Monday, 20 November 2017

Failure in Housing Policy - Barnet should hang its head in shame

Last week, the Prime Minister Theresa May visited the Borough to review our progress on housing. Quite unbelieveably, she came along believing that Barnet Council have some sort of story to tell in how things should be done. The council press release is perhaps the most dishonest and misleading press release I've ever read. It makes the claim
The figures show that in 2016/17, Barnet delivered 1,799 additional homes, the 7th highest amongst the London Boroughs.
From this, you may be tempted to believe that Barnet Council has huge teams of builders working around the clock to resolve the housing crisis in the Borough. What the press release should say is

The figures show that in 2016/17 private developers in Barnet built 1,799 new dwellings. Despite Barnet being Londons most populous borough and geographically the second largest, six other Boroughs delivered more homes.

Back in March this year, the Local Government Ombudsman deemed that Barnet Council has "systemic problems with its Homeless services". The Ombudsman concluded

“Councils are legally required to issue a written decision to people who approach them as homeless. Without this those people are left in limbo; denied their review and appeal rights, and are potentially without access to accommodation which they might need.

“The LGO issued a special report on councils’ duties to homeless people in 2011 and I am disappointed to see councils are still making errors in this area. As shown in this report, failing to deal with homeless people properly can have very real and serious consequences for some of the most vulnerable in society.”

Andrew Dismore, our local LGA representative recently revealed that Barnet Council are the 17th worst council for Homelessness in the country. Dismore explained

Recently the National Audit Office warned that government welfare policies are directly contributing to the homelessness crisis. These appalling figures show that the Government has wilfully turned its back on those who’ve had the misfortune to find themselves homeless.
“With Barnet needing 3,134 new homes a year to meet local demand, the consequences of the abject failure of Conservative run Barnet Council, who are always willing to give planning permission for high cost homes but underperform on affordable homes, are obvious.
At the weekend I had a friendly chat with one of our local Conservative councillors and I discussed the issue of housing. They stated "It is not quite as simple as pulling houses out of a magic hat, schemes take years to develop and implement". I responded by asking why the Millbrook Park scheme in Mill Hill East will not be completed for nearly ten years, when we have a desperate need for those houses now. The rather lame response was "that was what was agreed with the developers".

Today we hear that the Chancellor Phillip Hammond is taking measures against developers who are "landbanking", getting land and planning permission and then sitting on it, waiting for land values to rise. It seems quite perverse that Hammond is seeking to address a practice that is rife in the very Borough where the Prime Minister has come to launch her housing policy.

What is the biggest tragedy is that our locality used to be seen as one of the shining examples of social housing. The Watling Estate was a model of how social housing should be done. It has great transport links, shops, schools, places of worship, gardens, parks and green spaces for children and young people and community centres and clubs for teenagers.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy in Barnet is just how many of the new dwellings in the Borough have been bought as investments by rich foreigners as investments. Some of these have never even visited the Borough. When we look to address the housing crisis, surely we should start by making sure empty properties are used. This is surely an absolute no brainer. Barnet is one of the worst offenders for having properties sitting empty, as this map from Metro demonstrates.

It is perverse that with such a problem, homes are sitting empty. You may wonder if Barnet Council has a strategy at all for dealing with homelessnese. The answer is yes, you can check it out here  -

Barnet Housing Strategy 2015 to 2025 - Barnet Council

It says:
Barnet Council has taken action to reduce the number of homeless households living in
emergency temporary accommodation and, in doing so, has enabled more families to
remain close to their support networks in Barnet and in more settled accommodation.
This has been achieved through: 
 Increasing focus on early intervention and homelessness prevention measures, such as tenancy sustainment, youth mediation and domestic violence support services.
 Formation of a Welfare Reform Taskforce to work closely with households affected by welfare reform to minimise the risk of homelessness.
 Through undertaking a financial assessment as part of the housing application and signposting applicants to debt advice provided by Citizens Advice Bureau and Christians Against Poverty.
 Increasing the effectiveness of our private rented sector procurement strategy, including the launch of the Let2Barnet team and landlord incentive scheme for private sector landlords, so that the number of affordable private sector lettings to homeless households increased from 121 in 2010/11 to 393 in 2014/15.
 Sourcing affordable accommodation in less expensive areas outside of Barnet. Going forward, we will continue to work with private landlords to ensure that there is a good supply of affordable accommodation and work to sustain tenancies and prevent
I was quite shocked by this. The first two parts of the strategy are sensible measures, one may ask why these weren't already in place, but it is good that these issues are being recognised and addressed.  As to the remaining three, I find this disgusting. Let me explain why

This financial assessment and "signposting applicants to debt advice provided by Citizens Advice Bureau and Christians Against Poverty." is repulsive to me. The council is identifying issues and then relying on charities and volunteers to deal with the issues that they've identified. The council should have such services within its own service portfolio. A joined up approach should be used when addressing such serious issues. Whilst Christians against Poverty is a fine upstanding organisation, there is no way that they could provide a level of assistance comparable with a council, where access to the relevant people and paperwork to stop evictions etc should be easy to facilitate.

