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Monday, 31 January 2011

Teather Twisting on Libraries

Channel 4 tracks some of the the twists and turns of Sarah Teather's positioning on libraries here.  Essentially, she is trying to avoid admitting that the £37 million cut in this year's Council budget carries an inevitable price in terms of cuts in Council services. 

I thought her point about timing particularly disingenious.  The timing is as determined by the government as the size of the cut.  The financial settlement for Councils was only announced at the end of last year, and she knows that Councils are legally obliged to pass their budgets in time for Council Tax bills to be sent out.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Cuts by Choice

David Cameron is still peddling the line that Britain was forced into the current government cuts by the demands of the market.  Paul Krugman says:

"There was no sign of a crisis of confidence in the UK budget before the May election; the Conservative government chose to embark on austerity, it wasn’t forced into it."

The article is here.  One of Krugman's most commonly made points is that the right in America ignores reality completely.  David Cameron seems to be going the same route.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Sarah Teather and Libraries

Ann John did yet another TV interview on libraries last night, but I was more interested in the lobby of Sarah Teather reported in the Guardian this morning.  She has been advising people to borrow books from Kensal Rise Library in a similar protest to the one reported in Milton Keynes.  What she is not reported as doing is taking responsibility for cutting her local Council's budget by £37 million this year and more in the years to come.  It is fundamentally dishonest for her to pretend that the coming cuts to Council services are anything other than a direct consequence of the Liberal Democrats decision to form a government with the Tories.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Library Closures

Krupesh Hirani reminds us that library closures are not just something happening in Brent but all over the UK in authorities of varying political complexions.  Lisa Nandy, the MP he refers to, initiated a debate on libraries in Westminster Hall, which you can find here.  Among the speeches is a very good one by Glenda Jackson MP.  The common factor in library closures across authorities with different kinds of political control is of course the decision of central government to cut local government funding.

As so often with controversial issues, Sarah Teather failed to make an appearence.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Brent's Festivals Strategy

Brent Liberal Democrats have done another of their rather strange calls in.  This time it is on proposals to review, and because of the financial climate, probably substantially cut the Council's support for festivals.  The odd thing is that the report just wants to discuss what to do, so that in calling it in the Liberal Democrats are simply delaying a formal discussion rather than objecting or contributing to a substantial policy.  In that respect it is very similar to their call in of the library strategy in December.

Martin Francis Review

Martin Francis appears to have done an extraordinarily detailed review of the Wembley Area Consultative Forum here.  As so often, it concentrates on describing our proposals rather than providing viable alternatives.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Navin Shah Web Site

Navin Shah, our Assembly Member on the London Assembly, has a new web site here.

Civic Centre Ground Breaking

This afternoon, we will be having the ground breaking ceremony for the new civic centre.  It will be interesting to see whether Liberal Democrat Leader turns up, given the way he has been rowing back from his previous support for it.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Government Cuts Followed by Lower Growth

The BBC reports that growth is lower following the onset of the Tory austerity programme. What a surprise.  If George Osborne manages to keep his promise of sticking to the cuts programme, growth can only get worse.  As growth gets worse, tax revenues fall, and the deficit widens.  Then the Tory led government will have a choice of more cuts (perhaps further damaging growth) or reversing its economic policy.  All this was quite predictable, and was predicted by Labour and the Liberal Democrats at the General Election.  Nick Clegg and his team must now be hoping they were wrong.

Salvation Army

I dropped into to see the Salvation Army on Friday.  I hadn't realised how extensive their building is.  I gether they want to become more active in the Harlesden area, so hopefully we can work out some more effective ways to use the premises.

Monday, 24 January 2011


Food for thought here on designing streets for cycling.  The Town Team project in Harlesden Town Centre gives an opportunity to consider drastically redesigning the Town Centre to make it more habitable.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Third Party Libraries

I continue to hear rumours of various groups offering to take over a library as a third sector operation.  Anyone contemplating this needs to contact the Library service as soon as possible.  We have met one group and agreed to help them work up a proposal, but doing that requires a lot more effort and expertise than some people seem to think.  The sooner you start looking at the nuts and bolts the better.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Library Forums

I have now presented the library strategy at the various Area Forums and events that were advertised.  There is still one presentation to go, at the Kingsbury and Kenton Area Forum, but the Head of Libraries will present there in oprder to avoid any accusations of political publicity ahead of the Kenton by election.

All the meetings have been extremely lively, but no one has yet come up with a feasible alternative to our strategy of improved the offer in a smaller number of libraries.  A lot of people have argued for improving all the libraries, but the size of the government cuts in our grant mean that that is not a realistic option.  After all, if we could not afford things like seven day opening in all our libraries when the last Labour government was increasing our grant year after year, how can we now that the Tory led government is cutting our funding year after year?

