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Sunday, 31 July 2016

Why Butt in Now?

Brent Council leader Cllr Muhammed Butt has made a little remarked u-turn regarding BDS and Israel here.  The most remarkable statement in it is:

"So when boycotters wanted Brent to cancel its contracts with vendors who do business in Israel, the decision to say no was one of the quickest and easiest I have had to make."

This is a reference to the awarding  of Brent's Public Realm contract, a topis in which Cllr Butt actually showed very little interest.  When the BDS campaign, very late in the day, started to object to the new contract being potentially awarded to Veolia, Cllr Butt actually dithered for an inordinate amount of time before following the legal advice that had been available from the start that ruling the company out of the competition was out of the question.

Similarly, there had also been an Israel centred controversy over the Tricycle Theatre's attitude to the Jewish Film Festival.  Although Cllr Butt sits on the board of the theatre, he made no comments on the matter either way. 

Why then is Cllr Butt writing his article now?  I take it that whoever is instructing him has decided that he needs to rehabilitate himself following his resignation as London Councils' Equalities lead.  This was linked to the rows over anti-semitism at the time.  If Cllr Butt wants to fully restore his reputation in such matters, he should look at his record in the Rosemary Clarke case. 

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Willesden High Road Repaving

It is good to see that soime repaving of Willesden High Road has finally started.  The poor state of the pavements on Willesden High Road has blighted the area for years.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Martin Francis Barking Up the Wrong Lamp Posts

Martin Francis is complaining about Brent Council painting lamp posts, and seems to think it something new.  In fact, this is routine, which anyone who looks at the number of painted street lights around the place might be expected to realise.  The "new" change he highlights is that the default colour is black, or "raven black" as I believe the Council likes to call it.  This was decided as part of passing the Placemaking Guide in February 2011. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Ongoing Failure Under Jeremy Corbyn

As Jeremy Corbyn launches his re-election campaign today, I thought it might be worth pointing to what the ex-Shadow Cabinet critics say about him.  These are people from the so-called "Make it Work" tendency, who tried to work with him and then gave up.

But first it is well worth watching "The Outsider" documentary by Vice TV.  This is a film made by avowed Corbyn supporters invited in by Seamus Milne, but it ends up coming across as something of a hatchet job by simple reporting.  I am particularly thinking of Jeremy's refusal to attack the government following Iain Duncan Smith's resignation, which was frankly a bizarre way for the Leader of the Opposition to behave.

The ex-Shadow Cabinet portray an Opposition Leader who appears not to even want to oppose the Tories.  Lilian Greenwood felt she was constantly undermined.  Thanggam Debbonaire has a still more damning picture of ineptitude.  Heidi Alexander thinks he doesn't have capacity to lead.  These members have gone public, but I suspect all his former spokespeople would have similar stories of indecision, poor consultation, missing basic deadlines and so on. 

This is before one gets on to Jeremy Corbyn's refusal to make any effort to unite the party on difficult policies like Trident (it is worth recalling that a continuous at sea deterrent remains Labour's official policy); his lack of an economic policy, his apparent knee jerk anti-western prejudices on Syria and the Ukraine; his shameful acceptance of payment from Press TV; his past record on the IRA, his equivocation on anti-semitism, and so on. 

None of this seems to matter to many of the people signing up to the Labour Party to vote in our elections, but it does to the electors at large.  As I write, Labour's poll standing is 29% and heading downwards _ which would take it beneath Michael Foot's horrific defeat in 1983.  If that happens there may not be much of a Labour Party left to lead. 

Nonetheless, Jeremy remains the favourite to win the party leadership, but then what? I don't see any point in the previous refuseniks or the make it work resignees changing their minds.  I simply don't see how, say Hilary Benn, could come back into any post and work with Jeremy Corbyn.  So Labour will be left with a wholly ineffective Leader made still more ineffective by the absence of the rest of the Parliamnetary Party around him.  If that is not an open invitation to Theresa May to call an early election and slaughter us I don't know what is.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Samba in the Library at Willesden

Willesden Library had a Brazilian festival at the weekend.  I can't help but admire the sheer range and variety of the events Brent Library staff manage to put on. 

