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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Odd Language

I was struck by a word used in the second paragraph of this piece in The Economist. Ron Paul is said to hew to his principles.  Has the writer just misused hew for cleave, or is this a common usage? If so, hew must join cleave as one of the few English words to have diametrically opposite meanings: cleave as in cut, or cleave as in "cleave to the roof of my mouth".

Harlesden Gallery at the Tricycle

As we prepare for the New Year, you may want to look forward to the Harlesden Gallery's show at the Tricycle Theatre this coming January.  More details are to be found here.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Brent Council Implements its Decisions Shock

There is local paper coverage of the clearing of Preston Library yesterday here.  It is puzzling that the campaigners are acting all surprised.  It was obvious that the Council would seek to implement its policy once the legal obstructions had been removed.  I understand that the Borough Solicitor told them what we planned to do before Christmas, so the attempt to pretend that they did not expect this is disingenuous.

It is also ironic that people who claim to be in favour of libraries are devoting all their energies to preventing the Council from making its book stock available to Brent residents for lending.  After all, that is why the Council bought the books in the first place.


I have tried to deal with some of the issues raised by comments here.

Tell Brent Once

The Tell Us Once service has recently been launched by Brent Council to reduce the bureaucratic demands put upon the bereaved.  I am surprised that this sort of innovation, which seems so obvious, is not more common.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

VAT on EBooks

The UK continues to refuse to reduce VAT on ebooks, allegedly because of an EU Directive, when France and Luxembourg apparently can. Does the answer from David Gauke (who, incidentally once stood for the Conservatives in Brent East) simply provide an example of the UK government seeking to blame the EU for a position that it wants to hold anyway?

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cameron's Cuts to Education

The Guardian has a gloomy piece on the effect of education cuts by the present government.  Much of what they say applies to Brent, although there is a significant difference to the national picture in that we have a pressing need for secondary places as well as primary.

Eric Pickles Awards

When I first saw that Eric Pickles was presenting the LGiU awards for Councillor achievements, I thought it was an Onion style parody.  Eric Pickles has usedhis office to systematically denigrate local government in the hope that Councils will take the blam for his government's assault on public services.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Air Pollution

The American Right is turning its back on environmental regulation.  Much the same is happening here, with Cameron and Osbornee both retreating from their pre-election pledges to be the "greenest government ever".  Boris Johnson's hostility to cleaner air has ben well known for a long time, but his opposition to pollution controls appears to have spread across the Anglophone right.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Wembley Central Win

Krupa Sheth won the Wembley Central by election last Thursday.  Turnout was surprisingly good at just short of 28 pc, given how close it was to Christmas.

Obviously, the Labour Party has the best reason to be pleased given that we won with an enhanced share of the vote and a bigger percentage majority than either in 2010 or in the 2009 by election.  I imagine the Liberal Democrats will be relieved not have seen their vote fall further, given their national unpopularity, and the Tories disappointed that their vote is sliding yet again.

I don't see any pattern in the Green vote, although the sheer grumpiness of their candidates election report suggests that they were not pleased.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

More Legal Wrangling

Following the Council's victory in the Appeal Court over the Libraries Transformation Project, the litigants are now trying to take the case to the Supreme Court.  As in the original hearing, and the subsequent appeal, their lawyer is predicting inevitable victory with all the sunny optimism of Mr Micawber waiting for something to turn up.

I am surprised that it never seems to occur to them that the four judges who have ruled against them have done so because their case is very weak.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Big Society Report

The Public Accounts Committee has published a report on the ongoing mystery of what the "Big Society" may be   Some might argue that the whole concept has been destroyed by the funding cutsa that the Con Dem government has determined, but I think that the problem goes much deeper than that.  David Cameron essentially issued a press release, and assumed it would happen.  If he is serious about making the "Big Society" work as a concept he would need major changes to European and UK law, as well as solutions to problems of moral hazard and backdoor privatisation that he has not even begun to address.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Wembley Central Polling Day

Today is polling day in Wembley Central.  I hope as many voters as possible will turn out for Labour's Krupa Sheth.  However, the low turnout in the parliamentary by election in FEltham suggests that a Council by election even closer to Christmas will attract even fewer voters.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Debts in Perspective

Paul Krugman has a graph on UK debt which helps to put the "necessity" of the Con Dem government's austerity programme in perspective here.

Brent Libraries Appeal Judgement in Full

There are some not entirely accurate accounts of the Appeal Court judgement circulating in various places.  An accurate account, including a link to the full text of the judgement can be found here.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

From Winning Here to Saving Your Deposit

After Thursday's election in Feltham, I came across this posting on a Lib Dem blog.  It claims victory since the Liberal Democrats saved their depositOn polling day and in the campaign, the Liberal Democrats were claiming to be the main challengers to Labour.  After the event, they seek to spin that even saving their deposit was a mioral victory.  Shameless.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Brent Council Wins Libraries Appeal

Brent Council has won the Court case in the verdict handed down at the Court of Appeal this afternoon.  As with the original judgement, the terms of this one are emphatic.

Health and Waste Collection

WRAP has published a study on health and waste collection.  It argues that, contrary to what Eric Pickles thinks, alternate weekly collections have no recognisable effect on householder health.  However, there may be some issues that the contractors may need to address for their staff.

Another Libraries Judgement

The Court of Appeal will hand down its judgement in the Brent libraries case at 2pm today.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Harlesden Town Centre Plans

The plans to transform Harlesden Town Centre are well advanced, and likely to go out to consultation in January.  Brent officers deserve enormous credit for getting investment of about £5 million to improve the Town Centre at a time of enormous cuts.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Evictions in Brent

Shelter has published figures on evictions, which are likely to become far more common as a result of the Con Dem government's changes to housing Benefit.  They reveal that Brent is likely to be one of the areas worst affected.

Furness Primary School

Alan King, the former headtecher at Furness Primary School, has now been officially dismissed.  Hopefully this will help the school to move forward.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Seema Malhotra Wins in Feltham

Seema Malhotra has won the Feltham and Heston by election.  The seat is essentially a Labour vs Tory fight, and the 8% plus swing looks good from the Labour point of view.  Given that this would be the kind of seat that the Tories would need to win to get a parliamentary majority of their own, I imagine that they will be gravely disappointed.  It also confirms that the Liberal Democrats are fast falling in London as in the rest of the country.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Budget Discussions

Today, I am going to be in discussions about the Brent Council budget all day, meaning that I will not be able to attend polling day in the Feltham and Heston By Election, much to my regret.  After £42 million in cuts last year, Brent is facing even more this year, and more than £100 million over a four year period.  At the same time, the cuts have choked off recovery and we are likely to see increasing demand for Council services as a result of recession.  Worse still, there will be not always predictable effects from the government's other changes.  For instance, changes to housing benefit are likely to force vast numbers of people out of London creating oversupply of school places in some parts and chronic undersupply in others.  Currently, the Con Dem government is refusing to supply sufficent funding for the school pupils Brent is preducted to have.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Volunteer Libraries in Lewisham

The London Borough of Lewisham was somewhat ahead of Brent in its changes to its library service.  Unlike us, they decided to create a number of community run libraries.  They have recently published usage figures.

Libraries Judgement

There is still no word on when the Appeal Court judgement will be handed down in the Brent Libraries case.  If word does not come soon, it is likely to drag out over Christmas.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Feltham and Heston By election

Once again I was out and about in the Feltham By election today, which seems to be going very well for Labour.  I was in Heston where I saw nothing but Labour posters.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Street Cleaning

Out in Hounslow on Thursday, I noticed that there was a major problem with street cleaning caused by their collection system.  In Hounslow they have open green boxes like our old ones, and the rest of the waste is put out in bags.  It was a very blustery morning, and the lighter waste was being blown out on to the streets of Feltham.  Our new wheelie bin system avoids this.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Transformation Through Cuts

Patrick Butler gives an overview of the scale of the public sector cuts here.  I still don't think this has really got across to people.  The Con Dem government is using these cuts to fundamentally change the role of government and shrink the state more dramtically that Thatcher ever attempted.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Brent Council Pay

The BBC reports on the brutal approach of Shropshire Council to its own employees.  Occasionally, I get asked why Brent Council doesn't do something similar to its workforce.  Surprisingly, this suggestion doesn't always come from rightwingers.  In fact most of the people suggesting pay cuts for Council employees to me would probably consider themselves to be on the left.

