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Friday, 31 August 2018

Meaningful Votes on Brexit

Huffington Post has a story dominated by the anti-Semitism distraction, but with some interesting comments from Ann Black about the forthcoming Labour Conference having votes on Brexit.  I really can't see how any rational person with the slightest interest in promoting democracy within the Labour Party (rather than just factional dominance) can deny the importance of a "meaningful vote(s)" on the issue.  Remarkably however there are currently moves under way to do precisely that.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Review of Local Government Boundaries

The Local Government Commission for England has announced its review of electoral boundaries in Brent with a dedicated Brent web site.  It sets up a whole number of problematic issues, not least of which is a consequence of Brexit.

Assuming Brexit goes ahead, I would imagine that EU citizens would lose their right to vote. This would mean that the average size of the Brent registered electorate would diminish by something like 16%, or by something like 25% like Alperton.  That would be an enormous change.  It also makes it very hard to work out any proposal for new boundaries since the size of the electorate could be so different to what has come before.  It will also make life more complicated for councillors since many of the people they represent would no longer be voters. 

It is also interesting that Brent Council believes that between December 2017 and July, the registered electorate increased by 23%.

The only seeming certainty at the moment is likely to be that Brent reduces to 57 councillors from the present 63.  Brent Council has already made a submission to that effect.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Open House London

Open House London is coming up again for September 22 to 23.  This is a showcase for when you can see some of the Capital's most interesting buildings, including a number in Brent.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Brent Allotments and Public Health

I am saddened that Brent Council no longer has an allotments officer.  One was introduced as part of the effort to contain the spiralling waiting list, and the absence is likely to lead to the problems re-emerging.  This strikes me as an area where the Council's ringfenced public health budget might usefully be brought into play. 

Monday, 27 August 2018

Rees Mogg and Brexit

Jacob Rees Mogg is apparently suggesting a return to "Troubles style" border inspections in Northern Ireland, which sounds to me like a harder border which he had previously seemed to say he was against.  Does the man have no consistency whatsoever?

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Aleppo by Jenny Savile

I recently came across this picture entitled Aleppo 2017-2018 in the Scottish National Gallery by the artist Jenny Savile.  I find it a moving use of traditional artistic language to highlight the suffering of people in Syria. 

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Brent Council Complaints

The Brent Times carries a story about complaints at Brent Council.  I can recall the days when the number of complaints about Brent Council were improving.  I can't say that I find the blame central government cuts altogether convincing.  True, the huge reductions in budgets do make things much harder, but I am not convinced that the Council has always handled them as efficiently as possible at a strategic level.  In the Brent Times piece Cllr Maggie McClennan sounds rather defensive (as usual Cllr Butt goes to ground as soon as anything difficult turns up).  The key objectives should be to use complaints as a resource, and to seek to design budgets so that the demands on staff are reasonable and deliverable. 

That would mean have a well thought out strategic plan for how Brent should structure its budget to meet key needs, and require some tough choices about what not to do.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Irreplacable Councils

The latest suggestion in Northamptonshire is for the local university to pick up the role that the bankrupt Council can no longer perform.  I am all for civil society doing what it can to be socially aware, but the fact is that local authorities cannot be replaced this way for two reasons: scale and kind.

In terms of scale, a local Council has such a range and scale of responsibilities that other organisations cannot replace unless someone, central government, provides funding to do so.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is falling for David Cameron's Big Society narrative years after it was tested to destruction in 2011.

In terms of kind, the proposal ignores the key of ELECTED local authorities in making political decisions around the use of resources.  Resources are always the subject of competition between different lobby groups that quite legitimately want more.  It is the job of elected local councillors to decide how much each of the available resource each group/cause gets.  This has always been true but comes into much sharper relief because of the unprecedented pressure created by the Tory government's decision to load cuts disproportionately on local government. 

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Co-operatives in Brent

As a co-operator, I am pleased to learn that two new Co-operative stores are coming forward.  One is opposite Brent Civic Centre in Olympic Way, Wembley, and the other in Queens Park just up the road from Kilburn Library. 

Unlike most supermarkets, the Co-operative has no shareholders and has a degree of democratic control.  Buying a certain level of goods there gives you voting rights and the ability to determine the policy of the organisation.  Hitherto, Co-operatives in our part of London have been outside the Borough boundaries.

