Thursday, 26 September 2013

Barnet Conservatives Propose Council Tax Cut


Barnet Council has frozen council tax for some time now yet it was a 'top three' concern for residents in the last perception survey (which 1600 randomly selected residents take part in).  There will be various reasons for this but the fact remains it's a concern that needs to be addressed. 
 
The opposition and socialists may argue it's because residents don't feel they're getting something for their council tax. However, the same survey suggests that this is not the case: 72% of residents felt the council was doing a good job, 55%  offering value for money and 60% improving their area.
 
So the question is, do we address this concern with more of the same i.e. freezing council tax again? 
 
My view is quite simple: no, we must do something different.  Something that will send a reassuring message to tax payers.  A message that says that at least one significant cost of running a household will not be going up and up.  Cutting council tax and committing to freeze it thereafter gives residents certainty in what are still uncertain times. 


Cutting Council Tax will put £1.5million

into the Barnet economy

 
Critics will argue it's ideological as if having ideology is a disorder that needs stamping out.  Thatcher would have never sorted this country out without ideology and there are some principles which will never go out of fashion: low taxes are one of them. 
 
The ill-informed will say cutting tax can only be done by raiding reserves.  How wrong they are.  A cut would be funded by the money Eric Pickles is giving Barnet to freeze council tax; because we had planned to freeze it without central government assistance (and prior to the announcement there would be any) the extra money can now be used to cut tax next year.  The freeze was being planned against the context of significant outsourcing savings and other efficiencies, but now these factors put us in a position to cut council tax instead of freezing it. 
 
To fund the ongoing impact of lower council tax revenue (approx £1.5m) there will need to be more savings made in the future but the savings are there to be made, as the last few years have shown.  Besides, we are a growing borough one of the benefits of which is an increase in the tax base that can in itself assist finances as well as create challenges.
 
The timing will be criticised too.  An election is looming!  Nonsense.  Only this year was concern over council tax established through the perception survey results.  Only this year will the One Barnet savings start coming through because the cost of some services will be cheaper than they were last year. 
 
The 'actual amount' discounted from bills will also be attacked: it's 'only pennies'.  Apparently we should only give tax payers some money back if it's in the hundreds.  Why?  Every little helps and the collective borough-wide figure of £1.5m going back into residents' pockets is not to be sniffed at.
 
Of course, not everyone will like the proposal.  Socialists, the usual anti-council brigade and those with an axe to grind will all condemn the idea but that's what I expected.  Let them - they've never really been in touch with the wider Barnet public anyway.
 
Cutting taxes is a conservative principle, why people are surprised when conservatives actually do it is beyond me.  We can't ignore genuine borough-wide concern and Barnet's Conservatives do not intend to do so.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Delights of Finchley Church End




I’m proud and privileged to represent Finchley Church End ward, a pleasant part of Finchley with a rich history.   Much of Finchley Church End town centre is actually in West Finchley ward (the ward boundary is the tube line) but the ward still boasts a good variety of shops, businesses and services some of which are below: 

St Mary’s Church – beautiful historic church which is Finchley’s oldest.  Parts of the church building date back to the 13th and 15th centuries.  It is thought the site was used for religious purposes as far back as 600AD.  The Blue Beetle community hall is available for hire.

Finchley United Synagogue – known locally as Kinloss, a vibrant part of the community which has an impressive banqueting hall.

Parkway Patisserie – offers gorgeous pastries and cakes.  I hope the redevelopment of Gateway House sees Parkway remaining on, or close to, their current site as it’s a popular business.

The Catcher in the Rye – a cosy pub with a good selection of ales, lagers and wines.  Decent food for a pub! 

Jonny’s Barber Shop - reasonably priced barbers with lively walls.

Two Brothers Fish Restaurant – very popular and busy restaurant which also does excellent fish and chips to take away.


Avenue House Estate

Avenue House Estate - Beautiful house and grounds kept in pristine condition through the generous hard work of its volunteers and trustees.  Home to the Stephens Collection, a small museum dedicated to the ink inventor who gifted the estate to the people of Finchley.  The grounds have a café and can be enjoyed any time of the year.  Attractive function rooms and office space are available for hire.

Sternberg Centre – the largest Jewish community centre in Europe.  There’s always something going here.   The grounds include the manor house with a rich history and links to the local area.  

Finchley Cricket Club – offers a high standard of cricket facilities and is home to the local Middlesex premier league team. 

Zizzi’s – a chain restaurant which guarantees quality, tasty and reasonably priced Italian cuisine.  The lightly battered calamari and spicy calzone are favourites of mine.

Izgara  - Turkish restaurant where you will not be disappointed with the portion sizes.  The mixed grill is a must.


