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Saturday, 30 December 2017

Brexit Border Dilemma

Flip Chart Fairy Tales has a good summary of the problems around the Northern Ireland border.  David Davis appears to be in denial, and his Tory colleagues are tolerating him because they know he is pro-Brexit no matter what.  What I always find bewildering about this sort of thing is do these people imagine that pretending something is true can continue forever?

Monday, 18 December 2017

Rare Example of Successful Community Asset Transfer

Lambeth seems to give a rare example of a successful community asset transfer, although the library itself appears to continue to be Council run.  It is probably significant that Upper Norwood Library had a long prehistory of running semi-independently.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Gesture Politics Reaches New Low

I have often been critical of gesture politics, but surely the latest motion from the City of Rome reaches a new low.  The City Council have revoked the exile of Ovid.  That makes the continuous effort to turn Brent Council into a platform for Middle Eastern politics look almost sensible by comparison. 

Saturday, 16 December 2017

More on Community Managed Libraries

For those interested more information on community managed libraries can now be found through a Network.  The Network makes some effort to analyse performance by community managed libraries, but this is limited compared to the figures used at public libraries.  This may well be because some CML have no library management systems in the formal sense. 

Friday, 15 December 2017

More on the Biggest Libraries

Looking again  at CIFPA's list of the UK's five biggest libraries, I note that at least four of them appear to be (in some way quite new). 

The one I know best is of course Wembley Library, now the third most visited in the country with almost 1.4 million visits.  That is a stark contrast to the old Brent Town Hall library it replaced, which had about 200k visits at the time it closed.  Wembley Library was of course newly opened as a custom built facility in 2013. 

Birmingham Central Library was opened at vast expense in 2013.  Manchester underwent a major refurbishment prior to reopening in 2014.  Woolwich Library opened I am not sure when, but I think it was quite recently.  I believe they all attracted a lot of negative publicity until they actually opened. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

CILIP Calling for Greater Library Transparency

CILIP and the Labour Party are quite rightly calling for more transparency on library figures, alongside a more timely rate of publication.  As the libraries sector is becoming ever more dependent on the use of volunteers, it would also be a good idea if someone would actually make some attempt to monitor whether "community managed libraries" actually work.

At present, the only evidence is anecdotal, and (in my view) unreliable.  I think this is for a number of reasons:

a) Many volunteers don't really understand the scale or scope of what public libraries do, so they tend to overestimate what "their" library does in comparison.
b) Volunteers are normally trying desperately to fund raise and you raise funds by selling what a good job you can/are doing, not by a candid assessment of what is going well and what isn't.
c) Politicians and Councils don't want to get into fights with residents so they aren't completely candid in explaining that the volunteer run services are functioning at a much lower level than the previous Council services. 
d) Some of the costs of community run libraries can be quite hidden compared to local government figures.  For example, there can be ongoing managerial support from the Council, "grace and favour" arrangements for the use of buildings, use of Council IT systems with less than transparent charges and so on.
e) Some of the outcomes of community managed libraries can also be untested.  For instance, I don't think most such libraries formally measure loans and visits in the way CIPFA expects or have any equivalent to the PLUS surveys.  If they have monitoring systems, I suspect they are probably quite specific to each institution and therefore it is hard to draw comparisons.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Usual Street Gritting Suspects

Picking up on the street gritting stories in the Kilburn Times, I see a lot of complaints.  This tends to happen every time there is even a limited amount of snow, so I would have thought by now all councillors would know that gritting most of the roads in Brent is a Borough responsibility not a TfL one.  Indeed, in the past it has been a source of controversy  as Brent has not bought enough street grit in the past.  Monday's weather seem to me to be handled quite well, with more major roads done first.  It really is unrealistic for people to expect all 480km of Brent roads simply to be covered in street grit as soon as snow starts falling.

