Posts Tagged ‘local government’

Barnet Spring – Save Local Democracy

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022

Barnet Spring – Save Local Democracy. The pictures in this post are from a march in from Finchley to Friern Barnet Community Library on 23rd March 2013.

Barnet Spring - Save Local Democracy

Politics in the UK has always been a messy business, both at national and local levels and has become more so in recent years, particularly as the Conservative Party has been keen to promote anti-democratic practices honed in the USA as well as accepting large donations from wealthy sources of doubtful legality as recent controversies over Russian oligarchs have brought into public debate.

Barnet Spring - Save Local Democracy

The current problems have been exacerbated in particular by the Brexit debate, largely carried out through totally misleading promises and false information, which led to leaving Europe and an unhealthily large parliamentary majority in the 2019 election, with draconian laws now being enacted. As well of course as some rather large financial gains by some of those leading the lying.

Barnet Spring - Save Local Democracy

Corruption has always been at the heart of our political system, both at local and national level, and involving some members of all political parties. While we may have got rid of some of the more obviously dubious practices, those which are less obvious appear to have become industrial in scale, now no longer solely the province of individuals and families (particularly those royal and noble) but of companies, including the mega-nationals.

Clearly our electoral system – both at local and national level – has outlived its usefulness and this is reflected in low turnouts at polls as well as a general disillusion in the political system. We need to move to voting systems that more accurately reflect the people and away from one that effectively disenfranchises so many of us. Perhaps to a very different model of government which removes the idea of any permanent political class.

Reform in the UK has almost always been slow and piecemeal, when what we need are radical changes. After many years of debate we have just recently made minor changes to the system of leasehold, when what is needed is its complete abolition, with all leaseholders being granted freehold. Even probably the most radical change of the last century, the formation of the NHS was hamstrung at birth by concessions made – and has since been considerably nibbled and increasingly hollowed by creeping privatisation.

The march took place on a bitter day, where light snow turned into a small blizzard

The reorganisation of local authorities in 1965 was a muddled and half-hearted one, reflecting an unwillingness in national government to cede power to the regions while moving local government further from local people. The advances it could have brought were largely removed by Thatcher’s contempt for local authorities and in particular in London her abolition of the Greater London Council. It’s hard to walk or ride a bus across Westminster Bridge and not to feel rage at seeing the range of offices she sold off on the south bank.

Recently we have seen a backlash against the leader and cabinet model of local councils which gives control to the leader and a select group of councillors and in 2000 became (along with Mayor and cabinet for those authorities with a directly elected Mayor) the required method. In 2012 authorities were allowed instead to revert to the more democratically accountable Committee-based system which had previously been the practice.

As I wrote back in 2013, “Barnet Council in North London is widely seen as a blueprint for Tory plans to end local democracy and privatise nearly all public services, leaving the local authority merely as a commissioning body.” Barnet’s CEO Nick Walkley introduced the ‘One Barnet’ plans, known as “easyCouncil” in 2009 and negotiated contracts with companies such as BT and Capita worth around £1 billion.

As I commented:

This is a development that ends real local involvement in running local affairs, locking councils into lengthy contracts which seldom meet local needs, but which councils are powerless to change and which often involve huge legal costs for the councils when disputes arise. One contractor has already successfully sued Barnet for over £10m when their contract failed to deliver the anticipated profits, and another, running services for adults with disabilities is failing financially and is drastically reducing the level of service it will provide.

On Saturday March 23rd 2013 I joined with several hundred to march through freezing snow in Finchley against the privatisation of local democracy in Barnet and against cuts in public services . The march began in Finchley, with a number of speeches from an open-top bus, with speakers including Green Party GLA member Jenny Jones (now Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb), And Labour MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn. The march ended at the Friern Barnet People’s Library, closed by Barnet Council in April 2012, but rescued determined by determined community action aided by squatters and reopened officially as a community library in February 2013.

More on My London Diary: Barnet Spring – Save Local Democracy


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Housing Awards – 2016

Wednesday, June 16th, 2021

A resident of the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark speaks about the council’s terrible record

Most people have never heard of the annual Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards, a kind of self-congratulatory back-slapping beanfeast for local authorities on the lines of the Oscars and a dinner at the Hilton, doubtless on our council tax.

