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Friday, 31 May 2013

Another Library Note

I thought I would add another library note as the Libraries Transformation Project draws to a close in One Council terms.

One of the aspects generally well received in my experience has been the home delivery service.  The number of books lent via this service is enormous, although the user number is small.  I have always thought it a good illustration of how our priorities accord with Labour Party values.

The reason is that the users of the home delivery services are so disabled as to be housebound.  In many party debates on budget cuts, people have said that protecting the most vulnerable is the key priority, and I think this is a good example of us protecting the most vulnerable.  The only case I can recall of someone disagreeing with this was when the then Secretary of the Friends of Kensal Rise Library came to my surgery one Saturday, and when I trotted out the home delivery service as an aspect of the Libraries Transformation Project of which I was proud, he told me that in his opinion disabled people did not matter.

That statement left me rather gobsmacked.

Whatever the feelings of non users, the people using the home delivery service appear to be among our most enthusiastic borrowers; each borrowing more than one hundred books a year.


The comment was made in front of a number of people.  Of course, as I have pointed out before, I would never publish anything I considered slanderous on this blog.


There appears to be concern around who made the comment disparaging disabled peoples' concerns.  It was certainly a person who identified himself as a secretary of FKRL and who I know by name, although it may be for all I know that his statement that he was secretary was untrue.  He is certainly an active member of that organisation.

Personally, I am far more interested in the success of Brent Library Service overall.  Constant queries from a few individuals over a building that the Council has no control over other than as a planning authority seem to me to be only relevant in planning terms.  There is a much more exciting story in the success of our library staff in driving Brent libraries forward.

Wembley Library as the Library of the Future

Phil Bradley, the current President of CILIP, has a long post responding to the ACE libraries report from last week.  His vision of what a modern, forward looking library should look like sounds to me very much like the soon to open Wembley Library.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

One Council Round Up

Last night I went to the One Council Scrutiny committee, of which I am now a member. I ended up chairing it as both the Liberal Democrat Chair and Tory Vice Chair were absent.

The first item was a presentation on libraries, a topic with which I am tolerably familiar.  The actions that we decided to undertake in our 2011 decision are now either in place or due to be during the coming year.  The Committee was impressed by the progress made, and suggested that a similar presentation should be made to the various Brent Connects forums.  We also congratulated the officers on the success of the Libraries Transformation Project.

The other major item was the staff restructuring, where there was a lot of disquiet.  We agreed to have a fuller report on this in July as there appears to be a danger of considerable delay and cost overruns.  It certainly sems that the use of interims, the nature of the staff structure and progress in achieving whatever our goals are supposed to be could all do with fuller scrutiny.

London Ambulance Cuts

I am glad to see that Seema Malhotra MP has been raising concerns about the ambulance service in London.  Ambulances in London have been slated for severe budget cuts for some time.  I am always surprised at how little publicity the cuts tot he ambulance service are getting.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

More Transport Schemes

At the start of the Harlesden Town Centre scheme I was chatting to some of the engineers, who thought TfL might be attracted to doing other schemes around the main one in order to maximise the impact of the spend.  I do hope this turns out to be the case.  As far as I can tell, it is the first major public investment in Harlesden Town Centre for about twenty years.

Recycling Aside

As a short aside on recycling, I note that Ashford in Kent is now adopting a system very similar to Brent's.  Given the appallingly low level of recycling the BBC reports, it should be able to give them an even bigger boost than we got.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Harlesden Town Centre Update

I notice that the first red bags are now out as part of the anti-dumping scheme I blogged on earlier.  However, the most notable piece of news is that earth moving equipment is now on the old service station site.  This has a long and controversal history.  The approved scheme now being implemented is on a far smaller scale than the previous proposals.  Along with Park House now underway just behind the Harlesden Tesco, and the hoped for redevelopment of the Dust Club site, it really looks as if Harlesden Town Centre is benefiting from significant regeneration quite independently of the TfL regeneration.

