31 May 2013

Oxfordshire - Putting the Community First

Oxfordshire don't have a slogan which is empty words - they evidently believe in actions speaking louder, so Mr Mustard juxtaposed the hollow Barnet Council slogan.

Mr Mustard is lucky to have many dear friends and one of them, "AA" (you know who you are and you like to remain anonymous) returned from a trip with a little present for him and he was so excited, look, here it is:

(Mr M also received some artisan made Macaroons - all eaten, delicious)

Mr Mustard's friend thought this was a most useful voucher as it meant that for her overnight stay only one voucher was required which saves time and there was no waking up in a panic that you have forgotten to put out a permit for that day.

The price of the voucher wasn't known as his friend was a guest. Mr Mustard surfed across to Oxfordshire and looked up the answer. He was very pleased with the answer he found.

The first 25 visitor vouchers in each 12 month period were the princely sum of 

£ nothing at all.

The next 25 were only £16 for the lot which is a mere 64p each. Now that is what you can describe as "Putting the Community First".

It isn't as if the council make up for it in the price of the resident's permit either. That is only £50 for the first car.

Mr Mustard is going to write to the Cabinet Member whose responsibilities include parking, Dean Cohen, and suggest we have some of these vouchers. If you agree, email him at cllr.d.cohen@barnet.gov.uk

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

29 May 2013

Saracens (Copthall) Event Day CPZ - Confused Parking Zone

In the space of 10 days Mr Mustard has been consulted about 4 parking tickets given to 3 residents who live within the Event Day CPZ and didn't apply for an Event Day permit because they already had a Resident Permit.

In his operational guidance the Secretary of State wrote "motorists cannot reasonably be expected to read, understand and remember the parking restrictions at the entrance to a Controlled Parking Zone that covers an area of more than a dozen streets."

So, how extensive is the Saracens CPZ? Here is a plan of it.

From Stanhope Gardens in the NW of the zone, to Garrick Way in the south of it, is a distance of 2.5 miles. This is self evidently not an area of about a dozen streets but a blatant disregard of the guidance for a CPZ zone. Every vehicle owner within the red dotted boundary needs an ED permit (ED stands for Event Day). They are free as Saracens pay for them and for up to 88 visitor vouchers each year to cover the 16 match days + 2 other days. (You are allowed 4.8 visitors per day. Mr Mustard doesn't suppose there is any rule that stops you providing them as gifts to your rugby loving friends who want to go to a match).

Why is it that a number of residents, out of the 7,500 who are estimated to live within the zone, have not realised they need to have at least 1 and possibly 2 permits in their car. Mr Mustard doesn't know the full extent of the communications with affected residents but he does have the information sent out in November 12. Here is the envelope that the letter was in.

Mr Mustard can imagine how this landed in amongst pizza leaflets and other junk mail and got thrown away. It is 2013 and databases abound everywhere. Surely it wouldn't have been that hard a job to run a search of the existing CPZ permit holders and the council tax payers within the affected roads and then write personally addressed letters?

According to the Delegated Powers Report concerning this CPZ, there are about 7,500 residences within the zone (although a recent FOI said 9,000 and if you are wondering why Mr Mustard asked a question he knew the answer to the answer is he hadn't stumbled upon the 7,500 at the time he asked).

Here is the letter that was inside The Occupier envelope

Having read the whole two pages Mr Mustard concludes it is not the best bit of writing that Mr Richardson has ever issued (he is a helpful officer and probably pretty pressed so let us not be hard on him but instead be lenient on those who make an error) and he may not have actually written it. In an attempt to be thorough there is a lot of information but, like Craig Cooper's statement to the High Court on the NSCSO Judicial Review which the judge gave a kicking for being unhelpfully laid out, this letter suffers from a lack of headings and structure. The information would have been much better presented in a booklet with pages headed Why, Where, When, How to apply, Costs etc

What doesn't this letter say?

The zone is labelled the ED zone.

Even if you have a residents permit for, say, zone E, you need another one, issued free, for zone ED.

What it does say, and what has probably led many people astray is: 

"Any person wishing to park on roads within the CPZ when an event is taking place will need to display either a residents permit or a visitor voucher in their vehicle."

which means that a resident with a zone E permit might not have read any further as they did have "a residents permit". This would be one of Mr Mustard's defences to a parking ticket.

How many people have already obtained an ED permit? Only 3,449 so possibly 4,000 people are at risk of a parking ticket.

If you know anyone inside this monster CPZ zone please ask them if they have a free ED permit so that they are not at risk of getting a PCN (if you are unlucky enough to get one please ask Mr Mustard for help. He is building up a lot of expertise in appealing). If they need a permit they can apply on-line here or telephone 020 8359 7446.

Don't be shy to ask for visitor vouchers either. 269,743 have been issued so far. They are free.

Maybe the council should now follow up by putting an explanatory leaflet on every car found in breach on an Event Day rather than a PCN?

