A Response to the CELS Report

Dear Sir

 ttendance at council meetings often opens the lid on how our Councils are run. The Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding committee of Barnet Council on 18 July was no exception.

 1                     The order paper ran to 260 pages. Clearly this committee is overburdened with responsibilities. It needs to be subdivided. “Children” included a damning indictment by an Ofsted report of Barnet’s acknowledgedly inadequate children’s services. Pages 240/241 described the council’s aim to deliver quality services, the statutory duties of the Council and the risk management necessary. Thus councillors are informed of the appalling risks being taken by pursuing illegal policies. Yet they have been doing this as part of a mistaken library strategy since 2002, unchecked by either the Secretary of State for Culture or by rumblings from opposition councillors, the media or the Four Barnet Bloggers who, in response to the Ofsted revelations, have called upon the Chair Reuben Thompstone to resign.

2                     The meeting dwelt at length on the Ofsted report. Chris Munday, the Strategic Director for Children and young People, was questioned by members of the committee on current plans to improve services.

3                     The imminent time bomb was left ticking of how library services, arguably in breach of the council’s statutory duty under the 1964 Act to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service, are currently the subject of a report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), to the Secretary of State for Culture Karen Bradley. Watch this space.

4                     Clearly lots to do. Islington in contrast to Barnet received an Ofsted report on its outstanding leadership, so good models are at hand.

5                     The CELS committee has four co-opted members. It would benefit hugely by co-opting pillars of the community with local experience rather than employing expensive consultants without such local knowledge.

Keith Martin

Support Disabled People’s Right to Ride!

1537f6ab-d6c5-45d6-8271-fb704371d8faOn this Thursday 20th July TSSA and DPAC members and supporters will be travelling together en masse to the Department for Transport’s headquarters in London to deliver a petition demanding the right to ride. This is a part of DPAC’s week of action – to coincide with the holding of the para-athletics championships in London.

Assemble outside the Department for Transport at 2pm.
Department for Transport Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, London W1P 4DR

Petition: Stopping the use of Glyphosate in public spaces

Stop-Glyphosate-1200x521We the undersigned petition the council to stop using Glyphosate on pavements, green spaces and anywhere else where Barnet LB currently uses Glyphosate, and employ environmentally friendly methods of weed control.

The World Health Organisation has stated that it is highly probable that Glyphosate is carcinogenic.
Glyphosate is also an endocrinal disruptor affecting our hormones, and also kills microbes thus being detrimental to intestinal flora.
As it is chemically stable, Glyphosate is highly detrimental to the environment, being accumulated the higher up the food chain you go. As it is soluble in water, it is highly damaging to all forms of aquatic life and soil organisms, including earthworms.
Many other countries have banned or severely restricted Glyphosate, for example Sri Lanka, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, to name a few.
In the UK, many local authorities have also banned or severely restricted Glyphosate, including Shaftesbury, Hammersmith and Fulham, Glastonbury, Aberdeen and Edinburgh,
We believe it is time that Barnet followed the lead that others have shown and protected our environment and public health for the future.
 
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For more information please go to:
 This also includes links to UK local authorities who have banned or severely restricted Glyphosate, including infos on alternatives to Glyphosate.

Press Release – A joint statement from the Barnet Bloggers

“There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children and their families in Barnet. Inspectors identified a legacy of widespread poor practice and ongoing systemic failures and services that neither adequately ensure the safety, nor promote the welfare of children and young people”. 

Ofsted Inspection Report on Barnet Children’s Service July 2017

Over nearly a decade of scrutiny by Barnet bloggers, we have investigated and reported the seemingly endless sequence of scandals, blunders, and political folly created by Barnet’s Conservative councillors. The incomprehensible tale of the MetPro fiasco, the disgraceful confiscation of travel passes for disabled residents, the cutting of vital respite care for children at Mapledown School, which cares for children with profound disabilities, the illegal CPZ parking charges, are only some of the many examples of administrative incompetence – and worse – that we have exposed and pursued.

 In all this time, in response to all of these disastrous situations, not one Conservative member has taken responsibility for the failure in services to what are very often the most vulnerable members of our community.

No one could be more vulnerable than a child: especially a child in care, whose well being has become the responsibility of the local authority, standing as a corporate parent.

