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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Threatening and Bullying

Bizarrely, John Redwood is reported to be threatening businesses that speak out in favour of the European Union.  This is reminiscent of Jim Sillars' "Day of reckoning" during the indyref.  It really strikes me as thuggish and, in the Sillars case, counter-productive.   These campaigns should think about why they feel the need to threaten people in this way.

I also wonder about the legality of it.  In the Sillars case, he aimed at companies, who I imagine are not protected by the law, although I would have thought any attempt by the Scottish government to specifically penalise them might be subject to judicial review if it appeared politically motivated.  The Redwood case is different in that he appears not only to speak of companies but also individuals.  In the context of any referendum, I suspect that might run into election laws over "undue influence".  These days, that usually means something like standing over a postal voter as they fill in their ballot, but I can imagine the concept covering economic penalties threatened against people who vote the wrong way.  That was after all a major reason for the introduction of the secret ballot.

It is surely odd that what used to regard itself as the pro-business party now has senior figures threatening to "destablise" the corporate governance of companies that say things they don't like.  If a Labour politician had said that, I am sure the rightwing press would be denouncing him as a crypto-Communist and loony left.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Collecting the Posts

One of the curiosities arising from Cllr Keith Perrin's resignation as Environment lead last week is the lack of clarity it gives to the Brent place on the West London Waste Authority. Traditionally this role is fulfilled by the lead member, and there are good reasons for that. It is unclear whether Cllr Perrin has resigned from both. I gather that Cllr Muhammed Butt has appointed himself as Environment Lead without consulting the Labour Group (a breach of the Labour Group's longstanding practice of electing Cabinet positions) so perhaps he will make himself the WLWA representative as well. Following the suspension of Cllr Van Kalwala, Cllr Butt has also appointed himself as Group Treasurer. Again this is normally an elected post.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Allotment Waiting Lists

Brent Council has managed to reduce its waiting lists for allotments by about half.  Labour originally identified this as a problem in opposition, and pursued it subsequently through a (pun intended) ground breaking allotment strategy

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Gladstone Free School Returns to Brent

I hear that the proposed Gladstone School is still opening to open at a site in Brent in September 2015.  They appear to have abandoned their efforts to build on part of Gladstone Park, which is sensible.  Building on Metropolitan Open Space is almost impossible.

Their web site lists three consultation events _ at Child's Hill Library, the Tricycle Theatre and The Grange, Neasden _ which gives a kind of Bermuda Triangle as to where the school might actually go.  The reference to a Foundation Site appears to suggest the first site will be temporary. 

Brent actually passed a policy about Free Schools some time ago.  As I recall, it was a hotly debated subject at the time, although it has had little attention since.  The agreement at time was to lay down a number of conditions that Brent wanted from a free school partner, such as trained staff, adequate nutrition levels in food and so on.  Not rocket science perhaps, but important to the success of any school.  These did not appear to feature in the "rescue" of Copland Community School.  I hope that they are not overlooked when it comes to another school. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Consequences of the Indyref

The Indyref campaigners, in some cases at least, seemed to have descended into an alternative reality.  I have seen this sort of thing before, although never on this scale.  Denying facts that you find unpalatable is not a good way to make policy _ just look at Iain Duncan Smith.

The SNP is reported to be recruiting members at a tremendous rate as a consequence of the genuine enthusasm that has built up around the Indyref campaign.  I wonder whether how mmany of them stick with the party when they start looking at the hard grind of governing in Holyrood.  If it is a substantial number, they might significantly change the nature of the SNP and its governing philsophy, which strikes me as rather Peronista at times.  The reports that the Scots Green Party has doubled in numbers might have a similar effect on them. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Medea at the Tricycle Cinema

I saw Medea at the Tricycle Cinema on Sunday.  It astonishes me what a feminist play it is given its date and the fact that it would have originally been written for an all male cast and audience.  In both its racial and sexual politics, it is as up to date as any play I have ever seen.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Sustainable Transport in London

As Boris Johnson contemplates his future career at Westminster, it sounds as if his successor will have to start almost from scratch in dealing with London's problems.  Boris has done almost nothing on housing.  His own transport commissioner suggests that he hasn't addressed looming transport problems.  Hardly what one might hope from a future Prime Minister.