Help to Buy

Red Brick has another condemnation of George Osborne's Help to Buy scheme.  It is striking that such a flawed policy can be put forward with so little criticism.  Not only will it help boost a property bubble, it drags the government into expensive liabilities at a time when the Chancellor is claiming we all need austerity.  It is also totally contrary to all the rhetoric about rebalancing the economy.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Work Begins on Harlesden Town Centre

The highways engineers will actually start work on the Harlesden Town Centre scheme tomorrow.  It feels a very long time since the scheme was first mooted, so it is quite a milestone for the work to actually begin.  Although the work is phased to avoid as much trouble as possible, there will inevitably be some added traffic congestion from the roadworks.  The important thing is to get an improved town centre at the end of it.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Further Note on Wembley Library

I forgot to note in my earlier posting on Wembley Library that it will not only have better facilities than the Town Hall library but also longer opening hours.  Currently, the Town Hall library is open up to 8pm on Monday and Thursday, but closes at 6pm on other weekdays.  The new Wembley Library will open until 8pm every week day.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Universal Credit Failing Confirmed

The FT reports that universal credit is indeed struggling to be achievable, according to a report by the government itself.  This follows various denials by Iain Duncan Smith that anything is wrong.  I also enjoyed the statement after the Francis Maude quote.

Friday, 24 May 2013

ACE and Libraries

The Arts Council has finally published its libraries document "Envisioning the library of the future".  It is quite long, detailing examples of best practice, including from Brent.  I have yet to have had a chance to digest it, although I enjoyed participating in the research.


In answer to the comment, the proposals put to the Council (even on their own terms) all involved significant costs at a time when we very much need to reduce costs.  I am not aware of any Council that claims to have reduced costs through volunteer libraries.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Dave Hill on the Boris Bus

Dave Hill has some justly critical comment on the Boris Bus here.  As always, I am amazed at how the media generally allows Boris to get away with anything he likes.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Learie Constantine Centre

A piece of good news coming up is the redevelopment of the Learie Constantine Centre which came up at the last Executive.  The plan is for a renewed centre with some additional housing which should boost that part of Willesden High Road.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Liberal Democrat Bar Charts

For those looking for light relief on this Tuesday morning, these examples of Liberal Democrat bar charts may be worth looking at.  This sort of thing is practised by the Liberal Democrats at every election.  Indeed, I suspect they have a standard handbook, which includes standard steps you always have to use, no matter what:

1) Always make personal attacks on your opponent(s). Truth is unimportant. Imply everyone else is on the fiddle in some way.
2) Always imply that your opponent(s) come from some place other than the constituency, and that you are local.  This is very much a Sarah Teather favourite.  She tries this smear even when her opponents actually live in the constituency.  Ken Livingstone once argued that Sarah Teather could be described as the most local candidate of all, since she had previously described herself as "local" in elections in Barnet, Brighton and Islington.
3) Always claim that the election is a two horse race, and that the gap is closing in the last week of the campaign.  This can be done even if the Liberal Democrats are widely recognised not to have any hope of winning.

As well as these generic, I have listed some more Brent specific examples here.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Street Trees on Buchanan Gardens

I have just walked down Buchanan Gardens on the way to an appointment at Gracelands Cafe.  The trees are well established now, but I remember the controversy in 2006 when their predecessors were removed.  The previous trees had all been London Planes, which were the subject of numerous insurance claims for undermining peoples' houses.  The new ones are much smaller.  Although it was a big kerfluffle at the time, I don't think I have had any complaints since.

Local Government Litany

Each morning I get an email summarising news reports on local government from the LGiU.  Today, even more than usual, it is a litany of woe.

The most depressing part of it is the Guardian's report on homelessness, which is rising massively thanks to the government's benefit cuts. Huge numbers of families are being forced out of their communities.  As so many people are being made homeless, the bill for the taxpayer is being pushed upwards instead of downwards.  Even more depressing than these facts, is the government minister's reaction, which is to deny that there is any problem.  He must know that this is untrue, but for this government really appears to believe what they can get reported in the papers rather than what actually happens.  It reminds me of an old joke about Brezhnev. Brezhnev was on a train that stopped moving.  He told his staff to paint all the windows black, and tell the passengers it was still going forward.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Brent Civic Centre Opening

Brent Civic Centre will open to the public from 10 June.  Council staff are moving in in a staggered process from the end of May.  The long awaited Wembley Library will be open from 17 June.  I believe the official opening of the whole complex is set for October.

Altogether, the development has taken a decade and more from conception to starting. As well as making narrow financial and environmental sense, it is a great vote of confidence in the regeneration of Wembley.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Falling Police Numbers in London

Left Foot Forward has a story on Boris Johnson's cuts to police numbers despite his promises to maintain them.  I don't understand how he is able to maintain his Teflon reputation.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Improved Waste Management in Brent

Although we are still finding new ways to improve waste collection in Brent, it is worth pausing to look back on how far we have come since 2009/10.