Protesters ignore hotel staff and police who tell them they must move

The news in 2016 that two of London’s councils with the worst records for housing were nominated for awards angered London housing protesters and Focus E15, the Revolutionary Communist Group, Class War, Architects 4 Social Housing and others organised a protest outside the Park Lane Hilton including a rather different awards ceremony.

Protesters from Newham blame Labour Mayor Robin Wales ‘Robin the poor’

They pointed out that Southwark had by 2016 demolished 7,639 units of social housing, sold off public land to developers, and evicted people unlawfully and accuse Newham of social cleansing, rehousing people in distant parts of the country while council properties remain empty, and of causing mental health problems through evictions, homelessness and failure to maintain properties.

Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing objects to being assaulted by a police officer.

Police tried to move the protesters away from the hotel entrance and across the service road, but most resisted and held their ground, with police keeping the entrance clear, A few did move across the road were they could hand out flyers people arriving by taxi. There were a a few minor incidents when police pushed a protester holding a banner and again when several protesters held banners and placards in front of the restaurant windows.

Class War had brought their banner with a quote from US anarchist Lucy Parsons “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live” particularly appropriate for a protest in Mayfair and outside the Hilton. Police made a rather unwise and ineffectual attempt grab this from them but soon gave up.

People continued to arrive for the event and to walk past the protesters. Many had come from towns and cities across the UK for the event and where probably not particularly away of the situation in London boroughs.

I played around a little with the reflections in the polished metal canopy above the Hilton entrance, which was doing a good job in keeping the light rain off most of the protesters, though I was getting a little wet.

Looking up from the service road we could see those attending the awards ceremony talking and drinking before the dinner, while outside the protesters were beginning their own awards.

There were quite a few speeches from various of the activists, and Southwark won the award as London’s worst council, with Newham a close second.

15th June 2019

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

Grenfell protest at Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Saturday 15th July was one of those days when my local station has no trains. I don’t think it used to happen, or at least only very rarely, before we privatised the railways, but it seems to be happening on quite a few weekends every year now. At first when these weekends began there was complete chaos, with unmarked rail replacement buses where the only way to find out if they were going the right way for you was to ask the driver, who usually knew, though often didn’t know how to get there and had to send a call out to passengers asking if anyone knew where the station was.

Closed Fire Station in Ashford

One one memorable occasion a passenger directed a double-decker down a road that, although it was the route I might have walked, narrows halfway down to rather less than bus width. After a very tricky and lengthy reverse we got back to the main road and drove on, past the correct turning. I and other passengers jumped out of our seats to tell the driver. He drove on, looking desperately for somewhere to turn the bus in busy narrow streets, finally doing a 3 or 4 point turn where the main road widened a little almost a mile on. This time as we cam back we made sure he turned left at the correct point.

Grenfell – 72 Dead and still no arrests How Come?

After a few such incidents, things did get sorted out more, but still too often the rail replacement bus arrived a couple of minutes late and missed its supposed connection – apparently no one had the authority to hold it for the bus. A journey that usually took 35 minutes often ended up close to two hours (and I’d face similar chaos on the way home.) So unless there was something really important to photograph I often stayed home.

Yvette Williams demanding the Truth and Justice For Grenfell

My alternative was to take a bus to Heathrow or Hatton Cross where I could join the Underground, and this became more viable once I could simply swipe a credit card to pay for the ride. It was still a slow journey, but more reliable than the rail replacement lottery. And on Saturday 15 June I took the bus and made a few pictures on the way from the upper deck.

It was the day after the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire in which 72 people died, and Justice For Grenfell had organised a solidarity march, starting and finishing at Downing St. After some speeches at Downing St, we marched to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government offices in the Home Office building to protest there, with a few more speeches before leaving to march back to Downing St for a final rally.

The event was supported by housing and building safety campaigners including Defend Council Housing and by branches of the Fire Brigades Union from around the UK.

As I walked through Parliament Square on my way to take the tube to another protest, I stopped briefly to photograph two events there. One was ‘We are the Love’ for Idlib inspired by the Black Eyed Peas song Where’s the love? to raise awareness about the massacre currently unfolding in the province of Idlib in Syria. Just along from this line of people holding large cards each with a letter of their message, and a drummer and a piper, was a small and quieter protest about the wrongful conviction of Brendan Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery for the murder of Teresa Halbach in Wisconsin in 2005. The long and convoluted case which reflects badly on both the local police and the US legal system was the subject of a lenghty TV series.