The push to increase the private rented sector is also a highly dubious method of alleviating this issue. Council run social housing is more cost effective and manageable. There is of course a role for private landlords in addressing short term issues, however to suggest that this is part of the long term strategy, simply adds huge costs to the taxpayer. I am a private Landlord and I do it for one simple reason, I can make a healthy profit on the deal. The equation is quite simple. I procure a property, and then I rent it with a mark up on my costs and spend all the dosh on beer and expensive holidays. If the council bought the properties, the bit of the equation that I spend on beer and holidays, they could save and use to build more social housing (Or dish out in tax cuts as they usually do in Barnet).

The final part is even more repulsive. Barnet Council Tories do not seem to recognise that social housing tenants are human beings, with feelings and with the need for friendship and support. Moving children away from their friends and parents away from support networks is to me a form of cruel and unusual punishment. It is all very well saying "it's cheaper up north, lets export our problem families", but is it really how a decent society behaves. Of course, for the Barnet Tories, replacing expensive (to the council) Labour voters with cheap to maintain Tory voters might seem like a jolly good idea to the Tories from leafy Totteridge who run the country. To me it simply banks problems for the UK for the future. Although I am a proud Mill Hillian and a proud Londoner, I am also a proud UK citizen and I want the best for our country. I believe that the idea of sink estates up north where London Tory councils dump their problem families is a repulsive concept and at some time in the future, it will cost us all a small fortune to fix.

And that is why Theresa May visiting Barnet is so repulsive. In short, she seems to have forgotten that she is the Prime Minister of the whole UK, not just the leafy Tory boroughs and the home counties. And that is why it is shameful that she came to The London Borough of Barnet to launch her housing policy.

If you want to see how the brave new Barnet is being built, checkout this video of a disabled man from Sweets Way being evicted to make way for a posh housing development

And this from West Hendon

Sadly this is the reality of the gentrification of The London Borough of Barnet. But never mind, if your life is laid to waste, your family split up and dispersed across the country and your house knocked down, the Council will very kindly signpost you  to the nearest friendly Church, where you can cry on someones shoulder over a cup of tea and biscuit (* Terms and conditions may apply).

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 19/11/2017

Quite a good selection to choose from this week. We hope you enjoy them! Don't forget to follow any local tweeters who tickle your fancy

1. The spotlight was on the contibution the Eastern European communittee have made in Burt Oak this week

2. If you hurry, you might get a tasty slice of free Kosher Pizza in Edgware. Sounds good to us!

3. And while you are in Edgware, why not donate blood? What better gift can you give than life

4. If you live in Colindale, why not come along and see what the Residents Association is up to

5. Cricklewood is full of surprises!

6. Sadly there is some very worrying news in Mill Hill

7.If you are a woman and you are in business, check this out!

8. Interested in the massive Finchley redevelopment

9. Long Lane Pastures had some brilliant piccies

10. We finish with a great piccie from Richard Logue

That's all folks!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Saturday list #155 - Ten tips for a great Xmas in the London Borough of Barnet!

Image result for Xmas Mill Hill broadway
A seasonal view of Mill Hill Broadway
The Christmas Season is nearly upon us. Yesterday Mrs T (my long suffering better half) asked me whether we should have "people around for a Christmas drink this year". I'm a sociable sort of chap, so I said yes, of course. Much as I'd love to ask all of the thousands of readers around to join us, sadly, Tichborne mansions probably wouldn't fit you all in! So I thought, maybe I could at least give you a few pointers as to how to have a great Christmas. Now I know that not all of my readers celebrate it, but I'm pretty sure for all of everyone there will be something interesting here for you.

This list is purely based on my not always very objective view of living in Barnet. I rather hope that everyone has a great festive season and if you check out these recommendations. I always try and support local traders and great businesses.

1. Getting a Christmas Tree.
I always get mine from Finchley Nurseries, in Burtonhole Lane in Mill Hill. They will deliver the item to your house, so no need to worry if it won't fit on the back of the moped. They also have a great selection of jams, plants etc for a gifts etc. They also sell seasonal organic vegetables. I often use the opportunity for a walk around the Totteridge Valley and Darlands Nature Reserve first. They have a lovely tea room, so if you get a nice sunny day, why not check it out. Here are a couple of tweets from the Better Mill Hill blog, showing what you could enjoy. It really is a highlight of Mill Hill.

2. Getting a Turkey.
We are blessed with some excellent butchers in the Borough. They supply quality products. I always use Cooksleys in Mill Hill. The Mill Hill Broadway blog likes them as well.

I can also recommend Highland Organics at Mill Hill East. If meat isn't your thing, then Elias Fish at Mill Hill East is a fantastic place to get fresh fish and a few brilliant tips on how to cook it. They gave me an excellent tip for barbequing Sea Bass, although it may be a bit nippy for that at Xmas! Whilst at Mill Hill East, A&D Fruiterers are a great place to get the Spuds and Brussels Sprouts!

3. Christmas Panto.
If you want to do something with the kids, the Arts Depot in Finchley has a whole series of shows and events for kids. The one that caught my eye was the Tiger that Came to Tea.

Another great place to check out is the Bull Theatre in Barnet. They have 'Twas the night before Xmas'.

4. Christmas Presents.
If I want to make my good lady happy at Christmas, I generally find that some Jewellery is a guaranteed winner. She is rather fussy, however I find that Rockman in Mill Hill are brilliant. I am not alone in thinking this. I've even heard Vanessa Feltz on BBC London mention this.