Yet now we see the emergence of a most damning report from OFSTED, one that slates the provision of care services in Barnet for such children: a report that should shame any local authority, and would – anywhere else but in Barnet.

“The vast majority of care planning is ineffective. There is a lack of focus on measuring progress for children or their outcomes. When there is no progress, this is not re-evaluated or escalated effectively. This leads to drift and delay. This is particularly stark for a significant number of children who are victims of chronic long-term neglect and emotional abuse, who do not have the impact of this risk recognised, responded to or reduced, despite spending long periods subject to child protection planning … ”.

“Young people who go missing from care receive a poor service, because social workers do not find out enough about the risks to them. This means that young people who go missing are not always kept safe enough from dangers, such as gangs or adults sexually exploiting them”.

In any circumstances where there has been proven wrongdoing, or a failure in standards, it is usually the case, in Barnet, that officers are held responsible, and those elected members tasked with the responsibility – and paid generous allowances for those duties –of overseeing the enforcement of their own policies remain distanced from the consequences of their actions. We believe that this is wrong, and that councillors should be held accountable.

In this case, we believe, the fault lies in a serious failure in leadership, oversight and scrutiny by the Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee, chaired by Conservative councillor Reuben Thompstone.

The same committee was responsible for the Mapledown cuts – later reversed, after protests from parents, and a public outcry; and was also the instrument of approval for the devastating programme of cuts to our library service, presented to residents as mere ‘refurbishment’, but which has seen the closure of children’s libraries, and the removal of access for under sixteen year olds from any library operating the newly unstaffed hours.

It seems to us that under this Conservative administration, children are seen not as our most precious asset, but an easy target for cuts, and the lowering of standards meant to ensure their protection, and wellbeing.

In 2014 Tory members approved a cost cutting restructuring of Family Services which has resulted in the use of agency social workers soaring from none in 2013, to £3.05 million per annum in 2016/17.

With the average agency social worker staying just 202 days, there has been a constant turnover of staff, and throughout this period, Children’s Services have been under constant pressure to meet the budget savings forecast.

We believe that pressure on budgets for local social workers responsible for ensuring the safety of young people has lead to the near destruction of the service, and a situation where there are simply not the resources to ensure vulnerable young people are given the life chances they deserve.

This cannot possibly be in the best interests of the children of this borough.

We therefore make the following suggestions:

1.     That there must be a full open, transparent, and independent public inquiry into what went wrong.

2.     This inquiry must include a forensic audit of all correspondence between the Conservative administration and officers, regarding Children’s Services, to ensure that political interference has not, and cannot in future, prejudice the standard of care.

3.     This inquiry should be concluded prior to May 2018, to allow the people of Barnet to pass their own judgement on the administration.

4.     We call for the resignation of the Councillor in charge of Children’s Services, Cllr Reuben Thompstone.

Signed,

Derek Dishman (http://lbbspending.blogspot.co.uk/)

John Dix (http://reasonablenewbarnet.blogspot.co.uk/)

Theresa Musgrove (http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk/)

 

Notes to Editors.

  1. This blog has been jointly written by the four Barnet bloggers in response to the recently released OFSTED report into Barnet Council childrens services.
  2. All four Barnet Bloggers are listed as  Guardian Top London bloggers – https://www.theguardian.com/uk/series/dave-hill-top-london-bloggers  – and their work as “armchair auditors” has been recognised by the former local government minister Eric Pickles.

All queries : Roger Tichborne 07754 910425 or for individual queries by email to the bloggers email listed in the CC line

No seat is unwinnable: how Labour activists set out to reclaim Tory strongholds and defy predictions

An article from Open Democracy by Nick Mahony.
In North London’s Chipping Barnet, pop-up alliances and an emerging ecology of democratic campaigning came together to renew participatory politics.

Labour Party activists in Chipping Barnet. Credit: Nick Mahony.The suburban North London constituency of Chipping Barnet has been a safe, relatively quiet, ‘true-blue’ Tory seat for generations. That was until June 8 2017, when Theresa Villiers’ 2015 majority of over 7,500 votes was slashed to just 353.

The Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto and the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn were important catalysts for Labour’s unexpected success in the general election, and, in Chipping Barnet,  they spurred on a group of local party members looking to write their own future, rather than follow a script.
The campaign begins?

Soon after the snap election was called in May 2017, tensions surfaced between two groups of Labour party activists in Chipping Barnet over the issue of how to plan for the election campaign ahead.

To a group of more established members, Chipping Barnet was ‘unwinnable’, so it followed that the local campaign should largely consist of one round of direct mail to voters in target wards and a batch of get-out-the-vote leaflets dispatched to pre-identified supporters. At regional level, party officials had decided that Chipping Barnet was not a ‘marginal’ seat, leading to Chipping Barnet being officially ‘twinned’ with the adjacent constituency of Enfield North and a strategy of directing members to campaign for Labour MP Joan Ryan, instead of their own candidate Emma Whysall.

A second group of activists, some of whom were already aligned with Momentum, had a different take. They wanted to approach the election as an opportunity to get as many local members as possible out on the streets campaigning.

At the heart of this emerging alternative strategy was the idea of involving the newly enlarged membership in a process of large-scale face-to-face engagement with the local public.

At the heart of this emerging alternative strategy was the idea of building the base and involving the newly enlarged membership of the party in a process of large-scale face-to-face engagement with the local public. As well as believing that such an approach could give Labour a chance of winning the election locally, this group was convinced that such a process might also help the local Labour Party start to become more democratic, member-led and successful in the local area in the future.

Following this meeting, I was one of the handful of people who pressed local officials for an open campaign meeting  to which all members would be invited. We wanted to give all members the chance to take part in discussions about how Labour should campaign.

This meeting was subsequently organised and it quickly demonstrated that, beyond those already involved in Momentum and agitating for a more open approach, there was also a larger and even more mixed group of members in favour of a more energetic campaign locally, keen to discuss their own campaigning priorities and ideas for local action. Several members also enquired about whether a ‘progressive alliance’ strategy might be explored.
Social campaigning

Within a week of this meeting, weekend street-stalls were up and running. Over the coming weeks, there were more stalls, with one set up outside the main Further Education College in the area, to encourage voter registration and to persuade students to vote Labour. Similar activities were repeated outside local schools and the main hospital during weekday afternoons.

By this point the number of local members who were involved had significantly increased and planning and communications related to these activities had largely transitioned from an ad hoc email list to a Facebook page and a WhatsApp group. These platforms opened up campaigning to Labour Party members beyond the initial group and many more local members started to get involved.

As activity continued to increase, these social media tools enabled new ideas about the campaign’s coordination to be collectively discussed. At the same time, activists were also pressing local officials to help publicise these member-led activities through the normal local party channels. This eventually happened, though members were still directed to campaign in Enfield North.

Many people continued to raise the idea of some kind of Progressive Alliance but it remained difficult to make inroads with local officials.

Undeterred, local members instead pressed the local party for more resources. Election-related material had almost run out and the group were able to negotiate 15,000 new constituency-specific leaflets. The minute these were delivered, they were immediately distributed and used to instigate conversation out on the streets, right across Chipping Barnet.

There was some canvassing happening led by local party officials, but this was dwarfed by the scale and excitement generated by the other activities that were rapidly emerging on a more ad hoc basis.

As members’ contact with the public increased, so did the collective confidence of those driving these activities and the strength of members’ conviction about the value and impact of what was happening.

The process of campaigning began to breed a broad alliance of progressive campaigners drawn from within the ranks of the newly enlarged local Labour Party. Those getting involved included: local anti-cuts activists, a group of women from Totteridge and Whetstone (the most affluent part of the constituency and indeed one of the most affluent parts of the country), local trades unionists, students, young parents concerned about the erosion of nursery, primary and secondary level education, nurses, doctors, teachers and older people alarmed by the prospect of further social care reform, as well as quite a few people who had re-joined the Labour Party in recent months.
Honk for Labour

Fuelled almost entirely by the kind of euphoric hope that perhaps only emerges from an intense collective experience like this, the campaign in Chipping Barnet entered its final phase.

Small-scale, convivial and highly agile campaigning teams surfaced all around the constituency, almost spontaneously. Leafleting was taking place at every station and there were people moving around seamlessly, to cover gaps, apparently with only very minimal coordination.