One thing that worries me about the transport debate, is that I don't think the public at large really understand that all this extra transport need has to be dealt with by sustainable means.  Especially in Outer London, there remains a car dependent mentality.  If there are an extra 6 million journeys a day by 2030, I don't see how those can all be done by cars.  The road user hierarchy is not just a nice add on for environmentalists; it is an essential part of London functioning as a city. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Sheffield Libraries Enquiry?

Ed Vaizey is threatening a public inquiry into library services in Sheffield, which is a more remarkable development than one might imagine.  Although he criticised Andy Burnham when he was in opposition, Vaizey has been reluctant to pressure other local authorities, including Brent.  His current letter appears to be related to pre action correspondence he has received from campaigners.

A cynic might suggest that Mr Vaizey is trying to make life harder for a Labour Council struggling to deal with central government cuts.  If so, the Council could, of course, pursue a judicial review against the Secretary of State for ordering an enquiry without adequate reason.  The reluctance of a series of SoSs over many years to order enquiries suggests to me that they are advised that the bar for an enquiry is set very high.

According to Public Libraries News, the changes to Sheffield libraries will be delayed whilst the issues are examined.  This will in itself, cause problems for Sheffield.  They will have set a budget assuming savings during the course of the year from closing the libraries.  They will also have staff members who have been given redundancies or already started looking for other jobs, who now find that the libraries are to be kept going until the process is over.  That creates uncertainty for staff and probably has financial implications. 

The text of the letter is here.  I think it is interesting for the questions it does not ask.  The Sheffield plans involve passing a number of buildings over to volunteers, but there is no query about how this would work or how effective in might be in running a "comprehensive and effective" service.  I have suggested before that, as these kinds of libraries are increasingly widely used, there should be some kind of consensus on measuring their performance.  Nor is there any query over fiduciary duty of the kind I have suggested rules out a handover in the case of the former Preston Library.  It also does not mention IT provision despite the effective change in the definition introduced by the Bailey case, and expanded in the Lincolnshire judgement.  He also does not address any questions explicitly to the Equality Act protected characteristics although these are generally the mainstay of previous legal challenges. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Moving On from the Indyref

The SNP seems to have gone into a bit of a tailspin following their Indyref defeat.  That is up to them.  If they continue to bang on about it, I suspect that they will suffer at the polls.

Meanwhile the rest of us should concentrate on non-constitutional issues that actually help people, such as the proposed rise in the National Minimum Wage.  That will do more to address the real problems of the country, including those of Scots than the Indyref ever could.


Anonymous comment at 11.44 seems to have got things upside down.  I am not the one ignoring the "pesky"electorate which voted by 55% to 45% for the "No" option.   The person ignoring the electorate is Alex Salmond who gave an interview on Saturday saying he was going to get Scottish independence by another route the day after the electorate voted against it.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Dysfunction at Brent Council

Returning from the Indyref campaign, I find Brent Council's dysfunctional human resources department appears to be on public display, according to a number of posts by Martin Francis, of which this is the latest. 

The Council has unsuccessfully defended itself against a claim of constructive dismissal by one of its employees.  This has opened up a series of accusations and claims.  I do not know whether all those that have been placed in the public domain are true, although the suspicion that there is something seriously wrong with the way Brent Council is run is unavoidable.  Aside from the sheer number of such claims floating around, the fact that Brent Council has had an "interim" Chief Executive for almost two years, and is likely to have one for longer than that is an obvious danger signal.  During that period other authorities such as Barnet have successfully recruited to the Chief Executive post, so either Brent has acquired a reputation that no one wants to work there, or it suits someone not to recruit.

