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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