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Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Immunisation in Brent

A few days ago, I went to an interesting meeting on immunisation with a speaker from the NIBSC. Brent has a pretty low rate of immunisation even by London standards. I was shocked to be told that the database on child immunisation is so poor that it is holding back any major efforts to improve the vaccination rate. Apparently the cuts to the number of health visitors, together with the use of a paper based system, meant that a lot of the data simply did not get recorded. Another case of unintended consequences.

However, the NIBSC speaker spoke more generally on the suspicion that many people have over vaccination. As well as the MMR example of a few years ago, he cited a seventies scare about pertussis (whooping cough). Essentially, whooping cough outbreaks slid strongly downward as a result of a vaccination programme until about 1975. In that year, there was a scare that the vaccination caused babies to suffer permanent neurological damage. The scare led the take up of vaccination in England to drop from about 80% to about 30% over three years. Naturally, this was followed by a sharp rise in whooping coughs and a number of children died. Scarily, it took about 15 years for the immunisation rate to recover. So, like the MMR scare, a rumour was started fairly easily, caused tremendous health problems, and those problems took a huge time to recover from.

The worry is that these scares seem to be ignitable out of very little, and the actual arguments don't seem to matter very much.

Dr Wakefield's research was pretty ropey scientifically, but his assured manner seemed to count for more. Many people seem to have an ingrained distrust of medical experts, surprising given the popularity of the NHS. There also seems to be a fear of taking official medicine that sits bizarrely with peoples' willingness to consume all kinds of other things. The argument that taking your MMR doses all at once would overwhelm your immune system suggests that the number of things in a slice of Camembert should finish you off for good.

In Brent, we also apparently have rumours spreading in from other parts of the world. In 2005, some predominantly Muslim parts of Nigeria had a movement to stop the polio eradication programme, as it was thought to be a western programme to sterilise people. As a result there was an outbreak of polio that quickly spread across several countries. I have been told that similar rumours have circulated in some Brent Mosques.

It is difficult to see how these fears can be countered by rational argument, since they are inherently irrational. The two ways I can think of to improve the immunisation rate would be engaging health and education workers, and peer groups through the Children Centres. However, I still don't see these as total solutions.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


Brent's Chief Executive Gareth Daniel has a Local Government Chronicle piece HERE on the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA). As well as the standard local government compliants about the length of time and resource it takes to report to government inspectors, it raises an issue over accountability that has been troubling me for some time.

The idea of the CAA and local strategic partnerships is that the Council co-ordinates various partnership agencies which agree a common strategy. It doesn't take much account of the differeing priorities of the partners. It also removes priority setting from elected members. There is currently very little oversight by elected members in this process. It also cuts directly against the push to make local authorities more responsive to residents, either directly or through their councillors. The danger is that the agreed priority of the partnership and the Audit Commission will carry on independently of attempts by the public or members to influence it. I am not sure what the solution to that is, but all political parties need to recognise the problem if there really is going to be any kind of new "localism".

Monday, 28 September 2009

Why is Britain's Political Debate so Immature?

I hope the Party Conference season will clear ground for some actual policy debate. Currently, all the political parties aren't really addressing the balance sheet problems of the government, or what will be needed over the next Parliament.

Normally, I would go into a diatribe about how Brent Liberal Democrats stand for nothing at this point, but instead lets look at David Cameron.

In the run up to the 1997 election, I well recall how Labour was questioned over and over again about its spending plans. Details like the Yacht Britannia were picked over. Now, Cameron seems to get away with nothing very much.

His speech on cutting the cost of politics (which dressed up a number of measures designed to help the Tory party, like reducing the number of seats) came up with only two sets of proposals. The cost cutting package was worth only £120 million, hardly a significant contribution to the budget deficit, but he wasn't really pressed to come up with more.

The other scheme, cutting ID cards, is also an old Lib Dem standby. I have always thought it rather odd,as I understood that each ID card would be distributed on receipt of a fee, like getting a passport. If you have abolished the ID cards, presumably you can't charge people for getting them. So where is the saving?

All three parties need a media that really does it job of scrutinising their policy proposals instead of concentrating on gossip and personal indisgressions.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Boris Johnson's Emissions Failure

Simon Fletcher has a post on Boris Johnson backtracking on the Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) HERE.

I have a question on this at the next full meeting of Brent Council. From a Brent perspective, Boris' view gets even stranger. The Tory / Lib Dem administration in Brent is mooting demolition of a number of properties on the North Circular Road at great expense because the pollution is so bad as to make them virtually uninhabitable. Certainly, the pollution is linked to respiratory diseases in that neighbourhood. Most of the pollution is caused by vehicles going through Brent from elsewhere i.e. the vahicles that might be affected by Boris Johnson imposing a LEZ.

It seems that the right hand doesn't know what the further right hand is doing.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Baroness Scotland

I don't have much time for the attacks on Baroness Scotland. She seems to have committing some fairly minor errors in failing to photocopy documents.