The amount of landfill collected by Brent has fallen by about 15,000 tons per year, which has saved the taxpayer about £1.5 million.  That is a better improvement than any of our West London neighbours.  Tonnage per household has also slipped downward, and of course the proportion of recycling is much greater at about 43%, compared to about 30% under the Liberal Democrats.


The comment below is factually incorrect. By 2006, when Labour left office last time, Brent's recycling rate was more than 20%.  The Liberal Democrats managed to increase it by about 1.5% a year despite much more benign circumstances.  The very big increase since 2011 is overwhelmingly down to the introduction of alternate weekly collections, which are used by almost all of the  UK's most successful recycling authorities.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Interim Library Services at the Lewinson Centre

A couple of days ago I popped into the Lewinson Centre to see how the interim library services looked.  When I was last there it was simply an empty room.  Now it has a dozen PCs, a reasonably large collection of books and of course access to the rest of the Brent Library service.  It is certainly a much better, and closer, interim library service than the equivalent facility for Harlesden during its rebuild in the run up to 2010.

Full details of the interim Willesden Library service are here and here

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

London Flooding

Recent estimates on major flooding make for terrifying reading.  The cost of a failure of the Thames Flood Barrier is so huge that I would have thought precautionary investment was a no brainer.  However, flood control is a local government matter, and the government is grinding all local government spending down ruthlessly.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

More Waste Enforcement

Brent Council has started trialling a new waste enforcement strategy in Willesden and Harlesden Town Centres.  The contractor is leaving dumped rubbish for a short period, whereas before it was picked up as soon as found.  This allows the Council's enforcement team to go through the rubbish for evidence of where it came from and then sack it up into red bags to be collected by the contractor.  Early indications are that this is proving an effective deterrent as waste arisings have so far declined by 25%.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Council Tax Non Payment

Today' FT has a story detailing the rising numbers of non payers of Council Tax.  The story is about a survey of the worst affected authorities. Brent is mentioned, as have about 14,000 people getting Council Tax bills who have not been billed before. Some sort of rise in the numbers of non payers is inevitable in those circumstances, which I am sure will lead to criticism by the likes of Eric Pickles.

It illustrates the political trick that Pickles keeps on pulling off.  Forcing local authorities to do something unpopular or which is inherently difficult to administer, and then blame them for the entirely predictable consequences of Pickles' own policy.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

3D Printing Again

The Guardian has quite a long piece on 3D printing, which I have mentioned before.  It is an idea that greatly interests me, although I don't think Brent Libraries services will be doing it in the near future.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Benefit Caps

One of the most serious issues facing all London Authorities is benefit caps.  A short article here gives one take on this.  Brent is one of the most affected.

Friday, 10 May 2013

The Brent Magazine and Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles is trying to suppress certain types of Council publicity, as the Guardian reports.  This is typical of his technique.  Take a trivial issue in a few local authorities. Blow it out of all proportion. Then use it as an excuse to enact draconian legislation to inflict your control over very authority.  The issue in this case is about Council newspapers.

Brent of course does not do a Council newspaper, but we do have the Brent Magazine, which we use to promote things like recycling.  That kind of educational stuff is essential to making recycling work.  Plans by Pickles to cut our issues to no more than four a year, would actually cost money since it would make the magazine less attractive to the advertisers who pay for it.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Hotel Libraries

Although it is a little off the beaten track, I found this Economist piece on hotel libraries interesting.  Who would have thought so much thought went into such things?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Forthcoming Wembley Library

We have been waiting ages for the new library in Wembley to open, which it is due to do on 17 June. I believe this will be the first purpose built library in Brent since the 1980s.  The new library is designed to vastly exceed the Town Hall library it replaces.  According to present plans, it will have:

* Greater floor space
* A capacity for 35,000 books on shelves and a "rolling stock" of about 60,000.
* Access to the London lending Consortium I.e about 6 million volumes.
* Eight fixed iPads in the children's area, and the possible loans of iPads within the Civic Centre.
* A much better physical layout.
* Co-location with many other Council services (as well as a cafe)
* Plenty of performance space
* 48 internet access points and almost 80 study spaces (a key concern during the 2011 consultation)
* Wifi connection and IT flexibility to meet new technological demands
* Wide access to all sorts of online resources including periodicals, reference and family history
* Brent's established RFID technology.

As well as all this, we may be able to get an enterprise zone in there (modelled I suspect on the successful Library Lab pilot), a number of social and educational activities including the existing homework clubs but also other things that people want to do, training courses and informal learning, as well as lots of activities for kiddies.  We are also aiming for a literature festival in the first two weeks, although I don't have details on that yet.

