Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Kaff's Corner: This town is looking like a ghost town

Kaff's Corner: This town is looking like a ghost town: So Little Dean sees himself as the saviour of our Town Centres and the Tory to rid the borough of the spectre of the lesser known Cllr Brian...

This town is looking like a ghost town

So Little Dean sees himself as the saviour of our Town Centres and the Tory to rid the borough of the spectre of the lesser known Cllr Brian Coleman.
So as I have said before, we now have concessions in North Finchley Town Centre which has produced much relief to hard pressed traders. Sadly though the same cannot be said of other town centres.
Little Dean and his colleagues dismissed Cllr Alan Schniederman’s request for a ‘Free after 3’ proposals for the run to Christmas until 7th January 2012. He did not even come up with any concrete plans to alleviate the problems facing traders across the borough.
That was until last night.  While the rest of the Tories on the Business Management Scrutiny Committee were congratulating the diminutive councillor on his vision and action some of us sat there rather bemused.
Local ward councillors have not been consulted on planned changes to parking in their town centres and more importantly neither have local residents. Traders who are demanding action now will have to wait until the New Year to see proposed plans (an informed member of the public gallery did pipe up and ask what New Year) and when pushed on what concessions may be introduced this Christmas Little Dean acted somewhat coyly saying an announcement would be made soon. Clearly the members of the committee cajoled him into letting the cat out of the bag. It is therefore down to me to announce that Barnet’s town centres will have a two day concession the weekend before Christmas, restricted to 2 hours. Yes Saturday 22nd December and Sunday 23rd December. Hard pressed husbands will be pleased, Supermarket car parks will still be full and Brent Cross Traders will not be shaking in their boots.
As posters go up in High Barnet requesting, ‘Free after 3’ it looks as though Scrooge still rides high in Barnet. The ghost of Christmas yet to come is not the saviour after all.     

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Don't Panic

Don't panic! Don't panic! We’re all Doomed any way

In 2009 Barnet Council became national news after pushing through their so called ‘no frills’ approach to providing our services. The Tory leader who at the time took credit for this described it as “going back to the Ryanair example” with “some things will be cheap and cheerful and in other areas we will provide complete services.”

As we know getting “more for less” has become something of a Conservative mantra.
But we have always felt that this just another con trick. They never planned to get “more for less”, but provide less for less.
John Denham, Labour’s Communities Secretary at the time and highly respected, responded saying: “While it is one thing to put up with Ryanair’s level of service for a couple of hours, no-one wants to live in a Ryanair world, where you have to pay extra, even for the very basics.”
Now Mr Denham has always been a good judge of character and ability and his words then, echo here again tonight.
The reality is outsourcing is not the best option for the public sector. Even Sir Merrick Cockell has called into question the belief that local authorities should be looking to "outsource everything".

Even BT agree. Last week the telecoms giant confirmed it was cutting costs and saving money by – wait for it – stopping outsourcing and getting its own staff to do the tasks instead!
Outsourcing has always been lauded as an effective tool to help managers and organisations make progress toward productivity and effectiveness, but outsourcing is not always a less-expensive or even successful alternative.
Outsourcing can fail for a number of reasons. The most common ones involve:
  • hiring the wrong contractor
  • setting unrealistic goals
  • inadequate contract details
  • inflexible contracts
  • inadequate management review
The problems with One Barnet are well documented and have been aired eloquently in the Council chamber already.
Sadly it seems the reality of these pitfalls does not seem to have hit home amongst Barnet’s leading Tories.
The MP for Chipping Barnet oversaw the disaster of the West Coast Line franchise and her hands are all over the chaos which is now the Thameslink contract.    
And my own MP for Finchley & Golders Green proudly accepted the role of ‘architect’ of Future Shape/Easy Council launched in the summer of 2008 well before any economic crash. 
He has though gone quiet on the subject. Was this just a gimmick to raise his own profile in the run up to a General election, or like his performance over the Icelandic investments, was he not up to the job and was the whole concept of local government finance and service delivery beyond him.
Putting the Hendon MP aside (such matters are quite beyond him), one wonders whether the whole of the Barnet Tory Party is riddled with contamination and incompetence. No one taking responsibility for their actions when the tax payer will pay the price.
Now I am not one for personal attacks, it is always about the politics, but it is time that the Leader of this Council does the right thing. From the mismanagement of the whole OneBarnet programme, to the Library debacle and the parking fiasco enough is enough.
If you are looking for a good jeweller who will sell high and by low, you will most definitely find it in Richard Cornelius. If you are looking for a dynamic and strong leader sadly you will not. The past few months have shown us that.
BUT if we are to be grown up about this and if this vote of no confidence pushes the Tory group further into the mire (sadly taking Barnet residents with them), I believe a compromise is a way forward.
I would therefore happy to support a lesser motion asking for the brakes to be put on this project, so like other boroughs, real scrutiny can take place. The private sector itself is nervous of committing themselves due to the economic climate so why should we be taking the risk. 
The reality of outsourcing is that services will decline while the price goes up and the risk to the taxpayer is even higher.
For the sake of this great borough, pause, think again and work with us for a ‘Better Barnet’.
Sadly the Tories plough on regardless like lemmings off a cliff.

