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Sunday, 27 December 2015

Boycotts and Sanctions

The Guardian reports that the government is seeking to tighten up the rules on political boycotts by Councils.  This sounds to me like another example of DCLG spin exaggerating the newness of a policy.


In fact Council are already restricted from awarding contracts for political reasons.  This was amply demonstrated when Brent Council awarded the waste and street cleaning contract to Veolia.  In that case there were also other good practical reasons why the campaigners' demands were impossible.  However, the primary objection was that political boycotts are unlawful under EU procurement law.  This were widely explained, but some people didn't want it to be true so decided it wasn't.  That is not a good basis for policy making.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Kensal Green By Election Result

The Kensal Green by election result held few surprises.  Labour won comfortably with 53% of the vote.  That is slightly down from the 63% of the vote in 2014, but still a good result.  The Liberal Democrats will probably be slightly pleased at second place with 24% of the vote, which is a lot better than their calamitous performance in the General Election.  It does signal, however, that their chances of becoming a major force in the Borough are slight.  Quite possibly they were helped by Brent Council's proposed steep rise in parking charges next year. 

I think the Tories should feel disappointed at only 15% of the vote and third place.  The small UKIP vote had no real impact, so they can't blame a split vote.  It does not bode well for Cllr Joel Daviodson's attempt on the GLA seat next year.

However, the Greens probably had the worst performance with only 6% of the vote compared to 7.2% in 2014.  The 2014 comparison actually flatters them since the only parties fielded multiple candidates.  The poor Green performance is also in line with their failing in various other Council by elections around the country.  If there ever was a Green surge it has ended and the tide is going out.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Wembley Art Society at The Library in Willesden


Willesden Library continues to show its strengths with a new exhibition by the Wembley Arts Society.  I find it extraordinary that so much is going on there given the negligible budget

Monday, 14 December 2015

Co-operating in Brent Libraries?

Lambeth is apparently contemplating a staff mutual for its libraries.  Working out the detail of such arrangements is complicated, and there would be a big risk to the staff if it failed.

Brent has yet to reveal what the rather cryptic mention of libraries in the last budget process actually meant.  I think a user based Co-operative might be worth considering.  Brent libraries have a ready made pool of potential co-operators in everyone who has a library card, and they can be proven to have an active relationship with their libraries through the records of book borrowing and computer use.  Such an arrangement, I think, would be able to exploit the tax avoidance device of not paying business rates which is the cash saving that Brent identified in the budget as (apparently) the main advantage of the proposal. 

Whether this cash saving is worth having I think is rather questionable.  As business rates are going to be localised, at least if George Osborne gets his way, any rates not collected on Council buildings simply reduce Council revenue, so it isn't really a saving at all.  The saving, however, remains a line in the budget so I take it that Brent libraries will have to find the money by some other means.  that again underlines the importance of Brent libraries putting together a proper library strategy now that the Libraries Transformation Project has been implemented. 

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Brent Fall in Recycling Worst in London

It is surprising that the news of falling recycling levels in London have not had a greater impact.  Unfortunately, Brent has had the biggest fall in all London (5.6%).

It is tempting to have a knee jerk response and blame obvious candidates like the decision to introduce charging for green waste, but this should be resisted.  Brent and other Boroughs need to take a long hard look at what works and what can be done to at least restore previous levels of recycling.  It is possible that the lower recycling may be partly down to welcome factors, such as the reduction in packaging (which is often recyclable).  Easy comparisons between Boroughs should also be avoided as encouraging recycling can be far harder with certain kinds of housing stock.

I notice that the Standard article also comments on the incineration of waste.  This is cheaper, and surprisingly more environmentally beneficial, than sending waste to landfill, but perhaps the shift towards burning is causing authorities to pay less attention to recycling?  West London, including Brent, will soon see almost all its waste being either recycled or burnt under a new contract that starts next year. 

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Mischief Making in Kensal Green

Martin Francis is trying to stir up mischief in the Kensal Green By election I see.  He is seeking to imply that John McDonnell supports setting illegal budgets.  In fact John McDonnell has said:

“The situation the councils are now in is if they don’t set a budget, a council officer will do it for them. There is no choice for them any more.”

