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Thursday, 31 January 2013

Misleading on Council Tax

Hearing Eric Pickles rant about Council Tax rises, I am once again struck at the shameless hypocrisy of the man.  He claims that raising Council Tax without triggering a referendum under rules he himself designed is some form of cheating.  Simultaneously, he has pushed through changes to Council Tax which effectively mean that very large numbers of people will get a Council Tax rise across the country.

What I find frustrating is his skill in misleading people in this way.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Incestuous amplification

Paul Krugman comes up with a term I hadn't heard before, incestuous amplification.  I can think of plenty of debates where this term applies on a much less grand scale than things the Iraq invasion.

Bees in Brent

I have recently been sent a link about bees.  I have been trying to develop this line of policy for a while, but it is hard to get people interested when there are so many financial pressures. Nonetheless, I continue to push the issue.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Manuscripts Destroyed

It is reported that many manuscripts have been destroyed in Timbuktu.  If so it would be an act of cultural vandalism akin to the burning of the Library at Alexandria.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Reflecting on Littering

I have been reflecting on how to reduce littering and dumping.  I recall that I was told long ago that Keep Britain Tidy did a survey that found that only 4% of people admitted to littering.  This calls to mind the broken bedstead men.

Supposedly very few people litter, but those who do are dedicated.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Pub Names again

Yesterday I passed the site of the former White Hart pub in Church End.  It is now thoroughly redeveloped, but I saw that the housing is named after the White Hart. I quite like it when new developments are named after an historical connection, although I doubt how historical this is.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Multi-tasking in Libraries

It is reported that libraries in the Wirral are being made responsible for social security payments.  The Wirral is an iconic name to library campaigners, as it is the only authority ever to be ordered to have an inquiry under the 1964 Act (the Charteris report).

 I assume that councillors are understandably afraid of such national notoriety a second time.  Instead they appear to be slowly converting their buildings into something other than libraries by adding new services.

Brent is certainly pursuing co-located services (in the jargon).  However, I am clear that , whilst libraries gain from extra footfall from nearby activities, their role is distinct.  Librarians need particular training.  It is not just "stamping books" to quote Helen Mountfield QC.

Wirral seem to be terrified of reducing building numbers, and therefore they are going down the alternative route: turning buildings called libraries into something else.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Snow Again

Brent gritters were out again from 6pm tonight and will be ready again tomorrow morning to deal with snowfall. Spare a thought for the Council staff doing this job.  It can't be nice going out in the cold and dark, but it is important so that everyone else can do their Regular tasks.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Impact of the Benefit Cap

Yesterday I attended a presentation which argued that the effect of the benefit cap would be worse for Brent than for any other area of the country. Among the stats in this discussion was an estimate that government reforms would see 1,100 families in Brent would see their income reduced by at least £100 per week.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Housing Needs

Larry Elliot has a piece in the Guardian on house building.  Improving our housing stock strikes me as one of the most obvious ways to get growth back to the economy as well as tackling the pressing news of the population.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Return to Performance Related Pay

Responding to a comment on performance related pay in teaching, I wasn't talking about pay in general but specifically teaching.  The results of teachers depend on their pupils.  A set of bright motivated students may be much easier to teach than a more demoralised class.  It can quite easly be the case that a teacher does a better job (I.e. makes more of a difference) by getting a struggling child to learn to read than another teacher does in getting an already achieving child to get straight As.  The dynamic is therefore quite different from (say) achieving a sales target, although there is nothing wrong with that.

I guess I am arguing that what Michael Gove calls performance related pay bares no relation to actual performance.  If the pay and performance are not linked, you are effectively not incentivising the teacher to change their behaviour, because they know that their behaviour is not linked to the "performance".

Monday, 21 January 2013

Zoned Collections in Harlesden?

I bumped into two members of the Harlesden Town Team on Saturday, and mentioned a trip I made recently to Green Lanes in Haringey.  Over there they have a time limited collection twice a day.  In other words, you put waste out between 7.30am and 9pm or at a later slot in the evening.

The street seems much cleaner than Harlesden Town Centre, and I am wondering whether such a system could work over here. 

