Barnet set to repeat Westminster sale of cemeteries scandal
Andrew Dismore, Labour London Assembly candidate for Barnet and Camden has today released papers which he has just received in response to a freedom of information request to Barnet Council concerning Hendon Crematorium and Cemetery.
Mr Dismore, prior to becoming MP for Hendon, was a Westminster City councillor at the time of the infamous Westminster Council cemeteries scandal in the 1980’s when the notorious Lady Porter, the then Council leader, sold three cemeteries, including two in Barnet ( East Finchley and Mill Hill) for 15p, and then had to buy them back after they were asset stripped and neglected, causing untold distress to relatives of those buried there, and costing the council taxpayer millions to repurchase them.
Mr Dismore said:
“History is in danger of repeating itself with Barnet’s politically ideologically dogmatic approach to the Hendon cemetery and crematorium. They don’t even have the excuse that they are losing money, as they actually make a handsome profit, which they want to hand over to the private sector.
I well remember the distress and final financial cost of the ill-thought out and heartless decision of Westminster to sell their cemeteries, and Barnet is risking the same outcome.
The email trail suggests that Cllr Coleman is behind the decisions.
And what on earth was an officer doing, to agree to amend a report to the dictate of an elected member? This is an unprofessional approach at the least, if the consequence was to reverse the officer recommendations.
And why have the council failed to disclose the earlier draft reports, before Cllr Coleman’s amendments?
And just how do the council propose to comply with the law to protect the public from dangerous emissions, which is their legal duty by the end of 2012, when the lead in time for the work is 2 years, as officers have repeatedly pointed out, when they reminded the Conservative ruling Councillors of their recommendation for the investment to be done in house?
The Conservative ruling group haven’t even had the common sense to go to Westminster Council to ask their advice in the light of what happened there.
Needless to say, as we have come to expect from Conservative Barnet, there has been no consultation with the public, let alone with those who have relatives interred or commemorated at the cemetery and crematorium, and I am sure they would have something to say about the council’s scheme!
The arrogance of Barnet Conservatives is staggering, as they plough on regardless, with their Titanic policy about to hit the iceberg of the law, risking fines as well as the safety of the public.
This is potentially a scandal of epic proportions and the inadequate FoI response raises as many questions as it provides answers.
Cllr Coleman and his colleagues must now come clean about just what has been, and is, going on.”
Notes to editor:
Compliance with Mr Dismore’s FoI request from last October 2011 was months overdue and remains incomplete, but the following facts emerge:
1 The council must take action to abate mercury emissions by Dec 2012
a The lead in time for this work is 2 years
b The council has not commissioned this work so far
c The public is at risk of poisonous mercury emissions until action is taken
2 The cemetery and crematorium make a net profit after capital of £454k pa
Investment of £2m is needed, but this would produce income of £5.4m over 25yrs
3 On 23/1/09, director Pam Wharfe emailed Cllr Coleman:
a “ I am keen to change the report as you think appropriate” ( this original report not disclosed in response to FoI)
b 11/2/09: an amended report sent to Cllr Coleman: this report also not disclosed, but likely to be:
c 23/4/09: report to pursue privatisation option approved by Cabinet resource committee.
d 12/8/10: email from redacted name, suggests sale price could be “zero”
4 Officers recommended the investment should be done in house:
a This was in a report of July 10 (possibly “soft market testing” report or otherwise not apparently disclosed as it should have been in response to FoI)
b Confirmed in email of Feb 11 to Cllr Cohen, again recommending investment approval ….
c ….. and confirmed again in email of 12/7/11, Rick Mason,(AAD) to Cllr Davey
5 28/3/11: Cllr Cornelius takes the lead
6 the privatisation option, first decided in Dec 08 for “smaller government” reasons has obstructed public health, will reduce income for the council, is the product of dogma not common sense, and will inevitably cause distress to relatives of those buried at the cemetery
FoI request and response below; and disclosed documents attached
For further details call Andrew Dismore 07957 625 813
From: Abbasi, Mohsin [mailto:Mohsin.Abbasi@barnet.gov.uk]
Sent: 04 April 2012 18:51
Subject: RE: FoI Cemeteries and crematorium
Dear Mr. Dismore
I write in response to your request, received by the council on 02nd October 2011, for information on Hendon Cemeteries and Crematorium. We are processing your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). Under the Act you should have received a response within 20 working days. I apologise for us not meeting this deadline.
Taking each part of your request in turn our response is as follows.
1 “copies of all council reports and correspondence referring to the possible sale or contracting out of the cemetery and /or crematorium”
On 23rd April 2009, Cabinet Resources Committee made the decision to carry out a procurement review and subject to that review showing that best value for the council could be achieved by tendering the service, to undertake a procurement process. Please find attached copies of council reports detailing the contracting out of the Hendon Cemetery.
2 “copies of all consultation documents sent to those with relatives burled or commemorated at the cemetery and /or crematorium”
No consultation was undertaken at that stage.
3 “copy of the analysis of the responses to such consultations”
4 “copies of all correspondence between Barnet BC and Westminster City Council concerning WCC’s experience of the sale and repurchase of their cemeteries”
There is no correspondence between Barnet BC and Westminster CC on these matters.
5 “copies of all correspondence from and to elected members concerning the possible sale or contracting out of the cemetery and /or crematorium”
Please see attached copies of correspondence and reports.
Please note we have redacted the names of the officers who are below AD level (This is in accordance with Section 40 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as it constitutes personal data). We have also redacted the names of the companies participated in soft market testing.
If you are unhappy with the way your request for information has been handled, you can request a review 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 you remain dissatisfied with the handling of your request or complaint, you have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioner at: The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF (telephone: 08456 30 60 60 or 01625 54 57 45; website: www.ico.gov.uk).
There is no charge for making an appeal.
One Barnet Programme Office
London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11 1NP
Tel: 020 8359 7390
Barnet Online: www.barnet.gov.uk
Please consider the environment – do you really need to print this email?
From: Andrew Dismore
Sent: 02 October 2011 14:18
To: Freedom of Information Act
Subject: FoI Cemeteries and crematorium
I understand that Barnet is considering contracting out the Hendon Cemetery and crematorium.
Could I please have:
1 copies of all council reports and correspondence referring to the possible sale or contracting out of the cemetery and /or crematorium
2 copies of all consultation documents sent to those with relatives burled or commemorated at the cemetery and /or crematorium
3 copy of the analysis of the responses to such consultations
4 copies of all correspondence between Barnet BC and Westminster City Council concerning WCC’s experience of the sale and repurchase of their cemeteries
5 copies of all correspondence from and to elected members concerning the possible sale or contracting out of the cemetery and /or crematorium
79 the Burroughs
Electronic copes will be satisfactory