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.


  1. Does Councillor Thomas understand the concept of "a collection of exhibits"?

    Does Councillor Thomas understand anything?

  2. Well done, yet again, Mr Reasonable, for your persistence in the face of corporate intransigence. Cllr Thomas should know that there are two museums in Barnet, one in High Barnet which is staffed by volunteers, but there is also the very important Church Farmhouse Museum in Hendon which for many years has had an excellent curator, who has continually organised numberless exhibitions of great interest, and provided a unique venue for the people of this borough. We have a staggeringly poor number of of galleries, museums or historical venues in this borough. Now our libraries, museums and the Arts Depot are all under threat by this philistine administration, whose Tory councillors know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  3. What struck me most last night is how out of touch the cabinet are with the residents of Barnet. Going through the budget lines I am sure members of the public would have been appalled at how services are just being chopped without any thought for the consequences. At one point they discussed the street lighting contact. An officer was summonded to explain how they were going to make savings to the DW lighting contract. "We may be able to use technology to resolve the problems instead of replacing lighting columns". Hang on a minute. Residents have been saying this for at least the last 18 months as far as I am aware, possibly longer. Two officers sat there with their expensive tablet computers which cost over £3 million using them as standard laptops. There's at least £1 million we could have saved just by specifiying a less expensive laptop. As is so often the case in big organisations the people who are making the decision never look at their own jobs or facilities. If we could strip out a tier of senior management at the council and introduce a tougher value for money regime I am sure there are a lot of frontline cuts that could be eliminated.

    For Mrs Angry, Cllr Julie Johnson raised the issue of the citizens panel and how the 54 people were picked. Cllr Thomas said the panel was picked at random and that there were 54 people because that was the number who turned up to the meeting. I felt like screaming at him "yes so why was Mrs Angry not invited". I don't think anyone believes it was a fair consultation and there must now be a shadow hanging over the independence of the citizens panel.

  4. Well: two very interesting revelations, Mr R. I am astounded at the statement about the lighting contract, having been raising this issue in my blog. How much money has been wasted on this replacement project? Opposition councillors should be demanding facts and figures: the monitoring of these contracts, or failure to do so stringently enough, is deeply concerning, and a preview of what will happen once -if - the One Barnet nonsense outsources more and more services.
    As to the Citizens Panel, the report claimed the panel at the meeting was representative of the adult population, yet Thomas is now saying it was a random choice: the two statements are contradictory. To be representative a targeted selection would have to be made. Was there any independent monitoring of these so called consultation excercises to ensure the integrity of the project? I think the answer is clear. you are right, Mr R: they are out of touch, and out of their depth in dealing with a budget of this enormity, and we, the residents and tax payers, are the ones who bear the cost, in many ways.