Search This Blog

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Four Hours in a Year

According to the FT, David Davis has met Mr Barnier for less than four hours of Brexit negotiation during this entire year.  That is just stunning.  I am starting to think it will be literally impossible to work through an agreement before the Article 50 deadline that Theresa May imposed on herself and us. 

Cooperative Party on the NHS March Today

Good to join the first outing of the London Cooperative Party's new banner at the NHS March today.  Theresa May's promises can't be relied on.

Arctic Henge and Fake History

The Guardian carried a piece on Arctic Henge in Iceland recently.  This kind of ersatz history actually has a long pedigree going back into the nineteeneth century and before when the Druidical movement (an essentially entirely artificial modern religion started building "henges" around Wales.  It is surely a curious thing that human beings feel constrained to create artificial histories.

At the same time, we also apparently want to edit to our actual history to remove aspects such as Cecil Rhodes who are no longer in favour. 

Friday, 29 June 2018

Momentum and Pragmentism

OnLondon reports that Haringey Council, having had an enormous political spat over regeneration, is now making rather more pragmatically guided decisions on regeneration.  This is related to safety concerns that have emerged.  I wonder whether its new councillors or any of their media cheerleaders will acknowledge the kind of dilemmas their predecessors faced. 

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Inspiring Arts

A remarkably generous use of her prize to set up an artists in residence scheme has been announced by Andria Zafirakou.  The Alperton school teacher won the prize back in March.  In many ways she is going against the grain, with schools increasingly trying to cope with cost pressures by focusing on a core curriculum.  I hope it works out well and hooks up with Brent's own Borough of Culture and arts in libraries schemes

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Moberly Sports Centre Finally Opens

Moberly Sports Centre is finally opening on Saturday in a ceremony with Lennox Lewis.  This project was mooted many years ago.  The Centre will now provide Brent with a third swimming pool, which is a long term objective of Brent Council.  The Centre will be accessible to Brent residents at reasonable rates as a result of a planning condition given back in 2014

You can join the Centre on its web site.

Eating at the Same Table in Willesden Library

Eating at the Same Table is the latest exhibition in the Willesden Art Gallery.  It is put on by a group of artists based at the former Willesden Police Station.  They are linked to Bold Tendencies, a CIC company trying to use Meanwhile spaces for art.    It complements the longer term art studios in Kensal Green and Sudbury

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Evasive Action on Heathrow Airport

The Foreign Secretary's sudden urge to go to Afghanistan as the Commons voted on Heathrow underlines what a slippery customer he is.  At the same time he has written to councillors in Hillingdon saying he does not expect the third runway to be built.  That is one of the most senior ministers in the May government suggesting that its principal infrastructure policy will never happen. 

I wonder how long Johnson's leadership hopes can survive all these evasions.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Why are Councils Close to Collapse?

Local government is visibly getting closer to collapse across the country as Kensington, Northants and (probably) Somerset all show that they cannot perform their basic functions. 

The irony is that this a result that has been deliberately produced by a Conservative Government.

It used to be that the Conservative Party prided itself on quiet competence, but under Osborne/Cameron and subsequently under May a series of cuts have been deliberately organised hitting local government in particular.  Since local government is often the last resort in social care, homelessness, emergencies and so much else it is the first part of the government to crumble.

The fact that other institutions, like the NHS, charities and so on are all being pressured at the same time creates a perfect storm that means none of them can take up the slack.

The result is a kind of governmental nihilism.  The remarkable thing is that it is the preferred option of the Conservative policy, not merely an unfortunate by product.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

A Horrible Development Near Willesden Junction

The Guardian has a long piece on a horrible development near Willesden Junction.  This combination of home and office really seems awful, and much worse than the "gated communities" that were allegedly growing a few years ago in terms of promoting social isolation. 

I wonder what the long term health and other disadvantages of this approach are?

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Grenfell Chaos

Some idea of the chaos at Grenfell can be found here.  Kensington literally had no plan at how to respond so Ealing had to impose one.  This is not accidental but the result of ideology.  Tories really do believe in a Nick Ridley Council, which essentially does almost nothing.  All this in the name of cutting pennies off Council Tax.

The result is being shown up and will continue to be as Councils around the country simply collapse.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Labour Victory in Willesden Green

As expected Labour scored a victory in Willesden Green last night.  It represents a significant growth in Labour support since the elections of 2014

Housing and Fire Safety

I thought I would give an update on my understanding of the housing and fire safety situation in Brent as I understand it.  This also follows a report back from Cllr Butt at a meeting I attended which I thought left more questions than it answered.