It is worth enumerating the reasons why Brent has not gone down this route.

Firstly, staff are already suffering from a pay freeze and an increased workload.  Like everyone else they face a rising cost of living, so the idea that Council staff are getting off lightly is wrong. 

Secondly, the kind of confrontational approach you see in Shropshire risks both industrial action and serious demoralisation.  The demoralisation of Council staff would probably be more damaging in the long term.  Councils are primarily service deliverers, and they are dependent on motivated staff to deliver those services.  Staff who are bullied and told that that they are not valued are unlikely to feel motivated.

I have even been told that specific individuals should have their pay cut.  Aside from the legal obstacles to that kind of victimisation, I am aghast at its sheer nastiness.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Cameron Losing in Europe

It is depressing to hear that David Cameron has failed to get a seat at the table in trying to resolve the Eurozone crisis.  Getting the Eurozone economy growing again is central to getting Britain's own economy going since they are our main export market.  It demonstrates how the whole Euro skeptic approach damages the British interests it is supposed to protect.

Engels and the Brent Archive

Brent Council is full of surprises.  The Brent Archive has recently discovered that Frederic Engels bought property on Willesden Lane in the 1880s _ hitherto unknown information

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Reading the Riots

Analysis of the reasons for the riots in the Summer appears to have largely disappeared.  This is surely regrettable as we need to find out what caused them to prevent future events.  Hence research like Reading the Riots should get wider publicity.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Update on the Localism Bill

The LGiU has a useful summary on the most recent changes to the Localism Bill.  To my mind, the number of changes to this Bill, suggest that it was not well drafted in the first place.  One of the most significant statements is: "The Act also repeals the duty to promote democracy" which pretty much summarises Tory policy. 

The key mechanism by which the Tories do this is by using referendums to make it effectively impossible for Councils to vary the Council Tax above a centrally set limit.  The result strips Councils of almost all their financial autonomy, and thereby actually increases central government control.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Community First?

The Con Dem government has come up with a "Big Society" idea called Community First.  Apparently, money is available for pet schemes of David Cameron.

The idea is to give a small grant to a "community panel" who then divy out small grants to local groups for local projects.  All this is overseen by a local institution like a charity.  The great disadvantage of this scheme, which I understand has a very low take up rate, is that the charity is given no remuneration for overseeing the community panel.  Why should the charity or whatever spend a lot of time and effort administering such panels for nothing? Why should they expose themselves to the reputational risk if there is corruption or incompetence? 

It is curious that a party that believes so strongly in the profit motive should come up with a scheme that entirely ignores it.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Seema Malhotra Web Site

I am pleased to see that Seema Malhotra now has a web site up and running.  No doubt it will develop during her time in office.

Environmental Protection UK to Close

Environmental Protection UK has announced that it will fold next year.  This may not strike many people as high profile, but it does important work around air pollution and contaminated land.  Its demise marks a serious denuding of local government's ability to deal with such issues at a time when problems around pollution are acute.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Icelandic Bank Cash

I posted that Brent Council is likely to recover most of the money that the previous Tory and Liberal Democrat administration lost in Icelandic bank investments.  Unfortunately this cannot be used for ongoing revenue spending as the commenter suggests, and indeed as the Tories and Liberal Democrats also more cynically suggest.  Such lump sums after run out, so you cannot use them for an ongoing expense.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Wembley Campaigning

As well as supporting Seema Malhotra in her Feltham and Heston campaign (polling day 15 December), I am also doorknocking for Krupa Sheth in Wembley Central.  Krupa's polling day is even closer to Christmas, 22 December.  Both seem to be getting a good response.

Challenge Close in Harlesden

Yesterday, I went down to Challenge Close in Harlesden to talk about possible improvements.  Many Harlesdenites don't even know where it is (behind the RBS building).  It is basically a fairly run down little park.  My Harlesden councillor colleagues have been trying to get some momentum going on it for ages, and it looks like they might finally be succeeding.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Economics and Sarah Teather

My colleague Cllr Krupesh Hirani has a lengthy post about the Tories, Liberal Democrats and their economic policy.  However, I suspect his feelings are really summed up by the picture at the bottom of the post.

UKIP in Feltham

I see that the Standard has picked up on the UKIP campaign in Feltham.  However, as far as I can tell their plan is really to attack the Tory vote rather than Labour's.  I would think this is more likely to be fruitful for them.  Yesterday, I was canvassing in Feltham North including Mark Bowen's own street.  We were told that UKIP had been canvassing there previously.  It is unusual for UKIP to canvass at all.  They have few activists, and lots of money so they generally buy their publicity.  I would assume that the decision to canvass in the Tory candidate's home seat indicates that they are hoping to erode the Tory vote.

Campaigning with Seema Malhotra

Had a very good time for the past two days campaigning with Seema Malhotra, Labour's candidate for Feltham and Heston.  Unfortunately, my photography skills proved too limited to get anything useable, but the reaction to Seema is very heartening.  She was really good both on the doorstep and at the streetstall in Feltham High Street I went to.  This was fuilmed by the Politics Show, so people may be able to judge for themselves.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Less Food Waste

WRAP has come up with an update on the amount of food that the UK throws away.  The answer is about 7.2 million tons, or roughly 20% of the food we buy.  Remarkably that is progress, as it represents a 13% fall since 2006/7.  Much of the food that is thrown away is edible, and it is a major source of wasted money for consumers, greenhouse gas emissions and water waste.

You can learn more about reducing food waste on the West London Waste Authority web site. 

Taking Shelter

The decontamination of land in Stonebridge is proceeding on schedule and under budget.  Apparently, they have discovered the remains of Anderson shelters in many of the back gardens.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Money Recovered from Icelandic Banks

It looks like Brent Council is going to get most of the money that the previous Tory / Liberal Democrat administration lost in Icelandic Banks back.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Campaigning in Wembley Central

Out in Wembley Central at the weekend, I was struck by the lack of canvassers from the other parties.  We had a large group, and covered quite a swathe of the local roads, yet we saw no signs of other parties.  I believe that there have been a number of leaflets, but the lack of canvassing is quite a contrast to previous by elections, including the quite recent one in Kenton.

Asking the Right Questions

I found this piece on parliamentary select committees interesting.  I am sure he is right that they don't have the questioning skills necessary.  However, I think his strictures apply even more to local government.

On our scrutiny committees, the questioning sometimes never happens at all.  Indeed I have been to meetings where members simply make speeches, and treat the whole thing as a mini-debating forum.  If we want scrutiny to be more effective, either within the Council or engaging outside partners, we will need to ensure that councillors are better trained.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Seema Malhotra Selected in Feltham and Heston

Congratulations to Seems Malhotra for getting selected in Feltham and Heston yesterday.  I have known Seema for many years, and I know she will be a superb candidate and MP.

The campaign headquarters is Feltham Labour Club, Manor Place, off Belfont Lane, TW14 9BT.  This is apparently about five minutes walk from Feltham Rail station, and there is campaigning going on all day (10am to 7pm).  The campaign hotline is 07872417252.  If you travel by train from Willesden Junction, it only takes about 40 minutes.  You go to Richmond, and change for Feltham.

Good News at John Keble School

There is good news that John Keble School has improved, according to the latest Ofsted report.. 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Falling Living Standards

The ONS has confirmed that living standards are falling dramatically, except for the wealthy.  If someone suggests that wealthy people should pay more, the Tories claim it is class war.  Yet, if the poor pay more, there is silence.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Nick Clegg's Hypocrisy

As my colleague Cllr Krupesh Hirani points out, Nick Clegg criticises other organisations for failing to have ethnic minorties in the higher reaches of their organisation despite the fact the Liberal Democrats have no ethnic minority MPs at all (and have only ever had one _ a short lived MP in Leicester).

Friday, 25 November 2011

Congratulations Krupa Sheth

Congratulations to Krupa Sheth who has been selected to be the next councillor by Wembley Central Labour Party.  The By election is due on 22 December.  If you live in Wembley Central, and you need a postal or proxy vote, you can download a form here

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Delay on Treetops Decision

Some local parents have contacted me about the proposed closure of Treetops daycare.  They are interested in the possibility of a Community Interest Company taking it over.  I don't know if such an idea is viable or not, but the consultation period has now been extended to allow more time for these and other issues.  Along with Mary Arnold (Lead, Children & Families), I will be meeting them to work out whether such a solution could indeed work.

