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Thursday, 31 October 2013

Fairtrade and Corporate Strategy

In the Summer, we rather strangely had a vote on a revamped corporate strategy for the Borough.  I say this is strange, because there doesn't appear to be any good reason to revamp th3e corporate strategy.  We subsequently had the Chief Executive in to explain the document, and I was rather surprised to find that she didn't seem to know what the targets referred to.  If no one knows what the targets are about, it is hard to see how anyone is going to know if they have been met.

Where a Strategy document such as this can be useful is in cascading changes through an organisation, and it struck me that Fairtrade is a good example.

The 2010 Brent Labour Party manifesto had a commitment to promoting Fairtrade, and that got into the Corporate Strategy passed after we won the election.  This helped me to push the issue with officers, who had rather given up on it following the failure to attain Fairtrade status by the Liberal Democrats and Tories in 2008.  This helped the Borough to finally attain status as a Fairtrade Authority.

However, it also helped drive Fairtrade further into detailed decision making.  For instance, it helped me persuade the head of procurement that Fairtrade should be part of the specification for the cafe franchises at the Civic Centre.  The fact that you can drink Fairtrade coffee is directly attributable to that specification.  It also helped when I wanted to make provision of Fairtrade goods a condition for Ward Working funding for the Night Shelter project, and for the Fairtrade artwork in Hazel Road Open Space. 

Somehow, I can't see the revamped strategy being used in the same way. 

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Make Willesden Green

I notice that there are moves afoot to put up an independent candidate(s) in Willesden Green.  I think on the whole that is quite healthy.  Until people actually try it, they don't realise that standing for election is quite difficult.

Looking at the candidates' manifesto, I am struck that a lot of what he is talking about is fairly obvious stuff that is currently moving forward.  For instance, the call for a better public realm or traffic calming. He also calls for development of the Genesis site near Kingsley Court, something I might say myself.  As my own experience with Willesden Social Club shows, this tends to take a long time. He also doesn't seem to get how councillors involved in planning applications have to be careful about what they say.  Or that a single independent councillor may have difficulty influencing Council policy, which is afterall one of the main reasons we have political parties in the first place. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

St Jude Storm Damage and Street Trees

The St Jude storm has damaged a lot of our street trees.  Above is a tree I photographed in Palermo Road yesterday.  Currently, the Council estimate that the damage is worse than at any time since 1987.  The Council is estimating about 150 trees lost but there may well be trees that are still unknown.

Given the scale of the problem, it is taking a while to get around all the trees to clear them.  The Council is prioritising areas where a fallen tree is blocking someone in their home, or blocking a road.  I gather they were working up to midnight last night and from the early hours this morning.

Surprisingly, it does not always seem to be the youngest trees that get damaged the most.  I had a look at some of the new trees planted around Park Parade this morning and they seemed intact.  I recall that in the Kensal Rise tornado of a few years back, the hundred year old trees in the tornado area were destroyed.  Nearby the then very recently planted saplings on Buchanan Gardens were fine.


There is a list of street trees that the Council knows about here


The relatively limited damage to Southern English woodlands is covered here.

Business rates and High Streets

There is a piece here about business rates strangling high streets, rather than parking charges.  This could well be true.  Certainly given most shoppers in places like Harlesden Town Centre come by means other than car, reducing business rates sounds like a better route than tinkering with parking charges.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Cllr Paul Lorber and the Downgrading of Wembley Library

The success of the new Wembley Library, Brent's first new library for twenty five years, causes me to reflect on how hard it was to achieve.  One of the striking things about the controversy over libraries was the deep seated hostility to change, even when it was obviously beneficial.

I have blogged before on Paul Lorber's numerous reversals of policy on the subject.  However I didn't mention that he actually proposed scaling back or perhaps entirely removing the new Library in Wembley in a letter to the then Chief Executive.

After criticising the new Wembley Library for being bigger and better than the old Town Hall Library, he goes on to say that:

"It is clear to me that the smaller local libraries are being sacrificed to fund the new and substantially larger Civic Centre Library which for many years will not be situated in a residential area and which will require a journey to get to.

