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Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Onion and Newt Gingrich

This story from The Onion made me smile.  I wonder why the UK doesn't seem to have a comedy paper as good as The Onion?

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Market Regulation

Paul Krugman has an interesting example of the madness of how money markets operate here.  Yet there are still people who thing it is in principle wrong to have any kind of market regulation.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Car Clubs in Brent

Kensal Rising has a post on car clubs, and how they fit into the policy.  The point about the car club cars being allowed to park anywhere in a CPZ is that you take the car from its designated space, drive where you want to go to park, and then return it to the designated space.  Hence there will still by specific car club spaces.  However, it will make using a car club car much more attractive for people to drive to a CPZ other than their own, and should therefore increase car club take up, reducing congestion.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Why March?

Last Saturday's Independent carried an article by Tim Lott which struck me as epitomising the wrong response to the current government cuts.  It argues that the cuts have to happen sooner or later and the way or the speed at which they are done doesn't really matter.  Hence don't even bother to protest.

Firstly the scale of these cuts may well increase the deficit by destroying economic growth.  Secondly, the cuts, especially to local government, have been front loaded maximising the difficulty of meeting them through greater efficiency or reorganisation.  They are part of an ideology designed to shrink the state on a permanent basis, not a repsonse to economic conditions.

Not only is this worth protesting about, but the TUC March was the right way to protest.  Of course a demonstration is just that it doesn't in itself change everything.  But the March did demonstrate that the Tory line that it is only an unrepresntative group of public sector workers that is upset was contradicted by the sheer number and variety of those involved.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Allotment Waiting Lists in Brent

Some time ago, I posted on the steadily rising waiting list for allotments in the Borough.  I understand that the waiting list is now close to 1,000.  We really will have to look at ways of increasing supply, limiting demand and distributing allotments as fairly as possible as there appears to be no sign of the trend towards ever greater waiting lists discontinuing.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

March for the Alternative

Today is finally the day for the TUC March for the Alternative.  We should never forget that the cuts facing Brent Council and other public authorities are not inevitable, but a matter of choice.  The Con Dem coalition want these cuts to implement their version of warmed over Thatcherism, and they have deliberately targeted Labour Councils for political reasons..

The more people who turn up to the March, the more impressive will be the signal sent to the government.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Another Teather U Turn

The Willesden and Brent Times reports on Sarah Teather changing her position on human rights here.  My main quarrel with this is with the first sentence: "Sarah Teather has been accused of going back on her pre-election promises for a second time since entering government."

It is not the "second time".  As well as breaking her long standing commitment against tuition fees, she and her fellow Liberal Democrats have broken their promises not to raise VAT, to implement Building Schools for the Future, not to cut public spending too far and too fast because it would cause massive economic damage and a whole host of other issues.

It would be far more newsworthy if the Willesden and Brent Times could find an example of Sarah Teather keeping a promise for a second time.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Willesden Junction in the OAPF

Disappointing to see such a limited appreciation of the area around Willesden Junction in Boris Johnson's Open Area Planning Framework for Park Royal.  In particular very little detail on the possible effect of a station for Crossrail and the proposed High Speed Rail Link.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Pollution Around Willesden Junction

There is still alot of concern around smells drifting on to Tubbs Road and elsewhere from the other side of Willesden Junction.  I don't know if these are linked to the PowerDay site or not, but I have spoken to the Environment Agency about it.  they have a problem with enforcement in that they need verified claims of smells in order to act.  Therefore it would be useful if residents could keep a log of any problems.  Of course, that still leaves the issue of verification, but it is a start.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Return to the Mayor

A commenter on my Mayor post asks whether the cost of the office can be cut back.  It is worth remembering that the office covers not just the Mayoralty, but also Brent's training for elected members (where the Council recently got an award from London Councils).  Comparison with other Boroughs is difficult as the office of Mayor can cover very different things, but the Mayor of Brent is said to be among the cheapest in London.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Eric Pickles and Council Publicity

The Local Government Chroncile covers some of the confusions in Eric Pickles pronouncements on Council publicity.  Essentially, I don't think it possible to severely restricit both the quantity and methods by which Councils communicate tot ehir residents, and simultaneously champion effective engagement with those residents.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Final Well London Event

Well London will be holding its final event _ open to all _ in Tubbs Road Pocket Park on 26 March from 2pm to 5pm to celebrate the end of the project.  If you are not going on the anti-cuts March, please come along.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Anti-Green Greens

I see Martin Francis, erstwhile Green Party candidate in Brent North, has called for some Harlesden's green space to be built on, albeit with a building with a "very small footprint."  What is it about the so called Green campaigners in Brent that makes them campaign against environmentalist objectives?  Martin's party colleague in Brent Central last time and numerous other elections before advocates abandoning the Civic Centre apparently unfazed by the effect that that would have on the Council's carbon emissions.  Brent Friends of the Earth fought the Council's proposals to increase recycling tooth and nail, throwing in a number of absurd accusations to boot.   The same group opposed our very modest proposals to link CPZ charges to vehicle emissions.