Admittedly, she might reflect that if it was so easy for the Attorney General to fail to comply with the law she herself introduced, perhaps other might have trouble, but all this talk of resignation seems vindictive. If it were a private businessman making this sort of mistake, would we really have newspapers and politicians claiming that a £5,000 fine was not enough, and that they should be forced to resign from their company? Given the shortage of talent in Parliament, do we really want to force someone of proven ability out over something they may not even have directly dealt with themselves?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Brent Council: Lower Emissions in Transport?

Cutting carbon emissions has been made a major priority by the Labour government. So far Brent Council doesn't seem to have many new ideas on how to do this.

However, there is a big opportunity in Brent's Transport fleet. The Council has a fleet of about 120 minibuses that are used either to take adults to Day Centres, or children to school. These have traditionally been bought on a ten year period before being replaced, but the Council is now thinking of switching to a seven year period for each vehicle. This would mean that a large proporition of the fleet would have to be replaced in the next year or two.

Why not replace them with alternative fuel vehicles that would cut carbon emissions.? They usually have a very short route (inside the Borough). If there is a need for a depot supplied with the specific fuel concerned, they normally do a round trip. They might even be cheaper to run. So far, the Liberal Democrats in Brent have rejected even considering the idea, but I hope to wear them down over time.

It is the kind of thing an ambitious Council would jump at, and the kind of thing that the dullards currently in charge of Brent would not.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Dumped Rubbish and Streetcare

Should you see dumped rubbish on the streets in Brent, you can report it to streetcare on or by phoning 8937 5050. If it is on the public Highway (either the road or the pavement), Brent Council has to remove it for free, as they did with this furniture I found on All Souls Avenue.

Of course, before the Liberal Democrats and the Tories took over Brent Council, the Council would also have taken it away from your garden for free. Once the Lib Dim / Tory coalition was formed, they introduced a £25 charge for taking your old furniture away from your house. Could this possibly be linked to furntiure being dumped on the streets?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Kilburn Neglect

I have been reflecting that the recent planning permission for the Kilburn State is probably the first major piece of good news that Kilburn High Road has had for years.

Back in 2006, the new Lib Dem / Tory administration closed the One Stop Shop in Dyne Road. This was supposedly because the rent was too high, although the Council continued paying for the empty building for some time afterward. The One Stop Shop got moved down to the Ancient Order of Foresters in Kilburn High Road, a not terribly suitable location. We were assured at the time that this was temporary, but the Kilburn One Stop Shop still has no permanent home. I cannot rid myself of the suspicion that the office has been allowed to wither on the vine as a cost cutting measure.

The new Brent administration also decided to cut funding for the Town Centre Manager (which had been shared 50/50 with Camden). Fortunately for us Camden carried on paying the full cost. If I were a Camden Council Tax payer I wouldn’t be very satisfied with that, but that is up to them. I understand that they are now getting tired of subsidising Brent and about to cut the service.

Then we had the recession hit, with several of the Kilburn High Road shops going out of business and being left empty, dragging the area down further. If the proposed major new development of Brent Cross Cricklewood (BXC) goes ahead, there is a real danger of even more life being sucked out of the area.

Kilburn High Road is supposed to be one of our key shopping centres, yet we don’t do much to promote it. This is partly because it is the victim of the same kind of Borough issues as Kensal Green, but also because it is given marginal weight within the administration.

I recall asking Irwin Van Colle (The Tory Lead member for planning) about drawing up a Supplementary Planning Document to encourage development in the area. He basically said there were more important priorities. As a Tory living in Barnhill he has little interest in the south of the Borough. Unfortunately, the Lib Dem councillors for Kilburn carry little weight within their own party. I don’t think the Lib Dems expected to get any seats in Kilburn so they put two of their weakest candidates there. Derek Jackson is one of several more or less silent members on the Lib Dem benches. Cllr Anthony Dunn is vocal, but his style is such that I don’t think he has much respect even within his own group. Interestingly, he appeared in lots of leaflets in Queens Park in the run up to the last local elections, which led me to expect him to stand in that ward. He switched to Kilburn only at the last moment, and I have always wondered why.

Norman Borlaug

Norman Borlaug, one of the greatest benefactors to humanity of our time, has died. You can find out more about him on wikipedia HERE.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Glum Councillors

Courtesy of Theo Blackwell, who will be much missed when he stands down as a Camden Labour councillor, I was delighted to see this web site specialising in photos of unhappy looking councillors. I will be sending them some Brent Liberal Democrat images soon. I wonder if all the glum councillors share the Brent Liberal Democrat habit of implying that the incompetent Council responsible is being run by someone else?

Monday, 21 September 2009

Liberal Democrat Impracticality

As it is Liberal Democrat Conference week, why not another posting on my favourite political party?

This time I am pondering why the Liberal Democrats never seem to consider administrative costs in their policies.

One example of this would be the Caribbean flights issue. Dawn Butler MP is lobbying for the Jamaican government line, which is to reband Jamaica and other West Indian islands alongside Washington so that the cost of travel remains. The Lib Dem line is to introduce a per plane/ per flight tax that would ironically be more expensive for people going to the Caribbean, but also sounds a lot more complicated to administer.

