25 December 2011

Mr Mustard's Christmas message

Hello readers and thank you for tearing yourself away from the telly for a moment. Mr Mustard wants to tell you about his year. Once upon a time............

It was January 2011 and Mr Mustard wasn't even a twinkle in anybody's eye and then his Alter Ego heard that the car parking permits were going to go up in price from £40 to £100 and that visitor vouchers would rise in price from £1 to £4 he started to get interested in the workings of Barnet Council ( the law of unintended consequences in action ) as he thought the increases were outrageous and unfairly affected those residents who live inside a Controlled Parking Zone.

Alter Ego would have been badly affected by the price rises as he had managed the rebuild of his house and used 200 vouchers for the many trades who took his house back to a brick shell, added another floor and rebuilt the whole place. The proposed increase would have added £600 to the cost of the job.

Alter Ego had not been bothered by the intransigence of the planning department who do, after all, have to try and preserve the character of the area but that is a blog for another day. Alter ego had to submit 4 planning applications before he got the permission he wanted (it didn't help that for one of the them the architect submitted the wrong plan and it was passed! Alter Ego nearly built the house he thought had been passed; that would have led to an interesting conversation with the building inspector - Alter Ego gets on very well with the building inspectors who are generally sensible and pragmatic although Alter Ego is presently only refurbishing tired houses rather than radically changing them).

So here are the before and after photos of Mustard Mansions

Many local residents stopped to say hello and were very interested in the work and pleased with the improvement that was taking place and looked around the build and then the finished product and couldn't see why the council had been so difficult. Enough of the digression.

As it happened a meeting of the Chipping Barnet Residents Forum was due to take place on 22 February 2011 and in the Chipping Barnet library so only 200m from what is now Mustard Mansions. Alter ego rounded up half of the street and they all went along. The meeting was chaired by Cllr Rutter who is now the mayor. She is a lot better at cutting ribbons and planting trees than she is at chairing meetings. It was a hideous rule bound undemocratic charade of a forum. Look at what the poster advertising the meeting used to say ( funny how it has been changed )

Have your say - but only if we agree with you.

It's your meeting - except it isn't as council wallahs are the ones on the top table.

You can put questions - no not that one you can't.

Debate - they think that to debate means to tell someone what to do at Barnet Council.

Set the agenda - Mr Mustard would like to put scrap OneBarnet on the agenda but magically he won't be allowed to.

So Alter Ego and most of the rest of his street left the meeting and some went home and some went to the pub. Discussion ensued over the next few days about the meeting and what an awful spectacle it was. The good bit of the meeting was that John Dix was in the audience. Alter Ego had borrowed some information about the administrative cost of crossing patrols (a multiple of the cost of the patrols themselves)  from the Mr Reasonable blog and he nodded towards Mr Dix as he delivered the preamble to his question which he chose to cut short as the chair has cut other residents off in their prime.

Alter Ego then spent time looking at the Mr Reasonable blog and this led him to what is now the Citizen Barnet blog ( keeps us all up to date with the trade union view of things ) The Barnet Eye which has a unique and wide ranging view of things and then the one and only Mrs Angry of Broken Barnet and Alter Ego found himself checking that blog every day hoping for another hilarious story. Alter Ego was trying desperately hard not to start a blog because he could see that it would take a lot of time and he has always had a full life and because he knew he could only ever be half as funny as Mrs Angry which is, as it happens, funny enough .Mr Mustard's view of Mr Reasonable is that he is the million dollar man as he looks at the big picture.

So was Mr Mustard born out of annoyance and frustration. Mr Mustard feels he has slotted in nicely between Mrs A and Mr R with half the humour and half the amounts of money. Mr Mustard didn't really expect a lot of visits, his family, his friends and neighbours and has been humbled and surprised by his vast quantity of visitors many of them from within the security fence of the North London Business Park, the spiritual home of OneBarnet.

So Mr Mustard started to blog. His first effort was terrible and was mostly a pathetic cut and paste email response from Cllr David Longstaff, one of his, for now, ward councillors. This councillor is now universally known as Goldenarse, well by the bloggers, am not sure what his fellow councillors refer to him as behind his lower back. He quickly got better, no not goldenarse he got much worse, and daily hits went from single figures into the tens and the usual daily pageviews are now 200+ which leaves plenty of room for improvement.

Mr Mustard discovered that he was public enemy number one at Barnet Council. Always nice to be top of the pops thought Mr Mustard, who can't sing for toffee. Mr Mustard started to attend meetings. He was shocked how quickly they finished. 22 minutes was the record for half a ream of paperwork. That does leave plenty of time for bloggers to have their own committee meeting afterwards and explore areas of interest. Maybe you ought to make your meetings last longer councillors so the famous five Barnet Bloggers, as they became, have less time to pore over that interesting local government detail.

Sadly Mr Mustard missed the bully boy MetPro budget setting meeting (one must have priorities) where the big stick that councillors are fond of wielding was again in evidence. 

Back then Barnet Council didn't know who Mr Mustard was. All they had to do was look at the time and the date of the email sent by goldenarse and they could have worked it out. It became evident later on probably because they could read Mr Mustard's take on the various information he had obtained under FOI legislation.

