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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Odd Language

I was struck by a word used in the second paragraph of this piece in The Economist. Ron Paul is said to hew to his principles.  Has the writer just misused hew for cleave, or is this a common usage? If so, hew must join cleave as one of the few English words to have diametrically opposite meanings: cleave as in cut, or cleave as in "cleave to the roof of my mouth".

Harlesden Gallery at the Tricycle

As we prepare for the New Year, you may want to look forward to the Harlesden Gallery's show at the Tricycle Theatre this coming January.  More details are to be found here.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Brent Council Implements its Decisions Shock

There is local paper coverage of the clearing of Preston Library yesterday here.  It is puzzling that the campaigners are acting all surprised.  It was obvious that the Council would seek to implement its policy once the legal obstructions had been removed.  I understand that the Borough Solicitor told them what we planned to do before Christmas, so the attempt to pretend that they did not expect this is disingenuous.

It is also ironic that people who claim to be in favour of libraries are devoting all their energies to preventing the Council from making its book stock available to Brent residents for lending.  After all, that is why the Council bought the books in the first place.


I have tried to deal with some of the issues raised by comments here.

Tell Brent Once

The Tell Us Once service has recently been launched by Brent Council to reduce the bureaucratic demands put upon the bereaved.  I am surprised that this sort of innovation, which seems so obvious, is not more common.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

VAT on EBooks

The UK continues to refuse to reduce VAT on ebooks, allegedly because of an EU Directive, when France and Luxembourg apparently can. Does the answer from David Gauke (who, incidentally once stood for the Conservatives in Brent East) simply provide an example of the UK government seeking to blame the EU for a position that it wants to hold anyway?

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cameron's Cuts to Education

The Guardian has a gloomy piece on the effect of education cuts by the present government.  Much of what they say applies to Brent, although there is a significant difference to the national picture in that we have a pressing need for secondary places as well as primary.

Eric Pickles Awards

When I first saw that Eric Pickles was presenting the LGiU awards for Councillor achievements, I thought it was an Onion style parody.  Eric Pickles has usedhis office to systematically denigrate local government in the hope that Councils will take the blam for his government's assault on public services.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Air Pollution

The American Right is turning its back on environmental regulation.  Much the same is happening here, with Cameron and Osbornee both retreating from their pre-election pledges to be the "greenest government ever".  Boris Johnson's hostility to cleaner air has ben well known for a long time, but his opposition to pollution controls appears to have spread across the Anglophone right.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Wembley Central Win

Krupa Sheth won the Wembley Central by election last Thursday.  Turnout was surprisingly good at just short of 28 pc, given how close it was to Christmas.

Obviously, the Labour Party has the best reason to be pleased given that we won with an enhanced share of the vote and a bigger percentage majority than either in 2010 or in the 2009 by election.  I imagine the Liberal Democrats will be relieved not have seen their vote fall further, given their national unpopularity, and the Tories disappointed that their vote is sliding yet again.

I don't see any pattern in the Green vote, although the sheer grumpiness of their candidates election report suggests that they were not pleased.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

More Legal Wrangling

Following the Council's victory in the Appeal Court over the Libraries Transformation Project, the litigants are now trying to take the case to the Supreme Court.  As in the original hearing, and the subsequent appeal, their lawyer is predicting inevitable victory with all the sunny optimism of Mr Micawber waiting for something to turn up.

I am surprised that it never seems to occur to them that the four judges who have ruled against them have done so because their case is very weak.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Big Society Report

The Public Accounts Committee has published a report on the ongoing mystery of what the "Big Society" may be   Some might argue that the whole concept has been destroyed by the funding cutsa that the Con Dem government has determined, but I think that the problem goes much deeper than that.  David Cameron essentially issued a press release, and assumed it would happen.  If he is serious about making the "Big Society" work as a concept he would need major changes to European and UK law, as well as solutions to problems of moral hazard and backdoor privatisation that he has not even begun to address.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Wembley Central Polling Day

Today is polling day in Wembley Central.  I hope as many voters as possible will turn out for Labour's Krupa Sheth.  However, the low turnout in the parliamentary by election in FEltham suggests that a Council by election even closer to Christmas will attract even fewer voters.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Debts in Perspective

Paul Krugman has a graph on UK debt which helps to put the "necessity" of the Con Dem government's austerity programme in perspective here.

Brent Libraries Appeal Judgement in Full

There are some not entirely accurate accounts of the Appeal Court judgement circulating in various places.  An accurate account, including a link to the full text of the judgement can be found here.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

From Winning Here to Saving Your Deposit

After Thursday's election in Feltham, I came across this posting on a Lib Dem blog.  It claims victory since the Liberal Democrats saved their depositOn polling day and in the campaign, the Liberal Democrats were claiming to be the main challengers to Labour.  After the event, they seek to spin that even saving their deposit was a mioral victory.  Shameless.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Brent Council Wins Libraries Appeal

Brent Council has won the Court case in the verdict handed down at the Court of Appeal this afternoon.  As with the original judgement, the terms of this one are emphatic.

