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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Sita Contract Award

The decision that WLWA took on Friday to award a major new contract to Sita as preferred bidder, has now been officially announced.  The contract last for 25 years, and is worth hundreds of millions of pounds, so it is certainly the biggest I have been involved with.

Once the new facility is in place, virtually all West London's waste will be diverted from landfill.  This ties in well with the aim of moving up the waste hierarchy.  Moving up the waste hierarchy is an objective I have emphasised before.  What is not recycled, will be burnt for electricity and (later on, it is hoped) district heating of some kind.  Burning waste actually gives lower carbon emissions than sending it to landfill, which came as a surprise to me when I first got involved in waste management.


The carbon emissions are higher from landfill as they come from rotting food, which accounts for a high proportion of the waste.  This generates methane, which is roughly twenty times worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  Burning the waste prevents the methane generation.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Universal Credit Launches Today

Today is the first launch of universal credit, at least if you live in Ashton on Lyne.  The anticipated grand launch has been wittled down to a single job centre, as the FT reports.  It was reported earlier that the IT is not properly tested.  It is even suggested that the so called "real time" database relies on manual documentation.  I cannot help but think that the current government is simply the most incompetent government of the modern era.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Voluntary Groups in Kensal Green

I was speaking to some one at the "rubbish breakfast" yesterday about the importance of fostering voluntary groups.  We agreed that we had lots of very small groups in Kensal Green, but we needed to give them a certain scale. Otherwise they are very vulnerable to a few individuals moving on, or becoming disenchanted.  We can have groups for all kinds of things, but a certain basic infrastructure is necessary.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Rubbish Breakfast in Park Parade

Just been down to the REACH "Rubbish Breakfast" in Park Parade, which seemed to be going well despite the cold weather.  This was funded as part of last year's ward working budget.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Contract Award

This afternoon, I will be going to a meeting of West London Waste in Hounslow to discuss a twenty five year contract for disposing of all of London's municipal waste.  This is an even bigger contract than Brent's own Public Realm contract.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Recycling Changes

Brent's recycling team has now (since 22 April) been reorganised to do a better job of increasing recycling and reducing waste.  Hopefully, the new teams will be better at dealing with dumped waste, illegal waste and poorly presented waste.  I know this last category is a particular problem in certain neighbourhoods where there are a large number of houses of multiple occupation.  As well as contacting the tenants, the new team will be specifically targeting the lettings agents to try to enlist their help in educating their tenants. 

I shall be keeping a close eye on how successful all this will be.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Parks Projects

Some minor works are under way in Furness Pocket Park.  This follows more substantial contributions in Fryent Country Park, Challenge Close, Tubbs Pocket Park, King Eward VII Wembley and others.

I remain concerned that not all schemes are achieved as soon as one might like.  I am thinking especially about Chalkhill Park and the former Dollis Hill House in Gladstone Park (where I am assured that we will have an opening ceremony fairly soon).

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Potholes Yet Again

Recently, I complained about a particularly severe set of potholes outside Newman Catholic School at the end of Harlesden Road.  They were so bad, that I have been promised a repair by the end of today.  However, you don't have to be a councillor to do this; you can phone 8937 5050 and report any problems to be dealt with in a similar way.

Nationalists Turn Unionists

I can't help remarking on the bizarre somersaults of the SNP as they try to argue for Scots independence without being independent.  The latest of these is a demand for a UK currency union.  The SNP argues for this using a series of fundamentally unionist arguments about the integration of Scotland with the rest of the UK, the amount of trade between Scots and the English, and so on.  These are valid, and I have mentioned them before, but doesn't it make you wonder why the SNP argue for independence at all?

Monday, 22 April 2013

Next Brent Connects in Harlesden

The next Brent Connects in Harlesden will be on Wednesday evening.  It will include both a panel discussion on the effect of the government's benefit cuts, and an information session around ward working for each of the wards.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Kensal Green Issues Rounded Up Again

A number of issues have come up in the ward recently. Firstly we are about to start building work on Harlesden Town Centre at last.  After all the debates and so on, I am relieved to finally get things underway.


This ties in with the long awaited work on Station Approach, the main route to Willesden Junction.  After years of campaigning, we are finally seeing teams on the site.


There are a number of planning issues.  The last Planning Committee decided in favour of redeveloping the former Dust Club on Rucklidge Avenue, as well as moving the Jubilee Clock.. I am glad that both went ahead, as they pave the way for the Town Centre redevelopment, and also the clear up of a derelict site where residents have complained for years.