June was an interesting month and Mr Mustard didn't even know. Barnet Council completely lost their sense of humour and filled in a complaint form and sent it to the Information Commissioner. On Friday in response to an FOI request Barnet Council told him that they didn't file a complaint, they asked for advice. You could have done that in an email Barnet Council, you chose to fill out the complaint form. You did not cross out the word complaint anywhere on the form and signed a declaration about your complaint. Mr Mustard has rejected the FOI answer and requested a proper truthful answer. The question they are avoiding is whose decision it was to send Mr Mustard to the ICO. Mr Mustard will bash on. Some of the FOI officers "get" Mustard and by answering once properly and fully they avoid a lot of grief. Mr Mustard is always polite but is capable of injecting plenty of impetus into his emails.

The ICO showed they had a sense of humour in addition to commonsense and upholding the right to freedom of speech. They referred in an email to BLOG OUTRAGE. They were pleased to see that Roger had redacted their contact details.

If only Barnet Council had stopped to drink a cup of tea and think
July saw Eric Pickles mention Mr Mustard and his fellow Barnet bloggers in his speech to the CIPFA conference and Mr Mustard learnt this from a councillor for another council who is a fan of the Mr Mustard blog. If you have a government minister on your side you cannot be doing much wrong.

The Bloggers' favourite MP - Uncle Eric
September saw the Famous Five Barnet Bloggers write jointly to The Right Honourable Eric Pickles MP about the way in which Barnet Council were failing to answer FOI, were generally obstructive, late, not publishing everything Eric said they should and generally not signing up to his openness and transparency agenda. The outcome of that was that Barnet responded by complaining that one blogger had cost the council £40,000 It didn't take the papers long to ring the other 4 whose numbers they had and work out it was Mr Mustard. Mr Mustard was flinging himself at high speed around the racetrack on 2 wheels at Portimao and one is pretty tired at the end of a day of doing that. He was missing calls on his mobile and getting emails from various journalists ( thank you especially to the Ham & High for coining the term Superblogger for Mr Mustard. All of the famous five Barnet Bloggers are superbloggers. ) and instead of sitting in the bar with his mates he was on his laptop bashing out a riposte. Cllr Thomas's figures were shown later on to be based on an average cost to reply and many of Mr Mustard's questions had been very simple ones and even worse was that Barnet Council kept no log of how long each FOI question took to answer. Governance ( or the Complaints Department as Mr Mustard now thinks of it ) was in a mess because they had laid off some long serving and efficient officers at the same time as workload was increasing. This is what passes for a good decision at NLBP.

One of Mr Mustard's FOI questions was classified as Vexatious - which was really odd as it was such an innocent question. This is the one and only time that Barnet Council have used that trick since the legislation began. They have since answeredthe question and withdrawn the accusation of vexatiousness. Mrs Angry says that Mr Mustard is not vexatious just vexing. I see on her xmas message that she has raided the website of prettyoungblondes.com ( must check if there really is such a website ) for her personal picture.

November saw Roger of the Barnet Eye uncover the story of the complaint to the ICO and it was quickly picked up by other blogs including David Hencke, the Liberal Conspiracy, Crash bang Wallace and then horror of horrors for Barnet Council and joy of joys for the Famous Five Barnet Bloggers, in the Rotten Boroughs section of Private Eye of which Mr Mustard had always been a fan and there he was in black and off white ( Private Eye make a virtue out of their simple printing process and cheap paper which all helps to keep the magazine to an absolute bargain £1.50 an issue, less than the cost of an hour's parking in Broken Barnet and 2 weeks of enjoyment ). David Hencke's blog powered Mr Mustard's blog to a record 499 pageview day.

Mr Mustard thought he had peaked and then on Wednesday out came the Crisismas edition of Private Eye and in bronze position, with a highly commended, were Barnet Council in the category of Legal Bullies of the Year (better update your CV Mr Lustig - do you suppose that anyone in the legal department of Harrow Council reads Private Eye, they might get cold feet about wanting to do Barnet's

So that was Mr Mustard's year. Just in case you think he might be a bit sad with no life, let him tell you he also motorcycled in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Holland and Italy, worked a 4 day week, grew vegetables, played in and was treasurer of the snooker league, did the pub quiz monthly, the street team even managed to win once despite the high level of beer consumption, drained half of Portugal's red wine lake single handed, started rowing again ( he tries to row 2000m before every blog in order to keep his weight down ) went to or hosted the film supper club monthly, visited a friend every week who had suffered a stroke, had a weekly language lesson and cut his sleeping down by 2 hours a day, finished the refurbishment of one house ( horrible stone cladding removed ) and recently purchased another one at auction which is now half done.

Mr Mustard's new race bike

Mr Mustard would like to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to bloggers everywhere, to all his readers and especially to his moles. Be careful out there.

In summary, for Mr Mustard it was an Annus Mirabilis and for Barnet Council an Annus Horribilis.

What will 2012 bring?

Yours festively

Mr Mustard

p.s. Mr Mustard hopes to bring you a review of 2011 in pictures on 1 January 2012, and now for a glass of Champagne ( blanc de blancs - a Barnet Council special vintage ).

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