Meeting New High Barnet Councillors
Transcript of meeting before AGM on 5 July 2022
Meeting 5th July 2022
Bull Theatre, 66 High Street, Barnet EN5 5SJ
Address to members of the Barnet Residents Association, followed by Questions and Answers
Cllr. Barry Rawlings
Cllr Emma Whysall
Cllr Paul Edwards
Chaired by Mr Gordon Massey
CLLR RAWLINGS, Leader of the Council: Thank you for inviting me. I will be fairly brief because I have found I learn by listening, not by talking. You are the people who know what is best for High Barnet and it is you who can advise the council officers what needs doing.
One of the things we want to do is work with local people because you can find local solutions for local problems which means getting the officers out of Colindale and on the street. So if there is a highways issue we need to get a highway engineer down here and with local councillors and local residents walk the area and see where the problem is.
Another thing we will be doing everywhere is, with the local police and community safety officers, ask where people feel unsafe. The Residents Association will be one of the people we will ask. It often feels unsafe at night and it probably affects women and girls more than men but we will ask local people, then do a walk around with the police and community safety officers with the people who are concerned. I did this in my local ward before the election and we found out some simple things. For example, we trimmed back a tree which was covering a light over a bus stop. People were avoiding that bus stop at night because it was in darkness. Another one was an alley behind a row of shops and two of the daughters of the people we asked called it “rape alley”. There was no evidence of crime there but that was how they viewed it. So we got a gate put up and had a mirror put up so people could see what was round the corner.
It is not all about CCTV, although we are putting another £2 million into CCTV.
There is a bottom line, there is no fund of new money, but often you can solve problems quite easily if you are prepared to talk to people rather than solve the problem behind a desk on a computer in Colindale by looking at maps.
So that is one trend I hope you will see, more council officers on your streets talking to you working out what we can do.
Another thing is that there will be named community safety officers, and that is not a police officer but somebody responsible for flytipping (and I don’t mean I blame them for doing it) and eco-crimes, so you will have in High Barnet one named person you can talk to about antisocial behaviour, about flytipping, about graffiti. We think people need to have a name. There are often systems in place but they are pretty anonymous. You phone the switchboard, get put through to someone who may or may not be there, and if you try and chase up the phone call you get put through to somebody else. It becomes very remote.
I don’t know the answers to all the problems. I am not going to lie to you, I don’t know all the answers, but some of the answers in High Barnet you are better placed to know about, so it is about working together to find solutions.
A couple of other grander things is that we have decided to bring Estates and Planning in-house. I don’t think Planning should be run by a private company. I am not going to complain about private companies but I will say the difference is in four years’ time you can throw us out, you can contact us, Capita is a private company and their legal responsibility is to their shareholders, not to the residents. We think for something as important as planning it is for the residents to scrutinise. One thing I did find out when I became Leader is, I didn’t think I had friends amongst developers but within a week I had half a dozen getting in touch asking for meetings, including TfL’s property department asking to talk about the eight plans for Barnet. I need to talk to them.
We have put in some modifications to the Local Plan, which I am sure the Residents Association will look at. One thing is we will have a new planning policy on height and density. Very tall buildings are over 14 storeys, you put 14 storeys in Colindale and they look like a terrace because everything else is 14 storeys, but you put them in High Barnet and they will stick out like a sore thumb. It is about changing the policy so you build within the context of the area.
This applies to Planning, Building Control and also Estates. So if it is a council building, council officers will be responsible, and through them we will be responsible for what goes right and what goes wrong. To let you know, I am enough of a politician, if things go right, I will be claiming the credit, if things go wrong it will be the local councillors’ fault!
We want a new relationship with the people. We want people to be involved and take some responsibility for the area. It is not just about blaming people.
Somebody was complaining about the amount of litter in North Finchley. I said to them, “We have the responsibility for clearing up the litter but the blame is on the people who drop the litter.” I saw some people drop litter recently, they were actually sitting on a litter bin having a kebab and dropping the litter on the ground, even though the top of the litter bin was nearer to them than the ground. You just think, “Why?”
One thing is about changing bad behaviour. Another thing is working with residents. There are some groups picking up litter and the council can help with that.