This is not an approach that my group can support.  If existing libraries are under threat of closure then the size and capital and revenue cost of the proposed Civic Centre Library must be substantially scaled down. 

The Civic Centre Library must therefore make a contribution towards the £1 million revenue savings target being set for the libraries by substantially scaling down the new library proposed for the Civic Centre both in terms of revenue and capital costs."

I find the psychology at work here interesting.  Of course, had we followed this course, it would almost certainly have cost money rather than saving it.  The architects could have done a redesign, and the contractor rescheduled the building works, but they would no doubt have asked for compensation for the extra work involved.  Assuming the Civic Centre building remains the same size, I am not sure there would have been any saving in the overall running cost, we would have ended up with a much worse library.

More seriously, Cllr Lorber appears to be objecting to the very quality of the library, which we now know is one of its great attractions.  Granted, he made the unwarranted assumption that people would not travel to the Wembley Library, which we now know to be untrue.

At roughly the same time I recall him suggesting that Kilburn Library should be closed so I suppose one should not be surprised that headlines seem more important than reality.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Bad Pharma

I have been reading Ben Goldacre's Bad Pharma, which is in general a distressing take on the abuses not just of pharmaceutical companies, but also by academics, regulators and politicians.  However, it has a footnote on an experiment relating to titles.  A series of letters were sent out at random by a newly knighted doctor.  Some referred to him as "Sir"; others did not.  It made no difference to the likelihood of a response.  Somehow, the idea that someone thinks of doing such research gladdens me. 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Street Lighting in Brent

It was interesting to see a new product that might have the ability to do away with conventional street lighting (here).  I don't know whether Starpath is practical, but Brent will certainly have to do something about its street lighting.  In money terms, likely rises in electricity prices will make the bills for street lighting rise.  In carbon emissions terms, the success of the Civic Centre in cutting carbon emissions mean that street lights are representing a bigger and bigger proportion of the Council's carbon footprint.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Free School Failure

The LGiU has a blog asking whether there is a need for a "middle tier" to supervise schools, and whether local authorities should do the job.  The answer to both questions is surely yes.  Central government simply doesn't have the resource to supervise more than 24,000 schools effectively.  The policy of hollowing out local authority powers whilst leaving them with responsibilities simply means that necessary jobs, like providing school places do not get done.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Weekend Cleaning in Brent Parks

Another planned improvement in the new Public Realm contract is weekend cleaning at selected Brent parks in the Summer.  The parks that are felt to particularly need this are: Roundwood Park, Welsh Harp Reservoir, Barham Park, Roe Green Park, Woodcock Park, Butlers Green and King Edwards Park Wembley.  These are felt to be the most in need.  It shows you can still have improvements even within an overall context of reducing budgets.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Wembley Library Growth Not Unprecedented

My Sunday post on the growth of numbers at Wembley Library, which has been picked by the Kilburn Times, has led some to express surprise.

It is actually not that surprising if you consider the precedent of Kilburn Library.  Kilburn had a major refurbishment followed by opening on 10 September 2012.  The subsequent visit and loan figures are on the Brent Council web site here.  The relevant comparison is Quarter 3, which was the first full quarter after re-opening.  Visits went up by 226.9%, and loans rose by 71.7% in that Quarter.

A major refurbishment really does have a beneficial effect on the number of people using the library.  Such precedents bode well for the prospects of the new Willesden Green Library Centre in 2015.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Good Riddance to the Racist Vans

Just a quick post to welcome the good riddance to the racist vans put out by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.  Our society is cleaner without them.

God and Mammon Meet in the Credit Union

I understand that the Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Rev'd Paul Williams, has enrolled in Your Credit Union (YourCU) as part of the Church of England's efforts to compete payday lenders out of existence.  YourCU mainly covers Kensington, but also covers Kensal Green and Queens Park.

I am impressed by the way the Church of England is taking this issue to heart, and making a major national promotion across thirty dioceses.