Windsor Open Space

Windsor Open Space – part of the Dollis Valley Green Walk, this stretch of open land is green and pleasant, particularly along the brook.  A new play area and various other improvements were added recently thanks to funding from Mayor Johnson.

Cake Create – lovely café on Holders Hill Road with a substantial menu and a personalised cake service.  Makes for a good pit stop when delivering leaflets!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Two Sides to Every Story

Barnet has its fair share of online story tellers.  Here are two examples illustrating why their stories should always be taken with a pinch (or scoop!) of salt…..

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at a Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association ‘Open Meeting’, the topic of which was ‘One Barnet’.  One reason I accepted their invitation was because it was a ‘non-political’ event. By ‘non-political’ I mean the body organising it wasn’t doing so in order to promote a particular view or as an excuse to harangue those they disagree with.  The RA simply asked me to explain One Barnet to ordinary, open minded residents in a factual format and answer questions. 
B
This was in stark contrast to a BAPS meeting where the Council Leader had no chance of a fair hearing from the assembled members of the local anti-council/anti-Conservative/anti-cuts brigade.  I’ve seen a video snippet of the event. When the picture pans out to the audience 90% can be named by anyone active in Barnet politics and you can easily predict the questions.  Their concerns are genuine, of that I have no doubt, but to pretend the audience was a gathering of ordinary, open minded residents mobilised by suddenly hearing about back office outsourcing and who could have been swayed one way or the other is misleading.  They were activists plain and simple: BAPS members, Labour party members, former Labour party members, former Lib Dems, unsuccessful candidates in the 2010 election, trade union members and their friends. 

At the Open Meeting, I explained the borough’s challenges and how the Council is attempting to address them. For most, the detail of One Barnet and the rationale behind it was interesting and, with exception of the BAPS activists in the room, it was clear none found it at all ‘radical’ or ‘controversial’.  There were thoughtful and considered questions asked but no one was saying ‘this is a grave mistake’ or ‘please stop this’, except for the BAPS members of course.  There was no widespread disapproval from the audience and I saw many nods of agreement. 

Standing at the front of the room I had the best view of the audience. Having been forwarded a BAPS account of the evening I was amused by its interpretation of events.  What they could not see, of course, were significant numbers of the audience shaking their heads every time BAPS asked a question and the rolling of eyes at the realisation these were attendees with an axe to grind.  When the issue of a referendum was raised by BAPS, one gentleman quietly muttered ‘Oh god’ followed by ‘Do shut up’!  Before anyone says, it wasn’t Cllr Harper or I!  My response to the referendum question was a summary of the speech I made at the previous Council meeting. It was clear the audience did not share BAPS’ enthusiasm for a referendum costing £200,000 and instigated by just 2% of the Borough’s population.  BAPS are blind to the fact that nobody else shares their obsession with outsourcing or One Barnet and that while a very small number of residents are interested in the technicalities of service delivery, far more simply want quality outcomes and controlled council tax.

The next day I received two e-mails from attendees I’ve not met before expressing their gratitude for my contribution.  One stated she was not a Conservative voter but would be tempted to vote for us for the first time after attending the meeting and that she felt the borough was in ‘safe hands’(ward councillors have seen the message before the usual cynics cast their doubt!).

Exactly what the other attendees thought I do not know, but I do know this: HGS residents, like the rest of Barnet, are intellectual and assertive. They would have all left me without any doubt if they disliked my presentation.  As is often the case in politics, it’s the vocal minority who dominate the airwaves.

Another example of distorted reporting is that of Barnet’s independent councillor in a recent attempt at explaining the former Stanley Road playing field situation.  In this particular ‘account’, I was described as ill-advised and only having pound signs in my eyes when considering the sale of the aforementioned site.  What the author didn’t know, understand or neglected to mention, was that I had met with Sports East Finchley some time before the CRC meeting at which I invited all bidders for the land to come up with a compromise between development and community use.  I could have advocated selling to the highest bidder, but I didn’t.  From that decision the current situation arose. 

So there you go, beware what you read and, more importantly, what you believe.  Some people will not let the truth get in the way of a good story!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Exciting news for library users in Finchley

Finchley Church End library is a well used community facility but its first floor does not offer proper disabled access and, in my opinion, it’s in great need of a refurbishment which many would rightly consider a luxury in the current climate.

I therefore welcome proposals to move the library just a short distance away into a modern, fit for purpose, DDA compliant building as part of the Gateway House redevelopment. 

If the proposal goes ahead, following public planning consultation and approval, local Councillors will ensure the move will be as smooth as possible.  Service at the current site will need to be suspended for a very short period in order to facilitate the move of stock etc. but this would be a very small price to pay for a much enhanced community facility.