This may seem remarkable given John McDonnell's own past history, but it is simply a recognition of reality.  If a Council such as Brent refuses to set a budget, central government can simply appoint commissioners to do it instead.

"Opposing austerity" in the way Martin imagines he does, which in fact seems to consist simply of attacking Labour Councils, is nonsense. In fact, Martin should look at the various ways in which Brent Council has advanced progressive measures despite the financial cuts imposed by central government.  These include improvements to recycling which are unfortunately now under threat, the greenest public building in Europe, the transformation of Brent Libraries, improvements to carbon emissions, the delivery of regeneration in Brent's growth areas despite the Tories all out assault on housing, various improvements to parks in Brent, a step change in allotments management, a rebuilt Moberly Sports Centre and substantial investment in the Vale Farm Sports Centre as a result of the new contract. 

Of course, these kind of achievements would have been far easier if we had a Labour government as we did from 1997 to 2010.  Something that Martin might care to reflect on as he campaigns against the Labour Party.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Reflect on this

Another part of the government's all out assault on social housing continues with an amendment to do with away with security of tenure.  Perhaps those who ridiculously argue that Labouyr and the Tories are just the same should think about whether a Labour government would do this or many of the other Tory measures such as the Trade Union Bill, the take over of housing associations, the cuts to tax credits and so on. 

The Future of Brent Libraries

I mentioned the outstanding performance of Brent Libraries yesterday amid a national situation which is generally gloomy.  Numerous authorities are now contemplating shrinking their library services.  These include Fife, Croydon, Barnet, Camden and Hounslow.  It is all drien by George Osborne's 56% cut to local government funding, which is totally unsustainable coming as it does on top of massive cuts in the past five years.

Brent is likely to see continuing library expansion for this year and next year, but after that it looks pretty bleak.  The success of the Libraries Transformation Project in raising both usage and user satisfaction whilst cutting spending shows that a sound strategy is key to minimising the damage from future budget cuts.  That is why Brent Council should be consulting on its library strategy now, not letting the issue drift. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Wembley Library Third Biggest in the Country

A Guardian analysis of public libraries has named Wembley Library as the third biggest in the UK.  That is an astounding achievement given that the old Town Hall Library wasn't even the biggest in Brent when the Libraries Transformation Project was started back in 2011. The scale of the change can be seen in the graph I posted here

At that time Brent Town Hall library had only 166k annual visits which rose to 200k in its final year.  The last annual total for Wembley Library, as published by CIPFA, show 1,169,735 visits, a colossal increase.  I wonder what those who called for Wembley Library to be scaled down, or even scrapped altogether, think of that?  Perhaps they will concede that whatever they think of other aspects of the project, Wembley Library has been a success.

Or perhaps they won't. 

Otherwise the national picture for libraries is bleak.  Overall visits fell from 276 million to 265 million last year (down 3.9%).  They have fallen by 14% since David Cameron became Prime Minister.  In contrast Brent libraries have been rising in both visits and book loans, with an overall rise in visits that year of 27.6%.  I have been able to trace Brent library visit numbers back to 2007/8, and they are now at their highest level during the whole of that time.  Judging by the half year figures for this year, that trend is likely to continue, and I expect that the full year figures will go up the year after this as the complete effect of the new Willesden Library becomes evident. 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Treetops

It appears that the Treetops closure that I referred to earlier has been resolved.  What a curious turn of events. 

Friday, 27 November 2015

Treetops Nursery Closure

Treetops is threatened with being closed by Ofsted.  I remember when the current arrangements were set up.  Indeed I helped shaped them after some constituents contacted me.  To close the whole operation down over one unpaid invoice seems a massive over reaction.  I assume that there is a back story that has yet to be made public.

