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Friday, 28 February 2014

Harlesden Jubilee Clock Refurbished

The most high profile part of the Harlesden Town Centre work, refurbishing the Harlesden Jubilee Clock, is due to start on 6 May.  The clock will be cleaned and restored before being brought back in September/October.  As it it is such a local landmark, I hope its return can be marked with an event of some kind.  The plans are for the Jubilee Clock to be moved slightly to the side (towards the Royal Oak) which is the third time it has been moved since 1887.

The second phase of the Harlesden Town Centre work around Harlesden Library is due to finish in May, leaving the final May to September phase to start.  The final phase involves the semi pedestrianisation of the area in front of Harlesden Methodist Church.  It will be good to see this major project finished.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Floods and Planning

Brent doesn't suffer from the kind of flood problems that you see in Somerset, but it does still have vulnerability on a smaller scale, as I have pointed out for some time.  It isd therefore important for Brent to do what it can to prevent surface water flooding.

Partly this can be done through improved gully cleaning.  The new Highways Contract should improve the effectiveness and frequency of the cleaning of Brent's 24,500 gullies.  This should lessen the likelihood of surface water flooding that we see in some parts of the Borough

Over the longer term, changes to the planning rules could make a difference.  Water conservation is an important part of the CSH standards for housing (which David Cameron has threatened to strip away) and BREEAM status (Our own Civic Centre is a fine example).  We have also for a long time imposed conditions around large planning applications using Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems principles (SUDs).  The proposed changes to planning policies that the Planning Committee discussed a few days ago should toughen these up somewhat.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Housing Targets in Brent

As well as discussing its own Planning policies, Brent is also being asked about changes to the Mayor of London's Plan. The main change is a big increase in the housing target, which if it was achievable would be excellent.  The trouble is that it is difficult to see where the money and the land for this new housing would come from.  The target is proposed to be increased by 33%, but Brent was struggling to meet the old target.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

An Enlarged Wembley Town Centre

I posted before about the improvements to Wembley along Olympic Way towards the Civic Centre.  It is also worth remarking that the link from the White Horse Bridge (above) has also dramatically improved with the opening of the London Design Outlet.  The effect is that Wembley now has a long town centre stretching from the Civic Centre down to the Bridge, along Wembley High Road and down into Ealing Road.  The Council is now arguing that this should be recognised as a shopping centre of importance to West London and beyond.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Brent Libraries and Oral History

Brent Libraries are advertising for an oral history project with Lottery funding.  This sort of thing would not have been possible without the very difficult decisions taken to pass Brent's Libraries Transformation project rather than continue a gentle decline in libraries.

Planning and Betting Shops

Wednesday's Planning Meeting had a discussion on how to stop the spread of betting shops, arcades and payday lenders.  These have exploded in Brent since the last government made a major mistake in passing of the Gambling Act in 2005.  Indeed Brent now has one of the highest concentrations in the country, leading to a whole range of social problems and significant damage to the health of our town centres.  Ed Miliband has promised powers to limit them if Labour wins office next time. 

However, I have been pushing for Brent to try new ways to limit their spread for some time.  Legally, this is hard, as Newham have discovered.  Brent Planning officers will be coming back with another report as to whether an "Article 4 Direction" can be made to limit the number of such outlets within a given area.  I would welcome this, although there is a real risk of a legal challenge from the wealthy companies currently hoovering up the money of customers who can often least afford it.


The urgency of this has been re-emphasised by today's Guardian (1 March 2014) and it's shocking figures on the spread of betting.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Returning to Council Tax

Hannah Fearn has an update on Council Tax trends here.  Most of the Councils with rises are sticking to below the rate at which you trigger a referendum, for reasons I explained here.  Her reference "If councils all agreed to accept the government bung, further down the line those very authorities would only face criticism from the communities minister for allowing essential services to close" probably needs a bit more explanation.

