Friday, 1 April 2016

Eva Greenspan: a cautionary tale of local government

It is unusual to give prominence to a disgraced, convicted violent criminal, but the new Chairman (sic) of the London Borough of Barnet's Planning Committee was summed up by the odious Brian Coleman thus:

Councillor Mrs Eva Greenspan (Church End Ward ) Long serving (1990) former Mayor , hugely popular in the Jewish Community and loves her Planning on which she works hard  . Has failed to convince various Conservative Leaders over the years to make her Chairman of the Planning Committee . Was a very generous Mayor but her farewell speech when she described herself as "the Peoples Mayors" did raise a few Conservative eye brows. Has a low boredom threshold and can rarely sit still during a Council meeting . Must have the highest mobile phone bill of anyone on the Council . Known for her elegance and exquisit dress sense . Forms part of the "Orthodox block vote" in the Conservative Group which Leaders upset at their peril . 

Ms Greenspan has, as of 31st March 2016, achieved the one missing achievement that Brian suggested was missing from her portfolio of bountiful and disinterested public service.  Being elected as Chairman of the Planning Committee, apart from attracting an additional allowance of over £15,000 from the backbench minions, demonstrates that the processes of local government are entirely in keeping with the kind of one-party state that has existed under Labour, Tories and in the relatively open and transparent regime in North Korea.

Quite apart from noting that the impact of inflation on the current value of thirty pieces of silver, it would be instructive to consider what Ms Greenspan's background is.  I am indebted to the website of the law firm for which she is a "partner" for the following information around this paragon of virtue:

Eva Greenspan

Eva Greenspan is an experienced and well known real estate lawyer advising on commercial and substantial residential transactions for individuals and corporate investors and developers.
Eva has a considerable following of European and overseas clients as well as UK companies who rely on her for expertise in planning matters and advice on their funding requirements. She also acts for a number of banks and funds.
Eva is the former Mayor of the London Borough of Barnet (2006/2007) and remains today the Chairman of the Planning and Environment Committee of the London Borough of Barnet and a member of a number of other Council committees.
Eva is on the advisory board of a number of operational businesses and companies and is active on a number of charitable and non-charitable committees and is a Governor of Henrietta Barnet Grammar School.
Eva studied Architecture in Switzerland and has a BA in Psychology from the Open University and qualified as a solicitor in 1997. She is a Freeman of the City of London and a Member of the Variety Club of Great Britain.
Eva speaks several languages and is fluent in German, Swiss German and Polish and plays the piano, having studied at the Frankfurt Konservatorium.
To the best of my knowledge this has been on Quastel Midgen LLP's website unamended for the last 18 months.  Since she has only been elevated from presiding over a sub-committee (merely responsible for Finchley and Golders Green) this shows prescience and foresight only marred by the fact that her recent elevation has only been to the Chairmanship of the Planning Committee not to a defunct Planning and Environment Committee.

For those unaware of the background to Barnet Council's intriguing moral experiment, it may be worth drawing attention to the recent tales of woe on planning reported by one of the local newspapers.  

There are a number of particularly intriguing points in this article particularly around the potential for conflicts of interests within "Re" (a joint venture between Barnet Council and Capita) - which are not exactly unassuaged by the elevation of Ms Greenspan to the Chairpersonship of the Planning Committee.  

The Director of Planning at the Council is a Mr Joe Henry (or at least he claims to be the Service Director of Development Management and Building Control), but he actually works for Regional Enterprise (Re) which has the following nauseating piece of corporate puffery on the Barnet council website:

As identified above, Re also offers services to those seeking to develop, including the noble and upstanding Borough itself which is seeking to flog off its HQ building and provide more opportunities for expatriate buy-to-let landlords with minimal flats and good networks amongst the development community.

This is clearly an issue that requires careful handling, so it is deeply reassuring that the Barnet Conservatives (who hold a majority of one over other parties, assuming that a forthcoming by-election does not result in a swing to them) have elected a Chair of Planning who is prepared, professionally, to specialise in real estate and to signal to potential clients where her knowledge has been acquired.  Providing this degree of scrutiny over an outsourced contract where the boundaries are opaque and where even discovering the accountability lines requires forensic examination of the Capita-run Council website is clearly reassuring.

Local government often gets a bad press.  It is undoubtedly the case that there are people for whom public service and doing their best by the community is the prime motivation - however, unless anyone can demonstrate any argument to the contrary, the balance of probabilities set out above does not promote any confidence that standards in public life are necessarily the prime motivation.  I am sure that Ms Greenspan will discharge her duties and responsibilities consistently and in line with previous experience, and am very glad that I don't live in a borough where experiments in organisation combine with what might be seen as an alternative moral universe.

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