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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Employee Victimisation

All the comments Frances O'Grady applies to sexual bullying here, seem to me to apply to non-disclosure agreements in general.  I hope the debate widens to include other forms of employee victimisation.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Friday, 26 January 2018

Council Tax Rises in Brent

Brent Council is now considering a 4.99% rise in Council Tax.  I can't find references to a 4.99% rise in Council Tax in the Council's own documentation, so I assume it has just been raised with Cllr Butt in a conversation with some one.  Previously, Cllr Butt has lurched from trying to promote a Council Tax freeze to going for a maximum increase, and has shown considerable disdain for the opinions of the Labour Group.  This is not a very coherent approach. 

Saturday, 20 January 2018

More on Carillion and Public Libraries

The Guardian has an update on the Carillion library situation in Ealing and Harrow.  It might go out of date at any moment.  However, the figures given for an in house and an outsourced service strike me as rather dubious.  I wonder whether they are counting avoided business rates as part of the "cost"?  If so, I have argued before that is rather artificial

Friday, 19 January 2018

DIY Waste

The Times carried a story a few days ago about authorities having to accept DIY waste at their civic amenity sites without charge.  If ministers are going to issue such an instruction to the WLWA and others, they need to explain how to spot the difference between a commercial builder and a DIY enthusiast. 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Willesden Baptist Church

I see that last night's planning committee was considering an application to add some housing to the Baptist Church on Willesden High Road whilst preserving the facade.  Preserving the face, perhaps with some alteration, seems to have become something of a trend following the Spotted Dog and Willesden Library developments. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Grayling Survives Carillion Mess

The more I think of the Carillion collapse, the more I think it needs an inquiry.  Even a very basic procurement exercise should have thrown up sufficient warning to ministers that this was an unreliable company to be given major contracts.  Yet Chris Grayling put taxpayers' money at risk anyway.  Following from the East Cost Main line debacle, his position really should be in question, but as Theresa May's former campaign manager and a hard brexiteer it probably won't be.  After all we have sen how even a total incompetent like David Davis has survived the impact assessment deception.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Railings on Furness Road

To answer Michael's comment of some time ago, Brent Council may have removed the railings at the junction of Furness and Wrottesley Roads to actually enhance safety. 

There are two ways this could be true.  There is evidence now that when a cyclist gets brushed by a vehicle, such railings are more likely to lead to a fatality since the cyclist gets squashed between the vehicle and the railing.  The lack of a railing would send the cyclist sprawling, but cause less damage.  The other possibility is that it causes pedestrians to walk into the middle of the road as they tend to prefer the most direct route, which is certainly my own experience of that junction.  This was the reason I campaigned for similar railings to be removed on Station Approach

Monday, 15 January 2018

Carillion and Public Library Privatisation

This morning's news that Carillion has gone into liquidation causes me to reflection what a close shave Brent has had with its library service.  Brent Council considered and rejected the option of privatising Brent Libraries when I was lead member.  The option came up again later, and was actually included provisionally in the budget only to be withdrawn.

Ealing and Harrow are now considering whether to carry on with the contract for another five years.  They are likely to do so, if only because they would have to pay the contractor off if they terminate the contract.  Incidentally, I wonder whether Hounslow had to give a pay out to Carillion when Hounslow libraries went back in house.

The Harrow and Ealing reports predate this morning's news, but I suspect because of the termination payment the contract will be renewed and then perhaps terminated by mutual agreement subsequently.  I say that as there is bound to be a huge restructuring at all the businesses that Carillion is involved in.  As libraries are fairly marginal, that activity may be terminated altogether and just handed back to the Councils.  That would at least be likely to safeguard those peoples' jobs.

I take it the government felt unable to do a bail out because of the controversy from Chris Grayling decision to waste vast amount of taxpayers' money on the East Coast Main line.   There was no longer sufficent political cover to nationalise losses and privatise profits.  Hopefully, this will lead to a further reflection over whether certain kinds of services can ever be operated privately without an implicit taxpayers' guarantee. 

Moving back to libraries, London is left with a series of mainly publicly run services.  The main exceptions are those run by Greenwich Leisure, and the one Borough (Redbridge) run by a mutual.  In other words, the once fashionable idea of privatising library services as a means of cost saving seems to have come to naught.  This doesn't bother me as the supposed benefits of libraries privation listed in the Harrow report (paragraph 2.6) strike me as similar to those already implement in Brent under its Libraries Transformation

That leaves community managed library services as the final form of library privatisation open to Brent Council.  This is such a slow motion and piecemeal affair that it may not strike many people as privatisation at all.  So far, the biggest dollop of taxpayers' money is apparently a "one off" grant of £75k to FKRL preceded  by a few smaller grants.  The "Preston Library" group is still hoping to hit the jackpot by being effectively given the building for nothing, although I think any councillors signing such a deal off would expose themselves charges of corruption. 

UPDATE 16.01.18
I see that Croydon has taken its libraries back in house leaving Carillion with just Harrow and Ealing.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Council Tax Rises and Brent

Central government has once again changed expectations around Council Tax by allowing bigger rises.  The maximum has now gone up to 5.99%, part of this is ringfenced to pay for social services which are now (after years of central government driven austerity) close to collapse.  It is effectively a way for the government to kick the can along the road a bit longer.  It doesn't really solve the long term problems of social services, the crisis in local government funding or the democratic deficit in local democracy.

I shall be interested in seeing how Brent Council responds.  From 2010, Council Tax was frozen, but that was at a time when central government offered Council Tax freezing councils a grant greater than the value of a rise.  This grant was then reduced over time to be worth worth less than a rise.  This led to the odd situation in the 2015 budget when the Labour Group favoured a rise, and the Executive refused to enact it.  In 2016, the Executive switched to a policy of having a maximum rise (which would now be just short of 6%).  This is also now in line with central government expectation which is effectively pressuring Councils to raise Council Tax as much as possible to offset the pressures created by other government cuts both past and present.  Altogether it is an incredibly messy and ineffective way for central government to meddle with local government.

The other question it raises is what are local councillors going to do in discussing all this?  The budget has to be set legally by the end of March, and ideally a bit before so that Council Tax bills can go out smoothly.  Given the forthcoming elections in May, the issue is even more politically sensitive than usual, although past evidence is that the public perceive the Council Tax as going up whether it does or not.  We are now in January, and any discussion will have to happen fairly soon.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Brent Council and Recycling

I see that Brent recycling performance is now about 37%, which is somewhat down from where it was a few years ago.  Improving even a few percent would save the Council a lot of money and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The same report comments that the new Veolia contract is designed first and foremost to cut residual waste (now sent for electricity generation rather than landfill), but doesn't actually seem to have any figures on how much it might have been reduced by.  However, it is good to see a renewed focus on reducing food waste.  Finally, I am glad to see that the recycling service will be seeking to make better use of Brent libraries, which are a deeply under-appreciated communications tool.