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Motto: Don't get caught; if you get caught - appeal!

28 May 2013

Has a parking ticket got your goat?


During the last 2 years Mr Mustard has read some appeals which went to the independent adjudicator PATAS in which parking tickets were issued in absurd, ridiculous and downright unreasonable circumstances. These parking tickets cause anger, confusion and a feeling of helplessness when dealing with a pedantic and intransigent public official.

Now is the time to have your say.

Century Films, the makers of Parking Mad, are making another film about parking and it will feature some footage shot in Barnet (it being a hotbed of stupid decision making such as removing cash parking meters) so if you have a bonkers parking ticket, and the madder the better, please email liz.allen@centuryfilmsltd.com with the briefest of summaries of the problem ticket and what has happened. If the story is still continuing then so much the better.

You could be a film star.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

24 May 2013

FOI all over the place & records destroyed rather early?

Back in September 12, before Barnet Council lost their rag somewhat with Mr Mustard and made question after question vexatious, he was helping a friend who had received a parking ticket in the snow (it has now been cancelled by the independent adjudicator) Mr Mustard started to muse upon the enforcement pattern during times of snow. The safety of traffic wardens ought to be put before the council's grubby revenue gathering. Thus, he sent in the above question.

Here is the answer he received.

This answer was given in deployed hours rather than shifts which was probably because shift lengths varied and so that was sensible. However the average PCNs per deployed CEO was of no use at all as the number of deployed CEO (traffic wardens) was not stated. Mr Mustard asked for clarification in September 12.

Thank you for the reply which doesn't quite answer my question which was the number of PCN issued each day although is helpful as the CEO were not working similar length shifts by the looks of it so the number of hours worked is a better measure.

Could you please also supply the number of PCN issued each day as originally requested.

In January 13 he wrote the following:

I note that an answer to this email remains outstanding. Please now provide an answer as soon as possible.

The council's response was:

Thank you for your request for a review of the civil enforcement officer shifts received on 14 January 2013. I’m sorry to hear that you are unhappy with the council’s response to your information request.

We will now conduct an internal review.

Did Mr Mustard ask for an internal review? not really. He simply pointed out the failure to answer the original question. A response to the question would have sufficed.

The review arrived. The first part surprised Mr Mustard, a former payroll manager.

We are unable to provide this information regarding the number of shifts worked by Civil Enforcement Officers during the period specified as those records were not retained following the transfer the Parking Service on 01/05/2012.

Why not? If there was any query about hours paid then it could not be answered. It is normal to keep payroll backup records for at least a year and preferably 3 (certain records have to be kept longer in case of government inspection). Mr Mustard thought that the records would have been kept in the SAP system and there was no good business reason to destroy them. Doubtless this was a breach of the council data protection policy.

The second part of the answer was:

Mr Mustard looked at the numbers supplied and thought it odd that the number of PCNs issued was remarkably similar to the number of deployed hours and in some cases identical. He didn't believe for one moment that traffic wardens only issue 1 parking ticket per hour so he guessed that Barnet Council had, once again, erred. The answer should have failed the sniff test, it was self evidently and glaringly wrong. Mr Mustard asked for the review to be reviewed. The council responded in due course.

Thank you for your email, and my apologies for the delay in replying.

I have asked the service area to double check the figures they provided and their answer is as follows:

I can confirm that the PCN numbers cited in the email below is correct. This was obtained from a report from the Civica system. There was an error in the previous email where the PCN numbers were incorrectly calculated as being deployed hours. We are unable to provide actual figures pertaining to deployed hours as these are no longer available to us as a result of the transfer of the service.

Therefore the information provided to you in the Internal Review was correct and the previous information provided in the original FOI response was incorrect. I can reiterate the previous apologies for this error. ("I can" is pretty feeble as apologies go because it doesn't say that you do reiterate the apologies.)

I trust that this resolves this issue. 

The "issue" isn't really resolved. Mr Mustard still has no idea what happens about parking enforcement when it snows. Next time it snows he will get his questions in before it thaws.

Barnet Council wonder why they are on the naughty step at the Information Commissioner. Given the speed and quality of their answers, one can't be surprised.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

23 May 2013

Lord Palmer speaks in the House of Lords

Yesterday saw the second reading of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill a subject on which Lord Monroe Palmer has no little experience. Any emphasis is Mr Mustard's as are words in red.

rather more grand than where the Audit Committee meets

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, following on from that resounding vote of confidence, I need to declare an interest, although I think that my interest has already been declared for me by my noble friend Lord Tope, my friend of 27 years and currently on Barnet Council (Monroe not Lord Tope). I am probably the only Member of your Lordships’ House who still chairs an audit committee of a London borough. As my noble friend said, I was rather stupidly elected last night (as chair of Audit Committee at Barnet Council) and, as noble Lords possibly know, the protocol in most boroughs and local authorities is that it is an opposition councillor who fulfils that post. That is what we did when we were in power, and I am glad to see that this is what has happened in the borough of Barnet when the Conservatives are in power.