These difficulties all ultimately stem from the removal of the former Chief Executive in late 2012.  When I asked the Council Leader for an explanation of why the Chief Executive was being removed, at significant cost to the taxpayer, I was simply refused.  To the best of my knowledge no explanation has been given to anyone subsequently.

This kind of secrecy does not enhance the reputation of any organisation.


I raised human resources issues a number of times both as a councillor and as a Lead member.  There is a clear resistence to tackling theproblems with Brent's human resources, or even to acknoweldge their existence.  In my view these problems are getting worse as a result, and I strongly suspect that there are various abuses of power going on.


Another comment asks for references in minutes to concerns over Human Resources in Brent Council.  Of course, where I have raised these concerns in correspondence, or conversations, or in closed meeting there may not be such minutes.  However if you look through this blog you will find a number of reference to my concerns over  the rising numbers of interim staff, the dangers of victimisation and the unfairness of criticising named individuals who cannot answer back

Friday, 19 September 2014

Disaster Averted

I am mightily relieved that the United Kingdom was not destroyed by the Indyref last night.  The campaign around the referendum will set off all kinds of consequences, not least because both yes and No votes meant totally different things to different people.

Local Welfare Assistance Reprieved for Now

Little reported in the shadow of the Indyref, the government has at least for now backed off from abolishing local welfare assistance.  It looks to me that this has been forced by the incredibly slapdash way in which they made the decision being subject to a likely judicial review rather than a genuine change of heart.  If so, it may be more of a breathing space than a long term victory.  Even the threat of cutting it tends to inhibit local authorities in promoting the schemes.  The resulting low take up can then be used for to argue for outright abolition by a government intent on making the poor pay the heaviest penalties. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Indyref Vote Today

The day of the vote on the Indyref is finally here.  I hope it and the result both occur without violence, although I am not optimistic.  Hopefully, Scotland will vote no, and we will never have such a festival of bitterness ever again.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Indyref Distractions

Amid all the sound and fury of the Scottish Indyref, it is worth pausing to think what a huge distraction it is from other major issues.  If there is a yes vote, it will plunge the whole UK into an entirely internalised debate on constitutional arrangements.  Indeed, at this stage even a No vote would, although for  shorter period.

Where does this leave us in terms of dealing with real, pressing issues such as climate change, the continuing economic problems of Europe, the security issues in the Ukraine, Middle East and elsewhere?

Was this really the best thing everyone culd have been doing right now?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Multiple Identities and the Indyref

I think one of the aspects of the Indyref that makes it so bitter, is the inability of the Yes Campaign to accept multiple identities.

The Yes campaigners seem gripped by an idea that you can have only one ethnic identity, that determines various of your other views.  I am tempted to call this a nineteenth century notion, since it really came into its own in the age of Romanticism when being (say) German was supposed to meld the kind of music you liked, your language, literature and even a mystic feeling for the soil.  People in the actual nineteenth century may well have had a more flexible approach of the kind explored at the Common Cause exhibition.

However, Yes campaigners often seem to resent opinions from anyone who doesn't live in Scotland (except their own celebrity supporters of course), including people from the rest of the UK _ despite the obvious effects of a yes vote on those areas.  I have also heard them express hostility to EU nationals within Scotland (who are entitled to vote) in terms worthy of any UKIP extremist.  Even native born Scots living in Scotland who want a No vote get told they are not "true" Scots. 

This is not the basis of a successful nation either inside or outside the Union.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Indyref Craziness

Still pre-occupied with the Indyref craziness.  Those south of the border who think that the Scots Yes campaigners are somehow progressive should try meeting them. 

I personally have witnessed yes campaigners being openly racist, and been told by voters that they feel intimidated.  The ugliness of the campaign against Nick Robinson for simply interviewing Salmond in a way he didn't like is also a sight to behold.  People who are so determined to bully and shout down their opponents are no democrats. 

One of the effects of this kind of thing is that it tends to get outside the control of those orchestrating it.  I suspect there are now elements that the Yes campaign itself can no longer stop.  I fear that Friday will see some violence either way.  if there is a No, as I expect, we may get frustrated Yes campaigners taking it out on people.  If there is a Yes, I suspect that there will be a Jim Sillars type "Day of reckoning".