By now an unpredictable mixture of smiles, snatched chats, deep and very lengthy conversations and heated but largely good-tempered exchanges were taking place with members of the public, on a great number of streets, on a near industrial scale.

What happened was the rapid development of a collectively invented social process of alliance building.

The campaign climaxed with an unplanned gathering of about 20 red-eyed Labour activists outside the party office. Holding aloft an enormous Labour banner, singing the Red Flag and inviting passing traffic to ‘honk for Labour’, this normally anonymous main road was temporarily transformed into a spectacle of camaraderie.
What just happened?

Momentum. Funk Dooby/Flickr. Some rights reserved.What happened amongst local Labour Party members in Chipping Barnet was the rapid development of a collectively invented social process of alliance building. This ‘pop-up’ alliance of members developed its campaign against the grain of the official local campaign. But this was not grass-roots activism, not least because it was geared to an existing election timetable, aimed at maximising the vote for our local Labour candidate Emma Whysall and therefore all about persuading as many people as possible to play their part in our current form of representative democracy.

But the campaign only took off when members started to organise it for themselves and connect what they were doing to what was going on nationally with the new Labour Party manifesto and the campaign led by Jeremy Corbyn. Most importantly of all perhaps, this local campaign was set up from the start as an endeavour that would be as participatory, directly democratic, inclusive and open as possible. This meant supporting processes of collective discussion, collaborative planning, group creativity and online coordination.

The policy platform offered people hope for more equitable, fulfilling and sustainable forms of social relations.

In Chipping Barnet this approach worked, in other words, because of the desire people had to collectively invent the future, rather than do exactly what was expected of them. The Labour Party manifesto was a catalyst for this. The manifesto and the enthusiasm there was for collective forms of participatory action went hand in hand – the policy platform offered people hope for more equitable, fulfilling and sustainable forms of social relations – and this included new and more directly democratic ways of doing politics too.

Labour didn’t win the election in Chipping Barnet – the Tories won by 353 votes. And of course it wasn’t just our self-organised campaigning that so dramatically reduced the Conservative majority – there were many other factors. As well as Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the new party manifesto, these factors included: the years of neglect meted out to Barnet residents by its council and its national government and the years of door knocking, data collection and relationship building undertaken by local Labour councillors and other party activists.

The people we spoke to on the street during the campaign told us time and time again about the damage that cuts in public services were inflicting locally. In the years leading up to this election, Barnet Alliance for Public Services and other activists had already done great work to galvanise public resistance to these ‘reforms’, through the petitions, marches, demonstrations and other activities they had organised.
What next?

Post-election, the number of people who believe Labour can win here has massively increased. The number of people that are enthusiastic about the more democratic, socialised and participatory approaches to local campaigning has definitely grown as well.

But what has been achieved here goes further than this., There are now many more people getting involved in progressive politics here, not just to get Labour into government and to reclaim the state but also to change their whole way of life. They are increasingly tired of the hierarchies and inequalities they live with and see around them; the ways that their workplaces and their country’s financial system are governed; how the housing system and their neighbourhoods are run; they want to protect and improve their local environment and demand a future that is sustainable; they want better and more democratically run education, health, social care and food systems.

Long before the 2017 general election a growing number of small-scale initiatives had been experimenting with different forms of socialisation and democratisation up and down the country – in the realms of housing, energy, the arts, media, technology, food, the workplace and many other spheres. Now, after an election that has seen large numbers of people campaigning in more open, socialised, participatory and democratic ways, there is likely to be a much greater expectation for the Labour Party to be democratised too.

But such democratisation, if it happens, can’t just come from the top-down. People expect to be involved in the democratisation of democracy. It will require new mediating institutions. Pre-existing democratisation projects need to be connected up with emerging alliances. These need to be scaled up and rolled out into new contexts.

People expect to be involved in the democratisation of democracy.

In the context of Chipping Barnet, there were no pre-existing spaces to negotiate between ‘new’ and more established campaigners; there was insufficient time for the democratic selection of our candidate; and the infrastructure needed for cooperation between members developed as we went along.