Watch this space!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The juvenile Left

It must be hard being a left winger these days; defeated by Thatcherism and almost, but not completely, abandoned by the Labour Party when it finally realised there weren’t enough socialists in the country to vote them into government.  It would not have been easy for any true socialist to witness the amendment to Labour’s Clause IV during the party’s presentational shift to ‘blue Labour’.  Clause IV may mention ‘socialism’ but not in the way the old version did.

Labour, however, did not let down socialists with its thirteen year spending bonanza which now, thankfully, is being significantly curbed.  Socialists must be wincing at the public spending cuts, welfare reform and general disdain for left-leaning principles which put this country’s public finances in such a mess.

So there are plenty of things for socialists to protest about at the moment and the passing of Baroness Thatcher reminded them how well they were beaten some 30 years ago.  How did they react to her death?  Were they keen to show they’ve ‘got over it’ and can now present us with socialism for the 21st century?  Or were they keen to resuscitate 30 year old arguments and grudges?  We all know the answer to that one which reminded me of some advice from an old friend, “never bring up an argument you’ve lost!”

During the last couple of weeks, a significant number of people on the left let their comrades down by how they chose to react to the death of the former Prime Minister.  Rather than simply state their opposition to Thatcher’s policies, many socialists gleefully expressed their pleasure that a woman who had the audacity to implement policies they disagreed with has died.  It’s a childish mindset beyond belief: ‘I disagreed with her. I thought her policies were wrong and I didn’t like their impact, therefore, I’m glad she’s dead’.  Many on the left have plunged to a new low in a desperate attempt to get some false sense of ‘revenge’ over the Conservative standard bearer who democratically and successfully led the charge against them.

In Barnet, we’ve become accustomed to the juvenile left, a faction of socialists and anti-council activists who resort to name calling, personal attacks (as opposed to just attacking policy), trivial pursuits and scaremongering.  Not all on the left act like this of course but a significant number do.  Small groups have tried to halt meetings of democratically elected councillors by uncouthly shouting and screaming.   Apparently, not doing what a small group of screamers and shouters want is undemocratic!  They completely miss the fact that the councillors they scream at have been elected by thousands of residents who clearly wanted a Conservative administration and expect it to do what Conservatives do; run efficient services and keep council tax under control.  Protest is one thing, but interfering with the right of elected members to conduct official business by screaming at them is quite another. 

Irrationality, uncouth tactics and comments, name calling, personalisation of arguments, speculation giving over to ‘stirring’ – these are the tools of many on the left borne out of desperation, defeat and the knowledge their policies don’t really strike a chord with the majority of people in this country and this borough.  In British politics, this sort of behaviour comes with the territory and is water off a duck’s back for those of us used to it.  The only other place it’s expected is the playground.  What the practitioners of juvenile politics don’t appreciate, though, is that their methods backfire: any ordinary resident witnessing such childishness will run a mile from them and their ‘ideals’ – and that applies to those on the right as well as the left.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Finchley's First Lady

Baroness Thatcher, Finchley’s first lady MP, will be sorely missed by many local residents and members of Finchley and Golders Green Conservative association.  Residents and conservative activists saw a different side to the ‘Iron Lady’; a warm, caring, thoughtful mother and dedicated MP who also happened to be the best post-war Prime Minister we’ve ever had. 

Even after she stepped down as MP in 1992, Baroness Thatcher remained interested in the area and regularly saw old friends.  Not too long ago, I enjoyed a chat and cup of tea with her at Avenue House where she was obviously very pleased to be back in Finchley.  

For me, her passing symbolises the slow loss of a generation of great, heavyweight politicians.  She told it like it was and stuck to her beliefs regardless of what the latest focus group said or how loud the vocal minorities screamed at public meetings and the picket lines. 

Some of her critics have said awful, distasteful and childish things the last couple of days and I will not give them attention they don’t deserve except to refer you to this excellent article explaining their motive.  These people hate Thatcher because she defeated them.  The public at large backed her, they wanted the leadership and direction she so strongly provided.


Baroness Thatcher was inspirational and she made a huge positive difference to the UK and the world.  Without her perseverance the 80s would have been a repeat of the 70s with Britain never making the transition from a limping laughing stock to a major world economy. 

Baroness Thatcher is an example to all in public life; if you believe in something and know it to be the right way forward, you must persevere, stand firm and not let the vocal minority and vested interests detract you.  May she rest in peace.
 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Communist Cuba outsources!

Cuba is a beautiful country where I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some very enjoyable holidays.  Its coastline rivals those of the Maldives and Bahamas and it has a rich history and culture. Its people are warm, friendly and welcoming.  Interestingly, it was, for a short period, part of the British empire until we swapped it with Spain for Florida.  

Nowhere in the world can you replicate the atmosphere of a beautiful beach (or the rustic Floridita bar in Havana) and a live salsa band enjoyed with a factory-fresh Cohiba and a Havana Club mojito.