If Treetops does close, it will leave the Council the headache of an empty building for which there is no alternative use.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Desperate Liberal Democrat Bar Chart

I have mentioned before the notorious subject of Liberal Democrat bar charts.  The Liberal Democrats have made an art of distorting election results to mislead the voters.  Following the Kensal Green by election announcement, their first leaflet has an especially desperate example of the genre:


Whereas generally they show their opponents as way behind or about to be overtaken.  Here, they are reduced to pretending that their opponents don't exist.  I guess that they felt they still had to have some sort of bar chart in that place in their standard template, but the 2015 Brent Central General Election result just wouldn't do.  Nor would their dismal 2014 Kensal Green showing

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Where is the New Brent Library Strategy?

Curious to see that Brent Council's Forward Plan still has no item on libraries.  The Libraries Transformation Project, which was effectively the Council's strategy from 2011 until now, has been completed with the opening of Willesden Library.  Officers should be given political direction on the long term future of the service so that they can plan service development, including whatever cuts councillors decide to make to the libraries budget.

The omission is curious, as the Budget included proposals to spin off libraries in some sort of undefined form.  Full scale privatisation would probably be politically controversial, and possibly technically difficult.  Certainly I think separating out the co-located libraries at Harlesden, Willesden and Wembley strikes me as a tricky issue.

The whole design of these three libraries is based on blurring the distinction between the library and the co-located service.  For example at Willesden Library, you have to go through the library to reach the Musuem, archives, one stop shop, art gallery and meeting rooms.  A new arms length arrangement goes in the opposite direction of trying to separate everything out again.

It reads to me as a line put in the budget by someone for financial reasons without really understanding how Brent Library services work. 

Monday, 23 November 2015

Brawl in Tubbs Road

Reports of a massive night time brawl in Tubbs Road.  Boris Johnson's massive cuts to local police in Brent and across London are hardly going to help deal with this sort of thing.  Andy Burnham has written to Theresa May to think again on the police cuts.  Lets hope she listens. 

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Kensal Green By Election


Kensal Green is now gearing up for a by election following the sad death of Cllr Dan Filson.  There are five candidates standing, including what I think is the first ever UKIP candidate to stand in Kensal Green.  Only two candidates _ Labour and Liberal Democrat _ actually live in the ward.  Polling Day will be 17 December. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Furness School Academisation

It appears that Furness primary school is drifting towards academy status.  I am not sure whether this is supposed to benefit the school or is merely a consequence of its linkage to Oakington Manor School.  Either way it doesn't seem satisfactory.

As I have pointed out before, the widespread conversion of schools into academies is making life impossible for local authorities.  They retain the responsibility for providing school places, but have almost no powers to create them.  They can't build new schools unless they create new academies, and they can't force an existing academy to take pupils.  If the academy fails financially (as some have) the local authority is left to pick up the pieces.

Brent Council sought to get around this by ensuring that new academies be part of the Co-operative network of schools.  Despite this being the official Brent Council policy, the Council appears not to be implementing it.  It is the closest that, under the existing government, we can get to the Labour Party's official policy of having schools under local authority control

I find it quirte baffling that the Council is not pursuing its duly passed policy.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

New Exhibtion at Willesden Library

Willesden Library's gallery has a new exhibition called Déjà Vu.  I think it is greatly to the credit of the officers concerned, that this kind of project is still going forward despite the financial crisis.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Longer Library Opening Hours

No one seems to have noticed that, at a time when most authorities are reducing library hours as the only alternative to closure, Brent have extended them even further.  Seven day opening was introduced at all Brent libraries late in 2012, but now Wembley and Willesden Libraries open not from noon as in the other cases, but from 10am.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

School Place Crisis

Among the reports at the next Brent Cabinet meeting is one on school places, with frankly terrifying implications.  It asks members to:



"Note that the demand for  Secondary Places will increase  from September 2016 with demand outstripping supply from 2018. depending on the size of sites, the equivalent of two or three additional secondary schools will be needed by the 2022/23 academic year."

I well recall the controversy over the building of the ARK Academy in Wembley which attracted some very strange debate.  The Lib Dem/ Tory administration in charge of the Council ordered a review of all the available sites, and none of them were brilliant.  I simply can't imagine where two or three secondary schools can be built.