Sadly most of the things we get at Xmas we play with for an hour then we put them away and that's it. I personally would always recommend learning to play a musical instrument. Mill Hill Music Complex sell a great range of Guitars, Ukuleles, Violins and Drum kits.

Another thing which tends to go down rather well is a nice bottle of wine, whisky or Brandy. There is no finer shop to buy them than Mill Hill Wines.

5. A party.
There is nothing better to do at Christmas than have a party. We are having one! Whilst we can't fit most of our readers in the house, we hope we can fit you all in the Chandos Arms in Colindale. Even better, it's all free! Come along on Saturday 9th December for the Barnet Eye community awards and Christmas Party. There will be live music and a DJ. 

It will be a blast!

If you can't wait until the 9th, we will also be having a bit of a knees up in Mill Hill on 1st and 2nd of December. There will be live music, the official lights turn on and a Christmas market. Watch this space for more details.

6. Christmas Carols.
For me as a musician, I have a special affection for Christmas carols. They are a huge part of our culture and heritage and for many of us are the way we first got involved in music. There are several fantastic carol services. St Michaels Church in Mill Hill always have a great carol service and have an excellent choir.

Another event which looks to be rather special is the at St James Church in  New Barnet. The choir will be accompanied by the Barnet Band on the  17th December at 6.30.

Barnet mencap

Another great service to check out is the Barnet Mencap service.

There will be a short Carol Service, starting at 3pm, followed by tea and cakes.
St Mary's Church is located on Hendon Lane, Finchley N3 1TR, opposite the Barnet Mencap office.

If you're travelling by bus, it is near stops for the 82, 125, 143 and 326. It is a short walk from Finchley Central Underground Station.7.

For charities like Mencap, Christmas is a very important time of the year. For various reasons, their services can be quite stretched, so joining them for a carols, a cup of tea and asing song is surely a great thing to do.

Finally if you want a more modern take on a Christmas Choir event, checkout the Choirs are US event in aid of North London Samaritans.   With special guests: Gwalia Welsh Male Voice Choir
7.30pm Saturday 9th December 2017.  Ewen Hall, Wood Street, Barnet EN5 4BW,  Tickets: £10 adults (include glass of wine and mince pie).  Free for under 16's, Doors open 7.00pm.   Celebrate Christmas with some fabulous Christmas and pop songs from two great choirs!

8. Checkout some great live music.
Of course not everyone is into carols. There are plenty of other gigs and events coming up in the Borough of Barnet (apart from our party!).

There is far too much to list here, and there is a great website that lists all of the forthcoming gigs, so checkout

A few I've picked out that I'll be checking out

gig details
The Portobello Jazz Band (Jazz, 6 piece) at The Greyhound, Hendon
8.30pm - 11pm Info »

gig details
The Looters (60s / 70s covers, 4 piece) at The Three Wishes, Edgware
9pm - midnight Info »

gig details
Odyssey Blues & Soul Band (Soul, Blues, Jazz, 4 piece) at The Elephant Inn, Finchley
First time here. Come down for a Pre-Christmas knees-up.
9.15pm - midnight Info »

9. Christmas Lunch.

Are you looking for a great place for a Christmas lunch? Here's a few suggestions. All of these are places I regularly visit and can thoroughly recommend.

The Chandos Arms, Colindale

The Bohemia, North Finchley

Haven, Totteridge

The Rising Sun
Rising Sun Xmas Menu

This year, my business are having our party at Valentino's oon th A41. I always think of them as a Mill Hill venue, but they are of course in Hendon! They are also worth a visit

10. And finally......
I spent a couple of hours putting this together for you. Please could you do something for me? It won't take you very long. At this time of year, I hope everyone has a great Xmas or festive season. Sadly some of us won't. Many families are under strain. Colindale Foodbank supports families during this period. Next weekend, the Sacred Heart Church in Mill Hill is having a collection for them. It's really easy. You just get a bag of non perishable food (They are asking for tinned meats, fish, soups, tea, coffee) and leave it in the reception area at the front of the church. The church is open from around 8am till 2pm then from around 5.30-7pm. Donations can also be dropped into the presbetery. The church simply acts as a drop off point, the food is collected on the Monday.  There is also a drop off point at Waitrose in Mill Hill. So if you are shopping there, simply buy a couple of extra items and pop them in the box. I was speaking to Fr Michael at Sacred Heart and he told me he was genuinely touched at how many members of the wider community now dropped off regular donations for the first Sunday of the month regular collection.

We couldn't finish, without a little music, could we. This is surely the finest Christmas song of them all.


Friday, 17 November 2017

The Friday Joke - 17/11/2017

Image result for coffee jokes
A middle aged woman went to her doctor to ask advice in reviving her husband's libido. 
"What about trying Viagra?" asked the doctor. 
"Not a chance," she said. "He won't even take an aspirin." 
"Not a problem," replied the doctor. "Drop the Viagra tablet into his  coffee. He won't even taste it... Give it a try and call me in a week to let me know how things went." 
When she called the doctor he asked how it went and she exclaimed, "It was horrid! Just terrible, doctor!' 
"Really? What happened?" asked the doctor. 
"Well, I did as you said and slipped it in his coffee and after just a few sips he jumped straight up, with a twinkle in his eye and with his pants a-bulging fiercely! 
With one swoop of his arm, he sent the cups flying, ripped my clothes to tatters and took me then and there on the tabletop! It was a nightmare, it was an absolute nightmare!" 
"Do you mean the sex your husband provided was no good?" 
"It was the best sex I've had in 25 years! But I'll never be able to show my face in Starbucks again!" 

