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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Brent Council and the CSR: Housing

I have been asked how Brent Council will be affected by the Comprehensive Spending Review, and the answer is pretty grim. I thought I would cover these in a series of posts: the first on housing.

In housing, the social housing budget is being cut back severely, meaning fewer houses. At the same time, the Con Dem government wants to push up rents for social housing, cut housing benefit in London and cut jobs in the public sector. Unless you share David Cameron's optimism about the private sector generating jobs (and how can the public sector be "crowding out" private sector jobs during a deep recession?), that looks like a recipe for increased homelessness. As the authority responsible for homelessness, Brent Council will be forced to pick up the pieces.

From April 2013, the Con Dem government is also wanting to cut Council Tax benefit. The only good thing I can see is that interest rates look as if they will continue to be low, meaning that people will be able to keep up with their mortgages despite falling house prices i.e. not as many repossessions as in the Lamont years.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Barnet and the Big Society

Barnet Council seems to have got into problems with its easyCouncil/Big Society approach failing to deliver savings. If the Barnet Tories didn't have such a rigid ideology insisting that no one in the public sector contributes anything, they might have realised that getting public involvement actually costs money rather than saves it. That doesn't necessarily mean that it is a bad thing to do, just that it is not a route to major cost savings.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Artists Studios in Kensal Green

This morning I am going to an event sponsored by ACME Studios down at the white flats on Harrow Road, NW10. This is a London wide charity that promotes studio space at affordable prices as part of the "planning gain." As it happens I sat on the Planning Committee that made that particular application (on what had been a Travis Perkins Builder's Yard).

Harrow road NW10 really has become quite trendy in the past few years, with the revamp of the Masons Arms, the Behesht restaurant and the various Brazilian/Portuguese places. It also has a series of interesting outlets like Retrouvius, Ammonite and Habibi. Long may the area's renaissance continue.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Harlesden Road Development

I am glad to see this morning that work has started on what used to be Elmwood House at the bottom of Harlesaden Road. Long overdue.

Teather Silent on Housing Misery

One of the issues that will affect Brent badly over the next year is the Tory / Lib Dem cap on housing benefit. This is likely to force very large numbers of people out of their homes. That could create pressures on the Council as we are legally obilged to help people, but I haven't seen any comment on it from Sarah Teather. In the past she has been eager to highlight Brent's housing problems. For example, here and here and here.

How one's priorities can change once one becomes a minister.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Make a Difference

Just thought I should flag up the "Make a Difference" Day on 30 October, which is having a session up at Brent River Park.

Teather Betrays 16 Year Olds

Another broken promise from Sarah Teather: this time on votes for sixteen year olds. Back in 2004, she was all in favour. Left Foot Forward contains more details on the broken promises of Srah Teather and other prominent Liberal Democrats here.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Doorknocking and Sarah Teather

Out doorknocking in the streets north of Wrottesley Road on Sunday. Found the usual streetcare concerns _ broken paving and so on. There was some apprehension about the Tory/Lib Dem cuts programme, although it still seems to abstract for people to get worked up. Nobody mentioned the Lib Dem campaigns on emissions based parking permits or their opposition to alternate weekly collections.

However, it was striking how many people felt let down by Sarah Teather. Looking through the returns, they are full of "I voted Liberal Democrat but ....." type comments. Not so much on specific issues like the VAT increase, but just general dismay. If I were Sarah Teather I weould be far more worried by this general sense that she has betrayed people's trust than I would by opposition on specific issues, not least because I would expect it to be much harder to turn it around.

Leader's Question Time

My recent tour of Brent Council's ACFs makes me reflect on Jack Beck's recent call for a Leader's Question Time in Brent. The way he raised it was clearly just a point scoring gimmick. It was one of Brent Liberal Democrats' extremely slight election pledges, one which they could quite easily have set up during any point in their coalition.

However, in fronting the Waste Management consultation over the past few weeks, I have effectively been fulfilling his demand. Admittedly, I was talking on a specific topic but personally I think that is better as it gives a more focused discussion. The other advantage of using the established ACFs rather than a special format is greater efficiency. We don't have to increase the consultation budget (as the Tory/Liberal Democrat government cuts our grant), and by including it in a regular series of events we are more likely to attract an audience.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Emissions Based Parking Permits Online

Brent Council has finally got its stuff together on putting the emissions based parking permit proposals online. Take a look and give your views.

