22 June 2018

Boycott the Beach

Mr Mustard noticed a fly posted poster advertising a 'Beach' at Brent Cross (let's put to one side the definition of a beach requiring the sea or a lake etc alongside) as he was passing through his local High Street the other day. This followed him having observed a number of them attached to the railings on the A41 when he was on his way to a Barnet Council committee meeting.

He went back and walked the High Street, EN5 from end to end and found lots more posters. Some iterations are probably there with the permission of the shop keeper but others clearly aren't, the ones on empty buildings.

adjacent to a closed shop so permission unlikely

adjacent to the closed pancake eaterie so no permission

After Office Hours - the building of one of Mr Mustard's twitter followers, he thinks

did Boots the Chemists really agree to this? probably not

Butchers Hook which has closed. Posters dropped in through the gap above the door

& then sellotaped in place - inside the window may technically not be fly posting?

at the top of Bells Hill, perhaps with permission

The garage opposite Ravenscroft Park
Some of those posters have doubtless been put up with permission of shopkeepers but not all by any means.

Think, shopkeepers. Is this a good idea? You may get a couple of freebie tickets to go to the Beach but will you even bother to use them?

Secondly, ask yourself, what is your shop window for? It is in order to advertise items that you sell, on which you hope to make a profit, and to attract customers to the store. Does this garish poster earn its keep in your shop window? No.

Thirdly, does this sort of scattergun approach to advertising an event which is nowhere near Barnet's High Street really make it a more attractive place to visit? We are on the cusp of watching TfL & Barnet Council lob £200,000k at your High Street to, supposedly, in the weasel words of some overpaid council puff writer, 'to create a safer and more pleasant environment for users' and a number of you are, swapping the chance to sit on a non beach near to a large shopping centre and the North Circular Road (pollution levels must be pretty high there) for the visual pollution which is Barnet High Street today. People aren't going to visit such a flea pit as Barnet High Street appears to be with all these posters everywhere, or if they do they sure as hell aren't going to come back. 

Perhaps it is time traders to start saying no to these inconveniences in your shop window and go back to basics and make your shop window great again. Make it novel, make it interesting, make it relevant.

If you want to go to the beach, please choose your favourite seaside resort & go there. Mr Mustard was in Cromer at the weekend, it is well worth a visit (Cromer Crab, lovely). This bogus beach at Brent Cross costs £3 to get in (access to the beach is free at Cromer, they have a lovely pier with a theatre on it & very reasonably priced beach huts for hire) but that isn't what the Brent Cross 'Beach' is really about. They want you to buy tokens for the adjacent funfair at £2 to £5 a ride, so the 'beach' is merely a sprat to catch a mackerel & you won't find either at Brent Cross, except smoked in Waitrose.

At a real seaside beach, you will find the sea & sand, places to eat and other things to do (Visit Cromer) not a not so cheap imitation.

Barnet Council are letting NSL do virtually what they like in enforcing environmental crime. That includes giving £400 fixed penalty notices to bona fide businesses who have not fly tipped but whose name has appeared on items left in the street, but not by them. 

Since July 2016 when a 6 month trial began (which doesn't seem to have come to an end) how many fly posting penalties have NSL managed to give out? By the end of April 18 it was 8, yes 8, not one of them in High Barnet and only 3 have been paid. NSL aren't tackling real problems like fly posting, they are concentrating their resources on easy money, as profit for NSL is their motivation.

If you thought they must be concentrating on dog fouling (not fouling of dogs but fouling by dogs which isn't cleared up by the owners) then you would be wrong. Just 4 Fixed Penalty Notices since July 16 despite the obvious problems of nasty deposits on pavments everywhere.

Will Barnet Council instruct NSL to issue fly-posting Fixed Penalty Notices at £400 a time to the 'Beach' organisers. Mr Mustard doubts it as they don't really care.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

21 June 2018

The £3,000 blowout

Mr Mustard has been working very hard for 6 months on site but now he is back and has the time to do things like have an idle look through the previous freedom of information responses of Barnet Council. He came across this response:

Mr Mustard likes a good feed much like many people. The difference is that he does it at his own expense. He has spent 6 months on site so at the end he took the whole team out for a restaurant meal and paid the bill, he did not charge his client.

He thought almost £3k for a buffet was a bit excessive. Every single councillor could be treated at The Haven, on a Tuesday, and we would still have £1,500 in change (63 * £22 = £1,386).

