28 November 2014

Mr Mustard won't help a fraudster

If you get a PCN due to fraudulent use of a blue badge don't ask Mr Mustard for help as he won't give it.

Barnet Council had been asleep at the wheel on this issue for 5 years but with the arrival of a new permanent (as opposed to interim) parking manager, they have woken up.

You have been warned.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

19 November 2014

Council only metaphorically several sandwiches short of a picnic?

Waitrose: sandwiches for 4-6 people = £18
Now Mr Mustard isn't the only person to think that the council's One Barnet* decisions have been taken by people who are one sandwich short of a picnic (the very idea that you can outsource almost everything and all your problems will go away and you will save money is patently absurd as is voting for 2,000 page contracts that you haven't read) but when it comes to having post council meeting picnics refreshments the horses (no, don't mix up your stories Mr M - Ed) are not spared and a shocking amount is spent on sandwiches even though half of the councillors might have to rush off to other important engagements.

so polite "would it be possible..."
We could save £4,000 a year by not providing sandwiches after full council meetings. After all, what do bloggers do? Well, with a meeting starting at 7pm they probably eat at 6pm and then set off to the Town Hall or, if they have to set off earlier, they buy their own sandwich and eat it on the journey. If they are still hungry after the meeting they go and spend their own money in the noodle bar opposite the Town Hall or decide that a pint of Youngs and a bag of crisps will adequately fill their stomach and adjourn to The Greyhound. If the public can manage then so can councillors. Why are sandwiches provided for full council meetings but not for other committee meetings? (Mr Mustard is pretty sure that they aren't as councillors tumble out of the Town Hall like ferrets over a cliff the minute that meetings end), it isn't logical as they usually all start at 7pm and finish by 10pm.

If sandwiches are absolutely necessary, which they aren't, then Waitrose can supply them at a cost of £18 times 12 for a small mountain of sandwiches (veggie ones are £2 less per tray) = £228. Why on earth is £512 (and 50p) being spent each time?

Mr Mustard consulted a certain "troublesome" cafĂ© owner, Helen Michael of Cafe Buzz in Finchley, N12 and asked her to quote for sandwich supply. Now of course we haven't seen a list of exactly what is normally on the groaning buffet table but she guessed there would have to be veggie and kosher sandwiches and 63 of at £2.50 a time would be £157.50. Let's suppose that half of the councillors will need two whole rounds of sandwiches and add in some large round cakes made by Helen's fair hand (boy, is she good at baking) and a small delivery charge and we are still only up to £300 (a photo from a councillor of the spread at the next meeting would be nice so that the whole world can see if this is merely a subsistence spread or too lavish) and a local business is supported by the council. It would make up for some of the 30% drop in turnover that removing cash parking meters caused to the businesses of the borough.

More sandwiches for less money. Now why isn't that the council mantra, perhaps because it is the councillors' own stomachs they are thinking of?

Until a photo comes his way, Mr Mustard has had to use his imagination as to what the post full Council meeting buffet room looks like.

Yours frugally, unlike our council

Mr Mustard

p.s. The basic councillor's allowance is £10,597 which would buy 588 trays of Waitrose sandwiches, sufficient for 2,352 to 3,528 councillors. Oink.

* "One Barnet" should be renamed "No Barnet" as soon there won't be anything much left except for overpaid Commissioners.

Update: 19 Nov 14

The concern of the public for the health and wellbeing of the bloggers is heartening. I have had the star rating of the noodle bar brought to my attention.

On the other end of the scale Cafe Buzz has now been awarded 5 stars this very week.

