Monday, 20 March 2017

He would say that, wouldn't he? Barnet's 'Watergate' continues, as our library service prepares for the end



Grahame Park Library, pic courtesy Modernism in Metroland blog

After writing to John Hooton, the Chief Executive of Barnet Council, on Monday, to complain about the false assurances he had previously given about the safety of the water supply in Barnet's libraries, he agreed to investigate the matter, but no further response or action emerged, despite a week of lobbying of councillors of both parties, and an urgent item brought up by Labour members at the Environment committee meeting. At this meeting, the Chair of the committee, Tory member Dean Cohen agreed that a response should be made the next day: but it was not.


Only after Labour's Councillor Devra Kay spoke to Richard Cornelius, the Tory leader, on Thursday evening, as well as his wife, who is a member of the Environment committee - was it agreed that an immediate response should be supplied, with no further delay. 

After a reminder on Friday, a response at last arrived from Mr Hooton:


Ms Musgrove,

Thank you for your email. Firstly, I apologise if the previous response misled you. While no positive legionella tests have been found in current operational libraries as part of our recent round of testing, there was a positive test in Grahame Park library last year.

The advice I have been given is that there were no test results that gave rise to particular concerns for users of the building. This is partly based on the low levels found, and also that the test found Serogroups 2-14 as opposed to Serogroup 1 - Serogroup 1 is the group that most commonly causes Legionnaires' disease when inhaled as an aerosol at elevated levels. In accordance with health and safety guidance, the system was isolated, remedial action taken and it was re-tested to confirm the contamination had been cleared.

You also mentioned your concerns about the levels of TVCs being detected. Microbiological contamination of potable water rarely poses any hazard to health through drinking the water but it can cause issues with palatability (taste and odour), which is why routine testing is carried out. Testing can show a rise in TVC numbers over time and if this is the case, it can indicate that a system is becoming contaminated and needs cleaning. Equally, coliforms can grow naturally in the environment and are also considered to be indicator organisms. If they are found therefore, they can suggest possible contamination. However, in the majority of cases where coliforms are detected in samples taken from a tap, the cause is a dirty tap and is easily remedied by cleaning.

The reason we carry out regular monitoring of water systems is that we take health and safety very seriously, and take action quickly when issues arise.

In terms of my assertion that no test results have given rise to particular concerns for users of the buildings, this is important because there is a question as to whether staff and the public should be informed as part of this testing cycle.

I am conscious that when I say testing did not give rise to particular concerns, you may say "I would say that wouldn't I". The honest response is that I want to ensure that no one is put at risk and I want to make sure our systems and processes are robust. I have therefore commissioned an independent audit into our water safety measures which will report back to the next Audit Committee in April.

I hope this goes some way to alleviating your understandable concern. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards

John Hooton
Chief Executive
London Borough of Barnet

Well, Mrs Angry did not hesitate to contact him, as this response was utterly unacceptable, and inadequate to the level of concern raised by the proven contamination, and what appears to be a failure properly to acknowledge the problem - or to be honest and transparent about the issue once challenged. Minimising the legionella results, ignoring the coliform contamination in South Friern, failing to address the provision of information and alternative drinking water to staff ... and a curious lack of interest in who allegedly informed him there had been no legionella trace at all, in four years. Staff, incidentally, were reportedly still being told that there had been no legionella found anywhere.

The reason we carry out regular monitoring of water systems is that we take health and safety very seriously, and take action quickly when issues arise.

Really? ... regular monitoring? How often? How widespread? How thorough? 

Where is the evidence of this that I asked for? 

Where are the missing test results for any testing done in the last twelve months in regard to six libraries missing from the Freedom of Information request?

We take health and safety seriously.

Do you seriously expect people to believe that now? 

...and take action quickly when issues arise ...

If you are not monitoring the situation adequately in the first place, you will not know when an issue has arisen, until after a prolonged risk to health and safety has been sustained - so no, action is not being taken quickly enough, and is reactive rather than pre-emptive of potential risk.


Barnet's Chief Executive John Hooton


Mrs Angry replied:

Dear Mr Hooton

It has taken me extensive effort, Freedom of Information requests, and continual lobbying via councillors of both parties in order to extricate a response from you on this very serious issue, and still you seem determined to minimise the significance of what has happened.

I was not 'misled' by your previous response.

I was given false assurances by the Chief Executive of this authority about a matter which is of vital importance to all members of staff in libraries, and library users, but especially (redacted) (those with) a range of conditions, or elderly or pregnant. Let us be clear about this: contracting e coli, or drinking any sort of contaminated water, in these circumstances, poses a grave and potentially fatal risk.

You knew this, yet you categorically denied, on the basis of no evidence, that there had been any legionella found and said there was no reason to be concerned.

That simply was not true.

I do not want to accuse you of deliberately hiding the truth, but then it must be the case that a member of your 'team' has 'misled' you. As I have said, you must bear responsibility at least for failing to ask to see any evidence before making the false assertions that you made to me.

An independent audit report will be a wise move, and will, one hopes, ensure a better standard of monitoring in the future, but in regard to what has happened, I would like the Monitoring Officer to investigate this matter as a formal complaint, and to investigate if there has been misconduct by any senior officer in regard to the testing of water supplies, or the suppression of information in regard to the results. I would also like to know if there has been failure in procedure as a result of what appears to be a clear conflict of interest between the roles played by Capita in being responsible both for the maintenance of library buildings, and enforcement of environmental health compliance.

In addition to this: please answer these questions:

1.Who told you there had been no legionella traces in any libraries?