Monday, 18 July 2016

Kilburn Regeneration Ploughs On

Brent Council has another report on the transformation of South Kilburn.  In many ways there are good sides to this, but it concerns me that there appears to be no public debate about it.  Talking to people in the area, there seems to be just an acceptance that local people are powerless and whatever will happen will happen.  That is not how local democracy should work. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Parking Charges in Brent

Brent Council's next executive meeting contains yet another report on parking.  This report is now to be an annual event.

Parking Charge Notices (PCNs) issued through CCTV have fallen dramatically, thanks to the government's rather illogical changes in this area.  The report says that this is having a detrimental effect on traffic management around schools in particular.

Yet the total number of PCNs and the level of fines have gone up.  This is because more cameras have been introduced at yellow box junctions, catching moving traffic offences.  The Council says it is also better at collecting the fines, although the figures still seem to indicate that a lot of people are not paying.  A 71% recovery rate implies almost a third of people don't pay.  It is also noteworthy that the majority of on street parking is now paid cashlessly.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Cllr John Duffy Calling

I am glad to see Cllr John Duffy has resumed his blog.  I don't agree with all his comments on Willesden High Road, but at least he is engaging with what Brent Council does, and trying to improve it. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

A new Car Park for Deerhurst Road

Brent's Planning Committee has approved the new underground car park in Deerhurst Road with an agreement to count the number of car users.  In past cases such agreements have been considered more or less unenforcable  because they are so resource intensive.  I doubt very much whether this case will be any different.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

More on Cllr Tayo Oladapo

Tomorrow's Brent Council meeting will have a report on the sad case of former Cllr Tayo Oladapo.  The account in the report does not strike me as easily compatible with the account given in the Evening Standard

The information comes in the form of a supplementary report to Full Council, which is unusual.  I note that the "Constitutional Working Group", which previously would always include the main party whip, in this case does not.  Cllr Hirani replaces her as "Executive representative" despite two members of the Executive already being in the group.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Neil Kinnock on Saving the Labour Party

Brent Central Labour Party had a meeting the other night about Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.  Some of Corbyn's supporters could do with listening to the speech made by Neil Kinnock to the PLP on Monday to remind them how high the stakes are. A bit is missing from the beginning of the speech, where Neil Kinnock said "We have never been in this abyss before, but we have been on the lip of this abyss".  In other words, he thinks we are in a worse place than in the 1980s. 

Friday, 8 July 2016

Update on Volunteer Libraries in Brent

The Willesden Library meeting I attended last weekend was an odd hybrid of Brent Library service and the various library volunteer groups in Brent.  The format began with some presentations on the library and culture service from the Council staff, which included the impressive performance in terms of satisfaction ratings

We then had updates from each of the library volunteer groups, who also seemed to make up most of the audience.  These presentations all tended to concentrate on the "vision" part of each scheme rather than the practical details, but I thought it was worth going through each one. 

The Cricklewood scheme seems to me to have most potential.  The demolition of the old building, which as Judge Ouseley pointed out in paragraph 51 of his judgement, was unsuitable for disabled access, has allowed its replacement with a purpose built building.  The new building sounds as if it will have much more flexibility.  This is important as the group will need financing, and the most obvious way of doing that is through room hire.  The second advantage the building has is the proximity of Gladstone Park, which could be mutually advantageous in terms of both the new centre and the park.  I didn't get much sense of what activities are planning, but I imagine that is still in formation.

Kensal Rise
The Kensal Rise group in contrast is retaining most of the ground floor of the old building.  That presentation concentrated largely on fund raising where the group has a target of £200k.  We were told that since 23 April the group had raised about £50k.  Although I suspect much of this was actually raised before 23 April during the previous five years, it certainly sounds an impressive effort.

The Barham group, where former Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Lorber presented, said it is actually active.  Here there was something of a puzzle.  The Council (via the Barham Trust) agreed to lease part of the building back in October 2015.  I thought it rather odd at the time.  We were informed that a lease has yet to be signed more than half a year later.  The Council is unlikely to comment on such matters as they presumably relate to the finances of another organisation.  Paul Lorber gave no explanation for the reasons for the delay.  He did inform us that his group had been allowed in for the purposes of storage, but that they had ignored this and carried out various other activities as well.  It sounds to me as if he may be abusing his position as I predicted, and the members of the Trust Committee should investigate. 

