Monday, 7 April 2014

Holly Park Primary School - A shocking food hygiene report


We all have an expectation that our children will be cared for when they are at school, and we rely on our local council to ensure their safety, with a rigorous enforcement of the regulations regarding food hygiene. Young children are at a higher risk from the consequences of failing to uphold the high standards expected in these areas, and the result of such failures could be devastating for pupils.

On 12 December 2013 Holly Park Primary School kitchen was inspected  by an Environmental Health Officer from Barnet Council. They gave the school a zero rating, the lowest possible, citing amongst other things:
  • Cobwebs and insects over food preparation areas;
  • Flaking paint from the ceiling;
  • Windows that don’t shut allowing in rain, leaves and insects;
  • Leaking pipe;
  • Damaged floor tiles;
  • Broken ventilation allowing pests into the kitchen;
  • No pest control contract;
  • Work surfaces and storage areas which cannot be properly cleaned;
  • Mould and condensation to the skylight and ceiling in the dry store where food is stored;
  • Kitchen staff using broken electrical sockets and extension leads because other electrical sockets were not working;
  • No evidence of a current electrical safety certificate;
  • Broken lights ;
  • Broken and disused kitchen equipment which were difficult to clean behind;
  • Kitchen staff WC with holes in the walls and ceiling;
  • Leak in the kitchen floor;
  • An insecticutor  (one of those blue light machines  you see in kitchens that zap flies and insects) full of dead insects;
  • Inadequate and overflowing bins.
Having read the food hygiene inspection report at Holly Park, as well as the follow up visits report, it is clear that something has gone very badly wrong at this school, and that this matter needs to be brought to public attention.

In total there were 21 contraventions of law listed with timescales for remedy ranging from immediately to 28 days. Bear in mind this inspection took place a week before the school broke up for Christmas but, as far as we are aware, parents were not informed of this situation and food continued to be served from this kitchen.

On 14 January 2014 a follow up visit was made by the Environmental Health Officer. Given that this was more than 28 days after the first visit, all of the contraventions of law should have been remedied. Sadly that wasn’t the case and the follow up report reveals the following:
  • The walls and ceiling had not been cleaned and there were still cobwebs and insects in the kitchen;
  • The floor had only been given a temporary repair but the Environmental  Health Officer required them to monitor the leak;
  • Pests could still get in through the windows because they could not be shut – it was suggested that this was because the windows could not take the weight of the roof and had bowed out of shape.
  • The work surfaces and shelves that could not be properly cleaned had still not been replaced;
  • The electrical safety certificate had still not been produced;
  • The flaking paint had not been dealt with.
 This visit took place a week after the children had gone back to school and food was still being served out of the kitchen. You can read the full report here.
What is apparent is that most of these issues are structural and denote a total lack of investment in this school kitchen. Barnet are always ready to claim credit for the excellent standards in schools but this indicates they have completely overlooked essential safety in the kitchen of this school.
We would also note that two there are two other schools in the Borough that achieved inadequate food hygiene ratings, Deansbrook Junior School in Hale Drive which scored just one point (Major improvement necessary) and Underhill Infants School  which scored two points (Improvement necessary).
You can read the food hygiene ratings for all Barnet schools here:
Serious questions about the situation at Holly Park must be addressed. 
  1.  Have the problems now been completely resolved and if not why not?
  2.  Were parents fully informed of these problems? If not, why not? Surely they had a right to know -especially those parents whose children have school dinners?
  3. Were the governors of the school, including Cllr Brian Salinger made aware of this report? If not, why not, and if they were, did they not think parents had a right to be informed of the situation?
  4.  Why did Barnet Council allow a kitchen in such a poor state of repair continue to operate, and why, when they were given a zero rating, did they fail to remedy so many of the contraventions within the timescale set by the Environmental Health Officer?
  5.  Were there any conflicts of interest between Re, the council’s contractor  who now operates Environmental Health, and the Council over the role of the Environmental Health Officer, given that  the Officer now has two employers – Capita, before they enter and after they leave the premises, and the Council, whilst they carry out the inspection?
 In the best interests of all families with children at Barnet’s schools, we ask Barnet Council to respond in full to the concerns raised here, as soon as possible, so as to reassure residents that the privatisation of council services and management of statutory roles in the One Barnet programme is not placing children or any other residents at risk.

