Friday, October 27, 2006

Is secular Britain trying to abolish religion?

Is secular Britain trying to abolish religion?

This may sound a sharp question but when you consider the recent news stories over the last few weeks is this really so.

First we had the question raised by Jack Straw over whether Moslem women should be allowed to wear the niqab (full veil) and then even raising the possibility that the hijab (partial veil) should not be worn either. Next came the news that a British Airways air stewardess was banned from wearing a cross on her necklace. Then there was the further news that there is a growing political consensus that religious-based state schools should ensure that 25% of their student body should include pupils that are not of the schools dominant religion. I therefore welcome the announcement yesterday by the Government that they won't be making this requirement compulsory on schools. Although, I don't believe the threat has gone away.

What each of these three stories highlight is that there is a growing view in Britain that individuals should not be able to identify themselves as different from the rest of society based on their religion. I would argue though that many religious actions are not there to make that person seem better than others, rather religious actions, religious determined dress and religious-based schools are there to help that person get closer to what they feel there ultimate purpose is. For example as an orthodox Jew I wear a kapel (skullcap) as a head covering to make me feel closer to G-d.

However, now in Britain there is a growing view that if you do not conform to the Western customs you are an outsider, who should not be tolerated as you are trying to be different from the norm. While, I believe that is not the correct way for society to treat minority groups in this country, I am also not suggesting that the minority-religious groups should exclude themselves from the rest of society, ignoring and often looking down on others. The Hindu, Jewish and Sikh communities are positive illustrations of how religious communities can remain as strong communities while at the same time becoming successful members of the wider community.

Especially in the Jewish community this can be put down to the successful Jewish schools that attract high numbers of Jewish pupils and are often over subscribed. So I ask why are schools such as these being threatened with reform so that they will have to accept 25% of their intake from children who are not Jewish.

There is a point of view that with the increasing marginalisation of some groups in society and the growing threat of terrorism, that there is a need to ensure that children are not secluded from other communities so that children can learn to accept and live with people that are different to themselves. While this obviously does have some positive benefits, this is not the only way to create a tolerant society. Children can be taught to be respectful of everyone in society while being taught in one-religion based schools. What matters for groups in society to be respectful of others is that they have a genuine understanding of others and are tolerant of all groups and individuals.

Children can learn this in mixed schools but they can also develop this method of understanding in single-religion schools. Like many parents want their children to be taught in single-sex schools, many parents want their children to go to a single-faith school. This can be for a number of reasons including that they want their children to develop a strong foundation in their own faith and history, while being able to share the same religious values with the children around them. Children are therefore able to gain confidence in their own beliefs and practices, so that they are then better equipped to face the world with tolerance and respect for others.

I am proud to be a former student at two Jewish schools, Rosh Pinah Primary School and JFS Secondary School. Through my time at these schools (including at JFS which has existed in London for more than 270 years) I received an education that provided me with a strong Jewish ethos but also to value and support everyone in society, so that I hope I am now someone that is proud to help all individuals where ever they come from. However, I also want to protect the rights of religious groups to express their religion as they wish. Therefore I will continue to campaign with and support religious groups that want to wear their religious attire and send their children to single faith schools.


Last night I was at the Edgware, Mill Hill and Burnt Oak Forum.

One of the questions which was raised by a member of the public was how you can dispose of shredded paper in the recycling bin. With the threat of ID fraud we are increasingly being encouraged to shred our documents.

Therefore I am pleased that as a Council we do cater for recycling shredded paper. If you wish to dispose of shredded paper, you should place it in a tied plastic bag, clearly marked that it contains shredded paper. The recycling collectors will then take the bag and empty it at the recycling site, so that it does not make a mess in peoples gardens and along roads.

Barnet FC

I was at the monthly Planning and Environment Committee on Wednesday night. One of the items that we had to decide upon to give planning permission to was whether Barnet Football club should be allowed to improve their ground maintenance to make it safer and more secure for their supporters.

I am pleased to say that we were able as a Committee to grant planning permission to the club for this work.

I believe Barnet FC are an asset to the borough of which we should be proud.

