Search This Blog

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Foxes and Brent Council

I occasionally get enquiries about foxes, and what Brent Council does about them.  As this falls under either the Environmental Health or Animal Welfare parts of my portfolio, I thought a short posting might be advisable.

Brent Council, like most Councils, encourages prevention of fox problems by such measures as secure housing of livestock and not leaving food waste outside.  Unfortunately, suburban housing gives foxes just the mix of foods and cover that they like best. 

Brent Council does not trap or kill foxes as it tends to be expensive and ineffective.  Foxes are territorial and will make their way back to their original patch if left even many kilometres from it.  Killing foxes even in huge numbers would not prevent them breeding, and simply replenishing their populations.  More can be learnt about urban foxes here and here.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Civic Centre Topping Out

The Civic Centre topping out is now complete, with even the weather being co-operative.  It is remarkable to think that this time next year, the centre itself will be fully occupied.

Draft Cemetaries Strategy at Last

It seems ages ago since we initiated a review of cemetaries, but the draft is now an item for discussion in the various Area Forums.  It will feature at the Harlesden Area Consultative Forum (ACF) on 10 July.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Brent Civic Centre Topping Out

Brent Civic Centre is getting its topping out tomorrow, which is a major milestone on the way to completion.  Council workers will only start moving into it between March and June next year.  The new Wembley Library will open there in June 2013, which should create a major boost in the number of people using Brent libraries.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

More Tory Cuts

The Guardian gives a rather grim prognosis for local government during LGA Conference week.  The idea of a 20% cut in financing on top of the last rounds of cuts strikes me as impossible to sustain.

Martin Francis Insinuates

Martin Francis insinuates that Brent Council is going to build on Fryent Country Park.  In fact, he must be aware that I have stated that that is absurd, as he commented on the post concerned.  Any attempt to build on urban green space would be fraught with difficulty for the following reasons:

  • It would breach the Labour Party's pledge in 2010 to "Continue our long standing policy of protecting public parks and open spaces".  Bizarrely, I think we were the only party to make a pledge like this.  I don't recall the Green Party mentioning the issue.
  • It would obviously arouse widespread political opposition outside the Labour Party.
  • It would run contrary to Brent and London planning guidance, which both seek to protect open space.
  • It would sit uneasily with Brent Council's concerns about promoting public health and physical exercise.

Ironically, the only person I can recall advocating building on green space in Brent is Martin Francis!  I have argued before that this is part of Brent's supposedly environmentalist groupings to oppose environmentalist objectives

Turning back to reality, Brent Council is seriously considering rolling up grounds maintenance in a wider cleaning/waste management contract.  This may well save money.  It would also do away with our existing usage of having one set of people to clean parks and a second set to clean grass verges (sometimes even those verges right by parks!).  If that is the way Brent Council decides to go, it would be a very large contract subject to all the usual EU procurement rules.  The staff would also be protected by the standard TUPE laws.

Such arrangements are already in place among a number of London Councils.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Use of Olympic Logos

I have commented before about the strange restrictions that surround use of the Olympics logos. I know that many schools are planning sports events that tie in with the Olympics, so I hope they are careful not to infringe what LOCOG regard as their commercial prerogatives.  This is particularly difficult if there are commercial sponsors of the school event who might be seen as benefiting from the Olympic theme.  Advice can be obtained from LOCOG

The picture above should be okay as it was taken before 2012 and therefore relates to a previous games.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

More Kensal Green Issues

I should update on a few more ward issues.  Residents at the junction of Rucklidge Avenue and Park Parade may be pleased to learn that a year long dispersal zone is being introduced to try to deal with the anti-social behaviour issues down there. 

The Willesden Social Club development was approved, which should mean that the area attracts fewer undesirables.  In conjunction with the redevelopment of the Green Man, I think this will effectively design out a lot of the problems.

The resurfacing of Wrottesley Road is also now complete, with just some line marking left to do.

Poster at Kensal Green?

I seem to be getting a lot of planning casework recently.  I was tackled in the street about a possible commercial poster near Kensal Green Tube.  The suggested site is on the Network Rail owned land by the Tube Station; the same land that was used by the engineers when they were strengthening the bridge.  It does noes strike me as a good site for a poster either aesthetically or in road safety terms.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

New Homes Bonus?

A tale of perverse incentives and playing the system in housing has been uncovered by former minister Nick Raynsford.  Given the scale of this country's housing crisis, it really does feel as if national policy is simply about rearranging the furniture rather than solving the problem.

