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