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Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Planning in Willesden Green

Out door knocking in Willesden Green at the weekend, I found lots of concern at the application on the old garage site near Kingsley Court, fairly little about the Queensbury site and no knowledge of the application on the Parade near the top of the High Road close to the old Electric House.  It is odd how these applications seem to come forward in a small area all together. 

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Northants Death Spiral

Northants County Council appears to have locked into a death spiral following their section 114 announcement.  I imagine their staff are already leaving and not being being replaced, and councillors are apparently being asked to vote through a budget that will not add up.  The abolition of the Council itself cannot be far away.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Brent Business Breakfasts

I am glad to see that the Willesden Library Cafe has started to host a series of business breakfasts (in partnership with the Federation of Small Business).  This kind of thing was part of the justification for having a cafe in the Willesden Library Centre in the first place, and part of its wider role as a community hub _ especially in terms of Willesden Green's own regeneration

Sunday, 25 February 2018

What Young Library Users Want

During the Libraries Transformation Project I was routinely told by various participants what libraries were used for, and why they were valued.  Many of these statements were prefaced "I don't use libraries, but..." before an imaginary user's demands were put to me.  Therefore I welcome the recent Libraries Taskforce evidence on what library users actually value

Judging from the report, a lot of the value comes from social interaction and old fashioned reading. 

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Waste Electricals Recycling

Both Willesden Library and the Tricycle Theatre agreed to act as collection points for waste electricals recently (a WLWA initiative).  The WLWA also points out that you can get rid of the old devices for free when you buy a new one.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Walera Martynchik at Willesden Art Gallery

Willesden Library Art Gallery has a really striking display as part of its latest exhibition "Reconstruction of Reality".  I took the following photos as the exhibition was being set up.

As always, it is best to actually see the works in reality.  You can also also see the artist's web site at:

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Severnside Energy Recovery Centre

This year will mark the first year of operation of the Severnside Energy Recovery Centre, which was commissioned by the West London Waste Authority (WLWA) back in 2013. This drastically reduces the amount of waste that West London sends to landfill.  It also supplies enough electricity to power around 50,000 homes.  More details can be found on the WLWA site.

Reducing landfill is a key policy objective in meeting the waste hierarchy objectives outlined below that I have mentioned before.

Image result for waste hierarchy

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Lines of Accountability

It is striking that it is becoming increasingly common to hold "lobbies" and "protests" aimed at people who don't actually make decisions on a given subject.  That was very noticeable in the Charlie Gard case, where people protested outside Downing Street and Buckingham Palace because they did not like the decision of the Courts.  Of course, neither the Prime Minister nor the Queen has any power to overturn a Court verdict.

A few days ago, Brent Momentum were tweeting that they had demanded Cllr Muhammed Butt do what they want over Labour's manifesto (They weren't very specific).  Don't they realise that it is the Labour Party that decides the content of its manifesto not any particular councillor?

Similarly, Brent Council has had protests recently about Academisation of the Village School in Queensbury.  Do the people making these protests really just not grasp that school governors make decisions about schools and Councils (while retaining responsibilities with insufficient powers) have very little power to make decisions?

In each of these cases, we seem to see groups of people making demands on people who are not in a position to fulfil them and then react with outrage when nothing is achieved.  Is the ignorance implied genuine, or is it that expressing the outrage is seen as more important than actually changing the decision?  I genuinely don't know, but it strikes me as extremely corrosive of local democracy.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Turning the Tables on the Tories

Over the past few years, I have sometimes had the impression that some people have seen the Tory government's inept economic mismanagement and targeting of local government as an opportunity to rerun the 1980s.  This was a time when a small number of unsuccessful Labour run local authorities were used by the then Tory government to discredit Labour as a whole.

Certainly, I always felt that was Eric Pickles' playbook.

Regrettably, some people "on the Left" seem to have wanted the same thing.

It seems to me that the collapse of Northants offers Labour an alternative narrative.  Northants was a Tory run Borough that has been run into the ground and is now facing a series of deeply depressing decisions.  The evidence suggests it will struggle to implement them.  They seem to include a fire sale of the Council's assets to buy time before the abolition of the authority itself.  Maintaining any sort of Authority before abolition will become increasingly difficult as staff seek find alternative jobs and no one will want to replace them.  This is no doubt why local Tory MPs and Tory councillors are scrambling to escape responsibility.

Together with the failure of contractors like Carillion, the Northants failure (and future corporate failures by other local authorities) show up the failure of Tory ideology in local government.  This leaves Labour free to make a case on value for money in local government rather than the cheapest price, which has been the essence of the Labour case since the 1990s.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Practical Steps After Carillion Demise

Local Government Lawyer has some practical guidance for how Councils impacted by the liquidation of Carillion can take back their services.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Cllr John Warren

Looking at the Kilburn Times, I am afraid I have to say that I find Cllr John Warren quite delusional.  His argument that Brent Council has lots of options to limit Council Tax rises is simply wrong and I suspect he knows it.  Even the Conservative government doesn't argue that since they build an expectation of Council Tax rises in their financial modelling to pay for rising social care costs.

