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Saturday, 31 March 2018

The Reappearence of Town Centre Managers

One of the curiosities of the past year has been the reappearence of the Town Centre Managers.  These were a feature of Brent until 2011, when they were cut for budgetary reasons.  In 2017, their reappearance was announced although the new ones don't appear to specialise in one centre the way the old ones did.  They might have a useful role to play in promoting events around Willesden Library and elsewhere.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Giant Redwood Trees at the Borders of Brent

From reading Paul Wood's "London's street trees : a field guide to the urban forest", I was surprised to read that there are Giant Redwood trees near Brent, and using Googlemaps this appears to be true.  They are at the corner of Fernhead Road and Kilburn Lane (actually in Westminster).  Who on earth planted them, when and why I wonder?

These amazing trees can live for thousands of years and inspired the early environmentalist John Muir

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Shelving the Issue... for the moment

Returning once more to the case of Preston Community Library, I thought I would take a closer look at the few details given of its planned spending.  It says it will spend £36,500 on shelving.  That is a lot.  If you went to IKEA and bought cheaper end "Billy" bookcases, you could get just over a thousand of them, which would give you a bit more than 12,000 feet of shelving.  Let us call that say a dozen volumes per foot, and that is about 140,000 volumes.

There is no point in being too exact in these figures as they could vary hugely depending on how it was done.


The total capacity of Kilburn library is about 32,000 so 140,000 volumes is a lot.  Assuming that the stock if bought at say £8 or £9 per volume (the cheaper end of the pricing I would have thought), and you are looking at a bookstock fund of about £1.2 million.  If the institution wanted more specialist items (e.g. foreign languages, large textbooks, a lot of audio books) I would imagine the prices would be higher.  £1.2 million would be about three times Brent's annual bookstock fund.

Where is that money going to come from?

There is no direct mention of most of the information technology which many people now consider essential to a library, or other services such as Wifi, e-lending, periodicals and so on.  There is also no mention of things that have triggered challenges in other places such as provision of training, facilities management and so on.

To make this building available in a way remotely comparable to a Brent Library would incur all sorts of costs that appear not to be budgeted for.

Are the Costs Realistic?

Again perhaps all these costs have just been slapped together without being thought through.  The same document budgets more than £18,000 for a reception desk.  I assume that is a lot more than what IKEA would charge.  I assume it comes with lots of red carpet.


My suspicion is that although the Brent Executive were told that their grant of almost £280k would be a one off, the Preston group will soon be back demanding another load of Danegeld and will cut up nasty if they don't get paid.  I don't think that is how public authorities should make decisions. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Greens Going All Out Against New Housing

It is interesting that the Green Party appears to be going for full on opposition to new housing as shown by Sian Berry in this space.  Evidently, they have concluded that the kind of controversy whipped up over the Haringey One Development Vehicle is productive territory for them.

I don't know the details of that scheme.  Maybe it was as bad as some of its critics said, or maybe not.

I always thought it should be left to people in Haringey to make the decision either way.

What I am conscious of is how easy it can be to demonise and derail such plans, often by spreading misinformation or raising false expectations.  In the small example of Willesden Library a big petition was organised by people being given the impression that Brent Council was going to knock the Library down, build new flats and nothing else.  Given that they weren't told about the new Library it is not surprising that they signed a petition against.

I also remember all too vividly the way Camden people lost out on the Decent Housing allocation because they were falsely told that they could have the funding for repairs without accepting an ALMO.

To give people a vote after an informed debate is one thing, but to have a vote after a totally misinformed (and deliberately misleading) debate is another. 

I only wish that those who block new housing had the courage to face people live in overcrowded and totally inadequate conditions about why they blocked any realistic prospect of new housing anywhere.  My experience is that too often the opponents simply fade way after the damage is done. 

UPDATE 10.07.18

Some of the issues raised here are also referred to here.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Upping Library Fines

Very shortly, from 1 April, Brent Libraries will double the charge for photocopies and increase the fines for overdue books.  This kind of thing gradually erodes the service at a time when some library services are abolishing fines altogether.

Monday, 26 March 2018

New Wembley/Willesden Cycle Link

I understand there is a  Sadiq Khan approved cycle link planned between Wembley and Willesden covering a length of about 5km. 