By now I thought I would be too late to join the Hands Off Sudan march at its start at the UAE Embassy and guessed they might have got as far as the Egyptian Embassy, but when I arrived found just a few there waiting for the march. So I began to walk back on what I thought might be their route. I heard them before I could see them as I walked across Hyde Park corner, and the large and noisy crowd emerged from Grosvenor Cresecent as I turned down Grosvenor Place.

They were protesting after 124 peaceful protesters were massacred by Janjaweed militias (Rapid Support Forces) in Khartoum. Protests had begun in December and appeared to be causing a peaceful transition to democracy, removing corrupt president al-Bashir, until the heads of the ruling military council visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, all countries opposed to a democratic Sudan – and today’s march was going to each of their embassies.

The marchers seemed to be stopping every few yards around Hyde Park Corner and singing and dancing and shouting slogans. Half an hour after I met them they had only moved on a few hundred yards are were slowly making their way up Park Lane. I felt I had taken enough photographs and went back to Hyde Park Corner for the slow journey home via Hatton Cross.

Hands off Sudan march
‘We are the Love’ for Idlib
Grenfell Solidarity March
Staines, Heathrow, Bedfont


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Barnet Bans Photography

Thursday, May 13th, 2021

Barnet Council tried to stop me photographing the petition handover

I photographed several protests on Wednesday 13th May 2015 before making my way to Barnet Town Hall where campaigners from Sweets Way and West Hendon estates had come to question councillors at a Town Hall meeting and hand over petitions with over 200,000 signatures to council leader Richard Cornelius.

Local residents protest through an open window at the Town Hall

They held a loud protest outside the hall before a small group went inside to hand over the petition, and security on the door let me go in with them when I showed my press card, and I began to take pictures, along with another photographer. But the council press officer intervened, looked at my press card and firmly told me “No Photographs” and called on security to escort me and the other press photographer out of the building.

And people come over to block my view of the protest

I protested but went with the security team who led me towards the door. They couldn’t take me out as the large crowd outside was trying hard to push its way inside to attend the meeting. From the lobby I could see that some were trying to climb in through a window with council staff blocking them and I took a few pictures – through a glass partition – until another council employee moved to block my view, holding up a coat in front of my lens.

After being thrown out I photographed it from the outside

I wasn’t too upset, as in both cases I had managed to take pictures before I was stopped, but did feel that the council were acting in an unreasonable manner in trying to stop reporting of events in which there was a clear public interest about a public authority taking place in a public building. The security men who were following the order to escort me out were behaving reasonably and I think were unhappy at being asked to take me outside – which eventually they did. They and the police on duty had earlier let me inside when I showed my press card.

A councillor coming to the meeting tells me I can’t take his picture

Then I was able to photograph the crowd outside trying to make their way in. Eventually things calmed down after some of them were told they would be admitted, but I was firmly told I could not come in as I had taken photographs earlier. I was actually pleased to leave as I was getting tired and hungry after a rather long day.

Local government here in the UK has become far less transparent, with decisions being taken by small cabals under ‘cabinet’ systems which even leave many councillors unaware of what is going on. Local newspapers have largely disappeared, their place taken by ‘local editions’ of nation-wide organisations which have few if any local staff – and who seldom attend or report on council meetings, relying instead on PR handouts.

Some wore masks showing Barnet Council Leader Cllr Richard Cornelius

Local authorities have a long history of corruption, with various projects and deals which benefit the particular business interests of councillors and officers rather than simply the people they are supposed to serve. Of course what is good for the town should also be good for businesses in the town, and many councillors have been local businessmen – though of course council decisions should not give special favours to their businesses, as so often happened.

The petitions: 64,848 signatures for Sweets Way, 132,939 for West Hendon

But decisions like those to demolish the West Hendon estate involve major property developers and seem to be being taken not about the local residents whose homes are being demolished but about huge profits for developers and some financial advantage for the councils, often with significant personal inducements for those councillors and officers concerned with making the decisions. The West Hendon council estate is being demolished because it is on an attractive site overlooking the Welsh Harp reservoir and new flats will be highly marketable – council and developers see social housing there as a wasted business opportunity.

My treatment at Barnet was in itself of no real importance, but a symptom of the lack of transparency and a culture of secrecy that now pervades local government. If we are to have confidence in our councils we need a much greater openness.

Sweets Way & West Hendon at Barnet Council


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.