Keeping Going During the Olympics

Despite a great deal of publicity, I still hear worrying anecdotes that some firms are not prepared for the traffic problems surrounding the Olympics.  There is likely to be disruptio, especially in the area around Wembley Stadium. TfL have been trying to make people aware of this for months, with some help from Brent Council in terms of leafleting and door knocking.  There will be two more roadshows for people in July.

The basic advice is:

  • Try to get non-perishable items (e.g. paper) delivered in advance of the games period.
  • Where there are perishable items (eg food) try to get deliveries arranged outside peak traffic times
  • Understand where the Olympic Road Network (ORN) is, so that it does not disrupt your business
  • Encourage staff to work at home during busy times if possible.
More detailed advice can be accessed here.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Electrical Waste

It is reported that there has not been a significant rise in discarded televisions despite the digital switchover in London.  This surprises me.  The figures also show two trends that have become increasingly evident over time.  The first is that the recession is leading to a fall in waste arisings, and the second is that product design is reducing the weight of waste when products are discarded.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Olympic Torch Relay in Brent

I attended a briefing on the Olympic Torch's route through Brent on Monday (I am Lead member for the Olympics).  The route is finalised and there will be a major celebration event in King Edward VII park (the Wembley one).  Some of the street dressing has already gone up, and the rest should be in place by the beginning of July.

A curious sidelight of the Torch's progress I thought was its detour to Dublin.  Under UK law citizens of the Irish Republic are "non foreign" _ the only people to come into that category.  I wonder whether there is any other country where the Torch has done a preliminary visit to an independent country?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Free Legal Advice at Brent Town Hall

Brent's library service is trying out a new online legal advice service.  This will be free to Brent library users in Brent Town Hall library.  Brent Council is working in partnership with Instant Law UK to deliver the service from 10am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday.  It is another of the service enhancements that we are pushing forward as a result of the Libraries Transformation Project.


I should have explained that part of the offer is for secure video conferencing.

Wrottesley Road Resurfacing Underway

I am glad to see that the resurfacing of Wrottesley Road is finally underway.  It should be completed in a couple of days.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

More Pictures of Dollis Hill House

I just thought I would add a couple more pictures of Dollis Hill House to yesterday's post.  These show the special kind of paving that English Heritage apparently insisted on.

Monday, 18 June 2012

George Osborne Admits He is Wrong

George Osborne Admits He is Wrong.  No really.  At least that is the logic of his stimulus package as explained by Jonathan Portas.  I think Osborne has actually been moving this way for a while, but I guess you can't admit that your entire economic policy has been totally counter productive.

Energy from Waste Plant

There have been some rumours of a planning application in Ealing not far from the borders of Kensal Green.  There is indeed such an application, for a energy from waste plant.  This obviously raises a number of potential issues around increased traffic and diminished air quality.  Brent Council has already objected.

The actual application details are here.

Dollis Hill House Replacement nears Completion

The replacement structure for Dollis Hill House is nearing completion having been delayed by various gremlines, most recently the wet weather.  The walls are now complete.  Most of the paving is now done.  Access to the cafe area is improved.  There is still some technical issue about which tree species to plant. 

The Stables buil;ding has also had a refurbishment.  Although it is envisaged that it will be a cafe, there will be some requirement for community events to have access there.

Altogether, it strikes me as much better than maintaining a derelict building. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Police Numbers

The perverse effects of concnetrating on "police numbers" rather than actual outcomes are analysised by Dave Hill here.  He argues that getting rid of support staff has merely caused trained officers to do the jobs that could have been done by cheaper civilans.

Library Statistics

The library statistics for Brent in April and May are now available.  I don't think that they portray quite the disaster that the (anti?) library campaigners try to depict.  Instead, I think we are steadily building the service now that we have finally completed all the legacy issues from the legal actions and re-organisation.  However, the most striking figure is the enormous jump in ebook lending.  The overall number remains small, but at that rate of growth it is likely to become a significant part of the service within a couple of years.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Willesden Social Club Site Visit

The Planning Committee should be turning up to view the site of the former Willesden Social Club this morning at about 11.15am.  Whilst I know some people remain concerned about the size of the building, I think it important that the site finally get developed.  I first started a petition for its development in 2005, and it had been derelict for a long time even then.

Brent Council Tax Support

Brent Council's proposed changes to Council Tax support are now available online.  These sort of changes are being forced on all local authorities by central government, which is cutting the available funding by about 10%.

Friday, 15 June 2012

How do you measure the success of a library?

How do you measure the success of a library?  I have been pondering this issue as we start moving ahead with Brent's Libraries service.  During the Project itself, we concentrated on two measures which are of standard use around the country _ visitor numbers and book loans.