The great problem with all these schemes is getting across the North Circular Road.  I guess the most likely crossing point is some sort of bridge over the IKEA junction.  This is such a difficult point in road safety and air quality that I would have thought that if the London Mayor wants to tackle it, he should maybe try all these problems at once and get it over with in one go.

Incidentally, it also a major problem for the 206 bus running between Wembley Park and Harlesden.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Northants Library Enquiry

Northamptonshire is apparently facing a potential inquiry into its Libraries service as the entire authority seems to on the brink of falling apart.  If ordered, it would be the first such order since the 2009 inquiry into the Wirral.  It appears to have been triggered by a complaint from CILIP, which particularly highlights the idea that Northants is going through a financially driven closure programme without the normal considerations being examined.  This strikes me as probably the most likely prospect of an inquiry being ordered since the Charteris report.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Barham Library

The recent revelations about Preston Community Library led me to look up some basic information about Barham, which claims to have a similar charitable arrangement.  The object of the charity is to "TO ADVANCE THE EDUCATION OF THE PUBLIC BY RUNNING AND/OR ASSISTING IN THE RUNNING OF THE BARHAM PARK LIBRARY, WEMBLEY, FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE LOCAL RESIDENTS."

It certainly appears to be in a good state financially, with income greatly exceeding expenditure for each of the past five years despite Paul Lorber's claims about the poverty of the organisation

Friday, 23 March 2018

The Curious Case of Preston Community Library

I thought I would take another look at the curious case of Preston Community Library (PCL), which has been earmarked for an enormous grant from Brent Council resources for reasons I find mystifying.

The grant comes in two kinds.  One is held by Brent Property Services to be spent on the building (essentially doing up the interior).  That seems a bit odd as the Council want to redevelop the building but have yet to decide what to do.  There is a potential for a bigger development that would result in more housing or a more modest rebuild with fewer units.

The other chunk of almost £80k is to be spent by the PCL group itself.  They apparently want to spend it on furniture, including shelving.  Given that their largest spend hitherto appears to be £6.3k, upping that to more than ten times as much sounds like a big step up in their internal organisation.  It is not entirely clear what they have done in the past as they appear not to post accounts, or have any formal mechanism to report their activities.

The objects of PCL are listed as: "1. The donation of books for lending to the public 2. The provision of book-cases and shelving and library space for storage of books. 3. The provision of both fiction and non fiction books to both children and adults 4. The provision of related events and activities for the community."

Their web site appears to be somewhat out of date with last updates in 2012 (aside from a newsletter), but their facebook has more recent details.   The group's interpretation of its role at the moment does not appear to lay a heavy emphasis on books despite the objectives quoted above.

This lack of book stock is a concern since there appears to be an expectation that books will be obtained from somewhere.  Why else spend more than £30k on shelving?  Although the organisation has been in existence since 2011, it does not appear to have obtained books of its own.  I hope it has no expectation of still further support from Brent Council.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Curiouser and Curiouser

The curious looking for more details about the "Preston Community Library" can find them here.  Currently operating a budget of a few thousand pounds, Brent's gifting of more than a quarter of a million goes well beyond anything that the organisation has done in the past.  Normally, Brent has asked for due diligence to be carried out as part of its decision to award grants.  Organisations which have no previous history of dealing with these kind of sums find it hard to obtain the grant.

The situation is therefore even more anomalous than it appeared to be. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Capital and Revenue

The Guardian has another story claiming Councils are selling off assets to plug gaps in revenue spend.  There is no surer way to end up like Northamptonshire Council.  An asset sale gets a one off receipt.  A one off receipt should be used for a one off expenditure (such as a service transformation).  Otherwise you are simply delaying a cut, not preventing it, and you may end up with no cash and your organisation collapsing about you.

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Impossibility of Local Government

Jo Miller of Doncaster Council and Solace has become the latest to speak out on the inevitable destruction that central government policies are forcing on local government.  I actually hear less of the bleeding stumps line now than a few years ago, probably because Tory run authorities are making the impossibilities as clear as Labour ones. 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Why Brent Should Have Paused on Fire Safety

Details are emerging from the Moore-Bick and Police enquiries that the water proofing of the cladding and the robustness of the fire doors may both have been factors in the spread of the fire.  Along with the cost, that is why I suggested delaying a response until the Enquiries had reported.  It is entirely possible that more than one potential improvement will be identified and it will not all just be about one form of cladding.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Northants To be Abolished

Illustrating the truth that once you get into trouble in one are all sorts of other problems may follow, Northants has now been officially told it should be abolished.  Meanwhile Northamptonshire County Council also now faces a probe over public health spending.  Apparently, it is now being queried whether Northants was in fact spending grant for public health spending on public health.  If not, it may find itself returning the money on top of all its other cutbacks.