Another would be the proposed local income tax to replace Council Tax. This has been criticised on various grounds, including hitting some poorer people very hard, but it would also be very difficult to administer. Would you be taxed where you lived or where you worked? On your total income or just your salary? In any case, it would be much easier to evade and therefore the administration costs would be far greater.

One explanation of this would be that the Liberal Democrats have always been a party of opposition and therefore they just don’t think about the practicalities. However, these days they have a strong local government base. Surely not all these Lib Dem councillors can be as divorced from their local authorities as the ones in Brent are?

Can anyone think of an explanation?

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Sarah Teather's Contradictions

I have criticised Brent Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather for her silence on big issues like the John Kelly Schools rebuild. I suspect she will be also be silent on her Leader Nick Clegg’s desire for “savage” cuts in public services. According to the Guardian on Saturday, these may include means testing child benefit, withdrawing tax credits from the middle class (I will be interested in the specifics on that), a long term freeze on public sector pay and scaling back public sector pensions. They are even rowing back on the “scrap tuition fees” line that they have peddled for so long.

Teather meanwhile is still going round demanding more spending. As Housing spokeswoman she routinely calls for more public sector housing spending out of general taxation. More recently, she has argued that Brent is not getting enough money for schools. Since Brent got the second biggest increase in education spend in England this year that suggests a massive increase in school budgets, which would be simply unachievable. As always with Brent Liberal Democrats, they are saying what people want to hear and avoiding anything that might be unpopular.

Her profligacy in spending promises rather undermines her party’s attack on the Tories for an alleged £53 billion of unfunded spending pledges. If the Liberal Democrats were under more serious scrutiny la Teather would get into trouble for undermining her own party line like this.

Teather’s problem is that she represents a broadly Labour area where Nick Clegg’s semi-Tory approach does not go down well. Nick Clegg can’t, and probably doesn’t want to, want to adopt Teather’s approach. Partly, Teather always goes for easy populism and Clegg is trying to get people to take the Liberal Democrats seriously as a party of government. Secondly, the threat to existing Liberal Democrat seats comes mainly from the Tories. The kind of voters that the Lib Dems need to limit their losses next time round are the sort who like the “shrink the state” rhetoric of classical liberalism.

That really leaves Teather rather out on a limb in her own party.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Liberal Democrats and Post Offices

I haven't given an example of Brent Liberal Democrats breaking their promises for, well, days, so I thought I would talk about Post Offices.

Anyone who reads their literature will know that the save the Post Office line is a standard Lib Dem line. Indeed I recall during the Brent East by election a Lib Dem leaflet headlined "9 days to save Brondesbury Post Office". Brondesbury Post Office closed a few days after polling day, and let's face neither Sarah Teather or anyone in her team could possibly have believed that they would prevent its closure by winning the by election.

In fact, the Liberal Democrats never really do anything to help prevent branch closures. I once went to a briefing about Post Office closures with George Hooper in Brent Town Hall. This was back in 2004. Sarah Teather, who was also there, announced that none of her lobbying on Post Office closures ever worked, although of course that doesn't prevent her from claiming that it does.

Flashing forward to the 2008 Queens Park by election, I recall that the Liberal Democrats put out literature claiming that the branches in Queens Park were under threat. There was a closure programme at the time, but none of the Queens Park branches were named, as I am quite sure that the Liberal Democrats knew. However, the Liberal Democrats spreading lies that they were going to close almost certainly hurt their business (Once a branch is announced as closing, the business starts moving elsewhere even before it goes). Thus, not only did the Liberal Democrats do nothing to help the Post Office branches, they actively attacked them.

Aside from that, the only activity I recall the Liberal Democrats engaging in during that round of Post Office closures was an attempt to wreck Dawn Butler MP's event on the subject. Dawn held a meeting in St Mark's Church Hall, which I chaired. The Post Office branch on Harrow Road NW10 was under threat. The Liberal Democrats tried to pack the meeting with rent-a-mouths from other parts of London to criticise her. Personally, I think they just made themselves look foolish, but perhaps if they had engaged on the issue that branch might have been spared.

I also recall the Overview and Scrutiny meeting that Cllr Lesley Jones organised for representatives of the Post Office to come to. Lots of local councillors like myself lined up to plead for the branches in our own wards. The exception was Conservative councillor John Detre who declared that he hated the Post Office, and that he was looked forward to the election of a Tory government that would privatise the Post Office and close more branches. The Post Office people were pretty gobsmacked at this, but he really wasn't joking. The Liberal Democrats and Tories have now elected him as Lead Member for Regeneration, so he will be leading on any future threatened Post Office closures.