The government has been using a small grant to Councils that freeze Council Tax to effectively bribe authorities into doing that.  However, the grant is time limited, and the government can simply revoke it at will.  Indeed in recent years, the grant does not even fully compensate for the loss of a 2% Council Tax rise.  Councils that accept the grant are therefore effectively eroding their base budget, which at some point will have to lead to further cuts in services.

Incidentally, the recent Brent budget consultation concluded that the public didn't realise that Council Tax has been frozen for some years in Brent.  Apparently, most people thought it had gone up.

Coalition Government and Poverty

I hope this story is true, that the government is finally converted to seeing poverty as a problem and trying to stop it. The past does not give me confidence, however.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Air Quality Fines

The EU is taking the UK to court for poisoning its own population with poor air quality.  London is one of the worst offenders in this, and Boris Johnson has shown little concern over the issue.  If a fine is levied, it is likely that constituent local authorities (like Brent) will be asked to pay it.  This seems very unfair as Brent has a good record in attacking the issue through its planning and transport policies.  The latest round of new planning policies extends this by suggesting that major developments should be air quality neutral.

The main blackspot in the Borough, Neasden Goods Yard, is an area where the main regulatory powers lie with the Environment Agency. 

Alex Salmond as a Unionist

John Curtice argues that the suggestion that an independent Scotland could not keep the pound has backfired.  I suspect that this has more to do with Alex Salmond's canny exploitation of a sense of victimhood than the merits of the case.  What I find surprising is that the arguments that Salmond makes for a currency union are classic unionist arguments.  Why introduce transaction costs between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and so on?  I have made these arguments myself.

What is weird though is to hear the leader of the Scotttish Nationalists make them.  If Alex Salmond wants Scotland to keep the pound why not just vote for the union?


I see that Paul Krugman has made a comment on the union debate here.  I can see bits to both like and dislike, but would it not be an idea for Alex Salmond and co. To start treating the issues seriously?

Friday, 21 February 2014

A Return to Veolia and Procurement

Returning to a comment from a post of a few days ago, asking about Veolia.  This drags up the campaign not to award contracts to Veolia.  Specifically the campaigners wanted to ban that company from bidding for the Public Realm Contract, which has now been awarded to them.

The whole campaign had a very 1980s feel.  When I first got involved in Brent Labour Party in the late 90s, Labour in Brent was still trying to live down the loony left reputation of the 1980s, when Brent Council would have long debates about foreign policy, but signally failed to get the Council to function.  That was a politically disastrous period which seems to have given a small number of activists a good time, but signally failed to help any of the people that the Council is supposed to serve.

The Public Realm contract was a complicated procurement that we had been thinking about for years.  By the time the OJEU notice was published in December 2012, a lot of work had gone into making sure that we had a genuinely competitive bidding process, not least in securing a depot for the contractor to operate from.  There were tight financial requirements, and we also wanted to be as effective as possible in a number of areas I have summarised here.  Key to the success of the project was sticking to the timetable so that arrangements could be in place to transition once the old contract expires on 31 March this year.

A number of campaigners, many of them usual suspects from previous campaigns, then threw in the suggestion that Veolia be banned from bidding.  By the time this was raised, any attempt to do so would have wrecked the implementation timetable, and almost certainly have resulted in legal action.  Our legal advice was that the case for banning a company from bidding on the basis of alleged activities in another country by a related company would be dubious.  Indeed banning companies for political reasons does not sit well with EU procurement rules at all.

The campaigners then changed tack, and suggested the Council extend the existing contract, and restart the entire process a bit later.  That is bizarre, as Veolia would be able to charge whatever price they liked for a contract extension (which also might be subject to challenge under procurement law), so the anti-Veolia campaigners were effectively arguing we should pay Veolia much more than we needed to.  It is also likely that re-opening the entire bidding process having just gone through it once would have put other companies off from bidding, making the whole process uncompetitive and virtually guaranteeing Veolia the business but probably with a much bigger profit margin than they actually have.

I think the campaigners simply don't understand the effects of what they demanded.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Of Council Tax Referendums

The Green Party in Brighton have called for a Council Tax referendum in their own area.  This appears to be replicated in other areas, and may well be a national Green Party policy for all I know.  If so, it is an interesting comment on that party's supposed commitment to localism.