You can learn more about Co-operatives at the Society's web site, and the Co-operative Party on the Co-operative Party web site

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Last Blockbuster

Reading this about the last Blockbuster reminds me of the many pieces I have read on public libraries that focus on some one's childhood nostalgia.  Obviously in the case of Blockbuster that has been insufficient to keep them going.

With libraries on the other hand there are plenty of reasons for the service to stay open, not least in terms of raising digital literacy, their use as arts venues, and their uses as social hubs for all sorts of other activities. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Kilburn Baths

An interesting snippet of local history about Kilburn Baths.  Striking that communal baths were still being opened just before the War. 

Monday, 20 August 2018

Merger of Authorities in Northants

The Guardian reports on the coming merger of authorities in Northamptonshire, which is forced by the financial collapse.  The merger will make some savings, but also require one off costs in terms of redundancy payments and merging systems, which is what the Council's reserves can properly be used for.  Since Northants announcement that it would run out of cash, there have been news that both East Sussex and Torbay are going to stop all non essential spending.  The merger will not in itself solve the crisis as even a local Tory MP has noticed

This is a predictable crisis that requires central government to fundamentally reform local government finance across England. 

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Public Libraries and Diversity

I often see volunteer libraries claiming that they do things that public libraries just don't do.  Before making such a claim, it is worth finding out a bit more about what UK library services do do.  You can do that by reading a recent Arts Council report on libraries and diversity

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Beyond Incredulity

Jeremy Corbyn has told the BBC that "I don't share platforms with terrorists," and "I don't believe in killing people.  "I have attended memorial events for those that have died in the sadness of all of these conflicts, and that is my position."

I really find it hard to imagine how anyone could attend a PLO Conference without expecting some of the other people there to have had involvement in terrorist activity.  Similarly, the much publicised meetings with Gerry Adams and other people linked to the IRA.  Is Jeremy Corbyn the only person who does not believe that Gerry Adams has links to terrorists?

The whole atmosphere of this is starting to remind me of Darkness At Noon

Friday, 17 August 2018

Momentum Learns about Democracy

I don't normally do comments on the internal politics of the Labour Party on this site, but this piece from labourlist is interesting in revealing that Momentum is rather less monolithic than the twitter bots might make it appear. 

Similarly, Stephen Bush has an illuminating piece on why the Jewish community is so concerned about the possible escalation of what Jeremy Corbyn has referred to as "pockets" of anti-Semitism. 

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Temporary Reprieve for Northants Libraries

One of the legal challenges to the library closures in Northants has been successful.  This may not be the great news that the campaigners in Northants no doubt hope for.  As I explained back in April, Northants just has run out of money.

There will now be a delay as the Council has to go through the decision making process again, but the disastrous budgetary situation remains, so I imagine any changes to the policy will be very limited.  The challenge was successful, judging by press reports, on the grounds that councillors had not considered the full impact.  Once they do consider them, they might in principle decide the same thing.

However a delay in the decision probably also means a delay in sending out redundancy notices, more staff consultation and so on, so the court case may have the effect of making the cuts somewhat deeper than they would have been.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Brent Borough of Culture

I have alluded to the award of Borough of Culture status for Brent, but there still appears to be very little detail on what will actually happen.  Brent Libraries, which is likely to be the lead part of the Council on this, have a strong reputation due to the Transformation Project, but so far the only detail is fairly thin

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Cllr Muhammed Butt and the Kiln Theatre

I opined that the OurTricycle campaign had largely run out of steam, and I still think that is basically true, but it still managed a brief appearance in Private Eye this week.

The piece makes two points.  One is to suggest that there is some form of deception in fund raising for the theatre rebuilding without making a specific point about the name change.  I regard this as really odd, since I think the actual name of the Theatre is a very minor matter compared to the benefits of the rebuild and the potential regeneration benefits for Kilburn

The Play's the thing, as someone once said. 