The one thing you never read about in a Liberal Democrat leaflet on Post Offices is their actual policy, which is to privatise them. The idea is sell off the profitable bits and use the proceeds to subsidise the existing network. What is missing is any idea about what to do when the proceeds run out and you are left with a wholly unprofitable retail network with an outdated business model.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Kilburn State Cinema

The nicer note from the Planning Committee on Wednesday was the Planning permission for the Kilburn State Cinema. This is Brent's premier listed building, near the junction of Willesden Lane and Kilburn High Road. It has been severely underused for years, but now a church wants to take it over. That gives the advantage that they will be using it in a similar way to the original intention (i.e. they won't sub-divide it. They are also likely (and required by the planning permission) to make it available for community use. Having the building active should also encourage footfall and regneeration on Kilburn High Road, which I think is Brent's most neglected shopping centre. There will, of course, be transport issues but given the accessibility of the site I believe these will be manageable.

Tenterden Sports Ground MUGA

I went to one of Brent Council Planning Committee's most riotous meetings on Wednesday. Quite the most tempestous Planning Hearing I can remember. There is a new MUGA propsed for the Tenterden ground in Kenton ward, and one Cllr Robert Dunwell has obviously been whipping up feelings about it.

Many of the people there, who I assume seldom come to Planning meetings, seemed to think they had been invited to a public meeting, and constantly interrupted, shouted down other people and generally sought to intimidate the committee. In fact Planning Hearings have quite strict rulings as to who can speak, and for how long. It is more akin to attending a magistrates' court than a public meeting.

It is striking how people who shout loudest about democracy are frequently those who least respect the rights of others.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Graffiti at Kensal Green Tube

Another gift from Tory rail privatisation: graffiti at Kensal Green station. All right, the Tories didn' actually put the graffiti there but the way they privatised the railways made it a lot harder to get off.
The reason is that the train operator only leases the platforms and the ticket office area. The rails and the land beneath the platform, the tunnels and the area of the roof and above (where you can see the graffiti vandals have been busy) are still the responsibility of Network Rail.
This roof area has been cleaned before and it has been cleaned since this photo was taken, but it does feel like a Labour of Sisyphus.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Kensal Rise Library Homework Club

Kensal Rise Library will be getting a new Homework Club, mostly paid for out of Kensal Green's Neighbourhood Working fund. The Homework Club is being run with charity Volunteer Reading Help. The Homework Club will operate on Tuesdays from 3.30pm to 5.30pm, and is a good example of the kind of initiative that Neighbourhood Working is supposed to encourage. You can contact Kensal Rise Library at

Friends of Odessa & Palermo Road Party

On Sunday, I went to the Friends of Odessa and Palermo Road party in Furness Primary School, which was a really good event. As you can see from this photo, we persuaded Dawn Butler MP to come along too. She is seen here with some of the organisers.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Brent Council and John Kelly Schools

Labour made another attempt to get Brent's Liberal Democrats and Tories to return to their previous policy of a full expansion of the Crest Academies (formerly John Kelly Schools). After a chaotic debate, the Tories and Liberal Democrats voted down our motion to buy more land so that it had greater sports facilities (which Ofsted has identified as the schools' Achilles heel).

Prior to the vote, we were told at great length that Brent is short of school places. As usual the Liberal Democrats blamed the government for not giving enough money without mentioning that Brent has persistently had some of the highest increases in education spend in England (This year, for example, we had the second highest increase).

One of the several reasons for wanting the extra land is that construction would take less than two years rather than the four years planned by the Liberal Democrats. There is some evidence that the school is already seeing parents turning down places. If it becomes a building site for four years, I would think the number of refusals can only increase, and many pupils will be left without a school place. That is one way in which the Liberal Democrat plans for the Crest Academies are stored up a disaster for the future.

Furness Primary School: 5pm start

Tonight, we will be doing another Neighbourhood Working walkabout. It starts outside Furness Road Primary School at 5pm and is supposed to cover Rucklidge Avenue, Park Parade, Leghorn Road, Cholmondeley Avenue, Wrottesley Road, Radcliffe Avenue, Ancona Road, Spezia Road Odessa Road and Palermo Road ending at the junction with Wrottesley Road.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Liberal Democrats U-turn over Council Publicity Spend

Cllr Paul Lorber, Brent Liberal Democrat Leader, has for years promised to cut the amount of Brent Council Tax payers' money going on leaflets. The reality, as I pointed out in my post of 28 August, is that he has put the amount spent up.

In fact, he did briefly cut the publicity spending, by abolishing the newsletters sent out as part of Neighbourhood Working. Of course, this saving had the disadvantage of ensuring that the voters knew nothing about Neighbourhood Working, and were effectively not being consulted about it. Since the raison detre of Neighbourhood Working is to engage the voters and find out what they want, that was a considerable disadvantage.

The Council officers realised this, and have now reinstated the ward newsletters that Cllr Lorber preened himself on abolishing.