The other suggestion that has been made is what I think of as a "genteel decline" option.  This would mean keeping all the library buildings, but massively reducing their opening hours.  That would lead to a slump in visits but retain the fixed costs of the building, raising the cost per visit.  It would also mean many more staff being made redundant.  By sacrificing the capital receipt, it would also mean no more investment, making it far harder to develop the service to deal with ebooks or any of the other changes that happen in the future.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Cameron's Big Society Failure

Liam Byrne has a fierce attack on the Cameron's government failure to live up to its own "Big Society" rhetoric here.  Essentially, the Tories and Lib Dems are doing to the third sector what they are doing to all other public services: starving them of resources and thereby destroying their ability to do the task.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Sarah Teather on Libraries

Our library strategy got support from an unexpected quarter  according to this blog.  Sarah Teather, no less, regrets the budget situation that is forcing library closures, but agrees with the thrust of our fewer, better libraries strategy.  Of course, all Brent Council services would be better if the government of which she is a member had not decided to cut back public spending further and faster than anyone suggested in the General Election, but lets not be churlish.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Eric Pickles Goes into Fantasy

Eric Pickles is now claiming that local government is as responsible for the economic downturn as the banks. Even people in his own party are denouncing this as absurd.  Given the very large number of authorities controlled by the Tories, is it really a sensible line for a Tory Secretary of State to take?

Brent Civic Centre

Following on from yesterday's post around the Civic Centre library, perhaps it would be good to explain why we decided to go ahead with the Civic Centre project.

The first reason is financial.  Although the debts from building the centre cost us about £7 million to service, we actually save £9.5 million in the running costs.  This is because we move out of 15 existing buildings (mostly currently rented or in a state of disrepair) into a modern building that will be far cheaper to run.  Thus, not going ahead with the Civic Centre would actually have cost us money rather saving it.  In other words, we would have to cut Council services by another £2.5 million per year to make the books balance.  It is also true of course that, now that the contract has been awarded, we would incur huge penalties if we tried to back out of it.

Secondly, the new building has lots of environmental advantages.  In particular, by itself it should reduce the Council's carbon emissions by more than 12%.  The waste vegetable oil boiler could also be used ain a district heating system for Wembley at some stage.

Thirdly, the project is a vote of confidence in regeneration in Wembley.  As such it supports the redevelopment of the area, and helps to generate jobs for local people.

Finally, the new Civic centre project helps to drive organisational change across the Council, particularly in improving customer contact.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Civic Centre Library

An idea has been floated that it is possible to find lots of money for Brent libraries by scaling back the library in the Civic Centre.  In fact this is not so.  The revenue budget for running the library will simply transfer from the old Brent Town Hall library.  The extra floor space of the new library does not transfer into higher running costs.  In terms of capital, the library is part of the wider Civic Centre project.  Asking the architects to redesign a building in the middle of building it would raise costs rather than lowering them.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Practicalities of Budget Cutting

By the way, one of the issues with the current ConDem government's cuts programme that I haven't seen addressed anywhere is the sheer speed of their implementation.  Whilst these cuts would be bad in any circumstances, it is the fact that they are being rammed through so swiftly that makes them especially difficult to manage.  Most of the spending in public services involves employing people, so that when you cut a budget on this scale, you generally have to make people redundant.  Quite rightly there are rules in terms of consultation, notice periods and so on that take time to implement, delaying the time before there is any saving.  I don't see any sign that government ministers have given any thought to this.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Satellite Dishes

Here is an image of the satellite dishes that seem to line almost every house on the northern side of Wendover Road (although not the south, oddly).  In conservation areas, this sort of thing generally has a rule against it.  The proliferation of satellite dishes has diminished in the past few years for technological reasons, so it is not regarded as a planning enforcement priority even in conservation areas.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Ward Working Projects in Kensal Green

We have now agreed all our ward working projects in Kensal Green so I thought I would quickly summarise them.

We agreed that we needed to do more to contact the Portuguese speaking community, so we gave a grant to the White House (which is a Portuguese speaking advice service) to buy some computer equipment, and we also paid for Flavas of Brent to have a programme specifically targeted at Portuguese speakers.  Flavas of Brent is a Council programme designed to train and certify people to set up small scale catering businesses. 

We also gave a large sum to St Mark's Church to build their new Church Hall, a contribution to the Night Shelter project led by Cricklewood Homeless Concern that helps homeless people, a contribution to the Junction Association for a clean up day in the Tubbs Road area, a small amount to the Friends of Odessa and Palermo Road to help pay for a neighbourhood party and an amount to help promote Fairtrade during the coming Fairtrade fortnight.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Police and Disabled Parking by Tesco

I was less than impressed to see this police car parked across two disabled parking spaces by the Harlesden Tesco on Monday.  I have written to the Borough Commander asking him to make sure his officers don't do it again.