Brent Councillors might ponder some of comments on financial management in particular (according to the Guardian): "There was a lack of realism in business plans, and savings targets were frequently not met. Senior councillors and officials ignored or evaded criticism and challenge, it says, and budgets were set by without regard to need, demand or deliverability. “Living within budget constraints is not a part of the culture at NCC,” the report concludes.

The full report is available here

Friday, 16 March 2018

Does Brent Libraries Strategy Need to be Changed?

Returning to yesterday's comment on Brent's Libraries Transformation, let's go though it all again for the benefit of Scott the commentator.

Is the 2011 Libraries Strategy Unpopular?
Not to judge by the numbers of visits and loans, both of which are substantially up at a time when most UK library authorities have seen a complete collapse in usage.  Similarly the people who actually use the service say that their experience of Brent libraries has improved since 2009.

Finally, if the strategy was unpopular one might expect to see that reflected in Brent election results since 2011 when the decision was taken.  I cannot see any such result in 2012 or 2013 (when the controversy was at its height), nor in 2014 (which actually saw Labour get its best ever result in Council elections in the Borough, nor in the General Elections of 2015 or 2017.  If the strategy was unpopular, where is the evidence to show that?

Are Volunteer Libraries a form of Privatisation?
In examples of this strategy across the country, such as that currently being undertaken by Northamptonshire, the plan appear to be to take a publicly owned building and either give it to an association of private individuals or retain ownership but allow the building to be used rent free.  That sounds like privatisation to me.  Most of these decisions appear to be an attempt to rid the relevant Council of the financial cost, including the management cost, so in most cases Council staff will no longer be providing the services and will no longer be in control of the building.  I have looked at examples around the country, often via the excellent Public Libraries News, and there seem to be surprising few (in fact no as far as I can see) attempts to lay down what these buildings are for once the Council is no longer in them.  The new organisations have complete control to (for instance) refuse entry to people they object to.

All this suggests to me that the buildings are effectively under forms of private control.

In the case of a charity, it is the people running the charity (as regulated by the Charity Commissioners).  The building is no longer like (say) Brent Library service which is subject to all the public sector reporting rules, with elected councillors ultimately responsible and legal duties to be accessible to the public.

Are the Allocation of CIL in this case the Best Use of the Money?
We would have a better idea of the answer to that if we knew who was making the decision and why, which is what I have written to Brent Council to enquire.

The process seems far from clear and could be, in a number of ways, unlawful and/or an extremely bad use of funds.

I would argue for this not to be the case, any grant would have to address a real need, would have to be assessed as meeting that real need on an ongoing basis, and if an asset is handed over there has to be a clawback mechanism in case the need is no longer being addressed.

In addition, to those fairly basic rules, it sounds to me that there is a real danger of the Council playing "favourites" with particular community organisations.

Does Brent Libraries Strategy Need to be Changed?
Finally, to answer the question at the top of this post, I would say not really in which case what precisely is the Council currently doing?

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Queen's Parade Development Rejected

I understand the Queen's Parade development proposal in Willesden High Road has been rejected by a substantial margin.  This probably won't be an end to proposals for the site, but it will give an opportunity for rethinking which I hope the applicant will take up.  Essentially, the members over rule the officers' recommendation.  I doubt whether the alleged false letters were a factor, although they may have added to members' unease. 

Willesden Art Gallery Latest

Willesden Art Gallery, just off from the Library on the ground floor, has yet another artist featured.  An example of the exhibition is above.  I really am very struck at the high quality of the exhibitions there, which seem to me noticeably up from a few years ago. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Brent Adopting Library Privatisation

Brent Council appears to be adopting Library privatisation just as other authorities shun it.  On Monday, the Cabinet agreed to effectively hand over a quarter of a million of taxpayers money to the "Preston Community Library" Group with apparently no questions asked.  It is unclear to me whether Council officers will have informed members of the points I raised in my email to them on Saturday.

Of course, it is the members of the Executive who actually take the decision so if there are legal issues arising (including possible criminal prosecution) it will be the councillors who get indicted.