I understand the desire to put the publicity code on a statutory basis, to prevent councils wasting public money on council-produced newspapers and magazines, often containing political propaganda, even at the level of, “Aren't we doing well?”—and very often it is purely at that sort of level (was Monroe thinking of the publication "Barnet First"?). Putting it on a statutory basis, as framed, is unnecessary and heavy-handed. Local authorities need to communicate and local newspapers are useful, but are not as effective as they were. In my locality I find that I no longer know who the editor is, or even if they have one. I do not recognise the names of the local journalists, who are reduced in number, mainly office-based and changing with great rapidity (Monroe probably knows all the bloggers though and they don't change much, new ones arrive and don't leave!). The journal, be it local authority or commercial, is in the end only as good as the guy delivering it—or not delivering it, as the case may be. London boroughs support commercial newspapers; I think that my noble friend Councillor Tope referred to a figure of £26 million nationally. Some £4 million per annum in London is spent on advertising.

I believe that this aspect of the Bill is aimed at that small minority of councils that misuse public money for overtly political purposes. I hope that the Minister will confirm that during the passage of the Bill we can come up with a less heavy-handed way of dealing with this. My noble friends Lord Tope and Lady Eaton both referred to this. My noble friend the Minister said this Government are against top-down government, but what is this if not top-down government?

I now turn to the abolition of the much-reduced-in-size Audit Commission, and the setting up of a system of locally appointed external auditors. A main concern of the Bill is the preserving of auditor independence. Currently, it is the Audit Commission that appoints external auditors and that is seen as preserving auditor independence. It prevents cherry-picking of audit opinions and helps the interaction with the local authority start on a level playing field. There might also be a concern from auditors, who quite naturally might believe that issuing unfavourable audit opinions may adversely impact on their ability to obtain contracts in the future, as the very people that they might criticise in their audit opinions will have a say in their future appointments.

The Bill attempts to cover this through an independent panel to appoint auditors, but, again, these panellists—as has been mentioned by other noble Lords—will need to be skilful individuals who understand what is important in terms of external auditor characteristics and can assess value for money. Moreover, these panels will be joint panels, appointing to a number of local authorities, and will - with difficulty - need to ensure that conflicts of interests are resolved. The conflict I envision is between internal audit and external audit. In the London Borough of Barnet, one major accounting firm has been appointed by the Audit Commission to carry out the audit while locally, the internal audit team is enhanced by a contract with a separate team from a major accounting firm. Therefore, if this goes out to an independent panel, one can see pretty clearly that there could be conflicts where an internal auditor might have to resign in order to be the external auditor. It is incredibly complex.

The Bill concentrates on the appointment of external auditors, but the reality - and I am speaking as the current chair of an audit committee - is that external audit at a reasonable cost is only as good as the internal audit team of that local authority. In carrying out the external audit, the auditor will first look at the internal audit process and determine what reliance could be placed on it. I cannot see any comment on this in the Bill.

Then there is the process and transparency of the authority’s audit committee. In Barnet, we have a committee of Labour councillors, Conservative councillors, two independents who are not councillors and me, a Liberal Democrat opposition councillor, as chairman. We involve the public, many of whom are investigative bloggers, who have a space in the agenda to ask questions and supplementary questions, which I must admit officers sometimes find extremely uncomfortable (what a pity that, audit committee aside, councillors on scrutiny committees do not make officers feel uncomfortable and it is left to the public to ask penetrating questions and it is the detailed knowledge by bloggers which derails officers). At the last meeting, there were 15 questions plus supplementary questions which I, as chairman, had to answer, even though I am not a member of the administration. The audit committee sessions are often recorded on video by these members of the public and appear on their blog sites, Facebook and the like. I must tell your Lordships that I find this a great benefit because it is actually challenging and brings transparency, however much at times it might seem uncomfortable.

A considerable amount of audit of process is done by the internal team which, if necessary, buys in extra accountancy capacity. Any service area of the council that is seen to have produced less than a satisfactory grading is then required to send its service area director and/or assistant director to come and explain how they intend to tackle the problem. It is not a blame culture: if the report at the next meeting is still unsatisfactory, they have to come back to be grilled again by the audit committee, which is all-party and no-party. I am pleased to say that it is rarely necessary for a director or assistant director to come back. We give them time between the meetings, and, invariably, the satisfactory grading is achieved by that method.

22 May 2013 : Column 910

The noble Lord, Lord Christopher, said that this was not to do with potholes, which concern most people. This shows he does not know what happens on an audit committee. If there was a problem with potholes, it would at least be brought up by members of the public, if nobody else. It would be addressed by the audit committee. The director and assistant director of that service area would be called to that committee to explain and, by the next meeting, one would have to have some resolution of that problem. That is what the audit committee of a local authority does.

