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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Tory Revolt over Council Tax

I was struck that Tory Surrey Council is revolting over the Council Tax freeze.  Eric Pickles is offering a one off grant if Councils decide not to raise Council Tax.  That may seem a good idea, but the problem is that the grant is time limited.  Down the line it disappears, and any Council that accepts it is left with a black hole in its finances.  The policy is in fact a cunning tactic to further shrink local government.

I sometimes wonder what could have been so awful about Eric Pickles time as leader of Bradford Council that he seems to hate local government so much.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Local Authorities and Education

The LGiU points the necessity of local authorities role in managing educaqtion.  This is true, but apparently ignored by the government.  By the time the government realises that local authorities are necessary, the damage will have been done.  I expect that we will then start a long slow process of rebuilding what the government is currently destroying.

Sick Days

The Evening Standard has a Taxpayer Alliance inspired story about sick days in local government. The trouble with these kind of stories is that they are so skewed that you can't tell whether the information is correct.

If the figures can be taken at face value, there does seem to be a genuine problem.  I can't think of any reason why Hillingdon should have sickness rates at double the level of Brent.  It is also worth noting the detail at the very end of the article, that Brent Council has dramatically improved in the past year.  This has been part of a deliberate focus on greater efficiency. 

However, the main thing that strikes me is how negative the journalist makes the article.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Brent Snubbed by Boris

My colleague Lesley Jones comments that Boris Johnson has snubbed Brent in refusing us Outer London funding.  Brent put forward two schemes, one in Willesden and one in Ealing Road.  The ealing Road snub is particularly regrettable, as that area has real potential to become a destination shopping centre based on the sheer variety and scale of its South Asian services.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Reducing Waste in West London

On Friday, I attended the most recent meeting of the west London Waste Authority (WLWA), which handles waste across the six London Boroughs.  WLWA is probably the leader among local authorities in trying to reduce and re use waste, rather than just recycle it.  Last year's plan is here.  Yesterday, we passed a new one (not online yet)  The main problem with all the initiatives is measuring their effectiveness.

Boris Getting Desperate

Boris Johnson's attempt to claim Labour Assembly members want to raise Council Tax strikes me as fairly desperate.  He has recently lost his poll lead over Ken Livingstone, but he will need something a lot more substantive to get it back.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Six Book Challenge at Harlesden Library

On 1 February, Adele Parks will be launch a national literacy campaign in Harlesden Library.  The Six Book Challenge is aimed at encouraging adults with reading difficulties to read more.  Brent has been asked to host the launch as it had the highest number of participants in last year's programme.

The Six Book Challenge is run by independent charity The Reading Agency to help tackle the UK's continuing skills deficit. New Government figures show that 15% (5.1 million) of the working age population in England are still at or below the literacy level expected of an 11 year old.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Standards Mess

One of the many ways in which the current government is messing up local democracy is its changes to the standards system, covered here.  I think the system as reformed in 2008 was broadly correct, although there were still problems with it.  Many of the complaints in the system were undoubtedly vexatious and often simply an expression of partisan or personal spite.  In the Bertha Joseph case, the investigation took far too long.  However, I think the main problem in her case was that the Mayor of London undermined the judgement by handing out a post on LFEPA to suit his own political convenience.  He didn't seem to suffer much political damage as a result.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Contaminated Land in Stonebridge Ward

On Friday, I went to see the works around contaminated land in Stonebridge ward.  Brent Council was awarded about 40% of the available national funding for cleaning up contaminated land last year, and works have been proceeding apace.  Contaminated soil is removed from gardens, a protective membrane installed, and the garden topped up with clean soil and (where appropriate) new turf.  The whole programme has to be completed by 31 March.