We are running on probably less than half the money we were ten years ago, but we still have a responsibility to get the basics right, to make sure potholes are not used instead of sleeping policemen as a road control device. They are dangerous, especially to cyclists. Broken paving slabs are annoying but they are physically dangerous to people who have a sight or mobility disability.
I am not going to say we will fix every pothole or every broken paving slab within a day, but we will let people know when those streets will be done and we will expect you to tell us if those streets are not done in time or done to a poor quality. Even when they are filled in, it is likely they will return in the same place, and I would rather have high quality repairs which are tracked. Nobody in the Council tracks work to see it is done properly. Even if that means it will be more expensive, it will last a bit longer. I don’t want a revolving door of repairs at the same place because that costs more money in the long run.
When it comes to the council tax, because there is a cost of living crisis and fuel prices have gone up, next year we will work out what the council tax should be and we will take off 1 per cent and give that back to residents because we will all be having difficult times. There are people on fixed incomes – and I am getting to the age when I’ll be on a fixed income – and there are rises in fuel duty (sic), rises in inflation , food prices, everything is going up, and we will work out with officers how we can do that and how is it going to be done without affecting services.
I will give one example and then I’ll hand over. The first thing we did on our budget, we changed the budget and we changed the number of committees, we took out some of the payments to vice-chairs who don’t do anything, under the Conservatives the councillors’ allowances went up 1.5 per cent, we have put that back, so out of our own allowances we have saved £115,000. Over 4 years that is £460,000 which we are putting back to help pay for some of this.
That is where we are. I am happy to come back to another AGM and you can say that I said something about potholes but there are more than ever. I haven’t got all the answers but part of the solution is working with people who know the area, live in the area, have invested in the area and want it to improve. That is my aim.
And after 4 years, when it comes to the next election, I hope people say, “We have had more fun under Labour”. Do you know we have no art and culture policy. We are here in a theatre but Barnet is probably the only place which does not believe arts and culture are an important part of life. So it is about improving what is available, looking at festivals, respecting the heritage (and this is where High Barnet is a very special place when it comes to heritage) having more exciting project, using theatres more, having plays in the park which every other borough does but we do not. Funnily enough, they have done a big public health study nationally and identified five things needed to improve mental health and one of them is to have more fun, so if we can improve mental health and enjoy ourselves, that is what we should be doing.
I will have some of the answers but I don’t promise to have the answer to everything. (Applause)
CHAIR: We have a number of questions which have been submitted by email to our Chairman, Ken, so I will start with those and then when we have dealt with those we will throw it open to the floor.
I will amalgamate two questions from Margaret Williams and Jaida Caliskan, who lives in Potters Bar, about the 84 bus. “Can you assure us you are well and truly aware of the difficulties that the withdrawal has caused to residents’ lives, particularly those living at the northern end of Barnet?” Jaida Caliskan says, “My son attends Barnet College in Wood St and has to resort to walking to and from our home in Potters Bar to the College, 3 hours each way. Have all options been properly considered such as a limited hopper service or an extension to an existing route?”
CLLR RAWLINGS: I have had one or two emails about this, and there are one or two people who won’t let me forget it. One of the most important issues in High Barnet is the buses. It came as a surprise to us; we don’t get informed of these things. Something needs to be done and I have a meeting with TfL the week after next. TfL are not the easiest people to get anything out of. They say they have no money so they are not looking to subsidise, but taking on a new bus route which starts at Potters Bar and comes here (and we can look at where it should go to cover most people) seems the most sensible thing. There is the garage in Potters Bar, there is the 134 which starts at North Finchley and is parked at Potters Bar, so there is that journey every 15 minutes in the morning which goes past the College. There are some things we need to say and try to talk some sense into TfL.
But it is not just the 84 bus, it is how buses operate around High Barnet. You can see where buses go by looking at the state of the roads. The roads were built years ago and were not designed to take heavyweight vehicles and you can follow the ridges in the roads, so there needs to be a more comprehensive look at where buses should go and where buses should park. There’s also where people are more than 400 yards from a bus stop and so on, which has to be looked at, so people in Hadley are nowhere near buses.