I think a Council Tax rise of not more than 2% is a viable idea. but a referendum would be counterproductive.

The reason is that Eric Pickles, with his usual mendacious cunning, has rigged the system.  The apparently democratic option of a referendum is skewed as the wording of the question is so biased.  Any Council putting forward the question would have to ask "Do you agree with X Council's unreasonable Council Tax rise?"  Asking that question is more or less bound to give the answer no.  This is well known to opinion pollsters who go to great trouble to "frame" questions to give a fair result.  The Pickles wording is obviously designed to give the answer that Eric Pickles wants _ no.

It gets worse, once you understand the mechanics of Council Tax collections.  The legal notification of the Council Tax you have to pay gets sent out within a few days of the Budget being passed, and has to by law.  The referendum would have to be held after this date.  If the answer came back no, the Council would have to re bill each Council Tax payer, creating a hugely expensive administrative disaster.  It would probably also confuse some taxpayers as they would have had two different versions of the Council Tax bill.

I have no doubt that Eric Pickles would also claim such referendum results as an endorsement of his own no rise position, and his determination to lock local government into continued financial decline.

A rise of less than 2% does not trigger a referendum, and has been adopted by many Councils across the UK.  This is because continuously declining Council revenues are bringing the famous Graph of Doom closer and closer to reality.  I was interested that Theresa May recently blocked a lowering of the threshold as she can see how much damage it would do to Police budgets.

Of course, the Council Tax system is fundamentally broken, and will have to be reformed at some point, but referendums are simply a trap created by Eric Pickles.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Planning Policy and Almost Everything Else

Tonight, Brent's planning committee is having a policy meeting.  This is where the general guidance for planning applications is discussed rather than the applications for specific buildings.  That sounds dreadfully dull doesn't it?  In fact, the policies discussed include lots of things that get people agitated once an example comes their way.

One area is the promotion of Town Centres, including restricting betting shops.  Ed Miliband has pledged to change the national rules on this.  The Planning Committee will have to consider policy changes within the existing rules, but it should still be able to limit the spread of this places to some extent.  Brent needs some kind of restrictions as betting shops have increased by 41% between 2007 and 2013, and payday loan outlets by 171%.

Two more common complaints are the number of fast food outlets and shisha cafés we have.  The littering and dumping problems around fast food are one of the most common complaints I get whenever I talk to people about Harlesden Town Centre.  Shisha cafés create problems not just in terms of tobacco use, but also are associated with noise nuisance, tax evasion and lots of other problems.

There are also some less high profile concerns about temporary accommodation, the extent of town centres, and possible meanwhile uses.

As well as all that, the changes in planning policies have a number of implications for environmental objectives such as protecting open space, air quality, adapting to climate change, biodiversity and (extremely topically) flooding issues.  That is on top of a range of policies to promote employment and the local economy.

So altogether, a lot less dull than you might imagine.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Drainage in Wembley Market Square

One aspect of Wembley City (the area around Brent Civic Centre) which tends to trouble me is the hardness of the urban landscape.  Unfortunately this is not easy to alter now, as the plans are now fairly set.  One of the problems with this kind of landscape is the drainage.  Water hits the ground and runs off immediately.  When rainfall is heavy, this can often lead to surface water flooding as the water collects quicker than the drains can cope.

One answer to this is to have more porous surfaces like the one pictured above (which is the surface of Wembley Market Square just by Brent Civic Centre).  Here the water drains away between the gaps in the flagstones, reducing the possibility of flooding.  It would also help to have more street trees.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Highway Asset Maintenance

Tonight's Executive has an interesting report about highway asset management.  The suggestion is that Brent's asset maintenance should gradually move towards a more preventative approach.  At present, the Council repairs on the basis of "worst first".  The idea of the new strategy would be to move more sealing the roads against water on the top to prevent water damage to the undersurface.  This has the effect of stretching the Council's budget over a much larger stretch of road than fully stripping and repairing the road.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

From the People who brought you the Bedroom Tax

Maria Miller is rumoured to be in trouble over House of Commons expenses claims for a second home.  What I find extraordinary about this is that the same government ministers who are implementing the bedroom tax and the other so-called welfare reforms all have histories like this which people seldom remark on.  To most people many of the claims made by Francis Maude, Maria Miller, Eric Pickles etc. are just ways of scamming the taxpayer.  Many of them look less defensible that some of the benefits claimants that the papers kick up a fuss about.