2.You claim there is regular testing of the water supply. Regular is not an acceptable term: how often has this been done?

3.Why has the FOI request I made produced no results for six libraries within the last twelve months - if they exist, I want them forwarded as requested with no further delay. I had already asked for this, but no one has responded.

4.Has the contract for testing and routine cleaning of the water supply has changed since the Capita contracts began, and if this has led to a lack of adequate monitoring?

5.What proof there is that the monitoring of this issue has been compliant with statutory Health and Safety requirements?


He replied:

Thanks for your email. I will pass this to Mr Tatlow to review, in terms of your complaint.

On the additional points, I suggest these are part of the independent audit which comes back to the audit committee. On the FOI I will chase this up now.

Kind regards

John Hooton
Chief Executive
London Borough of Barnet

Mr Tatlow is, apparently, the latest Director of Assurance, and Monitoring Officer, (for some reason they never stay long, in this borough, possibly because there is little assurance to dispense, and too much to monitor). This information is not readily available on the council's website, however - and the last time Mrs Angry rang the council's Capita run switchboard to ask who held this post, they insisted there was no such post, and had no idea who it might be ...

An independent report to the Audit committee will be interesting: but if it finds for example, that there were failings in the standard of monitoring or enforcement by contractors, will there be any penalty? Or will it be like the library IT crash, merely waved away with the usual mutterings of 'lessons learned' and 'nothing to see here'?

I think we know the answer, don't you?

In the meanwhile, the buildings that have been left to moulder and decay in the years since our Tory councillors, their consultants, and their contractors, came up with the plan to destroy another public service are very nearly at the end of their lives as libraries.

No one who is a user of Barnet libraries will be fooled by the repetition of the council's spindoctors, and library cutter in chief, Tory councillor Reuben Thompstone, that they are retaining all fourteen of our libraries, as demanded by residents. 



Library cutter Tory councillor Reuben Thompstone

The consultation with residents made it abundantly clear that they wanted libraries left alone, thank you very much, in tact, properly resourced, and fully staffed.

Fourteen library buildings - neglected, crumbling, will remain: but they will not be libraries in any way recognisable as such. They will be a fraction of their former size, robbed of space in their own former buildings, which have been thrown over to the council's contractors, chewing away at the carcass of a once magnificent service.

The new unstaffed, DIY library service, that Tory councillors pretend demonstrate an improvement of library opening hours, will go live at the beginning of April, leaving residents to access the completely unstaffed buildings by a pin number and electronic doors, safeguarded - to a limited extent only - by nothing more than a remote CCTV camera. If you are present in the library when the staff must leave, you will be told to leave as well, and stand outside, and wait, and then re-enter by self service pin code, to open the doors.

Will you be safe? 

Will you feel safe? 

If you need help, who will be there? No one.

If you are being harrassed by someone, or become unwell, who will come to your assistance? No one. Will anyone know? Only if the camera is operational, and is able to see where you are in the building.

Children under the age of fifteen - even secondary school pupils needing to study - will be banned from these branches, without a 'responsible adult'. Of course no one will question if the adult accompanying a child is 'responsible', and even if the secondary school students were allowed into these branches, the study space has been drastically reduced, and there would probably be no room. Already in the newly emasculated library in East Barnet, fellow blogger Mr Reasonable reports seeing the remaining three study desks occupied and a tall teenage student obliged to sit in a chair meant for a toddler in order to - well, study. 

Mr Reasonable has also pointed out one aspect of the new arrangement, which fits neatly into the favoured way of doing things in this borough, as he tweeted on Sunday:


Mr Reasonable‏ @ReasonableNB  

Yet more evidence of two tier Barnet. Church End Library (Tory ward) staffed 60hrs/wk. East Barnet Library (Labour ward) volunteers 15hrs/wk

This attempt at mollifying Tory areas will not work: is already not working, as residents begin to wake up to the reality of what their elected representatives have done. Areas like Hendon, and Golders Green, for example, where the libraries are so well used by local families, especially in the charedi Jewish communities, where children borrow an enormous volume of books, and there is much demand for activities for young children, as well as study space.

So much destruction is planned for Hendon library, once the flagship branch of the service, where pioneering children's librarian Eileen Colwell worked, that it will soon be closed until September, in order to gut it, removed the upstairs section, the cafe, and shrink it in size. Complaints to staff are now increasingly made in all libraries, as users realise the terrible changes that are coming. 

In the run up to next years local elections, this is a huge mistake by the Tory administration: many votes were lost at the last General Election, a cause for alarm by all three Tory MPs. Next May, this will again be a massive issue.

If the children do manage to make it to a library, under the new child-hating regime, they will find that if they are late returning their books, as they may be, with the virtual impossibility in the future of being able to visit one that is accessible, then - they will be fined, in order to deter them from reading, borrowing books, and delaying the time awaited by the council when use of the pretend libraries has declined so much that they may then close branches permanently, and flog the properties to developers, for a handsome return.

Some of our libraries have been handed over to so called community groups, who claim they can take over a professionally run service, and provide the same facility to residents by using volunteers in the place of the  50% of library staff who have lost their jobs as a result of the cuts. Apart from the most obvious lack of library qualifications or training, there are serious questions left unresolved:

Who are these volunteers? How are they chosen to do this work? Who decides their suitability? Are they DBS checked, or is such screening only for a few nominated supervisors? 

Are you safe, in an environment run by amateur enterprises, and volunteers?

Are they experienced in dealing with the users with mental health issues, trained in first aid, and fire safety?

