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Monday, 30 September 2013

Brent Council Shortlisted for Awards

Brent Council is down on the shortlist for awards.  Two of these are for the Civic Centre.  The first is for its sustainability as a building here.  The second is for the communications strategy for moving into the Civic Centre, which did indeed go well here.

The third is for the recent procurement of sports centres, which is seeing a £1.7 million investment in Vale Farm Sports Centre, as well as a substantial saving on our payments into the contract.

High Street Waste Enforcement

I had a conversation with one of the Council's waste enforcement team about how the anti-dumping strategy is working.  The answer is that it is, but it is very labour intensive.  Repeatedly targeting an area in a highly visable way leads to a dramatic reduction in dumping, and there are likely to be a number of prosecutions as a result.  However, the effect fades away once the enforcement team move on to somewhere else. Hopefully, the accumulation of trade waste contracts (which are mandatory) will help prolong the effect.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

West London Food Waste Success

WRAP has done a report into the food waste reduction programme in West London.  The results a substantial reduction in food waste, saving consumers on their purchases, but also the authority in the cost of disposal.

West London Waste Authority (WLWA) can came to have taken the lead in waste reduction policy, as you can see from WRAP's detailed case study.  

One paradox of this kind of work is that it may actually reduce the proportion of waste recycled.  At least in principle, almost all food waste should be recyclable.  In practice, a lot of it gets chucked into landfill.  However, programmes like this are designed not to produce the waste in the first place.  That is good in terms of the waste hierarchy, but reduces the headline recycling percentage.  the political debate over the past few years has tended to concentrate on the recycling percentage.  Indeed I have been one of the most vociferous in pointing out the enormous increase in Brent's recycling.

As attention shifts to more reduction, that emphasis will have to change _ perhaps to a landfill diversion target.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

More Pickles for Local Democracy

The ever delightful Eric Pickles is reported on the BBC yesterday as decreeing that Councils should not be allowed to use technology such as cameras to enforce against parking offences.  I often think that being a civil servant for Eric Pickles must be an utterly soul destroying job.

Presumably the policy will be challenged. First off, why should evidence gathered by a camera be less valuable than evidence from another method like a traffic warden's eye witness report?  Secondly, Parliament has decreed these are offences; if Pickles and co. disagreed with that judgement did they vote against it?  Most of these offences come from the Road Traffic Act of 1984, enacted under a Tory government.  Thirdly, what evidence does he have around the effect on road safety and traffic congestion, which is the statutory basis of many of the offences.

Of course, although the income from penalties has to be spent on road traffic purposes, which seems reasonable to me, so the effect of doing away with the enforcement structure would be to dramatically cut the repair of roads and pavements.  As a councillor, I tend to get the opposite demand.

Pickles' headlining chasing is fed by authorities such as Barnet that seem to have used traffic fines simply as revenue raising rather than with any coherent transport policy.  Naturally, people resent that approach.  However, Pickles himself is driving it by the most savage cuts to local government funding in living memory, combined with ongoing assaults on any ability of Councils to raise revenue.

It is all a long way from Eric Pickles' rhetoric on localism.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Harrow Independent Labour Group Draft Manifesto

I was recently sent the "Draft Manifesto" of the so-called "Independent Labour Group" in Harrow, and it makes for a curious read.  Of course, you might expect a strange document to be produced by such a set of people. 

For those unfamiliar with the recent story of Harrow, the Independent Labour Group was formed when the proper Labour Group decided to replace its leader.  Rather than accept the majority vote, nine councillors decided to split from their colleagues.  The defeated Labour Group Leader, who remained as Leader of the Council, did a deal with the Tories to keep himself in power.  His nine strong administration lost the support of the Tories quite recently, who proposed themselves as a Tory minority administration.  Rather oddly having just been voted out by the Tories, the "Independent Labour Group" apparently voted in the Tory Leader to form an administration.  During this bizarre episode, the detached councillors have made a series of I am sure unfounded accusations around racism

The "Draft Manifesto" proves worthy of such an outfit.  It quotes Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution at the beginning, presumably to try to signal continuing commitment to the Labour Party despite having voted in the Tories.  It then has a strikingly threadbare analysis of the functioning of Harrow Council, full of wishful and confused thinking.  It is a striking piece of evidence that the Labour councillors, and then the Tories voted them out for sheer incompetence. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Cllr Paul Lorber Complaint

For the first time, I have used the Council Standards system to put in a complaint against a Councillor.  I can't say I relish this, but the Councillor's behaviour struck me as resembling an Internet Troll.  It is Cllr Paul Lorber, who is more used to putting in vexatious complaints against other people, than being complained about himself.