It also illustrates a point I have made before that authorities still have a requirement to provide school places, but not the powers.  As the report says, Brent has no community secondary schools, and no power to demand an academy expands or ability to build a new school, except as an academy.  The Council is dependent on other parties to make things happen.  In the case of the Gladstone Free school, they simply didn't.  Altogether, it strikes me that such a system is unsustainable.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Play Streets in Brent

The next Brent Council Cabinet has an interesting piece on play streets _ temporary closures of a street to allow children to play in it.  This sounds like an interesting idea, and I look forward to seeing how it works in practice.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Ash Tree Die Back

Ash tree die back hit the headlines some time ago.  The melancholy fact appears to be that the UK will lose most of its current ash trees in the same way that Denmark already has.  I find the search for developing new strains of ash heartening as a solution to this problem, but it is sad to see that there is so much opposition to it simply based on the technology being new.  The Woodland Trust is quoted as saying that the "test tube" must be a last resort.  Why should it be presumed that the latest scientific research risks being disastrous?  Surely, whether a solution works or not should be assessed without worrying about whether it is based on old or new technology.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Boris Johnson Learns of Flooding Risks

Boris Johnson seems to be coming rather late to the the issue of surface water flooding.  As his Mayoral term peters out he seems to be desperately reaching round for some sort of legacy.  He has a reputation as something of a climate change sceptic, so that may explain why he has had so little interest in the subject.  Authorities like Brent have developed policies for reducing flooding over some years.  The effect of these can be seen in the use of permeable paving, tree planting, the use of sustainable urban drainage as a planning condition and the encouragement of soft planting. 

People sometimes blame the use of controlled parking zones for people paving over gardens, but I am not really convinced.  The expense of paving over a garden would take a while to recoup from the money saved on parking permits, and I suspect it has more to do with people wanting minimal maintanence for their gardens.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Scrutiny and Dumping

Thursday's scrutiny committee has a report on dumped rubbish, which is a model of what Scrutiny should be doing.  The Committee has taken a growing problem and major concern of residents, looked at in detail and with promptness, and come up with a series of imaginative recommendations.  That really is what the system is supposed to do, and it is a tribute to the recently deceased Chair that he got the Committee actively engaged in this way. 

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Parking at the Willesden Sainsburys


In the Willesden Sainsburys recently, I saw they are advertising their car parking for customers.  I hope that they remember that they have a planning obligation dating back to the 1980s, they have to make some of their spaces available for general town centre use.

I have often argued that parking is not as central to town centre success as many people seem to think.  During the early stages of the Harlesden Town Centre regeneration, I was surprised to learn that 85% of shoppers travelling to a London Town Centre do not come by car.  I was less surprised to find that getting people to linger in a pleasant urban environment is seen as important to the success of a High Street.  Political debates about parking often fail to recognise these factors.

UPDATE

The comment below states that Sainsburys are ignoring their obligations on car parking.  If so the Council should remind them ofr their obligations and, if necessary, take legal action.  By the way, the land on the Willesden Library site was not "given away". It paid for the new library.  It is also worth remembering that it was not for general parking but specifically for users of the Library Centre.


Saturday, 31 October 2015

Death of Cllr Dan Filson

I am sorry to hear that Cllr Dan Filson, Councillor for Kensal Green, has died.  As well as being known in Brent he was widely known and respected in the Labour & Co-operative Movement throughout London.  In Brent, he became Chair of Scrutiny and brought a much deeper level of seriousness to the scrutiny of Council business.  This would have come as no surprise to those who knew him.

In conversation, he would always treat the details of policy in depth pursuing the line of the enquiry to the end.  This is most true when he was discussing education (which he had been chair of during his previous time as a councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham), but was also true of many other subjects.  He is a great loss to the Council and the Party in general. 

Friday, 30 October 2015

Volunteers and Employment Risk

Public Libraries News, which is the leading source of information on UK public libraries, has an interesting piece about the risks of volunteer libraries.  These apply not just to libraries but also other kinds of "Big Society" solutions to public services.

