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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.