What makes these people think that they are environmentalists?

Friday, 18 March 2011

Ward Working and the Budget

During the budget process a number of people have suggested raiding the Ward Working budget to pay for other items.  I think this fundamentally misunderstands the logic of ward working.

Ward working was set up under the last Labour administration in Brent, which plagiarised adapted the idea from Newcastle.  It is fundamentally about community engagement rather than handing out grants.  For this reason, complaints that it has too large an "administrative" budget are misguided.  The supposed "administrative" budget is in fact an engagement budget.  Propoerly engaging with the public and finding out what the community wants, especially in such an extraordinarily multi-ethnic and fast moving community as Brent, is no easy task.

The £20,000 grant that each ward is allocated is there so that when an issue is identified, there is at least some money available to address it.  As most problems require money to solve, an engagement process that had no money attached, would risk seeming impotent.  For the same reason, the ward working budget for each ward cannot be entirely swallowed up by one project.  If money was entirely allocated at the start of the year, or subject to an understanding that it would always be handed to the same groups, it would cease to be useful as an engagement tool.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Over-management at Brent Council

One of the canards that Eric Pickles and his ilk like to put is that numerous Council officers are paid more than the Prime Ministers.  This is such an obvious distraction tactic from the Tory led government's responsibility for the Cuts programme that I am surprised people fall for it, but maybe it is worth addressing.

The first thing to say is that it is probably literaly untrue.  David Cameron gets (I believe) £142,000 per year as Prime Minister.  That job does not sufficently fill his time so he also gets paid as MP for Wirtney.  As a MP, he is also entitled to various allowances, although I dare say he no longer claims for wisteria trimming.  In addition, as Prime Minister he gets the use of Downing Street, all kinds of travel and of course the use of Chequers.  I have never hired a stately home, but I imagine it would be quite expensive.  All in all, I would think his vartious emoluments are well beyond what any local authority officer is allowed to claim.

In Brent Council, it is true that we have identified that we have more management layers than we should, but the idea that we could find more than £40 million simply be eliminating "waste" is absurd.  We currently have a staffing review specifically designed to bring our management spans to what PWC have advised us is a more appropriate level.  We have already abolished the most egragious example of bureaucracy in the Council.

This was the so-called "Business Transformation dEpartment" created by Paul Lorber to oversee efficiency changes under a highly paid officer head hunted from another authority.  Although its task was supposed to be reducing management layers, it was overloaded with expensive management staff.  Indeed the unit had more managers than it had people to manage.  Unlike the most recent budget, its abolition was not greeted with demonstrations outside the Town Hall.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Alternative Vote Polling

According to the excellent UKPolling Report, the opinions of people on the Alternative Vote vary quite wildly according to how the question is phrased.  Whatever, the merits of the different systems, that is surely a powerful argument against the whole concept of referendums.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Roads and Pavements

I am glad to say that the top third of Furness Road is finally going to get resurfaced in this coming fiancial year, rather than just patched.  The Council decides its schedule of carriageway and pavement resurfacing on the basis of engineers surveys and public complaints, and Furness Road has finally been scheduled.  As you can see from the photo below, there are almost more potholes than road surface and the patching that was done last winter is already wearing away.

The other Kensal Green street to get some work will be Ancona Road, where the pavement needs to be renewed.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Paying for the Roads

Later on I will be going to the Brent Council Executive, where one of the reports will be on the coming year's investment in Borough roads.  This is separate from the Transport for London funding that makes up a lot of what we spend on transport, and comes from "unsupported borrowing."  In other words, we borrow money and fund the interest payments from our revenue.  At some point this model of funding will have to change, as a greater and greater proportion of our revenue risks being swalloed up in interest payments.

Sunday, 13 March 2011


I was interested to visit the project in Peel Precinct in South Kilburn recently. They are renting what was previously a derelict shop down there, and doing a variety of poetry and oral history related projects down there.  They also publish a guide for anyone who things they might be interested in a similar project.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

David Cameron and the Enemies of Enterprise

David Cameron's "enemies of enterprise" speech of a few days ago really depressed me, as it shows what a right wing ideologue we have running the country.  It rolled out the same tired Tory lines that government is simply paprasitic on the private sector.  It ignores that obvious value of public services like the NHS, education transport and so on in order to pretend the entire public sector accomplishes nothing.  What is really amazing though is that he is still blamed regulation, and pretending it has no useful role.

