In August, Matthew Offord MP had a column in the Barnet Press proclaiming that under the current government, Hendon has the ‘Golden chance to boost our high streets’. In this article, Mr Offord claims various actions which he has taken.
He has welcomed the announcement that the Bank of England would be releasing money to lend to small businesses, although the government have been promising similar initiatives since they came to office, and the general feedback from SME’s has been negative. I hope he is right and it will work, but history, both of action such as this in the dying days of the Labour government and since the coalition has come to power does not give me much optimism.
Mr Offord then goes on to state that he is supportive of small business and wants to help Hendons High Streets. All well and good.
(I should point out that despite much of the blame being placed on Brian Coleman RE: Parking – Offord held the portfolio previously and is the one who began the sharp increases.)
Offord then welcomes the initiatives and investments that both the Mayor of London and central government have developed to help struggling High Streets, he cites the Portas Pilot scheme and also the Mayor of London’s Outer London Fund.
People who have followed the Mayors Outer London Fund will note the complete abuse of it by Barnet Council in North Finchley – but I will leave Café Buzz owner Helen Michael to explain that with a lot more passion and detail than myself. (Pop in there, she will be only too happy to tell you)
Anyway, back to the point of my blog today. Offord claims that he had made representations to Barnet Council (one can only imagine it must be the elected officials – the then parking supremo Brian Coleman and the current one Dean Cohen.).
He stated: “The ease and cost of parking is a key factor in encouraging use of high streets, and I have been making representations to Barnet Council for the past 18 months regarding the increase in charges and the pay-by-phone system which I believed would be detrimental to businesses.”
According to FOI request I have made, no such correspondence exists between Matthew Offord and either of these two Councillors. In fact, there has been no contact whatsoever about official business between these Councillors and Matthew Offord.
On top of this, I asked about any communication between Offord and Cllr Longstaff, who is the go to guy at Barnet Council in relation to High Streets. I asked whether there has been any correspondence between Offord and Cllr Richard Cornelius, Cllr David Longstaff and Cllr Dean Cohen regarding a Portas Pilot scheme for any High Street in Hendon. Answer: None.
Mr Offord stated:
“Such investment [as the Mayors Outer London Fund & Portas Pilot Schemes] is essential to our economic recovery and I am pressing for the shopping areas of the Hendon constituency to be recipients of this high street aid.”
Outrageously, he then takes aim at Barnet Council, despite making no official representations to them:
“Barnet’s revised parking proposals are a crucial part of the drive to revitalise our high streets.
It is vital that all these initiatives are put into effective action, but it is not just the government’s responsibility to safeguard our high streets and small businesses.
The responsibility also lies with local authorities and with all of us to support our shops and businesses with our feet and our wallets.”
What should one make of this? Well, he may well have had ‘chats’ with his buddy Brian or had a coffee with Dean, but this is official business, you do not govern of make representations for change in such a way.
Truth is that Matthew Offord is as deep into the Barnet Council mess and fiasco as the Councillors are and is trying to cover his own back by claiming to be holier than though.
A final word: I have tweeted and said some incorrect things about one Councillor in particular which I would like to retract and give some praise to. David Longstaff, Tory Councillor for High Barnet is a decent chap, and pretty much the only cabinet member in this Tory administration willing to have a direct and frank conversation with critics. For that he is to be commended and respected. From what I have seen, he has taken a strong interest in Barnets High Street problems.
Take from this what you will. Below is the FOI response.
Thank you for your request received on 11 September 2012, for the following information:
- Please could you send me all email correspondence between Matthew Offord MP and Cllr David Longstaff since September 2011.
- Please could you send me all email correspondence between Matthew Offord MP and Cllr Dean Cohen since May 2012.
- Please could you send me all email correspondence between Matthew Offord MP and Cllr Brian Coleman between September 2011 and May 2012.
- Please could you send me all and any correspondence between Matthew Offord MP and Cllr David Longstaff regarding a bid for the portas pilot high street scheme for a Hendon constituency based High Street since august 2011.
- Please could you send me all and any correspondence between Matthew Offord MP and Cllr Richard Cornelius regarding a bid for the portas pilot high street scheme for a Hendon constituency based High Street since Ausut 2011.
- Please could you send me all and any correspondence between Matthew Offord MP and Cllr David Longstaff regarding a bid for the Mayor of Londons Outer London fund for a Hendon constituency based High Street since August 2011.
- Please could you send me all and any correspondence between Matthew Offord MP and Cllr Richard Cornelius regarding a bid for the Mayor of Londons Outer London fund for a Hendon constituency based High Street since August 2011.
- Please could you send me all and any correspondence between Matthew Offord MP and Cllr Dean Cohen regarding a bid for the Mayor of Londons Outer London fund for a Hendon constituency based High Street since August 2011..
We have processed this request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
I can confirm that the named councillors have searched their records and do not have any information falling within the scope of your request. The council therefore does not hold the information you have requested in parts 1-3 and 5-9 of your request.
With regard to part 4 of your request; I am unable to confirm whether or not the council holds information falling within the scope of your request. This is because there are over 20 senior officers who could potentially hold information. We estimate that asking all the officers to search their email boxes will exceed the appropriate cost limit under section 12 FOIA. This is currently £450 which is equivalent to 18 hours at £25 per hour. The appropriate limit takes into account the costs associated with determining if information is held and locating, retrieving and extracting the information if held. As you may already be aware the council is not obliged to comply with a request which will exceed the cost limit. You may wish to refine your request by providing the names of the officers who may hold this information.
If you are unhappy with the way your request for information has been handled, you can request a review within the next 20 working days by writing to the FOI Officer at: The London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London, N11 1NP (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
If, having exhausted our review procedure, you remain dissatisfied with the handling of your request or complaint, you will have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioner at: The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF (telephone: 0303 123 1113; website www.ico.gov.uk). There is no charge for making an appeal.