Update: 20 November 14

As ever, Jack Cohen, our one and only liberal democrat councillor, who isn't in public service to line his pockets but to serve the public and consequently Mr Mustard would happily buy him a slap up dinner after every full council meeting (but Jack won't accept even a tea or coffee if he pops in for a chat having spied an activist or two in Cafe Buzz, as often happens) is on the money

Still, Richard's answer is inadequate as it doesn't inform Rebecca, and us, of the number of sandwiches provided, as she asked. The libraries budget is being cut by a huge amount but the councillors' catering budget not by a penny?
Mr Mustard has also learnt of other sandwiches It isn't clear if the media sandwiches (bloggers are new media but the council certainly won't be feeding us and Mr Mustard would want to send any fish paste sandwiches off for analysis before eating them, or at the very least have Miss Marple by his side) and there are sandwiches for Officers (staff) as well. If any London wide media are reading, why not send a Freedom of Information request to every London council to see what they spend after, or before, full council meetings.

Never mind the fine detail. The question is one of principle. Should councillors get free scoff after a 3 hour meeting?

18 November 2014

The Parking Consultation looks flawed, if not illegal

Barnet Council have carried out a parking consultation. Here are the questions &
answers to what methodology should be used to work out permit prices in the future:

which is a little hard to read so Mr Mustard has multiplied the sample groups by the percentages to give you real numbers, which are

so clearly, following the consultation, residents want a flat rate not a rate based upon vehicle emissions (on which they are already being taxed extra by Central Government if they have an inefficient car - road tax and petrol duty).

That though, isn't how consultations work in Barnet. Someone, whether it is a councillor or an officer is impossible to work out from outside the council, is hell bent on foisting an emissions based pricing structure upon us.

Here is what Officers (staff, except they seem to forget their role) are recommending to tonight's Environment Committee (do come along, Hendon Town Hall, 7pm) 

So because about 70% of respondents quite rightly and logically agreed that reducing air pollution was a laudable aim (and was the question put into the survey for the very purpose of bending the permit price structure to someones pre-determined idea?) Officers (staff) are recommending to councillors that they go with an emissions based pricing structure (Mr Mustard feels a Judicial Review coming on) which hopefully councillors will reject.

Where Mr Mustard thinks that the Officer's (staff member's) thinking is flawed is that the question about air pollution was at Q1 and the question about permit pricing was at Q10 so respondents already had air pollution in mind when answering Q10 as they had already been asked to think about it and so their choice was an informed choice.

This is how consultations are run in Barnet. If they don't give the right answer, the answers will be bent to fit the aim. A disgrace and possibly illegal.

The library consultation is now upon us. Expect a "yes" answer to the following actual question:

"A library service that makes knowledge and information easily accessible"

to be interpreted as, "local communities were delighted that with an unstaffed library opened by a pass they could visit the library at 4am if they so wished".

You have been warned. Read Mrs Angry of Broken Barnet on the subject of nonsultation.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Public meeting about council services - 26 November at 6:30

16 November 2014

tktApp test pilot wanted

There is a newish service on offer to the public but currently only on iPhones which Mr Mustard refuses to pay for (he prefers the Motorola Moto G at half the price and all the functionality). The android version of the App is coming though.

Here is a short promo film telling you about it.

So what Mr Mustard is looking for is an experienced PCN fighter to download the app onto their iPhone and then pay £3.99 to give it a full test and then write a short blog post (just a short story about the strengths and weaknesses of the App and whether it is worth £3.99)

Many thanks

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

15 November 2014

Short term or short of space?

The lovely rural scene above is in Oakleigh Road South taken from the standpoint of a camera situated outside the entrance to one of the two proposed new ex. Bittacy Hill, Mill Hill dustcart depots and which seems to be entirely unsuitable, not least because it might only exist in the short term, and there are residences not far away (and as the proposed location extends longways alongside the railway tracks they are much nearer to the noise and the smell than they seem in this snap). Mr Mustard apologises for the low volume of recent blogs but has a new set of debt ledgers to manage which entails him visiting 3 sites up and down the land. If you like to holiday in the English countryside he can recommend the Trough of Bowland which is lovely even at this time of year.