Fairtrade and Labour

In my eagerness to rebut Martin Francis' attempt to downplay Brent's carbon emissions efforts yesterday, I didn't get on to the Fairtrade aspect.

I have no desire to talk about identifiable individuals, but I have always regarded Fairtradeas one of the demonstrable benefits of the change of political control in Brent in 2010.  The previous Tory / Liberal Democrat regime had applied, and failed to get, Fairtrade status in 2008.  After that, it lost interest in the subject.  Indeed, the Tory lead for that area, Irwin Van Colle, never seemed to have much interest in the first place. I have been critical of Liberal Democrat lip service in the past

Brent Labour Party had a manifesto commitment on Fairtrade, which translated into a commitment in the Corporate Strategy, and which I pursued as lead for Fairtrade.  This led to our acceptance as a Fairtrade Borough.  On the way, we were able to have some quite imaginative projects to support Fairtrade including artwork and changing the procurement specification for the cafes at the Civic Centre and the yet to open Willesden Library Centre to sell Fairtrade goods.

I doubt whether any of this would have happened without a Labour administration.


There is a comment below that raises a whole lot of issues in terms of Palestine and Israel and the role of Brent Council.  These are all quite complicated, and I shall try to unpick them in a fuller post in a few days.  I should add that I understand that Veolia deny any illegality, so any assertions to that effect should be made with that in mind.  As I have said before on this blog, I will not publish assertions that can reasonably be subject to libel actions.

Another update: The comment I referred to appears to have deleted by some gremlin or other.  To the anonymous commentator, please repost if possible.  If not, I will try, as promised, to deal with the issues in a separate post.

Meanwhile, all can read Martin's response to my blog.


I have covered the whole Veolia procurement issue here.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Carbon Emission Figures

My attention was drawn to this post by Martin Francis on climate change and Brent Council.  It is a fairly typical example of the style.  From an anonymous author, it seeks to twist the Council's very good record on carbon emissions and denigrate it.  The anonymous character allows Martin to deny any responsibility for what is said.

I suspect an 11% cut in carbon emissions is actually quite good in itself, but of course Martin is completely ignoring his bete noir, Brent Civic Centre.  In itself building the Civic Centre _ one of Europe's greenest buildings _ reduces Brent's carbon emissions by about 20%.  The snag is of course that this effect only started to come in as the Council started to move into the Civic Centre in June.  Thus, you will not see any effect until you measure this year's total carbon emissions.  Even then it will not be a full year effect, partly because the Council had not fully moved into the new building and out of the old until quite a long way into the municipal year.  The full effect will also be delayed because it is also dependent on people gettting used to new ways of working _ how the heating and lighting works, not printing so much documentation, altering travel patterns and so on. 

Anyone who thinks about this can see that that has a dramatic effect on the figures.  It does, however, get in the way of Martin's efforts to spread cynicism.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Invasive Species and the Environment Agency

The Law Commission is proposing new powers for bodies such as the Environment Agency to limit invasive species such as Japanese knotweed.  That is all very well, but the scale of cuts to the Environment Agency seem likely to undermine their use.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Stern Warning on Climate Change

The recent floods give us a warning on climate change according to Lord Stern.  I wonder whether Eric Pickles and David Cameron will listen

Primary School Places

At the Planning Committee last night, the issue of school places came up as part of the debate on building a new primary school at the back of Wembley High.  The long term picture remains bleak, with the Council having to undertake a major building programme just to keep pace, but at the beginning of February, Brent had managed to offer places to all the children on its books.  We still need more places because the number of under fives has increased hugely, and they will require school places, but the progress made in the short term is impressive.