I can see that it would need a lot of enforcement resource, and the waste people I spoke emphasissed the importance of community support and peer pressure.  Haringey is also different in that they have a more homogenous community of mainly Turkish Cypriots in their area.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

More on Brent Gritting

More snow is expected today, and I have just had an update on street gritting.  I understand the "priority network" of main roads was gritted last night and it is being gritted again today.  Brent Council cannot grit every road, but it does the major ones and a few in hilly areas.  I understand that because of heavy parking there were a small number of roads in hilly areas where the glitters could not progress.

All the Borough's grit bins were full on Friday, and will be replenished on Monday.  Pavements in town centres have been gritted to give room to walk, although not fully cleared.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Heavy Snow

Lots of snow in Kensal Green.  Our gritters were out all day yesterday.  I was updated last night and at that time more gritting was expected from 6am this morning.  There looks to be a threat of continuing snow for the next few days.

A few bin collections in the north of Borough have been delayed but there should be a catch up during the week.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Former Service Station Site

I was not able to go to the Planning Committee on Wednesday, as I had another event at the same time, but I gather the old service station site development on Harlesden High Street was approved with a much smaller scheme than previously.  It is good to see that long vacant land finally developed.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

More Snowfall

Brent Council's gritters should be out tonight as it is expected that road temperatures will go below freezing and there will be snow falling in the morning and perhaps tomorrow afternoon.

Women's Institute on Volunteers

The Women's Institute has published a report arguing that volunteers cannot adequately replace paid staff in libraries.  This has been a fraught subject during the library campaigns.

In Brent, we offered to consider having volunteers running our libraries, but made it clear that we still had to make financial savings.  Many people assumed that volunteers are just free, but in fact there is growing evidence that is not the case.  In Surrey, the Council lost a court case by failing to provide provision for training volunteers.  In Oxfordshire, the authority has accepted the need to have a paid co-ordination post.  I find it difficult to imagine how you can have a volunteer run solution without some sort of backing like this, and of course that eats into the Council's financial savings on an ongoing basis.

There is also the question of what happens if something goes wrong.  Even if you have some kind of document limiting the Council's formal liability, the Council is still likely to be perceived as having an implicit duty to step in.  Such an implicit guarantee is hard to quantify.  As yet, we haven't seen any volunteer libraries running into these problems, but I shall be very surprised if it doesn't happen before long.

These things are likely to be from the Council's library budget proper, not just money but also staff time and expertise.  The WI report emphasises that volunteers don't work without professional support.  This suggests that the standalone "Big Society" libraries won't work effectively.  Thus, some Councils which have gone down the volunteer route may find that they are actively damaging their staffed library network by draining out resources.

Of course, there is evidence that in Brent volunteers have been a very effective part of improving libraries and the Home Delivery service in particular.  I take from that that volunteers can enhance libraries but only as part of a coherent service, not as a financially driven expedient.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Performance Related Pay

Michael Gove is introducing performance related pay into teaching.  This was rejected many years ago as Ineffective.  mr Gove is supposed to be intelligent.  Does he think about the implications of his policies or just not care?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Council Tax Changes

The Guardian has an article on the impact of Council Tax Support changes this morning.  The picture it paints is a bleak one.  Of course, Eric Pickles has deliberately set this situation up by requiring each Council to design its own scheme.  At the same time he has cut the funding for the schemes and ensured that it will not be indexed to inflation.  With many Councils also seeing huge cuts in their funding the results are likely to be appalling, which I suspect is exactly what he wants.

Monday, 14 January 2013


As I write the snow is falling heavily as forecast.  Last night, Council officers gritted the main roads of the borough.  There are also more than 300 grit bins available around Brent streets.  Hopefully, this will help ensure that we don't get the kind of traffic problems we used to have a few years ago.

Whatever Happened to Stalin's Leaflets?

Some time ago, there was a big spat over changes to regulations for leafleting on the streets.  The changes introduced were actually an update of rules in place since 1994.  It would be easy to argue that they liberalised existing rules.  For instance the old rules exempted "political parties", the new ones leaflets for "political purposes".