I have now been assured that the police in this case were dealing with a violent incident, so there were exceptional circumstances.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Sarah Teather Runs Away

I see that Sarah Teather has pulled out of the Brent Fightback debate with John McDonnell despite having suggested the date originally.  Ducking difficult issues worked well enough for her in opposition, but I doubt whether she can continue the tactic successfully as a government minister.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Repairing Paving in Tubbs Road

I am glad to see that following my complaint of a few days ago, the Thames Water contractors are back putting the pavements in the state theyshould have been in the first place.  I am sorry for the disruption but hopefully, if they get picked up every time they fail to do the job properly, the contractor will learn to do adequate work first time round. 

Liberal Democrats in Decline

UK Polling Report has an excellent analysis of the dire state of the Liberal Democrats here.  I really can't see how they can recover, despite Mark Pack's optimisim about the Oldham by election tomorrow.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Polly Toynbee and the Lib Dems

Polly Toynbee is puzzled by Simon Hughes' refusal to walk away from the coalition.  She points out the damage that the Tory led government is doing to all the things he claims to have supported over the years.  Surely, just like Sarah Teather, Simon Hughes never really supported these these apart from in rhetoric?  He and Teather have made careers for themselves by making fine sounding speeches and ignoring the practical consequences.  Why stop now?

Tory Hypocrisy

Grant Shapps has a remarkable piece of hypocrisy in this BBC story.  His government has cut Brent's grant by £37 million, and intends further cuts in future years.  Brent, along with other Councils faced with similar cuts in grants by this extreme right government has little choice but to end the below cost charging for some services.  I am, sure Grant Shapps and his colleagues knew that would be the result when they gave us the financial settlement they did.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The next Harlesden Area Consultative Forum, and indeed the other Area Consultative Forums, will have a discussion on the effect of the Con Dem government's cuts on Brent Council, presented by the Council Leader Cllr Ann John.  It takes place at All Souls Church, Harlesden High Street at 7pm on 11 January.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Brent Council and the Cuts

One of the major issues raised at the Library Consultation I went to on Thursday was the extent of the cuts imposed by the Con Dem government and how they affect Brent Council.  The Council has set up a web page explaining this here

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Paving in Tubbs Road

This is how the contractor for Thames Water left the paving in Tubbs Road after the recent water works there.  Definitely not up to scratch in my opinion.  I have asked the Council to get them to come back to do it properly.  I believe it is the same contractor who made such a mess of the area by Kensal Green station.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Oldham By Election

Went up to the Oldham by election recently.  It looks at the moment as if Labour is likely to win, which will be another set back for the Liberal Democrats.  Essentially, they have for a long time relied on being the anti-politics party.  Now that they are in power, they don't seem able to offer anything other than going along with the Tories.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Harlesden Town Team Meeting

Harlesden Town Team are meeting on the evening of 10 January.  This will be the first meeting since the news came through that Transport for London are granting £3 million over two years to the project.  Unforuntately, I have another meeting at the same time, but I hope as many people are able to contribute as possible.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Brent Friends of the Earth: How Not to Do It

As promised, here is a second post on why I think that Brent Friends of the Earth are such an ineffective lobbying group, covering tactics.

Their campaign against our waste management plans shows a deeply misguided appraoch. Although I met them with a senior officer at Brent House, and attended on of their member meetings, they failed to voice their opposition to our scheme until 20th October (the very last day of a 50 day consultation). Their contribution proposed opening the consultation all over again, thus delaying the whole thing by at least a couple of months. This is part of a pattern of throwing in random suggestions, often with no evidential backing, very late in the day. Thus at one Executive meeting, Brent FoE suggested we adopt the system used in Sheffield, apparently oblivious that our proposals has been developed over a period of more than a year using extensive comparisions with other authorities. At the next Executive meeting, Brent FoE dropped the Sheffield suggestion and proposed the systems used in either York or Ealing. You simply can't adopt complicated systems in that kind of back of an envelope way. Thus, I think their first error is not to appreciate the intellectual rigour with which the Council's proposals have been developed.

Their second is to throw suggestions in without any warning. During this process, I have been given the imprerssion that Brent FoE do a bit of googling, produce some factoids and throw them in not so much as serious suggestions as simply attempts to derail the adoption of the new system regardless of its merits. An example of this would be their suggestion that Veolia would send waste to China to be processed with child labour, a suggestion for which they produced no evidence whatever.

A third error that an effective lobby group would not make is to take no account of the concerns of the body they are lobbying. Obviously we want to increase recycling, reduce emissions and save money. Remarkably we have a system that fulfills these three objectives. Certainly, at the December Executive they made no effort to engage with constraints such as the inevitably limited budget. Indeed their report of that meeting, makes no reference to what anybody else said at all. From their description, one would imagine that Brent FoE turned up, said their piece and we then voted our policy through without discussion, which was not the case.