The Greyhound in Greyhound Hill could probably provide a lovely buffet for £1,000 if a council officer were to ask them. Just think about it, £1,000 buys an awful lot of vol-au-vents, quiche, chicken drumsticks, sausage rolls, pizza slices etc. A thousand pounds at a time when the minimum wage is £7.83 an hour and catering workers are generally lowly paid and food in supermarkets is cheap.

Anyway, Mr Mustard tweeted that this was a saving worth having

At the least someone should look at what is being ordered and who provides it and see if there is scope for a saving. These are meant to be the days of austerity.

Slightly to Mr Mustard's surprise the local branch of the Conservative party defended the ridiculous spend:

When you are spending someone else's money it is easy to lose touch with reality. Mr Mustard though he would fact check this. Now the bloggers always used to pop around to The Greyhound for their refreshment after committee meetings and would find opposition councillors in there. No-one was on an expense account but were generous with buying each other drinks if their pocket so allowed. If meetings ran on until 10pm at night Mr Mustard was truly in need of a pint of Youngs after listening to dry council business for 3 hours. Mr Mustard thought that the meeting in question must have been extended beyond 10pm or even gone right up to 10.30pm

So Mr Mustard checked the time at which the May 18 meeting of full council ended. The answer, dear reader, was 8.27pm with the meeting having started at 7pm

from the council's own minutes
So a meeting which lasted 87 minutes is, in the eyes of the unknown tweeter of the BarnetTories twitter account, an account which he/she shouldn't be allowed to have any unsupervised input to, a 'particularly long meeting'

 Now what does 'particularly' mean? This

& 'long'?
Oh dearie dearie me, Mr Mustard finds that both definitions leave the tweet of the BarnetTories looking like a scrap of self serving nonsense, a smokescreen, an attempt to polish a turd (sorry about the phrase when eating is being considered).

So Mr Mustard thought he would go back to see if this 2018 investiture of the bling of mayoral office, as worn & tainted by a former mayor being found guilty of assault by beating (you would surely want a brand new chain of office after that?) took longer than in previous years? Here is the answer:

So whilst this meeting did take 7 minutes longer than the average for the last 7 years, it really in all honesty cannot be called a long meeting, as they take 3 or 3.5 hours, and it definitely can't be called particularly long as 2 meetings in the last 7 years took longer.

What really begs the question is why catering is even called for at all, for meetings that take an average of 1 hour and 20 minutes, when historic meeting lengths are recorded & available. Any self respecting Mayor would invite everyone round the pub and put some money behind the bar, or invite them round to his place, or the mayoral parlour, and get a couple of barrels and some wine in and crisps & peanuts and have a jolly old time without soaking the public purse for almost £3,000.

The mayoral knees up should be scrapped. He has a year of municipal functions ahead of him and his waistband will thank Mr Mustard for it at the end of the year.

In a time of austerity the Mayor also needs to tighten his belt.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

p.s. the identity of the writer of the tweet by @BarnetTories is unknown, Mr Mustard checked that it wasn't one of his own High Barnet councillors, David Longstaff, & it wasn't. Probably best that the writer remains anonymous to spare their blushes. The identity of Mr Mustard is public knowledge given his past appearances in the media.

20 June 2018

Exit packages - why so many for so long?

In any large organisation there will always be a few people who have to be 'let go' of for perfectly valid business reasons.  

If, however, there are c. 90 people leaving each year with a pay off, over a prolonged period of 6 years (& Mr Mustard did not look further back but expects the same sort of figures) then Mr Mustard thinks that something could well be wrong with recruitment, or management, or else the easy option is being taken as it isn't the council's money after all.

Of your hard earned pay, which you hand over to the council, a supposedly prudent organisation when it comes to the management of finance, £6,262,000 has been given to staff to just go home.

Perhaps the General Functions Committe might care to look at this area, or the Audit Committe, and sure as eggs is eggs, if they did so, exit packages would become less common.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Whilst researching head count Mr Mustard stumbled upon this Freedom of Information response about the numbers dismissed.

and also found a recent headcount figure of 1711 which gives us a 5% chance of picking up an exit package, a one in twenty chance, much better than roulette.

Bailiff not motivated by justice but by self interest

not the actual Fiesta, a much newer one.
Mr Mustard wrote about this last year but the problem has emerged once again, with 5 PCNs being issued this year. Given that both a lorry and a car are being sent paperwork about the same contravention we can't be sure that the Fiesta owner is getting all of the paperwork about a PCN. She regularly phones Dart Charge and they promise to put things right but they fail to. That was how a bailiff came to clamp her car last week.

The bailiff was shown one of the PCNs which contains this photo. 