John Dix
Derek Dishman
Teresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The library that lived and who saved it? A joint post by the Barnet Bloggers


Labour Councillor Pauline Coakley Webb opens Friern Barnet Community Library

Barnet Conservative candidates in Coppetts Ward have been distributing an election leaflet claiming the credit for saving Friern Barnet library.

This indefensible attempt to rewrite history is something that cannot go unchallenged.

The Barnet bloggers have followed (and been part of) the story of Friern Barnet in detail, from the moment in 2010 when Councillor Robert Rams launched the strategic library review, making ludicrous suggestions about the possibilities of ‘pop-up’ libraries in Tesco, and Starbucks.

We supported the raising of a petition, gaining over 7,000 signatures, and the lobbying of council meetings, and councillor surgeries. This gave the Tories pause for thought and they relented from their initial plans.

When the review was announced, only two libraries were marked for closure: Hampstead Garden Suburb and Friern Barnet. As Hampstead Garden Suburb was in a staunchly Tory ward, it took little pressure from influential local resident groups for the council to grant a reprieve, and happily agree to subsidise the small branch library in this most affluent area of the borough. This left Friern Barnet library, in a largely Labour voting ward, as the sole victim of Councillor Rams’ axe. 

Community campaigners were invited to draw up plans to keep the library open. As later events were to demonstrate, this was a crafty ruse by councillors and senior officers, which meant the campaigners were working on plans in the period where they could have instigated a judicial review. Such time wasting slammed the door on legal remedy. It seemed clear to all involved that the council had acted in bad faith and the invitation to draw up proposals were never a serious proposition.

In April 2012, the council closed the library at short notice. A symbolic occupation of the building by residents took place, to register the sense of injustice felt by the local community. The same afternoon, valuers arrived to assess the building for future development. The library was boarded up, emptied of books, and left to stand until a plan of sale had been made.

The marvellous Keith Martin


The closure of Friern Barnet, as some have forgotten, was justified by Tory members on the basis of a new library to be created in the Arts Depot at North Finchley. This plan came to nothing.

Along with many other supporters and activists, Barnet bloggers were at the forefront of the campaign to reopen Friern Barnet library, helping to launch the People’s ‘pop-up’ library, not in Tesco, or Starbucks, but on the village green next to the building, beneath the cherry trees. It was an act of defiance from local residents and campaigners in response to the removal of a much loved local community centre, and it received an astonishing outpouring of support.

The pop-up library received donations of hundreds of books and kept the protest alive throughout the weeks that followed. The BBC One show came to film the event, the first of a wave of media interest in the issue.

Despite this clear evidence that there was enormous support for the library, Councillor Robert Rams and his colleagues continued to ignore the local community.

Through the summer of 2012, residents came down every Saturday, come rain or shine to swap books on the lawn. As we approached autumn, and weather conditions worsened, it looked as if the Peoples library may become unsustainable: but in September 2012, the Occupy movement took over the Library and the People’s Library moved back into its rightful home.

How did Robert Rams and the rest of the Tories react to this demonstration of "Big Society"? They refused to engage with the local residents, although ironically they were more at ease discussing terms of occupation with Phoenix and his collective of squatters who had re-opened the library on behalf of the community.

Within weeks, the library shelves were full and the library was back in business.

Council officers were despatched to meetings to see if a compromise could be reached, but the elected representatives of the Tory Party ignored residents, and refused to attend talks. The council then launched eviction proceedings against the people of Barnet, who were simply using a public asset in the way it was intended.

Despite spiralling costs, the Tories persisted in the war against their own citizens. When the case finally came to court - supported by legal assistance organised by Labour party councillors - it lasted 2 days. 
Barrister and Labour candidate for Finchley & Golders Green, Sarah Sackman, who represented the occupiers in court (at the microphone)

The council had originally claimed it was a simple possession case and asked for ten minutes. It was clear to all that despite the judge finding in favour of the council, there were strong grounds for an appeal. The judge herself brokered a deal whereby Occupy would hand over the keys to the community and the library would continue. The council had won the battle but lost the war. 