The noble Lord, Lord Christopher, also mentioned the millions of pounds lost through incorrect investment. We have experience of that in the London Borough of Barnet. A former Conservative administration borrowed money at a good rate of interest; the noble Lord mentioned the same thing. It invested £27.4 million in Icelandic banks. That was not a good decision. What happened? How was this dealt with? Not by the Audit Commission. It was dealt with by a combination of local authorities led by Kent County Council, which combined to deal with the Icelandic Government and banks. Most of that money, amazingly, is coming back—they are actually very lucky. It was nothing to do with the Audit Commission. It was, and can be, done locally. The noble Lord, Lord Christopher, also mentioned value for money as a criterion. That criterion will be dealt with by the National Audit Office under the new regulations.

The theory for the changes in where the audit committee procures audit services to the Companies Act model is that they will increase competition, reduce fees and increase quality. My question is whether it will. I am not convinced. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, spoke about the transfer of audits from the Audit Commission to other firms of accountants. Is it not amazing that the Audit Commission, which used to do a lot of the audits itself, has over the past few years transferred 70% of audits to audit firms? The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, raises the point that few of those firms have had that. He also mentioned that the firm in addition to the four main firms was Grant Thornton, which is still very large. Is it not amazing that, to my knowledge, Grant Thornton got the maximum number of audits permitted of those direct audits lost by the Audit Commission? It took on a lot.

I welcome the expansion to other firms. As a practising chartered accountant, a local councillor and someone dealing with people in business, I can say that a large organisation such as a local authority has to be extremely courageous, as Sir Humphrey would probably have said, to go anywhere other than the larger firms. Although it might seem a good deal—maybe it is more cost-effective and you will get a good deal—if something goes wrong, you will be criticised very fiercely for not having gone to KPMG or PricewaterhouseCoopers. Many local authorities will naturally take the safe course of going to one of the larger firms. We must consider during the passage of the Bill how we can make it easier for that to happen. (Mr Mustard thinks Monroe wants to open up audits to a larger range of firms)

I was somewhat appalled when my noble friend Lord Tope said that we have another 24 hours of this Bill; I am only relieved that it is not all in one sitting. I look forward to the Bill being amended and improved during that process.

If you would like to know when Lord Palmer has spoken, or any other Lord or MP or about a particular subject, you can sign up here.

To hear what is said in the Barnet Council chamber and committee rooms then some are recorded by the Barnet Bugle and other recordings can be found on youtube. Always better to come along in person though, find the meetings here.

See you there.

Mr Mustard

The Friday Joke - a day early

This week's joke is provided to us by the London Councils' website and refers to the number of parking tickets issued across London in a year

They say 5 million (which is a horrific number as it is) and then list the exact number out, or so they thought, possibly in order to show us how accurate they are, unlike their parking tickets which are often the opposite, but the full number listed is nearly 5 billion not 5 million.

That must be the number they would like to issue?

If you get a parking ticket you might like to download the quick guide to appealing which is on the left hand side of the blog and explains the process in simple terms.

Good luck. Fight to the end.

Mr Mustard

(How long before the website error is noticed and corrected?)

CADDSS aim at cads aka Barnet Council's ALMO Your Choice / No choice

22 May 2013

NSL = No sick leave?

photo credit: anonymous member of public (not Helen Michael before you ask)
Mr Mustard has not spoken to this particular traffic warden and doesn't know what the medical problem is but can't believe that elf and safety allows for someone who needs both hands free to use the parking ticket equipment and to use their crutches to stay upright as well as to get about during a long shift of many hours, to be on duty. (The ever lovely & kind Queen of Parking, Helen Michael of Cafe Buzz offered her a free cup of tea and a sit down when she saw her but the traffic warden refused because her supervisor was about.) There is something really morally wrong here. The lady is being inhumanely treated.

He is amazed to see that she has been sent out on the street by NSL rather than given a desk job whilst she recovers.

Be nice to the lady if you meet her but don't let that stop you driving away before she gets the ticket stuck to your windscreen. You are under no obligation to take it from her hand. Then you have good grounds of appeal "the PCN was not served" if it does not get posted to you.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

20 May 2013

Bye bye Barnet Council (as was)

Yet more Crapita - quelle surprise

This posting has been stolen from Citizen Barnet as Mr Mustard is pretty pressed on other matters at present. Please visit her site here to make Mr Mustard feel better about himself.

"Capita - well I would never have guessed"

No great surprise that Capita, in the shape of its subsidiary Capita Symonds, are the preferred bidder for Barnet Council's second enormous One Barnet contract, Development and Regulatory Services (DRS), having already got their claws on the New Support and Customer Services Organisation contract.

Always assuming the law allows it! An appeal is pending in the Judicial Review case brought by Barnet resident Maria Nash, and all of these contracts are on hold awaiting the outcome of that.

Here is Barnet Unison's press release on hearing the news this morning about the DRS contract.