Monday, 21 October 2013

English Language Difficulties in Brent

One of the sets of stats in the report on the Public Realm contract that I have not seen before related to the numbers of people in the Borough who have difficulty with English communication.  It is broken out by ward below:

Cannot Speak English Well Cannot Speak English Total All Categories % with Language Difficulties
Alperton           1,592             342          1,934                                            13,455 14.4%
Wembley          1,442             307          1,749                                            14,116 12.4%
Welsh Harp          1,054             197          1,251                                            13,103 9.5%
Dudden Hill          1,042             195          1,237                                            14,355 8.6%
Harlesden          1,269             220          1,489                                            16,154 9.2%
Queensbury          1,099             253          1,352                                            14,565 9.3%
Sudbury          1,129             188          1,317                                            14,251 9.2%
Tokyngton          1,102             243          1,345                                            14,509 9.3%
Dollis Hill             938             147          1,085                                            12,783 8.5%
Fryent             866             146          1,012                                            12,850 7.9%
Kensal             929             169          1,098                                            14,149 7.8%
Preston          1,023             187          1,210                                            14,793 8.2%
Stonebridge          1,008             200          1,208                                            15,998 7.6%
Willesden          1,046             180          1,226                                            14,885 8.2%
Barnhill             918             181          1,099                                            15,058 7.3%
Kenton             630             143             773                                            11,761 6.6%
Mapesbury             716             108             824                                            14,888 5.5%
Brondesbury             477             111             588                                            12,525 4.7%
Northwick             547             112             659                                            12,398 5.3%
Kilburn             580             112             692                                            16,230 4.3%
Queens Park             457               89             546                                            14,554 3.8%

The average is 8%, although the total of all the wards does not add up to the total population of the Borough.  I assume that this is because some people did not answer the census question.

These figures are actually somewhat lower than I imagined that they would be.  Lack of Engl;ish tends to be a major problem in my experience, and I thought it was more widespread than this.  There isn't any magic bullet to deal with it.  Not least because we have such a variety of languages.  In somewhere like Tower Hamlets, the non English language is generally Bengali.  In Brent, you can easily find half a dozen languages in the same street.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Wembley Library The First Quarter

I mentioned before that Wembley Library seems to be a big success compared to the former Town Hall Library, but it is worth looking at the figures for the first quarter of operation for this.

The figures for visitor numbers are:

2013 2012 % Change

July          49,769          20,689 140.6%
August          54,222          21,028 157.9%
September          42,376          17,539 141.6%

Total       146,367          59,256 147.0%

The figures for book borrowing are:

2013 2012 % Change

July          16,549            9,489 74.4%
August          20,205          10,652 89.7%
September          15,262            8,466 80.3%

Total          52,016          28,607 81.8%

These are both impressive jumps in numbers, but I think it is also worth thinking about the qualitative differences.

Some people, like Phil Bradley, see the future of libraries as helping people to cross the digital divide and become more familiar with the latest information technologies.  You can get a sense of this in Wembley with the staff regularly helping people with the PCs and the fixed ipads available.  Less obvious is the ipad lending service or loans of energy meters, and training in things such as how to construct a web site. 

Incidentally, Wembley Library also features an impressive list of writer events, including Martina Cole on Wednesday.  You can find more Brent libraries events here.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Social Value and Procurement

The new Public Realm contract is the first really big contract that Brent has had with the Social Value Act in place.  I have expressed concerns before about how Brent Council can reconcile the need for financial savings, service performance and the desire for greater "social value" than before. 

Despite my skepticism, I have to admit, that the new contract does do a good job of improving environmental outcomes, and goes some way to help economic outcomes by providing apprenticeships and the possibility of the London Living Wage.  However, those who see Councils as just a pool of employment are likely to be disappointed as the greater efficiency which is inescapable in the current financial circumstances makes Spanish practices impossible even if they were desirable. 