I had quite a lot to do with various "Big Society" campaigns in Brent.  Some of these were proposals related to libraries, but there were other kinds such as the Charteris Sports Centre, that threw up much of the same issues.  What struck me about many of these proposals was firstly the very optimistic assumptions that tended to be made, and (more surprisingly) the refusal to consider the kind of issues in the PLN piece.  Such queries were often dismissed as "red tape" or "bureaucratic" when in fact they were sensible attempts to forestall potential problems.

The issues of responsibilities regarding volunteers is really crucial to any kind of "Big Society" solution.  I can't envisage how any such solution would work without a quasi-employment relationship for the volunteers.  In order to make sure a building was open at certain hours, for instance, you would have to have an obligation by volunteers to turn up at that time.  That then creates the potential legal issues mentioned in the PLN article.  These are on top of the various other issues that may crop up.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Access to Brent Civic Centre

It is good to see that Brent Council is now treating disabled access at the Civic Centre very seriously.  Positive action to enhance disabled access beyond strict legal requirements will strike most people as common sense, especially for an authority that regards itself as forward.  It also a change from the previous attitude which I blogged on at the time.  In that case, an elderly person using crutches was told that they had to provide their own wheel chair, which caused significant avoidable discomfit to her.  I was told that this decision was made at a political level and based on personal dislike of the individual.  I am glad that a new approach is being taken. 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Barham Trust Meets Again

There is yet another meeting of the Barham Trust today which conjures up some unexpected issues. 

There is an item on the Veterans Club that rents part of the building complex.  It would appear that a member of the public complained that the Club was not inclusive.  The Council decided to investigate the Club's activities with regard to equalities.

This surprises me, as I have previously argued that the Council (i.e. the Trust) is simply a landlord, and shouldn't worry about what its tenants are doing, aside from keeping to the tenancy agreement.  However, the Committee's legal advice appears to be slightly different:

"Although charities are not public bodies, they may still be covered by the general duty if they exercise public functions, and equality legislation does have an impact on their service delivery or charitable objects."

The recommendations involve various Council officers taking a very pro-active approach to promoting equalities issues in the Club.
 

I would have thought that this policy would have to apply not just to the Veterans club, but also to the other two tenants.  To implement the policy with regard to one tenant but not to the two others strikes me as irrational.
 

Although this is advice to the Trust, which is separate to the Council as a whole, I imagine it would also be applicable to other buildings where the Council is acting as landlord, which will unfortunately add to the complexities of management of such properties. 

Going to Plan
Otherwise, it sounds as if the Trust is progressing well according to the plan agreed some time ago after consultation.  Works to the buildings have progressed.  The bank of leylandi trees, which I understood have been the focus for anti-social behavior, are being removed and replaced with a path.  ACAVA have now moved in as a tenant, and their studios are fully occupied, which will surprise Paul Lorber who argued that there was no demand for artist studios in the area. 

The leasing of the community lounge, which is the only item I can see that deviates from the original plan, which was to allow ad hoc lettings, will generate further income _ reducing the Trust's dependence on Brent Council for funding. 

I am a little surprised by the detail that the Trust will ask the Charity Commission's permission to rent the Children's Centre building to the Council, but I assume that is just a technical detail. 

Altogether it seems that the Trust has made a lot of progress since the "years of neglect" under Paul Lorber. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Importance of Registering to Vote

The Labour Party in Brent and nationally had a number of street stalls promoting electoral registration at the weekend.  Speaking to some one at the stall outside Willesden Library, it seems many people don't realise the importance of this.  The Tory government has switch ed the rules to discourage registration in a tactic that is known in the USA as "voter suppression".  The register for December this year will then be used as the basis for redrawing constituency boundaries so that it is easier for the Tories to win future General Elections.  You can register to vote here

Monday, 26 October 2015

What the Public Think of Brent Libraries



As well as a successful record in terms of increasing visits and loans, Brent Libraries have also seen great improvements in user satisfaction.  Although I have blogged on the 2012 results that came at the end of 2012, about a year and a half after the decision to implement the Libraries Transformation Project, I thought it would be interesting to look at the PLUS results historically. 