For our environmental health team to be given such a large share of the national pot, and push through such a complex project is a tribute to their professionalism.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Sorry for Brent Liberal Democrats

I felt quite sorry for the Liberal Democrats at last night's Council meeting.  Many of them simply failed to turn up.  At one point only five remained in the Council chamber.  Saddest of all was Cllr Ann Hunter, who found herself repeatedly voting against the Liberal Democrat party whip in order to support the rebuild of Willesden Library Centre, Fairtrade status and various other things.  It must be difficult to remain in a group where you fundamentally disagree with the entire approach of your colleagues.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Willesden Bookshop

Martin Francis of Brent Green Party has started a petition about the Willesden Bookshop.  Brent Council has given the bookshop notice to quit so that it can redevelop the Willesden Library Centre.  The petition appears to be arguing that the bookshop should be included as part of the new Willesden Library centre.  Presumably, Martin wants the Council to help the bookshop to temporary premises, and then to move back 18 months later.  Would any retailer really find it attractive to have two disruptive and expensive moves in a period of less than two years? Given that any retail space in the new library centre will be much higher quality than the current provision, the rent is likely to be much higher.  Would it not be more sensible to move to premises somewhere in the immediate area?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Cllr David Clues

David Clues faces criticism for remaining as a councillor after moving to Brighton.  The Brent and Kilburn Times story appears to be inspired by Cllr Reg Colwill, who is calling on Revd Clues to stand down.  I find this somewhat inconsistent as Cllr Colwill's own Conservative Group has a councillor who does not live in the Borough.  Cllr H M Patel, representing Northwick Park, was perfectly entitled to stand in legal terms, but he actually lives in Harrow, so he will help set the Brent Council Tax, without paying it himself.  In the Labour Party, people who do not live in a local authority area are not allowed to put themselves forward as Labour candidates.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

What Happened to the Liberal Democrat Complaint?

Yesterday's post on recycling reminds me that nothing further was heard about the Liberal Democrats' complaint to the Advertising Authority.  I am not sure that the Advertising Standards Authority even bothered to contact Brent Council, presumably because the complaint was so obviously spurious as not to be worth the bother.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Brent Council Recycling More

Brent Council is recycling more with its new system.  The overall rate for the October/December quarter was 42%, compared to 30% for the same quarter last year.  Total waste is also down slightly.

This confirmation that the Labour administration were right to override opposition from the Tories and Liberals in adopting the new system.  Notably Sarah Teather chose to come out against the new arrangements (rather late in the day).  In doing so, she has established herself as an anti-environmentalist and spendthrift.  The 12% increase in the quarter compares to an increase of 6% in recycling rates over the four years of Brent's previous Liberal Democrat / Tory administration.

As the arrangements become more refined, I expect recycling levels to go up even more.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Michael Crick on Police Commissioners

Michael Crick has an interesting post on the Police Commissioner posts, which seem to attract little enthusiasm even in the Tory Party that has created them.  I do wonder how creating lots of electoral positions for specific purposes chimes with David Cameron's supposed desire to "cut the cost of politics".

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Failing Economic Policy

Unemployment figures today confirm that the government's economic policy is failing.  No surprise there.  What does surprise me is that government ministers seem to have no sense of urgency about trying to turn this around.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Iron Lady Revisited

Following my post of Sunday, it occurs to me that the apparently non-political nature of the film actually needs a better description. 

In avoiding any description of the issues behind the Howe resignation (essentially the nature of the UK's relationship with Europe), the film effectively implies it was no more than a personal disagreement _ that Lady Thatcher became arrogant with power and alienated people through personal behaviour.  I think that does a disservice to Howe, Heseltine and Thatcher herself.  All of them had a fundamental disagreement over a major political issue affecting the future of the country, not just a personal spat.

Secondly, the portrayal of Thatcher as overcoming male chauvinism and snobbery begs the question: aside from her personal case, how did she fight these issues politically?  She would no doubt make a case for overcoming snobbery, but I can think of no way in which she advanced womens rights at all.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Michael Gove and the Royal Yacht

Michael Gove has suggested we should pay for the Royal Family to have a new yacht.  This man has cancelled Britain's school building programme, cut funding for school places, limited public pay, is watering down public pensions and cut the Educational Maintenance Allowance, but he knows what the priorities for spending should be!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Iron Lady

I went to see The Iron Lady at the Lexi last week.  The title is ironic, as it is mostly about Lady Thatcher growing old and frail.  Indeed, anyone wanting insight into the politics of the eighties or before would be disappointed, as it takes Mrs Thatcher at her own valuation _ a lifelong doughty champion of "household economy" and personal responsibility whose decisions in the eighties rebuilt the economy.  Not much on how divisive her style was, or awareness that many of the weaknesses we now suffer from (too narrow a manufacturing base, an overmighty financial sector, an ideology rigidly opposed to proper regulation, the overweening power of the Murdoch Empire and so on) might date from her era.