He is linked to an organisation that wanted to take over a building from Brent Council.  There was a formal tendering exercise, where a number of would be tenants bid in the usual way.  A different organisation put in a much better bid, and was awarded the tenancy.  Since then he has engaged in sending a string of rude and wearying correspondence to the successful bidder.  We shall see if my complaint persuades him to change his behaviour.

Open Weekend for Artist Studios

This weekend Art West are opening artist studios for inspection.  I didn't realise that there were so many in our area.  As well as the ACME Studios on Harrow Road, there is the Light Factory on Scrubs Lane, Northwest studios on Hythe Road, NW10 Studios also on Hythe Road and the ACAVA Studios in the same street.  There is also a project to turn the former Barham Park buildings into artists studios, nalso by ACAVA.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Another Johnson Vanity Project Failing

Just as problems with Boris Johnson's pointless Routemaster continues to have problems, his other high profile vanity project is also failing.  I imagine Mr Johnson will just blithly sail off, leaving his successor to pick up the pieces. 

Brent's Libraries Transformation Project

Talking to someone about the success of Wembley Library the other day, I discovered that they were under the impression that Brent had simply cut its library services without any further thought.  The publicity around the issue has tended to drown out the actual strategy.  In fact our approach was very different to the approach currently being taken in Moray and Lincolnshire, which really do seem to be going for widespread closures to simply cut costs as much as possible.

We responded to central government cuts by concentrating our resources on a smaller number of improved buildings.  In a densely populated Borough with good public transport links people are able and winning to travel libraries, if those libraries provide quality services.  UPDATE: My attention has been drawn to this Guardian article by Sue Charteris.  Brent followed very the kind of strategy she describes. UPDATE AGAIN:  This post was really intended as a reminder of what our Libraries Transformation Project was.  However, a comment below raises the voluntary library issue again.  On that we had ten proposals, none of which made business sense and so we did not pursue them.

With the exception of Willesden Library, the proposals are now more or less implemented.  The original report is still available, but I thought I would paste the text from that report in italics below to make it easier to find:

4.1 Services

• Seven day opening in all libraries, with at least two late evenings

• Additional longer opening hours for students in selected libraries during exam

periods

• A comprehensive range of books, E Books, audio and other media for loan or

reference

• A service that can, within reason, obtain any title that a customer asks for.

• Free Wireless and Internet access for all library users available in all library

spaces; with improved wireless speeds.

• A user friendly and accessible library website.

• Space for study and reading for pleasure

• An exciting calendar of author, poetry and cultural events. Opportunities to join

reading groups.

• Short courses to promote recreational learning and skills for life including

computer training. Opportunities for families to learn together.

• Advice and guidance on careers and training

• Parent and toddler groups, children’s reading promotions, homework clubs,

youth clubs, holiday activities

• A structured programme of class and outreach school visits to support the

educational attainment of children and young people

• Improved range of children and young people’s book stock available in greater

numbers to support Children Young People (and their families) in literacy and

learning development including revision and study guides.

• An enhanced outreach and home delivery service that brings our services to

people who are unable to get to a library. The service also delivers monthly

book collections to day centres, community groups and children’s centres.

• An online reference library with encyclopaedias, general reference works,

newspapers and homework help, available to all library users in the library or

from a home pc.

• A comprehensive reference and community information enquiry service

delivered by trained staff. Residents will be able to access online resources as

well as well-stocked collections of reference books, newspapers and

periodicals.

• Access to and training in the use of innovative technology, with an increased

number of PCs (equipped with assistive technology)

• Further development of an online service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a

week

• Marketing and promotion to enhance the accessibility and use of library services

4.2 Stock

• Continuous enhancement of the stock available in all our libraries

• We will promote access to our new E Books service and grow the e.book and

audio offer to meet new reading trends. We will invest in a diverse range of

e.books and audio downloads for customers to borrow. We will also invest in

appropriate new media as it emerges.

• Stock will include fiction of all sorts, community languages, collections of

cultural interest, ESOL, skills for life, up to date information books, e.books &

audio books, large print & talking books. Consultation will take place with

schools and colleges to ensure that stock reflects the curriculum.

• The stock policy will be revised using our new evidence based stock system to

improve customer satisfaction and ensure that stock meets community need.

• There will be more customer involvement in the purchase of stock, in particular

from community groups, valued customer panels and young people, building on

the excellent work at Harlesden.

• In response to customer demand stock suggestion schemes will be visible in

the libraries and online on our libraries catalogue page.

• We will continue to provide stock in alternative formats, such as large print and

audio. Our stock in other languages will reflect the needs of our communities.

• Newspapers and periodicals for customers to browse in the library

• Our reservation process will be streamlined so that customers can get the

books and other items they want quickly.