The Council has written to central government and asked for funding for fire safety.  As predicted, the government said no, and so Brent is going ahead with poorly defined investment of up to £10 million.  To my surprise, Cllr Butt seemed to think this would not come from the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) as I suggested, but from general resources.  Thus, the burden would fall on the general taxpayers.

I find the insouciance with which Brent Council has just committed to an extra £10 million of spending remarkable.

It remains unclear whether, leaseholders will benefit from this, or whether they will be expected to pay a service charge in the way they would for (say) a new roof.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Windrush Anniversary in Willesden Library

On Saturday, Willesden Library will be hosting a special day to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Windrush.  It lasts from noon until 4pm.

At the same time, there is a reminder about the problems that the Caribbean community continues to face with the announcement of extra funding to tackle educational underachievement.    Anecdotally, I know that this has been a concern in the black community for many years, but the causes are likely to be multiple and inter-related and therefore progress will not be instant.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

NHS Evasion

One of the most disingenuous answers I have read for a long time can be found courtesy of Jeremy Hunt to a parliamentary question from Seema Malhotra MP.  He implies that the shift in NHS Hospital Trusts going into deficit from 5% in 2010 to a whopping 44% now is just some kind of monitoring tool because he wants to check on staff shortages.  Of course, it has led to the staff shortages and is a direct result of his government's decision not to fund the NHS properly.

Along side his attribution of extra funding for the NHS to a non-existent Brexit dividend, it seems that bare faced lying is becoming legitimized in British politics.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Brent Council's Silence on Budgets

Brent Council continues to appear to have no long term debate about its budget despite all the looming structural difficulties.  This continues to include pressures on the adult social care budget which it was recently confirmed would put 10% of English Councils in a Northants style position where they were unable to set a budget at all. 

Despite all this, the official list of Brent Council's forthcoming decisions strikes me as extraordinarily limited

Monday, 18 June 2018

DWP Services in Brent

This Parliamentary answer to Dawn Butler MP is of interest to all who follow Brent libraries of the use of the revenue and benefit service.  It may be recalled that the increasing use of online services is diminishing traditional face to face services.  I have covered this before here.

At that time I suggested that temporary spaces might be rented in Brent buildings such as libraries and it now appears from the minister's answer that this is being considered.  As with other forms of co-location, this allows for more flexibility in terms of partners and in terms of location.  Since the main objections to reducing the branches are that f2f may still be necessary and that some people find it very difficult to move around.  Using temporary arrangements allows for a wider range of locations covering a broader range of people.  It may, incidentally, help draw in a broader audience to Brent libraries which will help broaden the membership base of Brent Library service.

At least in theory therefore, it could be a win-win. 

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Willesden Library Closed Again

Willesden Library is again closed today and for the same reason, there is no water supply.  Other Brent Libraries are open. 


As of Monday 18 June, Willesden Library has apparently reopened.

National Audit Office on Universal Credit

Universal Credit gives no evidence of value for money now and is unlikely to show any value for money in the future according to the National Audit Office.  Is that not one of the most damning verdicts on government failure imaginable?  Will anyone ever be held responsible for this debacle?

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Eerie Quiet of Brent Council

One of the things that make the current quiet of Brent Council so eerie is that there are actually many scary things on the near horizon. 

Firstly, there is whatever happens in the Brexit process, which even Boris Johnson concedes might lead to "meltdown" during which (as with Corporal Jones) his best advice is "Don't Panic".  Since one case being considered in Whitehall apparently includes the RAF airlifting emergency food supplies I really can't see what we could possibly be panicking about.

But there are also a range of things, the ultimate fate of business rate localisation, the local government settlement and the freedom of action the Council retains over its financial position which frankly no one appears to be talking about.

Even odder, I think, is that a Labour Council is putting out press releases such as this one.   This sounds as if it might have been dictated straight from Whitehall with no effort to point out that the problems of the Council are enormous, the policy described is a sticking plaster and that it is central government that has created these problems through its rigid Tory ideology.

Friday, 15 June 2018

The Brexit Mess

George Eaton has a good summary of the whole Brexit mess.  It also captures how the current government has contrived to make the UK's negotiating position as weak as possible.