‘Capitaville’-Capita to take over more Barnet Council services
Today staff were told at a series of briefings that Capita Symonds is the preferred bidder to deliver a whole range of Council Regulatory services to Barnet residents and businesses.
 The services to be handed over to Capita include the following:
Trading Standards & Licensing, Land Charges, Planning & Development, Building Control & Structures, Environmental Health, Highways Strategy, Highways Network Management, Highways Traffic & Development, Highways Transport & Regeneration, Strategic Planning & Regeneration, Hendon Cemetery & Crematoria
Barnet Council has a number of statutory responsibilities to monitor the private sector in order to ensure the health and safety of their residents. The recent high- profile national public-health scandal about the use of Horsemeat in processed foods emphasises that private companies do not adequately monitor their own activities, leaving the public at risk. If Barnet Council is allowed to privatise these services, it will set a dangerous precedent for other councils.
Barnet Council has been promoting itself as an innovator for the future of public services by adopting the Commissioning Council model. In the last 12 months the Council has overseen a significant number of services outsourced to other providers. The full list of services are here.
John Burgess UNISON Branch Secretary said: “Barnet Council is making a huge mistake in handing over these critical services to the private sector. It is not just about the risks this brings but what it means in term of democratic accountability. Next year we have the local elections in May 2014. What options will there be for the electorate if all the council spend is tied up into complex contracts? As for all the remaining staff the message is stark: no matter how loyal you are, no matter how hard you work political dogma is dictating all services are to be outsourced. Today a number of our members have chosen to wear black armbands/ black clothing as a sign of the demise of the public sector ethos in Barnet Council.”
1. What is One Barnet? Watch this short animation http://ning.it/Qp5Adx
2. UNISON report on One Barnet DRS contract http://ning.it/11OQWlQ
3. UNISON financial report on One Barnet DRS contract http://ning.it/12mocvO
4. 100+ reasons why One Barnet is high risk and bad for residents and services http://ning.it/NAyJLY
5. 397 jobs “The true cost of One Barnet outsourcing” http://ning.it/11OSuMT

13 May 2013

ICO: bite - Mrs Angry: bark - Mr Mustard: growl

Mr Mustard expects that you have read Mrs Angry's blog on the subject of her recent battle, alongside the ICO, to get some minutes, that were intended to be published, out of the grasping hands of Barnet Council. As a regular user of Freedom of Information, although hardly at all recently, Mr Mustard felt duty bound to add one of his experiences to the publicly available information.

In relation to Barnet Council now being on the naughty step, for, in essence, not following the law, it is interesting to note what the deputy Leader, Dan Thomas, told the local paper, The Barnet Press, which you can read here:

Deputy council leader Dan Thomas said: “It will be interesting to see how we can improve performance as in January to March this year our rate for responding in time was 99.5 per cent, one of the best in the UK." (Mr Mustard is not convinced)

Of course, having frustrated Mr Mustard's best efforts to get interesting information into the public domain by embarking on a series of responses that his questions were vexatious (which was apparently a spontaneous matter that no officer will admit to positively deciding), when the questions were anodyne and simple to respond to, the number of requests to respond to had been artificially depressed thus making better performance easier.

However, although the ICO said publicly that delay was the reason there are almost certainly other factors taken into account such as there being 10 live complaints with the Information Commissioner (possibly the most of any council) and a case with the First Tier Tribunal about which more later (the ICO reminded Barnet Council last week that they were behind timetable on providing the evidence packs to all parties - Mr Mustard is on time with his legal requirements) and so Dan's "we are almost perfect" remark focused only on a narrow element of FOI law. Maybe Daniel asked officers the wrong question or officers failed to mention their various other shortcomings which were not specifically raised - we can't expect Daniel to have gone into Governance and got his hands dirty taking a good look at the actual requests, can we?

Mr Mustard received an email from the FOI section this week but let us go through the history of the request in order.

3 December 2011 (yes, 18 months ago)

Question: Please provide all minutes of, reports of and briefing papers of the Council Directors Group which have been created or presented since 1 January 2010 (contrary to possible belief, when it comes to FOI the Barnet bloggers work alone - we all want the scoop!)

7 December 2011

Question acknowledged. Response due promptly (try not to laugh Mr Mustard) but in any event within 20 working days starting the day after receipt which would be about 10 January 2012 (all those bank holidays got in the way).

6 January 2012 - holding response

I can confirm that the Council holds the information you are requesting. I have been advised that the Council Directors Group meetings are held fortnightly and that the information you are requesting relates to about 40 meetings.

There is a possibility that information contained within the papers you have requested would satisfy the criteria for exemption under the FOIA and the documents have to be looked at by a senior officer in order to determine if this is the case. Due to the volume and nature of the materials we are unable to complete this exercise within the 20 working day deadline and estimate that this will take a significant amount of time. Our approach to this request will be to release the information in stages as we work through the documents.

I apologise for any inconvenience this delay may cause you.