Health and Waste Collection

WRAP has published a study on health and waste collection.  It argues that, contrary to what Eric Pickles thinks, alternate weekly collections have no recognisable effect on householder health.  However, there may be some issues that the contractors may need to address for their staff.

Another Libraries Judgement

The Court of Appeal will hand down its judgement in the Brent libraries case at 2pm today.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Harlesden Town Centre Plans

The plans to transform Harlesden Town Centre are well advanced, and likely to go out to consultation in January.  Brent officers deserve enormous credit for getting investment of about £5 million to improve the Town Centre at a time of enormous cuts.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Evictions in Brent

Shelter has published figures on evictions, which are likely to become far more common as a result of the Con Dem government's changes to housing Benefit.  They reveal that Brent is likely to be one of the areas worst affected.

Furness Primary School

Alan King, the former headtecher at Furness Primary School, has now been officially dismissed.  Hopefully this will help the school to move forward.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Seema Malhotra Wins in Feltham

Seema Malhotra has won the Feltham and Heston by election.  The seat is essentially a Labour vs Tory fight, and the 8% plus swing looks good from the Labour point of view.  Given that this would be the kind of seat that the Tories would need to win to get a parliamentary majority of their own, I imagine that they will be gravely disappointed.  It also confirms that the Liberal Democrats are fast falling in London as in the rest of the country.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Budget Discussions

Today, I am going to be in discussions about the Brent Council budget all day, meaning that I will not be able to attend polling day in the Feltham and Heston By Election, much to my regret.  After £42 million in cuts last year, Brent is facing even more this year, and more than £100 million over a four year period.  At the same time, the cuts have choked off recovery and we are likely to see increasing demand for Council services as a result of recession.  Worse still, there will be not always predictable effects from the government's other changes.  For instance, changes to housing benefit are likely to force vast numbers of people out of London creating oversupply of school places in some parts and chronic undersupply in others.  Currently, the Con Dem government is refusing to supply sufficent funding for the school pupils Brent is preducted to have.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Volunteer Libraries in Lewisham

The London Borough of Lewisham was somewhat ahead of Brent in its changes to its library service.  Unlike us, they decided to create a number of community run libraries.  They have recently published usage figures.

Libraries Judgement

There is still no word on when the Appeal Court judgement will be handed down in the Brent Libraries case.  If word does not come soon, it is likely to drag out over Christmas.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Feltham and Heston By election

Once again I was out and about in the Feltham By election today, which seems to be going very well for Labour.  I was in Heston where I saw nothing but Labour posters.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Street Cleaning

Out in Hounslow on Thursday, I noticed that there was a major problem with street cleaning caused by their collection system.  In Hounslow they have open green boxes like our old ones, and the rest of the waste is put out in bags.  It was a very blustery morning, and the lighter waste was being blown out on to the streets of Feltham.  Our new wheelie bin system avoids this.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Transformation Through Cuts

Patrick Butler gives an overview of the scale of the public sector cuts here.  I still don't think this has really got across to people.  The Con Dem government is using these cuts to fundamentally change the role of government and shrink the state more dramtically that Thatcher ever attempted.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Brent Council Pay

The BBC reports on the brutal approach of Shropshire Council to its own employees.  Occasionally, I get asked why Brent Council doesn't do something similar to its workforce.  Surprisingly, this suggestion doesn't always come from rightwingers.  In fact most of the people suggesting pay cuts for Council employees to me would probably consider themselves to be on the left.

It is worth enumerating the reasons why Brent has not gone down this route.

Firstly, staff are already suffering from a pay freeze and an increased workload.  Like everyone else they face a rising cost of living, so the idea that Council staff are getting off lightly is wrong. 

Secondly, the kind of confrontational approach you see in Shropshire risks both industrial action and serious demoralisation.  The demoralisation of Council staff would probably be more damaging in the long term.  Councils are primarily service deliverers, and they are dependent on motivated staff to deliver those services.  Staff who are bullied and told that that they are not valued are unlikely to feel motivated.

I have even been told that specific individuals should have their pay cut.  Aside from the legal obstacles to that kind of victimisation, I am aghast at its sheer nastiness.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Cameron Losing in Europe

It is depressing to hear that David Cameron has failed to get a seat at the table in trying to resolve the Eurozone crisis.  Getting the Eurozone economy growing again is central to getting Britain's own economy going since they are our main export market.  It demonstrates how the whole Euro skeptic approach damages the British interests it is supposed to protect.