It is very odd that Brent are adopting a rather incompetent form of privatisation of taxpayers assets just as the Carillion debacle is making it unfashionable.  Indeed, had previous Brent decisions gone the other way, Brent would have privatised its libraries and be now taking them back in house following the Carillion collapse.

I find it very hard to see why Brent Council is so interested in privatising libraries.

Meanwhile, Martin Francis reports that the same officer who oversees this belated privatisation of Brent Libraries also seems to have an insouciant attitude to whether objections to the Queens Parade development in Willesden are actually coming from members of the public. Of course, as with any planning application it is not a vote so if members conclude that the supporting letters are from the same source it does not in that sense matter.  The merits of the application will be the same whether the letters are genuine or not.

UPDATE 15.03.18

I think Scott needs to think a bit more about his comment, and possibly (re?)read the post above.  The Brent Libraries Transformation Project has been an undoubted success and this was recognised by a vote of full Council as recently as January 2018, which stated that one of the best achievements of the Brent Labour administration since 2010 was: "Transforming  our libraries  service into one of the most successful and  most accessible in the country".  Given the facts, that conclusion is fairly irresistible to any reasonable person. 

The post above also shows that a publicly owned, publicly run public service is every bit as good as privatised libraries or "mutuals" (which often aren't) and as volunteer libraries.  It further questions whether what is going on with Preston "Library" is a proper procurement or simply an exercise in cronyism.

I will will probably do a more in depth post on this later on (UPDATE: Here is the promised more in depth post).

By the way I already raised questions about the CIL payments in Wembley in this post.  

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Barham Park Again

Some time ago Brent Council, through its peculiar constitutional arrangement, leased out the main building in Barham Park to a charity called ACAVA.  As usual, there all kinds of criticisms of this move.  There was a dogged attempt to refuse planning permission, and an attack on the ACAVA lease decision, although fortunately no repeat of the Paul Lorber inspired attempt to build on the park

The latest minutes show that the Park is functioning normally.  There are ongoing problems with rough sleepers, arson attacks and so on, but have the buildings occupied helps contain the problem, and the income of the Trust is much improved. 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Quintain and Samsung in Wembley

Martin Francis has pointed to a deal apparently concluded by Quintain and Samsung in Wembley to supply rented housing with entirely rented and digitally enabled hardware (via a company called Tipi).  The source he quotes doesn't mention the cost of all this. 

What does strike me though is the sheer level of surveillance involved.  The users of these flats (I don't whether tenants is an appropriate word) will have no privacy at all.  The entire space will be kitted out with Samsung's devices so that Samsung will be able to monitor everyone in the space 24 hours a day.  None of our current privacy legislation is geared up for the Internet of things on this kind of scale and one wonders who will own the data, whether it will be sold on and whether it will be secure.

If the information gathered is sold on it might be used to predict peoples' behaviour to an unprecedented extent.  Already data is routinely aggregated and used for marketing purposes to target marketing and the tools used for this will become more sophisticated over time, but the Quintain/Samsung development threatens a position where literally everything you do is monitored 24/7, going well beyond anything George Orwell imagined. 

Chi Onwuroh MP has been somewhat luridly highlighting the implications of this already. 

she focuses not just on what might be legal, but also how criminals might exploit it.  Aside from the particular dangers she points to, one can easily imagine more old fashioned problems.  Knowing exactly who is where would certainly help burglars plan their operations for example. 

It really needs to be addressed by the government. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Northants and Collapsed Budgets

For those who haven't made the connection, Northants demonstrates the effect of Brent setting an unbalanced budget as suggested by those who consider themselves to be "Left".  Even the dire cuts passed by Northants in February are unlikely to be enough and I would still argue that the authority is likely to end up in some sort of messy liquidation.  Since there is no precedent for this, I assume the Secretary of State would have to put in place some sort of new authority to replace it. 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Payments to Preston Community Library

Brent Council's Cabinet has a quite extraordinary item for its meeting on 12 March (this Monday).  It suggests that a payment of more than a quarter of a million pounds should be approved from the Council's CIL funds (which is a fund financed by property developers paying a charge for improvements to community infrastructure that are made necessary by ongoing development) to the "Preston Community Library". I think this raises  number of legal issues and I have written to the officers to that effect.