However, I think that changes in usage are likely to affect the interpretation of these numbers.  The growing use of the Internet and ebooks is likely to reduce visitor numbers.  This is because, people will be able to use at home or mobile Internet access to search an online catalogue rather than having to go to a building to look up the books, order them  and then come back later to collect them.  If they are ordering an ebook, they might do so without setting foot in the library at all.  If the general assumption, that ebooks will take up an increasing share of the book market is true, this will tend to create an important category of use which mere visitor numbers ignore altogether.  Again, if we believe that library services include encouraging reading, that might be attained through online discussion groups, which again do not require any physical presence in a library. 

Of course, this doesn't make visitor numbers a useless measure.  Far from it, I can't imagine a high quality library service that did not include homework clubs, bookstart sessions, book readings and so on.  Research that Brent did through Red Quadrant suggests that people are not willing to pay for a book delivery service, so people will still be physically picking books up from the library.  It is also true that a major feature of libraries is browsability which I cannot imagine be accommodated entirely through online methods.

However, over the next few years, I think Brent Library Service will have to start thinking about a broader range of measures in addition to book loans and visitor numbers.  These might include, for instance: computer log ons, page views for online services, and the numbers of people signed up to activities like book clubs.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Planning Application at the old Dust Club

The Willesden Social Club site finally has a proposed development.  The planning application will be decided next week.  Good points about this development include the high environmental standard (Code for Sustainable Homes 4 for the housing and BREEM "Excellent" for the non residential), and the removal of an eyesore and source of anti-social behaviour.  As is usual in this sort of development, it will be subject to "car free" restrictions.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Local Government Association Letter

I notice that the Local Government Association have published my letter to them online on the evergreen topic of libraries.  It was actually written in response to a characteristically acerbic piece from Cllr Paul Lorber.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Library Buildings and Services

The Carnegie Trust has published a discussion paper on the possible future of Library services in the UK.  Lots of points are made in it, but I was struck by the table distinguishing between library services and library buildings.  This is clear in the wording of the 1964 Act, where authorities have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficent library service, but has no duties in relation to the number or quality of buildings.  However, I think it tends to get lost in the general discussion.

My view is that that there are essential features of any good library service, most obviously a good quality online offer, that have no relation to premises.  It seems to me that much of the opposition to Brent Council's Libraries Transformation Project is based around preserving buildings irrespective of the actual services being run from them. 

Monday, 11 June 2012

Air Quality and Neasden Goods Yard

Brent Council's concerns over air quality get some coverage here.  The article concnetrates on Neasden Goods Yard, which is one of the worst pollution hotspots in the South East, and is located in Dudden Hill ward. 

A key part of the problem is that many of the regulations are not really suited to the modern waste industry.  They were drafted when waste was overwhelmingly dominated by landfill.  The issues at Neasden Goods Yard date back at least a decade.  Brent's view is that we need to tackle the pollution at source i.e. enforcement has to be taken against the various businesses involved to contain their "bad neighbour" effects by (for example) enclosing their operations in a properly ventilated shed.  So far the Environment Agency and the London Mayor have shown greater interests in short term palliatives like spraying the area to reduce dust.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Local Government Taxation

Graham Allen MP appears to be the only politician pushing a genuine rebalancing of the roles of central and local government.  His point about statutory basis is interesting, but his proposals for finance are the central difference between his proposals and the rhetoric of the likes of Eric Pickles.  So long as central government provides most of the money, it will be virtually impossible for ministers to avoid meddling _ even if they are much more sincere in their belief in localism than the present government appears to be.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Homework Clubs in Brent Libraries

Another area where Brent Library Services have not had the praise they deserve is in homework clubs.  All six Brent Libraries have homework clubs, and numbers have shot up since they started being run by a qualified teacher.  To me, this is confirmation that library services have a future provided we protect and enhance the quality of provision.  The alternative that others have suggested of preserving a shell of a service as the quality is steadily diluted is in my view a course of decline that will eventually prove fatal.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Big Society and Libraries

An interesting side light on the whole "Big Society" agenda comes from Surrey, where campaigners allege that Surrey volunteer run libraries will not achieve any financial savings.  This may very well be true.  In fact, I suspect that a lot of such library schemes may soak up more resources than a conventional service.

The reasons are:

(a) Volunteers are not free.  They have to be trained and managed, which in itself may require skills that a conventional library service may not have.
(b) Local authorities are likelty to have a number of infrastrucutre costs around building maintenance, integration with the current Council services and so on that are very difficult to get out of.
(c) Each volunteer group is likely to lobby for resources for its own part of the organisation, distorting the distribution of resources.