But the whole of the Potters Bar one, because there is a lot of movement between us, is very important. The decision was not taken here, it was taken in Hertfordshire and they will say, “Why are we subsidising things outside Hertfordshire?” Nobody has told me what the saving is.
Perhaps it is time to comprehensively look at all the bus routes, what improvements we can make and whether they should be stopping in other places. I know there is a bus which goes down Alston Rd and down Salisbury Rd and these roads are not designed for buses but you have a lot of narrow roads because of when the area grew, which were not built for this amount of traffic but this amount of traffic exists.
It is affecting air quality too. One thing which has always worried me, when you look at buses, is where their exhausts are. They are at buggy height so the worst pollution affects the smallest lungs. Those buses need to go over to electric or hydrogen and that is the plan. If they go over to hydrogen, you need new bus garages or to convert bus garages. Let’s put those these things together: where would be your preferred routes if money was no object, if it is using the existing number of buses, where would be the better routes and better bus stops, and how do we ensure we are not cut off from Potters Bar.
I could say, “Make Barnet great again and put a wall up between us and Hertfordshire”, but that does not work. People have relatives or have to travel to work and also High Barnet gains from people coming from Potters Bar to the College and the Spires.
I am meeting TfL and it is part of the conversation. I do not think those either side of me will let me forget about the need for better bus services.
CLLR EDWARDS: We were involved in the campaign to stop the cut in the 84 services and recently, with Hertfordshire County Council cutting the whole of that service from St Albans to here, with the local pressure they relented a little and stopped it at Potters Bar. I have to say that was a cynical political act on behalf of Hertfordshire County Council and now we have no bus service between here and Potters Bar. A lot of people need to go to the hospital there and no longer have public transport to do that. Obviously we have a problem, and as Barry has explained we need to find a solution. I cannot promise something at the moment that we have no control over but we are trying hard to find a solution. I think it is a disgrace how it happened and the speed it happened, with no regard whatsoever to the impact it will have on local people here who need that service to get to the hospital.
CLLR WHYSALL: Paul and I get an email about the loss of the 84 bus every day, if not every couple of hours. We are acutely aware of the problem and we have been talking to Anne Clarke as well, our Assembly Member, and what she can do at City Hall with Sadiq, so it is a very joined up pincer movement on TfL from all sides. The fact there is no bus north of the Spires any more is appalling and it is certainly something we are acutely aware of and we are working to try and fix it if we can.
CLLR RAWLINGS: I think what it comes to is, do we fight over the 84 and may not get anywhere because it is a Hertfordshire decision, or do we get another bus service maybe linked to the Spires and Potters Bar because that is where the garage is. If so, where do we want it to go and what are the important places to link up. The way it works is you write to your local councillors, they contact me and I have a go at TfL. If we can offer TfL, “Forget the 84 but here’s a new route where the passenger numbers make it a profitable route”, perhaps that is the way forward. So you let me know the route you think is best and I will try and make it happen. I am not going to promise and let you down, but I will promise I will try and make it happen, and I will get back to you and feed back to you, whether it is good or bad news, but help me make the right arguments.
CHAIR: The next question is from Malcolm Emmerson and he is concerned about the staff at Barnet General, Chase Farm, Finchley Memorial and Edgware Hospitals, who have to use their cars to get to work and have staff carparking spaces who are not well paid and therefore driving an old car who could be severely impacted by the proposed extension of the ULEZ because they would have to pay £12.50 to drive their cars for every shift they do. The consultation on the extension of the emissions zone to the boundary of Greater London runs to 29 July, is Barnet Council going to support or oppose that extension?
CLLR RAWLINGS: Barnet Council are certainly answering and bringing it to the Environment Committee. I have not seen sight of it yet but I think there will be concerns it is coming too quickly. I am guessing but they will probably say they can see the benefits in the longer term on air quality and they will have done the calculation that, if it is like the last one, over 90% of people have cars which are compliant. I don’t have a car which is compliant so come next October I can’t drive my car off my driveway. If I tell you my car still has a cassette player, you will know how old it is.
The aim to improve air quality is right but I think there are three things about it. First, it is happening a lot quicker than the first one, when they had months and months of consultation.
