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Thursday, 27 October 2016

Dynamism in the Libraries Debate

A comment here wonders what I make of the proposals to reduce Walsall's libraries to just one.  I am no expert on Walsall, but it looks like another local council doing its best to cope with central government cuts that are frankly unsustainable.  George Osborne's economic strategy was counterproductive, constantly missing its targets, and Philip Hammond has been pragmatic enough to accept that.

Provided they have good transport links, urban areas may be in a position to follow a Brent type strategy of fewer buildings open for longer with more in them.  In Brent that has seen both usage and borrowing go up, as well as higher levels of public satisfaction.  This kind of thing has also worked in other praised authorities,  

The other thing that strikes me about the Guardian piece is its similarity to many other pieces I have read.  It is frustrating that journalists appear not to be able to get beyond these staples: cuts to budgets, closures (never any diffrentiation between closing different kinds of library), personal anecdotes about libraries in the past.

The famous legal duty to provide libraries has been effectively rewritten by first the Bailey case and then the Draper case in Lincolnshire.  The Sieghart Review's emphasis on Wifi provision further strenghens the case for IT facilities being considered as part of the overall library provision.  Yet the government still seems to have failed to catch up with these developments

Chi Onwuroh had an IT background, and Tom Watson _ who now covers the DCMS portfolio _ is enthusiastic about the digital economy and how it is changing our society.  I would have thought this plays into a pro-library agenda quite easily if only campaigners would engage in a more persuasion orientated mode.

Likewise, I think it a great pity that there is talk about parts of libraries being used as cafes, but this tends to be discussed simply in terms of commercial rents.  Such a use could also have a big impact on how libraries are used more generally.  Hence my frustration at the slow progress in Willesden

Then there is a whole other debate about what is a community hub, and how can such things be managed most effectively, which is perhaps a subject for another post.

Monday, 24 October 2016

NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan

Tonight's Brent Council cabinet is going to consider the proposed NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan for the NHS in this part of London.  The plan strongly implies the closure of various facilities.  Were there a wider public understanding of this, I think it would be hugely controversial, but I suspect the controversy will only start once the individual decisions come in. 

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Housing ALMOs

I was interested to read the account given of recent suggestions that Brent's Housing ALMO (Brent Housing Partnership, or BHP) be taken back in house.  The history of these matters is interesting, especially given the contrast between Brent and Camden.

Both Councils were considered to have good housing departments and considered forming ALMOs at the same time.  This was back when the Labour government was making massive investments in local government (about 2003/4).  The debate in Brent Labour Party was pretty short and simple.  The then Lead Member for Housing, Cllr Richard Harrod (now sadly died), told us that if we formed an ALMO Brent would get about £5,000 per property to do them up.  Aside from a few hard left people, everyone thought that was pretty much a no-brainer and we went for it and formed BHP.

In Camden, there was a campaign led by the Camden New Journal telling tenants that this was privatisation and urging rejection.  A referendum by Council tenants rejected the money and the formation of the ALMO.  The tenants were then surprised to learn that without the ALMO, they would get no money and there was a long stand off with central government where the government refused extra money without the formation of an ALMO.  It was one of those episodes where I felt that misinformation (Both the privatisation accusation and the illusion of choice) led to an unnecessary confrontation and a very poor outcome for local tenants.  Eventually, Camden has gone down the route of selling off some of its properties to pay for repairs, which in Brent were done through government grant.

Other authorities, such as Islington, formed an ALMO, took and spent the money, and then took the service back in-house.

It is interesting to read that the tenants at the Brent meeting actually prefer the Brent ALMO in some form.  Possibly BHP should consider a Co-operative model, of which there are many round the country, that would preserve the more democratic ethos that at least that meeting seemed to prefer.

Oddly, I can't seem to find much information through searching the Camden New Journal web site on what was a campaign that arguably swung the decision

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Grunwick Commemoration at the Brent Musuem

An exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Grunwick Strike has opened at the Brent Museum.  The strike took place in the mid-70s at what is now Grunwick Place, but was then a photo processing plant by Dollis Hill Tube in Willesden Green ward.


In answer to the comment below, no.  As a matter of fact, at least one of the people credited with organising this event is a very long standing member of Brent Labour Party.  I did however state that we need to be sure that the funds raised towards this cause went to a Grunwick commemoration, not anything else.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Gates into King Edward VII Park

I notice that new types of pedestrian gates have been fitted to King Edward VII park Willesden, although the vehicular access is unchanged.  Why is that?

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Brent Council Tax Freeze?

The next Brent Council Cabinet will be considering budget proposals.  As in previous years under Cllr Butt's leadership, there appears to have been fairly limited discussion of these within the Labour Group.  This is rather a failing since the Budget underlies all the Council's activities.

Just concentrating on the Council Tax issue for the moment.  The report, under paragraph 5.4 proposes to consult on the projected increases in 2017/18 and 2018/19.  Since the current proposals are for the maximum possible rise that can reasonably be obtained, that can only mean a potential limit to the rise or perhaps a freeze.  I have noted before that this effectively destroys the Council's finances in future years.  Cllr Muhammed Butt has in the past been a strong advocate of freezing the Council Tax, apart from for the very poorest in Brent, where he favoured one of the steepest Council Tax rises in London.  He was so intent on freezing Council Tax that he ignored a majority Labour Group vote on the issue.  I don't know if this was related to Cllr Mikey Pavey's resignation, but the members of the Labour Group will need to be on the look out that they are not ignored again.