Secondly, it comments on the apparent ignorance of Cllr Muhammed Butt about the name change.  It is said, through a FoI request, that the Council Leader only became aware of the change on 28 November 2017 despite the fact that the Board discussed it much earlier.  I can't help but be sceptical of this.  Cllr Muhammed Butt seems to have had a long and surprising record of ignorance and odd decisions over the Jewish Film Festival, the NHS in Brent, pub protection, Council Tax, Planning, school academies, Brent Council's procurement decisions, the closure of Youth Centres the rules of the Labour Party, efforts to exclude Labour councillors from the Group, whether Labour councillors are suspended and even whether members of the Labour Group he leads are alive

To come back to the Kiln, my view would be that however that decision was arrived at, it is now a done deal and there is no real point in trying to reverse it.  I think that anyone who wishes the Theatre and the Kilburn community well should just embrace the new season and enjoy the benefits of the new Kiln Theatre. 

Monday, 13 August 2018

Brent Central Political Parties and Antisemitism

The whole antisemitism story continues to develop in its dreary and depressing way, including a mention for Brent Central Labour Party on the front page of the Sunday Times and subsequent follow ups.  One does have to wonder about either the good faith or the the competence of these Labour Party officials who are apparently unable to identify long standing and active members.

Subsequently the Times had a story on Shahrar Ali, a familiar figure in the Green Party, who I understand no longer lives in Brent.  Shahrar Ali denies antisemitism.  He is quite a prominent figure having stood for local elections in Brent as well as Parliamentary elections and also national office within the Green Party itself

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Harlesden Plaza Redevelopment

Brent Council is now asking for comments on the further development of Harlesden Town Centre.  As far as I know there is still no real funding for this.  The Harlesden Plaza is obviously a key landmark, but it is also in private ownership so I am not sure what would be the way forward for any vision that was developed. 

This question is crucial for public engagement as I remember well from the previous Highways scheme where people only really came on board once they became convinced that something would actually be delivered.

Details of the current Planning Documents are to found here

Saturday, 11 August 2018

The Dire Position of Northants County Council

The Guardian and other papers carried more reports and analysis of the grim position of Northants CC now that it has pretty much run out of money.  This is a position that Brent has so far managed to avoid through taking a series of difficult decisions during the 2010-2014 period, which allowed cuts to the budget to be made in a more measured and less painful way.  Subsequently, my impression has been that the regime has got a good deal laxer, with for instance a fairly kneejerk reaction on fire safety

The problem now facing Northants is that after significant prevarication, it is being forced into making all its cuts at once.  That makes it far harder to manage the process rigorously.  It also means that finding alternative routes through other institutions becomes much tougher.

For instance, if Northants were to seek to have cushion either the closure of libraries by handing over to volunteers or (say) the moving of childrens centres from those libraries it would be much harder.  There is now a ticking clock to make the cuts happen within budget.  Any delays from legal action or delays in staff consultation will lead to extra costs and therefore even deeper costs.  Any one off payments necessary to the process will bite into a much lower level of reserves, and the reserves in Northants seem to be much lower than they have historically been.

The problems facing local government were predictable years ago, and have been made worse by Central government.  At some point many of the cuts being imposed will have to be reversed.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Schools and Sprinklers

This is an important story about sprinklers and schools in Brent from the Kilburn Times.  Apparently all the school fires in Brent in recent years have involved schools without sprinklers, which are not mandatory.

As I recall sprinklers were a mandatory feature of new schools built under the Building Schools for the Future programme, which Michael Gove abolished as overly bureaucratic.  He was supported in this by Sarah Teather.  Gove's replacement scheme, when it eventually appeared, did not require new schools to have sprinklers making a marginal saving in construction costs.  Now the LFB suggest that the sprinklers would actualy save significant sums in damage and possibly also help in terms of fire safety.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Seven Day Cafe at a Seven Day Library

Willesden Library Cafe is now opening seven days a week as hoped for.  It has also revamped its food offering.  I hope it thrives despite the recent set backs with the water supply.  Altogether it has been quite a saga

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Uniqueness of Roundwood Youth Club

Labour recently pledged to rebuild youth services if it comes back to power. It that happens, Roundwood Youth Club is likely to the centre of Youth services in Brent.

This partly because it is so new.  The current building was opened in late 2012, having been saved from central government cuts back in 2010.  Roundwood is the only survivor left after the cuts to youth services in Brent in 2015.  The widespread cuts to youth services around London have been blamed for the subsequent rise in knife crime. 