Secondly, there is no scrappage scheme and that is vital. If you remember before, when they were bringing in the congestion charge, people could get up to £2,000 to replace their cars as part of the scrappage scheme. That is certainly needed. The Government asked the Mayor, if you want money to keep Transport for London going you have to raise more money, what are your schemes for raising money, and they put forward four schemes including charging people for coming into London. Because of the M25 there are relatively few slip roads so you could work out who was coming in quite easily. One of the things was extending the ULEZ to the M25, and Grant Shapps said that was the only one they would agree. The Mayor really wanted the road tax. Road tax raised in London in theory has to be spent on roads, but every year £530 million goes outside London and is not spent in London. That would have been the ideal solution but the Treasury preferred to keep the money.
ULEZ is coming, I know it will have an effect because I am one of the 4 or 5% of people with a car not compliant so it won’t affect every driver, just a small proportion, but maybe they are poorer people who don’t change their car so often and so it may well affect the staff at hospitals. I don’t know the answer. It is not so much Finchley Memorial because of the North Circular Road. Barnet General, it might do, but then the Health Service can give loans to help people update their cars.
I haven’t got the answer. This was something put forward by the Mayor and the Government has said, “Yes”, and as soon as they said yes it was going to happen. I could say the Government is wrong to push it through in 16 months after they said it, it needs 3 years, and it needs a scrappage scheme so people can update their cars.
We all want cleaner cars and fewer emissions. I haven’t got the perfect answer but it will happen. In theory, if I don’t change my car by next October it will cost me £12 every time I drive off my driveway.
CLLR WHYSALL: I sat on the Environment Committee and this came up at our last meeting and I understand a submission is going in about not cutting Barnet in half, which is where we currently are with ULEZ. The Borough is divided by ULEZ and that was the policy before the election with the old administration and the new administration. The problem is the lack of scrappage scheme, and the fact the Government is not funding TfL after Covid and the huge reduction in income for TfL after the Lockdowns. I think this is the only major western city which doesn’t have government funding of its transport system and so the money has to come from somewhere and we won’t be able to get a bus through to Hadley if there is no money in TfL. It is something I know Alan, who is leading on Environment, is thinking about as he drafts the response.
CLLR EDWARDS: I read a really interesting article in The Times yesterday. Denmark is heading towards being the first European country within the next 4 or 5 years to have totally non-fossil-fuel driven cars, and in fact in the docks are some of the electric cars waiting to be supplied to people. I don’t know if anybody here has even tried to buy an electric car but (a) there is a long waiting list of something like 10 months and (b) it is really expensive. What the Danish Government is doing is paying for a scrappage scheme, giving an incentive for people to shift from fossil fuels to electric vehicles. What we have here is a situation where there is no interest by Central Government to incentivise people to change their vehicles. It is a really difficult one, isn’t it, but as somebody who is responsible for public health on the Council there are issues with pollution and the more people suffer from pollution the more demand there will be on the health and social services so we need something to be done. At the moment it is just laissez faire and that is not going to solve the problem.
CHAIR: I think the message I am getting is we have to gear ourselves to ULEZ coming in and not that far into the future. I suspect when it does hit there will be ructions and you will have a lot to deal with.
A question from Jo Coelho is quite a simple question but I will widen it out a little. He says he lives in Fitzjohn Avenue and the road is in a terrible state with numerous craters, are there any plans to re-surface it? I will widen it out: yes, we know the Highways Budget has struggled for many years and the money available for this kind of work has been really squeezed, but we have scrutinised the road re-surfacing programme over many years and we are often utterly perplexed that roads in reasonable order are re-surfaced while roads like Fitzjohn are apparently ignored.
CLLR RAWLINGS: I can’t explain that. I know of one road which is in two different wards because it is a boundary road and they are doing one side of the road but not the other, and you think, “While you are there do the other side, it will save money in the long run.” That is an example of where the best way of getting change is to bring out the Highways Engineers (because they do the pavements now) and get them to walk around with local residents. A survey is done, not every year, by an outside organisation and they say, “This pavement is Level 3, this one Level 4, this one Level 5”, and then Barnet’s Highways people go to see these roads, and often it changes. Because of the price of housing and Covid, there are a number of people who are having extensions and loft conversions and this has increased the number of skips used in Barnet, and skips break up pavements. I am not blaming people. Also potholes tend to grow. We are very lucky we haven’t had a bad winter because when winter ice gets in, the cracks widen, and some of them are very deep and it goes through the aggregate as well.