Helping the Poor

I have had some feedback about local assistance for people in immediate need, that I blogged on a few days ago.  These have included suggesting people join credit unions, funding to help with the bedroom tax, dealing with energy debt and so on.  These are all sound propositions, but the problem is not that the Council does not have a scheme in place; it is that the government is cutting the funding for this entirely.  Following the low take up so far this year, the Council could do a publicity campaign to help people know about what help is available.   A lot of this kind of work has been done in the past, with some success.  The problem is that if the money is cut by central government, there will no longer be assistance available unless the Council can find an alternative funding source.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

More on Street Trees

Speaking recently to some one about street trees, who was complaining that some of the wire cages that you get around newly planted trees are quickly filled with litter.  I have asked for the contractor to be reminded about clearing these up.  Oddly the problem seems to occur in some parts of the Borough, such as near the town centres, but much less in the residential roads.

The purpose of the cages is to protect the trees as they become established.  If they were planted without, a higher number would die, so we would get fewer trees for the money.  They are also including in the specification where London wide money is helping to fund them.

Of course, it would also help if people exercised their common sense and did not use them as litter bins.

Progress on Willesden Library Build

I heard a strange rumour that work had not yet begun on the Willesden Library Centre.  I don't knopw how these rumours get invented, but if you look through one of the observation windows in the hoardings, you can see that the builders are putting in the foundations.  I find it very strange that people keep on repeating stuff that they can see plainly are not true.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Sieghart Review

I see many campaigners have greeted the announcement of another Sieghart Review _ this time into public libraries as a whole _ with a shrug as a meaningless exercise.  I suspect that it has a very different purpose.  Far from being just another document, I suspect that Ed Vaizey may want to use it to redefine, and perhaps abolish, the statutory library duty. 

Eric Pickles and the Floods

Eric Pickles appears to be doing what Eric Pickles does: undermining people doing hard work to cover up his own failings.  This time it is flooding, but he has essentially the same approach to everything: present some simplistic (non) solution, ignore your own undermining of services through funding cuts, and cast blame on whichever convenient scapegoat you can find.  All this with the standard Pickles mendacity.  I am glad that at least in this case his callous indifference to the people suffering from the floods has set off a counter reaction.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Brent Council and Climate Change Policy

I have always thought that the current Labour administration in Brent has not had enough credit for its environmental record.  Thanks largely to the Civic Centre, the Council has had a strong cut in carbon emissions.  It has also greatly increased recycling after the years of stagnation under the Liberal Democrats.  This cut greenhouse gas emissions as landfill produces huge amounts of methane.  At the same time we continued the sustainable planning and transport policies that have driven much of the Borough's improvement in air quality as well as reductions in climate change emissions.

The one area of these policies that had limited success was engaging residents at large in the wider climate change debate.  Here we inherited a climate change strategy built around the idea of a residents and businesses group functioning as a network.  Rather than reinventing this, I tried to reboot the same scheme when I became lead member in 2010.  Unfortunately, some of the people who turned up to the group simply saw it as an opportunity to block initiatives and complain about the Council rather than to push things forward among the wider community.  This tended to put the other members of the group off, so that there was a deadening effect on climate change actions.  We managed to circumvent this to some extent with some good events by schools and businesses, but it was a constant uphill task.

Post the elections next year, it would be a good opportunity to revamp the policy and try to get rid of some of the negative elements.

Sunday, 9 February 2014


Some people may have noticed that I have succumbed to twitter, with @CllrPowney as a handle.  I retain much of my previous skepticism, although I have to admit that you pick up on breaking news very quickly.

A lot of tweets seem to be insubstantial, repetitive, sometimes just bickering and altogether take up a lot of time.  Others seem curiously ill informed as people seem to tweet without finding out the facts, which I guess is because the whole thing is such an instant communication medium.  Hence, my own tweeting is fairly minimal as it still doesn't strike as that useful a mode.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Racist Van Minister

Apparently the minister behind the "racist van" campaign that targeted ethnic minorities with threats of deportation has resigned.  This is because he employed an illegal immigrant.