Finally, Brent FoE have allowed an impression to be created that they are in the pocket of the Liberal Democrats, who as far as I can see have little or no interest in the Environment. As well as allying themselves with the Liberal Democrats over the waste issue, they have conspicously failed to criticise the Lib Dems poor record on recycling, Sarah Teather's volte face on Brent Cross, the Liberal Democrats' opposition to emissions based parking permits, the decision to cut a post from the Environment Unit, or indeed the abolition of the Green Zone scheme (which was caused by the Con Dem government's withdrawal of grant part way through the year).  They have even issued a press release criticising our abolition of the £25 charge for collecting bulky waste.  This is an article of faith among Brent Liberal Democrats, but I have never encountered this view except in card carrying Liberal Democrats.

It is hard not to believe that two or three of the members of Brent FoE are more motivated by a strong loyalty to the Liberal Democrats rather than an interest in the Environment.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Brent Friends of the Earth: What Not to Do

I guess one of the biggest disappointments I had last year was the failure of Brent Friends of the Earth to support any of the new Labour administration's (quite bold) environmental policies.  This is a great pity as it would be very useful to have an effective environmentalist lobby pushing the Council to do sensible things.  Brent FoE don't do this, partly because they pursue off the wall objectives and partly because they use the wrong tactics.

Our key policy is obviously the changes to the household waste management, where we plan the most radical restructuring the Council has ever had.  I am certain that our plans are the way of the future not just in Brent, but also across London.  The new way of doing things will allow people to recycle a greater range of materials (e.g. tetrapaks and mixed plastics), and consequently lead to a vastly greater weight of waste being recycled.  Brent FoE, bizarrely for a supposed environmentalist group, oppose this.  They argue that the quality of the recyclate will be lower, which is true, but ignore the vastly greater quantities that w2ill be produced.

If that were the only green policy they oppose, I could dismiss it as an aberration, but in fact they have either attacked us or remained indifferent to every initiative.  The emissions based parking permits, just coming to the end of its statutory consultation, is another example.  Here they don't quite have the courage to oppose it outright, but the tone of their response was so negative that they effectively do.

Again, they have shown no real interest in the passing of the Local Development Framework Core Strategy (a key part of improving conservation standards in the Borough), or the Brent "going green" project, or our objective to cut the Council's carbon emissions (still under development).

One early intervention they did make, in a rather odd way, was over the cutting of a post in the Environment unit.  This post was frozen under the previous administration and then abolished under ours.  Brent FoE stayed silent when the Liberal Democrats made the initial decision and only protested once Labour won power, which may give a clue to their real motivation. 

This is turning into rather a long post so I will split it into two.  Tomorrow, I will talk a bit more about Brent FoE's misguided tactics.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Designs on Tubbs Road Park

I have been asked what these pillars in Tubbs Road Pocket Park are for.  They are purely decorative.  The designs were done by children from Furness Road Primary School during the development phase.  Hopefully some of the children will recognise them when they use the park.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Seeing the Light

Bjorn Lomberg argues that more efficient lighting simply leads to more consumption here.  It is certainly true that making something easier makes you use more of it, in the way building roads generates traffic, but surely for lighting there is an upper limit that people don't leave lights on when they are not there, or when it isn't dark.  As electricity costs money, they still have an incentive to limit their usage even if the light bulbs are efficient so I don't think the Lomberg stacks up.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Future

As its New Year, I thought I would make a stab at some predictions for the coming year.

Firstly, I suspect the Con Dem coalition will hang together despite the harm it is doing the Liberal Democrats.  They have lost their (always illusory) reputation for integrity.  They are attacking many of the priniciples that their long standing supporters hold dear, and there are signs that their parliamentary party is beginning to fall apart under the pressure.  They may well fail to win in Oldham, lose badly in the local elections in May and lose the referendum on the alternative vote.  Nevertheless, I expect them to continue to hang in there with the Tories, because breaking apart has too great a risk of causing a general election where they get slaughtered.  As Benjamin Franklin said: "We must all hang together, or hang separately."

Whether Sarah Teather manages to continue avoiding publicity and engagements during the year is more doubtful.  She already looks weak, as her absurd interview with Sky News "on her way out" showed.  She will start having to engage with her critics at some point, rather than just running away from them as at present.

In the Council, I hope the onset of our new waste management system will be a success.  A lot is riding on it.  We should also be able to come out with some other good environmental initiatives during the year, including in the transport field, and a strong target for carbon emissions.  The big challenge for the Council as a whole will be the budget.  We have enough savings for this year, but we need to develop some for next year's round of central government cuts, and we need to find a means to control overspend in the Social Services.  Altogether it is going to be the most challenging time that the Council has faced since the 1980s.