Barnet…there’s an app for that

With the launch of Barnet Council’s new iPhone app, residents can tap into local services and information wherever they are. The Barnet Mobile smartphone app is now available for free download from the Apple App Store and is suitable for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

Barnet Mobile app

The new app allows you to:

  • access local consultations
  • find local services on an interactive map
  • pay your council tax
  • search frequently asked questions
  • sign-up for pay-by-phone parking
  • contact your local councillor
  • read the latest tweets and press releases.

Barnet is one of the first UK councils to launch a smartphone app and it’s been created by an in-house developer. This means Barnet has introduced a new way to contact and engage with the council at a minimal cost to residents.

I encourage you to download the app and let me know what you think.

An app for Android smartphones is being developed, I will let you know when it is available.

Have you signed up for planning alerts?

There is a service available from Barnet Council that makes it easy to find out about planning applications in your area. The council will send you email updates if you sign up for planning alerts at Barnet’s website.

There is a very simple online form that asks you to choose whether you want alerts about planning applications in your local ward or close to your postcode location. Once you sign up, you will receive an email each time a planning application is lodged for a property in your local area.

Barnet is exploring different way to make information available to residents and the planning alert service is a good example of providing information in a more easily digestible manner.

Planning applications have always been available for public scrutiny but by providing an ‘opt in’ alert service the council has made it much easier for residents to access the information they want.

It is important that residents are involved in planning decisions in their local community and this service will encourage more local people to take a more active role.

Planning alerts, along with other website features such as FixmyStreet and Barnet PledgeBank have improved the online experience for Barnet residents and made it easier to interact with the council.

We will continue to explore new way to engage with residents and provide them with the information they want in ways they want to receive it.

Big Lunch Letter

Following on from my post about the sucess of our Pledge Bank and the Royal Wedding Street Parties, in the Barnet Times today Cllr Kate Salinger writes a great letter about the Big Lunch.

As Cllr Salinger says, email barnet.pledgebank@barnet.gov.uk for an organiser’s information pack or call the council on 020 8359 7293.

Street party success

Last week, Barnet residents celebrated the Royal Wedding by throwing more than 50 street parties. Party organisers registered their events through the Barnet Pledgebank website, meaning their public liability insurance costs were covered by the council.

The large number of street parties that took place indicates both how popular the Royal Wedding was with Barnet residents, and how successful the Royal Wedding street party pledge has been. I think it’s wonderful that so many local people got involved.

If you didn’t hold a street party last Friday, there’s another chance next month. The Big Lunch, a one day get-together for neighbours, takes place on Sunday 5 June. Email barnet.pledgebank@barnet.gov.uk for an organiser’s information pack or call the council on 020 8359 7293.

New ways of networking

In all facets of my work – in Parliament, at City Hall and as a councillor – networking is hugely important. I used to think it was an art form. To see a Member of Parliament walk into a room knowing no one, and speak for hours to people they had never met, left me in awe. This important skill is something I have worked hard to develop over the last few years.

With the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools, the way we network has changed dramatically. It is with this back drop that last week I wrote to members of the Barnet Civic Network to let them know that the group will no longer meet in its current form.

The Network was formed six years ago to bring together representatives from Barnet-based voluntary and community groups, to provide a networking forum, and to encourage them to work together.

The council ran evening events twice a year that usually attracted about 100 people. At these events, the council was able to speak to a wide range of organisations and ask them what they thought about any new plans or ideas that were being developed.

The Network has influenced the development of some important policy over the years, including the Safer Communities Strategy and the Sustainable Community Strategy, which I presented. But its most important function has been to connect, sometimes quite disparate, groups and allow people to meet, make contacts and exchange ideas.

Now the group is established, the council is able to engage with them in different and cheaper ways. Running a large event – providing a room and supplying refreshments – is an expensive way to speak to people, particularly when you consider the financial constraints faced by the council. There are now a whole range of free (or almost free) social media tools that allow people from different groups, in different locations to network and collaborate online.

I want to encourage The Network to form their own virtual communities. This could take the form of community groups from a particular sector starting an online forum, broadcasting their messages through Twitter or building communities of interest using Facebook. Pledgebank is another useful tool that they can use to bring people together.

Barnet already uses social media to communicate with residents. This technology allows the council to take messages to the spaces where people congregate online. If you haven’t already done so, check out Barnet’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts – there is a new video on YouTube about Community Coaches that’s well worth a look. The council is currently trialling Twitter as an alternative to telephone contact to help to improve customer services.  These services are not perfect yet – but we’re getting there!

Barnet gets ready for a right royal party!

Following on from yesterday’s post – about how the council will cover the insurance costs of royal wedding street parties held on April 29 – I notice that twelve people have already signed to hold a shindig via Barnet’s PledgeBank website.

This is a tremendous start. The street party pledge only appeared on the website yesterday, so the amount of early interest is a clear indication of how community minded we are in Barnet.

The UK has a fine tradition of commemorating momentous events with street parties – from VE day to the royal wedding of Charles and Diana – so get involved, register for your own event and celebrate with your neighbours, you’ll be helping to build a closer community too!

The Royal Wedding and PledgeBank

There is not long to go until the wedding of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton, which will take place on 29 April 2011. As you know, the day of the royal wedding is a public holiday and most people won’t be at work, so it seems a perfect opportunity to hold a street party! Having sampled one of these as part of the Big Lunch I know how fun they can be!

Once possible to organise at the drop of a piece of bunting, running street parties has become sadly more complex – in part because of the need to hold appropriate public liability insurance policy. It is with this backdrop that the council has just announced plans to simplify this – arranging free insurance for any royal wedding street party held on 29 April, (we will do the same for the Big Lunch in June) if three households in a street sign up to a party on the Barnet Council Pledgebank. If you have not already done so, check out the Pledge Bank website.

All you need to do is visit the website, sign up to the Royal Wedding: Street Party in your street pledge and then fill in a simple application form to let the council know which streets will be closed on the day. The council will then sort out the insurance cover and let you get on with the important business of arranging your party. You can find out more about planning your event on the holding a Royal Wedding street party page of the website and get useful tips for throwing the perfect party by visiting http://www.streetparty.org.uk.

Barnet’s PledgeBank is a One Barnet initiative that’s been set up to encourage our local community to get together, to get things done. Pledges work on the principle that you’ll agree to do something if x number of people agree to be involved. I’ve recently sign up to this pledge:

“I, Mark Healey, will organise a team of volunteers to clear a patch of land opposite the Green Man Community Centre of litter and debris but only if 6 other people will agree to take part.”

The Green Man Community Centre in East Finchley is run by local residents and is home to several community organisations and I’m more than happy to help with the clean up. So far, five people have signed up to the pledge so we only need one more person and it happens!

Why not have a look at the other pledges and see if there is anything you can do to help your community. Or have a think about something you’d like to happen in your local area and suggest a pledge to encourage other people to get involved.

And if you are after some flags, just ask me about my friend who has recently started a flag company just to sell flags for the Royal Wedding!!