The Council Tax rises, whereas only moderating pressures on social care and other parts of the Council budget, are effectively forced by his own government's record of spending cuts and economic failure and he really shouldn't try to pretend otherwise.

This is the kind of magical thinking that put Northants where it is today

Friday, 16 February 2018

Willesden Library Settles into a Routine

Above is Willesden Library ahead of a recent children's session and the vibrancy of the place is obvious.  I think now even its most vehement opponents would have to acknowledge its success.  However, it is still having issues to do with its day to day management.  The saddest of these is implicit in the warning not to threaten the staff, which has gone up throughout the library.  Unfortunately, this appears to be a regular feature of any public building.

It also seems to be having some problems keeping the toilets working, with the ground floor toilets now kept locked routinely.  If one or two of the others go out of order, this leads to excessive demand on the others, and I have even seen men apparently coming out of the womens toilets from time to time, which is frankly unattractive.

There is also a question over how the area around the library should be used.  So far it has not really been used for any events, which is a pity as it could be quite effectively I think.  The walkway at the back has been seen with the occasional car on it.  I am not sure whether this is permitted.  The area was intended primarily as a pedestrian space, but it is not designed according to shared space principles.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Lack of Accountability in Northants

It is curious to look at Northants.  Its budget appears to be unsettable.  All the local Tory MPs are denouncing the Council as useless without mentioned the way their own votes at Westminster are making all local government collapse. Half its ruling Tory councillor group now say that they are shocked, shocked at how bad things are.

Don't they realise that they were supposed to know what was going on?  Saying that they didn't know what was going on merely demonstrates their unfitness for office.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Boxpark in Wembley

Tonight's planning committee has an interesting application from Boxpark on the corner of Fulton Road and Olympic Way in Wembley.  It is for a meanwhile use of food and retail.  Unlike most such uses it is suggested it continue for about a decade.  You can see more about it here.

As a relatively small building I imagine it will lead to less controversy than some although there are highway safety implications in that area that need to be tackled as I have pointed out before

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

More on Northants Collapse

One of the lessons of the Northants collapse is that it was linked to freezing the Council Tax, which cut away at the financial base of the Council in a way that I assume was explained to councillors.  In that respect, they seem to have wilfully eroded their own financial base, with results that we can now see.  Indeed it seems that their local Conservative MPs are putting the boot in to their Tory controlled Council.  If I lived in Northants I would be most worried by the CIFPA comments that the Council is now such an emaciated structure that it cannot implement a savings strategy to turn itself around.  That is the price of delaying necessary decisions. 


The Local Government Chronicle has an excellent opinion piece pointing out how the case of Northants is not isolated but effectively part of a pattern of local government being destroyed by central government decisions, as I have pointed out before

Monday, 12 February 2018

Romanian Home Away from Home Exhibition

I mentioned the Romanian Home away from Home exhibition at the Brent Museum opened last week.  The centrepiece is a collection of decorated eggs, which are apparently part of a long tradition in Romania.  I took a photo of the same here:

The exhibition is open until 5 June, and there are a number of related events put on by the Brent Museum service.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Decline of Social Rent Housing

Red Brick Blog has some interesting figures on the reasons why social rent is in such decline.  In order, he blames failure to build, enforced conversion from social rented to affordable rented and only then sell offs to right to buy.  Although I would argue that the Right to Buy policy and the enforced sale of Council Housing in London probably discourages many Councils from building, making the situation more complicated.  Finally he also points to the loss of social rented properties during regeneration schemes. 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

More on The Queensbury

Following my post of Thursday, some more details on the Queensbury planning application (including an artist's impression of the proposal) can be found here.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Public Libraries Privatisation

Just a quick update on the privatisation of public libraries.  It looks like Hounslow and Croydon are certain to keep their libraries in house.  Ealing and Harrow are also doing so for the time being.  I have long been sceptical of the value of privatised libraries, so I hope they remain as public services, and I am further convinced by this by a blog by Cooperatives UK Ed Mayo

He has been looking at the accounts for the Harrow and Ealing "Not for Profit" organisation.  In its accounts the gap between the "cost of sales" and "Total sales" appears to be exactly equivalent to administrative fees charged by Carillion, so it looks like there was a profit, just one called an "administrative charge" instead of being called a profit.

Separately, Huffington Post is reporting that PWC who are responsible for winding Carillion up now that it has gone into liquidation is trying to charge a 20% mark up fees.  That is quite a show of chutzpah.  If I were Ealing or Harrow I would be asking about what I had paid already, and whether I had been deliberately overcharged.  No wonder Frank Field and Rachel Reeves gave the Directors a rough ride in their committee hearing. 

Certainly, the experience of the Libraries Transformation Project convinces me that you can achieve as many savings through an old fashioned publicly run and publicly funded service as you can through private providers.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Queensbury Returns

The Queensbury is returning for yer another attempt at development.  This site has been bitterly contested for a long time.  The new application is for a pub and 48 flats. 

The proposal is for 33 market units, nine social rented units and six intermediate units.  It looks substantially lower than the scheme that was rejected back in 2014 (which was for a narrow tower of ten storeys).  The new proposals look more like six storeys.  This would include four three bed market units, seven three bed rented units and one rented four bed unit.