Therefore, we need to help them maintain a stadium for the future that is suitable for their needs. Obviously, while maintaining their needs this should not negatively impact on local residents and so I believe it is very important that they also carefully follow the proper procedure for gaining planning permission before they carry out any work.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The new Edgware Eruv

After many months of waiting I am pleased to hear that Edgware’s eruv with be live from tomorrow evening. I would like to congratulate everyone who has worked hard to achieve this. I would also like to thank the Councillors on Barnet Council who before I was elected, gave permission for the required infrastructure to be put in place.

For those of you that are not aware an eruv allows orthodox Jews to carry and to move push chairs outside on Shabbat (Sabbath day) which otherwise is not allowed. An area becomes included within an eruv when it is surrounded by a boundary. This can include existing walls and natural boundaries but also includes some poles and wires.

More information can be found out about the Edgware Eruv at

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Barnet's First Class Schools

This evening I attended the Education Scrutiny Committee. At this session of the Committee we looked at the outcome of a report of OFSTED inspections across Barnet and in particular at four schools in the Barnet. This highlighted to me the excellent schools we have in Barnet and the hard work and effort that our teachers and school staff put in to making sure that children educated in Barnet can have the best start in life.

This adds to the recently published OFSTED Joint Area Review of Barnet’s Children’s Services. The report which was published on 10 October announced that - in Barnet’s 4 nursery schools, 89 primary schools, 19 secondary schools, 4 special schools and 3 pupil referral units – educational standards are above the national average and outcomes for most children are rated as good. This has been because of the combined work of the staff in our “local schools and services that have helped children to enjoy their educational and recreational activities.” “The Council has also helped by taking a strong lead in bringing about improvements in the performance of its schools over a short period of time.”

The reports tonight also highlighted that of the Barnet schools inspected by OFSTED in the 2005/06 academic year, 89% of schools in Barnet were rated as outstanding or good. This compares to the national average of 57%.

I would particularly like to congratulate the two schools we heard to from tonight, Colindale Primary School and St Catherine’s Roman Catholic School who were able to highlight the excellent work that our schools do in partnership with Barnet Council.

While attendance in primary schools needs to be improved in Barnet, strategies have already started to work to improve this including the idea of Barnet Bears who can't bear to miss school (hence the picture). There are also many interesting teaching techniques which the schools are using to make education fun and helping the pupils to learn.

What did strike me is that one of Barnet’s outstanding schools is The Annunciation Roman Catholic Infant School in Burnt Oak. This Roman Catholic school has a requirement that all its pupils are catholic. At this time when there appears to be a growing view that this should not happen but that religious-based schools should be required to accept a proportion of pupils I believe that this shows that religious-based schools are successful for a reason. Schools are helped to be successful when all pupils have a common and shared ethos. Just like parents can choose to send their children to single sex schools I believe parents should be allowed to choose to send their children to single religious-based schools, which are shown to be proven to help the children taught there.

I am therefore pleased to have spent an evening hearing about the success of education in Barnet.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Edgware, Mill Hill and Burnt Oak Forum

You can have your say on what Barnet Council is doing in your area be it Edgware, Mill Hill or Burnt Oak next week at the Residents Forum. This will be at 6:30pm on Thursday 26 October.

The Residents Forum will be at The Memorial House, Watling Community Centre, 145 Orange Hill Road, Edgware, HA8 8EL

If you want a subject to be discussed please contact Jonathan Regal on 020 8359 2012.

I hope to see you there.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Robert Rams

My colleague Cllr Robert Rams this week gave a link to my website. You can access his blog on the left had column.

Future of Health Care in Barnet

For too long the health service in this country has struggled from one crisis to the next as different political parties have continually reversed previous ideas about how best to run the NHS. In Barnet this has led to many difficulties with the quality of health services. This includes the closing of Edgware Hospital, for which I remember the controversy while I was at school. While Labour were unable to keep Edgware Hospital open I agree they should be given credit for the Community Hospital which is on the current site. However, as many of you will agree with this does need expanding given the size of the current local population, which is continuing to grow.

That is why I am pleased that the leaders of the local political parties in the Council and MPs have come together to issue a joint statement (below) calling for improved health facilities (and not closures) in Barnet. This is so that the Primary Care Trust, which is responsible for delivering health care agrees a future programme that is best for Barnet and its residents.