Political Purpose

There is an unusual piece recognising the role of political leadership here.  Whatever the merits of the suggestions in the NLGN report, it is fundamentally right that the choices to be made depend fundamentally on values and strategy.  This fundamental is almost always lost in the media debate.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Remodelling Local Government

I still don't think most people realise the extent to which the Con Dem government is brutally remodelling local government.  This being done simply by stripping Councils of their resources at extraordinary speed.  The kind of implications are well covered here.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Paul Lorber Falls Under Scrutiny

Last night we had two Council meetings_ a normal one and another called specifically on School Crossing Patrols by the Liberal Democrats.  During the second, Paul Lorber complained plaintively about the way in which Brent Scrutiny fails to work as well as it should because the atmosphere is so politically partisan.  I think this is true although to be told by Paul Lorber that you are too partisan is like being lectured on humanitarianism by Attila the Hun.

Our Scrutiny efforts also fail to engage with those outside the Council sufficently, in my view.  If Paul Lorber is really concerned about such issues, I think we would be perfectly willing to discuss the reform of the Council Constitution.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Local Government and the Cuts

According to the LGiU, only 5% of the population blame local authorities for the Budget cuts.  However, it is worrying that so many continue to blame the Labour Party.  There is no doubt that the Tories have been effective in the propaganda war on this subject, despite their vacuous economic policy.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Budget Debate Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Brent Council will be having what is called its "First Reading" debate on the budget.  This is intended to allow non-Executive members to put forward suggestions on how to shape the budget.  However, I will be very surprised if the other two parties do more than moan about individual items and ignore their parties responsibility for imposed spending cuts on local government.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Green Boxes

The green boxes that we used under the old recycling system seem to fascinate some people.  We offered to collect them on demand, but only about 200 people have asked us to do so.  To put that in perspective, about 88,000 households in Brent had at least one green box.  I would like to think that people followed our suggestions of reuse as planters or storage containers, but I suspect many have just left them lying around.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Harlesden Town Centre Walkabout

I am about to go on a walkabout with a gaggle of Brent Council officers in Harlesden Town Centre (Is that the right collective noun for local authority officers?).  It should mainly focus on various streetscene issues.  Although they may seem simple, such issues can be intractable to solve.

Vandalised Street Signs

Out doorknocking in Stonebridge at the weekend, I found this vandalised street sign.  What always puzzles me about this sort of thing is the motivation.  It must have taken a great deal of effort to hack this sign down.  What is the reward?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Urban Air Quality

Parliament has passed a new report on air quality.  It has some fairly grim reading about the effects of air pollution on health.  Of course Kensal Green and Harlesden are particularly affected by this because of our proximity to Park Royal, and the huge volume of traffic going through Harlesden Town Centre

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Brent Recycling Figures

We now have some recycling figures for our new collection system, and they look very good.  Two major facts stand out:

Dry recycling (i.e. the blue topped bin) has gone up to 25% in October  from 14% in September.  Together with garden/food waste going up from 18% to 20%, that gives us a combined recycling rate of 45% for the first month of the new system.  That should improve more as people get used to the new system, and we further extend the services to include blocks of flats.

The other noticeable figure is that landfill has dropped from 6,574 tons in September to 3,890 tons in October, a drop of 41%. 

There is obviously a lot more to do, but this is a very encouraging start.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Another Boris Johnson Cronyism Scandal

Dave Hill reports on more accusations of cronyism by Boris Johnson at City Hall.  There are far too many accusations like this in Johnson's career for comfort.

Wembley Central By Election

There will be a by election in Wembley Central on 22 December, so things are likely to be busy.  Not the best time of year to go doorknocking, but that is how it is.

Chief Executives

Hastings is getting rid of its Chief Executive.  As the story states, the argument that doing away with your Chief Executive makes no difference is an odd one.  That sais, a lot of Councils would probably benefit from a shake up of senior management, as Brent has.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Ealing Road Library Overcrowding

I went to the Court hearings on libraries last week.  The litigants case has now morphed into an insinuation that the libraries decision might indirectly discriminate against Asians.  This is not a suggestion that came up anywhere in the consultation, but their lawyers seem to have advised them to make it the mainstay of their case.  They focus particularly on suggesting that Ealing Road library has become overcrowded since the closures on 3 October.  In fact, visitor numbers at Ealing Road library are just over 5% down on October last year.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Dollis Hill House Demolition

Another attempt to obstruct work on Dollis Hill House is being made, according to the Brent and Kilburn Times.   

This seems to happen every time that demolition comes closer.  I have no idea what the status of this supposed conveyance is, but it does seem odd that it has not been mentioned until now.

I understand that the scaffolding around the house has been rusting awayf or so long, that removing it is itself a delicate task.  It really is time to accept that the House is not going to be restored because no one has either the funding or a viable plan for it.  Keeping it in its current state simply blights the northern end of Gladstone Park with an unsightly ruin.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

August Riots

The riots of August no longer get the media attention although presumably the underlying problems remain the same.  This piece seems to be offering some welcome reflection and facts.   The comments towards the end are particularly relevant to Brent as we need to work out the shape of our future youth services.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Libraries Open

We now have signs up at the three libraries that are now available seven days a week.  This may seem fairly crude as a marketing method, but given the number of people who pass Harlesden and Kilburn libraries, I hope it will be effective.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Libraries Judicial Review

Today is the day of the Court Hearing into the Libraries appeal.  The litigants' skeleton argument essentially rehashes the arguments that failed in the lower court.  An interesting feature is that the Commission for Equality and Human Rights has decided to intervene.  This will not be an oral contribution, just a written submission. This will be the first Appeal Court hearing since the Public Sector Equality Duty was changed in April, so I assume they regard the case as possibly setting an important precedent, although I feel it is actually quite Brent specific.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Recycling Rates Across England

The Guardian has a comparision of recycling rates across England.  Ashford looks shocking. The average is just over 40%, which is where Brent's annual performance should be this year (assuming the new system delivers as hoped).  Next year, when the new system is more effectively bedded in, we should greatly exceed this target.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Housing Benefit Exploding

Dave Hill has figures on the explosion in Housing Benefit recipients in London, including Brent.  The vast increase is not that amazing given the economic situation created by the government's austerity programme.  Limiting the housing benefit bill was, of course, supposed to be the Con Dem government's objective.  along with the predictable increase in other benefit take up (e.g. jobseekers allowance), it is likely to destroy the government's efforts to cut the deficit _ a neat demonstration of Keynes' paradox of thrift. 

One of the ways that I suspect the government will react is by not allowing the usual uplift of benefit levels in line with the September inflation rate.  I don't think they will try that with pensions, since pensioners tend to vote, but poorer people are likely to get doubly hit by rising inflation and falling benefits.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Yesterday's Review

Yesterday's six month review got me thinking about the Liberal Democrats.  At this stage in their administration (i.e. November 2007), they had achieved very little.  Their main impact had been a negative one.  They vetoed or delayed a number of projects including the casino (which fell foul of Gordon Brown anyway) and the ARK Academy.  They ducked a number of difficult issues, such as making a big change in recycling or introducing emissions based parking permits.  These failures were in spite of having a far more favourable financial settlement.

Altogether, the comparision seems to me to reflect very well on the current Labour administration.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Six Month Review

Since being electing in 2010, I have done a review of what has been happening every six months, and now is the time again.

The big item is, of course, the launch of Brent's new recycling strategy on the streets.  At my first meeting with officers as Lead Member, I said that this would be a major priority for the new administration, and it finally started on 3 October.  To my surprise and relief, the number of complaints and problems have been far fewer than I expected.  Public objections have tended to be, not towards the principles, but the details of implementation.  Of course, a certain number of missed collections/deliveries, examples of contamination and so on are to be expected when you launch a totally new system, and getting them all smoothed out will take time, but so far it appears to be going well.  Hopefully, the recycling figures will demonstrate a strong improvement when they come out at the end of the year.

The second big area has, of course, been the Libraries Transformation Project.  This is currently still subject to a legal appeal hearing on 10 November, so I am limited in what I can say.  However, it is worth pointing out that the litigants' lawyers picked over everything that Brent Council did over the course of many months, and yet the High Court gave an emphatic judgement in our favour.  Parts of the new strategy, in particular seven day opening, are now underway, and I hope we can continue with the rest as soon as possible.