Who will maintain the buildings to the appropriate standards? In ageing buildings, where years of neglect have left them vulnerable to maintenance problems such as water contamination, and rodent infestation, electrical failure, IT problems: can the managers of these ventures cope? What responsibility will Capita have in ensuring they are compliant with health and safety requirements, if their own systems are found to have failed?

The truth is that this idiotic new regime is both ill conceived, and unprecedented in scale, context, and level of risk.

No one knows for sure what is going to happen now: except that, in line with the finest traditions of Broken Barnet, it is likely to be much, much worse than we could have possibly imagined.


Friday, 17 March 2017

Kicking it into the Bushes,Unproductive Clutter, and a Question of Urgency: an Environment Committee meeting


Unison members at the Town Hall, in Lo Vi jackets

According to the Book of Revelations (Broken Barnet version, rather than King James), the certain signs of an impending apocalypse is predicted not by the appearance of the Anti-Christ, war, famine, plague, judgment, chaos, silence, rebirth, or four horsemen riding up the marble steps of Hendon Town Hall, so much as - well, a combination of all of these events, perhaps, and the attendance, for the first time in a very long time, of all four Barnet bloggers at a council committee meeting.

Yes: there we were, at Wednesday night's environment committee, a full quartet of bloggery, planted amongst furtive looking Capita drones, and tetchy residents, and a handful of naughty primary school age boys, who had clearly committed some dreadful act, such as setting fire to the headmaster's trousers - or maybe asking why they were no longer allowed to visit their local library - and were being punished by a trip to a council meeting, to see how the democratic process, in Barnet, is beaten to a quivering pulp by an assortment of Tory councillors, senior officers, private contractors and consultants, in a long drawn out assault lasting ... oh, a mere three and a half hours. 

The naughty school boys got very bored after a while, and who could blame them, and began wriggling in their seats, and then tried tying each other's shoe laces together. Mrs Angry looked on in admiration, wishing she was fit enough to crawl under the table and do the same to the Tory councillors. Except they would probably have enjoyed it; especially that octogenarian silver fox, & handlebar moustachioed linguist, John Hart, who, apropos of nothing very much as far as anyone could see, announced early on in the meeting, with woefully misplaced self confidence, that he was the borough's 'environment and heritage champion', don't you know?

No. I don't know. This might be true if by that he means that he has an allotment, and has read Don Quixote (whom he closely resembles) in Spanish, as he once informed Mrs Angry, in order to impress her with his cultural credentials. Can't recall Cllr Hart speaking out in criticism of the the ransacking and closure of Church Farmhouse Museum, and he supports the library cuts, too ...  (He protested, later, about the demolition of the White Bear, across the road: whose fault was that? The council of which he is an elected member, and whose colleagues allowed it to happen, by default, despite all pleas from residents.)

On with the meeting: the Chair, Dean Cohen, refused to listen to sense and bring forward items for which members of the public had submitted questions, or wanted to make comments, so they had to wait hours after their questions for the items to come up for discussion, which meant everyone had forgotten what had been said, and ... oh, the usual Barnet nonsense. 

Still, to be fair, Cllr Cohen did allow, against Mrs Angry's expectations, an urgent item on the Legionella story featured in the previous post, although of course that was the very last item of the evening - at ten o'clock, as we shall see.

The meeting began.  A man walked up to the table and sat down to talk about an issue in Hampstead Garden Suburb, which meant all the Tory councillors immediately sat up straight, and looked on with absolute attention, while Mrs Angry automatically lapsed into a semi comatose state and found it impossible to follow what he was talking about. Or care about what he was talking about. She thought he said he was the former Director of English Heritage. In fact he was a former senior Director of English Heritage, and he was rather cross about ...  Unproductive Clutter, in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Ah. Yes.

This latest HGS outrage is from the same school of drama as - There Is Quite A Lot Of Noise In Hampstead Garden Suburb - meaning the dreadful threat to delicate ears from ... noisy leaf blowers. As you can imagine, Mrs Angry was moved to tears by this latest tale of human suffering, and tried to imagine how Ken Loach would approach the story, as a sequel, perhaps, to 'I, Daniel Blake'. Camilla Long would love it, wouldn't she? A suburbanista safari.

In contrast to this, next to take their place at the table was a woman from Cricklewood, trying to raise the issue, one which is of many years standing, caused by a waste disposal and skip hire contractor based there, whose activities make life a misery for residents - with pollution, noise, mess, and all sorts of continued nuisance, including work at weekends, when it is theoretically not allowed. 

Later on in the meeting Cllr Shimon Ryde came along and said they were doing all sorts of things (marginal ward, see?) but then Labour's Alan Schneiderman said, well, it's not very effective then, is it, and Cllr Ryde was annoyed, and we heard all about MP Mike Freer (remember him?) who was doing something (marginal ward, see?) and bla bla bla. He agreed enforcement was an issue: but our Tory councillors will never pursue such criticism to the logical end, and hold contractors accountable.

Finchley resident Mary O'Connor asked awkward questions about the imposition of cycling on our lovely Dollis Valley Green Walk: if it is unsafe to allow cycling on pavements she argued, why is it ok to force pedestrians, including the elderly, those with children, disabled residents, to share a path meant for quiet walks with speeding cyclists? No response. But it's because someone gave them money for it, and Barnet Tories see no further than a free handout.