From tomorrow you can give your views at

Joint Statement on Barnet, Enfield and Haringey NHS Clinical Strategy

We thought it would be timely if we jointly set out a statement about the development of the above strategy from a Barnet perspective. Starting first with context about Barnet

• Barnet is the 2nd largest borough in London whose population mainly uses the acute hospitals of Barnet, the Royal Free and to a lesser extent Northwick Park and Chase Farm.
• Barnet is the fastest growing London Borough outside of the Thames Gateway with an expected increase in its population of about 40,000 in the next 10 years, especially along the A5 corridor, the furthest part of the borough from Chase Farm.
• The local NHS has been bedevilled with mixed performance ratings.
• This has been particularly the case for our main Acute Trust of Barnet and Chase Farm Hospital which was formed by a merger 5 years ago. The merger took place despite Barnet Hospital’s main clinical links, at the time, being with the Royal Free and not with Chase Farm in Enfield.
• There is one A/E department in the borough at Barnet Hospital. Barnet residents also extensively use the Royal Free A/E department. Additionally there are two very popular Walk In Centres at two community hospitals.
• One of these community hospitals, Edgware Community Hospital, was highlighted by the Department of Health in July as an example of a 21st Century style community hospital. The other, Finchley Memorial Hospital, is by contrast in a poorer condition, but is well used by the community.
• Barnet Council has a programme of joint working with Barnet PCT, which has been held back this year by top slices of the PCT’s budget allocation.

We understand the issues that are driving changes in acute services. These have been well articulated by leading commentators such as the Chair of the BMA. We support increasing provision of care nearer people’s homes and much more in partnership with social care. Such transfers of services from hospitals with costs falling on social care should be partnered with the transfer of resources. This is not a matter for London NHS alone.

However, it does appear from a purely Barnet perspective that many of the problems in outer north London which the clinical strategy is trying to resolve have arisen because of the Barnet and Chase Farm merger.

The clinical strategy sets out a number of scenarios, which we understand are now being short listed to 4 or 5 options for more detailed analysis before consultation. A few of the scenarios are clearly not feasible, such as turning North Middlesex into a community hospital or for that matter ceasing emergency services at Barnet Hospital. This would not be acceptable to Barnet. Decisions on provision must be made solely on clinical, access and financial grounds, based on the evidence. Barnet Hospital has recently benefited from a major rebuilding programme and these brand new buildings must be used by the NHS for planned and emergency treatment. Good access to NHS services for Barnet residents is of vital importance. Barnet residents’ use of local hospitals follows public transport and road links. Chase Farm is poorly accessed from most of the borough.

We support a change in provision in Barnet, as the current pattern of services will not continue to meet the needs of our residents. We also support increasing choice for users of NHS services. However, we wish the change process to be managed constructively with local representatives, as otherwise there is a risk that the level of opposition being generated will freeze decision making and result in a continuance of the status quo. This will not serve us well in the medium to long term. For these reasons we suggest an approach which demonstrates the following:

• Ensuring there is the necessary investment at Barnet Hospital to meet any increased activity due to changes in Enfield
• Redeveloping Finchley Memorial Hospital, including the Marie Foster Centre, as a modern 21st Century community hospital to help support the changes and bring care nearer to people’s homes. London NHS will be receiving a Strategic Outline Case for its redevelopment this December
• Supporting the development of improved community and primary care services in Barnet, including further developments at Edgware Community Hospital.
• Recognising the impact on health services infrastructure of the growth in Barnet’s population, including the changing demographic profile and fully resourcing this as it occurs.
• Enabling appropriate transfers of resources into social care where activity is being transferred out of hospitals and the costs are falling onto Council budgets
• Recognising the principle of Patient Choice as the driver of changes in the system.
• Reinstating and, in addition, developing stronger clinical links between Barnet Hospital, local community services and the Royal Free Hospital.

Additionally we could well envisage, that the possible changes in Enfield could in due course lead to the need for acute trust reconfiguration with the creation of a Trust encompassing Barnet Hospital and the Royal Free. This would create a Trust that more closely reflects the actual patient journeys of Barnet residents and could more effectively focus on Barnet’s needs. The London Borough of Barnet has the largest number of patients using the Royal Free of any London borough. However, organisational reconfiguration must be secondary to getting services in the right shape to serve our community.

Cllr Mike Freer, Leader of Barnet Council

Cllr Helena Hart, Cabinet Member for Public Health

Cllr Brian Coleman, London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden

Cllr Alison Moore, Leader of the Labour Group, Barnet Council

Cllr Monroe Palmer, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Barnet Council