19 January 2012 - Mr Mustard is very helpful.

Thank you for you response.

I do not wish to waste the council's time if the information turns out not to be of great interest. Might I suggest that you redact the minutes of the first two meetings (one at once if necessary) and send them to me and then I will hopefully be able to tell if I want the subsequent minutes or not.

Do you have an estimate of what a "significant amount of time" is? It might be helpful if you time yourself, or a colleague, redacting the first set of minutes.

7 February 2012 -from the council.

Thank you for your email below. Please accept my apologies for not responding sooner.

I note that you have refined your request to the first two set of minutes and I have passed this message along with your comment to time the process of redacting the set of minutes.

I will forward the minutes to you as soon as they are made available to me.

So the council are already a month behind the 20 day deadline and Mr Mustard tends not to routinely chase the council (he does have a life!).

21 June 2012 - the council wake up

Our records indicate that the information requests below which were allocated to the Corporate Governance Directorate are still outstanding,

#1031A - Corporate Governance (Deleted Posts)
#1169 - Council Directors Group
#1223 - Procurement consultants
#1170 PWC Report Names (Internal Review)

We are aware that there may also be a few requests outstanding with other services within the council.

While we do aim to respond to requests within 20 working days we may on this occasion have missed the deadline. The council is committed to improving its ability to comply with its statutory duties under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and, to this end, has implemented a new Freedom of Information case management system along with a continuing programme of raising awareness of officers’ duties under the FOIA.

In order to ensure that we respond to all outstanding requests and close off cases on the old system, we are writing to you to ask that you confirm that you are still interested in receiving a response or in the alternative to confirm your willingness to withdraw the request.

I would be grateful if you could respond to this email before June 29 2012; if we do not receive your response; we will assume that you have withdrawn your request and we will close the case on our system. (A council simply cannot withdraw your request for you!)

I look forward to your response.

2 Hours later:

I still require a response please, Mr Mustard.

later the same day:

Thank you for your prompt response. We will aim to fully respond to all the requests within the next 20 working days. (to requests that were already well overdue!).

Please accept my apologies on behalf of the council for the delays associated with your requests.

28 August 2012: Mr Mustard notices a response has still not been received and sends an email directly to the FOI officer handling his case.

I think I have been more than reasonable in waiting nearly 6 months for this simple task to be carried out.

I don't think my behaviour could be described as bullying or harassment if I were now to send this to the ICO, do you?

In response from the council governance officer:

I am out of the office until September 6, 2012; with no access to emails. Doh!

For FOI queries/advice please email foi@barnet.gov.uk (Mr Mustard thinks that emails should not be bounced back to the customer to take action - that is partly why management exist, to ensure all correspondence is dealt with in a timely manner)

28 August 2012: Mr Mustard sends the message again to the FOI inbox.

29 August 2012: A different officer (there are only 3 of them) responds: "Thank you for your email below of which I acknowledge safe receipt, and the contents of which have been noted." which means nothing at all.

27 September 2012: Still no reply so Mr Mustard sends a complaint to the Information Commissioner (ICO) as nearly a year has passed without his simple question getting any sort of a response.

14 November 2012: The ICO writes to Mr Mustard:

When considering complaints about delayed or failed responses to information requests our priority is to ensure requesters receive a response as quickly as possible (where one has not been provided) and to monitor any persistent trends which might indicate that a public authority was routinely failing to respond within the statutory 20 working days permitted under section 10 of the Freedom of Information Act.

We monitor complaints where a serious contravention of section 10 is recorded and where persistent contraventions occur we will consider placing a public authority on our monitoring programme.

The delay in this case has been brought to the attention of our Enforcement team for their further consideration.

I have written to the public authority to provide them with a copy of your original request, reminding them of their responsibilities and asking them to respond to you within 10 working days of receiving our letter.

and to Barnet Council:

Any public authority in receipt of such a request is under a duty to respond within 20 working days of receipt. As it is the case that you have not responded but acknowledged receipt of the request, we would ask that you now respond within 10 working days of receipt of this letter.

8 May 2013: The council woke up. Is it any wonder that the ICO has put Barnet Council on the naughty step when even after a prompt from the ICO they take 6 months to provide simple copy documents.

Mr Mustard was provided with 2 sets of minutes from January 2010. Here is the first one. There is a typo in the heading stated as 2009.

What is quite revealing about these minutes is that they contain a reference to the Judicial Review of the planned removal of wardens from sheltered housing (the very basis of that type of housing is that there is a warden!) which was all over the paper at the time which is pre Mr Mustard. The attitude of the council is not to change their policy but simply to do more consultation and then carry on as planned. We can expect the same with the New Support & Customer Services Organisation 10 year contract with Crapita.

What is also interesting is that the supposed "significant amount of time" to look at the documents appears not to have been significant at all, as there are no redactions, and the council did not tell Mr Mustard the time taken to check the first 2 sets of minutes which they doubtless would have if it was appreciable.
9 May 2013: away we go again.