Affordable Housing and Viability Assessments

The government is apparently finally thinking of reviewing viability assessments on housing developments.  This is one of the major barriers to securing more affordable housing as there is (I am told) good case law for developers to demand a 20% profit margin for any given plan.  They can then use this figure to reduce the proportion of affordable housing to well below the London Plan's 50% target and there is very little a planning authority can do about it.

Until I saw this Guardian piece, I wasn't aware of the sheer scale of the problem.  It sounds as if, inadequate although the Brent performance may seem, it is far better than other major urban areas.  

So it is good that the government has finally noticed the problem, a mere seven years into office, as sorting it out may need legislation.

However, whether it can be trusted to follow through is another thing.  The Tory Party has current owner occupiers as part of its core support, and the loss of its overall majority last year demonstrates the danger of taking on your core support.  One can't also help but notice that Tory politicians are still sounding quite doubtful about building in their own areas.  they seem to expect the new housing to appear somewhere else.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Libraries Transformation and Brent as the London Borough of Culture

Some one recently asked me to justify my remark that "Without the building blocks in the Libraries Transformation Project, I doubt whether the Borough could have won the recent bid as a Borough of Culture." 

It is a fair question, I would say that the Libraries Transformation Project made an important contribution in the following ways:
  • The venues for events are now much improved.  Willesden Library Centre has proper sound proofing and a better design.  Wembley Library has a vastly superior offer to the old Brent Town Hall library it replaced.  Kilburn Library's refurbishment makes it far superior to its 2010 version, not least because the roof no longer leaks.
  • The emphasis of the Libraries Transformation on the Arts (which prefigured the Arts Council's interest in Libraries) led to Brent's first Poet Laureate and Brent's first Artist in Residence scheme. 
  • The continuing emphasis on events of all kinds and the improved marketing of libraries has led to all sorts of connections being forged that massively help in organising events (as did the Olympics influence).
  • The difficult decisions around the previous Arts and Festival Strategy (related although not strictly part of the scheme) removed a major set of distraction in the form of quite inward looking events that focused largely on street traffic management.
  • The outreach work by the Brent Museum further contributed to the capabilities of the Culture service.
  • The simple existence of a strategy and a plan that was being implemented helped focus thinking on a story that among other things could be used to lever in funding. 
Incidentally, I am also glad that the various attacks on the Tricycle Theatre grant have been beaten off, as the Theatre has proved its worth to Brent and to Kilburn High Road in particular.

Of course, none of this would have happened if Brent had just stuck to cutting opening hours to meet financial targets, as advocated by some.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Planning Controversy Slips Under the Wire in Willesden

Rather quietly, a new development proposal is being brought forward in Queens Parade in Willesden.  I mentioned it a few days ago.  It is quite a tall building and centres on student accommodation, which has been resisted by Brent in Willesden High Road in the past (I am particularly thinking of the Spotted Dog and some of the proposals around there). 

The danger with student accommodation is that the standard for what is expected to be temporary and part time usage is so low that it can easily be turned into slum housing later on.  Changing the usage from students to (say) a hostel would not require planning permission and would therefore be quite easy to do. 

The officer report admits this, saying "There are a larger number of units per core than would normally be acceptable for a residential development however due to the fact that this is a proposal for student accommodation it is considered acceptable." 

It follows the Council exceeding necessary levels of student accommodation in Wembley

A second issue with the site is that it includes a basement.  These basements have often been criticised, and the immediate area there has been prone to flooding.  Indeed no less a personage than Sarah Teather suffering flooding more than once back when she maintained an office immediately opposite at 1 Willesden High Road. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Harlesden Plaza Redevelopment

One of those apparently dreary but actually very important parts of Brent Council is the Local Development Plan, which is a key document in the Borough's changing Planning policies.  This currently has a review up to 22 March this year.

Part of the plan is to identify prominent sites that could be developed in interesting ways, and one of those named is Harlesden Plaza, which is at the centre of Harlesden Town Centre.  I recall this being seen as the natural centre of Harlesden during the Town Centre planning process and in the Town Charter.  The plan is for enhanced numbers of residential properties with mixed retail and due attention paid to the area's conservation status including the historical status of Harlesden Methodist Church.  Skilfully done this has the potential to achieve a lot.

