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Thursday, 19 October 2017

Council Tax Reduction Scheme Still in Place

One of the papers before the Brent Council Cabinet on Monday will be the annual review of the Council Tax Support scheme.  This replaced the national scheme back in 2012/13, and I had a hand in designing it.  

The report states:

"A fundamental  review of the current  Brent scheme  was undertaken in 2015, and concluded  that in terms of legal, financial  and  equitable robustness, the current scheme can be considered as a success.  There have been no legal challenges brought  against the  scheme,  and no unforeseen impact was identified.  There was no perceived appetite for radical change or a departure from the main principles governing the scheme at that time."

The report also notes that the alignment of housing benefit and the reduction scheme reduces the bureaucracy of applying, which must be welcome to many harassed residents.  However, it notes that this advantage is eroded as Universal credit is rolled out:  

"However it should be noted that as more  of the  working-age  caseload moves  onto Universal Credit (UC) over the next few years,  this advantage will be lost as claimants will be required to claim UC from the DWP and CTS from the Council."

While this may be a minor detail compared to some of the horror stories I have heard with Universal Credit, it is nonetheless regrettable.  

Finally, I have often noted that a number of people are very blase about possible legal challenges.  I think rather differently, having gone through a judicial review which was extraordinarily burdensome despite the Council being found lawful in every detail of its decision.  Nonetheless the officers writing the report give as a major reason for their "no change" recommendation "the risk opening up the scheme as a whole to challenge from external organisations and pressure groups." 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Debt and the Young

An excellent survey by the BBC has revealed some extremely bleak information on debt.  The fourth chart is particularly interesting showing a very strong link between youth and indebtedness.  It echoes work done by other organisations

It might cause the current government to reconsider whether its policy of refusing younger people to claim certain kinds of benefit is in fact sensible.  Not least, crippling people with more debt at a young age than their predecessors could have all sorts of effects going forward, damaging their prospects as the cohort ages, and possibly affecting a major cultural change in attitudes.  It also goes some way to explaining why many people think that age is the new class

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Willesden Library Cafe

Judging from the half year figures I published on Monday, the new cafe in Willesden Library doesn't seem to have been as effective as I hoped in boosting numbers in the Library centre.  Perhaps, it will become more effective in drawing people in as it develops.  It is now open six days a week. 

Monday, 16 October 2017

Latest Update on Brent Library Figures 2017

The first half figures for Brent Libraries in 2017 are now published, and they show little change from the previous half year.  Loans are down slightly, and visits are up a little.  The run of dramatic increases as a result of the Libraries Transformation Project has therefore come to an end as I predicted

The full figures are:

First Half (1 Apr-30 Sept)               2016                       2017                       % Growth

Loans                                                532,749              528,729                            -0.8%
Visits                                              1,204,502          1,238,246                             2.8%

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Wrong Report in the Kilburn Times Regarding Bertha Joseph

I have just seen this report in the Kilburn Times about former councillor Bertha Joseph.  At the time of writing, the Kilburn Times states that the allegations against Bertha Joseph were "false".  I imagine the piece is based on a conversation with Bertha herself.  Whilst that may be her memory; the reality is quite different.  

The allegations against were that she diverted donations made to charity to her own use, and failed to report them.  This led the Brent Standards Committee to suspend her for six months, the maximum penalty then available for misconduct by councillors.  This suspension occurred in late 2009, although the breaches occurred in her Mayoral Year some time before.  Bertha Joseph then exercised her right to appeal, which had the effect of the punishment being suspended whilst the legal process ran its course.  As I recall the appeal was not so much against the facts of the case as the harshness of the punishment.  That appeal was dismissed in early 2010 in a judgement that I remarked at the time was extremely strongly worded

Boris Johnson somewhat cynically kept her on the London Fire Authority (LFEPA) so that she could vote through a series of controversial cuts to the London Fire Service.  He widely criticised for this, but he does not appear to have challenged the result of the appeal process.  Indeed, according to the Guardian at the time, his spokesman said that ""Councillor Joseph still disputes the complaint made against her, but the mayor believes the first-tier tribunal made a compelling case against her continuing to serve on the authority. The mayor had allowed Ms Joseph two weeks to make her case to him, in the interests of natural justice and due process."  He then got rid of her, after the crucial budget meeting.

The complaint to the police was made subsequently, and does not relate to the original judgement or the outcome of the appeal.

Bertha Joseph is apparently selected to stand as a Conservative candidate in Brondesbury Park

Friday, 13 October 2017

A seachange over Brexit?

A new poll suggests a majority now think leaving the EU is a mistake.  One shouldn't get too excited by one poll, but the implications of a majority of the public thinking it a bad idea to leave could change political debate significantly.

I suspect it has a lot to do with the way the government is trying to suppress knowledge of the likely impact of Brexit

Most MPs still think that staying in the EU is best for Britain.  A faction of the Tory Party has successfully used the referendum result to railroad Parliament into voting the UK out by arguing that "the will of the people is sacred." If the will of the people changes, as in any democracy it can, that argument falls away.  A persistent poll lead in favour of remain, based on a better understanding of the likely consequence of having the worst of both worlds might make a pause or even a reversal of the exit process far more likely.