PLUS (Public Library User Survey) is a survey carried out by CIPFA across all library authorities in England every three years.  The graph above gives figures in three columns using a baseline of 50% to highlight the difference more dramatically.  Blue is 2006; red is 2009, and green is 2012. 

Between 2006 and 2009, I think it is fair to say the Council was treading water or even sliding backward.  After the 2011 decision, the green column goes well ahead of the 2009 results on all the criteria.  The actual table of results is here:


Very Good/Good Rating for Brent Libraries 2006 2009 2012
Overall Satisfaction 86% 77% 83%
Opening Hours 85% 85% 90%
Customer Care 93% 81% 84%
Books: physical condition 74% 74% 82%
Attractiveness of Library: inside 72% 68% 77%
Information provision 86% 70% 76%
Books: choice 66% 63% 73%
Computer facilities 71% 64% 70%
Attractiveness of Library: outside 59% 62% 66%

Individual Libraries
The Survey also asked about individual libraries.  It is notable that all the libraries, aside from the old Brent Town Hall library, improve between 2009 and 2012.

Brent Town Hall library has now been replaced by Wembley Library.  I shall be very disappointed if the next PLUS survey does not show a big improvement in its rating.  Likewise, "Willesden Library" in the graph is actually the old Willesden Library.  Hopefully, the next survey will again show a boost in ratings.  The biggest jumps in ratings at Kingsbury, Harlesden and Kilburn all seem to coincide with major refurbishments at those libraries, a sign that the quality of the building improves all other aspects of the library.



The full figures for the graph above are here:


Very Good/Good Overall Satisfaction by library 2006 2009 2012
Brent Town Hall 70% 77% 69%
Ealing Road 63% 80% 82%
Harlesden 68% 62% 80%
Kilburn 70% 77% 91%
Kingsbury 71% 85% 86%
Willesden 81% 73% 87%

Sunday, 25 October 2015

SUDs in Willesden Green


Passing along Grange Road in Willesden a few days ago, I notice the rainwater harvesting feature in place at the new flats there.  The planning permission explicitly required such measures, which are known to planners as Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDs).  These are now common features in large planning applications, although I personally pressed for this one. 

Contract Management Difficulties

Out in a different Borough a few days ago, I heard a Council Leader describing that authority's difficulties with a street cleaning contractor.  Essentially, the Borough is not going to renew the contract which gives the contractor no incentive to perform its duties well.  It is apparently routinely incurring penalties for poor performance, and this is set to continue until the end of the contract late next year. 

When I think back to the debate on Brent's own street cleaning and rubbish collection contract, I am still bemused at why practical issues such as this did not seem to form part of the public debate. 

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Curious Muddle of the Barham Trust

The minutes of the last Barham Trust committee are now available, and they make curious reading.  The main question before the committee was the letting of the former Community Lounge, a small building in the Barham building complex.  I have argued before that the Trust seem to be making heavy weather of what should be a very minor matter.  

Viewed in narrow terms, this process can be seen as having a successful outcome.  The revenue from ad hoc lettings of the community lounge has always been poor.  The new deal secures a small but regular income for the trust, and avoids the bother of administering the space.  Effectively, that cost will now be carried by the tenant.  All the sums involved are quite minor in the context of the Council's budget, and even in the context of the Trust's income (which is very small).

The difficulties come from not viewing the decision in those narrow terms, but with rather muddled political views.

It reads to me as if Cllr Pavey is bending over backwards to make special concessions to Friends of Barham Library as a community group.  Rationally, I find it odd that it should be considered as any more of a community group than Pivot.  I also find Cllr Pavey's contention that it is neutral frankly incredible.  I have known Paul Lorber, the driving force of the organisation, for years and he is relentlessly partisan.  From my knowledge of him, I think he is simply incapable of not being party political.  Of course, he will be constrained in this case by the operation of charity law, and possibly the terms of the tenancy agreement, but I have no doubt that he will seek to use the room as a base to get Liberal Democrats elected in Sudbury. 

