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Monday, 28 February 2011

The Lib Dem / Tory Alternative

Tonight is the budget setting meeting, and I imagine it will be a lively one.  We will see whether the Liberal Democrat and Tory councillors have the courage to propose a budget.  Paul Lorber and Harshi Patel have both downplayed the extent of the cuts, and suggested that budgets can be set without affecting services.  Lets see what they come up with.

Kensal Green Kitchens

Kensal green Kitchens is a Ward Working initiative designed to use the Olympics to help people set up catering businesses.  It is specifically targeted at our Portuguese speaking community.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Brent Youth Parliament and Libraries

On Tuesday, I went to the Brent Youth Parliaamnet partly to listen to their discussion on the Library strategy, and partly to talk them a bit about what the Environment department does.  Compared to most of the adult meetings I have attended on libraries, they seemed much more polite and open minded.  Their were opinions ranging from almost hostility to libraries to concern over closures, but the biggest concern seemed to be the need for study space.  The consultation on libraries ends on 4 March, and I am sure that the report for the April Executive is going to be hugely complicated, almost as much as with the waste strategy last year.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Responding to Budget Cuts

Some of those who regard themselves as being on the Left have been critical of the current Labour administration in Brent for setting a legal, balanced budget despite the swingeing cuts imposed by the government.  I gather they want us to refuse to set a budget at all, as some authorities did in the 1980s.  My memory of the 1980s was that this was not a successful strategy, but I also wondered whether there are any examples of any local authorities anywhere in the countrey (even Tower Hamlets) trying to follow it? 

Perhaps if no one is going down that route, those who advocate it should reflect on whether it is a credible strategy.

Friday, 25 February 2011

More Distraction

Martin is still concerned over Chief Executive's pay.  I haven't looked at his payslips, but it will be a tiny fraction of 1% of Brent Council's budget.  The important thing is not to fall into the trap of focusing on minor issues, but to follow the approach of Willie Sutton, who famously robbed banks because "that is where the money is."  The question is how can the massive cut in central government grant be accomodated in a balanced budget that minimises dameage to public services?

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Dollis Hill House Again

Dollis Hill House has suffered from a fire yet again.  No one has been hurt, and it is not clear if it was arson or accidental.  However, it does underline the need to sort the place out.  The Secretary of State has had our demolition application on his desk for months.  Each month he waits we have to pay for the scaffolding surrounding the building at a time when budgets are under severe pressure.

Willesden Junction

A longer perspective on Willesden Junction is offered here.  Willesden Junction is such a potential opportunity for Brent, especially with Crossrail and a High Speed Rail link coming up, that is is tragic to see the lack of attention given to it, even the lack of basic maintenance.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Liberal Democrats and the Mayor

I see Cllr Paul Lorber has returned to one of his favourites _ proposing the reduction or abolition of the office of Brent Mayor.  Leaving aside the arguments about whether the Mayoral budget is the right one, the current allocation of the Mayor's office was voted through in March 2010.  This was under a budget proposed by Paul Lorber and voted through with the support of the Liberal Democrats and Tories.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Kenton By Election

So the Tories got through in the Kenton By election with a 6% lead.  I still think it is impressive that Ellie May Southworth got so close, given that Kenton has never been represented by anyone other than Tory councillors.  It is difficult to compare reasonably to the 2010 result, because of the simultaneous General Election, but in 2006 the Tory with the lowest majority was still 800 votes ahead of Labour.

The worst result was for the Liberal Democrats who found themselves knocked into fourth place by an independent, Robert Dunwell.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Brent Magazine and the Government Code

Roy Greenslade has some good points on Council papers here, but he doesn't cover the political angle.  Certainly in the case of the Brent Magazine changing it from a monthly to a quarterly publication does not save money.  It may actually cost us more.

This is because quarterly publications are less attractive to advertisers (which cover most of the cost of the Brent Magazine), and the Council has to publish a number of notices regarding planning etc. by law.  Some of these may have to be diverted to commercial papers, making the whole exercise more expensive.  Given the popularity of the Brent Magazine as a source of news, cutting it back may not even be popular with local people. 

Nor does it fit in with the goivernment's supposed committment to localism for it to insist on the number of times a Council publishes a newsletter.

I suspect the real reason for this attempt to reduce Council's freedom over publicity is that the government is afraid of Council's telling people that the cuts come from central government.  Councils can't do this in a political way, of course, because of long standing restrictions on local government communications with regard to party politics.  However, they can giive a factual description.  Such a factual description wopuld have to say something like "Your Council gets most of its money from central government.  Central government is cutting back this money on a massive scale.  That is why there are cuts to local services."  That reads like a condemnation of the government to any reasonable person, and that is why Eric Pickles is trying to stop straightforward factual information from bneing circulated.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Willesden Library Dead Frontage

Following on my post of yesterday, here is a photo of Willesden Library's dead frontage on Brondesbury Park.  As far as I know, this space is only every used for an occasional French market, which seems a dreadful waste of space.  I am sure a commercial developer would have put in some active shop fronts.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Willesden Library Centre and the Public Realm

There has been some disquiet about a possible rebuild of Willesden Library Centre.  I don't know whether such a rebuild will happen.  A key issue will be whether such a scheme could pay for itself through house sales, but thinking about it has caused me to look again at how the Library Centre interacts with the rest of the area, and for the most part it doesn't.  This view from the car park actually strikes me as being one of the better views of what is a very inward looking building.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Cllr James Denselow Blog

I forgot to add my colleague Cllr James Denselow of Queens Park to my list of blogs earlier.  As well as local issues, James also writes about the Middle East.