It shows you how disengaged Brent Council's so-called Leader is from the workings of the organisation that he is supposed to head that he has made no protest about this.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Not Another Drop

I just wanted to give advance warning of the Not Another Drop Peace March. This year it will be held on 26th September, starting from the gates of Roundwood Park. Above is a photo I took of Dawn Butler MP in Harlesden High Street at the 2007 Peace March. You can find out all about Not Another Drop by clicking on the link at the side.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Sustainable Communities Act and Brent

For several months, I have been trying to get progress on the Sustainable Communities Act in Brent. This first came up when a constituent approached Cllr Bobby Thomas and me at one of our regular surgeries in St Mark's Church (at the bottom of All Souls Avenue) in March.

he was a keen advocate of the Act which has been passed with all party support in an effort to encourage a more bottom up kind of local government. Bobby and I took it to the Labour Group (i.e. a meeting of all the Labour councillors in Brent), and quickly got support from our fellow Labour councillors.

That is where the problems started. When we went to the Brent Council legal department to find out how to present a proposal, we were told it depended on what the proposal was. So we had a problem: no one would produce a proposal because they was no mechanism to consider it, and there would be no mechanism until someone produced a proposal. We nagged away at this on the Forward Plan Committee until eventually the Executive agreed and a motion was passed at full Council. It is surely bizarre that something that had all party support and the vote of every single councillor took three months to bring about.

A bizarre twist in this, was that the constituent who approached me originally also raised it in the Harlesden Area Forum (as Bobby had suggested). In the discussion with him beforehand, I mentioned the problem of the no proposal/no mechanism, and suggested that I was thinking of proposing a change to the licensing laws on betting shops in order to provide a test case. There had been a recent controversy over the new William Hill opposite Harlesden Methodist Church. Because that site had formerly been a restaurant, the betting shop didn't require planning permission, so my Harlesden Labour colleague suggested a change to the licensing laws. Anyhow, he must have suggested this to the other parties, and the Brent Liberal Democrat Leader Paul Lorber put it in his motion to Full Council.

Unfortunately, the main point of the proposal (to provide a test case for the Sustainable Communites Act) seems to have been lost in translation. Paul Lorber, who isn't really the sharpest tool in the box, is suggested changes to licensing betting shops should be made under the Local Authorities Act, which is an entirely different piece of legislation.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Brian Coleman and the Tichborne Claimant

Sorry about the title but it was kind of inevitable that I would use the term "Tichborne Claimant" in describing the claim brought by Roger Tichborne against Barnet councillor Brian Coleman. Anyway, it is over now.

According to NottheBarnettimes, the Barnet Standards committee ruled that Coleman had breached the Code but would effectively suffer no sanction. I know that Brian Coleman is a horrid little man who the Conservative Party are frankly stupid to maintain him in office, but I think that is not unreasonable.

If councillors are going to be dragged into lengthy legal cases over emails they send out or stupid comments that they make, it would obviously be good for the legal profession but who else? Legally, the Livingstone case where Ken Livingstone made grossly offensive comments to an Evening Standard reporter would surely be the worst example. The Mayor for London spent months and I imagine many thousands of pounds over a brief conversation he had when leaving a party. If elected representatives go round offending large numbers of people can't the voters punish them at the ballot box, or their parties discipline them?

Brent Liberal Democrats and FREE Bulky Waste collection

One of the Brent Liberal Democrats' broken promises I haven't got round to mentioning yet is their abolition of the £25 charge for collecting bulky household waste like old sofas and so on. Under Labour, Brent Council would collect up to five items per collection three times a year. At a Council meeting a little while ago, I read out a Liberal Democrat leaflet (produced before the election naturally) urging residents to use the free collection service "before the Conservatives make you pay". The Liberal Democrat spokesman was flummoxed in reply.

The case against the charge is that many people, rather than going through the cost and bureaucracy of pre-paying for a booked collection, will dump the items in a nearby street. That is not an attractive fact about human nature, but nonetheless it is a true one. I remember being told during the Queens Park by election in 2008 that one old chair was regularly moved from street to street because people thought the Council would charge them to remove it. In fact, anything dumped in the street is moved by the Council for free to keep the Highway clear.

It actually costs the Council more to take rubbish off the street because rubbish found in the street is judged "contaminated" and has to be sent to landfill, where the Council is charged more for its disposal. Rubbish collected direct from a household can be recycled.

To make matters even worse, the charge did not even yield the predicted income. The revenue was supposed to be £275,000 in the first year. In fact it was £53,000. Could this be because the number of people asking for special collections fell by two thirds as soon as the Liberal Democrats introduced the charge?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Brian Coleman AM, Cllr Bertha Joseph and Standards

Brian Coleman, the Tory Barnet & Camden Assembly member, is coming up for a Standards Committee Hearing in Barnet today. Being the subject of a complaint is something he has in common with Kensal Green's sole Conservative councillor Bertha Joseph, who he sits with on the LFEPA.

In Brian's case the suggestion is that he was extremely offensive to a member of the public. My main surprise in this is that it is a subject of a complaint. If Brian Coleman were to have an official complaint every time he is offensive, he would probably get several each week. He routinely says offensive things about almost everyone.

At least Brian's complaint is being dealt with relatively speedily. Cllr Bertha Joseph's complaint was first made in January 2008, and is only now getting within shouting distance of a formal hearing. Indeed the original complainant is now dead. It is clearly Brent's answer to Jarndyce vs Jarndyce.