Another resident complained about an issue regarding the surface dressing of roads. You can hear the stones rattling against the cars, he said. Blank faces. Complaints were ignored, he added. And documents have been 'mislaid'. How many, asked a Labour councillor? The Chair interrupted hastily. Not appropriate. Yes it is, everyone shouted at him, especially Mrs Angry, who has a great interest in missing documents. 

And emails. Especially emails. 

Back to the meeting. Oh dear: here comes another HGS councillor: the rather dour Cllr Grover, who sat down and talked in grave tones about ... the question of de-cluttering, and - the problem of posts. Not blog posts, like this one, which are above criticism, of course, and well beyond decluttering, but posts which obscure the lovely vista of St Jude's Church. 

Mrs Angry laughed, remembering the association of St Jude with lost causes, hopeless cases, and things despaired of. The patron saint of Broken Barnet.

Hampstead Garden Suburb residents, murmured the Tory member, in the manner of a discreet but sympathetic Harley Street psychiatrist giving expert witness evidence for the defence at the Old Bailey,  ... ' are highly sensitive to change in their environment'.

Tory councillors looked on, nodding, dabbing their dear little grimacing faces with their hankies. What could they do to help their most loyal and most supportive multi millionaire residents, in this terrible plight? The posts, and the lost vista. We must preserve these precious things. 

They wanted a policy that would protect the endangered species of Broken Barnet, those living in conservation areas - sorry, did I say conservation areas? I meant Conservative areas, of course ... they want them to be cosseted and cherished, and wrapped up in love and money, and surrounded with lovely pavements, (more of that to come) and not have to worry about anything beastly like noise, or ugliness, or spoiled vistas. 



The rest of the borough, of course, the children of a lesser god, the poor - they can just stop moaning about their children's schools and air quality and the noise, and mess, and broken pavements and potholes and bloody well put up with it. This is Broken Barnet, and this is how we do things here. If you don't like it, you know what you can do. If you do like it, we may make you do it anyway, if you are a non-secure tenant, or too poor to live in the Suburb.

You might be wondering why all four bloggers had come along to witness all this nonsense. Was it to support the Suburbanistas in their time of crisis? It was not. 

It was because we hoped to watch something very rare. An event as rare as a good deed in a naughty world, or the appearance of ... four bloggers at a council meeting. A decision ... not to outsource a council service. Yes! Just imagine!

The item everyone had been waiting was eventually reached, after a long haul.

Barnet Unison representatives sat poised in anticipation. In the public seats, a party of big burly workers in hi vi jackets watched attentively. 

And then ...

Nothing.

The decision not to outsource ... did not happen. 

It was not even going to be discussed.

Why? 

No one knows. 

The Chair fumbled some sort of excuse about ... burble burble burble ... some information was missing ... burble... the figures need more work ... burble burble ...

Unison representatives and workers looked on in disbelief: their jobs on the line, expecting good news, and now this ...

If that was the case, asked Labour's Alan Schneiderman, at a loss, like everyone else, to understand what was going on, why did you not ask officers to provide the missing information? 

No sensible response.

Tory Brian Salinger, brimming with satisfaction at being, at last, after a mere thirty years wait, elected as the next Mayor, (which is all Barnet Tories care about, and in this case has been deliberately withheld, due to petty factionalism in the group) now made an eejit of Himself by declaring grandly that in any case, in regard to the options, there was no in house team. This, as you may imagine, came as something of a surprise to members of the in house team sitting in their high visibility jackets in the public gallery. High visibility, but not to Tory councillors wearing blinkers, and praying for any excuse not to not outsource their jobs.


The Mayor Elect

One of the furious workers yelled - we're here! And he added they could delay matters, but it was going to cost them even more - he was an agency worker. Oh well: Barnet Tories, of course, love agency workers, and waste millions of pounds a year on them for two reasons: this gives a nice little earner to Capita, and it suits their ideological position of implacable hostility to any in house council service.

Now it was the term of Tory councillor Peter Zinkin to pipe up. He claimed consultation with the workers had produced a magnificent level of support for council plans: quoting percentages and statistics left, right, and centre: or rather not left, but right of centre, until it was pointed out to him - loudly, and in some detail - that only 25 people had taken part, and therefore his statistical analysis was completely meaningless ... Note his interest in the workers, however - bit of a give away?

Interesting character, you see, Peter Zinkin. 

Born in 1904 (didn't realise he was quite that old), joined the Communist party in 1926, went to work for the Comintern in Moscow, in 1931, became political correspondent of the Daily Worker ... Oh. Hang on.

Not our Cllr Zinkin. His cousin, apparently. Slightly removed. Very distantly removed, perhaps. Poles apart: north to south.

Shame. Up to this point, Mrs Angry, fresh from an excellent talk this week at the Highgate Literary and Scientific Association on the subject of the Cambridge spies ... and mindful of the fact that a local union organiser is called Burgess ... well, well: an interesting fantasy had begun to form. 

After extensive twitter exchanges with him yesterday, however, it would appear that spoilsport Comrade Councillor Zinkin is not a fellow traveller, nor a double agent, and is still a paid up member of the Conservative Party. So he says. Can't wait to tell the People's Mayor, Mr Shepherd, though.

But why were the Tories backtracking on their decision? 

It might have been because they were aware of the political implications of admitting an in house option was best, rather than carry on the relentless hollowing out of council services. Or it may have been because they are secretly hoping to find a way to privatise anyway. All very peculiar.

On with more important business. Back to Tory councillor Brian Salinger, talking shit. Or rather, tut, Mrs Angry: talking about shit: dog shit - or 'dog waste', as the members referred to it, holding the very thought at the end of their noses, and avoiding the unpleasantness, with all the gentility of Betjeman's Norman, soiling the doilies and using the couch for his feet.