The commentator below makes a fair point about language that I half accept.  "Illegal immigrant" is an emotive term, and I don't know about the details of the individual concerned so I should have made that clear.  Whether or not immigrants are illegal, there is often nothing wrong with what they are often doing which is seeking to better their circumstances.  My main point was that a government minister is caught by the same rules he seeks to impose on the everyone else.  If he can't get them to work, should he not rethink them?

Employers and Public Libraries

 The statutory duty to provide libraries has attracted lots of attention, although it is not really clear what it is.  One aspect that is undoubtedly part of the duty, but gets little attention is the employment aspect.  Every local authority has a duty to provide library services to anyone in employment within its area.  As far as I know, most authorities simply try to concentrate on providing library services to residents, and non-residents in employment are simply left to their own devices.

Brent has been seeking to be more pro-active in trying to get its own employees to join at Wembley Library in the Brent Civic Centre.  The most recent figure I heard was that around 250 had enrolled, with the vast majority actively involved in using the services.  Of course some of these may be Brent residents as well.  I hope that following on from this success, the idea can also be rolled out to other major employers in the area.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Abolition of Local Welfare Provision

I have been sent some figures on the proposed cessation of all funding for local welfare schemes.  This shows the government at its most callous and disorganised.  Within less than a year of forcing local authorities to design their own schemes with reduced budgets, the government then takes the money away entirely.  Thus, authorities have put in significant effort to designing schemes that most of them will now have to abolish.  Of course, the Councils can cut other areas of expenditure to pay for the schemes, but with a cut of 44% in funding for London Boroughs between 2010/11 and 2015/16, how likely is that?

Local Welfare Provision was worth about £33 million across London this year.  During 2011/12, the DWP had shelled out about £23 million in community care grants, and a further £42 million was loaned as crisis loans in London. The average London Borough gets about 230 applications a month now, with just over half succeeding.

Most of the demand for these funds actually comes from the central government making errors in processing benefits, which particularly hits people on very low incomes with no financial resilience.  Unless one is foolish enough to believe Iain Duncan Smith when he claims that there are no problems with universal credit, one can only expect demand to go up as his new arrangements are implemented in what will no doubt be a thoroughly chaotic manner. 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Work on Furness Road Pocket Park

I mentioned the mosaic project promoted by Kensal Green Streets recently.  This is part of a bit of wider work on the pocket park including the border planting you can see in the photo above.  You can also see some of the pollarding that has been done to increase the sunlight.  The mosaic will be on the wall closest to the Harrow Road, which you can see slightly better in the photo below.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Non-Registration Scandal

The previous Labour government allowed itself to be pushed into legislating for individual electoral registration, rather than the older system of having one person fill in the form for the whole household.  I think this was prompted by scaremongering about fraudulent votes.  In fact, not getting on the register at all is a much bigger problem with an estimated six million people not registered who should be.  The whole issue is covered in a House of Commons Library paper here

This could have real effects on election results after 10 June this year, with particularly younger voters, Europeans and people in private rented accomodation being much less likely to be registered.  It will also affect the next review of constituency boundaries if they use 2014 or subsequent years as a baseline.  Areas with young populations or lots of private renting will seem to have smaller populations and this will distort constituency boundaries.

Plastic Bags Errors

Another day, another egregious error by government ministers, as reported by the Guardian.  I get the impression that ministers simply don't think about whether their statements are true or not.  They also, as the article makes clear, don't seem to worry very much about whether their policies will actually work.  Such insouciance hardly suggests a well functioning administration.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The End of Regeneration of Stonebridge

I took a hurried photo from the top of the 18 bus this morning of this site in Stonebridge.  We gave it planning permission in July last year, and I am glad to see that work has finally begun.  This is one of the last bits of regeneration to go forward in Stonebridge, which has been going on for almost twenty years.