I wonder what Boris Johnson's reaction will be if either of his LFEPA appointees are found to have done wrong? After all, a long time ago he was supposed to be elected on a platform of cleaning up City Hall.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Silence of Sarah Teather MP

Thinking about the various broken promises of the Liberal Democrats in Brent has led me to reflect on the silence of the Liberal Democrat MP for Brent East, Sarah Teather. Because Sarah Teather chickened out of challenging Ed Fordham for the Liberal Democrat nomination in Hampstead & Kilburn, she will be challenging Dawn Butler MP for the Brent Central constituency instead.

There is no doubt that keeping quiet over controversial issues has been to Sarah Teather's advantage in the past. Despite the Liberal Democrats' reliance on her brand, she has made no comment on the ways in which the Council candidates she personally endorsed have failed to keep thier promises: on freezing the Council Tax, making the first CPZ permit free, cutting spending on publicity, scrapping the Brent Magazine, preventing tall buildings, giving free personal care for the elderly and so on. Nor has she commented on the personal failings of some of the candidates she endorsed: Pawan Gupta not being legally allowed to stand; Vijay Shah being convicted of fraud.

Just as a reminder of how Sarah Teather was personally implicated in supporting the truly awful people who stood for the Liberal Democrats in 2006, take a look below.

No caveats there about "if resources allow" or comments that Council charges would be massively increased.

She has pursued a similar line of silence on other issues where Brent residents might benefit from an active MP taking issues in order to improve things rather than to promote herself. For instance, where has she been on the rebuilding of the John Kelly Schools? That affects a large chunk of the people she is supposed to represent yet she is nowhere to be found.

The issues she chooses to campaign on are simply those where she can promote herself. It is all promises with no real intention of action, and no explanation when her promises turn out to be false. I guess that is what comes of being part of a party of permanent opposition.

I have blamed her here for misleading her constituents, but I dare say she treats her party colleagues equally. I imagine when Charles Kennedy came out in her support during the Brent East By-election, she probably didn't say much about ousting him as Leader once he had got her into Parliament.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Missing Questions

Brent Council is supposed to put a list of the questions and answers asked at each Full Council meeting on the Brent Council web site HERE. I must say that I am irritated that the answers from the July Council meeting have still not appeared after several weeks.

The Labour and Conservative groups both treat Members Questions very seriously, almost always asking the maximum number. The Liberal Democrats have a much worse record. For instance in January 2009 (the last Council meeting where the answers have been published), they only asked six questions instead of the 21 that they were entitled to. It is yet another sign of how disengaged from the Council's workings the Liberal Democrats are.

Harlesden Youth Theatre Redux

Harlesden Youth Theatre, which Labour councillors in Harlesden and Kensal Green supported last year in its production of Our Country's Good last year, is starting some weekly acting workshops.

They will be on Saturdays between 2.30pm-4.30pm, free of charge for people between 16 and 19. Any teenagers wanting to join should go to the recruitment day on 3rd October (again 2.30pm-4.30pm) at Tavistock Hall, Harlesden High Street (behind Harlesden Methodist Church).
You can contact them on or by phone on 020 8951 9568.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Dollis Hill House

Dollis Hill House in Gladstone Park is another of the Brent Liberal Democrat promises that they quietly abandoned after getting office. In opposition, they demanded that the Council spend £3 million doing Dollis Hill House up. Once in control of Brent Council, Paul Lorber suddenly decided there were more important priorities, even though Ken Livingstone had offered to match fund any investment. Now, having strung local supporters along for three years, the Liberal Democrats are committed to demolishing the building. Of course, they blame Boris Johnson for having withdrawn Ken's funding offer.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Liberal Democrats Breaking Promises on Tall Buildings

When I started posting about Brent Liberal Democrats breaking their election promises, I didn't realise how much material the topic would cover. It is certainly a much longer list than if I tried to post about the promises they kept.

One promise they made was to ban tall buildings in Brent. Since then, they have given permission for several of more than twenty stories. One reason for this is that legally a Planning Authority cannot have a blanket ban on a particular kind of development. If you have a rule saying that you will never allow a building of more than X stories (say) you run into a concept called "fettered discretion", and either a Planning Inspector or a Court will overturn your decision.

Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats made a big issue of tall buildings in the run up to the local elections in 2006. Genesis Housing had a proposal to put up a 26 storey tower near Queens Park station in 2005. They withdrew the application in October 2005, because it obviously wouldn't have got planning permission. Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats went round telling the voters of Kilburn and Queens Park that Labour had a secret plan to build such a block. Of course, the Labour Party didn't but that did not stop the Liberal Democrats from peddling that line. Nor, to his shame, did it stop Jonathan Davies (until then a Labour councillor) from making the same claim.

The episode was also interesting as an example showing what the Americans call "astroturf" organisations. The kind of phoney grassroots organisations that the Republicans seem to have set up to block Obama's healthcare reforms. Of course, there was Jonathan Davies himself, who put out letters purporting to be independent when he was obviously in cahoots with the Liberal Democrats. But there was also a local residents group called "Stop the Tower" HERE. Although they claimed to be local people interested in the area. They haven't posted anything on their site since September 2006, when they congratulated themselves on defeating the Labour councillors.

