Search This Blog

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Public Lending Right

I note that the government's confusion over whether volunteer libraries are subject to Public Lending Right continues. The minister appears to be trying to evade responsibility. It is of piece with the complete failure to work out any kind of legal or regulatory regime for the Big Society in general.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Recycling Point on Park Parade

As a result of resident concerns, the Council have installed a recycling point on Park Parade.  It will be interesting to see whether this succeeds in improving the look of the street.

Torch Relay in Brent

A video of the Torch Relay through Brent is now available here.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Beds in Sheds

Brent Council is undertaking a major effort to tackle "beds in sheds".  This is likely to become an evermore serious problem as the cost of housing remains unaffordable and the growing population leads to more overcrowding.  It is also the kind of thing that Councils will be able to if they have sufficent money to go beyond the bare legal minimum of services.  In other words, unless local government funding is changed to avoid the "graph of doom" scenerio, such efforts will cease to be made.

Saturday, 28 July 2012


Cllr Lesley Jones mentions the recent conviction of a graffiti vandal from Liddell Gardens.  One sometimes hears the term victimless crime, but graffiti seems to me to be a profitless one.  I wonder how he feels at being given a one year sentence for doing something that didn't even benefit himself.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Reading Agency Challenge

Publicity is well under way for the Reading Agency's Summer Reading Challenge for children, including in Brent.  However, Brent also featured in the launch of a smaller scheme aimed at adults.  In fact we hosted the national launch this year.  Brent was picked because we had more particpants than any other authority in the previous year.  This year, we had 581 residents enroll _ more than we have ever had before.  This makes us the second most successful recruiter in the UK, and the most successful library service.  A key part of this success comes from the links that the Library service has built up with BACES as a result of co-location in Harlesden Library.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Osborne Disaster

George Osborne is getting a well deserved hammering for his disastrous economic policies.  Many of the commentators are demanding that he adopt a Plan B, but I think in fact he has started to.  The trouble is he can't admit it, because that would be an admission that his entire economic policy has been completely wrong.  Nonetheless, quantative easing, releasing lending by banks and most recently talk of capital investment for housing and other infrastructure are all ways of admitting the economy needs a stimulus and therefore the overzealous tightening of public spending is self defeating.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Olympics today

Unfortunately I got only a brief look at the Torch bearer on OLympic Way this morning. The crowds were so great you couldn't see much. However, I spent much longer in the Olympic celebration event at King Edward VII park in Wembley. The other great benefit of today was the glorious sunshine.

Torch Relay Today

The Olympic Torch is coming through Brent this morning.  It travels from Sudbury, around the Stadium and over to Fryent. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Brent Libraries Online Offer

Part of the point of Brent Council's Libraries Transformation Project was to adapt to new technology.  We are still very early in this process, but it is likely to involve a better online service and more use of ebooks.  Indeed, it may become increasingly common for Brent Library users to search the library catalogue online, and download books over the Internet _ meaning that some people may not make a physical visit to a library at all.

The June figures for the Brent Libraries web site show an increase of 36% in views compared to the same period last year.  They also show a 65% increase in ebook downloads.  Both of those sound like big numbers, but I suspect we will shortly see a much bigger jump as ebooks become more established.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Technology and Car Clubs

The Economist has an interesting piece on the changing technology around car clubs.  The technology, and particularly internet enabled phones, should make car clubs easier and easier to use.  This should be good in terms of reducing congestion, improving air quality and helping reduce the cost of living for occasional car drivers.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Ant like Organisation

Flip Chart Fairy Tales, which is always imaginative, considers the links between ant behaviour and general organisations.  This has already been noticed in fiction.  HG Wells wrote a short story in which he imagines ants forming a huge empire through ruthless conquest, and John Wyndham had a similar theme (with spiders) for his last novel Web. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Seneca Wall

The Seneca Wall that I went to see on Wednesday vastly exceeded my expectations.  Not only is 180 metres long, it is also about 2.5 metres high so the effect is spectacular.  You can see it on your left as you north up the Jubilee line.