I am happy to walk around with the Highways Engineers on some of these roads with some of the people, but if a person wants me to explain the order in which things are done, I haven’t a clue. I live on Friern Park and actually a road next to it is far worse and you ask, “Why have you patched those three potholes but there are six further down that are left alone.” They all have the white chalk around them and marked for being done but the other six are still there eight months later. I can’t explain that. I don’t have that level of logic to know why it happens.
We have in the budget, and the Council have agreed, another £1 million for pavements and potholes. I won’t say that is a drop in the ocean, it will make a noticeable difference, but the reality is that things will get done in three years rather than four years. If we can find more money from reserves, we will, because if you do these things properly they should last 30 years and that saves us money every year on doing little bits here and there and it is something we are investigating in the future.
There are other things as well. At a previous meeting somebody was saying, “If you go down St Albans Road using a wheelchair, you’ll end up in the road because of the camber”. Things like that shouldn’t happen. There should be places of safety and islands where people can cross safely. It is a huge job and will take time and, again, people who live on these roads know best, let them explain it to the Highways Engineers to put it higher up when the work gets done.
These two councillors probably know exactly when roads are done.
CLLR WHYSALL: We know nothing about this because Fitzjohn is in Underhill, the other ward! But we have had it in terms of Salisbury Rd and we don’t understand why it wasn’t down for re-surfacing when Sir Sydney Chapman Way was. We have had these discussions with Highways officers quite recently.
CLLR EDWARDS: We had a big campaign in Salisbury Road but there was some game playing going on there because they thought TfL should pay for it and TfL weren’t going to pay for it, so the road just got worse and worse. Those houses were built in the late 19th century and so was the road and one of the Highways Engineers explained how it was built in the 19th century and nothing has happened since then so they are not built for heavy vehicles, whether buses or lorries delivering to the Spires. I had a conversation with the Head of Highways, Ian, after we got elected because obviously we were involved with working with people on Salisbury Rd because of the issues there, and I asked how much it was going to cost to properly re-surface from Alston Rd to Stapylton Rd so it would last for 30 to 40 years, and he said probably £600,000, so there is the more than half a million we have put in.
That is the real challenge we are faced with. We have to look at roads in a more strategic way and see the impact they are having in all the community. I know Fitzjohn Avenue and it is a steep road and there are potholes everywhere and also broken pavements. My own wife fell on a broken paving stone 5 or 6 weeks ago and required surgery for broken bones in her wrist and that was because the pavements were not maintained properly.
I am in charge of social care and I thought that was bad but they have been protected when you compare it with Environmental Services and Highway Services who have taken the biggest cuts in the cuts which have been implemented by the Government in the last ten years. There is a big job of work to be done. We cannot do it without the help of Central Government and they are going to have to pull their finger out to make our roads good.
We will have to prioritize which ones need doing first and it will be a programme of works, but Barry is right, we don’t know how they decided in the past but hopefully we will get a better handle on it with officers in the future.
CHAIR: When you have a quiet winter’s evening, maybe you could ponder how Highways sort out their programme, and come up with something better.
Steve Hodgkiss has raised something which has been drawn to our attention. “The railings on the pedestrianised crossing outside the police station were badly damaged some months ago.” He asks when will the work get done, and you probably don’t know the answer to that, but the point he makes is what is the policy on damaged street furniture, does the Council wait for the insurance claim to be settled or does it repair and then recover the cost from the insurers?
CLLR RAWLINGS: I think they tend to wait. You could say the logic is you repair something straight away and you use the invoice for that work for the insurance claim, although you do have to get three quotes sometimes. I think they wait but we can chase that point up and ask why it hasn’t been done.
On some of these questions, if I get in touch with you, Gordon, you can put the answer in your next magazine.
CHAIR: Yes, good idea.
The next question is from Tricia Gay, a director of the Rainbow Centre, who is present. “Due to the regeneration of the Dollis Valley, we are having to leave the Rainbow Centre on 30 September. We have been offered the old cricket pavilion on Barnet Lane as a replacement but it needs to be fully renovated before we can move in. This means there will be a period of time when we will in effect be homeless. Is there any possibility of us being able to stay at the Rainbow Centre until the pavilion is ready?”