A depressing prospect either way.


I think "alignment" is a difficult construct in the context of the Indyref.  I am told a number of No voters are previously SNP supporters, which sounds rather odd, and a few days ago I met some Yes campaigners who were very clear that they thought their campaign had nothing to do with Alex Salmond, which is an interesting view.  Whatever the result, it will be interesting to see how it pans out across Scotland.

Incidentally, UKIP don't seem to be aligned with anyone, as the No campaign said they couldn't join since they are not a Scots party, and in their own view the whole decision is irrelevant since the Yessers want to apply to join the EU.  Of course, if the Yessers got turned down for the EU, I presume that might please any UKIP supporters there are north of the border, whereas a No vote does ensure continuing EU membership.  Altogether a rather bizarre situation for everyone.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Time Banded Waste Collections in Brent

Time banded waste collections are now being introduced into parts of Brent.This was one of the options under the Public Realm Contract that began in April.  It is not a panacea, but it has been tried successfully elsewhere, e.g. Westminister and Haringey.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Domestic Violence Refuges

Some fairly grim figures on cuts to domestic violence refuges are to be found here.  Brent Council has hitherto protected this area of spend, but with £53 million of cuts on the way, I wonder how much longer it will continue to do so.  Of course, protecting this area of spend means finding the savings elsewhere, but I don't see any real effort to do this.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Allowances Again

Brent Council's bold move to substantially increase councillor allowances has attracted publicity, although not as much as I expected.  As I see it the central problem here is how to differentiate between councillors who are extremely active, and those do very little.

The old fashioned solution to this was to link allowances to attending meetings, but became less widely used after the 2000 Local Government Act.  The problem was that it tended to emphasize the Town Hall aspects of being a councillor at the expense of the more community based parts.  It also doesn't take into account the difference between some one who simply sits through a meeting and some one who is actively engaged.  You can imagine a councillor turning up for a meeting without reading the papers, nodding through whatever is on the agenda and going home.

The emphasis since 2000 has also been increasingly on seeing councillors as social entrepreneuers and ambassadors.  It is hard to see how that can be actively monitored and rewarded.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Barham Park Planning Decision

I understand that the Planning Inspector has approved the permission for change of use of the Barham Park buildings.  In reality, this was always predictable.  There simply was no real grounds for refusal. Former councillors Dhiraj Kateria and Paul Lorber simply teamed up to bamboozle the Planning Committee into making a foolish decision causing unneeded delay and expense to both the taxpayer and ACAVA.  In my view, it is simply a matter of a small number of people making vexatious objections to decisions they don't like.  In this case, they invented a number of facts to support their case.

Recently, I have been active in the Indyref debate in Scotland, and some of the campaigners up there seem to have a similar ability to ignore inconvenient facts.  Hopefully the No side will win, so we won't find yow how wrong the Yessirs were.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Customer Services at Willesden Green Library Centre

There are rumours of an element of redesign at the Willesden Green Library Centre.  If true, I suspect these are rooted in the experience of the One Stop Shop in Brent Civic Centre.

At the time that the Civic Centre was designed, Brent Council did hardly any resident interactions over the Internet, less than 1% in fact.  That is an extraordinarily low figure.  It is even more surprising once you consider that about 25% of Brent residents said their preferred way of interacting with the Council was via the Internet.

The Council, not least because it was mindful that Internet transactions are far cheaper than phone or face to face (F2F), set about changing this.  There was a major redesign of the web site, as well as a redesign of various other Council services (e.g. parking) to reduce reliance on physical transactions.  The number of F2F interactions is therefore much reduced.