Mr Mustard therefore asked for the rest of the documents and the 20 days clock in which to reply promptly has been set running again by Barnet Council. You never know, by 2015 Mr Mustard might even get them.

That naughty step is going to prove very hard to get off.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

10 May 2013

Mr Mustard's social gathering - parking tickets, FOI, beer etc

The second Monday of the month is nearly upon us and so it is time for another social gathering.

If you have a parking ticket problem, bring all, and I mean all including the envelopes, of your paperwork along to be scrutinised in fine detail. If that is done the parking ticket probably won't be up to the challenge. Mr Mustard will be handing out copies of the first version of his Guide to appealing your parking ticket and taking suggestions for what else should be included.

If you just want to soak up the atmosphere of being with eccentric individuals and discuss the rights and wrongs of the world, explain the off-side rule to Mrs Angry (you may be some time) or talk about books, theatre or film, starting a blog or anything you like, do please come along. If you don't have time for dinner at home before coming along, the Bohemia do proper food, Mr Mustard has sampled the crumble - it was great.

The Antic Bohemia is situated at 762-764 High Rd, Tally Ho, London, N12 9QH which is right across the road from that well known café, Café Buzz.

a good place for breakfast at any time of day.

Until Monday then, 13 May at 7pm until about 9pm as Mr M has to go then, but you can stay until closing time.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

Keith is bang on the money

As you will have gathered this is a letter published in the Ham & High. Keith Martin is an elder statesman of Barnet and a local publisher. He has an insight into local affairs that is hard to match and was one of the occupiers of Friern Barnet library on the day it closed as naturally to a publisher of books they are important.

Mr Mustard guesses that he also holds local newspapers dear so do please visit the website and/or buy the paper. Although focused on Mampstead and Highgate (what, you never knew!) it does stray in the direction of Barnet sometimes.

Mr Mustard feels that it is likely that the irresponsible course will be followed. The appeal against the decision of Judge Underhill in respect of the NSCSO Judicial Review has now been submitted.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

9 May 2013

Greenacre Writers: 17-18 May - Truth & fiction

There are still tickets available. You don't want to miss out. Sadly Mr Mustard is already booked out for other events that weekend so can't attend but he hopes that lots of his readers will.

Greenacre Writers Literary Festival: Fri 17th-Sat 18th May 2013. 

Truth and Fiction

Greenacre Writers are delighted to confirm the authors who will be appearing at the Greenacre Writers Literary Festival:

Fri 17th May 4.30-6.30pm Friern Barnet Community Library, Friern Barnet Road, N11 3DS.
Miriam Halahmy will be running a creative writing workshop:

'So you want to write for Kids!' Creative writing workshop with author and experienced facilitator Miriam Halahmy. Miriam will offer vital insights into the world of writing and publishing fiction for nine years to teens as well as offering some writing starters to get the creative juices flowing. All levels welcome, just bring pen, paper and the energy to write! Miriam's website  Tickets £10.50

Miriam Halahmy has published short and long fiction for children, adults and teens, as well as poetry, book reviews and articles. Her debut Y.A. novel, Hidden, Meadowside Books, was nominated for the 2012 CILIP Carnegie Medal. She has published a second Y.A. novel, Illegal, Meadowside Books, 2012 and a third one is on the way. Miriam has run creative writing workshops for many years and is a mentor with Apprenticeships in Fiction, appraising manuscripts and guiding developing writers. Click here to Book Workshop 

Fri 17th May 7-10pm Friern Barnet Community Library 

Free event: Allen Ashley will be facilitating an Open Lit Mic:
Guest poet Sarah Doyle, CJ Flood and Miriam Halahmy will be appearing but this is your chance to shine too. We are opening slots to members of the writing community to showcase their work: greenacrewriters@gmail.com

Our venue for these two events is the fantastic Friern Barnet Community Library, the People's Library, which was closed by the council but has been reclaimed by the community. Come and see why. 

Allen Ashley has published nine books as author or editor. In 2006 he won the British Fantasy Society Award for Best Anthology as editor of The Elastic Book Of Numbers (Elastic Press, 2005). Well known in the science fiction and fantasy arena, he is also a successful poet and wrote under a pseudonym for Time Out London for many years. Allen's website

Sarah Doyle’s poetry has been published in various anthologies, and in magazines such as Orbis, The Dawntreader and the Poetry Society’s Poetry News.  She has been placed in several national poetry competitions. She is Poet-in-Residence to the Pre-Raphaelite Society, for whom she writes commissioned poetry and acts as a judge in their Poetry Prize; and she co-organises, co-hosts and performs in regular jazz-poetry event The Sunday Edition at Enfield’s Dugdale Theatre. Sarah's website

Sat 18th May 11-12.30pm, Trinity Church Centre, Finchley, N12 7NN 

Josie O Pearse will be running a creative writing workshop.
'Life Writing and the Writing Life'. This workshop will look at practical techniques for writing from life. From planning what to write and how to begin, through to the deeper questions that help keep your writing on track. What is this about? Who is it for? Where does it end? And how do you fit your writing into a busy schedule? Bring questions, ideas, imagination, pen and paper.