A third area which is going to be more important over the coming months will be the London Olympics.  There has been a huge amount of planning for this.  As well as general London issues, Brent will be the host venue for three sports, so we need both to manage the demands effectively and try to use the event to up sports participation in the Borough.

A few weeks ago, also saw the approval of the Green Charter that we pledged in our manifesto.  This should give a mechanism for progress a broad front of green issues.

Overshadowed by the Library row, we have an interlinked strategy for the promotion of the arts in Brent, which I shall probably do a separate blog on at a later date.  We are also making good progress in developing strategies for applying for Fairtrade status, getting our parks better adapted to climate change, improving the cemetary service, and revivifying the allotment/food growing service.

Less cheerfully, we have had to implement a ten million pound cut in the Environment Department budget (part of a much bigger cut to the Council as a whole).  This has meant a lot of jobs lost (although mostly via voluntary redundancy) at the same time as a major delayering of management.  That the officers have managed to deliver on so many other policies at the same time as this major reorganisation and reduction in funding is quite a tribute to them.

Locally, Station Road's makeover is progressing.  This is the harbinger of a wider remodelling of the public realm in Harlesden Town Centre.  Kensal Green will also benefit from the rebuilding of the Roundwood Youth Centre, which has been saved from Sarah Teather's cuts programme.  Improved youth services almost always comes up as an aspiration whenever you go out on the doorstep in Kensal Green.

As well as all this, I have been doing the usual stuff of casework and minor public realm improvements so altogether I think the last six months have been fairly productive despite the difficult financial situation.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Winter Readiness

As winter approaches, my mind turns to thoughts of street gritting.  Brent Council has more than 3,000 tons available, which should be enough.  Last winter we used 1,400 tons, and before that (in what was a more severe season) 1,800 tons.

Of course, in the past central government has sometimes taken charge of local authority stores to help out particularly hard hit areas.  I understand that most authorities feel that are also well prepared, so hopefully this won't be an issue.

The other potential problem may be the logistics of getting the grit on the roads and pavements.  This is partly dependent on when the snow falls.  If it snows overnight, the effect is to suppress travel demand as people decide to work from home, defer their shopping trips or whatever.  The worst time for it to fall is in mid-afternoon, when traffic levels are maximum, and the street gritters have least time to get the grit out before the rush hour.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Civic Centre Progressing

On a cheerier note, I passed the Civic Centre, which is now visibly progressing.  The economic gloom has actually helped to make the Civic Centre more cost effective, by lowering borrowing costs as well as the cost of construction.

Economic Gloom

Yesterday, I was at an awayday talking about next year's budget. As part of the scene setting, we were shown some general economic data, including a graph unfamiliar to me.  It showing the relative speed of recovery from recessions in the UK i.e. for GDP to get to pre-recession levels.  The current recovery is forecast to take longer than in the 1930s; let alone any other post war recession.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Hillingdon Libraries

Hillingdon is once again praised on The Good Library blog for its supposedly superb model.  As I pointed out a little while ago, the CIPFA figures don't show Hillingdon as being particularly efficient, no does it have an especially high usage rate despite the many newspaper articles about it.  This may explain why large numbers of people are not beating a path to Hillingdon.  Certainly, it seems more plausible than suggesting that the entirety of local government including all the librarians are dedicated to ending library services.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


The Guardian has a good description of cycling in the Netherlands, where it is a much more mainstream form of transport than here.  Brent is currently keen to get more people cycling, but the barriers to joining up a comprehensive network across the Borough are formidable, and the Dutch experience gives some inkling of just how difficult it is.

Meanwhile Dave Hill reminds us that Boris Johnson isn't even trying to help cyclists so long as it might be at the expense of car and lorry drivers.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Harrow Road Bringbank

I have been worried by what an eyesore this bring bank at the corner of Harrow Road NW10 and Victor Road is for some time.  However, removing it effecting leaves the people with flats above Harrow Road NW10 with no access to recycling.  What do people think?


I suppose at this Divali/Guy Fawkes time of year, fireworks are inevitable, but it would be good if people could confine them to earlier in the evening.  The ones on Thursday night went on rather later than they should.


I suppose at this Divali/Guy Fawkes time of year, fireworks are inevitable, but it would be good if people could confine them to earlier in the evening.  The ones on Thursday night went on rather later than they should.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Japanese Knotweed and House Sales

I had a bit of casework from an adjoining ward about Japanese Knotweed.  This is an extremely invasive plant that tends to kill off other growth and damage buildings.  As it has no natural enemies in the UK, it has spread and spread.  Getting rid of it is either very expensive, or very time consuming (or both). 

The casework concerned a householder who was about to exchange contracts, when the deal fell through.  The reason? The buyer mortgage lender refused to lend because there was knotweed in a nearby garden.  This is apparently now standard practice for two of our major mortgage lenders.  It leaves the seller in an impossible position, because they can't go and dig up someone else's garden.  If the owner doesn't get rid of the knotweed voluntarily, the only option is a civil action for nuisance which is enormously expensive and time consuming. As far as I know, there is no caselaw on whether an action has ever been successful for the removal of Japanese knotweed.

Scale of the Con Dem cuts

The sheer scale of the Con Dem cuts is covered by the Guardian here.  More are planned for next year, including further cuts in the grant to Brent Council (of about £26 million).  The effect on the deficit is largely offset by the rise in "automatic stabilisers" such as unemployment benefit.  Even in its own terms, the "austerity" agenda seems entirely self defeating, although Jean Claude Trichet _ the Eurozone's answer to Montagu Norman _ and George Osborne seem to disagree.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

No Legal Challenge

Having seen a copy of the Camden New Journal today, I find there is a very grumpy letter in it from the Camden Public Libraries Users Group, saying that they won't besuing the Council after all, because they couldn't get hold of a Legal Aid litigant in time.  He seems very unhappy about it, although I imagine tyaxpayers in general will be pleased.

A Non-answer on Libraries

Ed Vaizey, the Con Dem minister for libraries, was asked about his views on the future of the service recently by Dan Jarvis.  His answer can be found here. It reminds me of Lloyd George's dictum that the perfect parliamentary answer should be short, factually accurate and completely uninformative.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Neighbourhood Planning

The LGiU has published some useful advice about neighbourhood planning.  Personally, I think this entire agenda ignores the complexity of planning and genuinely consulting the community.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Camden Legal Challenge

I notice that that delightful firm Bindmans is acting in the legal challenge to Camden Council over their library strategy.  Their full letter before claim is here.  It is no doubt rather sad that I read this through in order to compare it to the Brent case, which it resembles in a number of ways.


On the comment below, the email mentioned below does refer to the FOI Act, and has been passed to an FOI officer to respond to, and yes I suspect Bindmans are looking at the library litigations as a commercial opportunity.

Thursday, 27 October 2011


Michael White has an extremely insightful piece on referendums, and how they are not all they seem here.

Housing Hypocrisy

Patrick Butler has a good blog on the hypocrisy and sheer ineptitude of the government's policies on social housing.  The government is seeking to bully the poor.  Why is that when rich people are threatened with higher tax Conservative politicians talk of "class war", but when poorer people are penalised they are silent?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Borrowing Books in Brent

A myth appears to be growing that books borrowed from libraries now closed cannot be returned.  In fact, as regular borrowers know, a book borrowed from one Brent library can be returned to any other Brent library.  The deadline for returns has also been extended to 30th November to help anyone who finds it difficult to alter their routine.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Appeal Date for Libraries

I understand that the hearing for the Brent Libraries appeal is timed for 10 and 11 of November, which is pretty quick by Appeal Court standards.  Of course, we don't know when the actual judgement will be given.

Mortar Bomb

On Sunday a mortar bomb was left in the Victoria Road Civic Amenity Site.  Fortunately it was spotted and the bomb squad called. It turned out the main charge had been removed, although the percussive cap remained.  The bomb squad took it elsewhere to be disposed of safely.  What on earth makes people leave such a thing in a waste tip?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Eric Pickles Stepping Back

The New Local Government Network (NLGN) makes some suggestions about what Eric Pickles' £250 million for bin collections could be spent on instead.  Pretty much all of these sound a better idea than introducing ineffective waste collection to reduce recycling.