It is also worth noting that the area of greatest difficulty in terms of low pay and lack of career progression is in adult social care contracts, and there seems next to no possibility of there being improvement there.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Carbon Emissions in the Brent Public Realm Contract

One of the innovations in the new Public Realm contract is a specific target to reduce carbon emissions, which I don't believe featured in the 2007 contract it replaces.  The target refers to emissions from office buildings, other operational buildings, vehicle fuel and "non-vehicle" fuel.  The intention is to cut emissions from 2,717 tons of CO2e per year in 2014/15 to 2,690 in 2016/17.

While this is welcome, it is small beer compared to the benefit of cutting the waste sent to landfill.  Landfill is a huge generator of methane as food waste rots in the grounds.  Even though modern landfill sites such as the one in Calvert in Buckinghamshire that West London uses, burn the methane for electricity it is still a major greenhouse gas contributor.  Thus, the reduction in actual waste is likely to be a more important factor than the direct carbon emissions of the vehicles.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Smaller Bins in Brent

I pointed out before that the new contract for waste is progressive in encouraging waste reduction.  Part of this is adopting 140 litre bins.  I recall this coming up during the consultation on introducing the blue top bins, and many people were quite keen on it.  I assume that the existing protocol around shared bins for (for instance) flats in a converted house would remain the same, but this is a point I need to clarify.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Food Waste

The huge waste of food world wide is covered here.  West London is pioneering food waste reduction as I mentioned a few days ago.  However, I find it ominous that the company building the power plant to dispose of WLWA's waste has done a lot of research and remains confident that at least 50% of the fuel they are supplied with will be food waste.

Measuring Library Performance

My Sunday blog on library performance suggested that our standard measurements are rather old fashioned.  The basic logic is that book borrowing is the core activity of libraries, and that all the other activities can be broadly captured by visitor numbers.

That is maybe a workable model for 1990, but hasn't the game changed by two big technology changes? I am thinking of the Internet and of wireless technology.

To some extent, libraries are used to the Internet, but our measurements still tend to assume that everyone goes to a building to access library services.  I often point out that many traditional library activities _ reading newspapers, borrowing books, searching a catalogue _ can be done online.  The amount of stuff this covers is much more extensive than people generally think.  Despite ebook borrowing being much slower to take off than I anticipated, getting on for a quarter of Brent's book loans occur without someone going to a library.  Therefore our footfall figures simply don't capture a lot of what libraries do, even by proxy.

The second big change is the rise of wireless.  Libraries are getting used to this.  All Brent libraries are wireless foot example, but we don't really capture it in measurements.  Of course, a lot of it is still quite new.  iPhones were launched only in 2007, and iPads only in 2010.  Whereas a few years ago, a library could monitor its IT activity via the log ons at desk bound computers, there is now a growing trend to bring in their own devices, which drives the growing use of soft furnishings rather than desks in library design.

We need to find ways of tracking all this activity, so that policy can be determined by evidence about how modern libraries actually work rather than childhood anecdotes.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Brent Libraries Gold Award

Congratulations to Brent Libraries for getting a Gold Award for its Six Book Challenge for the second year running!  We had 163 completes this year, compared to 157 before.

The scheme is run by the Reading Agency to encourage adult reading.

Curtilage Collection and the New Recycling Contract

Although I think the overall contract for waste and street cleaning in Brent is very strong, one area that troubles me is the proposed changes to curtilage collection. 

The Present Collection System
At present, residents simply leave their bins and the contractors collect it, returning the empty bins to somewhere in the front garden.  They are supposed not to leave it in the way of anyone coming in or out of the house, although I have often heard people say that this requirement is often ignored.  There is a special assisted collection service for people who are infirm for one reason or another.

The Proposed Alternative System
The proposed alternative is that people will be expected to leave their bins at the edge of the property or they will not be collected.  This effectively happens already in some parts of Brent, and I have been told in other parts of London, but I am not sure that people will take to it in southern parts of the Borough with lots of houses in multiple occupation, high rates of transition and poor knowledge of English.  The attraction is of course that it makes it much easier for the bin men, and therefore represents a significant monetary saving.