Dollis Hill House Redux

I understand that English Heritage have decided not to object to the abolition of Dollis Hill House. This is very unusual, and confirms that every conceivable scheme has been attempted to restore the building without success. Assuming that the Secretary of State allows the demolition, it will cost Brent Council about £150,000, although it will also save the Council about £30,000 in the running costs of keeping it as a derelict building.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Waste Consultation

The consultation on Brent's new Waste Strategy has closed, although the results are still being collated, but I thought I would blog on what I picked up whilst doing the rounds of the Area Consultative Forums (ACFs).

Interestingly, alternate weekly collections do not seem to worry people very much. Once they realise that food and garden waste continue to be collected once a week, they seem quite happy about grey bins and dry recyclables on alternate weeks. Similarly, I expected our no side waste policy for grey bins to be a popular objection, but most people seem accepting.

What did seem to concern people was finding space for the new bins in their front gardens, and often the aesthetics of the street, especially in Conservation Areas. Officers are likely to strengthen the Strategy on these areas.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Another Government Cut

One of the the Con Dem government cuts that won't hit the headlines but which will affect us is to waste management infrastructure. Although it doesn't mention West London directly, it is quite possible we would have used some of the facilities that will no longer be built. Certainly, reducing the waste management capaicity may increase our costs, showing the new "austerity" ethos at its most counterproductive.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Caravan Site

A problem I hadn't expected... The old Willesden Social club has had a caravan put on it. This is somewhat worrying as it may become a target for arson. Yesterday, I went with a Council officer to see if anyone was living there. No one was home when we tried, but they may simply have been out. Brent Council will try to contact the owners of the land to alert them to the problem as, it being private land, we have no powers over it.

Johann Hari

Johann Hari also has a good piece here. I particularly like the quote from David Cameron that his wife is unconventional because she went to a day school.

Krugman on Osborne

Paul Krugman describes the foolishness of the current UK government's economic policy here. What he doesn't mention is that, whereas the Tories are folling their ideological preconceptions, the Liberal Democrats were arguing a much more Keynesian line before taking office. If economic growth does go down, the government deficit may well worsen, and then the Tories and Lib Dems will be faced with a double or quits option: make further government cuts (possibly giving us an even worse economic growth rate and deficit), or reverse the policy with a fiscal stimulus.

Tubbs Road Column Now Removed

The defunct light column at Tubbs Road is now removed. You can compare how it used to look here.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Light Columns in Tubbs Road

This is a picture of the corner of Tubbs Road and Station Road. It shows how close the new lamp column (right) is to the defunct one (left). There has been a delay in getting the new column connected and the old one removed although I am not sure why. However, the old column should be gone by tomorrow.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Fabric of a Nation

The Fabric of a Nation Exhibition is being launched in the Willesden Library Centre this evening as part of Brent's celebration of Black History Month. Unfortunately, I can't go as I am doing the last of the Waste Management presentations at the Wembley Area Consultative Forum, but the exhibition looks really good so I will drop in at a later date.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Kensal Green Planning Appeals

There are two outstanding Planning Appeals in Kensal Green, which I thought I would update on.

The first is the appeal on the old service station site on High Street Harlesden, but backing on to Rucklidge Avenue. Submissions were over in August, but a decision is not expected until about four weeks from now. There is no way of telling what it will be until it is given.

The second is an appeal on the old ice cream place next to Furness Road pocket park. That is going to a public hearing on 25 October, although a decision is only likely to come some time after.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Tory Bureaucracy

One of the ideas promoted by the new Con Dem government is that all public sector bodies publish invoices for spending of more than £500. I think they probably got this idea from the crowdsourcing audits that papers like the Guardian did on MPs' expenses.

Some local authorities have stated to do this, and I understand it is beginning to cause problems with attempted fraud. The reason is that all sorts of information is posted _ like invoice numbers, internal references, VAT registration and so on _ that make someone sound very convincing when they phone up and say they are a contractor who has not been paid. Of course, someone can be employed to redact a lot of this kind of stuff, but that is immensely time consuming.

Whatever the solutions found, it sounds as if the new scheme is leading to an increase in red tape, and possibly fraud. Let us hope that some of this "citizens' auditing" delivers saving to compensate.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Bottle Bank

By the way, I have reported that the bring bank at Victor Road has lost its glass bin. This may be the reason for the bottle bank in High Street Harlesden being full to overflowing (as it is now the nearest). However, I am mystified as to why someone took the Victor Road bin in the first place. What are they using it for?