• We will continue our membership of the London Libraries Consortium through

which stock purchases result in cooperative group discounts allowing us to

purchase greater amounts of stock. Brent residents can borrow books from 14

London boroughs thus ensuring best value for money

• We will ensure via our stock policy that we continue to purchase stock from

specialist stock suppliers in order to meet the stock needs of Brent’s diverse

communities and groups.

• We will provide books on prescription and work in partnership with Brent NHS,

Brent Mind, clinics and doctors in order to support the health and well-being of

Brent residents.

• Staff will be knowledgeable and confident in recommending book titles and

recreational reads.

4.3 Buildings

We will work towards developing libraries that are modern and multi functional with a

shared service approach. They will boast the following features:

• Safe and neutral places

• Dedicated and well-stocked children’s areas to meet increased use, with

adequate space for class visits, activities and study

• Separate teenage zones that are modern and attractive

• Improved, flexible study areas and quiet zones to meet increased demand

• Multi-functional community rooms suitable for meetings, courses and

performances (available to hire at variable rates)

• CafĂ© facilities and a Library shop where appropriate

Six high quality library buildings in accessible locations, all open seven days per

week:

Ealing Road: currently Brent’s second busiest library, Ealing Road was last

refurbished in 2003. It is open 7 days per week, has a busy IT suite that is in in

constant use

Harlesden: refurbished in 2010 following a successful Big Lottery application,

Harlesden Library Plus provides library, adult education and council information

services from one building. The library was designed by a community steering group

who continue to play an active role in service delivery.

Kilburn: library is known for its thriving under fives Bookstart story rhyme time

sessions, active adult reading group and selection of quality fiction, best sellers and

author events. It has worked in partnership with local voluntary groups to develop its

outdoor garden and it’s actively engaged in community partnership projects. It is

proposed to source capital funding to improve the library space

Kingsbury: relocated in 2008 to a high street location, Kingsbury Library Plus

provides library and council information services. Since moving the library, visits and

borrowing have increased by over 50%

Town Hall/ Civic Centre: popular library for local residents and council staff and is

located near Asda supermarket, local schools and Children’s Centre. It is well used

for reference and community information enquiries, its IT suite and its selection of

best sellers, literary fiction and up to date information books. In 2013 this function will

move to the new Civic Centre library nearby. A large state of the art library will be the

showpiece of the new building.

Willesden Green: Brent’s busiest library open 7 days per week is arranged over 2

floors within Willesden Green Library Centre. Its generous study area is well used by

students, and its IT suite is very popular. The teen area is busy during after school

hours but also well used for study and tutoring by excluded young people and their

tutors. The children’s library is a favourite space for under fives activities, regular

class visits and holiday activities. A number of organisations share the premises

including the gallery, Brent Museum and Archive and a council customer contact

centre. Close partnership work is undertaken with the gallery and museum to deliver

a vibrant cultural and learning programme.

The Council is currently investigating the possibility of redeveloping the Library

Centre, to include an improved cultural offer to residents. If this should go ahead, a

temporary replacement library service will be provided in the area.

Capital funding for improvements to buildings will be sourced from external grants,

public/private financing and Brent Council capital programmes. In line with the One

Council programme we will continue to pursue the shared service approach, both

with council services, local organisations and neighbouring boroughs.

4.4 Online and Digital services

Brent Libraries will be at the forefront of the revolution to ensure that services can be

accessed on a 24/7 basis and are not limited to static library buildings. Library users will

be able to access a virtual library from the comfort of their own homes. Virtual services

will include being able to:

• Search the catalogue, access library accounts, reserve and renew items online

from any computer or smart phone.

• Book a computer

• Receive overdue reminders by email or text

• Use our online reference resources for study and homework

• Access an online enquiry service

• Borrow e-books and audiobooks online (subject to constraints imposed by

publishers and distributors)

• Join our email list for a monthly newsletter

• Take part in virtual reading groups

• Access virtual homework help

• We will aim to develop a library app for smart phones that will make our services

more accessible, including directions and up to date information about library

events, activities, and services.

• Online bookings for events and activities

• Events and talks will be recorded and filmed for YouTube and podcasts.