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Staffless Libraries

A wheeze that seems to appeal to Library managers trying to avoid closing buildings rather than keeping library services is the staffless library.  An example has now been the subject of a complaint in Barnet

Staffless libraries seem generally to work by allowing access to people with library cards and pins (i.e. existing users), but excluding children.  I don't know how places like Barnet cope with the public safety implications of having an otherwise empty building without staff.  What do they do about vandalism or drug users or possible attacks/inappropriate behaviour by users?

Given the disproportionate impact on children this may indeed be a challengable policy.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Youth Services

Another reminder from Haringey that condemning your predecessor's schemes is the easy part.  Getting a new scheme together is difficult.  Haringey have recently decided not to go ahead with a "youth zone".  I don't know the details of the Haringey scheme but I suspect the main drivers of the decision to abandon it will be (a) the ongoing revenue cost (b) the fact that there is no real statutory duty to provide youth services.

If Haringey is like Brent, the opinions of the public would be that they want more youth services not less.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Update on Knotweed

I have long had an unfashionable interest in Japanese knotweed.  This invasive species has now been the subject of a landmark legal case which should worry every land owner.  This is one of those problems that rumbles along unnoticed until one day it doesn't.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

IHRA and Censorship

One of the reasons given for opposing the standard wording of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, including the illustrative examples, is the supposed threat to freedom of speech.  Opponents of the standard wording argue that thy would be inhibited from criticising Israel. 

I would argue that this is simply untrue.  A quick google shows up plenty of criticism of Israel and its government in all sorts of subject areas, and none of it appears to have been blocked by the definition.  Martin Francis meanwhile thinks he has found an example of Barnet Council trying to use the definition in this way.  The motion concerns the BDS movement and their use of Council facilities in Barnet.  Martin doesn't appear to find the proposed Boycott of a Boycott movement in any way ironic.

In the event the discussion appears to have kicked back to another Committee i.e. well into the long grass. 

I suspect this is because the wording of the motion is probably illegal.  It calls for the BDS campaign, or even individuals associated with it, to be banned from use of any Council facilities and shunned by society in general.  I think that case law going back to the 1980s probably doesn't allow this.  In particular, back then Haringey Council tried to stop its libraries from stocking Murdoch newspapers as the Wapping dispute was in full swing.  Haringey lost. 

The only way as I read it for any Council to refuse the use of facilities otherwise commercially available would be if they were being used for something illegal e.g. inciting racial hatred or violence.  Even then the Courts tend to set a very high standard of evidence before they convict of incitement. 

Martin should therefore rest easy.

Yet he might also want to reflect on the nature of boycotts and how divisive and damaging they can be even if people don't intend them to be so. 

Friday, 3 August 2018

How Much Weirder Can it Get?

The Times has a front page story today in which David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, apparently referred to Jeremy Corbyn in approving terms when he was elected back in 2015.  This whole story is getting rather out of hand.

Lessons for Brent Council from Northamptonshire

Recently the Guardian did a big feature on the horrific financial position of Northamptonshire County Council, which has essentially declared itself bankrupt.  The coverage points partly to political incompetence in kicking the can down the road and partly to the sizeable cuts that local government in general is suffering from.

This is what would have happened to Brent if it had taken Green Party advice and simply not managed its budget.  Instead we were able to manage a number of political choices.

Northamptonshire by contrast are being to force through slash and burn tactics just to make their budget add up.  Any delays, from a successful legal action for example, will have to be made up by cuts elsewhere in the budget.  The introduction of Commissioners and abolition of the Council in two years further underlines how refusing to take political decisions would simply have led to a propaganda victory for the Tories. 

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Lack of Brexit Plans

Central government seems to have little clue about what its plans are for Brexit.  Even Dominic Raab's promise of "adequate food supplies" seems to be more a vague hope than plan.  There is some speculation that this is because either there are no plans as with David Davis' impact assessments or they are so terrifying that the voters might change their minds.  However, local authorities are publishing their own plans which in some cases do indeed sound scary. 

It would be interesting to what Brent Council is doing to assess Brent's own needs. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Not in Dispute

Remarkably, given the huge amount of publicity that the subject has generated, it is only today that the Labour Party is advertising jobs in the Disputes unit that will deal with allegations.

Free School Waste

The Guardian reminds us of the sheer wastefulness of the government's free school programme.  Not least this is because the schools are being put into inappropriate buildings as has been the case in Brent.  When is the government going to admit defeat on this?