The sad truth is that there is no happy ending.

Does anyone trust the council after their previous tactics? It would appear to be a mistake to do so. The election leaflet implies that the library was saved by the ‘fervent campaign’ within the Conservative party fought by Councillor Kate Salinger. In fact any success was entirely due to the fervent campaigning of local residents, and the occupation of the premises: and the library has not been saved. It still faces an uncertain future.

Barnet Council simply offered the re-named Friern Barnet Community Library a two year lease, to park the problem until after the election. 
Time stands still in Friern Barnet library, September 2012

The Council has refused to fund a full time librarian. The Council has refused to allow the Library to access the council book stock. There are even allegations of other Barnet Libraries refusing to allow posters promoting events at FBCL. Most worrying of all, there is no long term lease, and Councillor Daniel Thomas, the deputy leader, has merely guaranteed that the building will not be sold in the next four years. What happens then? And even if the building is not sold, for how long will the community library be allowed to remain?

In truth the local community has preserved the building, and filled it full of books, which is a stunning achievement. It is a wonderful community enterprise, a victory of resistance against injustice, but it is not a public library.

Barnet’s Tory councillors have been outmanoeuvred by residents in their move to close the library and sell the beautiful, eighty year old building for redevelopment as a supermarket or flats. But it is only a temporary victory.

To ensure this library and every other publicly owned property controlled by this council remains in our hands and does not become the target of a ruthless agenda of sale and development, the only course of action is clear: use your vote wisely on May 22nd, and do not return this Tory administration to power – or we will all live to regret it.

John Dix
Derek Dishman
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne 
proud and happy library members

Friday, 8 November 2013

The curious case of the £16.1 million payout to Capita: a joint statement from the Barnet bloggers



Dear Councillors
 
Throughout the history of the One Barnet outsourcing programme, statements by the leader of Barnet council, Cabinet members, Conservative councillors and the senior management team have all maintained that as a fundamental commitment to the NSCSO contract Capita would make a large ‘upfront’ capital investment.



The necessity of this investment by a private sector partner was given as the reason why the authority refused even to consider an in-house option as an alternative to privatisation of council services.


If an in-house option had been adopted, not only would many local jobs have been saved, all efficiencies made through better management of such functions as procurement would have been retained by the authority, as opposed to a limited amount capped in the contractual agreement with Capita. By ignoring this option, it is arguable that the statutory duty of the authority to make the best use of taxpayers' money may have been breached.



We have now learnt that not only has Capita failed to make the promised capital funding but that in August, in a complete reversal of  policy, the Leader of the Council sanctioned the payment to Capita of £16.1 million of taxpayers’ money held in the authority’s reserves, in order to cover the cost of the capital investment.

We believe that not only have the leadership, Conservative members and senior management team of Barnet Council promoted the need for privatisation, and the contract with Capita, on a totally false premise, they have continued to mislead residents by misrepresenting the facts, and maintaining that capital investment is to be given by the company, rather than admitting that money has been taken from the authority's reserves and paid to Capita for this purpose.


After the Cabinet meeting of 6th December 2012 which approved the contract with Capita, Councillor Cornelius made this claim in a statement published on the BBC London news website. Council leader Richard Cornelius said the combination of a saving to the taxpayer of a million pounds a month and an £8m investment in technology by Capita made it a "very, very good deal for the Barnet taxpayer".




 
This misrepresentation of the truth has continued even after the payment £16.1 million was formally authorised by the Leader of the council.
 
The business model approved by Cabinet on 6th December 2012 stated clearly that this investment was to come from Capita: how can it be lawful, therefore, that having approved the contract on this basis, we now find the reverse is true, and that taxpayers are paying for the investment?
 
If there is any financial argument for such a fundamental change, why has the authority not been open and transparent about this new agreement, and sought approval through the appropriate procedures?
 
The authorisation to add £16.1 million to the capital programme in order to pay for the capital investment was made on 5th August this year by Councillor Richard Cornelius, in an action defined as a 'non key' decision.
 
 
According to the council's own constitution, key decisions are those that are 'significant in financial terms or in their effect on communities comprising two or more wards'.