Have a great weekend!

Councillor Reuben Thompstone - The worst committee chair in Barnet?

Councillor Reuben Thompstone
Cllr Thompstone
Councillor Reuben Thompstone is the chair of the Children, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee for Barnet Council. In return for this, he receives a Special responsibility allowance of £15,333 on top of the ten grand basic allowance he gets as a councillor.

This Committee has a wide range of responsibilities, which include:

·         Planning the adequate  provision of school places in the Borough
·         Investment in educational infrastructure;
·         The Library Service
·         Cultural activities
·         Powers, duties and functions of the Council in relation to Children’s Services (including schools)
·         Approving the Children and Young People Plan

This Committee also leads on the Council’s responsibilities under the Children Act 2004 and Education and inspection Act 2007 to:

·         Oversee effective support for young people in care; and enhance the Council’s corporate parenting role
·         Oversee the multi-agency Youth Offending Team
·         Oversee the effective provision of support across partners for the well-being of vulnerable families - including the Troubled Families programme

The Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee is made up of Councillors and co-opted Members.  This Committee has three co-opted Voluntary Aided School Representatives to provide a faith perspective on education matters.

The Committee also has two Parent governor representatives elected by other parent governors to represent the views of all parents on decisions relating to education.

I think most people would agree that this is an important role and that it deserves a chairman who is competent and takes the role seriously. Firstly lets consider what the role of a councillor is. Councillors are elected by the voters in their ward as representatives to ensure that the organisation is run in the interests of the voters, taxpayers and residents. They are expected to ensure that the paid officers do their jobs and that their is proper democratic oversight. Council meetings are held in public, so that anyone who is interested can see that everything is being run in above board fashion. The constitution of the council allows for residents to ask questions at meetings, make representations and present petitions. The constitution allows for a maximum of half an hour for this at meetings.

There is a very sensible reason for this. Councillors are meant to represent residents and this half an hour allows for residents to have their say. Regardless of whether councillors agree with what members of the public have to say, if they are doing their job properly, they listen with respect and if there are genuine issues, they should do their best to address these issues.

The role of the chair of the committee is to ensure that the meeting is run effectively. A primary role is to ensure that when members of the public interact with the committee, their concerns are addressed. Members of the public, who give up their time to address the committee do so out of a public spirited desire for the council to conduct their business in a proper manner.

I've asked questions on many occasions, presented petitions and addressed committees. Whenever I have done this, it has been because I felt the council needed to address serious issues. Unlike councillors, I don't get paid to do this. I get nothing at all out of the experience, except on occasion something to say in a blog. Most of the people who ask questions don't even get to write a  blog. They just care. One example of such a person is Gerrard Roots. Gerrard asked a question to the CELS committee on Wednesday night. Mr Roots was formerly the curator of Church Farmhouse Museum.  He dedicated his working life to the culture of our Borough and is clearly a man with a great wealth of knowledge and a huge interest in the cultural life of the Borough. He curated many exhibitions of great value to the people of the Borough and during his tenure, he built the reputation of Church Farmhouse as a highly innovative museum. many of the exhibitions were featured in TV and radio articles. I first got to know Mr Roots when the museum featured an exhibition about popular music in the Borough ( .
Our studio contributed many exhibits. Other excellent exhibitions I recall were ones such as the one of photography of the Spanish Civil War, the Harry Beck London Transport Exhibiton and the one LGBT culture in the Borough.

He is a very well respected member of the local community and he asked a question about the meeting held to put together a bid for the Barnet bid for London Borough of Culture, which was mentioned in the meeting Agenda reports pack - I would have expected Mr Roots to be a prime contact to attend such a meeting, given his wealth of knowledge, contacts and history of working in arts and culture in the Borough.
"Please give me a complete list of those 100 or so individuals and organizations invited to the workshop held in July, and the names of those who actually attended. Please tell me, too, the name of the 'outside facilitator' who convened the workshop. In addition, please give me a complete list of the individuals and organizations who participated in the follow-up workshop held on 9 November."

The response Mr Roots received was as follows

The request for information will need to be assessed through the Information Management Team due to the provisions in legislation, Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998. 
For further information and to make a freedom of information request please visit the following webpage:
I was present for the meeting. Mr Roots used the opportunity to ask a supplimentary question. What ensured was perhaps the worst example of how a chair should behave I have ever seen. Mr Roots was rightly upset that he'd received a complete non answer. As a very minimum, given the huge sum Councillor Thompstone is paid as a committee chair, I would expect him to read answers to questions and to challenge the officers if a non answer is given. Mr Roots asked why he'd received a non answer. It was clear what information was required. The council could redact any individuals name that they wished. He asked for the individuals and the organisations. There is no reason why a list of the organisations asked couldn't be provided. I personally cannot see why there is any privacy issue in regards to individuals attending if they are representing an organisation at a council run meeting, however they could have said "A representative from Brent Cross shopping centre" had they wished.

The organisations represented included Barnet Clinical Commissioning Group, CommUNITY Barnet, Barnet and Southgate College, Middlesex University, Brent Cross shopping centre,
Metropolitan Police, Job Centre Plus, Groundwork London, Federation of Small Businesses, West London Business, Argent Related and Saracens, according to the report.