The final group is the Preston group who claimed to have a wide range of activities underway, although there was no detail on the numbers involved.  As with Barham, the group do not appear to have a lease.  I have suggested before that there are major problems with the Council granting them a lease on the terms that they apparently expect

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Turnover in Brent Libraries

A detail to come out of the PLUS survey is that the majority of Brent library users have used Brent libraries for less than three years.  This is probably because our area has an extremely high population turn over.

A more gloomy view would be that Brent libraries have a retention problem.  If so it would be important to find out why. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

More on Computer Use in Brent Libraries

Looking at the recent PLUS data on Brent libraries I saw that there are figures on whether people use library computers or their own.

In the sample 31% of users intended to use a library computer and 25% actually did so.  That underlines what many people have long suspected that library users are often attracted by the PCs as much as the books.  Still more interesting was the response on use of their own computers by users.   No less than 23% of users used their own computers.  That is a hefty figure and demonstrates that the Sieghart Report was right to highlight the importance of Wifi (which was an essential part of the Libraries Transformation Project proposals).  It should also influence the design of libraries in ensuring the adequate provision of charging points and seating.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Deerhurst Road Temple Planning Application

Tonight Brent's Planning Committee will be returning to the application for an underground car park on Deerhurst Road.  As I have pointed out before, the application runs contrary to the Council's normal transport and planning policies and has attracted controversy in the past.  Cllr Carol Shaw has objected strenuously to similar proposals in the past.  I wonder whether she will continue to do so.

Incidentally, I notice that the same Planning Committee that rammed two meetings in very quick succession in early May shortly before the Labour Group AGM, was so short of business in June that it cancelled a meeting.  The May meetings went ahead despite th eChair claiming that people did not have enough time to read the documentation.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Davani Payoff

Brent Council seems to have found a more contrite tone regarding Cara Davani and her controversial record, at least according to the Kilburn Times.  The employment tribunal case was a disgraceful one, and the unwillingness of those in authority to act made it more so.  Let us hope that lessons really have been learnt.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Brent Libraries Continue to Improve

The most recent Public Library User Services were made available at a brief meeting on Brent's cultural services I attended yesterday.  Once again they are up in every category, although some only just.  It is another indication that Brent's Libraries Transformation Project turned the library service around.

Here is the historical sequence.

The "customer care" fall is a bit of an outlier as the question was changed between 2006 and 2009.  The biggest improvements are the attractiveness of the library outside and inside.  This is unsurprising since the most recent figures include the new Wembley Library as well as the new Willesden Library.

The full figures are:

Very Good/Good Rating for Brent Libraries 2006 2009 2012 2016
Overall Satisfaction 86% 77% 83% 87%
Opening Hours 85% 85% 90% 91%
Customer Care 93% 81% 84% 87%
Books: physical condition 74% 74% 82% 84%
Attractiveness of Library: inside 72% 68% 77% 85%
Information provision 86% 70% 76% 77%
Books: choice 66% 63% 73% 76%
Computer facilities 71% 64% 70% 72%
Attractiveness of Library: outside 59% 62% 66% 81%

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Broadening the Labour Party Debate

The carnage over Jeremy Corbyn's leadership has been paused this weekend.  Unless he steps down, I imagine all hell will break loose on Monday.

Jeremy started at a disadvantage since many Labour MPs found him so objectionable that they were unwilling to serve with him.  The MPs who have resigned in the last week (it really has been just a week) were the ones who wanted to make it work.  Sadly, they have been frustrated in that by the blend of nasty sectarianism and sheer incompetence that surrounds the core Corbyn team.  If he wins a new context, there will be no point in these people attempting to do what they failed to achieve before, and there are no more MPs left.  That means a front bench team where most of the posts are vacant, which would effectively mean that the Labour Party would be unable to function as an Opposition.

Some idea of how the situation got this bad can be gained from watching the Vice TV documentary on the subject.  Although made by a people who were explicitly supporting Corbyn, it full of cringe inducing moments.  I would nominate the part where Jeremy explicitly says he doesn't want to embarrass the government after the Iain Duncan Smith resignation the worst.

So Jeremy's leadership is now effectively finished whatever happens.  What is still to be determined is whether the Labour Party has a contest with lots of candidates debating future directions for the Party, or whether it is a simple pro/anti Corbyn fight.  Jeremy got on to the ballot paper last time in the name of broadening the debate, I hope he stands down now for the same purpose.