CLLR RAWLINGS: I will have to find out and come back on that. I thought the agreement was that the Rainbow was in the last phase of the building work and that wasn’t for quite a while.
TRICIA GAY: My understanding is we have to leave on 30 September and that is final. Countryside won’t enter into any negotiation whatsoever. My point is, if they are not going to knock it down why can we not then have a month or two months’ tenancy agreement so we can ensure we deliver services to grassroots people on the Dollis Way. There is no focus on moving to the pavilion so there will be a gap and that is what we are trying to minimise, the disruption to things like the food bank we run and all the other stuff.
CLLR RAWLINGS: I have always been very impressed by the work there, even before I was a councillor. This is the first I have heard of it, to be honest. We can find out what is going on but that seems wrong, you should not be asked to move out.
CLLR EDWARDS: I had some discussions with Steve Verrall about this before the election and I am surprised to hear what you say, so I will look into this tomorrow morning and find out what is happening. We think you provide a really good service and we don’t want to see a gap, so I will get in touch with Steve.
TRICIA GAY: Thank you very much.
CLLR RAWLINGS: It isn’t an excuse but you will be surprised how often that happens, a resident telling us what happens, or reading about it in the paper, or from a journalist, rather than the officer concerned, so we need to change the culture in Barnet Council.
CHAIR: You will let Tricia know but let us know too.
CLLR RAWLINGS: We will reply to Tricia but, as the question has been asked in public, we will let you know so you can put it in your Newsletter.
CHAIR: On social services from Margaret Williams. “Has thought been given to the wider implications of a considerable portion of older people experiencing, or heading for, an isolated existence with extreme challenges to reach the essential services or social activities. This would require more input from social services.” This is about the cost to older people of getting around and whether there is a need for any more help on that.
CLLR EDWARDS: One of the things we are committed to doing is trying to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible. What we noticed during the pandemic was there was less demand for services because people did not want older people to go into hospital or residential care and maybe never see them again, and this is now changing, and the demand for our services specifically amongst older people has increased considerably over the last six months, as has demand from the National Health Service to discharge them and place them back in homes. We have some respite facilities to do that.
In the long term, we are committed to working more constructively with people in the voluntary sector to keep people in their own homes. Today I was in the Age UK Barnet facility in Finchley and there was a dementia group there and they were fantastic. All the songs they were singing were from my generation so I am getting worried, but there is good work going on in the community and we value the voluntary sector’s contribution to that but there is a challenge because there is a growing elderly population in Barnet. We have put some more money into the adult social care budget this year to try and deal with some of the pressures and to get some innovative development but I am not going to sugar-coat this, there is a challenge ahead. I will say to those of us who still pay national insurance, that 1.25% increase was sold to you to solve the crisis in adult social care, to quote Boris Johnson, but the fact is 97.3% of that money collected is going into the National Health Service so very little is coming back to local authorities to deal with the growing crisis of dealing with older people. I am sure everyone sitting here would want to stay in their own home for as long as possible and we need good quality services. We are doing some work with Barnet College about training people who go into people’s homes because it is not seen as a job worth doing. People would rather stack shelves in Tesco’s because there is no status for people caring for people at home, unlike being a nurse in the NHS with much better professional training. We are trying to pilot some stuff here with local employers employing people looking after the elderly in their own homes but it is only early days at the moment. I don’t know if I have answered your question but if you have any ideas, you can get my email address on the Council website for improving and keeping people safe in their own homes. We are open to ideas and innovation.
MARGARET WILLIAMS: That was my question and it is all very serious stuff but the basis of staying independent is public transport. This is one of the reasons I was pointing that out again, if people can stay independent for as long as possible, they might not be able to drive but at least they can get on a bus.
CLLR RAWLINGS: I agree, it is partly to do with that and partly to break down loneliness because loneliness makes their life far worse.
