3 August 2012

The cat has got his tongue

Mr Mustard keeps half an eye on the tweets and blog of Cllr Robert Rams. They often need some re-interpretation.

Yesterday he blogged (very short, no the blog post silly) and tweeted about what Barnet Council are doing with the Federation of Small Business.

Now it wasn't clear exactly what Barnet Council had signed up to and Robert is normally prepared to engage on twitter but yesterday he was strangely silent. All Mr Mustard wanted to do was check exactly what had been signed up for on his behalf (Mr Mustard runs a small business and no councillor or officer will be allowed anywhere near it as it has been going nicely for 25 years and he doesn't have £9m to throw away on a speculative investment with a silly name like One Mustard). Mr Mustard has had to work this out for himself as Robert signed a vow of twitter silence yesterday so if this post is inaccurate look towards the unusually silent Robert.

Firstly Mr Mustard thought that it must have been the FSB Small Business Engagement Accord which has 14 principles that the council had signed up to. Mr Mustard took a look at some of them

"to ensure that the views of the local business community are considered at every stage of any consultation exercise" - oh dear, not in North Finchley or any other High St where no-one listened to traders about parking charges and payment method (actually not quite true - Richard Cornelius listened and then said there was nothing he could do - he might as well have saved the time of the speakers by saying he wasn't going to listen)

"creating effective links with all sections of the business community" - all Mr Mustard ever sees in any business matter is the name of Tom Nathan the manager of the Brent Cross shopping centre.

"councils should identify business owners that can be engagement champions within their local business community" - Paul Shea maybe of North Finchley, the man who was p*ssed off with Nick Walkley, a true people's champion (no, not non-stick)

"effective consultation should demonstrate to business owners the outcomes and the rational behind the final decisions" - oh dear, not likely in Barnet.

Mr Mustard came to the conclusion that Barnet Council had not signed up to the 14 principles (room here for a joke by Mrs Angry about principles and the cabinet councillors)

So maybe it was the Local government manifesto that the council were going to sign up to. Mr Mustard downloaded it from the FSB website and opened it up. 

On page 4 there was an example of how not to do it featuring Kingston Council who increased business permits from £90 to £300 (£840 for an any registration permit in Barnet - useful if you have rented delivery vehicles). The FSB talk about a "short-term money grab with disastrous effects on the local economy" and that exactly describes what the council have done to Barnet's high streets. Look what the FSB recommend

"Parking schemes and charges tailored and affordable to the individual locality, including taking into account the wider interest of the local community, particularly small businesses

Local authorities to start regarding parking as a vital service, integral to the survival of the local economy, and not as an additional source of short-term revenue"

which is exactly what has happened in Barnet where charges were increased in order to make the budget easier to manage.

the FSB mention Small Business Rate Relief. "We would like to see councils take a proactive approach to promoting SBRR to its local businesses in order to increase take-up." You can find out if you qualify on the council website here.

"Additionally, many businesses do not know that under S49 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 that councils have the power to reduce or remit all or part of a business's rates bill on the grounds that the ratepayer is in extreme financial hardship" Mr Mustard can't see that on the council website. If you think you would qualify please contact the council on 020 8359 2735.

Under S65 Local Government Finance Act 1992 councils are required to consult with all sectors of the local business community about their spending. The FSB say "many councils only seem to pay lip service to this principle of consultation and in some cases do not always fulfil even their statutory duty". Mr Mustard has whizzed an email off to Barnet Council to find out if they fulfil their statutory duties.

"The FSB urges local councils to recognise the potential benefits of procuring from local small businesses and not to automatically assume that big suppliers and larger contracts are the way forward" which means scrap the £1bn One Barnet outsourcing.

the FSB suggest "breaking large contracts down into smaller lots" in order to help small businesses.

the FSB suggest "Doing a Health Check on the high street and addressing problems" i.e. reverse the parking charge increases from April 11 and putting cash meters back in place.

After that little run through the manifesto we can see that Barnet Council certainly haven't signed up to that.

So what was Robert crowing about? If you look at the brochure he was holding you can work out it was the "Championing the UK's Real-Life Entrepreneurs" and there is a short film about that (sorry about the music, maybe turn the sound off).

From this we gather that the council have only agreed to 4 not very onerous and hard to measure things:

Listen to the concerns of real-life entrepreneurs and champion their cause.

Represent the interests of real-life entrepreneurs on a national and local level.

Recognise the many thousands of hard working entrepreneurs that support the UK economy.

Support the FSB in their endeavours to get the best deal for real-life entrepreneurs.

Mr Mustard suggests that the certificate which Richard Cornelius is holding in the photograph will gather dust in a filing cabinet somewhere and nothing will improve for businesses in Barnet. This was just a soundbite for Richard and Robert, some desperately needed positive spin, a much easier day out than fixing the problems inflicted by their own administration on the high streets.

There is a difference of course between starting a business as an entrepreneur and trying to keep an established business going. It's pointless putting any resource into start-ups when saving the existing businesses is a much greater priority.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. Some of you may be worried by the impending 'One Mustard' reorganisation of this web site, but you should keep calm, and carry on regardless.

    The Mustard Pandemics Delivery Authority has now reached its full staffing level of consultants, and will shortly be setting up the working parties that will contribute towards its mission statement. ("What are our postings trying to say?" "Who are we saying it to?")

    The new authorship arrangemenst of posts on this blog will, of course, upset some elements, who pander to the Artist who used to be called Mr Mustard, but who wrote cruel, inefficient and partisan comments about the London Borough of Barnet. We are sure that the new arrangements - where the borough writes about itself - will be seen for its greater simplicity and clarity.

    Only by Barnet's Communications Department taking charge of the blog postings will criticism be managed successfully, and the public given a rounded view of events.

    In any case, the new arrangements are on a fixed-term contract, and will be thoroughly reviewed in 2023, when changes can be made.

    Project plans for 'One Angry', 'One Reasonable' and so on, will also be implemented immediately, because pilot projects are not necessary, since results are perfect, and known in advance.

  2. hmm. I hope there is a One Mustard scrutiny committee? What? Abolished? No, surely not. Mind you, the One Angry committee never saw the light of day as all nominated members have mysteriously disappeared without trace ...


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