I have gone through some of the practical obstacles to winter readiness before.  I was interested to read that only 840 tons of rock salt is in store, which is lower than in the past.  Possibly more is on order, although rock salt tends to be mined all year round, so you can't generally just hold of it when the weather is bad.  It has to be ordered well in advance.  It is also possible that since I wrote that piece in 2011, technology has improved so that more efficient use of forecasting reduces the need for gritting.  These days weather forecasts can be so exact that the different ground surface temperatures (GST) of different parts of London can be tracked.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Brent and UK Libraries

CIPFA have published new figures on public library provision, and on the whole they are pretty grim.  The Guardian tells us: "Visits [are] down  by 3% year on year, and by 14% over the last five years. The decline, according to the CIPFA figures, is almost across the board: book issues fell by 6.3% in the last year, and by 25.1% in the last five years. Book stock held is also down by 2.6%.

The Brent experience, in contrast, is shown here:

And the Brent experience on loans (NB the high base line) is here:

The improved performance in both visits and loans is attributable to seven day opening, the refurbishment of Kilburn Library (Pictures are available here), a new library at Willesden and a new library at Wembley.  These all formed part of the Brent Libraries Transformation Project

So just to repeat, over a period when national library visits declined by 14%, Brent's went up by 61%.  In the same period, loans went down 25.1% nationally, but rose by 8% in Brent.  

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Affordable Housing in Wembley Reduced to Almost Nothing

My eye was caught by an extremely high tower block proposal coming up at the next Planning Committee.  The "East of Wembley Stadium" application provides for only 7% affordable housing on the pretext that the housing will be kept at a genuinely affordable rent level.  It is recommended to be granted

I have argued before that there are genuine trade offs around affordability, unit size and so on, but this becoming ridiculous.

Firstly the proportion is so tiny that almost nothing is being demanded of the developers at all.  7% does not even begin to meet the needs of Wembley, as the GLA has pointed out.  Secondly I don't see any reason to believe that the developer can be kept to the promised reduced rate.  It would not surprise me in the least if the properties are sold off as straight forward commercial units in future.  Thirdly, the blocking of views to the Stadium has a woeful impact on the Stadium's place as the centrepiece of Wembley's regeneration.

I doubt however, that the Committee will do more than rubberstamp what is put in front of them.  If it does it will be another sign that the Planning system in Brent has been thoroughly broken and (for whatever reason) councillors and officers are simply waiving through applications with simply no effort to scrutinise them properly. 

The report, and the subsequent report for more car parking, both seem to indicate that the GLA is becoming concerned at the ways in which the London Plan is being ignored, so that it is possible that Sadiq Khan will intervene, but why aren't Brent Councillors and officers doing a better job to stick up for the interests of Brent and Tokyngton?

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Questions and Yet more Questions

It seems that Brent Council has another of its semi-scandals brewing.  A fuller discussion can be found here.  A number of the answers given appear to be contradictory.  Giving false answer on the register of gifts and hospitality and/or in in relation to FoI requests is itself a serious matter.  The murk becomes thicker following the attempt by the CEO to "clarify" the situation here

Friday, 8 December 2017

Brexit Breakthrough

Theresa May appears to have managed a breakthrough in the Brexit talks this morning, although perhaps not in the way she intended.  Underlining who has real control of the situation, the EU Commission has declared "sufficient progress" has been made to go to a stage two.

Although everyone is politely pretending that everyone has got what they wanted, it seems to me that the breakthrough essentially consists of the UK saying yes to what the European Union asked for months ago.  Moreover, the absence of effective mechanisms to make the situation unclear in ways that will just have to be made clearer during the remaining period.

Thankfully it appears that there will be no hard border with the Republic or down the Irish Sea.  During the "transition" period, according to Donald Tusk, the UK will be governed by EU law including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.  The Irish government spokesman told everyone that "stated commitment to maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and customs union which, now or in the future, support north-south cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the Good Friday agreement.”