The document could certainly benefit from revision as some of the sites identified (known as Site Specific Allocation) have actually been built on or otherwise developed.  For example the former service station site and the old Dust Club are unlikely to see any new activity for a long time. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Northants and its Libraries Collapse

I remarked on the way in which Northamptonshire County Council is going into a death spiral whilst its politicians and MPs (all Conservative) engage in an orgy of finger pointing.  Essentially, they have run their Council into the ground and are now simply trying to pin the blame on each other.  I imagine that the grimmest elements of this are in social care, but as I have a particular interest in public libraries lets look at that service.

On 28 February, following the section 114 declaration, KPMG presented Northants with an ultimatum to make its budget balance.  The Council really had very little freedom of action to anything other than vote them through.  In other words managing the cuts in the worst possible way, as a crash course with minimal consideration of the consequences.

It is easy to get angry as one watches some of those responsible apparently being given golden parachutes as they leave the institution they were responsible for in ruins. 

The libraries, instead of being subject to a coherent plan are seeing 21 of their outlets just close.  The remainder are seeing opening hours being cut, sometimes to three days a week, which is close to a full closure in all but name.  The result will be a collapse in service, and Nick Poole may well be right in saying that Northants is breaching its section 7 duty for a comprehensive and efficient service.  It may also be breaching its equalities duty under the Equality Act.  The trouble is that even if the Secretary of State were to institute a Wirral style enquiry, or some one issues a legal challenge, Northants seems incapable of spending the money necessary to fulfil the duty.

In other words it has gone past the point in the graph of doom when its budget can meet its minimal legal responsibilities.  It has been long predicted that this would happen somewhere, and Northants is likely to be the first of several. 

Monday, 5 March 2018

Frances O'Grady and Brexit

The news that Frances O'Grady is discussing a pro-Single Market campaign with opposition parties is the most significant Brexit development in quite a while.  Certainly, it seems more so than the latest failure of the Tory Cabinet to agree their own position. 

Kensal Corridor Plans

Brent Council are currently consulting on a "Kensal Corridor", largely the area around Chamberlayne Road.  This is worth paying attention to, not only by people in the immediate area, but also in the areas either side.  More information can be found on the dedicated link that Brent Council have set up.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Brent Council Finally Gets It on Libraries

I see that, somewhat late in the day (22 January 2018 to be precise), Brent Council has finally officially declared that "Transforming  our libraries  service into one of the most successful and  most accessible in the country" is one of the key achievements of the Labour Council since 2010." It is remarkable that it has taken Brent Council so long to publicly recognise this as the library usage figures have been very plain for a long time.  Without the building blocks in the Libraries Transformation Project, I doubt whether the Borough could have won the recent bid as a Borough of Culture

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Internet and Conspiracy Theories

I have been reading James Shapiro's Contested Will, an examination of disputes about Shakespeare's authorship of his plays and poetry.  As well as suggesting that the original challenges arose within a particular cultural context where the "Higher Criticism" was calling both the Gospels and the authorship of Homer into doubt. 

More interesting to me was the penultimate section which suggested that the rise of the Internet had helped to revive the whole farrago as the Internet rewards sheer persistence and determination over truth telling. A similar cultural trend can be seen behind the revival of other conspiracy theories.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Nick Cohen Calling for More Legal Actions

Unusually for him, Nick Cohen recently published a piece suggesting widening the legal system to deal with attacks on peoples reputations. His idea is for a court akin to the Small Claims Court where people without access to the resources currently associated with libel actions could pursue claims.  At first sight such a suggestion might imply a good time for the current libel practitioners, but I can envisage a situation where (if successful) they found themselves undercut. 

It also seems likely that it would lead to an explosion of cases, which if there is pent up demand, might not be a bad thing as it might widen peoples' access to justice. 

Finally, it might help the current culture of assumed impunity where people repeat allegations that they make no real effort to check, because they think they will not be held to account for them. 

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Brent Council Fees and Charges

A number of fees and charges were raised in the Brent Council budget on Monday.  This is always a tricky area to predict as a rise in charges can easily result in fewer people using the service.  Indeed this is sometimes the argument for increasing the charge where the activity is seen as requiring containment (e.g. controlling traffic).  The effect on predicted income can be disappointing if the volume of users falls below the figure the officers have guessed at.  A second problem is that activity that can be seen as beneficial (e.g. use of sports facilities) can be negatively affected by a big rise. 

I am not sure that these concerns have really featured in Brent Council's debate on the issue.