This seems to be linked to Cllr James Denselow's views on "community libraries".  There is no logical reason why a "library" group should be considered any differently from any other community group.  Brent has literally hundreds of volunteer groups doing good things for the environment, sports, education, helping the vulnerable and so on.  It seems to me that this decision is based on a vague desire to appease this particular group simply because it has a track record of shouting particularly nastily at the Council.  Such an approach merely encourages groups to shout even more.

Deciding things according to fair criteria without special favours is actually politically smarter as well as fairer.

UPDATE

Cllr Pavey has got in touch to object to this post.  He points out that he awarded the tenancy to FoBL as the best of the two candidates in his opinion, which I am sure is so.  My point is that this whole business, which is about the award of the tenancy of a room for a small amount of money, seems to consume disproportionate attention, and this is because some of the volunteer library groups ar considered with far more attention than the many other voluntary groups in the Borough engaged in other forms of activity.  It was actually Cllr Denselow's comments to the committee that seemed to put this most strongly. 

On a second point, Cllr Pavey informs me that he obtained legal advice that there was no evidence that Paul Lorber would use the building for political purposes, which as he hasn't yet got into the building is not surprising.  If he does misuse the building, that will of course be a matter for both the Council (through its apparent exercise of public functions and as landlord) and the Charity Commission to keep an eye on. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Plastic Bag Charges

Scotland has seen great success in reducing plastic bag usage through the introduction of a small charge.  This is not a surprise since Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic had the same.  Whilst a minor step, it is an example of how we can reduce waste and this make our economy more sustainable.  I wonder if the Daily Mail will be apologizing for their prediction of chaos?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Community Work Shops at Willesden Library


The Library at Willesden is now displaying the results of the community workshops that fed into the pattern of the mural art at the front entrance to The Library

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

More on Lewisham Libraries

I was interested to see a local perspective on Lewisham volunteer libraries here.  I have suggested before that Lewisham volunteer libraries do not work in terms of a public library service to the extent that some have hoped.  It seems to leave many local people dissatisfied as well. 

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Council Tax Support

I wasn't at the Brent Council Cabinet last night, but I was interested to read the report on the Council's Council Tax Support scheme.  The decision to retain this scheme more or less as originally designed suggests to me that the original design process was robust, which pleases me as I was part of it. 

The whole idea of the Council Tax Support Scheme was forced on local authorities.  Accompanied by extra cuts, and almost random changes in policy, it was setting Councils like Brent up to fail.  Successfully avoiding a legal challenge, and implementing such a difficult policy is a sign of the competence of local government officers in the face of what often appears to be deliberate sabotage by central government. 

Monday, 19 October 2015

Bridge Park Redevelopment

Good news is becoming harder and harder to find in local government, so I guess we should welcome the progress on developing a new sports centre at Bridge Park.  This idea has been kicking around for ages.  When I first heard about it was mooted as a thrid swimming pool for the Borough.  That looks as if it is likely to be overtaken by the new swimming pool at Moberly Sports Centre now.

Getting projects such as these to proceed in the teeth of the Tory Party's cuts is a really remarkable achievement, despite the various pragmatic compromises that have to be made to make them happen. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Cuts to Brent Youth Services

Although Brent Council is doing its best to put a good gloss on it, there is no mistaking the fact that Youth Services are seeing a massive cutback.  It is another example of how having something as a "statutory duty" does not really give the level of protection that people often assume. 

Fulfilling a legal duty can be done in a minimalist way, and that is the route that Brent has been forced to assume with youth services.  Effectively most of the duty is being outsourced, with the Council assuming more of a co-ordinating and supervisory role whereas previously it was a provider.  I suspect that if it were not for the conditions attached to the grant that rebuilt Roundwood Youth Centre back in 2010, it and all the other youth centres would simply be closed down.

The report is also indicative of the dangers around tendering processes.  Securing effective competition for a contract is by no means easy.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Libraries are Good for Your Health

CILIP has an interesting blog on how public libraries support peoples health here.  This is one of the beenfits of libraries that is not always appreciated, no doubt because it is hard to put a number on it. 