I would be interested in hearing what other people think.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Street Gritting and the New Brent Contract

Street gritting tends to get forgotten most of the year, but reappears as soon as it snows.  The new contract plans that the contractor will provide a new salt barn in Brent, as well as more equipment to move the salt around.  The inclusion of parks staff under one contract means that there will be more people to actually do the gritting than at present.  I assume that the contractor will continue to use the excellent weather forecasting service, which I am told already saves significant sums in unecessary salt usage. 

I have never heard this officially, but I assume lower salt usage is also helpful in terms of biodiversity, as a lower amount of dissolved salt eventually drains off into the ground.

Summer Reading Challenge in Brent Libraries

A recent blog on public libraries news mentions Brent's Summer Reading Challenge figures.  The target for this year was 4,431 children as joiners, and the service actually achieved 4,483 joiners.  The target for finishers was 2,360, and the actual figure was 2,401.  This is an even better performance than last year

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Brent Libraries First Half Performance

I have got into the habit of tracking Brent Library figures here, so it seems like a good time to look at the half year performance.

Up to the end of September, we had 751,850 visits compared to 680,333 in the same period in the previous year.  That is an increase of 10%.  The book loan figures have more modest growth.  The year so far had 485,949 loans, compared to 483,073, growth of 0.6%.

There is a case that both these measures are rather old fashioned and we need to find different benchmarks.  For instance, it has been true for a very long time that many people access libraries not to borrow books but to use computers.  It is also true that many people use Brent Library services without actually going into a physical library.  Brent Library users can now search the catalogue, borrow books, read periodicals, and borrow ebooks without setting foot in an actual library.  This makes the traditional footfall measure much less useful than it once was.

Dunning Kruger Effect

An aside here.  I have only recently come across of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome. This is defined as:

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias in which people perform poorly on a task, but lack the meta-cognitive capacity to properly evaluate their performance. As a result, such people remain unaware of their incompetence and accordingly fail to take any self-improvement measures that might rid them of their incompetence.

What a useful concept.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The New Brent Contract and the Waste Hierarchy

The report into the new waste contract coming up on Monday is written in terms of improving Brent's recycling rate, but I think it is more interesting in terms of its relations with the waste hierarchy as a whole. 

The contract is quite forward looking in having explicit waste reduction targets.  Traditionally, we we have tended to focus too much on upping the recycling rate.  The introduction of the blue top bins led to a big jump in recycling.  The package of measures introduced in April this year should hopefully raise the recycling rate to 50%.  As the rate gets even higher, pushing it higher still; becomes more and more difficult.

I think over time, we will need to think more in terms of landfill diversion, by reduction or other means.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Indefensible Council Tax

I am assuming that people may be a bit maxed out by the number of posts I have been doing on the new waste and street cleaning contract.  It is just that, having pursued the issues for so long, it is good to see the final stages comping up.

Instead of blogging on it today, I thought I would look at a story on Council finance north of the border.  Thus, I leap from one source of glamour and excitement to another.  COSPA, which is the Scottish equivalent of CIPFA (i.e. the main public finance association).  They point out that the Holyrood policy (which Holyrood shares with Eric Pickles) of freezing Council Tax for a small government grant is unsustainable.  It gradually erodes the proportion of income that the Council itself controls.  Incidentally undermining the localism rhetoric that Eric Pickles has used to cut central government grants in general. 

I am not sure of the figures, but it sounds as if the Scottish figures, of only 14% of Council income coming from Council Tax, is even lower than in England.

It is tempting to try to change this by going back to the past and giving greater freedom over Council Tax levels to local authorities.  Aside from the problem of this quite likely leading to massive "catch up" rises, the Council Tax taxbase has not been revalued since the early 1990s.  Hence, the valuation bands have less and less connection to the reality on the ground. 

I was recently reading The Poor Had No Lawyers by Andy Wightman, which is about Scottish land reform.  Believe it or not, it is really quite interesting.  His suggestion is introducing a Land Value Tax that taxed land, rather than the buildings on top of it.  The political challenges to making that happen would be huge, but something as radical as that is probably needed.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Street Cleaning and the New Contract

One of the most common complaints about the environment in Brent is about street cleaning.  Therefore a lot of attention was paid to this aspect in the new contract.  The older contract focuses on the number of cleans per week, where3as the new one (on street cleaning and other things) is more concerned with outputs.  Rather than demand the contractor clean a street (say) once a week, they are required to meet a Keep Britain Tidy standard of cleanliness. 