Mr Mustard couldn't be at the meeting but another resident was and here is their report, sent of their own volition to Mr Mustard.

Dear Mr Mustard,

Barnet Council only last week announced they had found two suitable sites for the relocation with Oakleigh Road South (a residential area with a childrens' nursery nearby) being their preferred location.

I went to the emergency additional meeting of the Assets, Regeneration and Growth Committee meeting last night. Why is it an emergency to purchase land within 7 days of making the announcement public? 

I can only assume that it is because they want to rush this through unopposed, before residents become aware of what is being proposed. There were only 6 residents in attendance including myself.

Cllr Daniel Thomas, and his fellow Conservative Cllrs were hell bent on getting the approval for Barnet to purchase the land there and then, giving them a clear path to force through the relocation to Oakleigh Road South.

Thankfully, because of the magnitude of the decision, Pauline Coakley, the Coppetts ward Cllr put forward a motion to take the proposals to the full council meeting in 4 weeks time. This was seconded by the other Labour Cllrs. They also made a request for the financial figures to be made available, were the depot to remain at it’s current site in Mill-Hill.

Cllr Daniel Thomas, and all the Conservative Cllrs seemed very upset by this and tried their hardest to make the Labour Cllrs retract the motion. For some reason they did not seem willing to wait an extra 4 weeks for the whole council to make a decision on this important matter.

I do not know what their fixation is with New Southgate, first Pinkham Way, and now Oakleigh Road South. It feels like they have targeted the area where I live, and it just feels as if the whole thing is being rushed through, without residents being made aware of what they are planning (so that they do not have another Pinkham Way on their hands).

We now have 4 extra weeks to make more people aware of what is going on. Your help would be much appreciated.


Further comment form the concerned resident.

What I find amazing is the fact that they have spent so much money on feasibility studies to come up with two sites which are not fit for purpose.

In their own words:

1. Lupa House is too small and will need an additional 1 acre site (presumably another round of feasibility studies) and will cost £900,000 more a year than if the depot was in one location. 

2. Oakleigh Road South (their preferred site) is being earmarked as a railway siding for Crossrail 2, and there is a risk they will only be there for 5-10 years. I actually make that 3 years, as they have to be out of Mill Hill by Dec 2016, and Crossrail 2 work starts in 2020.

The other proposed depot is in Borehamwood which is too small to accommodate everything from Mill Hill so only a partial solution. What would be the extra environmental & financial costs of having a large depot with many vehicles outside of Barnet? How many extra miles would be racked up by council vehicles every year? Leaving the depot where it is looks like the best option. The council should look to buy itself back out of the sale it so stupidly made when it didn't have a new home for the depot already in the bag.

One side effect of this is that there is a threat to remove the right of a committee to refer matters to full council, as reported here, which would be yet another nail in the coffin of democracy here in Barnet. Mr Mustard would caution against making the balance of power too one-sided as it only needs one councillor to cross the floor from Conservative to Labour for the whole dynamic to change and somehow Mr mustard thinks that there would be howls of protest from the conservative ranks if they were to find themselves being speared with their own undemocratic behaviour.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

10 November 2014

Sainsbury's express ticketing

Since J Sainsbury's new small store came to Finchley Central hundreds of people have been caught out by the parking bay right in front of the store - so tempting to stop there thinking it is for shoppers? The previous signs (photo from October 13) were like this

So that limited parking at certain times (to allow for deliveries) and limited parking during the day to 1h 30m in which time you certainly could buy some shopping. The situation was further confused by a single yellow line through half of the bay. Many people got this wrong and now eventually changes have been made. This is the new sign and the yellow line is gone.

That is slightly clearer and free in the day but how many people are going to get caught after 8pm buying what will turn into a very expensive pint of milk? 

15 minutes isn't a great deal of use. All it will take is a small queue to pay and you will be over your time once you have filled a basket with groceries.

Let's see how many people get caught out under this new regime.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard