Search This Blog

Saturday, 31 January 2015

What will Happen to Brent Street Cleaning?

As far as I can see the budget option of ceasing to clean most of Brent's streets remains on the table.  I still find this rather amazing.  Aside from the dubious lawfulness of the idea, I don't think the public would stand it.  If it is passed in the budget in March, I suspect that Brent Council will recoil from actually doing it, and scrabble around for some alternative savings.  If the proposal is actually implemented, I suspect the public outcry will force a u-turn, which might well cost a lot more than the proposed saving.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Harlesden Jubilee Clock

Harlesden Town Web site reminds us that the Harlesden Jubilee Clock will have its official opening ceremony on 14 February, marking the completion of the Harlesden Town Centre refurbishment. 

Transport Test for Libraries

I notice that Barnet libraries have decided that a 30 minute public transport journey is a reasonable distance to go to reach your nearest library.  Lincolnshire, in their libraries consultation which was overturned by judicial review, argued that a 30 minute car journey was a reasonable test.  Both of these seem less generous than the standard adopted in Brent 's Libraries Transformation Project which saw 97% of the population within 1.5 miles of a Brent library.  Even just walking that would take an able bodied person not more than 30 minutes.  By either public transport, cycling or car it would take rather less.

Of course distance and journey time are not the only relevant tests of accessibility, but it seems to me that Brent's six library network is probably one of the most accessible in the UK.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Evidence on Community Managed Libraries

I have remarked before that community managed libraries have been widely adopted as a strategy without any real evidence that they work.  A little more has come out about the Manchester experience.  It makes gloomy reading for volunteer library advocates. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

What Happened to Make Willesden Green?

Thinking recently about the group Make Willesden Green, I decided to check their web site to see what they were up to.  The most recent entry was dated 23 October 2014.  It consists of a number of complaints about Willesden Green Library Centre.  Since the Centre is due to open soon, I presume the group will then have no more activity. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Query on Barham Park Trust

After yesterday's post, I thought about the report at the next Barham Park Trust agenda on changing the governance structure.  It goes through a lot of reasoning about how the current peculiar Trust structure might be changed only to recommend no change.  At a time when the Council is under increasing pressure for resources, what is the reason for generating that report?


Martin Francis has noticed the same report and commented on it here.   He seems to hope that the structure (which is itself only two or three years old) will be changed.  I certainly hope not as it sounds like another attempt by the likes of Paul Lorber to pursue their own agendas rather than a useful innovation.  It was his successful bamboozling of the Planning Committee to refuse change of use that caused the needless expense of a planning appeal.  I don't think any more of his captious objections should be accommodated. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

Barham Park Trust Developments

Further details about the buildings of the Barham Park Trust have been published
  • ACAVA now has a formal 15 year lease (starting from September), and hope to start a community arts project in March.  
  • The "Card room" is proposed to be let out as a cafe, as the earlier public consultation suggested.  From the report, it is clear that the Card room is only in a sufficiently good state of repair for leasing with substantial investment. This is why it was set aside when the decision to rent to ACAVA was made.  Park cafes work well elsewhere, in Gladstone Park or Roundwood Park for example, so I hope the Barham proposal comes off.
  • The Committee is also asked to approve a regularization of the occupation by the Veterans Club in the Snooker Room. 
  • There is also a proposal to put the Lounge area out to a permanent occupation, rather than the current ad hoc arrangements.
It strikes me as extraordinary that it should take so long to sort out these buildings.  Of course a lot of the reason is the misguided decision of the Planning Committee to refuse change of use.

Incidentally, capital funding has also been provided for outdoor gym equipment in the park.  This is the kind of incremental improvement thatis possible now that the Park has a long term strategy.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

South Kilburn District Heating

It looks like Brent Council's Executive on Monday will be asked to approve the start of a procurement process to create a district heating scheme in South Kilburn.  This is the second area where a district heating scheme might come forward (the other being Wembley), and has been a long time in the coming.  It is good to see the prospect of greater environmental benefits. 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Brent Council HR Review Likely to Disappoint

Those hoping that the HR review announced after the Rosemary Clarke employment tribunal verdict would deal with the obvious problems in Brent Council's Human Resources Department are likely to be disappointed.  The review has now been published, and it fails to address any of the issues that I believe are seriously undermining Brent Council.  Until these underlying issues are addressed the problems will continue.


It has been pointed out that the report has yet to be published.  This is true, but the whole inquiry is designed not to answer what I would regard as the key questions.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Brent Museum and Archive Strategy Published

I was puzzled by the long delay in producing a Brent Museum and Archives strategy.  It is finally going before the next Brent Council Cabinet meeting on Monday

These sort of heritage services are non-statutory and therefore particularly subject to threat in the financial climate caused by central government cuts.  Brent is doing much better than many Boroughs, in opening its new facility the Willesden Green Cultural Centre.  This reproduces the museum and improves the archives (particularly in document storage).  It is therefore a welcome area where the Council has a good story.  There is also plenty of innovative stuff in the report, for instance relating to digitization and outreach. 

I note that one of the weaknesses of the current museum service is on marketing and communications.  This is an area that could be shared with the library service, which also has long had a need for better marketing.  I wanted to address this as part of the Libraries Transformation Project, but was stymied by lack of funding.  Perhaps a joint approach across Libraries, Arts & Heritage might be better. 

One great unmentioned in the report is the future financing, with just some vague stuff about "options" being considered.  I speculate that this may have been the cause of the delay in publishing, as finance is likely to be a thorny issue in this as so many other areas. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Brent Council's Welfare Assistance Scheme

The next Cabinet papers for Brent Council have a report on Brent's local welfare assistance scheme.  As I have explained before, this is being threatened by further government cutbacks.  The recommendations involve a number of changes.

Some of these are prompted by having seen the scheme in operation for about one and a half years.  When Brent was first forced to design its own scheme, the demographic information made available by the DWP was extremely limited.  There is a case for saying the original scheme design was too strict, as Brent has only spent a small proportion of the budget.  It also appears not to be reached certain parts of the population e.g. pensioners.

Essentially the Council is proposing a holding operation whilst it waits to see if central government will cut funding altogether, which I fear is all too likely.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Brent Bulky Item Collections

Looking again at the Brent Budget proposals, I thought I would return to the proposed charge for bulky item collection.  I can see some logic to this, in that the Council is increasingly seeking to charge service users as close as possible to the cost of the service provided.  The free service can therefore be seen as something of an anomaly.

Nonetheless I have repeatedly argued that the free service is better preserved.  My key argument in this is that the items are likely to be otherwise dumped on the street.  Under the L:iberal Democrats, the introduction of the £25 charge for collecting bulky items led to a huge fall in collections.  I never got a satisfactory answer to where these items went once the Council stopped collecting them for free.

It also illustrates the difficulties behind some of the figures in budget proposals.  The charge never yielded anything like the income expected, because the number of collections had dropped so much.  This is important to bear in mind when thinking about all the officer proposals.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Confusion over Brent Library Privatisation

There appears to be confusion as to the nature of Brent's proposed library privatisation.  The three interviewees quoted in the Kilburn Times piece all have rather odd comments.  The FKRL campaigner is critical of the concept of privatisation, which seems odd for someone who has spent years campaigning in favour of privatisation.  Former councillor Paul Lorber claims that the library service has been "decimated" when in fact it is considerably better than when it had more buildings.  Cllr James Denselow's comment seems ambiguous as to what the proposed arrangements are.  I have posted before that there are various possibilities.  These could range from a technical arrangement, a company where the Council is the sole shareholder in the same way as an ALMO or a commerical provider like Greenwich Leisure Ltd.  Some of the possibilities of Trusts are covered here

It would be helpful if all this could be made clearer.


Responding to the comment below, by "privatisation" I mean the transfer of a public asset to a private organisation and/or continuing public subsidy for the same.  By that definition, which I think most people use, all volunteer libraries are privatised.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Brent Council Tax Support Scheme

Brent's Council Tax Support scheme is getting its annual review tonight.  The first Full Council meeting on this subject attracted little comment despite the controversial nature of the proposals.  The following year saw a small number of protesters disrupt the meeting.  We shall see if they follow similar tactics this year.

Local Welfare Funds Unspent

More data has emerged on local welfare schemes.  There is clearly a big underspend problem in many authorities, including Brent, which has spent only 19.9% of its allocation.  I am sure Tory ministers will try to blame this on local government ineffectiveness, when it is really caused by Central government creating uncertainty.  As local authorities cannot rely on secure funding, many are taking an excessively stringent approach to gatekeeping, so that many deserving applicants are put off.  This was predictable a long time ago

Sunday, 18 January 2015

New Bookshop in Kilburn

I am glad to see a new bookshop, Offside Books, has opened on 92 Willesden Lane in Kilburn.  It follows the sad demise of the Kilburn Bookshop in 2010.  I hope they do as well as the nearby Queens Park Books on Salusbury Road and West End Lane Books in West Hampstead. 

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Eric Pickles Bin Humilation

Eric Pickles can now proudly claim that literally no Councils are using his £250 million fund to commit to weekly bin collections.  No Councils have taken the policy up because it simply does not make sense for them to do so.  Perhaps Eric Pickles (and others) should look at the workability of polici4es before going ahead with them. 

Friday, 16 January 2015

Stickability of Budget Proposals

Talking to people about the Brent Council Budget, I find one of the most worrying things is the assumption that whatever proposals are put in the budget will just happen and the savings be achieved.  In fact I doubt very much that this is the case.

One quite senior councillor I spoke to said he was worried that not all the projects could achieve their savings within the financial year.  I had to tell him that I would be surprised if any of the schemes will achive full savings within a year.  Firstly, the decision making process (including consultation and so on) is fairly lengthy.  Implementation, depending on the project can similarly lengthy, particularly if it involves investing in new equipment, training people and/or changing behaviour.

There can also be risks from unforeseen factors, such as legal action, unexpected costs, project delays and so on that may wipe out savings entirely.  Anything that involves predicting or suppressing demand is inherently risky.  Furthermore, there are one off costs such as staff redundancy that are virtually guarenteed to push at least part of the full year saving into the following year.

As I look at the proposed savings, I cannot help but suspect that many of these proposals look half baked.  Just because you put a line in a budget document does not mean it actually comes to pass. 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

What Form Might Brent Library Privatisation Take?

One of the lines in the Brent Council Budget Proposals reads: "Transfer management of libraries to an established library trust resulting in business rates savings."  Given the controversy that has often surrounded Brent Libraries, I am surprised that this has not drawn more attention.  It could easily be a form of privatisation.  The possibilities that occur to me are:

a) It is a largely technical and legalistic proposal to maximise business rate savings.  This would be a minimalist position.  The Council would probably have to pay attention to how far libraries would continue to work with the rest of the Council (Would they still host Brent Dance Month for example?  Would co-located libraries like Wembley Library continue to interact with the rest of the building?).  In an era where the "culture" parts of the Council are expected to work together more and more, it would be a shame to erect arificial barriers to such co-operation.

b) The phrase "transfer management" suggests something more ambitious.  Not just founding a Trust but having the management taken over by a private company as in Greenwich or Hounslow.  This would be a lot more complicated.  A full procurement would need specification of a contract and a full tendering exercise for what would be a sizable contract.  In itself that would be a substantial one-off cost.  The Localism Act appears to have made this whole issue even more complicated than it was before.  The redundancy of senior management is likely to make the whole process even more difficult.  

c) The phrase "established library trust" suggests an existing body, and obvious one is the Trust that runs Harrow and Ealing libraries.  This option was discussed when I was on the Executive, and rejected.  THe business rate saving was largely a piece of accountancy smoke and mirrors (I understand that the rules may have been partly changed since then), and it seemed to me that all the things a private firm could do to cut costs could also be done by the Council.  Of course, having direct employees also gives you more control and we wanted to ensure the success of the Libraries Transformation Project by having hands on management.  Therefore we only went for the Sports Centre part of the project.  

d) Another interesting question is where this leaves the proposed community managed libraries that are seeking to take over various buildings in Brent.  These all seem to have largely stalled.  FKRL are waiting to get into the building, which the owner is trying to sell.  The group at the former Preston Library are running up against numerous difficulties.  The group in the former Cricklewood building seem to have moved more to a community centre type solution, and the Barham group are attempting to bid for the cardroom (which has been assessed as uninhabitable and to expensive to upgrade).  How these groups might be affected by the Localism Act and a new procurement exercise for library services I don't know.  

As with many of the proposals in the Budget papers, the actual shape of the proposed changes is not terribly clear.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Parks, Planning and Building

I see that some people believe that Brent is keen to sell off, or build on parks. This idea seems to crop up every so often, but has very little substance.  There are occasional attempts to build on parks, but they tend to meet fierce resistance.  Such resistance lay behind the failure to prevent the demolition of Dollis Hill House, the rejection of the Greenhouse application in the Welsh Harp, the demise of a proposed land swap deal at Furness Pocket Park, the development of a free school in Gladstone Park and probably others I have forgotten about.

The only example I can think of of any development being allowed in a Brent park was the Sea Cadet building in Welsh Harp.  I don't think that really comes into this category.  As it happens I was on the Planning Committee that considered it, and I believe I swung the Committee round to reject the officers' recommendation to refuse.  The permission actually decreased the footprint of the building slightly although it had an extra storey.  In the context, I don't think there was any negative impact on park users.

In fact, building on parks is incredibly hard.  The public resist.  The political parties are similarly hostile.  Brent Labour Party has a long standing opposition to building on green spaces.  Above all, planning policy is highly resistant to building on a public park, regarding it as equivalent to green belt.  The proposal in King Eddy's for the London Welsh School will therefore be up against some very tough planning considerations.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre

One of the smaller cuts proposed in Brent's budget papers is that of the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre

The Centre faced a similar threat back in 2011, when it was also proposed for a cut.  It was saved at the last moment as part of a series of amendments by Cllr Ann John.  This was achieved through a deal with Careys (which is the parent company of the recycling firm Seneca)  John Carey Jr had grown up in the area and had fond memories of the Centre, and got his firm to stump up a substantial part of the running cost.  More income is generated through lettings and Brent Council make up the rest.  The budget proposal is to delete Brent's contribution.

This actually seems to me to be an area where a Community Trust style solution might work.  I have been sceptical as to how these "community" arrangements applied to libraries, but the WHEEC seesm a different case.  It is already set up with a great deal of external funding already so it has a track record as an effective free standing organisation.  I can imagine it might be able to make up the difference through some combination of lettings, charging schools and individual philanthropic contributions.  As a non-Council body it could be better placed to apply for some grants, especially lottery funding.

My main fear is that such a solution could be lost in the wider Budget debate.  As the Environment and Neighbourhood Services Department is being abolished, there is likely to be a certain amount confusion as staff are reorganised.  Indeed I suspect the staff responsible for finding any solution are likely to be working out their redundancy notices.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Charging for IT Access at Libraries

I see that Brighton Libraries, with a Green Party administration, is starting to charge for IT access at libraries, as well as other events.   I wonder whether the Greens are out of date on charging for IT at libraries.  My reading of the Lincolnshire Judicial Review on libraries was that IT provision is now part of the legal public library duty, and therefore cann ot be subject to charging. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Blunders and Operational Disconnect

I have been reading "The Blunders of Our Governments" by by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe recently.  The sheer incompetence of our political system often worries me.  The authors try to identify a number of factors behind appalling blunders like the PPP, the Poll Tax and so on. 