The grades they need to meet will be either A (clean) of B (with only small items).  Obviously, this is easier to say than achieve.

Of particular interest to people who live near town centres such as Willesden High Road or off Kilburn High Road is an apparently arcane change in zoning.  The old contract had five zones, with most of the Borough regarded as "residential" and getting fewer cleans than town centres.  This sounds fine in principle, but provides problems for areas such as Wendover Road just off Harlesden High Street.  Here litter blows off the High Street and more litter is dropped by the high number of people going through to Willesden Junction.  The effect is that Wendover Road needs more frequent cleaning than most of Brent's streets.  The old contract did not have the flexibility to deal with this.  The new contract is intended to give greater flexibility by making the relationship between need and resource much stronger.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Communications and the New Street Cleaning Contract

One of the key changes in working practices of the new waste and street cleaning contract is in the greater role the contractor will have in communications.  This is a definite shift from the current situation which is much more led by Brent Council officers.

The new arrangement commits the contractor to various waste reduction targets, and gives it the responsibility for communicating with residents to achieve them.  Hence there are targets for attending road shows and events, the contractor will be expected to be more pro-active in producing recycling materials and there is expected to be more scope for anti-litter campaigns.

Incidentally, isn't it odd that most of the conversations that I have with people about littering seem to blame the people picking up the litter rather than the people who dropped it in the first place?

Brent Libraries Newspaper Service

Brent Libraries have now introduced a new newspapers service, which anyone with a library card can access online.  It has a vast range of newspapers from the UK and around the world.  Most of the major UK titles are there, with the exception of the Murdoch press (no bad thing in my view).

When we did the consultation exercise in 2011, just over half of respondents said that they used Brent libraries specifically to access periodicals, so the new service should be a winner.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Future Harlesden Town Centre Waste Management

It is too soon to see whether the trial waste enforcement I blogged on earlier will have long term effects.  I think that, if it does, it will be through the greater use of trade waste contracts.  If it were possible to sustain the drop in illegal waste over a year, that would be roughly fifty tonnes, which is a saving worth having.  I think getting shopkeepers to sign up to contracts, as they are legally obliged to, is the most hopeful measure for sustaining the improvement.

The other longer term measure that will have to be considered in the possibility of time banded collections.  This is a feature I was particularly keen that we be able to introduce in the new contract from next year.  I saw that this worked well when I went on a visit to Green Lanes in Haringey, and I have heard that it is effective in parts of Westminster and other places, but it would need a positive effort to get it in place.In other words, getting local businesses actively engaged becomes a key part of the success of any scheme.

Waste and Street Cleaning Contract at Last

Next Monday, the Executive will finally make a decision on the new waste and street cleaning contract, which is due to come into force in April next year.  Although this is the final stage, the negotiation has gone on for the best part of a year.  Indeed, if you count the meetings I and the then Council Leader had with Veolia about these issues, the whole thing goes back more than two years.

The sheer complexity of procurement now is not widely appreciated, and too much for one post.  I think I will be doing multiple posts on this subject as it is so central and deserves more attention.  The Social Value Act requires the Council to pay regard to social and environmental effects, and the Equality Act demands attention be paid to the various "protected characteristics" under that legislation.  This is the reason for much of the (to me) fascinating demographic details at the back.

We also decided to bundle a wide range of services together, including _ street cleaning, waste collection, maintenance of parks and services for BHP _ making it all even more complicated.  The whole thing was done under what is called a "competitive dialogue procedure".

I recall going through one of the many drafts of the specification well before Christmas last year, which is when the process officially started with an OJEU notice (a kind of official advertisement).

