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Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Income Generation and Libraries

The Libraries Task force has been looking at income generation for libraries.  This should be of great interest to Brent, as Willesden Library was intended to run as a self funding building.  Incidentally, one of the people quoted is none other than Sue McKenzie, the former head of Brent Libraries.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Preston Library Redevelopment

Brent Council's plans to redevelop the former Preston Library site for housing appear to be proceeding.  Consultation on the proposal closed back in early May just as the General Election began, so I imagine it will be coming back to the Council Cabinet before very long.

The consultation mentions the Council's obligation to achieve best value.  As I have pointed out before, this is made a bit more complicated by ACV status.  Everyone concerned would be much better served if they just faced up to these issues honestly

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Grenfell Tower and Brent Council

There still appears to be a lot of contradictory information going about in the wake of the Grenfell fire, such as whether the non fire retardant cladding is banned on UK buildings or not.  Brent Council appears not to be immune from this confusion, telling the Guardian in a story just after midnight last night that it was "were unable to say if they had carried out any inspections or even how many tower blocks they had," whilst telling the Kilburn Times three days before that checks were under way. 

This kind of contradiction will not put people's minds at rest.

I also notice that Brent Council is sticking to a line that the cladding used in Brent tower blocks is "compliant" with UK building regulations.  Until Philip Hammond's comments this morning I thought "compliant" meant that they could be made partly of plastic unlike tall buildings in Germany and the USA.  Brent Council really needs to get its messaging more together if it it is not going to make things worse.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Brent Council and Community Asset Privatisation

Whilst I was pre-occupied with the election campaign it seems Brent Council has changed its Community Asset Transfer policy, from being broadly in favour of transfers to reverting to its more established practice of putting things out to market.  I am more comfortable with new (and older) approach.

However well intentioned, transferring assets to groups at below market rates always looks dangerously close to favouritism and patronage.  There are far more potentially deserving groups out there than can possibly benefit from this form of largesse.  On what basis does the Council decide who to support?  There is also an automatic possibility that any decision to favour a particular group can be seen as bias towards a particular ethnicity, religion, area and so on. 

Far better to apply the same rules to everyone equally.

It does, however, leave potential for considerable embarrassment for politicians who appear to have made promises they can't keep to particular groups.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Brent Energy Business Plan

An area I had rather lost sight of during the General Election is Brent's energy plans.  There is now a steering group to help develop energy projects in the Borough, which is meeting tonight.  The group appears to be officer led and technocratic, which is a pity, but at least the Borough is taking the potential of the area seriously.

To some extent is rolls up long standing schemes for district heating into a new framework, but it also looks like it might take a much broader approach than hitherto. Hopefully, this will have a significant effect on carbon emissions, although I imagine revenue is a powerful motivator.

More detail can be found in the Energy Business Plan.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

General Election of Losers

A long hiatus since my last post as I have been fully occupied with what has turned out to be the most surprising election I can recall, and election totally dominated by losers.

The main loser appears to be Theresa May, who managed to change the question the voters faced from "Who would form the best government?" to "Do you approve/disapprove of the Conservative Party?".  That second question is a far tougher ask just being better than the alternatives.  May managed to get the answer no by pushing for a hard Brexit that many people don't want, a robotic failure to go beyond empty slogans, a track record of failure in office and a suicidal attack on the key group that has supported the Tories, older voters.  As a result she has lost her majority and her personal authority.  I imagine she won't be in Downing Street much longer.

The Labour Party feels dangerously buoyant despite its third General Election defeat in a row.  Jeremy Corbyn successfully changed the Overton window so that mere survival counts as a kind of victory.  To be fair, he has also managed to get some extra seats by bringing in people who hadn't voted before as well as ex-Greens and Lib Dems.  I wonder, however, how sustainable this will be.  The more credible a Labour majority appears, the more scrutiny the Labour Party will get, and the more likely it becomes that people will demand answers on how to pay for things that they simply didn't this time round.  Effectively, he was able to get people to vote for a pressure group this time.  Next time he may well be asked questions that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls faced as a possible alternative government.  That is a far tougher bar.

The SNP also lost badly both to the Tories and to Labour, which will surprise some of my English colleagues who have effectively written off Labour's hopes in Scotland.

Even the DUP may find that their position is perilous, as they find themselves in the Big League with no sign they are prepared for it.  They are a firmly pro-Brexit Party that is hostile to one of the most obvious consequences of Brexit, a harder border with areas outside the UK, including the Irish Republic.

In time the complexities of that position may well lead to a greater interest in retaining membership of the Single Market, and perhaps the UK not leaving the EU at all.