Water Leak in Tubbs Road

The minor water leak by the emergency access gate in Tubbs Road is finally being repaired, which I think means that there are currently no visible leaks in the ward.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night is being moved to Saturday 6 November this year. The reason is that it coincides with Diwali, and it was felt to be logistically very difficult to manage both events at once. Of course, this will also allow people to go to both.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Brent FoE Campaign

One of the commenters on this post asks about the green zones and the deletion of two Environmental posts. Why were they cut earlier this year? It is a fair question.

The two environmental posts were earmarked as a result of the "Improvement and Efficiency Plan" set in motion under the previous administration, which of course set this year's budget. This was a scheme to get rid of a tenth of Council employees, with a preference for deleting vacant posts, encouraging early retirement and so on. The work of those posts has now been reassigned within the same unit.

However, as I emphasised to Brent FoE when I visited on Tuesday, there are large numbers of Council employees promoting environmental policies even though they are not called "environmental". For instance, all our transport policies are geared to increasing sustainability. Our planning department promotes renewable energy, better insulation and so on through the Planning process. However, it can also affect less obvious sectors like IT, or the Children & Families department.

The reason for the green zones cut was linked to the way green zones were funded. Green Zones were funded from the Performance Reward grant, which was one of those the new government decided to cut part way through the year. In year cuts, which have not happened since the bad old days of the 1990s as far as I know, force the Council to make immediate savings. Since they generally apply to staff costs, they usually involve redundancy costs and other items that take time to implement. In fact, Brent Council had already spent the money which the government had allocated to us, since it was assumed to be reliable. We are currently looking at a possible £5.5 million overspend which has been signficantly increased by the sudden withdrawal of £5.3 million in central government funding that we thought we could rely on. Hence the current clampdown on Council spending.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Tubbs Road Pocket Park

Work has started on the Tubbs Road Pocket Park, as you can see from the photo (above) I took the other day. I am immensely relieved that, unlike Bramshill Open Space, this park has gone ahead despite Sarah Teather's abolition of the Playbuilder fund.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Homelessness and Migration

The economist has a piece here about homelessness and migration in Slough. This is also an issue that effects Brent, although in our case it is likely to be made even worse once the cuts in Housing Benefit come into force in April. Brent will be losing about £9 million, making us one of the worse effected Authorities in the UK.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Brent Friends of the Earth

I am going to Brent Friends of the Earth this evening, which is in the Labour office at 375 Willesden High Road. I am not sure what is on the agenda, but possibly the waste management proposals may figure.

I think it is fair to say that Labour is the only party to commit to really increasing Brent's recycling rate. At the last Council meeting, the Tories explicitly moved that we not introduce alternate weekly collections, which is really the cornerstone of the policy and the main mechanism for increased recycling across all the UK's best recycling authorities. Brent Liberal Democrats sat on their hands. I am sure that many of the Liberal Democrats claim to sympathise with the green agenda, but if they are not prepared to vote for it ,what is their sympathy worth?

Personally I would have more respect with outright opposition like the Tories, than the Lib Dems' rather cowardly hypocrisy.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Powerday at Willesden Junction

Some residents think that there is a smell problem coming from the Powerday recycling site at Willesden Junction. I haven't noticed this myself, and I have checked that Brent Council have not logged any complaints. If they did, I am not sure what could be done beyond exhortation. The Powerday site has planning permission from Hammersmith and Fulham, and I don't know if there is a technical fix, or even if it really is the Powerday site causing the problem.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Route 18 Bendy Buses

Boris Johnson's abolition of bendy buses is due to reach the Route 18 in November. Apparently, 52 double deckers have been bought (to allow for four off the road) at who knows what expense. Everyone knows that these buses will take longer to load and offload, causing delays and overcrowding on a route that isn't exactly free of them anyway. However, I only recently learnt that the new double deckers will have space for only one buggy. Anyone who uses the 18 route knows that there is frequently more than one buggy on the bus. Are mothers just going to be forced to wait until a free bus comes along? I suspect that some of them may be forced into alternative transport (i.e. cars) instead.

All this inferiour service at an exceptionally high price because London Transport are buying out the Bendies before the lease arrangements are up, and paying for the new vehicles. It is a lot to pay for helping Boris Johnson's "routemaster" vanity project.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Transport Costs

Paul Krugman has a typically sensible view on transport subsidies here. The Liberal Democrats are rather desparately trying to attack our plans for emissions based parking permits as a tax on motorists. I would be interested to hear them tackle the point that the road network is actually a vast subsidy to motorists, let alone the costs of congestion and pollution.