Those two statements sound to me that we will be in the Single Market for at least two years following "Brexit" in March 2019.  In the cases of the "areas covered by the Good Friday Agreement" _ whatever they may be _ we are apparently going to stay in the Single Market in perpetuity. 

I would imagine that will leave the stronger pro-EU parts of the UK plenty of scope to demand that we also permanently remain in the Single Market in economic sectors that matter to them.  For instance I would expect both Scotland and London to want to remain in the Single Market for Financial Services.

The agreement also apparently means that EU citizens in the UK will retain the same rights as they had before, which I am glad of since I know that this has been a real source of anxiety for many people.  According to the Guardian (at 8.23am today), the Taoiseach said that "Everyone born in Northern Ireland will retain their right to EU citizenship."  If so that seems to create  new category of UK citizen, one who remains a citizen of the European Union despite the UK leaving it.  That strikes me as very odd and I would think would worry the DUP in terms of Northern Ireland drifting to the Republic, an understandable concern to anyone who knows some Irish history.  Personally, I would have thought many people in the rest of the UK would envy that right and want a similar deal, if only because it will make travel around the EU easier.

It is beginning to sound as if Brexit will mean the UK obeying all the EU rules but having no representation at the EU decision making bodies, as well as making a payment of around £39 billion to the European Union.  Still footing the bills and becoming a rule taker rather than a rule maker.

I imagine that Jacob Rees-Mogg feels rather as if his gun dog brought something deeply unpleasant out of the swamp this morning to lay at his feet.

David Davis MP and the Brexit Assessments

The Guardian has now done a round up of all the times David Davis referred to his Brexit analysis documents in Parliament.  The record speaks for itself in the number of times he has misled Parliament, but his Tory colleagues are determined to close ranks around him.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

How Might Colocation Evolve at Willesden Library?

Now that Willesden Library is fully occupied for the first time since it opened, it is worth thinking about how co-location might evolve there.  Colocation is often seen as a zero sum game with space being taken away from library services and given to other purposes purely as an exercise in cost cutting.  I am sure that there are such examples, but I think Willesden Library really does add value by being more than the sum of its parts.  In particular from a Library point of view, the other activities all draw in people who may then add to library usage.

Willesden Library Cafe, for instance, may simply start attracting customers off the High Road or the bus stop looking coffee and tea who then may end up becoming curious about the Library offer.  It also may make use of the library more in line with modern tastes.  There is some reason to believe that use of libraries is shifting more to a leisure based model where soft furnishings and a cup of coffee fit in more than sitting sitting at a desk doing homework.

Similarly, ExploreLearning may well market the Library to a new clientale who, since they are interested in learning, should be a natural fit with library services.

I am not sure how far this has been planned but the sheer variety of events and activities held in Brent libraries add to the diversity of uses and help the library to reach a broader range of people than had traditionally been the case.

Another area of possible development is the public realm around the library.  As its winter, it is probably too cold and dark and wet to do all that much with the spaces around the library at present, but I think they are well designed for outdoor activities.  During the construction process some people argued that there was tremendous demand for the use of outdoor space in Willesden Green, leading to an application for a town green.  The critics of the scheme appear to have largely disappeared

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Profiteering over Fire Risk

Yesterdays Times contained a story about leaseholders in private flats being forced to pay inflated prices prices for allegedly unnecessary "fire safety" works.  This is exactly what I fear may happen in former BHP blocks as well.  To make things worse, the sudden splurge in spending may well lead to genuine shortages of materials and labour making prices higher than they would otherwise have been. 

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Brexit and Northern Ireland

Yesterday's collapse in Brussells really makes me wonder whether Brexit can go ahead.  Rather than a minor miscommunication over the exact text, it seems to me to be a far more fundamental failure with the failure of those demanding Brexit to understand the nature of our relationship with the European Union, and indeed the nature of their own demands.