Access to technology will also include:

• Free access to bookable public Internet and MS Office services

• Access to and training in the use of innovative technology with an increased

number of PCs

• Access to colour printing and scanning services

• Safe Internet surfing areas for children

• Free public wifi access with improved speeds and more plug sockets

• Access to assistive technology including hardware and software

• Access to fast, efficient self service technology

• Staff will also be able to easily access the technology to answer enquiries. In

response to customer suggestions handheld devices will be purchased to

ensure that enquiries are answered with accuracy and speed

• E.Learning packages

• An interactive, inspiring and accessible website

4.5 Support for children, young people and families

• Safe and neutral spaces

• Improved and increased number of study spaces

• Engage children and young people with a love of reading and resources to

support educational attainment. This includes an improved range of children and

young people’s book stock available in larger quantities to support CYP (and their

families) in literacy and learning development. We will improve our provision of

revision, text books and study guides. For younger children an improved range of

board books, dual language books, picture books, graded readers to support

school reading schemes and literacy attainment, titles for fluent readers and

graphic novels to encourage reluctant readers.

• The information books will support the National Curriculum covering key stages 1

– 4 and also include up to date and relevant study and revision guides in greater

quantities.

• We will Involve young people and schools in stock selection.

• Develop collections to support progression by young people into further education

and into work and training. We will work in partnership with Connexions to ensure

access to advice on training and further education is available.

• Promote and market e.books to support homework and study

• Outreach services to schools and children’s centres will include learning support,

story-telling, reader development workshops all delivered by trained staff, with an

agreed timetable of visits and performance measures showing activity.

• An enhanced outreach offer, including a book loan scheme in partnership with

youth centres, youth bus, children’s centres and schools to target those groups of

children who do not currently use library services.

• Bookstart story and rhyme times will be delivered weekly in all libraries

• Bookstart pack gifting sessions in all libraries on a monthly basis

• Bookstart Bear Club in all libraries which encourages parents / carers to read to

their children, borrow books and gain certificates.

• We will work in partnership with Brent Adult and Community Education Services

(BACES) and increase the range of exciting family learning courses focusing on

literacy, learning and leisure in all our libraries.

• Chatterbooks Reading Groups will be run, after school on a monthly basis, by

trained staff in all libraries and will focus on fun reader development activities.

• Teenage reading groups will build on the Summer Reading Challenge programme

and be developed as after school clubs focusing on themed group reads, author

events and manga and will be run by young people and trained staff together.

• Homework clubs in all libraries will have qualified teaching support and support

learning development in children aged 8 – 11. Children will also benefit from

reading support delivered by Volunteer Reading Help volunteers (available in

some libraries)

• Virtual homework help for those unable to access a library easily.

• In collaboration with BACES we will support parents / carers whose children

attend the homework clubs through the provision of learning courses.

• Support club for home schooled children and their parents / carers

• We will support children and young people who are excluded (with their tutors) by

providing quiet zone areas for study and additional stock support upon request

• We will support young people during exam periods by opening for longer hours

and sourcing other community venues (through partnerships) for additional study

space.

• The Summer Reading Challenge will form part of our Outreach library offer to

playschemes, disability play schemes, and through partnership working

• User friendly website developed to engage and involve children and young people

in reading, study, leisure and information services, including a presence on BeBo

or similar social networking sites

• Improved cutting edge teen facilities designed by young people

4.6 Support for learners

• E-Learning packages

• Open learning zones and learn direct centres in some libraries

• Attractive study spaces offering laptop provision

• Improved wifi facilities

• Access to e.books, improved study texts and learning collection materials

• Informal ESOL classes

• IT workshops and courses

• Partnership work with Brent Adult Community Education Service to ensure

libraries are a place to access a range of informal learning and ICT classes

• Partnership working with voluntary groups to support learning

4.7 Support for older people and residents who find it difficult to access library

services

• Our improved home visit service will be fully linked to all libraries so that

customers have access to the full catalogue, including alternative media. Staff will

bring to catalogue to customers via hand held devices.

• The home visit service will be marketed across the borough, and to organisations

working with those people who find accessing services difficult. Strong links will be

fostered with social housing and sheltered housing schemes to create a well used

home visit service

• Monthly outreach deposit collections will be delivered to day centres, community

groups and children’s centres where requested.

• Outreach reading events and activities will be offered to children’s centres, care

homes and day centres.

• Home Visit customers will also get the opportunity to be part of a valued customer

service panel for the service and help drive service improvements as well as be

involved in stock selection

• The Outreach Service will also work in partnership with Brent volunteering

organisations in order to involve local residents in delivering services, such as the

home visit service and to ensure we reach a wide selection of Brent residents.

4.8 Services for people with disabilities

• All staff will be trained in assistive technologies so that residents with disabilities

have full access to library services. This service will be marketed through

partnerships with support groups.

• Books in appropriate formats, such as Braille and talking books will be available

for loan in all libraries, the home-visits service, the outreach services and online.

• All library buildings will be fully accessible for people with disabilities, with

induction loops and adaptive technologies.

• Residents unable to get to a library will be able to make use of our home visit,

outreach and online services.