Brian Salinger: kicking it into the bushes

Brian had clearly read about the Tory MP in St Albans who says the trees in her area are festooned not with cherry blossom, but with bags of dog shit, hanging from the branches. (Oh to be in Hertfordshire, now that spring is here ...). She wonders if we would do better not to tell people to put their doggies doo doo in those ghastly flesh coloured bags, but to 'kick it into the bushes'.

Having spent the whole evening - well, no, the last few decades - kicking things into bushes, our Tory councillors, especially Brian, were very taken with this idea. Also up for suggestion was that we should follow the example of heh heh, wait for it, Barking Council and demand that naughty dogs who leave their poo in the wrong places (Tory wards) are subject to DNA tests. And then presumably paw prints, interviews with SO15, confiscation of their pet passports, and deportation with no appeal. 

If only dogs could be trained to use litter trays, like cats, and Tory councillors, thought Mrs Angry, aloud, her mind wandering, and thinking fondly of the Greyhound round the corner, and the prospect of alcoholic refreshment, after the hours long ordeal of this pointless meeting.

Sitting at the table was Mr Jamie Blake, the man behind the Freedom Pass fiasco, which you may recall: his very well paid job - six figure salary - is for the post of the commissioning director for environment: but let him introduce himself, from his linkedin profile:

I am responsible for £50m revenue budget, plus up to £60 million capital schemes including significant highway developments, regeneration and open space schemes. The role is an integral part of the commissioning model – seamlessly blending innovation drawn from an inherent understanding of the environment landscape and market place with the pragmatism to relate intelligently to the related delivery units.



I, Jamie Blake

Well, relating intelligently to related delivery units is an important job isn't it? Is it? F*ck knows. All we do know is that he is supposed to oversee, on our behalf, the grateful residents of Broken Barnet, the delivery of environmental services provided by private contractors. That would be, in an astonishing range of different roles, quite a few raising questions of conflict of interest - Capita, Capita, Capita, Capita, Capita, Capita, and Capita, as far as the eye can see, or not see - and a few add on companies, as in the case of the parking service (see Mr Mustard for all that sort of thing). 

Mr Blake is a man who clearly has very burdensome duties, in relating pragmatically and intelligently to  stuff, deploying his inherent understanding, and seamless blending, and all that sort of thing - and is therefore sometimes obliged to put councillors in their place, should they forget themselves, and speak out of turn. 

To one Labour councillor, at one point, on Wednesday night, he suggested kindly:  'Councillor, perhaps you misspoke?' and later, in a discussion about why some roads in the borough appeared to be given better treatment than others (ie in Labour areas) he said graciously:  'I'm not saying you shouldn't have asked the question ...' 

Risky: Barnet Tories like officers to kowtow, and pretend the elected members are still in charge, even though they most certainly are not. 

Now we must move on to another issue of vital significance, in the territory wars of Broken Barnet. 

Footways. 

Yes: you may think that our Tory members, who after all, award themselves free parking permits, and do not need to walk anywhere much, are otherwise like demi-gods, floating on an ethereal plane, whose feet never touch the ground, and who need not concern themselves with the everyday paths followed by ordinary residents. 

But no: they are very interested in this subject; keen to ensure that the proper tradition of apartheid in highways expenditure is maintained. In other words, some areas in the borough may have paving stones - and other must now put up with what was referred to as 'black non porous materials': asphalt, to you and me. Pavements are now only supposed to be what Mr Blake explained were 'prestigious' areas. He claimed this meant 'conservation' (Conservative) areas, or 'regeneration' (private development, Conservative) areas. Funnily enough, as Labour councillors pointed out, there are some mysterious anomalies in certain residential areas ... like West Heath Road ... Comrade Councillor Zinkin in turn explained this was because that road, in his ward, and one of the most exclusive, of course, in the borough, 'was in danger of collapse' and had had to have special treatment. 

By this time, Mrs Angry felt she too was in danger of collapse, and most certainly in need of special treatment.

But this is how things are, in this borough: it is the 'Tale of Two Barnets', where there is a time honoured tradition of spending money where the Tories want, for political reasons, and the rest of the borough can just put up with what is left over. What Hampstead Garden Suburb or Totteridge want: they get. In a Labour ward? Join the back of the queue. For those who doubt this, or who have short memories: cast your mind back to the scandalous story of the Highways expenditure in the run up to the last local elections, and the inquiry by Sharpe Pritchard which proved Tory wards had had more money spent on them. It is a necessary process: how else would we remember our place, in the scheme of things?

Throughout the protracted, interminable discussions of the black stuff, and the brown stuff, and vistas, and decluttering, and ... well, it looked as if there might be no time for the urgent item on legionella. 

The Labour members asked for it to be put before some other items, to make sure it would be raised. By that time, by unfortunate coincidence, the Chief Executive of Barnet Council, who had been lurking in the back of the room, appeared to have left. 

Still, the commissioning director for environment, Mr Jamie Blake, was at the table, and would be bound to be able to answer any questions, wouldn't he? 

Oh: apparently not. 

Councillor Alon Or-Bach explained the very serious concerns about the legionella testing, and water contamination and asked if there had been any misleading statements?

Mr Blake said he hadn't got any comment, which was rather disappointing. 

Mrs Angry commented instead, unasked for, from her seat, pointing out she had complained to the Chief Executive, Mr Hooton, about the matter on Monday, but had not received the promised response. 

