are opposed to new superstores in the area. Mr Reasonable has a question for both the Labour and Green candidates - Are you opposed to new superstore developments in New Barnet -yes or no?
Next week I will review what the Conservatives, Lib Dems and BNP have to say.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Votes are in - who is the winner?

The deadline for submission of comments on the New Barnet Town Centre Framework has now passed. We will have to wait and see how many responses were received by the Council but it must run to several hundred. I saw a group of people outside Sainsbury's queuing up to give their comments to the Save New Barnet Team. Unfortunately, I suspect we will hear nothing now until after the elections. I just hope common sense has prevailed and the Council accept that most residents in New Barnet don't want any superstore developments.

Friday 19 March 2010

Vote Option 1 - The deadline is looming!

The Consultation period for the New Barnet Town Centre Framework closes on Tuesday 23 March. Please make sure you have sent in your response. Please be very careful of filling in the Council's feedback questionnaire as your answers will be open to interpretation. Ideally write your own letter or download the pro forma letter from the Save New Barnet website - see the link in the side bar. Every single letter is counted so make sure that Barnet Council understand how you feel about the future of New Barnet.

Mr Reasonable recommends voting Option 1 - Consolidated High Street.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

New Barnet Town Centre Framework - Vote Option 1

Having studied the Town Centre Framework in some detail, it strikes me that there are a number of very serious issues which don't necessarily come out clearly in the documents. Option 1, which is residential development on the Gasworks and Optex sites (something proposed by the Save New Barnet Campaign last year), seems to be portrayed in such a way as to make it look a rather negative option. By contrast, Options 2 &3, which favour retail development on the Optex and Gasworks sites respectively, are portrayed in much more favourable terms. However, as with some many things in life, the devil is in the detail. Options 2 & 3 don't talk about the size of retail development nor do they talk about the additional traffic that would be generated. Option 2 (Tesco own Optex site) could only be accessed from Victoria Road making life utterly miserable for anyone living on this narrow residential road.What is also tucked away in one of the appendices is the impact assessment on the Sainsbury's store in New Barnet. The Framework document suggests that if a 2,500 square metre store (a bit smaller than the current Sainsbury's) was openedon either of the sites, it would take half of Sainsbury's turnover potentially making the Sainsbury's store unviable. As a result, rather than generating competition, we would simply have Sainsbury's replaced by another single supermarket operator. Change but not competition. Overall, the only realistic option is Option 1.
Make your opinion count - Tell Barnet Council what you think - deadline 23 March.
Mr Reasonable will be voting for Option 1!

Monday 1 March 2010

New Barnet Town Centre Framework

I have just come back from the exhibition at St Jame's Church. The problem is that the display boards were extremely superficial. Nothing about traffic or whether or not we need any more supermarkets. It will be incredibly difficult to come to a clear and rational conclusion based on the evidence presented. I just hope that people can see through the spin!

Monday 15 February 2010

Tesco - What a Mess

Tesco own 7-9 Victoria Road but do not appear to want to do anything with the site. They fought for planning permission taking their case to the Planning Inspectorate where they won planning permission for a Tesco Express on 7 April 2009. They have sat on this site letting it rot but at the same time continue to develop other Tesco Express stores in the area. These pictures were taken on Saturday and reflect the current state of the building.
Come on Tesco. Either pull it down and build your new Tesco Express or sell the site and let someone else develop it. Show the residents of New Barnet some respect and do the right thing.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Tesco Takeover

Word reaches me that Tesco have taken over the old Barnet Marine shop at Greenhill Parade. Having checked the Land Registry database, Tesco have indeed taken a lease on the property. My question to Tesco is why are they developing a new shop when they have been sitting on a derelict property at 7-9 Victoria Road in New Barnet for 10 months but have failed to develop. Tesco refused to accept the judgement of Barnet Council and appealed to the Planning Inspectorate on the Victoria Raod property. With a slick barrister and an expensive team of advisors they managed to win planning consent. You would have expected them to start work pretty quickly, but no, the building continues to be in a dangerous, tumbled down state. The state of 15 East Barnet Road is an appalling eyesore, which they also own. Tesco are bad neighbours and seem to be oblivious to the continuing blight they are causing in New Barnet.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

LDF Consultation

At last night's Residents Forum, Barnet Council disclosed that they had received 321 responses to the Local Development Framework consultation. Of particular interest is the fact that 271 of those responses related specifically to New Barnet. This must be a clear signal to Barnet Council that they must listen to, and take into account, the views of New Barnet residents.