The developer of the former Kensal Rise Library has, I understand, been in talks with the Planners, but I have no further information.  It sounds as if the "Friends of Kensal Rise Library" will refuse the offer of community space, but we shall see.

Action is being pursued by the enforcement team against the Green Man.

The application for an incinerator in Ealing is delayed, which is probably a good sign, although I long for that scheme to be be killed stone dead.

The site opposite the Sally Army is underway, and I hope will soon add housing to the Borough.

Residents Associations

People may have seen the "rubbish breakfast" material and other stuff by local residents associations.  I would like our various groups to work more together, but there seems to be a feeling this would diminish focus.

Rubbish and Street Cleaning

There are a number of changes to rubbish and street cleaning happening Borough wide.  These are probably worth a separate post, although I think I have made officers well aware of the needs around Harlesden Town Centre.

We have extra street trees planted in the ward, especially at the Harlesden end.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Former Spotted Dog Pub in Willesden

The former Spotted Dog pub in Willesden is now fully converted and I must say it looks much better than I at one point feared.  it is actually quite a characterful combination of old and new.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Moberley Sports Centre Update

I was recently briefed by a Council officer on Moberly Sports Centre.  Subject to planning permission, the existing sports centre will to redeveloped and roughly treble in floor space. A swimming pool will be included. Brent residents are being granted access via the card.  The site and the centre remain in the ownership of Westminster Council.

Altogether a good result for Brent, if it goes through.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

More art at Willesden Green Library Centre

The Willesden Herald has some pictures of art work at Willesden Green Library Centre.  This is part of the preparation of work for the longer term by Positive Arts, as I blogged earlier.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Austerity Still Wrong

The IMF have been the latest to draw back from George Osborne's austerity programme.  As the benefit changes start to bite, will ministers just carry on with what are politely referred to as "inaccuracies".

Wembley Forum Last Night

I greatly enjoyed speaking to the Wembley Forum last night, which I haven't done for a long time.  It was startling to see the attendance levels, more than one hundred people I would think.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Full Year Figures for Brent Libraries Out

Public Libraries News published the visit and issue numbers up to February of Brent Libraries a short time ago.  The full year figures are now out.  Public Libraries News has mentioned the full year figures, but pointed out that they only show our existing branches.  The figures I am quoting are for all visits and issues of Brent Library service, including the former libraries for 2011.

                 2011/2012                    2012/2013

Visits.      1,506,852.                     1,526,095

Issues.      985,590.                        963,188

So visits went up by 1.3%, and issues went down by 2.3%.  I think that when we decided our strategy in 2011, many people would have found such a performance unbelievable.  Of course, we also have the users views from the PLUS survey that the service is much better than it was in 2009.  I think it is a great tribute to the library staff that Brent libraries have come so far so quickly.

The other thing to notice about the breakdown from last year is the success of Kilburn library.  Following its refurbishment, Kilburn was re-opened on 10 September last year.  If you compare visit numbers for October 2012 to the end of March 2013 to the same period in the previous year you get a trebling (from 57,578 to 173,660).  A comparison of issues in the same period shows that issues rose by more than 40%.

That seems to me a good indicator that concentrating our resources on a smaller number of excellent libraries in accessible locations open seven days a week is the right strategy.  Hopefully the rebuilt Willesden Library and the soon to open Wembley Library will replicate the success of Kilburn.

Monday, 15 April 2013

What Goes On in Brent Libraries

I was interested in the recent post by Public Libraries News on volunteer libraries.  it argues that the new volunteer libraries are not very effective as libraries on the crucial measure of book loans.  Some of them, such as Blackheath, have nonetheless had quite substantial amounts of public money.  Arguably, this is the worst of both worlds.  The volunteer libraries continue to get financial and other kinds of support from Councils, but don't work all that effectively as libraries.

Defenders of this approach often seem to argue that the volunteer libraries do more things than municipal libraries.  In some ways this is true.  Our libraries certainly don't have a computer recycling service, as in Lewisham, but there appears to be an outdated understanding of what modern libraries can do.  Brent libraries for example have:

1) A number of literacy activities such as reading sessions for children and adults, the reading challenges, help with people who are learning English, and events for people who want to speak minority languages.
2) A huge number of training courses often to help people get into work, as well as opportunities for networking such as the Library Lab.
3) A large number of arts events.  For instance, many of the Brent Dance month events take place in libraries, and it is unlikely that the Council could support a dance festival on such a scale if it did not have such a set of seven day a week venues available.  We are currently working on other ways to promote arts in Brent using the library service's resources.
4) Basic information and advice on various services as well as reference sources.
5) the traditional library core of books, periodicals and various IT.