Nationally we see something developing that is more like an emerging ecology of approaches to progressive and radically democratic politics, than a top-down plan. There is no one ‘killer app’ for democratic reform or new universal progressive campaigning technique, nor should there be. Approaches to democratisation are evolving out of disparate traditions and in diverse contexts, with convergences and divergences between different newer and more long-standing sets of activities.
Inventing the future?

Back in Chipping Barnet I am not the only one still recovering from the exhilaration of our campaign. Many of us briefly experienced forms of social relations that we’d never before been part of, at least in Chipping Barnet.

There will be aspects of what’s been described here that will resonate with what’s happened in other settings. The task now is to continue to open out, elaborate and extend these self-managed social processes to ever-greater numbers of people with the aim of collectively renovating the public and socialising whole ways of life. Only then, by continuing to collectively invent forms of participatory politics; deepening and extending alliances to broaden the base of support; and securing victory for a Labour-led government, will we be able to create the progressive public movement needed to realise more equal, sustainable and democratic futures.

Barnet UNISON initial response to Ofsted report for Family Services

barnet-unison-logo-e1462368170626http://bit.ly/2t6FX5y

I have been working in the London Borough of Barnet for 22 years.

I have a long history of knowledge of our social services.

Back in 2008 our Council celebrated being a five star Council. They actually hung the stars from the high ceiling in our Atrium (posh for staff canteen).

At this time we did not have any serious issues in social work. Barnet had a good reputation for social work and had no reliance on agency workers.

In May 2008 something changed.

The Council announced a major policy change called Future Shape later to be known as “easyCouncil” then “One Barnet” and finally “Commissioning Council.”

Barnet UNISON quickly recognised this change as mass outsourcing ideology.

Barnet UNISON has written much on what has transpired over almost a decade of ideological obsession with mass outsourcing.

For this press release it is not the outsourced contractors that we are focussing on, but the impact on those remaining Council services, in this case Family Services.

Over the past decade to ensure delivery of the outsourcing programme the senior management had to change.

I watched as managers who were good at delivery were replaced by strategic managers. Often they were replaced by interims who would later become permanent. The Council then looked to consultants to prepare services for outsourcing. This led some to argue the Council was becoming “consultant dependent.”

Corporate knowledge was not seen as a positive.

What has happened in Family Services is, in my opinion, a long time coming.

This is why I would say to those looking for heads to roll, to reflect on those architects that have long since left.

Where is the accountability for those who have left and those who took their eye off the ball?

What needs to happen now? Barnet UNISON has already begun discussions with our members in Family Services and the Council.

We want to make Barnet a safe place to work which will translate into better services for children.

This means a change and recognition that staff and UNISON need to be fully involved in changes in Family Services.

There must be no repeat of past mistakes.

Barnet Council must listen to the workforce and their representatives.

The life of the child must and always be at the heart of Family Services.

To achieve this you need a highly motivated skilled workforce that is well supported.

The next 12 months are going to be critical and Barnet UNISON is going to make sure we are there for our members and those children who need Family Services.”

(John Burgess Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON).

End.

1. OFSTED inspection findings

http://bit.ly/2sXHEa7

2. Inspectors rap ‘inadequate’ Barnet Council children’s services

http://bit.ly/2tAGoso

3. Barnet children’s services condemned as inadequate by Ofsted: ‘Serious failings put young at risk of harm’

http://bit.ly/2u6bSHm

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle

For some people, a housing crisis means not getting planning permission for a loft conversion. For disposothers it means, quite simply, losing their home. Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle is a feature documentary directed by Paul Sng (Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain) and narrated by Maxine Peake, exploring the catastrophic failures that have led to a chronic shortage of social housing in the UK.

These failures include government policy that prevents local councils and housing associations from building homes for the 1.4 million people on council housing waiting lists and the quarter of a million homeless people in Britain. Or the deliberate neglect of council estates by local authorities that’s used to justify ‘regeneration’ projects with private developers, which often force those who cannot afford homes in the new properties to relocate to other parts of the country, far from their families and support networks.

With unprecedented access to residents, politicians and experts in the housing industry and media, Dispossession is the story of people fighting for their communities, of people who know the difference between a house and a home, and who believe that housing is a human right, not an expensive luxury.

Screenings here.

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