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Monday, 30 June 2014

Harlesden Town Centre Noticeboards

One of the legacies of the City Challenge programme in Harlesden in the 1990s were a series of noticeboards.  These look distinctly old fashioned in the age of the Internet, and are often in a poor state of repair.  The one in the photograph above is on Station Road, just by Willesden Junction.  Removing them has been an objective of many people for years, but it somehow always seems to be overlooked.  Hopefully, there will be enough funding left over from the Harlesden Town Centre development to finally get it sorted. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Tin Tabernacle in South Kilburn

I saw a reference on Twitter recently to the Tin Tabernacle in South Kilburn, next to the RSPCA War Memorial Dispensary on Cambridge Avenue.  It is a remarkable building as you can see here

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Wembley Library as a Successful Example of Co-location

One of the trendy topics in Libraries at the moment is co-location.  I suspect one of the most successful examples of this in the UK is Wembley Library in Brent Civic Centre, so I thought I would do a post why.

The most obvious indicator of success are the visit and loan figures.  The first graph shows the monthly visit numbers for the first three quarters of operation (in red, with a comparison to the old Brent Town Hall library monthly figures for the previous year in pale green).

That is an overall 307% increase for the period.  The overall increase in book loans is 80%, and the relevant graph looks like this:

The success strikes me as pretty undeniable, so what are the factors behind it?

Outside the Civic Centre
The first is the area outside the Civic Centre.  The London Designer Outlet, including its cinema, opened in late 2013.  Wembley Arena and Wembley Stadium were already in place, and more and more people are moving into the area as housing gets built.  I hope that Wembley Market Square will also become an attraction (right next to the Civic Centre) that could also bring visitors.  All these attract extra footfall quite outside the attractions of the Civic Centre itself.  If the logic of having a High Street location, which was one of the ideas underpinning our Libraries Transformation Project, holds true, these should all increase the footfall in the Wembley Library.  Of course the Library itself is an attraction that should help bring people to the other attractions, creating a positive feedback loop.

The design of the public realm in the area is also an important factor.  The path from Wembley Park station is deliberately designed to draw people towards the library area.  Similarly, the route from Wembley Triangle over the White Horse Bridge draws people from the Wembley town centre end.

Civic Centre Design
The placement of the Library on the ground floor at the corner of the Civic Centre seems pretty crucial as well.  This probably makes it the most prominent part of the building. 

The library is immediately under the Revenue and benefit service that featured on the recent BBC Panorama programme.  It is opposite the Registrars office, which would be helpful if Brent were to adopt a version of some of the recent ACE pilots.  It has a café actually in the library and is near the other commercial facilities in the Civic Centre including eateries and the other café across the atrium.  Some of the retail space in the Civic Centre is due to be rented to a supermarket chain, which should also attract further footfall.

The library is also close to the area used as an art gallery by the Brent Museum service, and various artist exhibitors

The Design of Wembley Library
The library itself has been designed with flexibility to hold events either in itself, or in the atrium space.  It also has a variety of provisions for computer use ranging from old fashioned deskbound computers to tables for people to bring their own equipment and soft furnishing for ipad users.  The Library also has a specific story telling space in the childrens area and extensive displays areas.  Some pictures can be seen here


I have added a couple of pictures to this post.  I have also published figures for the graphs here.  

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Knife Bin in Harlesden

A knife bin has now been installed by All Souls Church in Harlesden High Street, near to the Jubilee Clock.  It is funded by the Church and a charity.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Eric Pickles and CCTV for Parking

With that logic, concern for good governance and respect for local democracy that is so typical of him, Eric Pickles has announced that he wants to ban the use of CCTV for enforcing parking restrictions.  What will the effects of this?

Firstly, what is the logic?  If it is legitimate for a parking warden to issue you with a ticket and probably photograph your car (as they almost all do these days), why should an automatic camera be discounted?  We are told that cameras will continue to be used on bus lanes.  Why, if they are unacceptable in other contexts?  No plans have been announced to get rid of cameras on buses or trains.  Why not, if they are so illegitimate?  How does this central government diktat fit in with so called Localism?

Now, what will be the effect?  One option is for a Council to employ more parking wardens, ensuring that they spend more money administering the system, and thus become less efficient. Why does Eric Pickles see that as a good thing?  They can then accept that any surplus in their parking account is lower, which means less money spent on repairing potholes and broken pavements.  This seems unwise given the UK's acknowledged backlog in road repairs.  Certainly driving over lots of potholes is unlikely to do much for motorists who then have to pay to repair their cars.  An alternative is that Councils can up the amounts they fine people for offences to compensate for fewer tickets issued or higher costs in issuing them.  Is that what Eric Pickles wants?