There are a number of more pictures of the proposals here

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Joy House Renewed

I have just picked up that the use of Joy House as a temporary hostel has been accepted again.  The acceptance is for three years and was made without objections on planning grounds.  Perhaps if no one chooses to object to this use, it should just be renewed rather than coming back for periodic reviews all the time.  That would save a certain amount of bureaucracy. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Suffragette Anniversary

All the publicity about the anniversary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act seems to be about the extension of the franchise to women over 30.  It should be remembered that it also led to a lot of working class men being allowed to vote for the first time. 

Ground Shifting on Brexit

The latest ICM poll seems to indicate that public opinion on Brexit may be moving.  I suspect that this could herald changes among the politicians very quickly. 

New Tower Block on St Pauls Avenue

On a rather soggy Saturday, I was out door knocking near the former Genesis site in Willesden Green.  Both parts have been sold and are now owned by a hedge fund based in the Channel islands.  There is a big planning application for 81 flats, which I can't help feeling is an overdevelopment.  Although it is frustrating that the area has been vacant for so long, any new building has to fit in with the area, and Willesden really isn't suited to very big blocks.

Monday, 5 February 2018

The Developing Willesden Library Cafe

Willesden Library Cafe has applied for longer opening hours and an alcohol license, which they say is to help them more events and hopefully some Sunday opening, which I think would be very welcome.  It is good to see how it is finally coming together after a frustratingly long wait.  At some point they will hopefully manage a more extensive food offer as well. 

Today should also see the opening of the Brent Museum's Romanians exhibition: "Home Away from Home".  This also involves collaboration with the Horniman Museum in South East London.   

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Privatisation, Jeremy Corbyn and Brent Council

Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that private sector involvement has had its day in local government.  I have two observations on this.

The first is that its not really true as there are still a large number of outsourced contracts out there.  Some of the biggest, like Barnet's huge outsourcing, are the hardest to reverse.  Secondly, there are still groups and Council leaderships that actively desire privatisation in some pretty unpalatable forms.  The academisation of schools is one example often cited.

A Brent specific, much more outrageous, example is the former Preston school annexe.  A "community group" appears to have had a number of not always documented meetings over several years with Cllr Muhammed Butt to effectively hand over this taxpayer owned building (which the Council regards as potentially worth £millions) to them for free.  They even claim to have received a written offer to that effect.  The wording of the offer is:

"So Preston Community Library; I believe there is an opportunity over the next twelve months, and by January 2015 we will know whether the previous library building will be needed for school places as we know there is a massive school place shortage across the borough, but this is unlikely as there has already been a local school expansion in the area.

Therefore this Labour administration the Labour party in Brent will offer the building at a peppercorn rent to any local community group who can provide a sustainable community Library and that is our pledge.

We will not open to competitive tender in order to give preference to local groups if they can demonstrate health and safety sustainability etc. and we will offer help and assistance through Brent CVS the voluntary sector and continued support and networking through the Brent libraries forum which has proved successful for the likes of the Friends of Kensal Rise."

I think such an offer might well be illegal, which probably helps explain why (almost three years on from when it was reputedly made on 7 May 2014), it has still not been implemented.  It is after all, a privatisation that even Margaret Thatcher might balk at.  At least when she privatised tax payers assets, she made the new owners pay for them.

The second observation I would make is that whether the Council directly provides something or pays some one else to do it doesn't actually tell you much about the quality of the work or whether it is value for money.  In my view, value for money should be the crucial test as to how to proceed. 

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Northants Goes Bust

Northamptonshire County Council issued a section 114 notice yesterday.  That is effectively saying the Council is bust, and will lead to an immediate freeze on spending and some sudden and probably not very strategic cuts.  In the words of the Guardian, it is:

"an admission that a council does not have resources to meet current expenditure, that its financial reserves are depleted and that it has little confidence that it can bring spending under control in the near future."

It is the first local authority to issue such a notice in twenty years, and as such is a big deal.

It is not however, likely to be the last.  This is the start of the process predicted by Barnet's well known "Graph of Doom".  This shows a line of minimal spending by a local authority going steadily upward as demographic change and growing need places more demand on public services, meeting an upper line going downward, which shows the Authority's income made up of business rates, Council Tax, dwindling central grants, fees and charges and any other income it has.  The two lines have now crossed, so that services can no longer be paid for without central government intervention. 

Central government minister have ever since the Lib Dem/Tory coalition formed in 2010 and started savagely cutting funding for local government been told that this would be the result.  They have simply ignored this entirely predictable result of their own policies.

My main surprise is that a Tory Council has collapsed first, as a number of them have been given sweetheart deals by the Tory government.  However Northants will merely be the first of a number of authorities that central government is forced to take over.  I doubt whether it will have the capacity to do so effectively so we may well be about to see things fall apart across the country.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Outsourcing and Local Government

Capita's profit warning yesterday seems to have set off the idea that outsourcing is on its way out.  If it is, it should be because the size and length of outsourcing arrangements leaves the client without effective control of the contract.  This is a different thing to the credit worthiness of the company.