Someone observed that the Tories looked appalled when the issue was mentioned: clearly knew nothing about the tests, or the apparent cover up. One councillor mouthed to another: this is the last thing we need.

To shut Mrs Angry up, and the Labour members, the Chair agreed that the item would be addressed and a response given to them as soon as possible. When? Oh, today, tomorrow, he said. 

The meeting ended.

Tomorrow was yesterday. Not a word so far, from anyone, of course.

What is it they don't want us to know?

To be updated.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Barnet Libraries' 'Watergate': another privatised cock up?


Update Tuesday:

No further response from the Chief Executive, so I have now written to Tory leader, Councillor Richard Cornelius.


Updated Monday morning: 

Mrs Angry has written to the Chief Executive of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, to ask why he had wrongly claimed no legionella traces had been found in any Barnet Libraries. He has immediately replied that it was his 'team' - presumably his own senior officers, or Capita, or both -  who had told him that was the case:

I am looking into this now. I previously received assurances from my team that no traces of Legionella had been found in any of our libraries and from my perspective this assurance still stands.


I will investigate this immediately and get back to you as soon as possible.

In a couple of weeks time, the new model Barnet library service will begin - a once magnificent, beacon status, value for money service, one of the best in the UK, now slashed to pieces, battered and bruised by your Tory councillors, and left dying on the ground. 

In a few more years, the worst affected remains of the service - a handful of lucrative potential property developments - will be closed, due to lack of use, thanks to the new regime - and put up for sale, by Capita, on behalf of your council. Kerrching!

In the meanwhile, four libraries have been ruthlessly disposed of, and handed over to 'volunteer' enterprises to run. I say run: this will be a farcical replacement for a properly managed library, with a managers with no library qualifications, and an unknown quota of untrained, unpaid, and inexperienced volunteers attempting to take over the duties of professional librarians and skilled library staff, half of whom have lost their jobs. 

Already the cracks are showing: it seems one of these faux library enterprises, Childs Hill, will not be bothering to open up on Saturdays, for example.

The Tory councillors who are responsible for this act of corporate vandalism, are pretending they are listening to residents, and keeping open 14 libraries. That could only be true if you hammer out the meaning of what a library is to the shape of the utter travesty they are imposing on our service. 

Not only have we lost four professionally run branches to a bunch of amateur ventures using the idea of a library as some sort of outlet for their own purposes, the loss of staff now means much of the new library opening hours will now comprise only DIY access to unstaffed, empty rooms, watched over - when manned, by a CCTV camera - and barred to any children who may need to visit, either to borrow books, or use study space. Study space, of course, and the book stock have been ruthlessly cut, as well as staffing, and the buildings handed over to Capita to manage. 

Over recent years the physical condition of Barnet's library buildings - to any user familiar with the branches over a long period of time - has visibly deteriorated: the fabric of the buildings, and the internal decoration, fading, peeling, mouldering: the perfect metaphor for the state of public services, in our borough.

This of course is in line with the general policy of our Tory council's neglect of any service in which they see no value, (other than the potential value of development), and a neglect which will in itself help to deter residents from using that service. A strategy that makes it so much easier to produce evidence to support proposals to 'rationalise', outsource, or otherwise divest the authority of responsibility for what should be a core function of local government.

Years of decline in standards of management of ageing premises - and even some quite new - inevitably leads to problems. Problems which have the potential to pose a risk to those working on those premises: and to those visiting them.

Over the last few months, rather worryingly, some of us have been receiving reports about rumoured problems with the water supply in Barnet libraries. 

That these reports were from a number of different sources, and repeatedly, and persistently, over a sustained period of time lent a certain amount of credibility to them. And then there was worrying information, closer to home. 

Two family members work part time in Barnet Libraries, and one came home from work one day last month, rather upset, and concerned, as staff had been told not to use the water supply. 

No explanation, no alternative drinking water provided - and if you were worried about using the loo? Go across the road & use the ones at the supermarket. 

Oh, and there were rumours about  - legionella.

Mrs Angry, as you might imagine, was very Angry. And very worried, as another family member working at another branch, with equally antiquated plumbing, has a health condition which is vulnerable to any risk from any sort of water contamination - and staff had received no information, or guidance.

(Mrs Angry is also fairly well acquainted with the risks of Legionnaires, having been tested for it a few years ago, on her gp's gloomy insistence, on developing pneumonia after a stay in a hotel during the Labour conference ... )

First thing on Monday morning, she sent an urgent email to a library manager, which was ignored, so was then redirected to the Chief Executive, John Hooton, asking what was going on, and to demand action. A number of questions were put:


1. Is it true that there have been checks for legionella in any Barnet libraries?

2. If so, when?

3. If so, what are the results?

4. Is it true that members of staff have had to be tested for Legionnaires disease?

5. If so, were any tests positive?

6. Can you confirm that there have been no concerns about legionella at Burnt Oak, Edgware, and Grahame Park libraries?

7. Why are staff not able to use the water at North Finchley?

8. Have North Finchley, Church End, East Finchley and Hendon libraries had their water supply systems checked recently? Are my family members safe working there?

9. Do you have a risk assessment scheme for legionella? Who is responsible for its implementation? 


10. How often have the appropriate checks and preventative actions been taken over the last five years?

In the course of a series of emails, some responses were given to some of these questions: and some of those responses now, after making Freedom of Information requests, would appear to be ... untrue.

Despite assurances to the contrary, legionella was detected in at least one library (now closed to the public), and there were not only raised TVC levels in some branches (including the one where one family member worked) - another branch had a bacterial contamination.

