Sunday 16 February 2014

Community Right to Bid - are Barnet trying to make more difficult?

In the list of decisions taken by the council is the decision to commence consultation on the a change  to the criteria for assessing nominations under the Community Right to Bid  legislation. Below is the summary shown on the website and here is a link to the document

The council has developed a draft policy intended to strengthen the criteria for assessing nominations under the Community Right to Bid. The additional criteria are designed to take account of the local context and priorities of the borough, building on the broad criteria set out by Government. This report is to commence a formal 6 week consultation on the changes.

The additional criteria the council are adding suggest that they want to make it more difficult for the community to list items and I wonder if that is because we can expect a series of sales of community assets following the elections in May - assuming the Conservative group retain control. The wording of the additional criteria are set out below.  In particular my reading of clause 4 at the bottom leaves it wide open for interpretation and therefore rejection by the Council of the the Community's right to bid - but maybe someone will tell me otherwise.

If this is something that concerns you make you you participate in the consultation exercise here. The closing date is 25 March.

Draft London Borough of Barnet assessment criteria for defining Assets of Community Value

• When assessing nominations for inclusion on the Register of Assets of Community Value in Barnet, the council will consider the criteria set out in section 88 of the Localism Act 2011 — whether the principal use of the nominated asset furthers the social interests or social wellbeing of the local community and may realistically continue to do so (whether or not for the same use).

• When interpreting these key phrases to make decisions on what constitutes the social interests and social wellbeing of the local community, the council will consider

1. The extent to which the nominated asset is considered to be essential to the special character of the area.

2. The strategic priorities set out in Barnet's Corporate Plan at the time, which are currently:
i. Promote responsible growth, development and success across the borough; 
ii. Support families and individuals that need it — promoting independence, learning and well-being; and
iii. Improve the satisfaction of residents and businesses within the London Borough of Barnet as a place to live, work and study

3. The Core Strategy set out in Barnet’s Local Plan at the time, which includes social, economic and environmental objectives and policies, and provides the overarching framework for delivering sustainable development in Barnet.

4. Barnet’s diverse and growing population and the physical and social infrastructure required to meet its aspirations.
• The council will consider nominations on a case by case basis, with particular regard to:
o The realistic prospect of the asset’s principal use continuing or resuming its contribution to social interests or wellbeing within the next five years
o The sustainability of the asset’s contribution to social interests or wellbeing
o The commercial viability of the nominating group, including the ability to raise funds

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Barnet and the Icelandic bank disaster - an interesting development

Buried away on the Council's website is notice of a decision "Sale of Claim in LBI". What this is in fact is Barnet's attempt to bring the long running Icelandic bank (Landsbanki) debacle to an end, albeit at a further cost to local council tax payers. Barnet note that whilst part of the claim has been settled we are still waiting for around £7.9 million to be returned which may take several years at least to settle.

The Local Government Association have been advised by lawyers Bevan Brittan and have appointed Deutsche Bank to sell our outstanding claim at auction which is possible under Icelandic law. The Council have set a reserve price for our debt but that is not stated for obvious reasons. How much on the pound we will get for our outstanding debt who knows, but one thing is sure, it will not be for the full amount of the debt and we will have lost years of interest.

I marvel at the irony when I think that it was the financial institutions who brought about this global banking disaster and they are now seeking to make money from their mistakes by buying up that bad debt at a discount and I'm sure Deutsche Bank aren't running this auction out of the kindness of their hearts.

I look forward to Richard Cornelius telling us exactly how much we have had to forgo in order to get at least some of our Icelandic money back.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Freedom Passes - Who pays in Barnet?

See update below in red
The Freedom Pass is a tricky subject and a number of people have warned me off speaking about it but I think it is an area where there needs to be more of a debate.

In Barnet we paid £15.3 million this year towards the cost of Freedom Passes. That comes out of council tax ,not from the separate GLA precept, and represents an average of £110 per household or around 10% of the band D council tax. Now I want to make it clear that I don't object to people having Freedom Passes but I do want more people to understand exactly what they cost and who pays. Each year the cost of Freedom Passes goes up, typically by above inflation levels, mirroring the increase in cost of tube and bus fares. In 2014/15 the cost of Freedom Passes will rise by 4.7% - this increase has been agreed by the London Council who administer the freedom pass scheme (hat tip to Mr Mustard for forwarding on the papers). For Barnet that means the cost of Freedom Passes will increase by approximately £720,000 to just a shade over £16 million per annum.