The other thing about a change of attitude is, yes, there are people who need help and support but there are children and young people who need that too, so it is seeing older people as an asset to the community rather than a burden. People have things to offer all throughout their lives and it is about giving them that opportunity. We found that through the pandemic. A lot of the food bank deliveries and so on were by older people who are still part of the community. It is not about people being victims but what people can offer. Some people are more vulnerable and some people need extra help, but everybody can offer something. You are right, it is about getting out and about, about meeting people. In my case, what helped me get through the whole pandemic, during which my Mum died in a residential home, was having four grandchildren, having a bit of Facetime with them when you’re brought down to earth by your grandchildren talking about naughty germs. It is about breaking down that social isolation. People deteriorate if they feel they are imprisoned by four walls and have no future. If you give people at whatever age something to look forward to, friendship, social events and so on, that is when you start helping people remain independent. Independence is important. None of us want to feel a burden.
As I say, I went through things during the pandemic with my Mum which were very difficult. I’ll tell you what the worst thing was, going to a funeral where only 9 of us could go. I went down to Frinton where she lived and only 9 of us could go. If we had included the grandchildren and cousins, we would have gone over the 30 limit. So I went down and just drove straight back, there wasn’t that time to mourn. So it really annoyed me, and I will be political here, that on the date of my Mum’s funeral there was a party at No 10, it was just inappropriate. I’m sorry but to me it’s personal. I’m sorry if that sounds like a party thing but, believe me, if it had been a Labour Prime Minister I would have said the same. That is not how you treat people when you make the rules.
CHAIR: There’s a technical question about ownership of a bit of land on Meadway so I’ll pass that on and refer it to a Barnet Vale councillor.
One last written question, which is the perennial problem of litter from Steve Hodgkiss. “It would be good to know what the new Council proposes to do to get on top of this problem. BRA …”, us, “… can’t be expected to do regular litter picks when the problem is due to constantly over-flowing bins and commercial refuse left out. There is also a problem in residential streets because a couple of years ago most of the litter bins were removed.” Litter; it always comes up.
CLLR RAWLINGS: It is an important thing. If you think about it, because I do a lot of canvassing, what is most important to people. When they open their front doors, are the bins being collected, is there litter on the streets, is there fresh air, is there a green space where they can go and wander around and enjoy. What should be quite straight forward things.
The first thing I would say about litter is that the fault lies with the people who drop it and the manufacturers who cover food. They are getting better, in that you can buy loose fruit and veg now but some of the wrappings on things are ridiculous. My favourite is the Easter egg which is about that big but there’s that much wrapping around it. So we are working with companies to close down some of the waste and get companies to sell loose fruit and veg and that means you don’t have to buy big packs to save money and end up wasting food.
We will be bringing back the food waste collection. It is ridiculous that food waste is just burnt. Yes, you can have more litter bins but, as I say, I have seen people sit on them and drop the litter on the ground. There is an educational role. “Keep Britain Tidy” seems to have been in and out of favour for years but that message is important.
The only thing we have done directly already is to double the number of times you get a deep clean of all streets. It will be four times a year rather than twice a year. That will start this year and we have put money aside for that. So we will be doubling the amount of cleaning of residential streets but it will still be only four or five times a year unless an inspector says a street needs cleaning. But with some streets you clean them and that afternoon they look like they haven’t been swept. You can follow the school routes by following the rubbish. I know from where I was at the weekend, you can have bins by the bus stops but you haven’t got bins by the shops, there are whole rows of shops without any bins. If you say you want another 10 bins, we will get another 10 bins ordered but it is important there are some changes in behaviour.
The big clean is an important thing and if you get to a level where there is no litter on the streets, people will rarely drop litter, but if you are in a street where there’s bits of paper, Coco-Cola cans, people don’t think twice about dropping stuff and it’s like a herd instinct. We do have to get on top of this.
We are increasing the amount of cleaning, we are walking around the town centres with people but we do need to have an educational drive. Let us know if you have any ideas. If we can stop people dropping litter then litter stops being a problem. I know it sounds a naïve plan but education is the most important thing.
SPEAKER FROM THE FLOOR: Maybe more fines.
CLLR RAWLINGS: That’s an important point. The last administration gave the traffic wardens, NSL or whatever they call themselves now, the power to fine people but they kept all the money and we found they weren’t doing it and of course they were only in certain areas. It is now the community safety officers and as I said Barnet Vale, High Barnet, Underhill, will each have a named officer and they will have the power to issue a fine and take the money on the spot. I think its about £80 for dropping a cigarette end, there is a range of fines.