If any staff were informed of these results, it was done in secret, and the wider group of staffed not told, or screened for those who might be at higher risk, an action a responsible employer might be expected to undertake. 

In the FOI responses, six libraries appear to have had no test results. This apparent omission was immediately queried, but - no reply yet.

So: either Capita has failed to provide them for the FOI response, by error, or withheld them on purpose - or there were no tests for those other libraries, in the last twelve months. 

And odd, isn't it, that two of the libraries tested (though no proof of North Finchley) had this done around the time of closure, due to the cuts, (for 'modification', in the case of NF) rather than when open and used by staff - and the public?



Barnet's new Chief Executive, John Hooton, left of Tory leader Richard Cornelius

Let's see what the Chief Executive had to say: here is some of the latter correspondence: redacted to remove personal details: (my emphasis in red).

Mr Hooton:

I have still not received a proper response to the questions I put to you and Ms X in regard to the water supply in libraries ...

If the council refuses to give immediate reassurance about the safety of the water supply in library buildings, and for its employees, frankly that is deplorable. 

If I don't receive the information I asked for without any further delay, I will be obliged to take appropriate action elsewhere.


Hooton, John 
Feb 9

Theresa,

I apologise for the delay in responding to you on this. I would like to reassure you around the risk of contracting Legionnaires disease and the concerns that you have raised in respect of libraries.

To begin with, it is important to note that to be at risk of contracting Legionnaires disease, staff and others would need to be exposed to high counts of the legionella bacteria in a mist form and inhaled into the lungs (for example from air conditioning units), and that you cannot contract legionnaires disease from drinking water or washing hands. No such risks have been identified in our libraries as part of our testing. However, I will explain what testing has taken place.

We carry out regular checks on all water services in all Council owned and controlled buildings in Barnet in line with legislation and codes of practice. This is referred to as the Normal Cyclical Maintenance regime. Once a year samples are taken from the water services systems and the samples are then assessed in laboratory conditions.  Should there be any concerns raised then more frequent tests and sampling are undertaken along with immediate remedial works in line with the codes of practice. There is on-going monitoring and testing of the water system services throughout the year.

There are no positive legionella results in any of our libraries. When tested, a small number of outlets (taps) showed some slightly elevated Total Viable Counts (TVC).  A TVC is a generic name for material such as bacteria (excluding Legionella), yeast, or mould. Any measures taken are strictly preventative only; at no point have any staff or visitors to the library been at risk.

When a positive sample is received, recommendations and arrangements are made with the respective site in line with the latest regulations and codes of practice. This includes taking the affected outlets out of service and cleaned in line with recommended codes of practice, then retested. If elevated TVC counts are still recorded after the preventative measures are introduced then the system would be cleaned, descaled and disinfected.

At North Finchley specifically, staff can use the water in all but one of the outlets, which was taken out of service as a precautionary measure while it was cleaned. Resampling is being undertaken before bringing it back into use.


Kind regards

John Hooton
Chief Executive
London Borough of Barnet



Feb 10

to John Hooton

Thank you for your reply, but I am afraid it does not fully address the concerns raised.

Legionnaires Disease may theoretically be contracted from any form of water vapour: in other words wherever hot water is available for use. I note that for example in 2015, a driving test centre was closed after Legionella was found in the water supply - clearly the same type of use of water posing similar risk to staff and the public as any library workplace.

You say 'there are no positive results': does that mean that there never have been?

But this is not just about the risk of legionella: to have bacterial contamination found in at least three libraries, and for staff not to have been informed is simply not acceptable ... The council has a duty of care to identify any risk to staff health and safety. At no time have staff been told of the reason for the taps now being taped off: this is grossly irresponsible, especially when staff may have health problems, or be pregnant.

You refer to 'cyclical testing'. 

Why was such testing only done at NF library immediately before its closure for 'modification', rather than earlier when staff were exposed to risk? 

Please confirm that Church End, East Finchley and Hendon libraries have also been recently tested, and supply the dates on which this was done, so that we can be sure my family members are not working in an environment where the water supply may pose a risk to their health.


Hooton, John 
Feb 10


Theresa,

To come back on these points:

Firstly around water vapour, legionella doesn't survive in temperatures over 60 degrees, and water boils at 100 degrees, so I am assured that any vapour from water will not have any risk of legionella. As I mentioned, risk can exist for things like air conditioning units, but this is not the situation here.

There are no recorded cases of positive tests for legionella. The team has reviewed records over the past four years.

In terms of the risk to staff and staff being informed. Occasionally low levels of bacteria will be found in water testing. I am assured that the levels found pose no risk to the health of staff and the public. We would only notify staff where a risk exists.


In terms of testing at Church End, Hendon and East Finchley, I can confirm that these were all tested 6 weeks ago with no issues arising.

First of all to note that Mr Hooton's comments on water vapour are interesting, but I think somewhat questionable. If legionella traces in water taps are not any danger to health, why is it necessary to test for such, and take action if found? And it was found, in Grahame Park, in June, and then again later.

Mrs Angry decided to carry out her own sampling process, comparing the level of accuracy in responses from Chief Executives to that of Capita officers, testing undertaken on the same day, and delivered, via the Freedom of Information Act, to her laboratory for analysis.

Q: Please give me full details of all tests of water supply and plumbing systems
in Barnet Libraries during the last twelve months.