I find it difficult to imagine this kind of scale of activities being managed without paid staff with proper training and systems.

Incidentally, the Public Libraries News post also has a rather grudging reference to the Brent library usage figures, which show lending and visits up at each of our "remaining open libraries".  In fact the figures for loans and visits to Brent Library service as a whole are almost the same with six libraries as they were in the previous year with twelve.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Willesden Social Club Yet Again

I attended the planning site visit yesterday to the former Willesden Social Club.  The development has not gone ahead because the owners of the electricity substation will not allow it to be built over.  This has required the redesign of the scheme, but the new scheme is very similar to the old one.  I do hope that permission goes ahead when the Planning Committee meet on Wednesday, as this site has been in a terrible state for many years.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Positive Arts at Willesden Library Centre

I am glad to see that Brent will be engaging Positive Arts to work with young people at Willesden Library Centre.  The project will create two murals that help point people to the interim library services at the Lewinson Centre during the rebuild.  Judging from the Harlesden experience a couple of years ago, the rebuild will see a fall off in numbers.  However, as the Lewinson Centre is literally only three minutes walk from the old Willesden Library, the fall in numbers will hopefully be less than it was in Harlesden.

Friday, 12 April 2013

More on Street Trees

Following my blog earlier, I have just checked that the trees are in Ranelagh Road and Ravensworth Road, as indeed they are.  As I was in Ranelagh Road, I also saw a double rainbow, which is the first time for a while.

Street Trees in Kensal Green

A little while ago, a resident raised with Cllr Bobby Thomas and me that there were very few street trees in Ravensworth Road.  This year's planting programme has put trees in both Ravensworth Road and Ranelagh Road, where there was a similar denudation.  Altogether I understand that about 70 trees are being planted in Kensal Green this year.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Glenda Speaks

I must say that my old boss, Glenda Jackson MP, spoke exceptionally powerfully in the Commons over Mrs Thatcher. Glenda always speaks truth unto power.


I really don't think the comment below is fair.  I know that Glenda has spoken up on lots of constituency issues.  You may not agree with her, but in my experience she gives an honest opinion without fear of the consequences for herself, and she pays close attention to constituency concerns.

Fat Bergs and Power

The Guardian has a report on an unusual project around fatbergs.  This is to help unblock London's waterworks, and seems to me a very good idea.

The problem at the moment is that a huge amount of cooking fats are poured down the drain.  This is recognised by planners, who require restaurants to have "fat traps" to deal with the effects of high volume cooking.  It is also well known to water utilities.  Thames Water are concerned with below ground effects, but above ground inadequate fat treatment is often linked to rat infestation.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Ealing Road Library Photos

A few days ago, I published some photos of the refurbished Kilburn Library.  It has since occured to me that I haven't published any photos of Ealing Road Library following its refurbishment earlier in 2011, so here goes.

The interior, showing space for possible events:

The IT suite, described by the claiments in the court case as "in constant use", and now with a larger number of PCs following the onset of the Libraries Transformation Project:

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Moving Harlesden Jubilee Clock

There has been some debate about moving the Harlesden Jubilee Clock, as part of the redevelopment of Harlesden Town Centre.  The actual proposal is coming before the next Planning Committee.  This seems to me to be quite a minor issue in the context of a £5 million development.  After all, the clock has been moved twice already in its lifetime.  What do other people think?


I don't think moving the clock will have any great impact.  It should just make it easier to get buses down Harlesden High Street.  Before complaining about how expensive the redevelopment is take a look at the opportunities...

We have a chance to improve lots of things about our area here.  The Harlesden area should get a civic focus in front of the Methodist Church.  Waste collection, which is a huge issue around Harlesden Town Centre, should improve.  We could reduce traffic congestion which is a major source of annoyance, Most kinds of disability access should be improved.  There may even be improvements to street cleaning, since cracked and broken pavements are harder to clean than even ones.

End of an Era

Yesterday we all heard Mrs Thatcher had died.  One might have many feelings about this, but it is an end of an era. Hugo Young's take from a time past seems perceptive.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Brent Trading Standards Award

I am glad to see a Brent Trading Standards officer has got an award for the quality of his financial investigations.  It is likely that the increasing use of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) will make this an increasingly important area not just for Trading Standards, but also Planning and other areas.

Changing Needs

At the end of April, Brent Council will end its long standing system of delivering agendas to councillors homes each Friday.  This made sense when councillors used to get hundreds of pages of paper documents, but as the Council becomes more and more digitalised, less is sent out as paper.  It is a minor illustration of how technology is fundamentally changing how institutions work.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Tricycle Theatre Youth Workshops

The Tricycle Theatre are opening bookings for their youth theatre workshops from tomorrow.  Details of the workshops are here.