Still, the whole film is well done if you want to focus on her personal story, and Meryl Streep's performance is exemplary.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Poor Reporting in the Willesden Times

Welovelocalgogernment has a largely justified rant about unreasonable reporting on local government, and its corrosive effects on local democracy.  The Brent and Kilburn Times has a striking example of something similar this week (No link; it appears not to be on their web site.

The story is that a private land owner illegally converted his house into 12 bedsits, and the story starts "Brent Council has come under fire..."  Why should Brent Council come under fire for what a private householder has done?  In fact, Brent Council, as the planning authority, is the body sorting the problem out through enforcement action.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Need for Growth

The Con Dem government has seen its enire economic strategy fail, with the public sector cuts widening the deficit rather than reducing it, as was predicted.

I suspect that Labour has failed to capitalise this Cameron's political failure, because we don't yet have a convincing economic alternative.  Thinking about this, which is the main theme of the Fabian Society's New Year Conference this year, I thought the following areas might give scope for broad themes:

  • The "Green" economy theme: This has been touted widely, but without many specifics.  However, locally we have examples of (for instance) retraining people to install the kind of green technologies that will help to adapt or reduce climate change.
  • Using welfare as a means of supporting people in their wider social committments, and keeping them in work.  For instance, supporting working parents.
  • In some cases, changes to regulations could stimulate growth.  For instance better air quality regulation can encourage investment in technology, at the same time as improving health outcomes.
  • Pretty much anything to help the housing market.
  • In the shorter term, there is plenty of infrastructure einvestment _ in roads, schools and so on _ that would stimulate the economy at the same time as improving long term economic growth.
All of these could contribute to a broader economic narrative for Labour.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Failure of the Big Society

The Guardian covers some of the problems of charities here.  I don't think the article fully gets across that the government's policies are contradictory.  There is all the rhetoric about the "Big Society", but changes to procurement and the search for economies of scale mean that an increasing share of public funding is likely to go to commercial operations that have the scale and expertise to bid for big contracts.

Olympics Performers

London 2012 is looking for performers for the Olympics ceremonies later this year.  You can find out more here.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Willesden Library Centre Redevelopment

The next Brent Executive will be considering proposals for the redevelopment of Willesden Green Library Centre.  Campaigning against this has started early.  Indeed some of the people campaigning against cannot possibly know what the proposal is that they are opposing.  I thought it might be worth clearing up some myths about the proposals.

No one knew about this.  In fact the in-principle proposals have been in the public domain for some time, as this story shows.  I also recall it being discussed at the Willesden Area Forum, when I was presenting the Libraries Transformation Project there.

There will be no replacement library.  This is a fairly extraordinary suggestion, which is untrue and nonsensical.  The plans, which should be available at the next Executive meeting show a much improved library as well as other facilities.

There will be no interim arrangement during the construction period.  In fact, during the 18 month construction period, there will be interim arrangement to provide library and other services.  To some extent, these will be less convenient, as is the case whenever you rebuild anything.  In other ways, extending the Museum outreach for example, the changes may throw up new opportunities. 

There will be a negative effect on Willesden High Road.  In fact, having a prestigious new development in Willesden should enhance the High Road and build on the work already done through Outer London funding to create jobs in the area.

The loss of open space at the front will make for a worse environment.  The current proposals suggest an improved open space between the new centre and the housing behind it.  The space at the front is poorly used, not flexible and tends to hide the existing Centre.  As I have pointed out before, Willesden Library centre has a very poor relationship with the surrounding streets.

There is nothing wrong with the building.  The existing centre was poorly designed, expensive to heat, fails to draw users in, and difficult to find a way around.  That is one of the main reasons that both the cafe and the cinema failed commercially.