Thus he knows that he has clamped a car which wasn't the vehicle that committed the contravention & he won't listen to any explanation about there clearly being an error in the system somewhere. His attitude was I've got a warrant with your name on it lady and I've clamped your car and the only way that will come off is you pay £429*. The debt which wasn't hers was duly paid, putting a single mum of two small children into overdraft.

The trouble with the bailiff remuneration system is that they only get paid when they collect so the incentive is there to extract payment whatever the circumstances (when clearly a error or a miscarriage of justice has occurred). 

The draconian powers of the bailiff should be exercised with a modicum of common sense. The bailiff may have the money for now but a complaint email is already in the inbox of the boss of Dart Charge with a demand for a refund and compensation. If a refund isn't forthcoming, a small claim will be issued in the County Court but Mr Mustard doubts that will be necessary.

There is no effective supervision or control of bailiffs by their employers, enforcement authorities, but there is no close daily oversight of their activities either. They both have too much power which sometimes gets misused & there is no inbuilt system for redress.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

* The balance tells the bailiff that the level of the debt is because a lorry failed to pay the £6 crossing fee to which is added £70, £35, £8, £75 & £235 = £429

For a car it would be £2.50 + as above = £425.50

Alarm bells should have been ringing in his head, but he wants that £310 for himself. Think of it as a short term loan Mr Bailiff, it will be going back with interest.

19 June 2018

Tinkering at the edges

yes, to all of the above alternatives + less traffic

Mr Mustard has met Derek Epstein in the past but begs to differ with him on this occasion and with the Barnet Society (who generally do good work in safeguarding the interests of High Barnet) and with the Barnet Residents Association (of which he is a member) but Mr Mustard is entitled to his viewpoint and he hates waste. This spending is profligate in the extreme.

The irony of the above opinion, is that it is in the window of a closed shop unit in the Spires, which seems to be suffering even more than the High Street with empty units despite having no traffic going through it whatsoever.

Anyway, here are Mr Mustard's comments and objection which he has sent to barnet.highst@barnet.gov.uk

You can make up your own mind & send any view to the council by 21 June 18.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

In case you don't have it, the Barnet Council & Re letter of 31 May 18.


15 June 2018

The Friday joke - 'We'

Barnet Council - who else?

Mr Mustard is helpless with laughter except that we pay people stupid salaries to write this sort of Orwellian language.

13 June 2018

Fiscal reality has not yet dawned at Barnet Council

That recent quote is to be contrasted with earlier statements in the press that the new West Stand would cost £20m. Inflation in building costs isn't rare as contractors seek to find extras which were not in the original specification.

So where will the money come from? Barnet Council of course.

At the recent Policy & Resources Committee an item to lend money (an unstated amount, it was in the secret papers as you, Mr & Mrs Council-tax-payer, are not entitled to know how your council tax is going to be thrown about) to Saracens for up to 30 years, was deferred to a future meeting.

Apparently it was going to be lent to them at 'commercial' rates' - commercial for Saracens or commercial for us? Mr Mustard hears you ask. 

Do Barnet Council have a good record when it comes to matters of banking? er, no.

A Labour Party press release, repeating a council officer (member of staff) email, showed that £1.13m in interest was lost. The council were without their deposited funds from 2008 to 2015 and flat rate interest for the seven years was 0.59%. In 2008 a saver could have obtained a decent interest rate from a High Street bank.

Investing in an Icelandic bank might have seemed like a good idea at the time but anything which seems to be too good to be true might well be.

Given that the finances of Rugby weren't, and probably still aren't, generally producing surpluses, you have to wonder about the wisdom of lending to that sector and how anyone can tell what will happen over the course of 30 years.

What is the purpose of a local authority? To provide local services.

What is the purpose of banks? To make loans.

Is this the only commercial loan that Barnet Council wish to make? as if it is, the situation stinks of preferential treatment.

Mr Mustard couldn't find any mention of making loans in the treasury strategy for 2018-19.

Have you got a loss making business within Barnet?
Do you need a massive loan?
Do you need long term finance, up to 30 years?
Send an email to cllr.r.cornelius@barnet.gov.uk and see what Richard says in response. He usually does reply to emails, Mr Mustard has found.

Yours frugally

Barnet Council

There has been trouble at t'mill in Coventry & Northampton and history should be taken account of, mind you everyone knew Capita's reputation and the council blundered blindly into a 10 year contract.

Mr Mustard meant to point out the irony of the long term loan to Saracens being listed on the same meeting at which the council's own serious budget pressures were being discussed. Perhaps that is why the item was deferred as clearly borrowing to lend doesn't really fit with the programme.