One area they identify is "operational disconnect" where the decision makers neither know nor care about how to actually implement policies.  They siuggest this is becoming more common in central government as a result of the Next Steps agencies separating the administration of policy from the policy makers.  However, it strikes me as a possbible danger in local government as more and more services are commissioned rather than dealt with inhouse.  This doesn't have to lead to a disconnect, but it is a danger.  Meanwhile, there is still the old fashioned problem of decisionmakers simply not caring abhout whether their policy will work in practice, but that is another discussion.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Folly of Austerity.

FlipChartFairyTales has another reminder of how wrongheaded the whole austerity message is.  In fact it is a con by the Conservative Party and its little helpers in the Liberal Democrats to foist a small government ideology on a country that doesn't want it. 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Harlesden Town Centre Close to Completion

I am glad to see that the Harlesden Town Centre development is almost complete.  The Jubilee Clock is due to be replaced in February.  One regret I do have is that the area in front of Harlesden Methodist Church does not have any street trees.  They were in the original projections, but have probably been removed for financial reasons.  Harlesden is quite a hard urban landscape, so more trees would benefit it enormously.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Brent Fairtrade Accreditation

Hidden in Brent's budget proposals is the option of ceasing the Borough's Fairtrade accreditation.  I can't help feeling that this is a retrograde step.  I was highly critical of the Liberal Democrats record on Fairtrade, and correspondingly proud that Labour achieved Fairtrade accreditation for Brent.  I have sometimes cited Fairtrade as an example of where having a Labour run Brent makes a difference.  I am not sure that not going for Fairtrade accreditation would actually make any financial difference, in which case there seems no reason to give up Brent's support for Fairtrade.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Costs of Legal Actions

I thought I would do a post on the possible costs of legal actions, even if as in the Bailey Judgement, you win your case on every point.  I recall a member of the current Brent Executive being quite dismissive of the potential dangers of getting into a legal wrangle with Veolia over the Public Realm Contract.  The nicest thing I can say about that is that it demonstrated a certain naivety. 

The first cost is in poor publicity.  In the libraries case, you can argue that the decision to prioritise winning the Court case over the public relations was the wrong one, but in practice I think it is hard for local authorities to do otherwise.  The reality is that journalists want a David vs Goliath story where plucky local residents take on a Council behemoth.  Even where they make some kind of balance, they tend to lead off with "Brent Council did all sorts of bad things" at great length, followed by the phrase "The Court was told."  If you are lucky you will get a brief bit at the end denying that the Council is wrong.  They just aren't interested in writing a more nuanced story, so they won't.  A period of negative publicity is therefore inevitable, and the Council just has to ride through it.

A sidelight on this process is the modern purpose of celebrities as all purpose experts.  In the Brent case, I suspect many had made not the slightest attempt to understand the policy they were criticising but simply repeated a line.  This worked in terms of generating negative publicty, although it was of little use in the court itself.

The second is delay, which for a local authority probably costs money as well.  Brent had budgeted for a half year saving in the first year, that is that savings would begin from 1st September.  Even with a fairly swift hearing in July, the High Court judgement was not handed down until 13 October.  Only at that point was the Council able to swiftly act to start implementing the savings, before a further appeal caused more delay.  The final set of delays ran out in December.  This had a cashable impact, but also an impact on the uncertainity of staff and increasing difficulties in running a service where the staff were leaving because they expected the library litigants to lose.

A further hazard, which was perhaps specific to the Brent case, was that the opposing lawyers set off a barrage of letters trying to micro-manage the library service, and threatening injunctions during the course of the case.  This was eventually dealt with by suggesting that they could apply for an injunction and if so the correspondence would be made available to the Court.  This quietened them down, but a lot of energy had to be expended in the interim.