CLLR WHYSALL: We have changed the fines. That was one of the first things we did.
CLLR RAWLINGS: The council workers can do it on the street at the time and they will have one of those clever cash machines so you can pay contactless. Believe me, as an ex-smoker, if I was fined £80 for dropping a fag end I wouldn’t do it again. They are not going to be there 24 hours/7 days a week but they will be around. Once you do a few fines and word gets round, people are going to be more careful. You need to make an example of some people to change the behaviour of others. You need the stick as well as the carrot. I’m told it’s now £100 for dropping a cigarette end and £70 if you pay immediately.
STEVE HODGKISS: Some of the things you talk about are national but Barnet does seem to have a worse litter problem than the surrounding towns. It would be good to know what the neighbouring towns are doing to keep on top of the problem that is missing from our town.
The other thing is the food waste collection. I can understand the reasons for bringing it back but when the food waste collection was in place it encouraged a lot more litter on the day the food was put out because foxes would break into the food bins. If you are going to bring it back, you need to back it up with a litter policy to pick up the refuse.
CLLR RAWLINGS: First, we have to take a view on what are the best bins to use for that. Secondly, how often it should be collected. It won’t happen immediately because we have to hire the vehicles which have the side pod where the food waste goes, but at the moment we pay for all the general waste and getting rid of it and that is £16 million a year, and that is landfill and going to Edmonton. The more we can collect recyclable stuff or compostable stuff, the less money it costs.
STEVE HODGKISS: I’m not arguing against it but it caused a litter problem before, so you need to be aware of that.
CLLR RAWLINGS: There are issues with flats. If you go over to Colindale, the average height of flats is 12 storeys. Are people going to go down 12 flights of stairs with a bag of food waste? There is a lot to be thought about first. That is why we don’t want to introduce it straight away and get it wrong. Are there fox-proof bins, is there a different way of doing it, should it be collected in the evenings so people put it out during the day when the foxes aren’t around (although town foxes seem to live a 24/7 life). There are plenty of issues.
The second thing is, I am happy to go to any other town which you say is a lot cleaner and do a better job and talk to them about what the difference is.
CHAIR: We have gone through all the questions submitted in writing. Are there any from the floor?
IAN HAYNES: I live here in Chipping Barnet and have a question about adult social services. I was wondering if there are any plans to review the structure of adult social services. The reason I ask this is because I have a distant relative who is in care in a care home in Barnet and there doesn’t seem to be much co-ordination between the care home and people outside the care home, mostly working for social services. To give an example, this person is dependent upon a case that is going through the Court of Protection at the moment so she has no assets because they have been taken away from her. I discovered that the home was invoicing social services for her care, and social services were invoicing the home for the care they are providing although a social worker has never been near or by. From a Health Service point of view, there are other people involved with her health decisions. It does seem very fragmented.
CLLR EDWARDS: We don’t have any plans to reorganise the adult social care structure, but get in touch with me about the individual case because I can’t talk about an individual case here. I am happy to see what I can do to help address the issues you are concerned about. I need to know more about the detail of what has gone wrong and try and get it sorted out.
MARGARET WILLIAMS: Is it possible to investigate whether the pipework is still in place next to the Coroner’s Court at the entrance to Old Courthouse Park for the public conveniences which used to be there? Apart from the Spires, which is not always open, Barnet does not have a public convenience.
CHAIR: I think it’s not so much about the pipework but the principle of providing public conveniences.
MARGARET WILLIAMS: It might be more economical to put it there if the pipework is still there.
CLLR RAWLINGS: I should declare an interest, there is a need for more public toilets or shops which let their toilets be used by the public without buying anything. That is what we are looking at at the moment, having signs on shops which are willing to let members of the public use their toilets without buying anything. There is a role for public conveniences but, because of the staffing, they did become quite expensive. We will look at it.
CHAIR: We are running out of time. If you have any points you would like to raise, see the councillors outside and hopefully they will deal with anything you want to raise. Thank you very much for coming along tonight. (Applause)