Fryent Councillors Blog

I note that my Labour colleagues have set up a blog here.  There are now Labour councillors blogs in Willesden Green, Dudden Hill, Barnet and (of course) Kensal Green.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Distracting from the Cuts

The Guardian carries a piece on excessive salaries in local government.  This is being used by the current Tory led government as a distraction technique from their ideological cuts programme.  The percentage of a Borough budget that the Chief Executive's pay account for is tiny.  The likes of Eric Pickles know this, but they are hoping that directing publicity on Chief Executive pay will create the impression that it is local authorities that are chosing to make the cuts rather than central government that is pulling levers to make the cuts happen.

Kenton By Election Today

Today is the date of the Kenton By election, giving Kentonites the opportunity to give their views on the cuts programme of the current Tory led government.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Carbon Emissions and Waste Management

I was surprised to have the carbon emissions performance of our proposed new waste management system queried recently.  In fact the proposed new system should lead to far lower carbon emissions than the current arrangements.  The full details were in the appendices to the orginal waste report on 11 August 2010.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Placemaking Guide

Tonight, for the first time in a long while, we will be having an Executive without any controversal reports coming up under my lead.  However, we will finally be considering the Placemaking Guide (which used to be called the Urban Design Guide, and possibly something else before that).  This has been knocking around in various guises for many months and I shall b e delighted for it finally to come to a decision.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Stuckist Pictures in Willesden Green

The small exhibition of Stuckist pictures in Willesden Library Centre is worth a look for anyone who is around there.

Kenton By Election

I was out in Kenton helping Ellie May Southworth in the by election at the weekend.  When I first heard that there would be a Council By election there, I assumed that Labour would have no chance, saince Kenton has never elected anyone other than Tory councillors, but I am no longer so sure.  Ellie seems to be very popular, and there seems to have been a feeling by many people that they have been taken for granted by the Conservatives.  We shall see what the results say on Thursday.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

IKEA Gateway to Wembley

A commenter here asks what happended at the meeting.  We decided on a winning scheme having gone through presentations by four different artists.  Certainly I think the winning scheme is very impressive.  Details of what it is, along with a public engagements process led by the artist, will be put out by Brent Council press office shortly.

Oxbridge References

Reading a debate on education in the Guardian recently, I noticed that once again Oxbridge seemed to get disproportionate attention.  This always annoys me.  Debates around higher education in this country always seem to degenerate into references to Oxford and Cambridge, as if they were the only universities in the UK.  Obsessing over two universities distorts the whole discussion.  Perhaps there should be an equivalent to Godwin's Law to prevent this.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

West London Waste Falling

West London Waste continues to fall, which is good for the environment and Council budgets, but is nonetheless rather puzzling.  Traditionally waste levels have increased every year in this country.  The falls of the past two or three years are a departure from the long standing trend and no one really knows why.  Part of it is undoubtedly down to poor economic performance, but perhaps some of the recycling and waste minimisation messages are finally getting through?


In answer to the comments, Brent has no plans for incinerators.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Kensal Green Open Space Restored

I am glad to see that the green space outside Kensal Green Tube sation has finally been restored.  This is how it looked in the Summer.  The land is actually owned by Network Rail, but they looked as if they were going to do nothing about it until Brent Council's streetcare officer started badgering them.  After several months, the message finally got through.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Perils of Democracy

Monday's Harlesden Town Team meeting, which I managed to get to very late in the day, illustrated some of the problems of the increasingly trendy participatory democracy approach.  I joined a team debating the public realm, and in particular a possible upgrade to Station Road NW10.  The hotly contested topic was the colour scheme of the pavements, with an even division between light grey, buff coloured and dark grey.  At some point a choice will have to be made, and it will have longstanding implications for the rest of Harlesden Town Centre.  At the end of the session, there was a vote but it was virtually evenly divided.  If a slightly different mix of people had attended the choice might well have been different.  Yet, if Station Road is to be upgraded, a definite choice will have to be made by someone.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Library Stock

I saw a striking factoid in the Camden New Journal recently.  Camden are considering reducing their book buying budget by 40% to save money.  This would save half a million pounds a year.  If Brent were to save this amount of money by cutting book buying at our libraries, we would reduce that budget by 90% (to just 50,000 pounds a year)  It gives a clear idea of just how under resourced Brent libraries have been compared to other Boroughs.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Paul Lorber and Diwali

I forgot to mention, that in the Call In Committee on Arts & Festivals, Cllr Paul Lorber had quite an outburst against Brent's Diwali festivities.  He said that for years he had wanted to abolish the grant Brent Council gives to Diwali but was stopped by Tories.  Quite bizarre.

