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Thursday, 30 November 2017

House Building

Hidden away in this week's Spectator is an article giving the years with the lowest number of new homes per year since 1949.  They are: 2013 (135,340), 2010 (135,970), 2011 (140,680), 2012 (141,550) and 2014 (145,010).  The highest build years are all in the 1960s under the Wilson government, when of course Council building was commonplace.  I think the message is fairly obvious.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

ExploreLearning in Willesden Library

A company called ExploreLearning has now set up an office in Willesden Green Library Centre in what used to be known  as the Long Room.  The Long Room had originally been intended for benefits advice, but was judged surplus to requirements as the Wembley Civic centre can apparently deal with all the face to face cases.  I am glad that the long search for a tenant has finally ended. 

The company specialises in English and Maths tuition (for fees).  You can get details of the Willesden branch here.  It certainly looks like a fairly natural fit with a library in terms of colocation, and should encourage usage (albeit for children who already tend to be heavy library users).  With the Willesden Cafe now open, it finally means that all the Library Centre has finally been occupied two years after it opened

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Sexism in Local Government

According to the BBC, concerns over sexism are now spreading out to local government.  The Fawcett Society has apparently published a report on the subject.  I would have thought this kind of concern applies to any where where there is (a) a power imbalance (b) a culture of deference towards people who may commit abuses.  Brent Council would certainly qualify on both those grounds. 

Monday, 27 November 2017

Basic Bank Accounts

An important answer on basic bank accounts was recently secured by Seema Malhotra MP in Treasury questions.  Around 1.5 million people do not have basic bank accounts despite a legal duty by account providers to give them to people not eligible for standard accounts.  The importance of have basic banking facilities for tackling alienation from the normal economy cannot be underestimated. 

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Time Person of the Year

There is a (disputed) report that Donald Trump was in line to be named Time Person of the Year.  Given that this was a title previously held by Adolf Hitler, perhaps it is not such a great accolade.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Libraries and Universal Credit

Universal Credit is turning into an entirely predictable human disaster, as this Guardian story confirms.  I have spoken to people who I have feared become suicidal because of it.  Tweaking the waiting time won't change that.  There are multiple reasons for that, but I just wanted to focus on one aspect, which is the assumption that libraries can tackle the problem that a number of people can't get Internet access.

In fact, using public library access is problematic.  There is a problem with keeping a record of the data on a public computer.  If it is on a memory stick, the information may not be easily accessible when the individual might want to raise a query (say on the phone with an official)  There may be an issue asking advice on a phone in a public place which may have a quiet policy.  There is the issue that library computers are not generally set up to remain confidential, so it is likely that passers by can overlook what people are doing (which may embarrass them), and there is the likelihood there that there is a time limit on usage ( as with Brent Libraries).  All these factors make public library computers less than ideal.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Amazing Willesden Library

On this cold morning I find myself in Willesden Library where a very small boy has just walked past me repeatedly telling his parent that "This is amazing".  I think he is quite correct. 

Friday, 17 November 2017

Putting Politics Above Prosperity is Never a Smart Choice

I wonder whether David Davis has contemplated the irony of that line in his speech "putting politics above prosperity is never a smart choice".  After all that phrase sums up the Brexit decision in a nutshell.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Manor Park Works Planning Application

The minutes for the meeting of the Manor Park Works decision are now out, and make curious reading.  I really can't recall any other application where only three members of the Committee chose to vote.  Frankly, I think the Council will find that decision very hard to defend if it goes to appeal.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Planning and Ethics

Martin Francis reports that Cllr Muhammed Butt has been meeting developers and discussing planning applications with them.  He implies this reprehensible.

Such would be the case if Cllr Butt were to subsequently pressure or otherwise instruct members of the Committee as to what decision they were to make.  Indeed any such instruction might invalidate the decision altogether.  It would also be dubious if he were to seek to influence the Planning officers in their recommendations.  It is striking that Cllr Butt seems to show a great deal of interest in planning application, much more so than his predecessors.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Affordable Housing Delivery

Red Brick blog is a reliable source of illumination on housing issues, and has a recent post explaining why it is becoming harder for Councils to deliver affordable housing.  Essentially, the central government's housing policies are pushing up prices and making it much hard to get affordable properties built.  Indeed, I think it entirely plausible that central government has for several years been actively trying to destroy the country's stock of social or affordable housing.  Something that anyone reading Safid Javed's comments should bear in mind. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Taking Back Control of Brexit

The sheer emptiness of the Brexiter case is made apparent by the latest ultimatum from Brussels.  It loks like we are finally going to see what Brexit actually means in practice at least with regard to the "divorce" payment and issues around Northern Ireland.  It will be interesting to see what effect this has on public opinion