"So what", you may say "people are entitled to Freedom Passes, it's their right". The problem is that since 2010 Barnet have frozen the council tax and in April they are introducing a 1% cut. That means that to pay for the Freedom Pass increase, other services have to be cut even further. Every other service in Barnet has been subject to scrutiny and review and for many, severe cuts, but Freedom Passes, which make up 10% of the Council Tax we pay, are exempt from any form of debate or challenge. I suspect this is because politicians see this area as a massive voter loser.

From my perspective I am definitely not saying that Freedom Passes should be cut, but that we should at least be honest about what they cost and if we want to maintain them, then recover the cost through an increase in council tax. The problem is that this is an election year and local politicians want to give residents a small cut when the politicians know they can't afford it without making cuts elsewhere. If they had put council tax up by a modest 1% that would have at least covered the increase cost of the Freedom Passes along with some of other contracts which have in-built inflationary increase formulae (such as the contract with Agilisys, the One Barnet implementation consultants). But instead they are cutting council tax by 1% meaning other budgets have a double whammy cut.

So in summary who pays for the "free" Freedom Passes - we all do through our council tax but critically people in receipt of adult social care and children's services are increasingly bearing the burden through cuts in their services as the cost of Freedom Passes rise every year and that, in my opinion, is wrong. Let's at least have an honest debate about council tax cuts and freezes and who increasingly is bearing the burden of Freedom Passes - the most vulnerable in Barnet.

I shall be attending the BAPS Question Time on Monday 17th February 7pm at St James Church on East Barnet Road and I hope I will get the opportunity to raise this with politicians and see what they have to say.

As I have been asked about the cost of Freedom Passes I have set out below a response I received under the Freedom of Information Act to TFL in 2011

Dear Mr Dix

TfL Ref: FOI-0255-1112

Thank you for your email received by Transport for London (TfL) on 3 June
2011 asking for information about Freedom Pass usage.

Your request has been considered in accordance with the requirements of
the Freedom of Information Act and TfL’s information access policy. I
can confirm TfL holds some of the information you require. For ease of
reference I will address each part of the response as outlined in your

1. The number of bus, rail and underground journeys made using the Freedom
Pass in the financial year 2010/11, (or calendar year 2010 if that is how
the data is collected). Please can you state clearly if this is an actual
recorded number or simply an estimated number.

The latest readily available recorded figures are for the year ending 30
September 2010. The number of journeys taken was:

Bus 307.7 million

Underground 49.9 million.

National Rail (NR) services are not provided by TfL, and TfL does not have
comprehensive information on usage of Freedom Passes on NR services.

2. If the number is of actual recorded journeys, please can you tell me
the cost of those journeys based on standard fare charges.

These numbers are based on Oyster validations plus an estimate for
unvalidated journeys. We are unsure what is meant by “standard fare

For illustration, at 2010 fares, the standard Pay As You Go (PAYG) fare on
buses was £1.20, which would give a total value of bus journeys of
£369.2 million; the average PAYG fare on the Underground was £1.78 which
would give a total value of Underground journeys of £88.8 million.

3. The total number of Freedom Passes issued and charged to London
Boroughs for the same time period.

Freedom Passes are issued by the London Boroughs, not TfL. The Boroughs
are not charged on a “per permit” basis (see below). TfL understands
that the number of holders is around 1.1 million.

4. Please can you tell me if the number of journeys made by Freedom Pass
holders can be attributed to the London Borough who issued the Freedom

Yes, where an Oyster validation is obtained.

4. Please can you tell me how the cost to London Boroughs for each Freedom
Pass is calculated.

A total cost (i.e. not a “per permit” figure) is agreed in respect of
each financial year. The basis of the payment (as set down in the GLA Act)
is that TfL’s costs should be met. The main elements in the calculations
are as follows:

● The number of Freedom Pass journeys are estimated (after
removing journeys during the AM peak Mon-Fri for which the Boroughs do not

Econometric models are used:

a) to assess the number of journeys that would still be made in the
absence of the Freedom Pass scheme;

b) to estimate an appropriate average fare, based on the likely
ticket-type mix (cash fares, Pay As You Go, Travelcards etc.) of those

c) to estimate the costs in incurred in providing additional
buses to carry the additional journeys the free scheme generates.

● The values of a) and b) for each mode of transport (Buses,
Underground, DLR, Tramlink, Overground) are then multiplied together to
give a payment for each mode. These are then added, together with the
amount in c), to give the total payment by the Boroughs.

The allocation of this cost between individual Boroughs is a matter for
them individually.