We then went through the various stages, which are standard to all procurements of this type.  We had the pre qualification questionnaires, which are intended to make sure all the bidders have the basic ability to fulfil a contract of this complexity.  Then bidders were invited to put in their suggested outline solutions, which they did in February and March.  The next stage saw the number of bidders reduced to three, who were asked to give more detailed solutions.  This was in April.  The bids were then evaluated and the final tender held in July.

All this involved extremely detailed, and I am told extremely gruelling, discussions between the bidders and a team of Brent officers, leading the recommendation for Veolia ES (UK) Ltd on Monday. 

I think the rigour of the process can be seen in the final report

Brent Central Kicks Off

Those people who live in Brent Central and are members of the Labour Party, a select group I imagine, are about to be inundated with would be candidates seeking attention.  First off the blocks is Tony McNulty.  Official notification of the start of the process begins this week.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Ward Working Projects in Kensal Green

The scheme for a Mosaic in Furness Pocket Park that I mentioned a few days ago is the last of the Kensal Green ward working projects to be finalised this year.  The others in no particular order are:

Engagement with recycling in "Clean Up" days
This is being led by REACH residents association, and only costs £876.  As well as encouraging recycling, they help to bring different community groups together.  The grant also including the "Big Green Lunch" at Furness primary school, done jointly with the Odessa and Palermo Road RA.

More Street Trees
Last year, we managed to find funding for seventy street trees in Kensal Green for a variety of sources.  This year, we allocated £2,500 of ward working funds to more street trees.  That should be enough for about ten more trees.

Walls of Colour
This a project costing only £600 of ward working funding.  The idea is to have residents doing oil painting on a series of canvasses.  It featured in the Big Green Lunch.  The canvasses will eventually be displayed in the Civic Centre in the art display area behind the stairs.

Debt and Benefits Advice
With so much pressure on the cost of living, the Council is doing a specific programme to help people with debt and benefits advice.  At £10,000, this is the most expensive of the Kensal Green ward working projects, and perhaps the most pressing.  Our £10,000 will be specifically targeted at Kensal Green residents.

LEAP Community Centre Equipment
LEAP, which is primarily an employment trainer in Hazel Road, also runs a youth centre.  We decided to give £1,850 towards equipment there.

Bang Radio Media Skills
We decided to give Bang Radio £3,000 to help people develop new skills related to running a radio station.  As well as training a number of people in broadcasting and radio production, it will help raise awareness around welfare issues.

Elders Voice Sing Together
This is an intergenerational project designed to bring children and older people together. The cost is £3,970, and is likely to involve children from Princess Frederica School in a series of singing workshops with older people.

Sports Activities at the Hazel Road MUGA
We have paid for sports activities at the Hazel Road MUGA before, but this links in with training.  Recently, Brent Sports service has been working to develop an apprentice scheme at Capital City Academy.  As well as providing a couple of activity schemes per week for three months, this would nalso aim to help perhaps ten people get qualifications in sports training. 

Altogether, I think that is quite a varied number of projects that helps demonstrate the value of ward working.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Metal Thefts

Four day ago, the new metal theft regulations came into force.  This is a great relief.  In Harlesden and Kensal Green, we have had a number of major thefts.  This includes the metal head that used to be outside the Harlesden Tesco, and the gate that was installed with ward working money by the Misty Moon.  Both must have been difficult acts of theft that demanded a lot of planning. Hopefully, now that scrap metaphor metal is made harder to dispose of without an audit trail, such thefts will diminish.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Town Green Rules Changed

It looks as if the government is beginning a slow retreat from its enthusiasm for community buyouts.  I say this as, it has now introduced changes making nomination for "Town Green" status more difficult.  The fears cited are that the legislation is just a means to impede planning permissions and imposes a costly inquiry process.  This certainly was the Brent experience over the redevelopment of Willesden Green Library Centre.  The Inquiry caused a lengthy delay in time and an unneeded expenditure of public resource for no obvious purpose.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Brent Central Parliamentary Selection

I picked up a copy of the Willesden and Brent Times at the Wembley ASDA today.  It was as interesting for those, the journalists decided not to mention, as for those they did.