Nonetheless, two well known anti-Labour activists chose to attack the policy immediately prior to the 2012 elections, and it was called in as a result.  It was passed despite their opposition.  I have not heard anything from them since, despite their claim that the new rules were "Stalinist".

If you really thought these changes were a threat to democracy, would you not make a fuss afterward?  Or are they too scared of being shot?


I have had two comments on this piece.  The second one raises a concern over the definition of "political activity".  In fact the regulations we were putting in force allowed an exemption for "political purposes".  That compares to the old regulations that only allowed an exemption for "political parties".  Thus, I think most people would agree we were liberalising the rules in that respect.  My argument is that the person who accused me of being Stalinist was simply wrong headed.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Bin Contamination

A comment appears that I don't entirely understand.

Yes, we do have an ongoing issue with bin contamination.  This is down to various factors including language issues and the very high turnover of much of the Borough.  However, we continuously communicate to residents via the Brent Magazine, the press, and door knocking.  The last of these is the most labour intensive, and of course no method can be guaranteed to get through.  However, the commingled system is actually less demanding for householders in terms of sorting than the old green boxes.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Eric Pickles' Folly

Eric Pickles sheer folly is once again emphasised in some figures sent to me recently.  Nine out of ten of the Uk's most successful waste authorities use alternate weekly collections, which Labour have introduced in Brent.  Eight of the bottom ten authorities continue with weekly collections.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Academy Admissions

Some concerning findings about entry into some academies can be found here.  With another hat on, Christine Gilbert is currently the acting Chief Executive of Brent Council.  In the past, I have been assured that no such practices occur at the Capital City Academy.  It would be interesting to find out whether Brent Council could use its scrutiny powers to introduce more accountability to academies, as I suggested at a Labour Party meeting last night.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Falling Police Numbers

Boris Johnsonhas released his new policing plans.  Navin Shah has suggested these will reduce police numbers in Brent by 35, with Safer Neighbourhood Teams particularly hard hit.  Given Johnson's record, I find the sight of him breaking his promises on police numbers unsurprising.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Green Charter and Carbon Emissions

I mentioned Brent Council's Green Charter briefly on Monday.  The various issues in it strike me as deserving a longer treatment, so I propose to do a series of posts.

The Charter points to impressive progress in cutting carbon emissions.  The ones it considers are mostly building related. Although we have yet to move to the Civic Centre, some of the gains are already happening. The Civic Centre project has driven a lot of the IT related cuts in carbon emissions as well as some building and travel related reductions.  We have also seen a noted reduction in energy use at Sports Centres, and in the recent Kilburn Library refurbishment.

We move in to the Civic Centre in April, and finish the Council's total move in June.  The full carbon benefits won't be felt for a while, as some of them can only be maximised as the Centre is used.

For the future, we will have to do more on employees' travel arrangements, but the next big target for cutting greenhouse emissions in Brent Council itself is street lighting, where the advance of technology makes carbon reduction ever more viable.

Of course, all this is in addition to lots of other things the Council does in reducing emissions, such as the effect of increased recycling in curbing greenhouse gases, but it is important that as a major employer in Brent we show the way if we are to have any credibility in getting others to follow.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Are the Liberal Democrats Weak or Stupid?

Red Brick blog publishes a diatribe against the Liberal Democrats for agreeing to all kinds of viscous policies on housing and benefits without a mandate or even any explicit deal with the Tories.  This critique puts Sarah Teather in a curious light.  Having been part of a government that supported policies she regarded as immoral, she is now trying to backtrack.  Is her attitude better described as immoral, hypocritical or just a cowardly attempt to save her seat?

141 - 153 High Street Harlesden

There is yet another planning application at 141-153 High Street Harlesden, which was formerly a service station.  I am currently trying to get greater detail, although the report at present makes no mention of the effect on outlook for 139 High Street, which stymied the last proposal.

Waste Figures in Brent

A commentator has asked about recycling definitions.  The definitions used by Brent are the same as those used by other local authorities.  This is a good idea, as it makes comparison straightforward.


