Before I start my account of the Cabinet Resources Meeting on Monday night at Barnet Town Hall, would you possibly be so kind as to indulge me for a couple of paragraphs. You see after the meeting, I nipped down to the pub and had a pint with my fellow bloggers. I then scampered back and had another pint, a chat and picked up a takeaway from the Mill Hill Tandoori, as I am want to do when I am hungry and haven't eaten all day. When I got in, my beloved was waiting and we had pleasant glass of a nice red wine. Now all of this combined to give me a rather disturbed nights dream. At 5.30am, I was awoken with a start as our big hairy mutt leaped up on top of me. As a result, I had a vivid recollection of the rather odd dream I was having. Having spent three hours in the company of Barnet Council's cabinet, it clearly made a rather big impression on me. As you will recall, rather a large selection of bloggers and residents arrived to ask questions of the cabinet. They rather made mincemeat of the lacklustre members of the cabinet, but as the Cabinet answer to no one, except every four years at election time, no matter how good the questions were it makes no difference.
Anyway, back to my dream. I was in the cabinet meeting and there was all manner of lighting and technicians around. I stupidly asked if the council had bitten the bullet and decided to film meetings themselves. Oh no they replied, tonight the cabinet were hosting an episode of the apprentice with Lord Sugar ! Rather disbelievingly, I said why? They replied that he knows Richard Cornelius and they thought it would be good PR. They then informed the public that we all had to leave for the filming. I said I wasn't going anywhere as it was my democratic right to attend the meeting. I was just starting to get cross, when I was woken up.
Anyway, in a rather befuddled state, I tried to make sense of it all. Maybe what Barnet needs is a good dose of Lord Sugars business acumen. I then reflected on what I had seen. It was truly bizarre. Barbara Jacobson had asked a whole set of questions, as had Tirza Waisel-Cohen. Before the meeting started, I was chatting with a couple of members of the sea scouts. They had come up to try and resolve an issue with the rights to teach Kayaking on the Welsh Harp, in the mistaken belief that there was an item about the Welsh Harp on the agenda. As there clearly wasn't and as they'd sat through hours of debate, I thought maybe I could help them out. I had a quick chat with Councillor Dan Thomas, Deputy Leader of the Council and suggested he had a chat with them. When he's not being Deputy Leader of the Council, he's a reasonable human being and so it seemed to be sensible for them to have a chat. He promised to speak to them yesterday and do what he could to assist. The Sea Scouts seemed pleased. I would suspect that they will get some joy out of him. Generally all of our councillors are pretty good when politics and ideology is removed from the equation. As a precaution, I also gave the sea scouts my number and said to keep me informed.
Anyway, on to Tirza Waisel. She asked a stack of questions regarding the re-award of the contract for care homes to Catalyst. Given that one of their residents had died falling out of a window, Ms Waisel Cohen whether this is wise and whether the relatives of the poor resident had been canvassed as to their views on the incident. Strangely no one at the council thought this was relevant. Catalyst had sued the council and won £8 million compensation because their old contract wasn't lucrative enough for them. Ms Waisel Cohen thought it strange that such a company would get another contract. The Cabinet Resources committee disagreed. During the course of her questioning, I couldn't help notice the way Councillor Rams was studiously picking his nose. He seemed to find this far more interesting than the views of the local resident.
Then we had Barbara Jacobson. She was more interested to find out what the budget for consultants was and whether it had been exceeded. Councillor Dan Thomas informed her that there was no budget. Ms Jacobson was shocked. She informed us that she's a project manager and projects always have a budget. Councillor Thomas informed her that there was no need because the consultants would save lots of money. Ms Jacobson persisted. How could a London Borough spend millions with no budget? How could they know if they were getting value for money? Councillor Thomas sneered that as they were going to save lots of money, it didn't matter.
This goes to the crux of the objections. There is nothing to measure anything by. How does the council know that these consultants are good value. How do they know that this bunch of consultants are any good at all. By the time the "savings" roll in, they'll have disappeared over the hill.
Finally we had up a group who had placed a bid to buy the site of Hendon Football club. They had wanted to open a Jewish Free School on the site. The council had not agreed and taken another bid. The school felt they'd been treated unfairly. Councillor Dan Thomas informed the school that the Council was under no obligation to take into account any benefit the school may deliver. The man from the school suggested that the homes going on the site would house familys who would have no schools to send their children to and that this is madness. Rather bizarrely Councillor Thomas implied that it really didn't matter at all.
Sadly, it all does matter. No budgets and no consideration of what is good for the Borough. Harking back to my dream, I do wonder what Lord Sugar would have made of the performance by Councillor Thomas and his team. From what I saw, he'd be sending them off with a "Councillor Dan Thomas, You're fired".
I suppose the difference between the likes of Councillor Dan Thomas and the likes of myself and Lord Sugar is that we are entrrpreneurs, who spend our own money. If we screw up, we go bust, so we are careful with our money. Councillor Thomas has an unending supply of money, supplied by you and me. It doesn't matter to him is his "consultants" have no budget and deliver nothing. He doesn't care because he still gets his allowance.
As I said, at the start of this blog, the cabinet are only held to account every four years. We can do nothing until next year. Next year we can turf them out. The Conservatives will say they've had no rises in Council tax for several years. They will not say how much they've wasted on consultants who work without budgets. They will not say how the companies they give contracts to let vulnerable people fall out of windows and die. They will not say how many of their residents have had to take them to court to get some sort of engagement.
They will have a well funded party machine to get the message over. All we have is a hotch potch of blogs and hard working citizens. Today this blog had it's millionth hit. We've never paid a penny to advertise and we've not taken a penny of your money to provide this service. Who do you trust? If the answer is those people who do it for the community rather than the cash, please help us in our campaign for sanity in the London Borough of Barnet.