The artwork has 15 panels done by artists in collaboration with local youngsters.  The Seneca web site has more pictures of all the panels.  The panel above was done by kids from Barham primary school.  The panels are all made from recycled materials to demonstrate Seneca's belief in waste as a resource.  All this came as a way for Seneca to try to reduce graffiti on the side of their building, so it is also a very imaginative way of dealing with anti-social behaviour.

Unfortunately the sheer scale of the mural makes it hard to give a real impression of how impressive it is.  However, here is a photo of my favourite panel:

Friday, 20 July 2012

Volunteers and Public Libraries

Some of the tensions around volunteer run libraries can be gleaned from the comments on this piece.  I think the points about job substitution and  quality of service are sound ones.  The whole Big Society concept seems to me to be based on the idea that public services are fairly easy to deliver

In fact, to do the job adequately volunteer run libraries would need a great deal of support.  The most likely source of that support would be the Council.  Therefore I suspect that Boroughs like Camden, where three volunteer run libraries have been opened, will find that the volunteer libraries actually turn into a drain on the public library service as staff from the Council are pushed to spend time and money propping up the volunteers. 

On a small scale we saw this with the Kensal Rise Library scheme.  The scheme we rejected in April 2011 explicitly wanted public subsidy.  The unsolicited proposal put in subsequently was rejected as the reverter clause had been triggered, and we no longer had any legal say over the building.  However, my view is that the proposal concerned in fact would have ended up costing the Council a great deal of money and time, and I think this is confirmed in that the same group subsequently made two demands that would have cost the Council.  One was for ward working funds to the tune of £60,000 for various building works not included in the original proposal.  The other was that the bookstock actually in the building be left there, which would mean either a reduction in book stock across Brent libraries as a whole, or more spending to replace the books.

Incidentally, it is odd that a number of blogs and newspaper articles seem to take the line that volunteer run libraries will inevitably fail and are even an insult to professional libraries as devaluing their skills (a view I sympathise with), but then blame Brent Council for not supporting a volunteer run library at Kensal Rise.  The well known Public Libraries News blog is just one example of this kind of inconsistency.

I suppose it depends on how seriously you take the comment made by Phil Bradley in the thread I started with:

"This may of course mean that we end up with libraries being closed, with nothing to replace them. Doubtless some people will then criticise various library groups for not fighting to keep libraries open at any cost. I think we need to strongly make the point that - as I've said time and time again - a library without a librarian isn't a library, it's a collection of books. We need to focus on the activities in a library, run by librarians, rather than the artifacts. We don't talk about brain surgeons as people who weild scalpels, we talk about them in terms of saving lives. Librarians help people find jobs, increase literacy, help protect the vulnerable, teach and inspire. Etc. etc. etc."

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Making the most of Brent's Library Space

One of the reasons people were resistent to the Brent Libraries Transformation Project was the perception that one Library is much the same as another, so a reduction in numbers must make things worse.  This is not really true.  We can see from the dramatically different footfall of the bigger libraries that some are a lot more attractive than others.

We also know that we are already making much better use of our libraries as a result of our libraries being open seven days a week.  It is less appreciated that we have managed to redesign our libraries to make them more effective.  After refurbishment, Ealing Road library has five new PCs, and ten more study spaces.  The Town Hall Library also has five new PCs and ten extra study spaces.  Harlesden Library has been reconfigured to give an extra seven study spaces.  Thus, we have an extra ten PCs and 27 study spaces from the same buildings.  The longer opening hours at these three libraries also mean that these resources spend less time standing idle.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


Later today I am going to the unveiling of a 180 metre mural done by artists and local children near the Seneca plant, close to IKEA.  They say it is the largest such mural in Europe.

Brent Population Grows

Brent's population has grown, according to the just released figures from the 2011 Census.  The new figure is 311,200, compared to 263,500 in 2001.  This is an increase of more than 18% (with London as a whole going up by 14%).  An extra 59,000 people is roughly equivalent to an extra four and a half local government wards.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Area Forum Rescheduled

The Harlesden Area Forum, which was cancelled on the tenth (due to another meeting) has now been rescheduled for 24 July.