Wow.  Spring has arrived today. About time. Leafleting near the Harlesden Jubilee Clock yesterday, it still felt coldish, but not like the downright winter weather we have had recently.

Britain is not Broke

A longer historical perspective on British debt suggests that George Osborne is entirely wrong, as most of us might have guessed.  Indeed, by cutting spending the government is worsening the deficit, not improving it.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Willesden Green Library Goes Ahead

I understand that the formal decision on the Willesden Library Centre application for a Town Green has now been made. It has been refused, so the development can finally go ahead.

George Osborne and the Philpott Case

George Osborne has been suggesting that the Philpott case is about benefits when it is really about domestic violence.  The Chancellor's attempt to co-opt this case into his political objectives in surely a new low in UK politics.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Tories Want No National Minimum Wage

I have heard plenty of criticisms of the previous Labour government, but one policy I have never hear criticised is that of the national minimum wage.  This now appears to be under attack by Nick Clegg and David Cameron's coalition government.  I am not aware of any statements by Sarah Teather defending the minimum wage.

I do remember meeting someone in Kilburn in the late 90s who seemed skeptical, but his argument was more: it will never happen.  It now has happened thanks to a Labour government elected in 1997. It is in danger of being taken away by a Conservative government, for whom Nick Clegg and Sarah Teather are cheerleaders.

Cllr Catherine West in Kensal Green

I went to hear the very inspiring Catherine West, Leader of Islington Council, speak last night at a meeting in Kensal Green.  Although Islington is very different to Brent (for instance, in the amount of social housing), I am sure we could learn much from both their policies and campaign techniques.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Kilburn Library Refurbishment Photos

I promised to get some more pictures of Kilburn Library quite a while ago, to show how the building has improved since the refurbishment, so here they (finally) are:

Some of the new shelving:

An interior view:

A view from the entrance, showing some of the new signage:

The redesigned children area:

To anyone who recalls the old, rather Victorian, look of the pre-refurbishment Kilburn Library these pictures wold seem a revelation.  It is also worth remembering that the old library was open only five days a week, whereas the refurbished library is open seven days a week.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Universal Credit Software Failure

MPs have woken up to the failure of the government to develop appropriate software for universal credit.  They are particularly concerned about fraud, but I am not sure that the government's software will actuually work at the most basic level.

When we were designing the Council Tax Support scheme for Brent, I was advised that the timetable was extremely tight.  One reason for this was the need to design and test the software.  We passed Brent's CTS scheme at Full Council on 10 December last year, and the first bills went out by 10 March.  This much time was needed to run data through the system to make sure that there were no mistakes in the tax demands people got.  It also affected the design of the scheme, since adding elements not prefigured in the existing software would delay the process by taking longer to design.

However our CTS system uses a far smaller database, with many fewer variables than any Universal Credit software is likely to use.  We were also making a simpler change in going from an old Council Tax Benefit scheme to the redesigned scheme.

I have heard anecdotes that the universal credit software is still not even at the test stage, and that administrators may have to use a paper system.  This could lead to:

  • Overpayment, which would be very hard to claw back from people with limited financial reserves
  • Underpayment, leading to greater hardship
  • Fraud, which may not be easily detectable
  • People being hit by multiple cuts because they fall into several categories that what David Cameron calls "the smart people in Whitehall" have failed to predict.

I am not sure that ministers have even grasped the sheer administrative difficulty of implementing their policies.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Are Ministers Getting their Comeuppance?

The BBC has a summary of benefit changes here.  From the sudden PR offensive that ministers like Grant Shapps (who once stood for election to Brent Council, incidentally) are seeking to mount it looks like they are getting rattled.  Well they might.  The changes are are so complicated that no one really knows what the effects will be, other than that they will obviously lead to a massive reduction in living standards for huge numbers of people.

The ministers appear to be intent on defending their policy by a systematic attempt at deception.  Some of the newer lines are examined here.  So far, a lot of media has given this government a fairly easy ride when it comes to its disastrous economic policy and its welfare "reforms".  As the reality begins to bite on the ground, we may see this change.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Climate Change and Extinction

As a result of a recent lecture at the British Museum, I was recently reading about woolly mammoths.  This once extensive species was effectively wiped out by climate change altering its habitat, with maybe some help from over exploitation by human beings.  As we head for the greatest level of climate change since the last Ice Age, the fate of the mammoth gives plenty to think about in terms of today's biodiversity and climate change.  All kinds of species will find it incredibly hard to cope.