Arguably, there was still a cloud hanging over the service until the final collapse of the Court case on 3 February.  I think this last stage of legal action really was just designed as a delaying tactic in a war of political attrition rather than an effort to raise any serious legal issue. I am not alone in regarding the use of the law as a political delaying tactic as wrong

Another effect, which is quite curious and counter intuitive is that the Court case is now quite binding on the Council's future decisions on libraries.  This is, of course, the opposite of what the litigants intended, but resulted from the Council winning the case.  The High Court judgement gives an unassailable legal basis for the Council in running its library service.  If, like me, you regard Brent Libraries service as a great success, you may see this as a good thing.  It is a key part of why subsequent efforts to undermine the service have failed, and only relatively minor cuts are posed in the current budget round.  Others, who set a lower value on the success of Brent libraries than I do, may lament the decreased flexibility of the Council's decision making. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Library Study Spaces in Brent

I recently had a conversation in which I was asked whether Brent had more study spaces in its libraries than previously, and I am not sure of the answer.  Certainly it was a concern during the consultation on the Libraries Transformation Project.  It was particularly raised by the Brent Youth Parliament, and lay behind the pledge for "Improved, flexible study areas and quiet zones to meet increased demand", and also underlies the provision of other services such as homework clubs

Thinking about measuring this, one would have to count up not only the number of desk spaces, but also the number of available computers, the number of less formal sitting places and wider multi-functional areas.  One would also have to take into account the longer opening hours of the enhanced Library service compared to the 12 building model.

For instance, as Wembley Library is roughly three times bigger than the old Town Hall Library it is fair to say it has more study spaces of all kinds.  Since it has WiFi, it also has a number of spaces that are not formally laid out as such.  As part of the Civic Centre, you can also see teenagers using the wider building for study as well as the Library itself.

Brent's other libraries have also effectively expanded the space available.  In particular, Kilburn Library has been rewired to accommodate many more computers and study spaces.  Willesden Library, when it opens this Summer, will be somewhat bigger than its predecessor, and hopefully better designed.  Like Wembley Library, it will also have multi-functional spaces that could be used as study space.  Ealing Road Library has also been redesigned to create a modest increase in study space.   Harlesden Library has lots of potential, especially if the BACES space above were better used, and of course Kingsbury Library is also available. 

One issue  have always found frustrating is trying to get schools to open out more to let their spaces be used for study.  I have never really understood why this seems so difficult. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

More Threats to Local Welfare

I have written about local welfare schemes before.  It appears, in a declaration dropped out just before Christmas, that the central government is not guaranteeing funding for these.  This is as clear an example of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats deliberately targeting the poorest as you will find.  Of course, Eric Pickles will argue that Councils can still provide money, but the truth is that as Council budgets shrink all areas come under more and more pressure.  Whatever resources are allocated to this will have to be cut from another important area, as there are no areas of "unimportant" spending left.  All this in pursuit of a shrinking the state agenda that no one voted for, is economically counter-productive, and that ministers themselves have never really been honest about.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Library Consultation in Bristol

I quite like the format of Bristol's consultation on its libraries strategy.  It seems much more imaginative than many municipal consultations.  However, it will not allow Bristol to simply sidestep that key problems of how to make its shrinking budget meet its library needs.  However skilfully designed, hard questions about sensible priorities, the most effective ways of working and so on have to be answered, and ultimately someone has to make a decision and be accountable for it.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Building in Harlesden?

Yesterday I noticed that the triangular site at the junction between Craven Park and Church Road has a mechanical digger parked in it.  I hope that indicates that something is finally happening there.  It has been derelict for as long as I can remember.