Paralympics Torch Relay

Brent will see the paralympic torch come through on 29 August.  The route of the torch is likely to be through the southern part of the Borough.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Massive Increase in Brent's Libraries Outreach

My post on Saturday only covered the outreach programme around Kilburn Library, and I have been asked whether there is further outreach across Brent . Indeed there is. 

Brent Libraries service are delivering to 48 sites around the Borough.  This includes places like the St Raphaels Intergenerational Centre.  Since the diverting of the 206, the public transport links of the St Raphaels estate, never wonderful, have got mush worse, so that site is particularly welcome. There have also been stalls at particular events, like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. 

The numbers are that in the April to June quarter, Brent Libraries outreach issued more than 10,000 items, which represented an increase of more than 700% on the same quarter last year.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Wrottesley Road Surface Water Flooding

There were two areas of conspicious flooding on Wrottesley Road.  As a result of the resurfacing, the camber of the road has been redesigned to discourage this "ponding".  The gullies are also supposed to have been cleared, although I have asked the department to take a second look, as I believe this has not been done properly.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Outreach from Brent Libraries

The refurbishment of Kilburn Library, which amazingly the Liberal Democrats frequently criticise, has helped Brent Library service to be much more imaginative about its outreach service during the interim.  I wish some of the people who criticise the Libraries Transformation Project would pay more attention to all the good work the Libraries staff do.

Since work began at Kilburn Library, the staff have visited about 3,000 children in Brent school assemblies to publicise the Summer Reading Challenge.  They have also set up book deposit collections at Cost, Starbuck's, Gail's Cafe, Salusbury Road Primary School and Princess Frederica Primary School.  I gather there is an adult reading group based in Costa, and an under five group in Gail's Cafe.  There is also an outreach service based in BACES Carlton Centre in South Kilburn.

I doubt whether any of this would be happening without the refurbishment or the wider Libraries Transformation Project, suggesting that what might appear a downside can be turned to good account.  Of course, when the refurbished library opens in September, we will also get a much improved Library.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Recycling in Town Centres

Brent Council has tweaked the waste clearence in the Borough's Town Centres to start separating recycling waste more effectively.  The first week has seen this piloted in Harlesden Town Centre, and more tons have been recovered.  It is estimated that rolling the scheme out across the entire Borough will lead to an increase in recycling of about 1,000 tons.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Eric Pickles and Propaganda

I see that once again Eric Pickles has been complaining about propaganda in local government.  In fact, local Councils follow strict restrictions and the publi8city they do produce is non-partisan and often legally mandated.  In contrast, Pickles own department is currently embarked on a major propaganda campaign promoting the Right to Buy.  This has included paying for posters around the country, but even gone to the extent of giving Councils a standard template letter to send to Council tenants.  A striking example of Eric Pickles' own politicisation of government publicity and contempt for local democrary i practice as opposed to rhetoric.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Planning and Overcrowding

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that the Tory government's changes to housing benefit are leading to an increase in overcrowding.  It is said that a number of rapacious landlords are erecting buildings in their gardens without planning permission or proper certification in terms of things like fire safety.  Brent's plannng service will be devoting resources over the coming months to try to work out how extensive this problem actually is.  Where it occurs, we will use enforcement powers _ planning, health and safety or whatever _ to stamp it out.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Brent Council last night

I suppose I should report on the meeting of full Council last night, but it was really rather humdrum.  We took a decision to implement new standards arrangements as a result of the localism Act, and passed a few inconsequential motions and that was it.


The option of retaining the previous balance of the Standards Committee was not a real one.  The government has revoked the previous conditions that allowed the Standards Committee to have a special make up, so it now falls under the standard rules of "political balance" i.e. the Committee has to have a membership that reflects the political make up of the Council.