Why therefore have so many authorities gone down this route?

I think a number probably didn't realise the potential complications.  Those that did, like Liverpool, drew back.  Some Tory authroities may have been blinded by an ideology essentially based on the idea that public service have little value and require little ability to deliver.  Others, I suspect, saw the Big Society as a way of cutting the budget and passing the blame to the volunteer groups.  Whereas this may seem a clever wheeze, I wonder whether it will come back to bite them.  They may find that they have just strtched the political pain over a longer period, and (if they have to add various subsidies to placate the lobbyists) they may even end up making deeper cuts to pay for the various "Big Society" schemes.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Valley Drive Clearence

Environmental Health have been forced to clear out a property in Fryent over run by more than sixty feral cats.  I am sure that the owners of this property don't understand the level of nuisance that they created for their neighbours, but the Council has had to clear up about 30 tonnes of rubbish, and clean the area as well.  The cost is likely to be charged against the property.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Employment Protection

Flipchart Fairy Tales questions the common assumption that poorer countries all have weaker employment protections than we do.  I do wonder whether his suggestions of strict rules in say India apply across the economy or just in the public sector and bigger employers.  Nonetheless, I don't see economic salvation coming from stripping down our employment protections yet further.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Liberal Democrat Membership Collapses

The Independent reports that Liberal Democrat party membership is collapsing.  While general membership is down by about 20%, the worst hit is none other than Brent Central, where Sarah Teather has seen more than 40% of her members leave in just one year.

Localising Council Tax Benefit

Further detail on the effects of the government's localisation of Council Tax benefit can be found from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation here.  Its report points out that the government appears to have two contradictary policies _ one on Council Tax reform and one on Universal Credit.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Improved Library Outreach Service in Brent

Now that we have finally got the various legal and property complications from the Libraries Transformation Project out the way, I am hoping that people will pay more attention to the positive aspects of Brent Library service.  Among these is an enhanced outreach service for very frail or disabled people to bring books to their home.  We have successfully recruited new drivers, and the April deliveries in this service went up by 50%.  In the context of the cuts, I often here people saying that the most vulnerable should be prioritised.  This is an example of such prioritisation in action. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Council Tax Benefit Support

One of the government's least publicised, but worst, changes to local government is the changes in Council Tax Benefit.  These are being rushed through for implementation in April 2013, which effectively means that Councils will have had to respond to the government plans by the end of this year.

Central government is forcing each local authority to come up with its own scheme for Council Tax benefit, and abolishing the national scheme.  At the same time, the money to pay for concessions is being cut by 10%.  The April 2013 deadline means that the necessary scheme design and implementation is kept to an almost unfeasibly short time table.

Brent will be publishing its proposals for consultation in early June.  This is the kind of subject that doesn't get much publicity, and then comes as a tremendous shock to the people affected, so I hope the word gets spread as widely as possible.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Final Shortlist for WLWA

West London Waste, which processes Brent's waste, has been going through a lengthy procurement process to award contracts for the future processing of West London waste.  The final two on the shortlist are a consortium of Eon Energy from Waste and Tata Chemicals, and SITA UK.

The Rise of Ebooks

I was struck that Nottinghamshire Library service think that ebooks are going to dominate the future of publishing and hence of public libraries.  I agree, and I have commented before that charging for ebooks is the most serious current threat to public library services.  As I understand it, that is precisely what Nottinghamshire County Council has decided to do.

Friday, 1 June 2012

School Library Cards in Brent

I commented before that some of the "Library campaigners" appear to be actually campaigning against the improvement of library services.  The example I chose was our pilot for school library cards, which has now made some progress.

We have so far had 13, mostly primary, schools express an interest and several hundred pupils actually signed up.  As far as I know, this is the only pilot of its kind in the country.  Portsmouth has a scheme to get all their pupils to have a library card, but I don't think they follow it up in the way that we plan to.  We think that simply giving people a card doesn't necessarily mean that they will use it, so we are following up with the schools either to get them to arrange class visits, or to take part in an outreach service which brings books to the school, with some story telling element.  Hopefully this will get the pupils to be embued with a library culture, and a love of reading.  Of course, reading for pleasure is highly correlated with educational attainment.

Had we gone down the route of simply cutting opening hours and book stock, I don't believe a pilot like this would have even been on the cards.

Terrifying Statistic

I came across a terrifying statistic from the Arts Council recently.  39% of 9-17 year olds agree with the statement: "the information I find online is always correct."