4.9 Staff

The staffing restructure will result in increased responsibilities, improved skills and a

more proactive role for staff. We anticipate improved customer care with staff fully

equipped with the tools to deliver modern library services.

• A programme of intensive training will be undertaken so that staff are fully able to

give advice on books, deliver excellent customer care, demonstrate expertise in

finding information, knowledgeable in ITC and trained in the use of assistive

technology.

• Staff will be trained to high standards to deliver quality services to children and

young people including under fives sessions, class and school outreach visits

and reading groups

• Staff will be able to deliver well planned and engaging learning workshops and

reading groups for adults.

• Recruitment will reflect our continuing commitment to ensuring that staff reflect

Brent’s diversity.

• We will utilise the languages and cultures of staff to ensure that stock reflects the

languages spoken in the borough and community need.

• Staff will be involved in stock selection and promotions as well as in

recommending reads and marketing the library offer.

4.10 Customer and community engagement

• All our libraries have Valued Customer Panels that meet regularly so that local

people can actively determine the nature of their library services. Anyone can join.

• We will work closely with community groups and forums such as Brent Youth

Parliament

• Volunteers will play an important role supporting staff in delivering the service at

different levels. There will be volunteering schemes for young people such as

Summer Reading Challenge volunteers, who will support children in their reading

challenge. We will also recruit volunteers in further and higher education and back

to work schemes to gain work experience to access work. Similarly volunteer

schemes will be developed to support delivery of home delivery services.

• Libraries will closely consult with the community through regular surveys,

attendance at Area Community Forums, Local Partnership Boards and Integrated

Partnership Boards

• Improved marketing and publicity commitment with a campaign of exciting

promotions using a variety of media..

• Increased presence on social media sites such as facebook, twitter and the library

book blog

• We will develop customer involvement in the design and delivery of library services,

building on the successful work of the Black Identity Zone (BIZ) steering group at

Harlesden.

• Increase subscriptions to the e.bulletin mailing list, as a means to target residents

with information about library developments and events

4.11 Partners & partnership working

We will continue our successful shared services strategy and work with partners to

provide a range of services from libraries, including:

• Learning provision through BACES

• Council information through the customer contact centres

• Learning centres through work with Schools, Colleges and adult education

• Support the work of the voluntary sector

• Working with cultural providers including local practitioners

4.12 The cultural offer

Working towards Brent’s cultural vision for 2015 as outlined in the Cultural Strategy

and the proposals in the draft Brent Arts and Festivals strategy we will broker and

develop partnerships to ensure that cultural opportunities flourish and are

showcased in our libraries. This supports our ambition of showcasing excellence in

the various art forms whilst all the while using that excellence to stimulate more local

work and inspire our budding writers (and audiences) towards that goal.

This includes plans to:

• Offer cultural events to create vibrant spaces; including developing exhibition

spaces for artists and writers through partnerships with Brent Artists Resource,

Brent Culture, Sport and Learning Forum and the Arts and Festivals teams

• Showcase and exhibiting art through public art schemes

• Marketing cultural opportunities at the Gallery at Willesden Green Library Centre

• Developing writers and readers through writers in residence schemes and support

for writers’ groups through provision of spaces, events and writing workshops.

• This offer will be extended to improving literacy and engaging children and young

people

• Supporting the creative industries through workshops and advice delivered in

partnership with business support groups and careers advice organisations

• Build on a calendar of cultural events

• Increase participation in the programmes on offer through proactive and viral

marketing

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Congratulations Brent Parks

Brent Parks have once again done well in the London in Bloom competition.  Overall, Brent won Silver Gilt.  Fryent and Gladstone Parks won individual silver gilt awards, and Mapesbury Dell won a gold award.  Brent can also boast the competition's Apprentice of the Year.

Unused Land in Brent


One of the things I find dispiriting are the patches of vacant wasteland we have around the Borough.  The above photo is on an area of land in Willesden that has been vacant for years.  I could easily choose other examples.  I just don't understand the economics behind leaving such sites unused. 

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Responsibility for Damian McBride

Hopefully the technical issues yesterday are over.  I was reflecting on the Damian McBride story that the Daily Mail has published prior to the Labour Conference.

I wonder how much credence give to Mr McBride. By his own admission he spent several years trying to mislead people into believing terrible things.  I have not read his book, but the press coverage appears to claim that the facts were true, while also being intended to smear.  He is also being reported as telling his story for a lot of money.  There is also the timing on the eve of the Labour Conference.

If Mr McBride has chosen to betray his party for maximum commercial gain that tells us what we should think of Mr McBride.

My interest is the wider blame. If he was spreading muck all over the place, the journalists he gave it to must have known something.  They like to pose as courageous champions for truth.  If they knew what was going on but connived for the sake of a good story, that tells you about them.