Harlesden ACF Tonight

Unfortunately, the Harlesden Area Forum tonight has had to be postponed.  Hopefully it will be possible to hold it before the beginning of the summer break.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Brent Library Members Increase

As we get further along the road of the Libraries Transformation Project, we start to make real progress.  In April to June quarter, Brent Libraries signed up more than 4,300 new members, many of them as part of the Council's Every Child a Library Reader scheme.   That compares to 4,050 new members for the same quarter last year, an increase of 6%.  It is good that the Library staff can now concentrate on actually promoting the Library service, rather than constantly dealing with vexatious FoI requests.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Sacrilege in King Edward VII Park Wembley

Among the attractions at the Torch Relay on 25 July will be a massive party at King Edward VII Park Wembley.  Most startling will be Sacrilege, an installation artwork there for the day, but there will be a number of other attractions, including the culmination of Brent Dance Month..

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Ebook Lending

Dan Jarvis has called for a taskforce to examine ebooks and public libraries, which has sparked a debate.  I have commented before that I think charging for ebooks is a far bigger threat to library services than building closures.  In a few years, ebook readers will be so prevalent that libraries that do not offer ebook lending will not be offering a universal service.  I think Justin Tomlinson's idea of only allowing ebook lending through a physical visit to a library pretty crazy, and the idea of charging abhorrent..  What kind of a service makes itself deliberately hard to access?

Friday, 6 July 2012

Universal Reading Offer

The Reading Agency has come up with the idea of a universal reading offer for libraries.  This is partly an atytempt at a form of shared services, but I suspect it will have more usefulness in benchmarking a standard group of library services. 

The danger in most authorities is that that they preserve nominal libraries, i.e. the buildings, but cut back on the opening hours, staff skills and activities.  Cutting back on all these can be readily achieved without the publicity that a building closure involves.  Evolving a widely used set of activities could serve as a benchmark that would make that kind of rosion in service quality much harder.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Standards at Brent Council

The next Brent Council meeting is on Monday and will see a major overhaul of the Standards system.  This is driven by the Localism Act, and has the effect of much reducing the demands on Councillors to follow rules of conduct.

The most serious offences are left to criminal prosecutions.  Suspension of the sort in the Bertha Joseph case, will no longer by possible.  The sanctions will be decided on by a politically balanced committee, which I would have thought opens the way to partisan abuse, and will be confined to demanding an apology, removing someone from a committee or giving them training. 

The long standing practice of declaring either a personal or prejudical interest will also be replaced by a new concept of a pecuniary interest.  However, the Standards Committee may end up with more to do, as the rules on dispensations are made much looser.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Willesden Green Library Centre

Willesden Green Library Centre will come to Brent Council's Planning Committee later than originally expected.  This is to allow further design work in order to take on board public concerns.  The new plan is for a scheme to go before the Planning Committee later in the year.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Dire Predictions

Last week's grim prediction on the financial future of local government is covered by Flip Chart Fairy Tales.  The outlook is so dire that somewhere in the UK we are likely to see a local authority simply collapse long before 2020.  What Flipchart Fairy Tales fails to pick up on is that the numbers of users is inverse proportion to the amounbt of money spent on the service.  Many of the social care users cost a huge amount per hear, whereas universal services like transport and highways are likely to face severe cuts despite being used by vastly greater numbers of people.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Schools and Olympics

My colleague Lesley Jones points out that a school in her ward and one in mine will have a particular role in the Olympics.  Well done to both Furness Primary School and St Andrew and St Francis School for being selected.

Dollis Hill House as was

I posted some pictures of the work currently underway at Dollis Hill House here and here.  It might be useful to contrast them with how the site looked in the recent past above.  I have explained why it was not practical to restore here.  The long history of attempts to find a way of restoring the House are here.  Keeping the building in the state it was in the photograph above costabout £25,000 or more per year.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Leafleting Concerns

The consultation on the amendment for leaflet regulations has now ended.  There were zero responses.  This confirms me in my view that the controversy over the whole thing was an artificial hype being whipped up two well known anti Labour activists just before the GLA elections.