Friday, 2 January 2015

The Complexity of Budget Consultation

The New Year holds out the prospect of a huge consultation exercise on the extent and nature of cuts in Brent Council's budget for the next two years.  The details can be found here.  We need to recall that the Council is being forced into these cuts by central government diktat

However, I think there is another worry here, which is how on earth is the consultation going to be carried out?  The sheer complexity of the Council budget over a two year period, coupled with the scale of the change, makes constructing a consultation a daunting task.  The governance of Brent Council has been seriously weakened since we won the judicial review on libraries in 2011.  Let's look at some of the practical problems behind putting together a consultation that avoids a legal challenge.

1) A huge number of service users and organisations will be affected, some of them drastically.  It is therefore likely that a broad range of bodies might consider legal action to counter what they see as a major threat to themselves.  Solicitors firms are known to systematically trawl Council documents looking for (to them) lucrative legal actions.

2)  One of the principles of a legal consultation is the need for adequate information for the consultees in a form that they might be expected to use.  Here the sheer complexity of the task is a major barrier.  If there is too much documentation, you can argue that members of the public cannot be expected to wade through; if there is too little, you can say that they are being kept in the dark about important facts.  There are many important facts that are far from clear in the Cabinet papers passed in December 2015.  For instance, the full extent of "poison pill" arrangements when disposing of buildings, the extent of match funding, the knock on effects for other services, the real meaning of bland phrases like "contain demographic pressures".

3) The Council is required to assess the equality impacts of its decisions.  The sheer number of potential impacts, and the complexity of their actual effect on all the different equality strands is colossal.  I find it very hard to see how it can be conveyed to a public audience, which arguably undermines the legalty of the consultation.  Indeed, I wonder how far the councillors who ultimately make the decision will actually understand the impacts.

4) Getting the public to understand the context of local government.  Having been through many such exercises, my experience is that many members of the public are (understandably) quite innocent of how local government is funded and what the realistic options are.  This was confirmed in the consultations in Brent last year, but is well known to anyone who has seriously engaged with such efforts. There are a host of basic concepts, such as fiduciary duty, procurement rules, the materiality of particular factors that are simply not widely understood.

5) The false impression it may give people that they are engaged in a referendum exercise where they say yes or no, and the councillors are simply bound by that.  By law, the councillors are the decision makers and have to use their own judgements in deciding (for instance) equality impacts.  They cannot pass that responsibility on.  Indeed there is a danger that the councillors themselves do not understand this, and vote through what the consultation seems to demand, and thereby find themselves subject to a legal action over what is called fettered discretion

6) The danger of "decibel planning" where whoever shouts the loudest gets the most resources.  It is inherent in such exercises that particular groups can organise to protect their own interests.  Classically, the wealthier, well connected and better educated tend to be better at putting their case than the more deprived.  Yet it is the most deprived who are hardest hit by cuts.  In a sense this is an impossible judgement that depends on one's values.

7) The possibility of actual misinformation in the consultation documentation.  It appeared to me that some of the options given in the Cabinet papers back in December were not only unrealistic, but might be inherently unlawful.  I am particularly thinking of not cleaning residential streets.  My understanding was that some level of cleaning was legally required (although the level can be reduced of course)  In the past I would have had confidence that Executive papers would have been adequately checked by a lawyer, but following the growing weakness of governance in the Council I am no longer so sure.  This could impact in terms of consultees being given an option that was not realistic, as well as the inherent illegality of the proposal.

Constructing a consultation that can adequately navigate these hazards is no easy task. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Reducing Cleaning in Brent

Looking at Brent's budget options again, I see that reducing cleaning is among those mooted.  The suggested reductions come in three bits.  The first, ceasing to clean residential streets altogether, strikes me as impossible.  I had always understood that was a statutory requirement, so just not doing it would break the law, quite apart from the other issues.  If I am right in this, I don't see what the point is in having it in the options consulted on.

The other two parts, taking away mechanical sweepers and weekend litter picking in parks, are possible, but will not be popular.  I would think it would also have knock on effects as the litter blows about.  Street cleaning and grounds maintenance is one area which very definitely identified in the public mind as a Council responsibility, so cutting it so drastically is politically extremely hazardous.