Clearly the decision to remove £16.1 million from reserve funds in this way most certainly is a key decision, and departs in the most fundamental way from the business model approved in December.
 
Quite incredibly, on 6th August, the day on which the contracts were signed, and the very next day after the leader signed off the £16.1 million to cover the capital investment, Barnet Council issued a press release: 
 
 
in which it is stated:
 
"Capita will also make an £8 million pound investment in technology to improve council back office services".
 
What is that statement, other than a deliberate misrepresentation of an unpalatable truth?
 
We note that the explanation of the NSCSO contract on the council's own website, updated after 5th August, continues to maintain falsely that an upfront investment will come from Capita: see here -
 
NSCSO details

Capita will make an upfront investment which will provide improved Information Technology and telephone support to improve council back office services.
 
In regard to the approval of 5th August, the constitution says:
 
When key decisions are to be discussed or made, notification is published at least 28 days before. If these decisions are to be discussed with council officers at a meeting of the Executive, this will generally be open for the public to attend, except where personal or confidential matters are being discussed. The Executive has to make decisions that are in line with the Council’s overall policies and budget. If it wishes to make a decision that is outside the budget or policy framework, this must be referred to the full Council to decide.
 
Unless the change of policy, and a radical change to the terms of the business model represented by the decision to use reserve funds for a capital investment payment to Capita has been formally agreed through the relevant constitutional procedures, therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the payment may well be unlawful, and as residents, taxpayers and citizen journalists in Barnet we object in the strongest terms to what would appear to be a serious breach of the regulations that are supposed to protect our best interests, and we ask you to instigate an immediate investigation into the issues we have raised.
 
Derek Dishman
John Dix
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne


(The famous five have become four as Citizen Barnet has sadly left the borough. She still maintains close links with all her old friends.)

Friday, 19 July 2013

Open Letter from the Barnet Bloggers



Were Barnet's Tory councillors secretly whipped? 
Barnet bloggers call for an investigation.

At Barnet Council’s full council meeting on 16 July, Councillor Brian Coleman alleged that Barnet’s Conservative members are ‘entirely whipped’ when attending scrutiny and other Council meetings, including those dealing with the highly controversial One Barnet privatisation programme.

According to the Council’s constitution, any whipping arrangements must be declared, but we believe that no such declarations have been made at any of the relevant recent meetings. Such actions would be in breach of the constitution and therefore unlawful.

If Councillor Coleman’s allegations are true, this clearly has very serious implications and casts into doubt the legality of many of the highly significant decisions which have been taken by the current administration, most importantly the decision to grant two massive contracts to Capita and Capita Symonds in the outsourcing of a large number of our local council services.

We therefore call on the Leader of the council, Councillor Richard Cornelius, to instigate an immediate and independent public inquiry into the claims made by his former colleague, and we also ask that the authority’s external auditors at Grant Thornton should as a matter of public interest hold an urgent inquiry into the allegations. Residents need to know whether decisions have been made legally and whether Tory councillors have acted constitutionally.

Signed:

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

19 July 2013

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

An open letter

Dear Mr Cornelius

On Friday 3 May Councillor Brian Coleman pleaded guilty to the charge of common assault by beating of Helen Michael, in the High Road in North Finchley. Evidence from CCTV was shown in court and proved incontrovertibly that this incident was nothing less than an utterly indefensible act of aggression. It resulted from Councillor Coleman being caught parking in a loading bay, trying to evade the hugely controversial parking payment scheme he had imposed on residents in this borough.

Despite the fact that he has now been convicted of a criminal act of assault, Barnet Council has refused to comment, absurdly claiming that this is unnecessary as the attack did not take place while the Councillor was on council business.

Indeed local Tory members, including leader Richard Cornelius, openly continued to support their fellow member after he was charged, and were privately informing others that the story of the assault was false. Councillor Coleman was suspended from the party only after intervention from Conservative Central Office. Since the conviction, local Conservatives have issued no statement.

By his own actions Councillor Coleman has shown himself to be unfit for public office: such bullying behaviour, dishonesty and hypocrisy are not acceptable in an elected representative of the community. We demand therefore that he stand down from his seat in Totteridge, and that the Conservative Party expel him from membership.