Did he not notice that the financial crisis and the consequent economic disaster were created by banks that took unsustainable risks because nobody was regulating them effectively?  Failing that, does he not remember other cases where an industry held its supposed regulator in thrall, e.g. the farming industry prior to the BSE crisis?  He seems just to be recycling thatcherite dogmas without any reference to reality.

He also made quite a misleading point about public sector procurement, suggesting that it is simply a set of meaningless rules.  In fact a lot of the procurement rules are (a) about securting value for money (b) driven by European regulations that are intended to open up the European Union for Free Trade, which Mr Cameron is upposed to favour.  Simply wishing them away is not a serious option. 

More sensible would be to do what Brent Council has been doing with the Civic Centre;  Training smaller firms in how to bid for contracts within the procurement rules.  But of course Mr Cameron wouldn't want to know about that, as it is an example of the "enemies of enterprise" actively helping the private sector.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Paul Lorber's Missing Library Plan

Back in February, the Wembley Observer reported that Brent Liberal Democrats had a plan to continue running six of Brent's libraries via trusts.  On the night of the Budget, Paul Lorber chose not make this proposal, and again failed to make it by the close of the library consultation on 4 March.

Yet Cllr Lorber told the Observer: "These proposals are fully costed and if the Labour Executive is serious in their promise to listen to local people they will accept these proposals and give local people a chance to save their much loved local Library.”

In fact, the Liberal Democrats have failed even to put their proposals forward.  Could it be that they were intended for a press release rather than a serious discussion?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Brent Allotments

Tonight I will be going to the allotments forum, where a number of people are unhappy about the rise in allotment rents.  This is entirely understandable, but the Council is forced to raise charges in all kinds of different areas in order to cope with the cuts from central government.

Although there may be many problems with a number of our sites, the allotments services has had a lot of attention over the years, with the creation of an Allotment Officer post and the Brent Allotments Forum in 2002.  Since then, there has been investment in better fencing, in toilet blocks and there are possible plans to expand the number of allotments to meet still rising demand.  However, we do need to look at management to make sure we keep the DIY culture of allotments, whilst not creating any risks by land contamination or whatever.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Local Government Chronicle Cuts Blog

The Local Government Chroncile has a rolling blog on local authority cuts here.  Among other things, it questions how realistic some local authority budgets are, given the speed at which they have had to be implemented.

Missing Lib Dem Budget Proposal: The Mayor of Brent

One of the Lib Dem proposals that was press released but mysteriously failed to be presented on Budget night was to cut back the budget for the Mayor of Brent.  Leaving aside the merits of this proposal, how does Paul Lorber expect to be taken seriously when he issues proposals to the press, and simply fails to make them in the Council Chamber?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Manor Park Road Closed Again

As I discovered on the No. 18 bus yesterday, a gas leak has closed Manor Park Road, again.  It is estimated that it will take about a week to repair.

Census 2011

The Census forms for 2011 should be coming through the letterboxes now.  As well as the paper version, you can do it online at the Census website.  The information is used to plan the provision of public services for the Council and other bodies.  Brent has traditionally been undercounted, meaning that our services get less funding than they should, so please try to fill it in.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Dogs in Parks

There is concern over proposed limits on dogs in parks. Essentially, this is about different needs by different users.  Non dog owners tend to get really annoyed by the amount of dog fouling in our parks, and not all owners are responsible.  The restriction not to walk more than six dogs is really aimed at professional dog walkers rather than a pet owner walking their own dog.

Lib Dems and Recycling

A noticable absentee from the Liberal Democrats' budget proposals was anything about recycling.  After some dithering on the issue, the Liberal Democrats eventually came out in opposition to our plans to recycle more by altering the frequency of collections.  However, they decided not to propose reversing this, or to suggest any alternative.  It does argue for a certain intellectual poverty in the Liberal Democrat group in Brent.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Libraries and the Liberal Democrats

One of the Liberal Democrats proposed budget amendments was for more youth and community activities to be run from libraries.  It does make me wonder whether they understand that running more activities from libraries is a key part of the Library Transformation Strategy.  I wonder if they even read the report before calling it in in December?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Lib Dem Budget: Car Parking Charges

Following my earlier post, I thought it might be interesting to examine some of the Liberal Democrat budget amendments to see how they stack up.  One interesting one is to lower CPZ permit charges so that no extra revenue is generated, leaving the Council short of £1.1 million compared to the Labour budget. 

I am interested in this because it shows an approach focused purely on budget numbers and not interested in the actual policy.  The Lib Dems simply ignored the whole logic of our changes, to have CPZ permits based on emissions, and simply went for a populist message of lower cost.  I find it hard to understand how they could keep the charge level at £50 (where it has now been for more than a decade), and still have a big differential between high and low polluting vehilces, so I take it they also want a flat rate _ destroying any credibility they might claim to promote green objectives.