Energy Saving Breakfast

I forgot to mention what a success the Energy Saving Breakfast event last Wednesday was.  This was a business event sponsored by the Carbon Trust to help Brent businesses saving energy through lower heating bills, better waste management, improved lighting and so on.  It was set up by Brent Council's Climate Change Steering Group, which seeks to help businesses and residents reduce their carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Complaints at Brent Council

This story, about the very low number of complaints at Brent Council, deserves more publicity.  Officers have worked hard over some years to improve the handling of complaints, and to sort out any issues identified.  We should also remember that this improvement has come at a time of record pressure on budgets.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Boris and the Budget

Boris Johnson's budget comes under scrutiny here.  It paints a picture of a shallow populist piling up problems for the future through borrowing, refusing to use sustainable mechanisms like the Council Tax and indulging in pet schemes (possibly with an eye to re-election in mind).

Same old Boris.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Boris Johnson and Tory Troll

Tory Troll has further revelations about Boris Johnson here.  The resignation of Liam Fox, and the strange wa in which Michael Gove seems to manage his department through private email accounts and shadowy bodies makes me wonder if this kind of thing is more widespread than we know.

Sunday Opening at Brent Libraries

By the way, I notice that I have a letter published in the Independent here following a piece by Boyd Tonkin.  Articles like that of Mr Tonkin entirely ignore the improvements that are an inherent part of our Libraries strategy. 

These will start this Sunday, when (for the first time) Harlesden, Brent Town Hall and Kilburn libraries will open.  Along with our other three libraries they will be open from noon to 5pm.  In early November, we plan to start having Kilburn Library open on Wednesdays as well.  Thus, all our six libraries would then have seven day opening.  This is becoming increasingly unusual for local authority library services.


It is worth noting that the new Willesden Library not only has seven day opening, but on Sundays it opens from 10am, uniquely in Brent and very unusually anywhere.  

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Library Litigation Update

I thought a quick update on the library litigation would be in order.  The litigants put in their appeal on Tuesday, and an oral hearing was held on Wednesday morning.

The litigants have been granted leave to appeal, and the situation regarding buildings is effectively frozen as of Wednesday morning.  This means that the staff redundancy notices issued on Friday remain in force, putting an end to their uncertainity.  Five of the former libraries are boarded up, with Cricklewood, Barham and Tokyngton having had their books, IT and furniture removed.  Preston and Neasden remain boarded but with the contents still inside. 

Kensal Rise library is not boarded.  The litigants have undertaken to pay Brent Council to maintain a 24 hour security guard until the case is heard by the Court of Appeal.  We are hoping to have a hearing in mid-November.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Food Waste Recycling

We have further indications on the recycling service.  It looks like the food waste recylcing has gone up by about 11 tons per day compared to last October.  In other words, we were running at about 59 tons per day then, and are doing about 70 tons now.

I was expecting (and continue to expect) that food waste would be more troublesome, as 28,000 households in Brent have not previously had a food waste service at all so they have to adjust to an entirely new system.  The tonnage will also be somewhat reduced as we are now taking cardboard in the blue top bins.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Green Disappointment at Brent Executive

Disappointed that the Greens turning up to the Brent Executive last night sounded so negative about our Green Charter and our climate change approach in general.  As I pointed out, we have had a number of strong policies on climate change since coming to power.  These include:
  • Our new recycling system, that will massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste management
  • Changes to our planning guidance to improve the environmental performance of new buildings
  • Improvements in the fuel efficiency of our transport fleet
  • The introduction of emissions based parking permits
  • Changes to public realm guidance for better adaptation to climate change
  • The promotion of district heating schemes
I was sorry to see that they did not stay for the report on district heating in South Kilburn, which one would have thought anyone wanting to cut carbon emissions would welcome.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Charging for EBook Lending

Previously, I have complained about Nottinghamshire's decision to charge for ebook lending.  In my view, this is the biggest threat to public libraries to have emerged over the past few weeks.  As ebooks gain a greater and greater share of reading, they should become more central to a library service.  The judgement given on Thursday had a passage referring to whether electronic mechanisms fell within the "section 7" duty (to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service).

The relevant passage is:

"The Council’s reliance on mitigation measures which included the use of the internet was criticised as falling outside the scope of s7 which focussed on “facilities for borrowing books and other material”. Of course, if provision of facilities such as the use of IT and the internet fall outside the scope of s7, then some of what the Council’s service currently provides would fall outside the scope of s7, and complaint could not be made were those facilities dropped. I do not see that as the Claimants’ case. In reality, a service which includes the provision of books and other materials by technology and goes beyond the loan of books or other physical items, or the provision of reading facilities on the printed page, falls within the scope of s7, which is not confined to the loan or use of physical items." (paragraph 116)

The judge appears to be saying that they do.  If so, it is not at all clear to me that Nottinghamshire County Council would have the legal power to charge.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Costs of the Brent Magazine

Tory government minister has been busy putting out press releases claiming that Councils spend too much money on publicity.  He claims the Brent Magazine costs £1000 per month.  Given that Brent has more than 100,000 households in it, that would be less than a penny per household.  Given how important the Magazine is for key policies like increasing recycling, that is money well spent.

If you have not had your copy, please contact the Council using these details.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Decentralised Energy in South Kilburn

One of the interesting reports up for the Executive on Monday is a scheme for district heating in South Kilburn.  This has significant carbon emissions and cost benefits, but you can only really make it work in a wholesale development.  Hence , all the new blocks in South Kilburn have a planning condition to link up with such a scheme if it goes ahead.  Another indication of the centrality of planning to regeneration.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Brent Libraries Judgement: Full Text

For those who are interested in the detailed arguments in the Brent Libraries case, they can be found in the full text of the judgement here.

Brent Libraries Judgement

By now, it is well known that the High Court decided in favour of Brent Council in the Libraries litigation.  The Judge implies, correctly I think, that the arguments put forward were not really appropriate for a judicial review.  He refused leave to appeal, which implies that he believes that the issues are clear cut and that the litigants' case was weak.

It is still possible for the litigants to ask the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal directly, although I don't see what the basis of such an appeal might be.  I also question whether the Legal Services Commission would wish to pay for further litigation in the light of the unequivocal nature of the judgement. 

The judge also refused an injunction to prevent the closures temporarily.  Since he had just ruled that Brent Council had made a lawful decision, it would have been odd to injunct us against carrying it out.

I am now keen to get on with the positive elements of the transformation strategy, which include:
  • Seven day opening at Harlesden, Kilburn and Barnhill libraries
  • Enhanced services for severely disabled people
  • An improved outreach service for children living in poverty
  • More study spaces for students
  • Better bookstock and IT facilities in each library
  • An enhanced online offer

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Unfashionable Defence

Political offices are defended here.  I am sure that the author is right that this area may come under threat in many authorities, and that this is likely to lead to poorer quality political leadership.  I suspect that Eric Pickles and the Tories would actively welcome this as eroding local government and helping to shrink the state.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Teflon Boris

Tory Troll suggests that Boris Johnson is wasting vast amounts on pet projects.  What I find puzzling is that he can do not just this, but also have a string of poor appointments (often apparently linked to cronyism, as in the unlamented example of Bertha Joseph), yet not pay a price in popularity.

Differing Philosophies

Different approaches to the problems of life in the cartoon below:

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Housing Disaster

I get the impression that most people have still not realised how much damage will be done to people in London by the government's housing benefit changes.  Dave Hill has been pursuing this issue in a number of posts, but his latest on the subject seems to indicate that not even the Tory ministers know what they are doing.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Recycling Round Up

The new recycling scheme seems to be going well.  All bins should now have been delivered, and I am told that the tonnage yield looks good (although it is syill early days. 

I have come across a few frequently asked questions:

Can I get another recycling bin, or do I have to share?  The bins were allocated on an estimate of what each household would need.  When we were doing the consultation, many people were concerned that there would be too many bins. Yhe sharing of one bin between two flats was considered the best solution.  However, if you feel you need another recycling bin, you can ask for one by phoning 020 8937 5050.

What do I do with the old green box?  Whatever you like.  Brent Council suggest re-use _ perhaps as a planter or simply general storage.  If you don't want to re use it, you can phone the Council to take it away.