O, what a tangled web we weave

O, what a tangled web we weave
when first we practise to deceive!
Culture minister Ed Vaizey said libraries should be at the “heart of the big society.” Sadly this seems to be lost on Barnet’s Cabinet Member. We have had the wait, the intrigue and now the deceit. Barnet’s Library Strategy is the best piece of fiction ever to have sat on a Barnet shelf.
We were told that we would have a first class 21st century library service. I don’t think so. We were promised a landmark library in North Finchley, No sign. Local cllrs and residents were unequivocally told over and over again that Friern Barnet library would only close when there was alternative provision. What have we got? Zilch. Nothing.

Is it any wonder theirs and our faith in him has crumbled beyond doubt?

Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague.

The whole library strategy has been a disaster from the word go. Started before One Barnet and started before many sitting councilors had even been elected. We have gone from a council that increased opening hours and introduced Sunday opening to a council, and more importantly a councillor, who has dithered and slithered, reducing opening hours and closing the doors on much loved libraries.

The Commons Culture Committee has expressed concerns over library closures stating that such a move could break a legal requirement for ­councils to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service.

And while the public welcome the use of volunteers in the library service they know and value the service of the trained and skilled librarian. Surrey County Council's decision to run 10 libraries by volunteers was ruled unlawful by the High Court.
Campaigners opposed the move on the technicality that qualified paid staff were more knowledgeable in being able to provide assistance to vulnerable users.
Libraries may well be the mind and soul of their communities but librarians are the mind and soul of the library.
The judge said the decision-making process was flawed. What judgment will the courts find on Barnet?
Someone said it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once. Councilors and the public have been mislead from the off. It is time to stand up to our deceivers. He has had enough warnings, now is the time to give him the red card!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

It is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.

Last year Labour councillors called for an extraordinary meeting so that all councillors could discuss and vote on an amnesty on parking charges in the run up to Christmas.

Traders across the borough were suffering and the Tory Council perpetuated their problems with their eye-watering charges and baffling parking arrangements.
The meeting did not take place. The Tory Mayor did not accept the request.

So fast forward to January 2012. Another request and this time a YES, we can have our meeting to discuss Barnet’s notorious parking scheme. BUT calls to review the “eye-watering” parking charges were rejected when our beloved Tory councillors voted unanimously against, angering many traders sitting in the public gallery.

So another fast forward to summer. The diminutive Cllr Dean Cohen the new Cabinet Member for upsetting traders and son of Melvin, has decided to hold consultations with traders across the borough and we waited agog for his findings.

In North Finchley, the much loved surroundings for the late Horace, the home of Cafe Buzz and the setting for some alleged criminal activity, little Dean spent £30k of the Mayors Outer London Fund to ask traders what they thought of parking in Barnet. I was somewhat bemused why he felt the need to ask, wasn’t it abundantly clear what they thought, but hey ho I thought give the lad a chance.

So what were his findings and what wondrous things were going to happen to help our town centres and residents of the Borough?

Well what did we get

·         Half-day visitor vouchers for controlled parking zones will be introduced as soon as possible. These will be priced at £2.20. They of course went up from £1 to £4 so not really a cut
·         Credit card machines to be introduced in eight of the council’s car parks that currently charge for parking
·         No new car park charges in the following car parks: Egerton Gardens NW4, New Brent St NW4, Church Hill Rd EN4 and Quakers Court NW9
·         No fees in Dawes Lane car park
·         And an increase the availability of parking vouchers, businesses will be able to buy vouchers at a discount. Details to be announced shortly. Not sure how that actually worked out

Cllr Cohen also asked officers to explore the possibility of introducing a 50p for fifteen-minute parking tariff. He at the time said: “I appreciate that many people just want to nip into a couple shops and this would make it much easier. I have asked officers to explore the possibility of introducing such a voucher although we have to look at the economics of this”.

So pressing the forward button again it is now November and parking is again on the agenda.  Are you getting a feeling of Déjà Vous yet?

Labour have called again for another parking amnesty in the run up to Christmas to help traders across the borough. And you would hope that this would be supported by all councillors with no dissenting voice.

But what do we get today another announcement from little Dean panicked by such initiative.

We now know what he wants to do to revive North Finchley. No no amnesty, no reversal of the eye-watering parking charges but a ‘pilot’ where: 

·         A 35% reduction in current parking charges on-street to increase turnover with a proportionate slightly less reduction for off-street car parks to ensure overall parity.
·         The introduction of dedicated business parking bays within off-street car parks, to increase on-street parking space. 
·         Making a number of on-street parking bays a 2 hour maximum stay to increase turnover.
·          Adapting existing on street loading bays to allow a 15 minutes free parking period after 10am to promote rapid turnover.
·          Introducing a 15 minute stay facility on pay-by-phone bays.  
·          Introducing a number of new ‘Pay-by-Phone’ short-stay parking bays at specific locations in the High Street to increase on street parking availability. Although this will only happen in the New Year – YES after Christmas

So some action, but there are pitfalls a plenty, the Barnet Bloggers have had great fun pulling the plans apart whilst recognising that little Dean has done something to ease their troubles.

Now I’m not going to be a scrooge about this Little Dean has done more than previous Tory incumbents in this post and it is a welcome change. BUT what about the other struggling town centres. Will Dean become a big man and support Labour’s call for a Christmas amnesty?