I would have expected those attending to be aware that the council has an openness and transparency policy and that they should have been informed that their names may be made public. Given that a bid for London Borough of Culture is a positive and good thing to do, any individual should welcome the opportunity to be named as a represenatative. It seems ironic that Mr Roots name has appeared on the council website, when names of people attending a meeting, which I believe should be open and transparent is deemed "Private".

In short, the official rather than helping a resident with a valid question, were as obstructive as possible. Mr Roots was simply told he had to issue an FoI request. Given that the council were discussing the bid, councillors and members of the public had no opportunity to actually find out who had been engaged. Not only that but Councillor Thompstone, rather than standing up for a taxpaying resident with a genuine interest in culture, rudely dismissed Mr Roots, once it was clear that the officer was not interested in answering.

I also spoke at the meeting. I had previously emailed all of the councillors, to make what I believe were helpful suggestions. Mr Thompstone did not acknowledge my email. When I spoke, he did not welcome me or thank me. I was polite and I believe my input could only be construed as constructive, even if he didn't agree at all with what I was saying. I may be old fashioned, but I detest bad manners. I had put myself out to attend his committee and make a positive input to a process which should be good for Barnet. Councillor Thompstone treated me with complete contempt. Now you may think that he simply sees me as a trouble making political opponent. If he does, he clearly didn't read my email or listen to what I had to say. If he isn't doing that, then he's really not doing his job.

My mind went back to when I addressed the Audit Committee chaired by Hugh Rayner in September. I also made a statement at that meeting (as did fellow blogger John Dix). It was a difficult meeting for Cllr Rayner. However, he made a point of thanking myself and John after and assurring us that he was listening to our comments and taking them on board. He also thanked us for our efforts. Whilst I disagree with Hugh on many political issues, I respect him and think he is a decent chairman. He clearly recognises the rights of residents and the value of engagement. He also was quite happy to challenge Capita and demonstrate leadership in his role.

Sadly Councillor Thompstone is the opposite. As well as Mr Roots, fellow blogger Theresa Musgrove and Local campaigner Barbara Jacobson also asked questions. Mr Thompstone repeatedly interrupted Ms Musgrove, hectoring her saying "have you actually got a question". Ms Jacobson was treated with equal contempt. Councillor Thompstone answered no questions. He simply asked officers to respond. That is not what a char should do, especially when officers are not providing answers.

We then had a lady presenting a petition on School funding. Labour Councillors asked for Councillor Thompstone to write to the Secretary of State for education to ensure that Barnet does not lose out when the new funding arrangements are introduced. Councillor Thompstone asked the lead officer to explain what he was doing in this respect. A cross London organisation of Boroughs is working to make the case. The officer felt that his was a good forum to apply pressure. Labour members agreed, but asked if he could also write to the secretary of state, to specifically make the case for Barnet. Councillor Thompstone refused. I was quite shocked. As a Conservative Council, with many outstanding schools, Councillor Thompstone is ideally placed to try and get a good deal for Barnet pupils. Tory Councillors across London are doing just this. Sadly Councillor Thompstone, the man responsible for education in Barnet, does not think it is necessary to try and work for a better deal.

It may amuse you to know that I was out for a few beers with a mate of mine last night, who is a Tory Councillor in Bedfordshire. He was telling me that he's currently furiously lobbying the Tory government about changes to the rail service, which will adversely affect his ward and the residents who elected him. This is what good councillors do. I've attended most of the committees of Barnet Council. It is clear to me that of all of these, Thompstone is the worst chair (IMHO). Not only is he rude, but he doesn't take responsibility, doesn't listen and is cowardly. Failing to write to the secretary of state to defend Barnet Schools is a shocking dereliction of duty. He gave no reason other than "I am not into political grandstanding". If Councillor Thompstone is unable to write a letter to the secretary of state for Education which lays out good reasons why schools in Barnet need to have their funding protected, then he is not up to the job and should let someone who will take responsibility do the job. If he thinks standing up for pupils and schools is "grandstanding" then lord help us. I have a vested interest in this. I am the chair of a trust which is responsible for raising funding for one of Barnets top schools. I have seen first hand just how devastating the current financial position of schools is becoming. When flagship schools, which are in the list of top schools in the country can't balance the books, something is seriously wrong.

During the meeting, perhaps the most useful input came from Councillor Helena Hart. She is a long standing Tory councillor who clearly takes her role seriously. She is chair of the Health and Wellbeing board and is an excellent councillor. It is no surprise to me that Barnet failed an OFSTED inspection for childrens services when they let a buffoon like Thompstone run the committee. If I was the Leader of The Council, I'd promote Helena Hart to the job. She would do the job properly and I would have no material for blogs like this. But sadly in the London Borough of Barnet, being good at your job means nothing when the allowances are dished out. These committee chair roles are simply used as a mechanism to dish out taxpayer funded allowances to political allies.

The only quality Thompstone demonstrated that could possibly justify his role is the fact that he's clearly an excellent brown noser, who wants to stay in with his political masters. He clearly thinks writing to the secretary of state to defend Barnet schools is a bad career move as he plots his political career. Sadly he is too dim to realise that if he makes a good case, he will come to the attention of the high fliers and will be seen as a man who can do tough jobs.