Can I put shredded paper in the new recycling bin? Yes.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Brent Council Transport Award

I understand that Brent Council has been given the National Transport Award as best authority for road safety, traffic management & enforcement.  This is a tribute to the huge reduction in traffic accidents in the Borough over the past few years.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Eric Pickles and Localism

Here is an additional list of why Eric Pickles is wrong on weekly bin collections.  It also raises the issue of why he is introducing a scheme that seems to cut across his various "localist" statements.  The writer is in fact much kinder than I would be.  I think Eric Pickles does as he does because he believes in localising blame but centralising control, in the same way that bankers like to nationalise losses, but privatise profits.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Tories Backsliding on the Environment

Caroline Lucas has some largely justified criticism of George Osborne's backsliding on the Environment.  She could also mention the peculiar position of Eric Pickles

The government has a long established policy, going back many years, of using the landfill tax to encourage more recycling.  The tax makes disposing of waste by landfill far more expensive than recycling.  For most local authorities, the best way to increase recycling is alternate weekly collections (as has just been adopted in Brent).    Yet Pickles is trying to retard this move to greater recycling by offering a cash incentive not to do it.  Were he successful, which I am sure he will not be, he would also add to the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, since waste in landfill is a major source.

Incidentally, at this time when the Tories and Lib Dems have decided to cut budgets so savagely, how did they find £250 million to pay for Eric Pickles' vanity project?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

EBooks and Libraries

Whilst waiting for a date to be set for the Libraries judgement, I read that Nottinghamshire County Council are due to start charging for each time they lend an ebook. This is a fundametally unwelcome change in library provision.  To my mind an ebook is just another form of book, so charging for each loan goes against the whole ethos of a free library service.  It as if you started charging for loans of hardbacks, whilst claimi9ng that you were still providing a proper service via free loans of paperbacks.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Liberal Democrats Pick Wrong Side on Recycling

Brent Liberal Democrats seem to have finally come down against our new recycling system, according to the Willesden Times.  When the Tories put forward a motion against the collections, the Liberal Democrats chose to abstain.  Presumably, their new stance is an opportunist u-turn, rather like their change over emissions based parking charges

To reiterate, the new system is an improvement because it leads to more recycling, lower disposal costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.  When Brent's recycling rate goes up, the Liberal Democrats will be left on the side of a policy that fewer and fewer authorities defend, and presumably they will eventually have to backtrack as they did over ASBOs

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Cllr Lesley Jones at Harlesden Library

My colleague Lesley Jones is giving a talk about her time in Nigeria at Harlesden Library on 12 October as part of Black History Month.

Brent Council Budget Cuts

Here is a fairly good stab at explaining the difficulties around local government budgets.  Council budgets sometimes seem like trying to solve the Schliesvig-Holstein Question.  As well as increasing inflation, growing demographic pressures and reduced grant, Brent also has to pay into its pension fund for an increasing number of pensioners, and a dwindling number of people in the workforce contributing.  The long term pressures are even worse than the headline figures.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Eric Pickles and Alternate Weekly Collections

Eric Pickles offer of money for us not to go aherad with alternate weekly collections fails to make sense at any level.  He has offered £250 million, which is roughly £1 million for every authority operating alternate weekly collections if they agree to switch to weekly collections.

Firstly, it does not make financial sense.  Going with our current plans should save us about £5 million over that period.  So going the Pickles route would cost us money.  Secondly, we would have to order a new fleet of vehicles and pay for the crews.  Aside from the financial cost, that would take a long time to organise.  We would also have to launch a new publicity campaign to educate the public.  Thirdly, weekly collections lead to less recycling and less waste minimisation, so we would fail to achieve our manifesto committment to increase recycling.  Finally, landfill is a major contributor to grenhouse gases, so more landfill would go against our climate chnage objectives.

It amazes me that the Tory/Lib Dem government area pushing such an awful policy at the same time as imposing huge spending cuts in every other area.

New Bin Collection Today

Brent's new bin collection system starts today.  There are bound to be teething problems, so please be patient whilst they are worked through.  Once the system is fully in place and working, we should increase the Borough's recycling rate to more than 50%. 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Brent's Parking Enforcement

Although there is a perception that Brent's parking wardens are overzealous, they are given training to be reasonable.  I frequently meet residents who refuse to believe this, but if you look at parking appeals across London, Brent has tthe second best record of the 33 London Authorities.  In other words fewer of our tickets are overturned on appeal than anywhere else.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Surface Water Flooding

I expect there will be more problems with surface water flooding over the Winter.  Many assume that this is a Council responsibility, but the reality is more complicated.  The Council is responsible for keeping the gullies clear, but the actual drains belong to the water utility.  I suspect this lies behind the not particularly co-ordinated approach.  Hopefully, we will be able to work with Thames Water to better develop a system to prevent localised flooding.

Friday, 30 September 2011

West London Libraries

At a recent meeting of the West London Waste Authority, the Tory member from Hillingdon let fall a remark about the wonderful efficiency of their library service.  This is a common trope in a number of articles; for example, here.  However, I am not at all sure that Hillingdon has actually made the savings that are claimed.

In our own Libraries Transformation report, we had a table comparing efficiency in library services across West London.  Hillingdon didn't score particularly well.  The figures used were from CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants), which is the standard way to compare local authority expenditure.

I wonder whether Hillingdon have in fact overhyped their model?

Furness Road Resurfacing

I am glad to see that work on resurfacing Furness Road has finally started.  I have been trying to get the carriageway resurfaced for some time.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Libraries Judgement

The new law term starts next week, and I hope we will finally get a judgement in the Libraries case.  However, this cannot be guaranteed as it might drag on to the next week.  This is enormously frustrating for people in the service who have to live with the uncertainity caused by the litigation.

Banned Books in Brent

Brent Libraries have joined in the "Banned Books" promotion here.  You can borrow from 100 books that have been banned at one time or another, sometimes for extremely odd reasons.

School Crossing Patrols

A curious fact about School Crossing Patrols: although Cllr Paul Lorber promised to Call In the report when he attended the Executive last week, he has not in fact done so.  The deadline for a Call In has now passed.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Brent Rewarding Reuse

Brent, through the West London Waste Authority, has been awarded some money to start a reuse scheme that incentivises users.  This should help extend reuse in Brent, which has never been as extensive as it should be, as well as giving us experience of using an incentive based  scheme.

Parking Shop

There may be some disruption to service at the parking shop in Walm Lane.  This is because the Council and the contractor have agreed some management changes at very short notice in order to deal with problems in the service.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Fairtrade Progress

Brent Fairtrade Network will be meeting tonight in Brent Town Hall, so perhaps an update on Fairtrade is in order.  One of the Labour Party's manifesto committments was on Fairtrade, and this was duly incorporated in the Council's Corporate Strategy.

Previous efforts to make Brent a Fairtrade Borough had rather run into the sand, and I think that officers had downgraded the effort as a result.  The election of a new administration helped to reboot the effort.  Essentially, to achieve Fairtrade status Brent has to get lots of non-Council bodies to sign up.  We are currently struggling to get enough cafes to sell Fairtrade goods, enough schools to register and interest and above all enough religious organisations (since Brent has so many and of so many different kinds). However, we now have a plan in place to work through these problems and I am hopeful to achieve Fairtrade staatus some rime next year.  

Monday, 26 September 2011

Sarah Teather Out of the Loop

The story about Michael Gove running a parallel department makes me wonder about Sarah Teather.  I presume she is not included in the favoured circle of Tory advisors that make all the decisions in this less than transparent way.  Should a minister really be excluded from decision making in this fashion?  Does she just sit there waiting to be given instructions to dump her election promises on Building Schools for the Future, cut funding for early years, up tuition fees or whatever?

The phrase "In office, but not in power" comes to mind>

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Dollis Hill House Demolition

It has been a while since I blogged on Dollis Hill House.  Demolition is set to proceed shortly.  Once it is done, the house will be replaced with some landscaping which incorporates parts of the old building, and (I think) should enhance that part of Gladstone Park.  It is a pity that it has taken so many years to get to a solution.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Streetcare Round up

Just a quick round up on streetcare issues:

Kensal Green should now have been sprayed with weedkiller.  It takes two or three weeks to kill the plant.  After that it can be weeded out.  My own observation is that much of the weed cover in Kensal Green has now died off.

I understand that the new paving on Station Road has hit a problem with paan spitting.  This is a problem more associated with Ealing Road.  Paan is  chewing mixture popular in southern India which is very hard to clean off paving.  The Council is using a contractor to treat the slabs to make them more cleanable, but apparently the spitters get there before the contractor.  Officers are still working on a solution.  The easiest would be if people did not spit paan.