Given the huge cost of a hard border with the Republic to Northern Ireland, and the risk to the Good Friday Agreement, I assume that the DUP genuinely wants an open border, but I don't see how you can have that with Northern Ireland remaining in the Single Market.  Leaving the rest of the UK outside the Single Market would then create a hard internal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which would obviously be anathema to any unionist. 

The whole mess has also led to exceptionalist demands by Scotland, Wales and London for a similar bespoke deal, which would create even more internal border issues, quite bizarre ones in the case of London. 

Keeping the whole of the UK in the Single Market is hated by the hard Right as the Conservative Party is hated because it would be incompatible with their zero regulation fantasies and tantamount to remaining in the European Union.

I really can't imagine how the Brexiteers are going to escape their inherent contradictions on this one. 

Trees in Brent

If you have ever wondered how many trees Brent has the answer is in a forthcoming Council report.  It estimates the Council is responsible for "17,000 public highway trees,  5,200 estate trees located on 200 housing estates, and 14,500 trees in Brent’s parks and cemeteries". There will also be a number of trees on private land.  

Monday, 4 December 2017

Parking Money Rolls into Brent

It is striking that parking revenues have continued to roll into Brent (according to the forthcoming Cabinet papers.  Apparently: "All budget planning expectations have been met or exceeded, providing additional contributions to the corporate cost of concessionary fares in each year from 2014/15" (paragraph 4.2)despite the Council being precipitately banned from using cameras by central government.  

Indeed the total income has gone from £7.9 million in 2013/14 to £11.7 million in 2016/17, quite an increase.  The money pays for most of the cost of maintaining the Freedom Pass. 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Brexit Sleight of Hand

Fifty billion to leave the European Union; three billion to prepare for leave; start adding it up and pretty soon you're talking real money.  Thinking of that old Ronald Reagan gag this morning.  It is amazing how the government's insistence on strict spending  limits can go out the window when politics intervenes. 

Or rather, it shows you how much some Tories really hate what they imagine to be the EU.

The Brexit preparation bill at least seems to be mainly sleight of hand.  The three billion comes out of departmental budgets in places like the Foreign Office that can then reapply for the Brexit pot to offset the money that they need to prepare for Brexit, so probably the same money will just be reshuffled around the system.  Such are the vagaries of Budget presentation. 

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Tulip Siddiq and Channel4 News

I see that Brent Green Party alongside Channel 4 News is trying to make hay out of Tulip Siddiq's confrontation with Channel 4 News.  The case is described here.  I would be truly surprised if either of them is unaware of the parliamentary convention that you only raise matters relating to your own constituents.  Under these rules, the Speaker might reprimand Tulip if she took up the case. 

As far as I can see, she is being urged to simply because she is of Bangladeshi heritage and related to eminent Bangladeshi politicians.  This is one of the subtler ways in which ethnic minority politicians are treated differently. 

UPDATE 03.12.17

In answer to the comment, I don't think Tulip was trying to threaten anybody; she was just rather clumsily trying to extricate herself from a confrontational situation.  I notice that she has apologised for the remark anyway.

The way Channel 4 has targeted her because she is Bangladeshi is because they know that she has no connection to the case they are raising.  Anybody who has ever worked in a MP's office, or had much dealing with them, knows that it is standard not to deal with the casework of people who live in other constituencies.  Thus Tulip has campaigned for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be released as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a Hampstead and Kilburn constituent.  Ahmed Bin Quasem is not a Hampstead and Kilburn constituent.  His case should be raised by his own MP, and I am sure that Channel4 News know that full well.  They have gone to Tulip simply because she is Bangladeshi in origin.  I think it is wholly inappropriate to start expecting MPs from ethnic minorities to raise cases in Parliament simply because they involve people from the same ethnic minority.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Planning Appeal?

There is no word as yet as to whether Manor Park Works is going to be appealed or subject to a fresh application.  This is unsurprising as people have up to six months to make an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.  I would have thought given the strangeness of the decision, an appeal was extremely likely.