I will wrap this up with a question about leadership. Who was the greatest ever Tory Prime Minister? My vote would be for Winston Churchill. Churchill was not afraid to stand up for his beliefs, he was fearless. What do you think Churchill would have made of a spineless individual, unprepared to stand up for the students who he is responsible for educating? I doubt that Thompstone would have got on in Churchills Tory party. Sadly though, things are done rather differently in Barnet.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

How to succeed in the world of music and culture

Ok, let me put a few cards on the table. In 1979 I started a business that has grown to be one of the worlds leading centres for musicians to rehearse and record. We have musicians coming from across the world to record music. This week it is one of Africa's finest musicians Fiston Lusambo, working on his latest album.

The studio business runs without subsidies and is unencumbered with debt. I'm also on the organising committee for Mill Hill Music Festival. This is one of the few music festivals that receives no subsidies from the taxpayer. We put on Opera, classical music, Jazz and a whole host of other music. The finances of the festival are extremely healthy and this years festival was a great success. I also help organise a whole stack of other festivals and events. I mentor bands and artist and advise them on how to have a sustainable career. This year, as one example, I've helped a band called The Black Doldrums. As a direct result of my advice on crowd funding, marketing and merchandising, they've managed to release an album, sign a record deal, tour the US and UK and elevate their career. I explained how they could use crowdfunding and merchandising to develop their potential. As a result of this advice they are on tour as we write this and recording their second album.

I'm in the lucky position that by and large I can pick and choose what I want to work on, because I've been successful. It may surprise you to learn that people pay me to advise them and speak at events. I generally only do this when it is something I am interested in. Generally I don't seek a fee as I really don't need the cash, but if it is a commercial organisation and they are doing good things I will take a fee.

Generally most people treat me with respect and recognise that I know what I am talking about. I understand music and I know many of the worlds top musicians. I apologise for writing this "I am wonderful" blog. I generally don't really like telling the world what a marvellous person I am. I didn't get into music for accolades, I do it because I love it and it is life enhancing. But I do know what I am talking about and I have the CV to prove it.

So what is my secret? How do you succeed in music and culture? Well there is no secret at all. There are three simple elements.

1. Hard work. If you are not prepared for the slog, don't bother. For me, this has not come over a few days or weeks. It's been nearly four decades. I am constantly exhausted. Late nights, early mornings, crisis after crisis, people continually lying, bs'ing and letting you down. The earth is promised and nothing delivered. I've built studios from materials I've reclaimed from skips, rigged PA's for festivals in torrential rain and lightening, threatened gig promoters with physical violence when faced with non payment of commitments, consoled artists after personal tragedy, done my back in lifting heavy PA gear, seen relationships fail when I've been to busy to nurture them. The upside has been awesome but the downside is soul destroying at times.

2. Set clear goals. This is perhaps the most important. For the first fifteen years of our studio business, we had no focus. It was just a place for our band to rehearse and to earn beer money. I realised that it was potentially a great business but my then partners didn't share my vision. I amicably bought them out and got a new business partner, who shared my vision and my desire for success. We also started to get involved in local festivals, as part of a wider strategy to ensure that our customers had a thriving scene to make their efforts worthwhile. We wanted to be the best studio, a one stop shop for artists and a cultural hub. And we wanted to do it without subsidies or grants. I believe these damage the focus of many organisations. I've seen so many, surviving on public money, serving the management rather than the artists. Often these organisations are lead by patronising individuals with no talent, who stifle creativity and innovation. For us, it is important to constantly reinvent ourselves. If we fail, the customers go and we go. Sadly many artistic organisations simply gobble up cash to pay people to do nothing useful. Of course there are also great creative organisations that receive subsidies and couldn't exist without them. I'm not suggesting that the V&A for example could run commercially or even that such an idea is desirable. What I am saying though, is that if you want to build a creative business, the financial discipline of commercial reality should be viewed as an asset. It will ensure you focus on the right things.

3. You need a great team around you. From the early paragraphs you may think I have an inflated view of my own capabilities. In truth, none of it would be possible without the teams I am a part of. For Mill Hill Music Complex, we have a great team. Every staff member makes a huge contribution. I will pick out a few, just to illustrate this. Clare looks after the finances and billing side. If these don't get paid, we cease to exist. As company secretary, she is absolutely key. She previously worked for Central TV, ensuring productions such as Sharpe, which was filmed in the Ukraine, were effectively managed. She is also a fine musician with the BBC Elstree Concert Band.She gives our organisation planning and financial discipline. She also understands our mission and ethos. Darren is our studio manager. He organises our staff rosters and day to day management of operations. He's been with us for 17 years. Fil is our chief recording engineer. He's a talented musician and is very gifted as a sound man. He's been on the staff for 20 years. Stuart is our equipment tech, previously he ran Manta and Rocket studios. He's also a working musician. He's been with us for 20 years. Then there's Kasia, our cleaner. If we had filthy toilets etc, we'd have no customers. She is as vital to the business as anyone else, in some ways more so. It is attention to such details that make the difference between success and failure. There is Kelechi, our web designer who ensures the studio websites work. There's Derek, who is our building designer and creative guru. There's David, who is our electrician. Then Carl, Ted,   Steve, Nick, Matt and Tom, who run the reception shifts, detailing with customers and keeping the show on the road.