Sunday, 22 September 2013

Technical Problems

I seem to be having techncal problems posting things, so no posts for today.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Wheelchair Access at the Civic Centre

The other day a disabled person tried to access Brent Civic Centre and was told to bring their own wheelchair.  After protests, a wheelchair was provided for a subsequent visit.

This strikes me as very poor practice.

 A certain proportion of Brent residents need to use wheelchairs.  In a public facility such as the Civic Centre, we should keep a few chairs available for use.  That seems plain common sense.

Hopefully, we will buy whatever number seems needed and just make them available in future.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Community Access at the New French School

One of the conditions of the planning permission for the former Town Hall was for a community access plan for the school outside school hours.  The precise details are not yet agreed.  These sort of agreements are quite common these days, although they usually focus on sports facilities, such as those at the ARK Academy or Capital City Academy in Doyle Gardens.  I know people have complained that the fees at the Capital Academy are too high, but I think it quite reasonable that the schools cover their costs.

The new French schools main sports areas are too close to residents at the back of the site for use after hours, but we did specifically ask for arrangements at their school library, which is planned for the former town hall library.  The kind of thing they are interested in would probably be linked to the promotion of French culture.

UPDATE

I published the comment below because I often publish comments I disagree with.  How can anyone imply that France has not made an incalculable contribution to humanity in virtually any field you care to name?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Brent Town Hall Given Permission

Last night's planning meeting had the milestone of permission for the former Brent Town Hall, which has been bought by a French school.  Personally, I think the new school looks very good and effectively combines the historic features of the Town Hall with the needs of the new school.  It is also, of course, an important marker in the history of the Borough, as it marks its transition to the Civic Centre.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Onion on Mass Shootings

The Onion has a piece on the recent shootings in Washington.  It is both funny and sad at the same time.  The failure of the USA to even begin a solution is surely an extraordinary comment on the failure of the American political system.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Social Justice and the Green Party

The German Green Party is ruing the idea of a compulsory vegetarian day.  They blame this on a turning away of the Greens from Environmentalism to "Social Justice".

I see several layers to this.

The first is compulsory vegetarianism.  I think that is an incredibly bad idea.  Aside from civil liberties, associating environmentalism with bossiness is extremely off putting.  Far better to go for voluntary measures, perhaps encouraging people to give various vegetarian foods a try.  Although I am very much a carnivore, even i find the vegetarian offers on Ealing Road tempting.  Brent probably has some of the best vegetarian offers in the country.  There is no need to force people.

The second is our own Martin Francis.  Martin Francis has eclipsed other "green" campaigners to become Brent's leading Green Party representative.  I also see him as our leading Looney Left representative.  Martin is a keen advocate of the green movement leaving environmental issues to concentrate on "social justice", which he finds more absorbing.  He has also argued that environmentalism is "not the main issue".  Martin's position echoes that of the Green national leader.  I regret that people who support the Greens on environmental grounds are being misled into voting for a party that actually has given up on the issue.

The third layer is the very idea of seperating social justice from environmentalism, which seems to me a false choice.  Environmental problems like desertification, flooding and air pollution all have a disproportionate effect on the poor.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Doorstepping in Willesden

Out on the doorstep yesterday in Willesden Green.  Despite the wet and windy weather, we had quite a lot of people.  I think many of these people are angling for the Brent Central Labour Party Selection.  I suspect the number of would be candidates will greatly increase following the announcement of Sarah Teather standing down.

Certainly anyone who wants to stand for Parliament certainly needs to be willing to go out on the doorstep.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

On the Buses

Dave Hill reminds us of the widening gap between supply and demand in the bus network.  The area where this will effect Brent most drastically is in Wembley.  What is now derelict land around the Stadium is now filling up with developments, including the new retail outlets around the corner from the Civic Centre.  All these people will have transport needs and trying to meet them solely by more cars will just lead to a permanent traffic jam, even without regular events at the Stadium.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Shakespeare and the Boys

Just been reading this piece in the Guardian.  What strikes me is that the author complains that female parts in Shakespeare don't have the same heft as male, but does not mention that Shakespeare wrote the female roles for boys.  Might Shakespeare have been constrained by inexperienced actors?

Eric Pickles Suppressing Emails

The department of Eric Pickles, who regularly lectures Councils on the need to be open, has been caught out trying to suppress emails for "political" reasons, according to the Independent.  They even said they would refuse information to the opposition, again on the basis of political convenience. Fortunately the Information Commissioner has now forced Eric Pickles to follow the same rules that he insists everyone else should follow.