The potholes at the top of Furness Road (nearest King Edward VII park have been given a temporary patch, as the whole road surface at the top is due for replacement this financial year.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Lack of Scrutiny

Welovelocalgovernment has some fair criticisms of parliamentary scrutiny, but I suspect they would apply equally well not just to local government but also the media.  Coverage often seems to focus on minor issues that form only a very small part of the picture, instead of more substantial problems.  Why is this?

Harlesden ACF

The turnout at the Harlesden ACF on Tuesday was very poor.  This time there were no excuses over bad weather.  Clearly we need to do more to rethink how ACFs can be made into effective tools for public engagement.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Brief Executives

I see Martin Francis is complaining of the brevity of discussion at Brent Council Executive meetings _ not a complaint most councillors are used to hearing.  The reason that the Executive meetings are brief is that they are the culmination of a long process of consideration lasting (at the least) several weeks. 

Martin often writes as if the entire consideration of the process took part in a single meeting.  In fact, any report will have been circulated through various officers, cleared by the senior management team, discussed with lead members, been the focus of at least one collective discussion by all the Executive members and maybe more.  In many cases there will already have been extensive public consultation, discussion within party groups and with various interested parties.  It is difficult to see how all that consideration could be fitted into one meeting.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Big Society Procurement

A flagship Big Society initiative in Surrey has failed to win a contract.  This is not really surprising, but it illustrates how public services won't simply be taken over by voluntary start ups.  Bidding in a major procurement process is extremely hard.  Whoever is awarding the contract has detailed legal requirements designed to promote fair competition, and established companies with experience will be more likely to succeed than enthusastic amateurs.  If the awarding authority is biased in its contract evaluation, it can be sued.

I suspect that the Tories are actually well aware of all this, and the fluffy "Big Society" rhetoric is really about covert privatisation.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

MPs Registering Shock

MPs are apparently shocked at the problems with the forthcoming rules on registering to vote.  These are soon to be changed so that the register is no longer filled in by one person per household, but by each individual personally.  The effect is likely to massively reduce the number of people on the register.  For areas like Brent, I suspect that as much as half the population might cease to register.  The question is: at what point does the proportion become so high that the election is no longer democratic?


Brent is particularly affected by registration problems because we have a highly transient population with lots of ethnic diversity (and therefore language probelms).

Monday, 19 September 2011

Knowles House Tonight

Unusually I won't be presenting any of the reports at the Executive tonight, but there is one report of particular interest to Kensal Green.  There is a proposal to dispose of Knowles House on Longstone Avenue.  This is currently a dementia home although it has only 12 permanent residents.  The residents would have to have their provision re-supplied elsewhere if the recommendation goes ahead. 

Much of the site is empty.  The third floor cannot be used as it is not DDA compliant, and the home does not meet national standards.  Included in the site is a former nursery which has not been used since 2007.  Temporarily , this may be used to rehouse some of the activities from the youth club, which is being rebuilt.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A few Good Bankers

I enjoyed this Jack Nicholson parody on central bankers, although you probably have to be familiar with the film to fully appreciate it.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

ConDem Economic Policy

I find the spectacle of government ministers slowly realising that their economic policy is disasterous fascinating.  George Osborne can't admit that his cuts really do go too far too fast, but  I suspect his hint at wanting more quantitative easing amounts to that.  Unfortunately, whatever effect QE may have (and it does not appear to have been that great so far) is likely to be offset by the austerity in public spending.  Meanwhile Nick Clegg is suggesting bringing forward public infrastructure projects.  Very sensible, but completely contrary to the deficit cutting rhetoric we have heard since he jumped into bed with the Tories.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Brent Council and the Committee System

One of the motions put forward by the Liberal Democrats at the last Council advocated a return to the
Committee system, as being more democratic than the current "Executive" arrangements.

I remember when the Executive system was introduced, the then Council Leader Paul Daisley told me that Committees really worked by himself as Leader having a series of bilateral meeting with each Committee Chair, who then delivered the Committee. So, certainly he seemed to think the old system was less democratic and transparent than many of its nostaglic advocates now claim. 

I can also see a number of other potential problems.  Firstly, given the way that decisions are now picked over, there might be greater scope for legal action.  Procurement rules now allow companies to sue Councils over quite technical infractions of procedure for large sums.  I have also seen lawyers try to pick out single sentences or brief quotes in order to overturn decisions.  I suspect the Committee system would have far greater scope for this than in the less technical times when it used to operate.

I can also see problems with unpredictability, as committees depend on who turns up and how they vote.  In terms of awarding contracts, that might lead to local authorities having to pay a "risk premium".  It might also create difficulties in the partnership working we are all so keen on. 

Finally, the old Committee system did not allow for the Scrutiny function. I think this is the big advantage of the new system, albeit one that Brent has failed to exploit fully.  It allows the Council to do high quality work on important issues _ like the recent report on youth and preventing offending _ in its own operations.  However, it also allows us to question outside bodies that spend public money in Brent, like the NHS, the rail companies or the Police.  That has huge scope to improve public services, if it is taken seriously.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

New Parliamentary Seat(s)

The Tories's new plans for parliamentary seats have been published.  You can find their plans for Brent here. Kensal Green, along with a lot of the existing Brent Central, would be lumped in with the northern part of Hammersmith & Fulham to create a new "Willesden" seat.

I still have difficulty believing that these changes will actually happen.  Firstly, there will be issues up and down the land of people feeling that the proposed boundaries don't reflect their communities.  I imagine that this will affect supporters of all parties.  Secondly, what incentive do the Liberal Democrats now have to vote this through, as it seems likely that they would be the main losers.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Council Meeting

Brent's Council meeting on Monday was nowhere near as bad as I expected.  Indeed, it was quite civilised, and the Borough Commander's piece was really informative.

Ebooks and Publishing

The Economist has a short piece about the changes to publishing being created by ebooks.  Of course, these same factors are likely to have an effect on public libraries, which any forward looking authority should try to anticipate.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Historical Note on King Edward VII Park(s)

I have often wondered why King Edward VII has so many parks named after him.  Apparently, there was a nationwide scheme to create a park in every muncipality in his reign.  Brent therefore now has two, because at the time we were split into the Boroughs of Willesden (where we got the park outside Willesden Sports Centre) and Wembley, where we got the King Edward VII park that was recently awarded a green flag.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Brent Council and the Riots

Tonight, Brent Council is having a full Council meeting.  These events seem to have limited usefulness now that the full Council is no longer the deciding body for most decisions.  However, we will have a debate on the riots and what to do in the wake of them led by the Borough Commander, Matt Gardiner.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

New Recycling Bins Rolling Out

The new dry recycable bins have started rolling out.  For instance, they have now been distributed to Wrottesley Road.  As well as the materials you could put in your green box, you will be able to add tetrapaks, mixed plastics and cardboard.  However, please note the actual collections start from 3 October.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Weeds on the Streets

I have been getting a lot of complaints about weeds on the streets which on some roads, for instance Bramston Road or Wrottesley Road, are unacceptably high. 

The standard process is to spray weedkiller in Spring and again in the Autumn.  Physical weeding is done during the summer, but this stops once the weeds are about to be sprayed as the plants absorb the weedkiller better then.  I understand that most of Kensal Green was sprayed last week, and that the weedkiller takes two to three weeks to work.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Willesden Times

I notice the Willesden & Brent Times is now being distributed for free in the Harlesden Tesco.  I would have thought this would severely cannibalise their sales along all the newsagents in Harlesden High Street.  If they are going to do free distributions themselves, it makes the complaints about the Brent Magazine being circulated even more dubious.

College Road Bollard

This is a photo of a bollard I took on the corner of Hazel Road and College Road a little while ago.  It is now repaired.  The Council has a legal duty to carry out these repairs (The budget comes from the revenue garnered by CPZ schemes.)  So, if you seethis kind of damage, please contact the Council, so it can be repaired as soon as possible.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

IKEA Angled Ball Launch

I have been promised that the angled ball sculpture that I blogged on on Tuesday is going to be detailed on the Brent Council web site.  The artist is James Hopkins, who does a lot of work which depends on tricks in perspective.  The angled ball is designed as a set of black and white plates.  Seen from the side it looks like this:

As you drive round, you realise that you are looking at the immage of a football (which obviously ties in with the welcome to Wembley location).