You may wonder what I do? Well sometimes any of the above jobs, but mostly just plan strategy and direction. I work out our priorities and hopefully ensure the team have the tools to deliver them. Ultimately we need to make a profit to survive. Mostly this is around advertising and promotion. So there it is, the secret of how we've built a successful business that's known around the world. Of course we don't always get it right and every day brings a new challenge, but as we have over 1,000 musicians a week pass through the doors, and our customers have included Amy Winehouse, The Damned, Kate Nash, Mose Fan Fan, The Beautiful South, London Grammar, Eddie Floyd, Tom Jones with Chicane, The BBC, Channel 4, ITV to name a few, we must be doing something right. I consider myself lucky to have been born and raised in Mill Hill, an ideal location for such a business. I was also lucky that my father was a small businessman and was happy to rent me premises and advise me. Unlike some (The current US president) my parents didn't financially back my business. My Dad said 'it has to stand on its own and you have to work hard to make a success of it'. That was the best advice I ever got.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Barnet Borough of Culture - my suggestions for a credible bid

Tonight I am addressing the Barnet Children, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee, who are discussing proposals to put together a bid for Barnet becoming the London Borough of Culture.

The members  of the committee are as follows:

As I only have three minutes and there is a lot to say, I am emailing them as follows, prior to the meeting, to ensure they understand the points I am making and that I am serious. Here is my email

Dear Committee members,

Tonight I will be addressing the CELS committee regarding the subject of a proposed bid for The Barnet Borough of Culture. I have taken the opportunity to email you prior to the meeting, so that you can have some background to my proposals and so that you can give the issue some serious consideration and formulate any questions or ideas you may have.

Having read the papers, I feel that the whole structure of the process of putting a bid together is flawed. The formation of the steering committee and the invitees to meetings strikes me as far too corporate and top down to have any real prospect of success. Whilst all of the organisations are worthy in their own way, they are generally not involved in culture or arts as a primary function.

To have a credible bid, Local stakeholders should have been engaged. I have put together a non comprehensive list. I would suggest that if we are serious, each group of ward councillors should reach out to their local ward organisations and provide a full list of all relevant stakeholders, who could feed into a bid. Below is a list I managed to pull together of the type of organisations that should have been involved.

1. Small charities, like ArtReach, Nutmeg, BEAT, Community Focus.
2. Charities that do not have arts and culture on the label - Age UK Barnet, BMER charities, MIND, Alzheimers Society, BBSI, Barnet Mencap, etc, because they are probably engaged in some of these activities (arts and crafts, dance, singing) and they have audiences
3. Large businesses associated with the creative sector - ie fashion companies - Pentland, Halletts Retail, and Barry M.
4. Venues - Phoenix and Everyman cinemas, The Bull Theatre, Chickenshed, the pubs and clubs that have live music like the Chandos Arms, The Butchers Arms, The Bohemia and also places like the Art Stables, Finchley Youth Theatre, Clitterhouse Farm.
5. SMEs - Mill Hill Music Complex, The Filmyard, Planet Jump, Maven Designs, Rekid Records, Acxis Architects, dance schools, Bodens, drama clubs, amateur theatres, music schools, art classes
6. The artists networks - East Finchley Open Artists, Creative Cricklewood, N12 Artists, North London Artists Network, Studio N3  and The Mill Hill Musical Theatre Company.
7. The historical societies - Barnet Museum, Battle of Barnet dig, HADAS, Barnet Society, Finchley Society, Mill Hill Historical Society.
8. The many festivals in Barnet - Cherry Tree Woods Festival, Mill Hill Music Festival, East Barnet Music Festival, Proms at St Judes, Finchley Literary Festival, North Finchley Music Festival, East Finchley Arts Festival, Clitterhouse Farm Arts and Crafts Festival, and Barnet Horse Fair.
9. The business networks - Love Your Doorstep Barnet, N2 Unlimited, Athena Network, Buzzing Business Club.
10. Schools and colleges, specifically inviting those with creative societies and clubs (ie film clubs, photography clubs and drama clubs)
11. Local Churches. Choirs, groups etc
12. Local youth groups, Rainbows, Cubs, Scouts etc who may be interested.
13. Local community radio staions (LGR, Barnet Community Radio, etc)
14. Local Libraries

I would suggest a formation in each ward of a ward panel or grouping, to pull together a list of assetts and activities that could feed into the bid. I would suggest that councillors facilitate this but do not lead. I would suggest where possible using libraries as a hub for these activities.

On a borough level, I would suggest appointing an Arts and Culture Tsar, who has a leadership role and resources to pull this all together. It must be someone with arts experience. I would suggest that the person is a political nominee and ideally would have across the board support. I would suggest that as a minimum, they should have experience of organising festivals and work in an arts and creative sector.

As to the role of organisations such as Brent Cross and the other corporate entities, their commercial nous and potential to host events should also be recognised and it would be great for them to second professional resources for finance, promotion and logistics support.  I would recommend the creation of separate sub committees to facilitate and support all events. Middlesex Uni could also provide

This is how I think Barnet might actually succeed.

Roger Tichborne

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Transgender children - Where is the compassion?

Last night, I saw a "so called" Christian on the news, ranting about the Church of England instructing schools to allow children to dress as they feel comfortable. They are seeking to stop bullying and marginalisation of such children. I cannot possibly see how anyone would want to see any child be bullied, least of all in the name of Jesus, who as I understand it, came to preach compassion and tolerance.