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Concerns over Bridge Park in Stonebridge

The Kilburn Times reports an unhappy meeting relating to the possible redevelopment of Bridge Park.  I understand the unease with which many people regard developments put forward by Brent Council in its current state.  Experiences with South Kilburn and the Stonebridge Adventure Playground don't exactly give Brent Council a wonderful reputation.  I have argued before that this is linked to the way that some councillors simply try to dodge responsibility

However, it is important not to neglect a possible opportunity here.  The Unisys site, next to Bridge Park, has been abandoned and derelict for at least twenty years.  Combining it with Bridge Park as a redevelopment could create something really good.  Such an idea has been floated for years.  It was even in Labour's 2010 manifesto.  Done well, the site might provide housing, a sports centre and perhaps hotel accommodation or other job generating uses.  Access by the immediate community could possibly be secured by planning conditions (as at Moberley) or continuing community management in some form.  The construction of such a development might also help local businesses as the Civic Centre did

All this would depend on Brent Council making decisions that incorporate such concerns, and here there are obvious fears around the companies that Brent Council has chosen to deal with.  Cllr Muhammed Butt's record in Wembley does not convince me that he is the man to deliver peoples' aspirations, so perhaps incumbent councillors and would be councillors should take a more active role.

Monday, 6 November 2017

More on Brent's Borough of Culture

More details are now available on Brent's Borough of Culture bid.  It sounds like an interesting opportunity, although also one for which competition is likely to be fierce. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Air Quality in Brent

The next Cabinet meeting of Brent Council has space for a new air quality action plan.  Thanks to Sadiq Khan this issue has been rising in political importance, and the Plan does have good things in it such as extra tree planting in Neasden Lane, a traditional problem area.  The report does have worrying references to "greater community engagement" which can be code for leaving people to sort out their own problems.  It also doesn't say very much about the Wembley area which thanks to the unwise decisions of Cllr Butt appears to be getting a wave of construction, a slew of extra football matches which are bound to increase traffic congestion and a failure to have appropriate parking policies in place to deal with them. Such a combination may well threaten air quality in the Wembley area. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Digital Access at Brent Council

The next Brent Council Cabinet has a report on Brent's customer services which continues to follow the trend away from face to face towards digital engagement.  In itself, that is no bad thing.  It can be quicker and cheaper and actually the preferred option of many people, but for a minority of people it may present a problem.

In particular, ministers have suggested that benefit claimants can increasingly access services using publicly available computers in libraries, but such computers tend to be in the open.  They are often sited in such ba way as to be open to public view, which is not suitable when inputting confidential data such as medical or financial information (as might well be the case with a benefit application).  This sort of thing needs to be carefully thought through if they are being increasingly relied on for such purposes.

Friday, 3 November 2017

More Thoughts on Replacing Public Libraries

Some thoughts on the agendas behind volunteer libraries are here.  I have been making similar points for some, namely do volunteer libraries actually work as libraries? No one seems to know.  Volunteer libraries may well be a form of back door privatisation, which at least in some cases means handing over a public asset to a "community" organisation who actually have no real accountability to the community and are not really effectively monitored for what they do.  The last area of danger is that they may just drain resources from the proper library service which is thereby slowly undermined. 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Brent's Culture Bid

Visitors to Brent Libraries will have seen that the Bough is bidding to be a "Borough of Culture".  I am not sure what this means, but it is nice to see some sort of objective being set for the service now that the Libraries Transformation Project is complete.  Incidentally, Culture is now officially one of the main purposes of public libraries according to the SCL.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Brent Councillors Need to Remember the Language of Priorities

With the housing crisis now so pressing that even government ministers have noticed it, it is interesting to read Brent's Housing Scrutiny agenda coming up today.  The report identifies a key lack of strategic direction in Brent Housing, stating:

“One of the key  problems previously has been the failure  to provide strategic direction and outline the  expectations  that Brent has  for the  delivery of affordable supply to its Housing Association partners. Put simply this has meant  that all development  has  been  entirely opportunity led and Brent has had no influence over development  which  has  led to a surfeit of Shared Ownership Property.” (Paragraph 3.10)

While I am sympathetic to many of the problems that Brent Council faces in trying to solve the Borough 's housing problems with a cascade of central government cutbacks, very little land and constant fiddling with the regulatory regime  that still sounds pretty damning.

There are some directions that Brent Councillors should be deciding, namely:

  • What is the tenure mix?
  • What is the appropriate mix of unit size?
  • What adjustments to each area in terms of civic infrastructure are needed?
  • What is the appropriate mix of land uses?
 I am not at all sure that the first three are getting any sort of answer, and too often the debate seems to retreat into a kneejerk defence of the status quo rather than an attempt to maximise opportunities.