The effect of this in the revenue and benefits section is that the number of interview booths in the Civic Centre One Stop Shop is greater than the demand might merit if it were being designed today.  More of the cases are dealt with in the self service area.  I would think that officers expect a similar pattern in the Willesden Centre, and they will also be drawing on their experiences at the Harlesden Job Centre.  However, I would be surprised if there is a move to remove the One Stop Shop entirely, as that will affect the entire dynamics of the building.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Cost of Disunion

Robert Peston has an article on the cost of the break up of the UK here.  The short term costs both north and south of the border are severe, a fact that people in rUK haven't really woken up to.  It would also have an implication for post indyref negotiations.  If the English etc. see the Scots as having imposed unecessary costs on them, are they likely to be as warm and welcoming to Scots demands as many yes campaigners seem to assume?

Added to all that will be the longer term costs that none of us really know about as the UK unravels, and companies move, new barriers are introduced and so on.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Willesden Green Library Nearing Completion

Passing by Willesden Green Library Centre recently, I was glad to see it is well advanced.  Even from the street, you can see the shell of the buildings emerging.  It will be the last piece of Brent's Library Transformation, and should give the already impressive numbers a major boost.  The new Library was due to open in March 2015, about six months from now.  I have heard a rumour that it is to be delayed until May/June, which would be a pity if true, although not the end of the world.

I also understand that Wembley Library has now had more than one million visits, which if true, would confirm it as one of London's most popular libraries.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

More on Willesden Green Library Centre

I gather some people are still complaining about Willesden Green Library Centre.  Since the whole thing is now half built, I don't see much point in such complaints. A lot of previous opposition was based on misinformation, which I tried to counter.  Unfortunately, as with the Civic Centre, some people just seem to repeat the misinformation even when they know it is wrong.

More on Indyref Debates

I got a couple of comments on my Indyref post yesterday that I thought deserved a little more comment.  I thought the first one (12.37) illustrates a lot of the problems of the yes campaign.

Firstly it assumes that I am English (I am actually half English/half Scots), and then goes into a tone of victimhood about the Scots and English.  I think this actually includes quite a bad misreading of Scottish history.  Anyone who thinks the Scots were simply passive victims of the British Empire should try visiting the "Common Cause" exhibition at the Museum of Scotland that I recommended a while ago.  It gives a rather more convincing account of Scots be agents of change and inter-relating with all sorts of nations across the globe than the SNP "Scots as victims" line would admit.  It is on until 12 October. 

Secondly, it sounds as if the writer thinks that Scots are being denied a vote, which is remarkable in the context of a lengthy referendum campaign.

Thirdly, it seems to identify the English with the Conservatives even though most English people did not vote Conservative at the last election.

Fourthly, and most unpleasantly, it seems to imply that historical grievances (which I would argue are largely imaginary) justify xenophobia.


A very quick response from the commentator below.  Northern Ireland obviously is part of the UK as everyone (including the Republic of Ireland) recognises.  As to "Northern Ireland being made up, there are convincing arguments (e.g. Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities) that all national identities are "made up".  It is also true that unless you are a devotee of Norman Tebbit's notorious cricket test national identities can be multiple.  Indeed, I think they normally are.  I am perfectly able to fell British, English and Scots simultaneously.  I think the idea that you can have only a single one dimensional identity is the central intellectual failing of nationalism.


The history of Ireland certainly looks pretty odd I admit.  You now have republicans and unionists in a devolved government, making the republicans into minister of the British Crown.  I wonder what the young Martin McGuiness would have made of that.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Indyref Debates

Last week, I got into a flurry of tweets about the indyref debate in Scotland.  It amazes me what some of the ideas floating about are.  A lot of it all seemed frankly quite anti English, which doesn't bode well for any possible negotiations following a yes vote.  Some of the difficulties are illustrate in this David Aaronovitch article (unfortunately behind a paywall). 

Some of the tweets I got were claiming that continuing union would result in the privatisation of the NHS (despite the Scottish NHS being devolved to Holyrood, and therefore not subject to the votes of rUK MPs), someone thought the Barnett formula would disappear unless she voted yes (which of course is precisely how you guarantee the disappearance of the Barnett formula), other people objected to the possibly that people outside Scotland might vote differently from Scots (Well yes, but that would also be true of a purely Scottish election.