Those are some of the myths.  No doubt more will be produced on the night of the Executive meeting.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Hazel Road Open Space Fencing

Passing through Hazel Road Open Space recently on my way back from Kensal Green Tube, I noticed that part of the fencing is leaning at an angle of almost 45 degrees.  I have asked the parks services to fix this either by replacing the fence, or possibly removing it.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Improving Park Signage

At my surgery a little while ago, someone suggested that Brent Parks service should use more signs like this (in Tubbs Pocket Park).  The idea is that the child designed sign makes the point about looking after the park in a less authoritarian way than the Council's standard "don't let your dog foul because you will be fined" type.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Dollis Hill House Demolition Proceeds

The demolition of Dollis Hill House is underway, as reported in the Brent Times.  Contrary to the story, there have been repeated attempts to find a viable future for Dollis Hill House.  I have detailed them here.  They have foundered on three aspects: lack of capital, planning objections and lack of ongoing funding.

Lack of capital: All projected schemes over the past eighteen years during which the site has been derelict have involved millions.  This was unaffordable even in good times, as repeated refusals by various politicians to fund any restoration have clearly demonstrated.

Planning Objections: The big issue is that all the suggested solutions have needed car parking to make them viable.  The House is to far from Dollis Hill Tube to pick up enough traffic for (say) a restaurant.  Nobody has managed a viable plan.

Ongoing funding: All the suggested schemes have failed to put forward a credible ongoing revenue model.  Not having enough money to keep any solution would simply result in the House becoming derelict again, and the target of arson attacks as in the past.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Harlesden Area Forum

As the Harlesden Town web site points out, the next Harlesden Area Forum is due on 10 January.  Most of the time is allocated to the Council budget, although I suspect that the housing benefit changes will have a much more dramatic effect than most people realise.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Rising Class Sizes

The LGiU has an interesting comment on the effect of government education policy on class sizes.  The example they are using is Liberal Democrat run Sutton.  I wonder whether Michael Gove or his little helper Sarah Teather are looking forward to making decisions on class sizes in the way the LGiU suggest?

Flytipping in England

Thanks to the Guardian for a map of flytipping in England in 2011 here.  One of our most popular policies during the 2010 election campaign was the pledge to collect bulky waste for free.  This amounts to up to three collections per year, each of up to five items, which I should think s enough for any normal household.  However, by itself this is still not enough to stop the dumping, so we are looking at how we can improve enforcement, and also whether we can improve the disposal of waste for businesses.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

London Air Quality

Dave Hill gives a quick summary on Boris Johnson and Air Quality here.  Having caused the original delay, Boris has now started to pose as a champion of air quality in the six months prior to the next Mayoral elections.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Libraries Round Up

There are some characteristically intemperate comments on this post.  However, there are a couple of points worth clearing up.

1) The books and equipment removed from the former libraries are all being stored in the Library Services existing buildings, so clearly we do have sufficient room for them.

2) The books and equipment may well need some new shelving and reconfiguration in order to be displayed to best effect.  That is something the library staff are currently working on.

3) To the anonymous comment on 31 December, a number of campaigners have publicly stated that they would seek to prevent the Council from accessing its property in Preston Road and elsewhere, so asking for the Police to be present was entirely reasonable.  The books and equipment concerned were purchased by Brent Council for use by Brent library users; Brent Council has made an entirely lawful decision to follow a particular strategy in managing its library service, and is entitled to implement it.  The legal action of the litigants has simply sought to obstruct this strategy.

4) The library staff, who run Brent's library service, have done an excellent job in maintaining that service despite the constant attempts of a small and unrepresentative group of people to obstruct them.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Furness Pocket Park

Very surprised to see this wooden gate at Furness Road Pocket Park this morning.  It doesn't look like something the Parks Service would install.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Station Approach Progress

I haven't updated on Station Approach near Willesden Junction for a long time.  TfL are now involved, and there is said to be someone at Network Rail identified with a budget to upgrade the road, but this person remains elusive.  So progress, but at a glacial pace.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Keynesian Solutions

Paul Krugman concisely lays out the need for a Keynesian response to the oncoming recession.  What he says about the US seems to me to be just as applicable to the UK.

Recycling in Flats

We are still extending our recycling services to flats.  This should be rolled by the end of this month, and help to increase our recycling rate even more.