I guess that made them feel that their work was done.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Neighbourhood Working

You may have seen occasional references to Neighbourhood Working and wondered what it is, and how it works. So I thought I would write a short post for anyone wanting to promote community projects out there.

It started under the last Labour Administration when it was called "Ward Working" and each of the participating wards was given a budget of £30,000. Although people always focus on the money, the philosophy behind it is that the Council should be more responsive to the public. The money is just there because without some sort of budget, you often can't do anything.

However, where the Council is (or should be) doing something, Neighbourhood Working is designed to identify failures in provision and alert whichever agencies are supposed to provide them.

The NW budget itself can then be used for add ons or to top up other schemes. Where it is used is decided by the three councillors in each ward. So far, the Kensal Green NW scheme has supported a new alleygate at a notorious flytipping site on Park Parade, several Neighbourhood Watch schemes (including Odessa-Palermo Road and the Junction Association on Tubbs Road), a Homework Club, improvements in the Hazel Road area, a production by the Harlesden Youth Theatre by local teenagers, and two advice days by Brent Private Tenants Rights Group.

So why is it still not called Ward Working? That's down to the Liberal Democrats. Paul Lorber, who remains the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Brent despite his strange behaviour, hated Ward Working when it was introduced by Labour. I don't really know why. Anyway in opposition he said "Scaling down ward working is not enough; it must be scrapped." As with most of his other election pledges, he broke this promise after getting into office.

There followed a long period of wrangling. This was partly because, the Liberal Democrats (who I expect didn't think they would win enough seats to take office) just didn't know what to do or how the Council worked. Their Lead Member in this area wanted Ward Working to be like the Islington Neighbourhood Councils, hence the name change to Neighbourhood Working. In Islington a budget is given to a local committee of councillors in that area (imagine Harlesden, Kensal Green and Stonebridge) and they all vote on it in front rather bored members of the public. That idea got dropped after several people went to see how it worked in practice.

I suppose the drop in the Budget (We now have only £20,000 per year, whereas the Labour scheme had £30,000) came about because Paul Lorber still can't really bring himself to support the idea whole-heartedly even though he can't block it entirely.

Wrottesley Road Traffic Lights

The new traffic lights on Wrottesley Road is a subject I have been meaning to blog about for ages. Originally, I was approached by parents who live in Kensal Green but take their children to Kenmont Primary School in College Park. They felt (I think rightly) that the junction of Wrottesley Road and Harrow Road was unsafe.

In London, new road safety schemes are usually paid for by Transport for London (TfL), although Boroughs like Brent put in bids for the money. I was therefore really pleased to find this junction had been earmarked for a scheme in FY 2007/8. Come the nd of the financial year, it was suddenly mysteriously cancelled. I organised a petition, which some Kensal Green residents, may recall me writing to them about. Armed with the new petition, I presented it at the Council and was pleased (and a little relieved) to find the scheme installed.

Since then, I have been contacted again that the new lights don't work as well as they should. One resident on Brunel Close says they slow down the traffic (which is partly true, but that is part of the trade off for making it safer for pedestrians). I have also heard reports about illegall turns. On the other hand, I have been told by others (for example when I last visited WISCO at St Mark's Church) that the new lights are a good idea.

What do people think?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Brent Cross (BXC) Development

The Brent Cross Cricklewood (BXC) development has been around for years, but is now coming to a climax. Barnet Planning Committee are likely to consider the BXC development on 23 September, and the meeting I attended yesterday was to form a cross party coalition in opposition to it.

The meeting was organised by Brent Friends of the Earth, whose web site is here. One of the things we agreed to do was circulate a precis of the objections to the BXC scheme, which I will post on this blog once it is ready. In the meantime, anyone not familiar with Brent Cross can look it up on wikipedia here.

Essentially the main objections are the lack of public transport and orbital links, the sheer volume of traffic likely to be generated, the carbon emissions and effect on other shopping centres, such as Kilburn High Road.

The Evening Standard published a story yesterday which looks largely inspired by proponents of the BXC scheme. I hope it does not distract from the real issues.

A Promise the Liberal Democrats were for once Right to Break

One promise that the Liberal Democrats were right to break was their opposition to the ARK Academy in Wembley. Of course, they were wrong to oppose the ARK Academy to begin with.

Back in 2006, the Liberal Democrats fought the election on a pledge not to build a school on the site Labour had selected near Wembley Park Tube station. Once elected they formed a coalition with the Tories. This coalition held a review of the possible sites for building a school. After 15 months, it reported back that they would build on the Wembley Park site (Although the Tories continued to oppose this). The review didn't turn up any information that was not already known in early 2006. It just delayed the start of building by at least a year. Now Cllr Bob Wharton and Sarah Teather MP are going round lamenting the fact that Brent is desperately short of school places, when their delay of the new school has been a major contributor to that problem.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Barnet and Brent Cross

I am having a bit of a Barnet day as this evening I will be going up to Brent Town Hall for a meeting about the Brent Cross development (which is on the other side of the A5 to Dollis Hill).