Willesden Library Reopens

Willesden Library has now re-opened following the restoration of its water supply.  As far as I know, all its usual events and activities are reinstated.

Isolating Biodiversity

Chris Packham makes a good point in the increasing denuding of the British countryside's biodiversity.  I don't see the government's review of national parks as likely to do anything about this.  Creating these islands within a wider desert also diminishes the biodiversity within each "island" and may make the rarer species more vulnerable.  At the same time climate change puts huge pressure on certainly some species. 

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Karen Buck MP Uncovers Housing Association Figures

Karen Buck MP, Labour MP for Westminster North, has again used her parliamentary position to do some important detective work on housing.  She has been chasing Housing Associations in North London.  These are often ignored, although they generally represent a much bigger chunk of the below market rate of London, and until recently they were regarded as public sector by the ONS.  As with Council housing they have been seriously squeezed financially by central government.

According to her figures Brent Housing Associations have seen more than £20 million of housing sold in 2013 to 2018.  This directly impacts the supply of cheaper housing available, and leads to more overcrowding and homelessness.  The natural tendency of this sell off is that, even if the money is ringfenced to replace the lost units, it will be used to sell off units in expensive areas and replace the units in cheaper areas.  In other words quite a big shifting of London's character is occurring. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Moberly Sports Centre Opening

Passing by the Moberly Sports Centre recently it is obvious that it is close to opening this Summer as promised.  Brent residents will be able to use it at similar rates to Westminster residents, thanks to negotiations during the Planning process.

More detail can be found on its facebook page

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Boycott (BDS) and Local Government Pensions

LocalGovernmentlawyer covers a recent court case on government guidance for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.  BDS is at the time of writing principally targeted at activities in some way related to Israel. Its proponents seem to feel that BDS will be more effective in changing Israel, or perhaps ending Israel, than engaging dialogue. 

Essentially, it seems to suggest that local authorities can only join in boycotts if they are backing national policy but not otherwise. 

Monday, 11 June 2018

EU Fantasies

Brexit supporting MPs appear to be trailing off into their own fantasies if Jacob Rees Mogg is anything to go by.  The whole decision to leave the European Union seems to have been presented to the public with no idea how to actually do it.  What amazes me is that none of the ministers concerned appears to have even engaged with the issues.  Indeed the extreme secrecy with which David Davis has treated his Brexit plans seems to extend to himself.  I am starting to think that he has lliterally no idea about the impact of anything.  For a government to be run this way is extraordinary.

Brent Council Cabinet Dietary Disorder

Brent Council Cabinet's next agenda is now published, and once again I am struck by the sheer thinness of the proposals.  There is a report on housing grants, a report on air quality and a planning document on shop fronts. 

Together with the tendency to put most reports through as last minute supplementaries, I really get the impression of an administration just terrified of debate of any kind.  Given that it has such a huge majority that is just plain weird.  It is also likely to maximise incompetence and the possibilities of loss of public trust.

Some may recall that Cllr Butt promised when he first became leader to be more democratic and open.  Promises that were soon shown to be hollow as Council officers were removed, scandals such as the Rosemary Clark case covered up and scrutiny powers eviscerated (even had members been inclined to exercise them).

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Restraint and Public Money

I met some one who was upset that I had pointed out that Kensal Rise Library had received public money contrary to what some of its supporters have been quoted as saying.  They saw this as "vindictive".

I, on the other hand, just see it as accurate.

I actually think that Brent Council was really quite restrained in dealing with the Kensal Rise litigators.  That is partly because I think the Council was well aware that what would count would be the actual outcome of the case, not any bluster around it.  Hence we didn't go in for the kind of personal abuse that some of the litigants went for, and we even forwent the legal costs that we could have demanded from the primary litigant.

Subsequently of course that group has been given almost £100,000 of taxpayers' money.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Willesden Green Gardening

There is an interesting experiment in community gardening going on just behind Willesden Green Library Centre.  It is pioneered by members of the Willesden Green Town Team.  This is an encouraging and spontaneous use of the improved public realm around the Library.  Perhaps some on might want to make a Town Green application for it!

Friday, 8 June 2018

Ongoing Closure of Willesden Library

I am informed that the shutdown of Willesden Library seems set to continue for a while, which is a pity.  The building has been without a water supply since Wednesday 30 May, and I was told by a member of Library staff that it is unlikely to open before next week.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

The Perils of Tokenism

I have recently been reading The Ottoman Endgame by Sean McMeekan.  In it there is a description of the Soviet negotiators going to negotiated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  On the way, one of the lead negotiators (Joffe) realised he had no "representative of the Russian peasantry" on the delegation.  They literally stopped in the street and asked a peasant to come with them to the Peace Conference.