There still seem to be no answers to the points I suggested some years ago.  And of course, more doubts have been raised about EU membership and so on.  A whole host of issues have been raised in the blogosphere that no one seems to be answering.  Nonetheless, there is substantial support for a yes vote, despite Alex Salmond's failure to answer these objections.


I have responded to the commentator below here.  

Friday, 5 September 2014

Brent and Local Welfare Assistance

An upcoming issue that appears to have attracted no comment from anyone is the fate of Local Welfare Assistance.  In a cynical maneuvre, such as we have come to expect, this was offloaded by central government on to Councils with reduced funding.  There is now a real likelihood of the schemes being cut altogether.  This would have a deeply damaging effect on some of the poorest.  If Brent had a real budget debate about what its priorities are (as it should), it would be possible to address this issue.  Instead there appears to be silence. 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Making Allowances in Brent

Brent's next full Council is coming up on Monday, and a number of issues are raised.  It is reported that the changes to waste collections were taken outside the proper timescales.  Whilst this issue seems trivial, it is important in terms of transparency, and perhaps as a symptom of a wider malaise.  Advertising documents in advance is simply a matter of planning, and really easy enough.  Failing to do it properly may be a small example of a bureaucracy struggling to cope.

However the main item in publicity terms is likely to be the increase in councillors allowances, which are substantial.  However, I am more interested in the logic of the allocation, which I can't see.  The biggest increase (of about 20%) is for backbench councillors, at a time when the virtual abolition of scrutiny in Brent has reduced their workload, contrary to Ed Miliband's wishes.   Meanwhile there are small increases in various special responsibility allowances, despite those (in principle) having more work.  It seems an odd way to do things. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Park Royal Corporation

One item that should be coming up at the next Brent Executive is the proposal by Boris Johnson for a new Park Royal Corporation.  In principle, I can see this might be useful in certain ways, overcoming boundary issues, take a holistic look at issues such as the dismal air quality around Willesden Junction, the Hythe Road Path, or Mitre Bridge for example.  The trouble is I just don't trust Boris to deliver.  Given his reported run to Hillingdon, should that matter?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Difficulty of Mixed Housing

I thought I would come back to the importance of mixed housing that I discussed in an earlier post.  The Nye Bevan quote still puts the ideal position pretty well:

"It is entirely undesirable that on modern housing estates only one type of citizen should live. If we are to enable citizens to lead a full life, if they are each to be aware of the problems of their neighbours, then they should all be drawn from different sections of the community. We should try to introduce what was always the lovely feature of English and Welsh villages, where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all lived in the same street … the living tapestry of a mixed community."

It doesn't however, go through the full range of types we might want to expect.  We might want a variety in terms of:

  • Income distribution: That is the core of the Bevan quote, and what most people think of when they think of mixed housing.
  • Age groups:  It is desirable to include family accommodation whereas the market at the moment pushes very much to single bed flats.
  • Use classes: So that the public realm is used at different times for different purposes.  If an area becomes dominated simply by housing for example, the effect can be a dormitory town.
  • Different kinds of tenure (which may ovelap with different income types)

If you think of the practicalities of negotiating with a developer for all those different objectives, coupled with the fact that areas tend to develop piecemeal over a period of years, you can imagine why meeting them all in any given neighbourhood is no easy task.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Budget Debates

I see Camden is working through new ideas to bridge its budget gap over the next three years.  I am sure that not all of them are good.  In particular the increased advertising one has been mooted numerous times in Brent over the years, including a bizarre suggestion by Brent Liberal Democrats to surround Barham Park with advertising boards.  These have all fallen foul of planning objections.  They are also highly dependent on fluctuations in the market for advertising. 

Still at least, Camden is having a public debate.  Brent does not really seem to be addressing its more than £50 million gap at all.  Balancing the budget with those sort of cuts is going to inevitably involve difficult choices about political priorities, and the public deserve a clear explanation of what elected members political priorities are.  In earlier years, that would have been well developed by now, but at present I get a strong sense of drift.