Of course, the reason Parliament enacted all these laws in the first place was to benefit road safety and the free movement of traffic.  That is why removing traffic wardens is sometimes controversial

Brent will face a specific problem.  A joint parking contract has been negotiated and awarded alongside Ealing and Hounslow Councils.  Just the sort of shared service contract government ministers often praise.  It takes advantage of CCTV cars by having them patrol the streets instead of traffic wardens.  The wardens then follow up on mopeds to confirm that each car is indeed breaking the rules.  The entire contract's pricing has been built around this model.  Changing it will be hugely expensive and arbitrary.  I do hope some one takes Mr Pickles to Court for the way he gratutiously wastes money in ill considered populist gestures. 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Colby Sisters at the Tricycle Theatre


I recommend the Colby Sisters at the Tricycle Theatre.  It is playing now until the end of July.  You can also comment on the Theatre's proposed capital project, which is displayed near the bar, although I can't find an online link.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Scrutiny and Improving Brent Council

I have covered two of the purposes suggested for Scrutiny in a previous post.  I thought I would now do the third: improving Brent's own services. 

At my last meeting of the One Council Scrutiny meeting, it was admitted by the senior officer that performance measures for the Council were laid out in a very unhelpful way.  Incidentally, no mention was made of an intention to abolish that committee and we in fact agreed that a number of items would come to the next meeting.  They won't now of course, as Full Council abolished it.  Whether this is a sign of extreme secrecy in decision making, or that the whole thing is being dreamt up in a completely back-of-the-envelope manner, I remain unsure.

As I see it, the main usefulness of councillor scrutiny would be in setting broad political principles rather than carrying out detailed scrutiny of management.  I am not sure that councillors really have the capacity to improve the day to day management of the Council.  However, I can see that there is scope for ongoing problems such as the excessive number of interim staff employed by the Councillors, which may well mask deeper problems. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Social Media and Public Libraries

I was interested in Public Libraries News on the use of social media to promote public libraries.  This was probably an area of the Libraries Transformation Project where we did not devote as much attention as we ought to have done, but is being developed.  However, it primarily looks at the Internet as a way of promoting library services, I would argue that it is (or could be) a part of the library service.  If you go to the existing Brent library service pages, you can do quite a lot of stuff you could traditionally only do in the library itself.  You can look up items in a catalogue, renew them, borrow ebooks, check your account, find out about events, reserve items, book a computer and find out about services in general.  I expect that over time it will develop more to allow you to network with other library users, say to rate and review books, or to discuss them.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Using Scrutiny to Engage with Partners

Following yesterday's post, I thought I would cover some ideas about using the Scrutiny system to engage with professional partners of the Council.  In principle, this could be a powerful tool.  My understanding of the thinking is that the Council has the power to demand explanations of how any public money in Brent is being spent.  This would mean sums of money well beyond the Council's own budget.

I would suggest the first thing the Council needs to do is establish the extent of its powers.  In some cases they may be curtailed by other legislation, but once a sound legal basis is established here are some questions.

Can scrutiny powers be used to scrutinise academies and other schools that are now effectively totally divorced from Council control.  The lack of accountability of these schools is a widespread concern.  This could cover all sorts of things from educational standards to proper use of public money.  Some sort of scrutiny is sorely needed, as we have seen from various scandals around misuse of monies as well as the concerns recently put forward by Christine Gilbert around the falling educational standards in Brent.

How can the scrutiny powers be used to examine the use of public health money and wider health spending?  Have past difficulties with the NHS simply made this too difficult, or could the powers influce health policies in beneficial ways?

Can scrutiny powers improve the performance of TfL and train operators in the Borough.  Living near Willesden Junction, I am acutely aware of the environmental failures of Network Rail, but a more obvious role might be to take over the function of the current Public Transport Liasion Committee.  This remains currently an Executive function, but it seemed ineffective under its previous Chair.  Perhaps Scrutiny could do than a structure that was first invented twenty years ago before Scrutiny existed.

Does Scrutiny have any powers that would be relevant in terms of fighting crime in Brent?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but they are certainly worth asking.  If the Council really is back pedalling from the minimalist approach, these are the kind of areas that might be considered.