Betting Shops Dragging High Streets Down

The LGiU had an interesting blog on the economics of betting shops.  This is one of the most frequent areas of complaint by residents about the quality of the High Street.  The proliferation of betting shops despite their unpopularity with the public at large is a constant source of frustration.

The reason that the companies want to multiply their outlets is that the most profitable part of the business is what used to be called one armed bandits. In the industry jargon these are called Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, and doesn't that name say it all.  The more you have of these the more profit you make, since they are one of the most addictive forms of gambling, and the industry targets people until they are totally drained of cash.  However, companies are limited to not more than four of these terminals per outlet, so the economics pushes more outlets.

It is hard for local authorities to resist this spread, as the various legal challenges to Brent decisions have shown from time to time.  We can take enforcement action against a single shop that sub divides into two to form two outlets, and therefore eight machines.  A second problem is that a property can have permission for "financial services" like a bank, but then does not need to change use class to become a betting shop.  We had a separate issue some years ago, when the former McDonalds in Harlesden High Street became a betting shop.  As it was moving down the use class order, it na gain did not have to apply for planning permission, and the Council was powerless to stop the development.

This is all deeply damaging socially, since gambling is not only bad for the direct victims, but the extra demand pushes up the prices of retail space for the other shops.  The increasing reliance on the machines means that even the numbers of jobs generated by bthe betting shops is reducing.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Harlesden High Street Waste Enforcement

After my blog post of a few days ago, I have serendipitously been sent some figures on the success of a recent trial in the Kensal Green part of Harlesden High Street.  This was the subject of a two week campaign where Council and Veolia staff spent every weekday morning inspecting all dumped rubbish.  The trial covered the High Street on both sides from the Harrow Road entrance into Willesden Junction up to the Jubilee Clock.  The waste was left in the manner I described back in May.

The waste was measured as the number of bags left, and the figures were thus:

                                    Week 1                     Week 2            Total

Legal Trade                   Under 25                 128                  Up to 153
Legal Domestic              697                         577                  1,274
Illegal Trade                   440                         286                   726

Total                               Up to 1,162            991                  Up to 2,153

In the first week officers did not count legal trade waste, as there were so few bags.  In the second week, the number of bags had multiplied several times over suggesting that some businesses that had been dumping waste started to get a better sense of their responsibilities.  At the same time the number of illegal trade dumps went down by 35%.  It is impossible to know how much of this was down to diversion of local trade waste into legal channels, and how much caused by reduced dumping from outside the area.

Scale of Dumping
I found the scale of the illegal dumping quite shocking.  Veolia estimate that legitimate waste amounted to 8.9 tonnes during the whole of this period, compared 6.85 tonnes of illegitimate waste.  That means that more than 40% of the waste the Council taxpayer pays to be disposed of is not his responsibility.

The weight of illegal waste went down by almost a tonne in week two, so that it then accounted for just under 40% of the total waste in week 2.

The officers have now followed up with enforcement actions.  These include seven fixed penalty notices for littering, two warning letters about flytipping and littering, twelve investigations into flytipping being started,125 investigations into whether businesses have reasonable waste management arrangements, and 34 notices issued to businesses that did not.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Parking Problems

I have been picking up various problems around changes to the parking rules.  There is one slightly peculiar problem on All Souls Avenue, but the main one appears to be getting through on the phone to sort problems out.

Extra resources have now been put in to deal with parking queries.  This mainly means more people to answer the phones, but also changes to the electronic queuing messages to clarify their meaning.  The problem with this sort of thing is that once problems start, they can quickly mount as people make multiple calls to try to sort their problems out, putting more pressure on the capacity of the system.  A few days ago, I was told that the average waiting time has been reduced to eighty seconds, and that eleven out of twelve people get through.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Mosaic in Furness Pocket Park

On Friday I attended a meeting with some local residents in Furness Pocket Park.  They plan a mosaic art work on the concrete wall nearest Harrow Road, funded with Ward Working funds.  With some pol larding of the trees, I think that could look quite good.

Ideally, we would like it to be a community project, but we will have to consider costings.