Friday, 13 September 2013

How Important are Books to Libraries

One of the puzzles of Brent Libraries Transformation Project is that Increases in library visits greatly outstrip the increases in book loans.  Since we passed the strategy in 2011, all Brent's libraries have seen numbers increase, but the branches where visits have gone up most markedly (such as Kilburn and Wembley) have not had a commensurate rise in book loans.

This is quite contrary to my expectations.  One of the main points in the April 2011 proposals was to maintain the bookfund, meaning that it now accounts for a bigger part of the overall budget.  Complaints about the range of books available was one of the most common features in the 2011 consultation, so maintaining the level of spending on books seemed sensible.  Sure enough, levels of satisfaction with the physical quality of the books and the range of titles have gone up.  If you go into our newest library, Wembley, the titles include a good range of the latest publications in both fiction and non fiction.  In fact, the range strikes me as just as good as a good bookshop.

I was prompted in these reflections by an article in the American Libraries Association (towards the back of this link) which suggests that books are crucial to maintaining library usage.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Congratulations Blobfish

Blobfish (c) Rex Features/Greenpeace



Congratulations to the blobfish, which has been voted the mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society.  It is easy to see why.

Wembley Library a Great Success

As we are quite a long way into the year, I decided to look at our library performance.  Year to date, up to the end of August, we continued the improvement from last year.  We had 630,446 visits, an improvement of 11.6% on the same period the previous year.  We also had 407,563 book loans, an increase of 1.3%.

There has been a big fall off in numbers at Willesden library during its rebuild, although the interim library service remains Brent's second most popular in terms of visits.  The other notable thing is that the new Wembley Library has been a massive success.  In its first two full months of operation (July and August), it has 103,991 visits and 36,754 loans.  The former Town Hall library in the same period last year had only 41,717 visits and 20,141 loans.

The success of the Wembley Library is despite all the building work that is still going on around the Civic Centre.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Library Closure and Judicial Review

My eye was drawn to the decision of Moray Council to close half of its libraries.  This was taken despite clear officer advice that the decision could expose the Council to legal challenge.  That goes beyond bold to foolhardy.

The main objection is that the authority did an equalities assessment, and officers advised scaling back the proposed cuts to limit the effects of closures.  Unlike Brent, there appears to be no compensating investment in the library services, but what could be portrayed as simply a rush to save money.

The comments of the Tory and independent councillors concerned seem to imply that saving money does indeed over ride all other considerations.  I don't believe this actually contravenes the public sector equality duty, which is to be aware of equality outcomes rather than guarantee a limited impact.  Nonetheless, I would imagine that Moray councillors have exposed themselves to charges of irrational decision making, and possibly pre determination.

Whatever the legal situation, I am not sure that the comments will exactly delight their constituents either.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Is Sarah Teather Smarter than we Think

After my weekend post on Sarah Teather, I have had conversations suggesting that my approach fails to take into account the trickery of Ms Teather and the deviousness of Liberal Democrat politics.

This may be so.

One suggestion made was that La Teather had timed her "resignation" immediately before the Lib Dem Conference in order to destabilise Nick Clegg.  Her past record on Charlie Kennedy lends credence to this, but I can imagine a scenario where she is preparing the ground for some more credible figure.  No doubt followed by a suitable reward afterward.

An anti-Clegg coup would rid the Lib Dems of a permanently discredited Leader, and give them a new one that they could try to unite under.  It would do nothing to help people suffering from the policies of the current government.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Article 4 Directions

One of the topics that came up at the Planning Committee last week was the possibility of using an Article 4 direction to overcome various issues.  The one in the news at the moment is the permitted development right to convert offices into housing.  This was a concern to local residents in Willesden a couple of months ago, and has been the subject of various legal actions in other authorities.  Our discussion turned up several areas where we were frustrated by our lack of ability to fulfil residents' wishes in terms of limiting the proliferation of betting shops, amusement arcades and other anti-social  activities.

My mine own experience of judicial review leads me to want to avoid legal action if at all possible.  Although we won our case on libraries overwhelmingly, it still took up a huge amount of time, money and energy which could have better directed to other things.

Wildlife Photographs

Here is a gallery of some extraordinary images of wildlife in a new book by the Natural History Museum.  The skill and dedication of the photographers is awesome.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Teather Going

The announced departure of Sarah Teather from Parliament has not been greeted with universal dismay to say the least.  She has always been unpopular on the Labour side of course, but many Tories and Liberal Democrats also seem to dislike her.  As well as basic dishonesty, she has been disloyal to her colleagues and thoroughly sanctimonious to boot.

There is widespread speculation that she stood down as she knew she would lose in Brent Central.  That seems likely.  Her departure makes it even more likely that Labour will win Brent Central easily, as the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP will not be fully committed.  Her announcement follows tumbling Liberal Democrat membership and a succession of poor election results in the GLA and Council by elections.