Friday, 8 October 2010


Brent Housing Users Group, which is a homeless charity based in Harlesden, has started up a blog site on a Big Society Theme. I hope they succeed despite all the Con Dem cuts.

Comprehensive Spending Review

Left Foot Forward explains why the hairshirt approach isn't working in Ireland. I can understand why George Osborne is so committed to early and swingeing cuts in spending. It is part and parcel of his anti-state ideology, but I do find it hard to get why the Liberal Democrats are going the same way. If Liberal Democrats like Vince Cable and Chris Huhne believe in what they said during the election campaign, they must be expecting the sheer size of the cuts to drive us back into recession, and make the deficit worse not better. Then they will be faced with a double or quits option: make even more cuts to balance the Budget a la Philip Snowden, or attempt a much bigger stimulus than they would have needed if they were taking a gentler approach to deficit reduction now.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Tubbs Park Work Starts

I am glad to hear that work will start on Tubbs Road Pocket Park on Monday 11 October. Fortunately, the project was sufficently advanced that Sarah Teather's cuts to PlayBuilder funding (whioch partly funds it) don't apply. However, Sarah Teather has succeeded in cutting the scheduled work to Bramshill Park a short walk away. I hope that the electorate make their gratitude clear to her at the next election.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Big Society Deflates

According to the Guardian, the Tories have had to abandon a series of meetings to promote the "Big Society". Apparently, the first one they had was dominated by people complaining about all the spending cuts the new government has imposed. I can't feel very much sympathy for the Tories or their Liberal Democrat sidekicks here. They are really the victims of their own ideology that the public sector plays no useful role, whereas if they paid attention to how things work, they would know that actually the voluntary sector is often underpinned by all kinds of support from the public sector.

Ironically, the "Big Society Network" that the Con Dem government has set up appears to be an example of this. Five of its staff are civil servants on secondment, and they appear to use Department resources for communication. If the government resources are cut by 25%, that will feed into the supposedly separate voluntary groups, and David Cameron will end up undermining his own campaign.

High Speed Link Through Old Oak Common

It looks as if the Tories are accepting both the need for the high speed rail link to Birmingham and the route using Old Oak Common. If so, that could mean a major regeneration opportunity for the area around Willesden Junction, including Harlesden Town Centre.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Made in Dagenham

Germaine Greer has a somewhat grumpy piece in the Guardian on Saturday about the Made in Dagenham film. Made in Dagenham covers the story of a strike for equal pay by women at the Ford plant in 1968. I wonder whether there will ever be a film about Brent's Grunwick Strike. This was a strike by mostly Asian women in protest against their sweatshop conditions, and was a cause celebre at the time as Union support came in from all over the country. The site of the old factory is up by Dollis Hill Tube, and has now been redeveloped for housing.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Harlesden Town Team Tonight

The Harlesden Town Team are meeting this evening at the Salvation Army place in Manor Park Road. Unfortunately, I cannot go because I am presenting on Brent Council's new waste management proposals in South Kilburn this evening, but I hope anyone who is free makes it.

Child Benefit Means Tested: A Lib Dem Victory

George Osborne has pledged to introduce means testing for child benefit. This idea was floated by Nick Clegg in his "Savage Cuts" interview before the election, although he subsequently back tracked. Sarah Teather also has form in this area of course. However, I suspect that the cuts in child benefit will not feature in many of Sarah Teather's leaflets to the voters of Brent Central.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Ward Working

I have blogged before about Neighbourhood Working, which is now changing back to its old name of Ward Working. Lots of people used to get confused between Neighbourhood Working and Neighbourhood Watch. This is the scheme where ward councillors are allowed a small fund to spend on community projects in their ward. We still have some money so if you have any ideas let me know.

Incidentally this is another example of a Paul Lorber U-turn. In opposition, the Brent Liberal Democrat leader declared "Scaling down ward working is not enough; it must be scrapped." Once the Liberal Democrats and Tories formed an administration in 2006, he cut the budget for each ward to 20,000 pounds and changed the name to Neighbourhood Working, but allowed the project to continue across all wards in Brent. It is almost as if he felt honour bound not to do whatever he promised the voters he would.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Health and Climate Change

A European report has been published reminding us that improving pollution is not just about climate change but also public health. In fact, the savings from reduced medical spending are likely to cover a significant proportion of the cost of the pollution reduction.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The End of the £25 Charge

Today is the day that Brent Council ceases to charge £25 for bulky waste collections. We are going back to the old (pre Liberal Democrat) system of up to three collections each year, each collecting up to five items.