Friday, 16 October 2015

Harlesden High Street

Speaking to some one recently I learnt a Costa Coffee is due to come to High Street Harlesden, which sounds like a sign of the area's gentrification.  I hope that that kind of chain doesn't drive out the independent shops which give Harlesden High Street so much of its character.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Brent Library Visits at their Highest Level for Years




I thought it would be interesting to see a slightly longer term perspective on visits to Brent Libraries, so I have dug out the CIPFA figures.  The graph above shows that Brent library visits are now at their highest level since at least 2007/08.  The latest full year figure is 28.8% higher than the start of series.  The latest half year figures give me confidence that this year and the following year will be even higher, thanks largely to the success of Willesden Library

The earlier part of the series shows visit numbers bumping up and down, in a way that is consistent with a service muddling along.  It is interesting that the opening of the new library at Kingsbury in 2008 and of the extensively remodelled Harlesden Library in March 2010 don't seem to have made much of an impact on the overall figures.  That is quite different from the post 2011 experience where new facilities have driven the growth in numbers, although it is somewhat masked by the construction period.  Nonetheless, I find it striking that the closure of six libraries in October 2011 is followed by a growing upward trend in library visits.

The full table of figures is here:


Year Visits to Brent Libraries, 2007-2015 %Growth
2007/08                                                                                                     1,639,270
2008/09                                                                                                     1,573,326 -4.0%
2009/10                                                                                                     1,683,721 7.0%
2010/11                                                                                                     1,701,131 1.0%
2011/12                                                                                                            1,506,852 -11.4%
2012/13                                                                                                            1,526,095 1.3%
2013/14                                                                                                            1,654,807 8.4%
2014/15                                                                                                     2,112,149 27.6%

Monday, 12 October 2015

Audit Committee Mystery

Brent Council's Audit Committee can have much more interesting agendas than one might imagine.  The most recent, back in mid September, seems to have a curious omission in the published papers.  Although the agenda mentions the Islamia School, the actual papers appear not to have a report on the subject.  This is concerning as financial standards in Brent Schools have been a concern for many years.  Such concerns are surely best met by open and transparent discussion.  I am not suggesting a Copland style problem, but given the problems at several Brent Schools in the recent past, the issues have to be resolved as openly as possible.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Brent Library Torch Relay

Martin Francis informs us that there will be a torch relay today.  The theme is "closed libraries," and the organisers don't seem to have moved on from 2011.  I notice that one of the stopping points is Willesden Library at 11.30am.  This is of course an open library, which opens at 10am every Sunday morning as the old Willesden Library did not.  Of course if the organisers were to rely solely on Martin's blog for information, they could easily be forgiven for failing to notice any mention of the opening of a £10 million library in Willesden Green. 

Rather than touring round former library buildings, I would have thought it would be better to highlight Brent's improved libraries _ especially the refurbished Ealing Road library, the extensively improved Kilburn library and the entirely new Wembley Library.  Wembley Library is particularly well used, with 707,125 visits in the first half of the current year.  If that kind of number is repeated in the second half of the year, than Wembley Library by itself will have had almost as many visits as all twelve Brent Libraries had in 2011/12

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Solving Flytipping Problems

Brent has seen a surge in flytipping incidents recently.  I spoke to someone yesterday who gave me an example of how the new waste & street cleaning contract can make these things easier to deal with.

Under the former contract, there was a rigid system of zones with required number of cleans per week.  Most of the Borough fell under a "zone 5" (residential streets).  Town Centres fell into a different zone, and had a much more frequent cleaning service to reflect the much higher footfall, and therefore the higher rate of littering.  The disadvantage of this system for areas such as the streets off Ealing Road, Harlesden High Street and Willesden High Road was that those streets were counted as "residential" even though they had much worse littering than most of the Borough.  The intention of the new contract was to allow for a greater flexibility of response than the old.  

The example I was given was of Bertie Road just off Willesden High Road.  I go down this road quite frequently, and the corner of the High Road and Bertie Road has indeed been a problem for a long time.  The Willesden resident I spoke to assured me that it has recently improved which is down to (a) more frequent, responsive cleaning and (b) some of the flats above shops being provided with bins where previously they had none.  This seems to be the kind of incremental and piecemeal improvement which too often gets lost in political debates.