I have little experience of the Trans community, but bullying is bullying and trying to spare the vulnerable this mental torture seems to me to be eminently sensible and compassionate. I have one small experience of gender re-assignment. Back in 1983, I was in the Beehive pub in Edgware with my ex. A large, hairy biker came over and started chatting to us. Paul was a really nice bloke and a good laugh. It soon became clear that he knew my ex of old and was a very close friend. We had a pleasant evening, and I thought no more of it.

When we got home, the Ex said to me "The'res something you should know about Paul". I enquired. She then said "At school he was my best mate". I wasn't particularly surprised. It was clear they were good friends. Then she said "When we started, he was a girl called Heather. We became mates from the first day. One day he disappeared and six months later came back as Paul. His genitals had not properly emerged and he'd been incorrectly labelled a girl". This did surprise me. I asked her "How did you take this? How did the school deal with it" She said "The school simply explained he'd had to have an operation, because a mistake had been made and everyone got on with it". I then asked "How did you feel?". She said "I was terrified". I asked why. She said "I didn't want to lose my best friend". She then said "Once he was back, we stayed best friends, it wasn't a problem".

And that is the hub of the matter. Why on earth should it be a problem. I don't suppose anyone will say anything about Paul, because it was a "medical error". Why should that be any different whatever the circumstances? A person is a person and deserves to be treated equally and fairly. (I've changed somenames for this blog. )

Monday, 13 November 2017

Barnet bid for London Borough of Culture

On Wednesday at Hendon Town Hall at 7pm, Barnet Council will be discussing a bid to become the London Borough of Culture. I have requested the opportunity to address the committee, to try and bring some common sense to the process. As we mentioned last week, the council have set up a steering committee to try and pull this together, but quite perversely have neglected to invite most of the most active organisations promoting culture.

The concept that Barnet could win on the grounds of our world class cultural venues, our libraries our museums is clearly bonkers, given that there are no venues that could compare with the Albert Hall or the Roundhouse, our sole world class museum is the RAF museum, which although brilliant, is not primarily a cultural venue in the way the V&A is. As for our libraries, given that most have had a haircut by the Tories (at the same meeting they are discussing the £7 million savings they've made) following a 50% reduction in library space and the hiving off to voluntary organisations. As for what they did to one of our prime cultural spaces, watch this

You may think I think the whole concept of the idea that Barnet Council could bid for the title is bonkers. Actually, I don't. I think Barnet could actually make a brilliant case. I think we are the Borough with the finest cultural heritage in London. But our cultural heritage, unlike Kensington and Chelsea is not fantastic Victorian Museams. Unlike Camden, it is not great music venues, established in the Hippie and Punk era's. Our cultural heritage is a twenty first century example. We have a whole army of cultural warriors, fighting to preserve our culture and history in the face of a council bent on imposing austerity on us.

No Borough in London has seen a cultural explosion like Barnet in the face of austerity and cuts in the way Barnet has. For me, this twenty first century phenomena started in 2008, when local residents started to chronicle what was happening. To me, our blogs are like Samuel Pepys diaries. They are central to The Barnet culture. They are our Samizdat media, in the face of an uncaring bureaucracy.

Then there are the people, prepared to fight to preserve our culture. When the council closed Friern Barnet library, we reopened it ourselves. First on the lawn outside, then with Occupy, back in the building. What stronger cultural statements could we make. When Church Farmhouse museum  was closed, we made films to chronicle it. Not big budget, but grassroots. Spurred by this, the community then made two 30 minute documentary films, both shown to sell out crowds at The Phoenix Cinema. National TV came to witness it. We even got BAFTA winner Ken Loach to speak on them.

Music has also been central, a packed house at The Arts Depot saw iconic 60's multi racial soul band,  The Foundations and local bands, including my band The False Dots, rock a rally against cuts and outsourcing. This was streamed live to thousands who couldn't make it. Whilst the council is incapable of streaming council meetings, we streamed the whole thing. The event was a rip roaring success.

Then we have the Bohemia, a much loved pub, shut by a failed brewery chain. We reopened it and made it a community hub, I had the honour of playing in the space. As a result of the action, it has become a massively well loved micro brewery, which hosted a music festival earlier this year.

The 'Bohemia' community, which grew out of the Bohemia centre, then engaged with the Sweets Way  and West Hendon protests. A huge upsurge in cultural awareness occurred when Russell Brand turned up for a much chronicled sleepover in Sweets Way. This was a much filmed event and there was huge media interest. Brand also featured West Hendon on his Trews project.

To me, this exemplifies what a vibrant cultural scene can achieve. Bonds and friendships are made, new forms of art and culture develop. There is a misconception that culture and art are for the rich and well off. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vincent Van Gogh was plagued with mental illness and committed suicide, unloved and unrecognised by the stale art dealers of his time. Mozart was told his music had 'too many notes'. Jazz and Blues was the music of the poor. I suspect  and downtrodden. Punk was born in squats and squalor. The Barnet Council vision is one driven by sterile corporate entities. I suspect they envision a few nice paintings and a few high brow events, maybe with a few comfy receptions for the Mayor and the great and good. I suspect the exciting and vibrant real culture of Barnet will be completely ignored.

It is up to us to make sure the real culture of Barnet is property represented.