Public Art and IKEA

Today, I am going to spend the morning listening to a series of artists.  This is because I am on the panel judging how about £100,000 should be spent on a major piece of public art at the IKEA road junction.  The money was planning gain from IKEA's car park expansion in 2004, but is only now being spent.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Harlesden Town Team Tonight

The Harlesden Town Team are meeting again tonight.  Unfortunately, I have a meeting with a library group that clashes, but I will do my best to get there nearer the end.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Air Quality

Dave Hill has details on the air quality debate here.  When I was touring the ACFs last year in the wake of a presentation on emissions based parking, I was struck at how important air quality was to people in the southern part of the Borough.  It may become more important to Boris if the government passes on any EU fines to local authorities, as it has threatened to do.

Library Consultation

You can still fill in the Brent library consultation questionaire here.  The deadline for the close of the consultation is 4 March.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Closing Libraries in Brent

Brent Liberal Democrats are continuing to sell the line that Brent Labour Party has had a long standing secret plan to close various libraries.  This has never been true, but perhaps it would be useful to clarify the arguments.

Egregious Liberal Democrats such as Paul Lorber, argue that a consultant report from 2004 proposed closing four libraries.  It should be understood that Council officers and outside advisers frequently come up with option papers and recommendations that for one reason or another never get adopted.  This report was rejected by the then Labour administration and so came to nothing.  That is why the previous Labour administration of 1996-2006 never closed a single library.  I am sure that Paul Lorber knows the difference between officer/consultant recommendations and member decisions, so I assume that he is knowingly misleading people.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Liberal Democrats and Bin Collections

I see that the Kensal Triangle Association's minutes state that: "Cllr Simon Green also recommends opposing fortnightly grey bin collections".  In fact when the Tories put forward a motion at Full Council in September opposing fortnightly collections, the Liberal Democrats abstained.  The same minutes report Cllr Green as informing everyone that the £25 charge for collecting bulky items has been abolished without mentioning that he and his party would like to reinstate the charge.

This is very similar to the approach of his Liberal Democrat colleague Sarah Teather in supporting a £37 million cut to Council funding and then pretending to oppose the subsequent cuts in Council services. 

People have got wise to the way in which Liberal Democrats say one thing to one audience and the opposite to another.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Causing the Cuts

Martin Francis has a round up of various cuts stories here.  Many of the comments he cites suggest that it is the Council that is causing the cuts.  Of course the reality is that it is the current government that has created a financial settlement specifically to shrink public services.  Ministers are pretending that the current cuts are avoidable, but no one who knows about local government believes that.

Cllr Margaret Eaton, the chair of the LGA and a Tory councillor, said as much in her Guardian piece a few days ago.  The four arguments I have heard the likes of Eric Pickles present are:

1) That major savings can be made from the pay of senior managers.  In fact sacking all Brent's most senior managers would achieve only a tiny fraction of the savings necessary to balance the budget

2) That reserves can be used to moderate the cuts.  Brent Council has only £7.5 million in reserves.  After George Osborne's July budget last year, Brent Council faced a projected overspend of £7.1 million, so there is an argument for us increasing the reserves rather than reducing them.  In any case, reserves can only be used once.  It you support your spending with them this year, you will find the money run out next year.

3) That "shared services" between Council can generate economies of scale.  In some cases this is true, and Brent does participate in some shared services (The West London Waste Authority is effectively an example), but ministers have made it as difficult as possible to achieve such savings by frontloading the cuts.  Brent Council is getting a cut in grant of almost 12% this year, and 7.4% next year.  This was announced in December as part of a 28% cuts package over four years.  Joining up a service with another Council requires legal and financial agreements and major organisational restructuring.  That takes much longer than the three month period between the grant announcement and the setting of the Council Budget.

4)  That lots of local government money is spent on things people don't value.  A lot of the commenters on Margaret Eaton's piece seem to have fallen for this line.  In fact, the reaction recorded by Martin Francis demonstrates exactly the opposite.  People are protesting because they value the services that are being cut.  There simply are not large sums of money lying around being spent on nothing of value.

I note that that some of the quotes in Martin Francis' piece come from former Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Corcoran.  It would be interesting to hear him or any of his colleagues justify the govenrment that they campaigned for at the General Election.  So far, I have heard a number of Brent Liberal Democrats defend their government's strategy of public spending cuts beyond what they were calling for in the General Election, but they have not presented any alternative ways for the Council to react to the decisions of their government.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Civic Centre Ground Breaking

As I suspected, Paul Lorber chose not to attend the ground breaking of the Civic Centre, despite having claimed credit for the project at the previous Council meeting.  He seems unable to decide which way to face. 

Brent Council has a rather small picture of the ground breaking here.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Cleaner Air Campaign

Environmental Protection UK is promising a campaign for cleaner air here.  In the last round of Area Forums, I was struck by how important clean air issues were to people in the Willesden and Harlesden areas.  It certainly seems to me to be a subject that has not had the kind of attention it deserves.