Cuba is also one of the last bastions of communism.  Pretty much everything is state-owned and there are many disgraceful restrictions placed on its population.  As is inevitably the case with communism, it’s a flawed and dying concept and in Cuba it’s only surviving thanks to Chinese and Venezuelan subsidy filling the vacuum left by the Soviets. 

The situation in Cuba is far from ideal and my fondness of the country is not an endorsement for what goes on there politically and socially.  Tourism helps the population in practical economic and lifestyle terms and I have no doubt the population seeing the freedoms of its visitors helped with the abolition of certain controls.

Things are starting to relax since Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother but, even when he was in charge, Cuba had the sense to outsource in an area where the state was not expert.

Cuba’s hotels are state-owned but even Fidel realised the state could not run them successfully.  So he outsourced the running of them to mainly Spanish and some French hotel chains that do a very good job.  Yes, that’s right, you heard me correctly: a communist country outsources a significant part of a major industry and the companies concerned give the state an income and make a profit for themselves!

If communist Cuba can see the benefits of outsourcing, where does that put Britain’s opponents of it on the political spectrum? 

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

So how come you're a conservative?


Some people struggle to believe that a conservative can emerge from the Labour heartland of South Wales.

Like many residents of Barnet, I was born outside the Borough.  I grew up in 'Kinnock country' (he was my MP) and it's true that many people in the valleys vote Labour.  Mind you, that trend is decreasing at a significant pace.

As a former Welsh minister once said, we are a product of our genes and experiences.  Conservatism is in my blood - my grandfather was a rare breed; a conservative miner who was proud of the 'working class' label as he believed it signified his hard work.  He did a shift down the mine followed by a shift as a bus conductor because he wanted to give his family the best start in life.  He certainly did not think wealthy neighbours should be taxed more so he could receive ‘tax credits’ or that the best way to increase pay was to go on strike.  His aspiration drove his work ethic and it filtered down the generations; I was also a rare breed amongst my friends having three paper rounds although that can’t be compared to my grandfather’s sheer hard graft.

So it's in my blood but, growing up in a Labour area, my experiences suffocated any chance of Labour capturing my support.  I saw for myself what old Labour was really like.  I saw Labour councillors getting the best council houses yet they had campaigned to stop their aspiring neighbours becoming home owners under Thatcher’s right to buy.  Cliques of Labour councillors who had council staff pass by them public booking requests for the bowls pavilion so they would have first choice.  I saw the childish behaviour of some former miners towards those who, many years earlier, broke the picket lines because their children were hungry and their homes were being repossessed.  The right to strike meant more than the right to work.  No resentment against Scargill though, who, most reasonable people now accept, led the miners to certain and swifter defeat with his ill-judged tactics.  Those were the examples of à la carte socialism I saw and heard when growing up and they repulsed me.   
   
The Labour Party and its supporters who wanted to hold the country and government over a barrel for higher pay or unfair job protection, who wanted never ending welfare, who didn’t want others to own their home, who thought grammar schools were elitist and held onto outdated socialist principles – they all helped the Conservatives recruit me and many like me. 

My first contact with the Conservative Party was made when, as head boy of my school in 1997, I stood as the Conservative candidate in a mock election.  Nobody wanted to represent the Conservatives!  My history teacher light heartedly asked if I would fill the vacancy and provide some competition to the rest of the younger candidates from the year below (they had no exams that year).  At that point in my life I hadn’t seriously given any thought as to which party I identified with but it sounded like fun.

As I read the Conservative manifesto to help write my speech, I found myself agreeing with the narrative and those policies I could understand.  My wider research established the mess of the 70s and the leaps Britain made under 18 years of Conservative government.  The economy was strong but stronger still was the irrelevance of record and the focus on individual scandals and personalities, the freshness of Blair and the very fact the ‘Tories had ruled for 18 years’.  Apparently it was time for change and things could only get better.

Fashionable at the time was the concept that all wrongdoings, particularly crime and social inequity, stemmed from ‘under investment’ in public services.  I was dubious about that then and 13 years on, following Labour’s spending bonanza, the same problems existed with many getting worse. 

Growing up in an area of predominantly low income I saw families with the same start in life achieve very different outcomes.  I thought it was an insult to the poor to suggest their income bracket meant they were more likely to become criminal and dysfunctional.  Many people in the valleys prove that much of it is down to attitude, choice and perseverance.

For me, the Conservatives stand for aspiration, responsibility, small government and fairness.  Labour’s language attempts to promote such ideals however their policies actually end up creating unfairness, large government, dependency on the state, a false sense of entitlement and even resentment.  I could see that aged 16 and nothing has persuaded me otherwise since. 
 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Balance

Some people have said there aren’t enough conservative blogs in Barnet so I thought I’d try and help balance things out.  It will be interesting to see how many people actually read this.