Engels and the Brent Archive

Brent Council is full of surprises.  The Brent Archive has recently discovered that Frederic Engels bought property on Willesden Lane in the 1880s _ hitherto unknown information

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Reading the Riots

Analysis of the reasons for the riots in the Summer appears to have largely disappeared.  This is surely regrettable as we need to find out what caused them to prevent future events.  Hence research like Reading the Riots should get wider publicity.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Update on the Localism Bill

The LGiU has a useful summary on the most recent changes to the Localism Bill.  To my mind, the number of changes to this Bill, suggest that it was not well drafted in the first place.  One of the most significant statements is: "The Act also repeals the duty to promote democracy" which pretty much summarises Tory policy. 

The key mechanism by which the Tories do this is by using referendums to make it effectively impossible for Councils to vary the Council Tax above a centrally set limit.  The result strips Councils of almost all their financial autonomy, and thereby actually increases central government control.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Community First?

The Con Dem government has come up with a "Big Society" idea called Community First.  Apparently, money is available for pet schemes of David Cameron.

The idea is to give a small grant to a "community panel" who then divy out small grants to local groups for local projects.  All this is overseen by a local institution like a charity.  The great disadvantage of this scheme, which I understand has a very low take up rate, is that the charity is given no remuneration for overseeing the community panel.  Why should the charity or whatever spend a lot of time and effort administering such panels for nothing? Why should they expose themselves to the reputational risk if there is corruption or incompetence? 

It is curious that a party that believes so strongly in the profit motive should come up with a scheme that entirely ignores it.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Seema Malhotra Web Site

I am pleased to see that Seema Malhotra now has a web site up and running.  No doubt it will develop during her time in office.

Environmental Protection UK to Close

Environmental Protection UK has announced that it will fold next year.  This may not strike many people as high profile, but it does important work around air pollution and contaminated land.  Its demise marks a serious denuding of local government's ability to deal with such issues at a time when problems around pollution are acute.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Icelandic Bank Cash

I posted that Brent Council is likely to recover most of the money that the previous Tory and Liberal Democrat administration lost in Icelandic bank investments.  Unfortunately this cannot be used for ongoing revenue spending as the commenter suggests, and indeed as the Tories and Liberal Democrats also more cynically suggest.  Such lump sums after run out, so you cannot use them for an ongoing expense.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Wembley Campaigning

As well as supporting Seema Malhotra in her Feltham and Heston campaign (polling day 15 December), I am also doorknocking for Krupa Sheth in Wembley Central.  Krupa's polling day is even closer to Christmas, 22 December.  Both seem to be getting a good response.

Challenge Close in Harlesden

Yesterday, I went down to Challenge Close in Harlesden to talk about possible improvements.  Many Harlesdenites don't even know where it is (behind the RBS building).  It is basically a fairly run down little park.  My Harlesden councillor colleagues have been trying to get some momentum going on it for ages, and it looks like they might finally be succeeding.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Economics and Sarah Teather

My colleague Cllr Krupesh Hirani has a lengthy post about the Tories, Liberal Democrats and their economic policy.  However, I suspect his feelings are really summed up by the picture at the bottom of the post.

UKIP in Feltham

I see that the Standard has picked up on the UKIP campaign in Feltham.  However, as far as I can tell their plan is really to attack the Tory vote rather than Labour's.  I would think this is more likely to be fruitful for them.  Yesterday, I was canvassing in Feltham North including Mark Bowen's own street.  We were told that UKIP had been canvassing there previously.  It is unusual for UKIP to canvass at all.  They have few activists, and lots of money so they generally buy their publicity.  I would assume that the decision to canvass in the Tory candidate's home seat indicates that they are hoping to erode the Tory vote.

Campaigning with Seema Malhotra

Had a very good time for the past two days campaigning with Seema Malhotra, Labour's candidate for Feltham and Heston.  Unfortunately, my photography skills proved too limited to get anything useable, but the reaction to Seema is very heartening.  She was really good both on the doorstep and at the streetstall in Feltham High Street I went to.  This was fuilmed by the Politics Show, so people may be able to judge for themselves.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Less Food Waste

WRAP has come up with an update on the amount of food that the UK throws away.  The answer is about 7.2 million tons, or roughly 20% of the food we buy.  Remarkably that is progress, as it represents a 13% fall since 2006/7.  Much of the food that is thrown away is edible, and it is a major source of wasted money for consumers, greenhouse gas emissions and water waste.

You can learn more about reducing food waste on the West London Waste Authority web site. 

Taking Shelter

The decontamination of land in Stonebridge is proceeding on schedule and under budget.  Apparently, they have discovered the remains of Anderson shelters in many of the back gardens.