Friday, 4 March 2011

South Kilburn Speaks This Saturday

An arts project in South Kilburn is having a reading event tomorrow.  Is this a possible sign of how the Arts could work in Brent in the future?

Fairtrade Success

By the way, I thought the Fairtrade event last night was a great success. Well done to Peter Moore and all the other people who organised it.

The Budget and the Libraries Consultation

A commenter asks how we can pass a budget before the Libraries consultation ends today.  Firstly, it is important to note that we have a legal duty to set a balanced budget by 10 March as well as a practical imperative to do so before the Council Tax bills go out for April.

However, although the budget we passed is based on certain assumptions, every year some of these assumptions turn out to to be incorrect and the actual spending turns out to be different from the spend predicted in the Budget.  For instance, we have assumptions around inflation and fuel prices which are often factored in to the amount we pay our contractors.  If we have picked the wrong level (as we may well have done) we are likely to have pay various contractors either more of less than we expected.  That is just one example.  Last year, it looked at one point as if we were going to overspend dramatically because of George Osborne's in year cuts to our budget, taking an unexpectedly high number of children into care and pressures in adult social services.  We therefore cut spending in various areas we didn't expect in order to bring the budget back into line.

If we change the proposed strategy on libraries to spend more in some way, we would need to make compensating savings somewhere else in the Budget.  If, for instance, we were to opt to keep a library open instead of closing it that probably implies making more staff redundant.  Therefore the budget decision does not automatically determine the decision on libraries.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Sarah Teather: A Rare Appearence

Sarah Teather has put in one of her increasingly rare appearences to launch a campaign around the Jubilee line closure.  This is in fact a relaunch of an old campaign that I commented on here.  Still no answers to any of the questions of course.  Sarah Teather's "campaigning" seems to consist of little more than telling people she is in favour and against the unpopular.  When her constituents need her to speak out against things like savage cuts to public services, she is strangely absent.

Fairtrade This Evening

There is a Fairtrade event this evening from 5pm at Brent Town Hall including food from social enterprise Spice Caravan.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

NLGN on Shared Services

The New Local Government Network (NGLN) has rightly suggested that Eric Pickles' proposal of greater shared services as a means to avoid cuts is over optimistic.  It is also worth observing that the frontloading of the cuts means that designing shared services and implementing them is incredibly difficult if the savings are to be realised this year.

Spotted Dog

I recall giving the Spotted Dog permission for redevelopment ages ago, so it is good to see it finally in train.  Part of the conditions for its development (as a block of flats) was to demand the retention of this facade.  I am not sure how sensible it is to insist on this.  It makes it into a rather peculiar building (at least according to the designs that went in front ofg the Planning Committee.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Liberal Democrats and Reserves

One of the principal flaws in the Liberal Democrats Budget proposals last night was their use of reserves, which betrays a fundamentally mistaken attitude to the use of balances.

The Lib Dems seem to see Council reserves as a pot of money to be squirrelled away for "a rainy day" in the words of Cllr Jack Beck.  In fact reserves should be used to cover likely risks.  Our risks are huge and growing, and the Finance Director has advised that we need to put more aside to deal with them.  They include possible overspends in social services, in building projects, political inteference by the government like George Osborne's in year cuts of 2010 and so on.

We need to keep a reserve so that we can manage these risks without a panic response.  For example at one point this year we had a forecast overspend of £7.1 million, compared to reserves of only £7.5 million.  If we hadn't tackled this overspend, we would have had to cut the budget by a further £7 million on top of the central government cuts of more than £40 million.

The Liberal Democrat proposals last night were to ignore the Finance Director's advice, and use the money to avoid making difficult decisions over, for instance, Charteris Sports Centre to keep it open a bit longer.  The trouble with this approach is that at the end of using up your reserves, and possibly exposing yourself if things go wrong, you still have to close the service because the reserves eventually run out.  Proposals to continue funding services, like libraries for instance, should not be made without any analysis of the quality or sustainability of the services, and they should not be made using one off reserves that cannot support ongoing revenue committments.

Brent Council Budget

The Lib Dem and Tory attempts to derail our budget setting meeting last night failed fairly absymally, with Paul Lorber proving to be as inept in opposition as he was incompetent in office.  It is the first time for many years that Paul Lorber has failed even to pretend to present a budget.  Instead producing a series of amendments intended to be eye catching.

Of course, the Lib Dems were hampered by the obvious fact that it is their government that has imposed such a savage cut in central government grant as part of the price of jumping into bed with the Tories.  They also had some problems adjusting to some of the last minute changes to the Budget.  Evidently, they were not expecting Brent Private Tenant Rights Group, the Brent Law Centre or the Welsh Harp Educational Centre to continue to recieve funding, and lacked the debating skills to turn around their speeches once they found out that they would.