We really are doing our damnedest to turn Brent Library Service around after the decline of the past several years, and I often feel frustrated that message does not seem to get across.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Salusbury Road Library Revisited

I am not quite sure why, but I keep on getting views on a post I did a while ago on Salusbury Road library.  The refurbishment has been a great success., with good improvements in both issues and visits.  It is a great pity that some people seem to find the success of Kilburn library so hard to accept, simply because it is part of the Libraries Transformation Project.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Another Councillor Review

Today is the day I usually do my six month review looking at both past and future.  I guess the main subject here is waste and recycling.

This was an early objective of Brent's Labour administration, and i think we have achieved a lot.  Our manifesto target was focused on recycling.  We inherited a declining recycling rate of less than 30% and have pushed it up to 43% or thereabouts.  That is good, but we have currently reorganised to push it up still further.

We have also started to focus more on reduction and re-use.  I think West London Waste Authority is probably a pioneer in this respect.  We recently agreed a contract for more recovery.  This will divert from greenhouse bad emissions to electricity generation.

For other sections, I think we need to turn more to the economic agenda for each section.  For example, libraries are offering lots of training opportunities.  This could supply opportunities in the creative industries in particular.

On the more casework side, hopefully I have kept people informed about Station Approach, Harlesden Town Centre, improvements to parks and the ward in general.  We have had. Couple of hiccups at St Marks Church, as the keys were changed.

In terms of Brent Council as a whole, we currently confront the worst financial situation the Borough has ever faced.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Library Problems in New Zealand

There is a quick post here. It is about the value of libraries as seen in New Zealand.  It is tempting to sa that our current problems are simply down to the current Tory government and their Liberal Democrat cheerleaders, and many of them are.  However, libraries also have a number of other problems that are more existential, and the video gives a hint to that.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Incinerators and the Waste Hierarchy

I thought I should respond to the commentator here in a separate post.  The question is how can you oppose an incinerator in Harlesden, but pass a contract for a similar facility outside London as part of the West London Waste Authority?

To my mind the key difference with the Harlesden proposal is its proximity to housing, which maximises the dangers from poor air quality.  There is also the separate issue of vehicle movements around Harlesden's already overcrowded town centre.  By contrast, the Sita plant will be built on derelict industrial land (an old chemical works) without nearby residents.

Why not oppose all electricity generation from waste?  Here we come to the waste hierarchy concept that I posted on a long time ago.  The waste hierarchy is well established as a guiding concept in planning and waste industry circles at national, regional and local level.  It has five stages in descending order of desirability.  The best is to produce any waste.  The next is to re-use items.   West London Waste Authority is probably at the leading edge of promoting these objectives.  The third is to recycle, where Brent has enormously improved since Labour took power in 2010.  Crucially the next stage is "recovery".which means burning waste.  This is accepted as less desirable than the other stages, but better than landfill.

Incidentally, waste in landfill is a not very accessible resource.  It continues to produce methane, which is an unattractive greenhouse gas.  It also leaks leachate, polluted water, although this can be treated.  Whatever materials that are put in a landfill site are then covered with soil and never used again.

Waste that is burnt in a power plant generates electricity, which the UK is going to be short of over the next few years.  It also generates surplus heat, which can cut carbon emissions if it is sold to a major user.  Financially, the new plant will save enormous amounts of money. Finally, the new power plant will not have "uncontrolled emissions".  All such facilities in this country and the rest of the EU have extensive emissions regulation.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Aftermyth of Thatcherism

Flip Chart Fairy Tales has an interesting piece on the aftermyth of Thatcherism as the local election results roll in today.  It certainly is amazing that Mrs Thatcher still exerts such a grip on modern politics more than twenty years after leaving office.  I guess it shows the importance of story telling in politics.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Air Quality Ruling

The courts are forcing the UK to pay more attention to air quality.  This may make life difficult for the likes of Boris Johnson, but I think it makes life much better for the rest of us.  Brent has consistently promoted better air quality through our planning and transport policies.  We also recently revised our air quality action plan.  Both the Borough and the public seem to be ahead of Mr Johnson in improving air quality and therefore public health.


In answer to the comment, I see no contradiction between my desire to reduce emissions from waste disposal, and my support for better air quality.

I have given a fuller answer here.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Cashless Parking in Brent

I was given a demonstration of the new Brent system for cashless parking on Monday.  I know many people are concerned by this, but once set up, it looks quite swift and simple.  Processing permits becomes much cheaper and simpler under the new system.  The Council's expectation is that the vast majority will adapt to cashless parking with alacrity.