Josie O Pearse has just completed a PhD at Cardiff University in creative and critical writing. She writes sexy romances under a pseudonym, Angel Strand, who has three novels published with Random House. Josie is also an artist and experiments in graphic stories. Tickets £ 8.50 Click to book Life-writing workshop

Sat 18th May 1.30-5.30pm, Trinity Church Centre, Finchley, N12 7NN
Entrance to festival is by ticket only  £5.50Click here to get your ticket/s for Greenacre Writers Festival


Sarah Harrison is the author of twenty five books and counting. She made her name with the bestselling The Flowers of the Field and its sequel A Flower That’s Free. Both have been reissued by Orion this year, with the third in the trilogy, The Wildflower Path, coming out in September. Sarah is also an entertainer, regularly performing in an all-woman revue, and winner of Silver Stand-Up’s Best Newcomer 2013. Sarah's website
Hailed as a brilliant talent by Jeffrey Deaver and 'a deeply human voice' by Peter James, Leigh Russell writes a bestselling series of psychological crime thrillers set in the UK. Cut Short (2009 was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger Award. Road Closed (2010) was voted a Top Read on Eurocrime. Dead End (2011) was voted a Best Crime Novel on Crime Time and was a Best Fiction Book of the Year in the Miami Examiner. Death Bed (2012) joined the earlier novels on the Kindle Bestseller list, reaching No 1 for female sleuths, and appearing in the Top 50 titles on WH Smith's Travel's Bestseller Chart. 2013 sees the publication of Stop Dead, the fifth tile in the Geraldine Steel series.  Leigh's website

Gina Blaxill's first novel for young adults, Pretty Twisted, was published by Macmillan, and is an e-book best seller. Since then she has also released a second novel, Forget Me Never, with a third, Saving Silence, coming out later this year. Gina grew up in Finchley, in North London and studied English at Cambridge University, where she specialised in schoolgirl fiction and took part in a lot of musicals. These days she works in schools liaison, helping teenagers figure out the mysteries of higher education. Apart from writing she enjoys drawing comic art and exploring London and has big soft spots for dogs, stately homes and fruit. Gina on Twitter

C.J. Flood graduated from an MA in Creative Writing at UEA in 2010. Her dissertation, a section of Infinite Sky, won the Curtis Brown Award for best student as judged by a panel of agents. She was a mentee on the Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Scheme, under Bernardine Evaristo, and a recipient of an Arts Council grant. Infinite Sky, her first novel, came out in February. The Telegraph called it "a powerful and impressive debut," The Guardian said it was "brilliantly visual and full of feeling" and The Times selected it as their children's book of the week. C. J. is currently working on her next novel, which will come out in February 2014.  
C. J.'s website

Sat 18th May 4.30pm, Trinity Church, Finchley, N12 7NN

There will also be a panel with mediator, Allen Ashley, as well as guests, Alex Wheatle MBE, Dr Josie Pearse, Sarah Harrison, and Leigh Russell. They will be discussing Truth and Fiction.

Award-winning author Alex Wheatle MBE will be appearing on the festival panel, and will be the judge for this year's Greenacre Writers Short Story Competition.  

Alex Wheatle is the author of several novels, some of them set in Brixton, where he grew up.

Born in London of Jamaican parents, his first book, Brixton Rock (1999), tells the story of a 16-year old boy of mixed race, in 1980s Brixton. Brixton Rock was adapted for the stage and performed at the Young Vic in 2010. Its sequel, Brenton Brown, was published in 2011. His second novel, East of Acre Lane (2001), has a similar setting, and won a London Arts Board New Writers Award. A prequel, Island Songs, set in Jamaica, was published in 2005, and a sequel, Dirty South, in 2008. Other novels include The Seven Sisters (2002), in which the scene moves to Surrey in 1976, where four boys escape from an abusive life in a children's home; and Checkers (2003), written with Mark Parham, was published in 2003. In 2010, he wrote the one-man autobiographical performance, Uprising.Alex Wheatle was awarded an MBE for services to literature in 2008. More about Alex.

Greenacre Writers will be donating a portion of ticket sales to Trinity in May sponsored charity.

Linked event:
Dickens in Victorian Barnet. 
Sun 12th May at 11.00am. 

Guided walk with Paul Baker. Learn about Charles Dickens' connections with Finchley and the Borough of Barnet as well as local history and a touch of Victorian scandal.

Meet at High Barnet tube station outside booking office.  Walks £8.00 payable directly to Paul Baker. Please e-mail pbaker54@hotmail.co.uk  if you wish to join the walk. For more information see Paul's website