Barnet Conservative Flight Plans

It would seem that despite their admiration for EasyJet, Barnet Conservatives do not always make use of their services, at least if you believe the Taxpayers Alliance HERE. Perhaps Cllr Freer and his colleagues were afraid that they might get pregnant and have an experience like THIS.

UPDATE: Although Tory councillors don't like to use EasyJet themselves, Brian Coleman thinks it good enough for royalty HERE. This may also be the only recorded instance of Cllr Brian Coleman offering to pay for something for someone else.

Barnet Council's easyJet Approach

Cllr Mike Freer might like to reconsider Barnet Conservatives' new easyJet approach to Council services after reading this POST in the Economist's Gulliver blog. Essentially, easyJet did its level best to stop a pregnant woman from embarking, and try to charge her a fee for sorting out her journey.

I wonder whether Barnet Conservatives will have a similar approach in public services? If so, it would certainly make a radical change, where most Council's currently supply a fairly standardised service and a standard fee (if its not provided free).

For example, the amount spent per pupil can be as much as £100,000 per year for a child with severe needs. That would be many times the average. If Barnet Conservatives are going to break the existing cross party consensus on basing such decisions on the needs of the child, some families are going to have to shell out an awful lot to look after their child. Less dramatically, suppose you had two sixth formers; one specialises in arts, and the other specialises in science subjects. The scientist will probably cost more to educate than the arts student, because scientists need expensive things like laboratories. Will the scientist have to cut back on (say) sports to afford the physics course?

What about people who are difficult to deal with: people with severe anti-social behaviour difficulties say. If Social Services encounter somewhat who is disruptive will they at some point decide that person has used up their personal budget and stop dealing with them?

Will Council officers have incentives to avoid difficult issues in order to process as many units within a given budget as possible?

And what about buying privilege? I see there is a suggestion that those prepared to pay extra charges should be able to jump the queue for planning permission. That sounds like a policy designed to help property developers and rich individuals at the expense of the poor/average. Would it apply in other areas? For example, will areas that pay more get a better service? Say an extra warden for the local park. That would change the criteria for where money is spent from social need (often the poorest areas) to wealth.

I also wonder whether this might become socially divisive. For example, in Brent and (I imagine) Barnet meals on wheels will give you a choice of what you eat. I think in Brent you can have kosher, vegetarian, Indian, British and something else. Suppose kosher food costs more than the vegetarian option, will Jewish people be asked to pay more? Would this affect community relations?

Finally, I think the really big issue with Cllr Freer's warmed over Thatcherism will be the same as it was in the 1980s. Local government is about to go into an area of very limited budgets. All this "choice" will become synomynous with cuts. As 25 years ago, Conservative marketisation proposals will be discredited as just spin with "efficiency" meaning not improved services but a worse service with less money spent on it in an effort to keep the Council Tax as low as possible.

Willesden West Labour Party and Priorities

Today is the anniversery of Britain entering the Second World War, and it reminds of a story of Willesden West Labour Party (the precursor to Brent South Labour Party). It so happened that Willesden West Labour Party had a General Committee (GC) meeting on the day war was declared. Sure enough, item 9 on the Agenda was "Outbreak of War". But they never got to it. It seems the Willesden West Labour Party had more important things to discuss than the outbreak of the Second World War.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


We had a very good street party in Kensal Green back in July. The only drawback with it was that it was illegal. That is because there is considerable bureaucracy involved in blocking a street off legally. You have to give a statutory notice, arrange for bollards to be put in and taken away, and the whole thing costs between £1,000 and £2,000.

My colleague Cllr Mary Arnold tried to get the Council to change this at a Council meeting some time ago. There had been problems organising street parties in her part of Kilburn for the Millenium. The Liberal Democrat in charge of these matters smugly told her he would try to get a change in time for the next Millenium. That really is what Brent Liberal Democrats are like.

Meanwhile, a community part is planned at Furness Primary School for Sunday 13 September by the Friends of Odessa and Palermo Roads.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Furness Road Pocket Park

Furness Road Pocket Park is often the subject of complaints about how run down it is, so I hope people don't think that I have neglected. The trouble is that it is just not very well adapted to improvement.
I did manage to get the dog mess bin (above) installed, as this seems to be the main thing people use it for, but there are problems achieving anything more ambitious. As well as being quite small and next to a major road, the ground slopes away towards the railway line in an awkward fashion. For the moment it seems to be better to concentrate on getting improvements to Tubbs Road Pocket Park (where the Junction Association have things well under way) or Bramshill Open Space across the border in Harlesden (where the Council disgracefully knocked down facilities and is delaying putting them back up).

Hazel Road Anti-Social Behaviour

I chaired a meeting of various agencies at the LEAP Centre in Hazel Road today, talking about the interventions needed to prevent Anti-Social behaviour in Hazel Road and thereabouts. It looks like things might finally be moving in a positive direction, and we could be getting a long term plan together.