Norwegian Advice on Cars

The ins and outs of environmentally friendly cars in Oslo are considered in this piece.   There are clearly lots of arguments, and the evidence changes as society changes, but how one wishes that the UK were anywhere near as advanced.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Access to Research and Brent Libraries

Not sure if this piece by the BBC is true, that vast numbers of academic journals will be made available via public libraries.  If it is it would be a welcome confirmation that Brent's Libraries Transformation Project was in tune with the way libraries in general have to go to meet new technology.  We already have a variety of periodicals that Brent library users can access online and this would be a big boost to the range of titles.


There appears to be more detail on this scheme here.

Challenge Close Progress

It has been a while since I mentioned the pocket park project in Challenge Close in Harlesden.  Progress is underway.  Having the community consultation work mostly done already helped us get the funding at very short notice.  It certainly shows the value of doing some groundwork early on, although there is always a risk that you won't be able to get the funding.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Local Government Procurement and One Oracle

I have posted before around procurement issues, which despite sounding as exciting as watching paint dry, are crucially important to the Council's continuing operation.  In this context, I thought it would be interesting to look at a procurement, which whilst not a complete failure, has not been wholly successful. 

What is It?
The procurement was originally called Project Athena, and is now known as the One Oracle Project.  It is a joint project across six London Boroughs to better integrate various IT systems in the Council.  These systems cover back office things like payroll, human resources and so on.  This was needed partly to replace computer systems that were going out of date, and often did not work terribly well anyway, and to bring the organisation up to modern standards in real time information and so on.

What is Wrong with it?
Unfortunately, it has not yet acquired the necessary level of certification in terms of security (which is extremely important given that it is handling personal data).  This delay in going live demands contingency plans that have a cost, and the total cost limit of the original project has now been met, so that it is in danger of spending the extra contingency funding provided.

What Should have Happened?
I think the lessons I would draw would be threefold:

1) The project had two senior sponsors in the then Finance director and the then lead member for finance, but these appear not to have been able to give the scheme the attention it deserved as they had such a large range of responsibilities that it must have seemed a relatively small matter.
2) Cross borough procurements are inevitably more complicated.  Here there does not seem to have been adequate realisation that the multiplying of authorities would require higher security standards.
3) The most surprising thing about this project is that it did not have a savings target from the outset, which is quite contrary to Brent's usual policy with One Council projects.  Although it is common enough for the details to be unclear at the outset, there is usually an overall figure from the outset.  Had there been such a figure it might have helped concentrate minds.  Thus, the single biggest lesson I would draw is the importance of the early scoping stage, to design the whole thing as well as possible, along the lines that proved so successful in the Public Realm Contract

Saturday, 1 February 2014

More on the Area Around Brent Civic Centre

I blogged before about how the area around the Civic Centre is being improved.  I have a bit more detail on how the Civic Centre itself integrates with this part of Wembley.  The idea of course is that people are drawn from Wembley Park towards the Civic Centre, Wembley Arena, the Hilton Hotel and the London Design Outlet

In this broad scheme, Brent Civic Centre is one of the attractions that draws people to the area, and reduces its overdependence on massive football matches at Wembley Stadium.  As well as all the Council offices and services, we of course have Wembley Library.  It has been announced that another cafe will go into one of the retail units.  I am not sure yet whether this will serve Fairtrade goods in the way the Melting Pot and the Wembley Library Cafe do.

The Civic Centre is also close to completing a deal with a well known supermarket chain to move into one of the other retail units, and a third unit will be used as a showroom by Quintain for some of the housing they are building in the area.  There is a fourth unit, but I believe that has yet to find a tenant.

Although there have been niggles about the building, Brent Council has done the big stuff quite well.  The Civic Centre has been substantially delivered within time and within budget.  About 2,000 staff have moved into a new building with no break down in services.  There have been some technological issues, and not everyone has yet got used to the new arrangements around paperless working and travel in particular.  However, these problems can be worked through and sorted.  Personally, I think it is great to see an area that has been rundown for so long getting the kind of transformation that it needs.