We call on Richard Cornelius, as leader of Barnet Council, and on behalf of the Conservative Party in this borough, to apologise to Ms Michael, and to dissociate himself and his colleagues from this appalling incident. To remain silent is not an option: to remain silent is to condone an act of violence against a woman, and this was and must always be absolutely unacceptable.

Signed:

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

2e2





2e2  - When Outsourcing Goes Wrong
 
Barnet Council have been having trouble with their IT infrastructure for some time. Back in 2011 an internal report identified that the Council was having difficulties with their IT Infrastructure Supplier, 2e2, stating that:
 
2e2 contract was put in place to transfer the operational management and risk of core infrastructure to a private provider. 2e2 no longer feel responsible for this and have passed all risks back to the council, on the basis that all equipment has reached EOL (End Of Life)”.

The report identified that a key risk was that,  “2e2 will pass all risk back onto the council and not deliver to their contractual arrangements” and that to mitigate that risk the council should, “Improve the relationship with 2e2 and look into terminating the 2e2 contract early and bringing services and staff, under TUPE, in‐house, if necessary”.
 
Unfortunately, Barnet ignored its own advice and continued to engage 2e2 at a cost of over £1 million a year, including an annual up-front payment of £400,000. In January 2013 2e2 went into administration and withdrew its services. This leaves Barnet £220,000 out of pocket for the unused up-front fees and scrabbling around to find someone else to run the IT infrastructure, without which the council would struggle to function.
 
To get themselves out of a hole quickly, Barnet Council have appointed Capita, without any form of tender, on the basis that it was an emergency and they had already had discussions with Capita to take over the running of this service. This new contract will cost £72,595 per month.

The Council states that they did undertake a risk analysis of 2e2 in January “using Experian reports” and that “the report stated the company was satisfactory”. However a quick check on the internet would have shown that suppliers have not been able to get credit insurance on goods supplied to 2e2 for some time and that 2e2 were handed a number of County Court Judgements in 2012.
 
If Barnet had simply followed its own risk register advice back in 2011 and brought the service back in house, we would not be in this position. It also shows the massive risk that comes with outsourcing key services and that even large companies can go bust.

Barnet need to stop taking risks with our services and abandon One Barnet now.

Signed

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The sparse scrutiny of One Barnet

The blind leading the blind

Dear Councillor,

We are about to hear which company has been awarded one of the two massive contracts that constitute the £1 Billion One Barnet privatisation scheme.

Barely a week after the recommended bid is announced, Cabinet will vote on the proposals, and this borough will surrender control of a huge number of its services to an unaccountable private sector provider, for a minimum period of ten years.

Leader Richard Cornelius has written to a resident of Barnet stating he feels that a week allows sufficient time for the scrutiny by councillors of a contract of this size and significance, one that has taken four years in creation, by a process which has itself cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money in fees to consultants.

We suggest to you that a week is self evidently a completely inadequate length of time for councillors to inform themselves of the details and full significance of what is clearly a hugely complex undertaking, and one with enormous implications for the future of all residents.

One Barnet is the most ambitious privatisation exercise that has ever been attempted by any local authority.

Despite the unprecedented scale of this project, NO independent assessment has been made of the enormous risks such an enterprise must inevitably present.

Equally astonishing is the fact that the internal assessment, the One Barnet Risk Register, has never been presented to the council's own Audit Committee.

Not only does this represent the most irresponsible disregard for the security of local residents' investment in One Barnet, it quite clearly makes the authority liable to legal challenge on the basis of failing properly to consult with members and residents, as required by the demands of the democratic process.

We ask all councillors to consider the very real concerns we raise: resist the demand to rubber stamp a decision from which, effectively, you have been excluded by the leadership and senior management team of this authority. Ask yourselves why you have been excluded from the process of scrutiny.

And then please have the courage do the job you were elected to do: to protect the best interests of the residents and tax payers of the London Borough of Barnet, and act immediately to call for a suspension of this reckless programme.

Yours sincerely

Derek Dishman
John Dix
Vicki Morris
Theresa Musgrove
Roger Tichborne

(the famous five Barnet Bloggers)