Response: Please see the attached copies of water sampling certificates. The dates of sampling
are contained on the certificates. The tests are for Legionella, E Coli, Coliforms and
Total Viable Counts. The tests were undertaken by HSL and conducted by an
independent laboratory. The tests were taken on behalf of Capita CSG Building
Services Team.

Q: Please tell me if any members of staff or public have reported illness related
to library buildings, or have reported as testing positive for Legionnaires
disease. You may of course redact personal names, or details covered by
FOIA.

Response: There have been no positive tests for Legionnaires disease amongst staff members

or the public and no evidence of any illness connected to our library buildings

No positive tests. Were there any tests? Negative ones? If so, how widely were staff members screened? And why?

The results returned, with alarming evidence of corporate contamination, over and beyond the level of credibility acceptable to Mrs Angry: with some libraries mysteriously missing, and an alarming contradiction of the assurance given by the Chief Executive regarding legionella:





The microbiology results in red, says a discreet warning note at the bottom of the page 'appear to be out of specification. ACTION MAY BE REQUIRED'.

Another test in September:





Whether or not legionella traces pose a risk to health, at any given temperature, leaves the question, unanswered, about bacterial contamination of water, which most certainly can cause serious problems to anyone, let alone someone elderly, in poor health, with low immunity, or pregnant - and in this case the positive count was in a women's WC.

TVC/aerobic colony counts - 'total viable counts' of live bacteria - indicate a level of potential for risk to health from poor water hygiene - there are no statutory limits but there is guidance - and regular testing is meant to be used as a warning system to prevent serious contamination of water supplies.

Among the FOI results, which appear edited, there is a 'Warning and /or Out of Specification Report' for the staff kitchen, in regard to 'coliforms', from a test at the beginning of February.

Other tests show positive results - although presumably at a level that did not require informing staff:

In January, the men's WC cold water test at Edgware library showed a level of 29 under Total Coliforms, 94 for TVC at 37 degrees C, and 25, at 22 degrees. 

East Finchley's second floor kitchenette in January had a TVC level of 202 - for some reason no results given for the staff WC levels.

Golders Green staff kitchen in January also had TVC levels of 37 (37 degrees) and 14 (22 degrees).

Hendon had a test, it seems, in January, possibly, from a sample submission form - but no results disclosed. And we don't know the results from five other library premises.

To put these results into some sort of perspective, here is an explanation from one water testing company, Bywater.co.uk: my emphasis in red -

There is no standard acceptable value for TVC. Guidelines say that on-going testing should
indicate a rise in numbers and should indicate that a system is becoming contaminated /
needs cleaning. The food industry uses the following values as acceptable for TVC and
these can be used by other industries as a basic guideline to acceptable levels. TVC 22°C -
less than 1000 /ml, TVC 37oC - less than 100 / ml.

Coliforms: Coliforms are a group of environmental bacteria that have originated from the
intestines of animals. They can generally grow in the environment also and are known as
indicator organisms ie they are used as a guideline of possible contamination. In the majority of cases when coliforms are picked up in water samples taken from a tap the cause is the fact that the tap needs cleaning. Acceptable levels - not detected in 100ml.

Edgware's Total Coliform count, therefore, would appear to breach the safe level, and the 37 degrees result is only just under the guideline level.

'We would only notify staff where a risk exists', said the Chief Executive: who defines that risk?

Were all members of staff who had worked at Grahame Park notified, and tested? 

What about South Friern? And Edgware?

What are the results for the missing libraries?

Why were staff in libraries with TVC traces, where taps were taped off, not informed of the reason, and given alternative drinking water? 

Why did the authority not seek to identify any members of staff who might be at higher risk from exposure to any contaminated water, especially drinking water?

Why, as soon as legionella traces were found, and then coliform contamination, were not all libraries immediately shut and the water supply tested, and cleaned?

As the TVC tests have shown raised levels, is there a continuing system of regular checks in every library, to make sure that the count is not rising above the acceptable levels?

What is Capita's role in all this? Did they act correctly in the management of this problem? Did they, on taking over responsibility for maintenance of buildings in 2013, provide and maintain an adequate system of monitoring? 

Or was it, as in the case of the library IT crash, due to a failure by the privatised service contractors to have in place an adequate system of management?

Ironic, really: not so long ago, Capita removed access to drinking water at all council meetings. 

Maybe that was a wise precaution, in the circumstances ...

But now that libraries are entirely managed by Capita, and four of them handed over to private groups to run, can we feel assured as to the standard of maintenance, and that the health and safety of staff, volunteers and library users will not be at risk?

How many other council properties are now managed by Capita, and have their water supply systems been tested?

There is another aspect to all this. 

Six years ago, legionella was found in three Barnet care homes, and the outbreak blamed on poor maintenance by council contractors: you can read more about that here and here. The homes were run by Catalyst, for Barnet, but in turn the management was subcontracted to Fremantle. As is often the case, a privatised service led to a lowering of standards in this case with potentially fatal consequences. At the time, the authority's environmental health team was obliged to issue health and safety improvement notices to the council's contractors, as well as demand the provision of risk assessments for each water supply system.

What about now, in this case, in 2017, where Capita is responsible for both maintenance of the library buildings, and environmental health enforcement? Quite clearly there is a major conflict of interest. 

What steps were taken, in regard to the results from the library water supply systems? 

Did Capita issue itself with a health and safety improvement notice, and demand individual risk assessments? Did it receive them?


Mrs Angry will be asking Mr Hooton tomorrow to explain the statement he made, not once, but twice, that there had been no legionella traces in any Barnet library, and will update this post accordingly.