I don't know what the below commentator is referring to, as I have published all recent comments.  Of course, if people sign their comments it would be easier to trace them and see if they have been published.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Green Charter Reviewed

I have one report at Brent's next Executive, but it is a wide ranging one.  It reviews all the progress on Brent Council's green charter. This covers a whole gamut of activities, and I am glad to say there has been substantial progress on cutting carbon emissions, promoting food growing, promoting Fairtrade, improving air quality, encouraging the sustainable use of water, reducing and recycling waste, supporting animal welfare and supporting biodiversity.  All of this when the financial problems of Brent Council are far greater than at any point in the Borough's history.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Brent Libraries

Yet another anonymous blogger has asked for a comment on Brent's Libraries Transformation Project in the light of the CIPFA figures.  In fact I provided an extensive set of opinions based on more up to date figures already.  I also provided a brief comment on the CIPFA  figures here.

Perhaps any would be anonymous commentator might think of leaving their name next time?

LGiU and Local Government

The LGiU has been getting exercised about local government reducing obesity.  One might question how far councils will be able to pursue this agenda given the coalition government's numerous budget cuts.

In the meantime, I wonder if they have approached Eric Pickles to inform him that obesity is not acceptable?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

3D Printing and Libraries Again

Phil Bradley has some interesting thoughts about 3D printing and libraries here.  I am quite interested in seeing whether Brent can do something in this area although I suspect it would be better linked to the Brent Museum.

Friday, 4 January 2013

New Sports Pitch

This morning I went up to the Vale Farm Sports Centre, where a new artificial pitch was opened by Trevor Brooking.  It was paid for by the Football Foundation and Brent Council.  It is good to see positive stories like this amidst all the doom and gloom.

Too Much Generosity for Teather

I think the Red Brick blog is too generous to Sarah Teather here.  Ms Teather's recent attacks on the government she used to be part of strike me as simply an attempt to save her own political skin in a Labour area that has finally seen through her.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Brent Archives' Untold Story

One of the nicest things about being a councillor is that it gives you an insight into often unappreciated part of how local government works. One such area is Brent Archives and Museum.

The Archive and Museum has had a complicated history. It was based in the Grange, at Neasden roundabout.  The move to Willesden Green Library Centre is generally agreed to be a big improvement. It was achieved via a Lottery grant.

The archive and Museum are now being rehoused again. Both will be in the new Willesden Green Library development.  During the building period, an interim appointment service will be housed across the road at the Council's Grange Road offices. the Museum will do a series of outdoor and outreach services.

I know these will strike many people as less than ideal, but I think they have the potential to be constructive.  Certainly, the outreach services during the Kilburn Library refurbishment seemed to help reach new audiences, and I don't see why the same may not be true for the Willesden facilities.

The Willesden project wil also allow us to further develop the online services that are already an important part of the Archive, and could be a more effective part of the Museum.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Comprehensive and Efficient

I have argued before that including electronic information in the definition of a comprehensive and efficient library service is essential is public libraries are to survive.  Currently, there appears to be a widespread body of opinion that all electronic means are not included in the legal duty.  The Secretary of State appears to be among those who accept this.  If that is the legal position, it had better change soon or no libraries will be left.

However, rereading paragraph 116 of Mr Justice Ouseley's judgement in the Brent case (on the sidebar) makes me think again.  He seems to think that Internet access is implied. I assume, from my memory of the court case, that this is by the reference to gramophone records in the wording of the Act.  He is inferring a duty from those intermediate devices.  A reference to gramophone records gives you some indication of how out of date the 1964 Act is.

In any case, don't we desperately need Parliament to look at this again?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Hollowing Out Libraries Again

Over Christmas, there has been a surprising amount of activity around a post on Brent libraries I did back in October. A more up to date post on my position on libraries is here. I hope people find it illuminating.

New Year

Welcome to the New Year!

For Brent Council, this is going to be a bit of a lull before the storm.

This year's budget, has fairly limited cuts but the failure of George Osborne's economic policy and the Conservative Party's hatred of local government mean that we will face massive fiscal pressures for years to come.

Brent Council is likely to respond to these by having a much tighter economic focus on everything we do.  This means that Council services will need to demonstrate a much more direct effect on economic well being than hitherto.  Local government has never had a challenge like it.