The dialogue went as follows.  What are your politics? Socialist Revolutionary.  Left or Right? Left, of the Leftist.  Having secured this answer off they went with the peasant Stashkov as part of their delegation.

Some people in the Labour Party still use this method of selection today.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Brent Fails to Connect

I wonder how long the current Brent Connects regime will be maintained?  Both the area meetings and the subject forums seem to be not particularly effective in terms of engaging the population at large.  Of course, this is a very difficult thing to do since you need to learn quite a lot about the policy of a given policy area before you can intelligently comment on it.  Watching, for example, consultations on the Council Budget, is generally an education in how little the public know about how the Council is funded or works. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Multiple Issues in the Grenfell Tower

The litany of different factors revealed in the Grenfell fire confirm my view that Brent is premature in just deciding to throw money at the issue.  In particular, a key thing appears to be ensuring compliance with existing rules, not just doing a big one off spend.  The other thing I would pick up on is that it is a number of things together that caused the disaster not just one form of cladding or any other single factor. 

Monday, 4 June 2018

Bob Blackman MP's Colourful Associations

The Muslim Council of Britain has recently complained about Bob Blackman MP claiming he more than once demonstrated prejudice against Muslims (which he denies). 

In fact Bob Blackman has a long history of working with peculiar people, dating back to when he was Leader of Brent Council in the 1990s.  As allies at that time, he had councillors who seemed to relish being given disproportionate perks as well as being involved in dubious defences of FGM as "cultural practices" and renaming Harlesden as "Paradise on Nirvana."  Both then and subsequently he was associated with a number of policies ignoring the long term issues of Brent Council.

More recently, he played a key part in shepherding Bertha Joseph into the Conservative Party, a coup I suspect he and his colleagues regretted the minute that they had to sit through her first speech as a Conservative Councillor in which she chose to describe herself as a "black witch".  They subsequently dumped her as a candidate in Kensal Green following her disgrace by the Standards Board.  Boris Johnson managed to get himself caught up in the scandal.  Despite her defeat in 2010 as an Independent, she reappeared as a Tory candidate in 2018, whereupon she was defeated in Brondesbury Park

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Quiet Campaigning in Willesden Green

Last weekend the Labour Party was out in force to campaign in the delayed Willesden Green election.  The other parties don't appear to be giving it the same effort.  This surprises me a little.  I guess the Liberal Democrats and Tories see themselves as just paper candidates, but one of the Greens was selected as a parliamentary candidate in the 2017 General Election so I was expecting more of a challenge. 

I guess the knowledge by all three of the anti-Labour parties that they actively campaigned against local amenities in the shape of the Willesden Library has kind of taken the wind out their sails.  The negative impact of the temporary closure is itself proof of the value of the library.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Knowles House Development

It is worth keeping an eye on this development on the old Knowles House site in Kensal Green.  Cllr Margaret McClennan sounds to be all in favour.  I prefer to reserve judgement until I see the scheme.  The Harlesden/Kensal Green area has already seen this kind of housing in Harlesden High Street, Harrow Road NW10 and on Rucklidge Avenue so I am not sure that we want still more. 

The site itself could potentially be used for housing for people who actually live in the area and suffer from gross overcrowding, which I suspect would be a popular option with local voters.  Since the Council actually owns the land, it is not just a planning issue, but a direct choice by Brent Council as property owner. 

The site used to be a centre for dementia patients but has been vacant for several years

Friday, 1 June 2018

Bad News At Willesden Green Library

Willesden Green Library is being shut early today and not opening during the weekend.  The reason is an interruption to the water supply (which I assume can only be fixed with such drastic action).

Brent Planners Continue Mysterious Delay

Brent Planners continue their mysterious delay over the controversial proposal to develop Queens Parade in Willesden as student flats.  I have personally objected to this scheme as I suspect the "student" flats will be justified as substandard, and then be adopted later on (possibly surreptitiously) as hostel accommodation.  Such a move would help drag down Willesden High Road as it is becoming more of an effective shopping centre.

It is extremely odd that a decision is apparently being endlessly deferred.  This is quite contrary to Brent Council's normal practice.