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Changes to Planning

The LGiU had a piece about changes to the planning regime.  It basically argues that the government is simply serving the interests of greedy developers.

In terms of what that might mean for Brent, I imagine that making it cheaper and easier to build in greenfield areas, is likely to divert resources from regeneration in places like Kilburn, Church End and Wembley.  By encouraging urban sprawl, it is likely to have varius other undesirable effects, such as increased pollution from unsustainable transport.

However, I wonder about the question implied towards the end.  Are ministers making this choice in order to help property developers, or do they simply not understand their own policies?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Public Sculpture at IKEA

This morning I am gong to see a new publc sculpture unveiled by Rachel Yankey.  The sculpture is by the IKEA store on the North Circular Road.  I recall being on the judging panel that decided which scheme to go with, so it will be good to see it fnally in place.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Falkirk Wheel

During my recent sojourn in Edinburgh, I wen toi see the Falkirk Wheel.  As an engineering project, I think it is at least as impressive as the London Eye, although far less known.

It is a 30 metre high rotary boat lift, that connects two canals in Scotland.  The whole thing is plastered with boasts about Scottish engineering, although I notice that the firm that did the engineering had an address in Derbyshire.

This is a view from the top.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Alternative Service Provision

Research is showing, unsurprisingly, that alternatives to standard public service provision do not magically make services better.  There doesn't seem to be any surprise there, but the point about accountability is worth expanding.

The whole "Big Society" idea is based on handing over public assets and money to a private organisation unfettered by the various safeguards that public sector organisations have.  If such organisations do have the same safeguards, it is supposed to limit their potential to innovate, and therefore their ability to come up with cheaper ways of doing things. 

I don't see how this squares with the government's argument that public organisations need to to be as transparent as possible over spending money.  With the enthusiastic support of Eric Pickles, local Councils now have to make invoices on quite minor spending items available online.  If that is supposed to be beneficial for for taxpayers money spent by public servants, then why not also for taxpayers money being spent by the private sector?  I suspect that if the government were to impose similar scrutiny on the private sector, it would soon be attacked as imposing an unacceptable degree of regulation.

The second issue that seems fundamental to me is what happens when things go wrong? Who is accountable? The private organisation charged with running the service or the elected politicians who gave them the money?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

More Eric Pickles Populism

Eric Pickles appears to have engaged in a characteristic piece of populism according to this report in the Evening Standard.  This sort of thing is becoming a pattern.

Firstly, attack local government by mplying that everyone who works in it is an incompetent bureaucrat out of touch with the real world.

Second, cite some atypical examples that sound extreme but don't conform to the vast majority of cases on the ground.  This was particularly successful in the case of changes to housing benefit, where a small number of families recieving outrageous sums was used to justify pushing far larger numbers of people into poverty in what even Boris Johnson described as "social cleansing".

Third, pretend that you have statutory powers to impose your will on all authorities despite this being entirely against all your rhetoric about localism.  This will be famliar from the debates around Council publicity and other debates.

Fourth, use the above smokescreen to promote a rightwing agenda.  In this case, by ceasing to gather information about race (for instance) it will be far harder for anyone to monitor whether a policy either directly or indirectly discriminates against a racial group.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Back End Recycling

As well as launching a new system to improve the "front end" collection of waste from peoples' houses, Brent Council also need to look at improving the "back end" of processing the waste once it is collected.  Despite its unglamourous nature, the back end recycling is quite fast chnaging in terms of its technology and techniques, as can be seen from some of the  things Veolia is currently doing.

The main body responsible for this sort of thing in Brent is the West London Waste Authority, which has a six Borough membership.  More can be found out about West London Waste Authority here

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Recycling and Alternate Weekly Collections

Further confirmation that we are on the right track with our recycling plans can be found here.  It is notable that Eric Pickles is no longer mouthing off about ending alternate weekly collections in the way that he used to.  Alternate weekly collection (with a continuing weekly food/garden waste service) is the system that Brent Council will start operating from 3rd October.  You can find out more about Brent Council's new recycling plans here

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Incompetent Con Dem Ministers

Simon Jenkins suggests that ministers in the present government are plain incompetent.  It is hard not to agree as far as taking decisions are concerned.  I am told that when the Council met with Michael Gove to try to save some of the education spend promised after his decision to cancel Building Schools for the Future, Sarah Teather appeared simply unaware of the potential threat to Roundwood Youth Club.  Such was her lack of interest in the constituency that she is supposed to represent, that she seemed not to know that a £5 million investment in youth services had been frozen. 

Similarly she seems to have done nothing to resist the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future, which directly disadvantages the pupils of Newman Catholic College or Copland School that would have benefited from the investment. That is despite it being a specific pledge in the Brent Liberal Democrats' manifesto.  She also seems to be indifferent to the problems over primary school places, cuts in EMA, cuts in Early Intervention Grant and a host of other issues.

I assume that the explanation for this is that she and the rest of her party got into politics for the sake of posturing rather than achieving anything.  It comes as a shock to them that their decisions are now having consequences.

Old Oak Common

Hammersmith & Fulham have unveiled proposals for the Old Oak Common area.  From our point of view it is crucial that any development be closely linked to Willesden Junction so that Harlesden Town Centre can continue to reap the benefits.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Station Road Road Works

The road works have started in Station Road. This will be the first stage of the transformation of Harlesden Town Centre.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Scots and the Union

I was recently in Scotland, where the SNP are in the ascendant.  They are in the happy position of playing off the Unionist parties locally against the UK government, in other words having their cake and eating it.  Ironically, the SNP can only maintain this politically advantageous position so long as they fail in their overall aim of breaking up the Union.  The unionist parties, meanwhile, seem to me to fail to develop a proper case for the union _ failing to go beyond a very basic argument that Scotland gets more from the UK tax pot than it puts in.  While true, this strikes me as a very limited case, and it seems to me that both sides of the border gets things together that they could not get apart.  I wish the unionist parties would be more active in promoting pro-unionist arguments such as:

1) The value of the currency:  As I see it, an independent Scotland would have three choices.  It could keep the pound, which would mean the Bank of England would continue setting interest rates as it does at the moment.  I think that is the best system as the UK seems a near optimal currency area, but it runs completely contrary to the whole logic of independence.  Scotland could also join the Euro, but that would mean that the ECB would set interest rates, which it seems to do in a way that suits the German economy, but not most of the rest of the Euro area, including Scotland.  Finally, it could launch a separate currency, but that would have all the disadvantages of a small currency based around a small economy.  Indeed the last two options would presumably set up trade barriers with England that don't exist at the moment.  As England is likely to be one of Scotland's main trading partners whatever the political arrangements, that would be bound to be to the disadvantage of bother countries.

2) The Sovereign Debt argument:  The UK is a fairly big economy and that gave a certain stability during the financial crisis.  Despite having such a big financial sector, the UK was able to guarantee its banks without incurring the kind of difficulties that have led to a sovereign debt crisis in Ireland.  I doubt whether an independent Scotland would have been able to do the same.

3) Defence:  The UK is able to maintain a strategic defence capability, again as a result of sheer size.  The increasing expense and sophistication of defence projects like the new aircraft carriers is making this harder and harder.  It seems unlikely that an independent Scotland could maintain, for instance, top of the range fighter aircraft _ leading to a steady structural disarmament and loss of capability.  This is distinct from the "Scottish jobs" argument at Rosyth or elsewhere that is so often wheeled out.  Of course, the SNP argument might be that they want to scale back defence spending and simply do things like UN peacekeeping, but if so they need to make that clear.  A diminished UK would also find it harder to maintain high level defence capabilities, which would have implications for both UK defence and NATO.

4) Bureaucracy:  Presumably an independent Scotland would have to duplicate the apparatus of a sovereign state.  For example, I take it would have to set up a string of embassies around the world.  Is that really going to add anything that we don't get from the existing Diplomatic service?

5) Culture:  I suspect that the SNP would make an argument that independence would help the Scots overcome any "cultural cringe" that they may have towards the English.  However, I haven't noticed such a cringe, unless its comes in the form of defensive truculence.  I think Scotland both historically and currently has been perfectly capable of developing and maintaining its culture within the union.  If anything, I would have thought a separate Scottish Broadcasting Corporation would be far less effective than the BBC. 

It seems to me that all these factors, suggest a benefit for both sides of the border in continuing the union.