Teather is currently saying that she will be campaigning for the Liberal Democrats.  Quite how you campaign for a party by telling a national newspaper you find it "catastrophically depressing" I am not sure.  It is clear that she didn't believe in the present government even when she was a minister voting through the policies she now claims are repugnant.  Of course in the past, she has put out literature of highly dubious honesty (part of a long standing tradition for Brent Liberal Democrats).

Nonetheless, I don't see how anyone can announce that they are standing down as a Liberal Democrat MP because they find their party's performance so repugnant, but still ask other people to vote for the Liberal Democrats.  Indeed, I don't see how Teather can still keep the Liberal Democrat whip with any credibility as she is now claiming to be fundamentally opposed to major aspects of their programme.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sarah Teather Standing Down

Fancy seeing this story on the Guardian web site.  Sarah Teather standing down in 2015 from Parliament.

Falling Standards in Local Government

I was surprised to see that a councillor has brought an action challenging the new local government standards regime.  This is because the Tory government's changes have made the whole process more or less meaningless.  Indeed, the government's own advisers have come close to saying so.

Food banks and Austerity

Patrick Butler has a piece about how the government is relying on food banks while trying to spin that it isn't.  It really does seem as if the government believes that it can just conceal reality from people forever.  This does not strike me as a sustainable long term strategy.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Cars and Planning Transport



Rob Cowan's cartoon sums up all the reasons that urban planners are trying to reduce car dependency better than a long policy document could.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Street Trees in Colindale

Last night the Planning Committee discussed two major items.  The wider development policies of the Council can wait for a later post.  I want to focus now on the narrower issue of street trees in Colindale.

The document we looked at last night was more imaginative in seeing the wider role of street trees than others I have seen.  It suggested, for example, that Burnt Oak would benefit from a "feature" tree, rather as another area might from a major work of public art.  There were also some interesting ideas about creating more of an avenue effect for the A5, and using some form of central reservation to mprove road safety.

It is clear that to deliver the regeneration agenda in Colindale, we will need a better level of engagement between Barnet and Brent.  There seem to be good links at officer level, but nothing much at councillor level.  The new Director for Planning promised to take this on board in developing the policy.

Universal Credit Disaster

It now appears admitted that universal credit is a disaster.  I pointed out recently that Iain Duncan Smith appeared to be blaming civil servants for the failure.  There used to be a convention that a minister whose policy failed fell on his sword.  Mr Duncan Smith's policy has certainly failed, as has been often pointed out.  His response has been to bluster.

It is time for him to behave as the honourable gentleman he claims to be, rather than blaming others.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Harlesden Town Centre Round Up

I thought I would do a quick round up on the progress around the Harlesden Town Centre works.  Works on Manor Park Road, which is the first phase, should be completed by 23 September.  After that, Conway AECOM will move on to Tavistock Road and Crownhill Road.  Once Manor Park Road is fully clear, a bus stop will be put in front of the Salvation Army.


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Will there be a Universal Credit Mea Culpa

It looks as if Iain Duncan Smith is finally going to admit that Universal Credit is badly off course.  At least I assume that is the reason for the story in today's Telegraph.  Such an acknowledgement would be all to the good, although the Telegraph hints that he is simply going to blame his own officials rather than the inherent difficulties of the subject.  

One of the differences between the current Tory government and the previous Thatcher government is that Thatcher at least had a reputation for competence.  The present gang appear to rush into schemes without giving them proper thought.   This applies as much to Syria as to domestic policy.  Universal Credit was always going to be an IT and bureaucratic challenge.  Since it means changing client behaviour at the same time as changing all the systems to deal with clients, it had every prospect of becoming a nightmare.  Iain Duncan Smith's stubborn refusal to acknowledge the difficulties must have made it significantly more difficult to overcome them.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Place making in Colindale

The next planning committee meeting, in a few days, will be considering placemaking strategy in the Brent part of Colindale.  I think this has huge importance, but is often overlooked.  If (say) South Kilburn had paid more attention to the way urban communities worked back in the 1960s and 1970s I think it would have had a beneficial effect on all kinds of health and economic outcomes.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Zero Hours Contracts

There have been calls for more investigation into zero hours contracts, which strikes me as very sensible.  At the moment, I don't think anyone understands how these work or why they are becoming widespread.  I don't buy the argument from some quarters that everyone on zero hours is happy and delighted to be "flexible".  At least some of these contracts must be exploitative, and we need to find out how many are.  It is of a piece with the wider agenda that Ed Miliband is pursuing around squeezed living standards and raising wages to give a reasonable living standards.