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Sunday, 30 September 2018

Is Brent Managing Allotments Well?

Allotments have a chequered history in Brent, having been sold off whenever possible under the Tories in the 1990s and generally ignored, they subsequently once again became fashionable.  They now tie in very well with the public health agenda and a wider range of interests that people have in food growing.  I would argue that they can also have a role in creating an area of common interest for a community, binding people together across the usual dividing lines. 

When I was lead member for allotments, we became very concerned at the length of the waiting lists and the inefficiency of the administration.  We therefore passed a food growing strategy and had a dedicated officer assigned to making it happen.  We also updated the rents paid, which was more controversial.  In principle, it should be perfectly possible to set the rents at a level that allows the employment of some one to manage the allotments.  This would allow people to see themselves getting a service as a direct result of the charges made.  Without being followed up in this way, the rents will not be collected and some of the sites are much more likely to fall into disuse. 

This will leave everyone feeling unhappy, yet it appears to be the route that Brent Council is going down.  It is a pity that the Labour Group's away day yesterday was cut at such short notice as the Group really needs to put a long term strategy together. 

Saturday, 29 September 2018

A Lack of Censorship at Labour Conference

I rather doubt that holding a debate on Palestine is quite the pressing issue that many delegates at the Labour Conference apparently feel it to be.  I would have thought, for example, that half a million people killed in Syria, eleven million displaced and the fate of those in Idlib was probably a more urgent subject if you really want to concentrate on the Middle East.

However, is there any evidence that anyone there was inhibited from expressing their views on Israel and Palestine by the recent adoption of the IHRA definition?  If not, perhaps we can acknowledge that the Summer of bitter resistance to the definition adoption has been something of a wasteful distraction from opposing the government's disastrous policies?

Friday, 28 September 2018

Government Wasting Time over Concealment

The Guardian carries a story here of the government gratuitously wasting time and money concealing our much its Minister for the North actually went to the North.  This seems all too common a fault in bureaucracies.  It is partly instinctive and partly to try to kill a story politically by destroying its timeliness.

Walking in Cities

Some interesting ideas on improving walking in cities in this long piece in the Guardian.  It is surprising how neglected this subject is despite pedestrians being recognised as at the top of the road user hierarchy, and being seen as crucial to neighbourhood success as far back Jane Jacobs' classic "The Life and Death of Great American Cities".  

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Afterword on Kiln Theatre Renaming

With the success of the new season of plays at the Kiln Theatre looking fairly established, I thought I would reflect on the rebranding process.  There is an article with a short take on rebranding theatres here

To those who have never been part of a rebranding process the whole thing can seem a bit farcical, but it does often touch a nerve as the Kiln rebranding demonstrated.  I must admit that I am not quite sure what or whose nerves were being touched during that controversy.  The protesters seemed to be drawn just from one section of the community, and the reported comments seemed not always related to the theatre and sometimes unduly personal.  I did wonder whether there were wider anxieties than those being articulated at a work here.

By the way, for those interested in what makes up the Kilburn community Brent Council provides a short summary using 2011 census data

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Kiln Theatre Facelift

One advantage that I hope will come from the Kiln Theatre rebranding is that hopefully even the laziest picture editors will drop using old photos of the Tricycle like this one:

And start using new photos, more like this:

Or even this:

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Haringey Demonstrates Housing Solutions for Slow Learners

I suggested that when the NEC took its extraordinary stand on housing in Haringey that it might live to regret it, and it looks as if that suggestion is turning out to be true.  The case concerns some apparently unsafe buildings in the Broadwater Farm estate.  It shows that delivering local services is actually a more nuanced business than sloganising. 

Monday, 24 September 2018

Community Division in Preston

The Brent Times report on the latest development proposals at the former school annexe in Preston are a reminder that the community never has just one voice.  Brent Council appears to have got some sort of special deal with just one group in the community.  This leaves open questions around planning permission, ACV status and use of CIL money

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Regeneration is More Complex than You Think

There is an interesting story about the redevelopment of the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark that has not had the attention it deserved.  It illustrates how complex the calculations around these things can be, as I have pointed out before.

The Aylesbury estate was notorious as one of the worst in Britain even back when Tony Blair was first elected in 1997. 

All these years on, it still is

Southwark, having failed to tackle the problem over so many years, now has yet another plan, but this one appears to be guaranteeing the profits of the private partner.  The Council has to accept not getting a return in the case of a house price crash (which seems not unlikely) and in any case makes a big loss on the redevelopment. 

Whether that is the best deal that they can get is a matter for Southwark, but it is reminder that you cannot just wave a wand and see redevelopment without risk.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Kiln Cinema Reopening

I see that, following the successful reopening of the theatre, the Kiln Cinema is reopening as well.  This will be from 27 September.  It is really good to see the Kiln getting back into operation after the inevitable dark period.  I look forward to the street café whenever that becomes available.

Homelessness and Enforcement

The Home Office has been caught out deporting EEA nationals against the law.  Their offence appears to have been to be homeless, and the government gives an assurance (contrary to previous practice) it now wants to make sure that all homeless people get accommodation. 

Of course, the previous Labour government had pretty much achieved this but the measures it put in place had been dismantled by Theresa May on becoming Home Secretary in 2010.  The example also illustrates how the immigration debate helps destroy our civil society in ways that the Home Office probably simply fails to predict.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Ann Black Departs

Ann Black is leaving the Labour NEC after many years.  During those years her regular reports on the NEC have earned her great respect, and the last of them is now published.  It paints a sad picture of a Labour Party spending too much time obsessing about its own procedures and internal rivalries and not enough on the big issues, especially our relationship with the European Union.

Cheating for School Places

I mentioned the Kiln's opening production Holysh!t before.  Reports in the Guardian seem to confirm that the issue of "cheating" is widespread, although I don't think it is confined to the middle classes.  One might wonder whether it is legitimate to put people under such pressure to make religious choices that they don't really want.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Cuts in Somerset County Council

Somerset County Council is another facing a round of severe cuts just to stave off a Northants style breakdown.  The surprise to me is that Tory councils seem to be falling apart first even the Labour areas have tended to be the ones with the worst cuts.  It may be that the Tories were the most eager to dig their own graves with Council Tax freezes.  Again perhaps the awareness and the knowledge that the government really didn't care about them made the Labour authorities more financially responsible at an earlier stage.  They were less prone to the illusion that the Tory central government simply would not allow services to collapse.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Grounds Maintenance

It is perhaps comforting to find that one part of Brent Council works as it is supposed to and that is the Housing Scrutiny Committee. 

One example was a free days ago when it was engaged in the unexciting topic of grounds maintenance.  The kind of things covered contract monitoring, helping vulnerable residents, ensuring quality control and so on may seem uninteresting but they can have a disproportionate impact on public perceptions.  I note that the Council still seems to deal with its Council Housing using a dedicated team rather than a wider team from the public Realm Contract.  I presume that is as a result of the accounting needs of the HRA regimen. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Finally Borough of Culture details

Some detail on the London Borough of Culture activities is at last available via Brent Council's next Cabinet papers.  Promised projects are:

  • Thoroughfare: A street party on Kilburn High Road on 12th July 2020.

  • No Bass like Home. An affordable concert in Wembley Arena and a festival in Harlesden celebrating the reggae heritage of the area.

  • Museum of all Brent Life: the 6 Council libraries and the 4 community libraries will work with an artist on site specific commissions.

  • Seen and heard: a partnership with Quintain and the LSE to produce a policy framework for the creation and management of public spaces which welcome young people

  • Brent Lives: a partnership with Vice to tell Brent stories

  • Lost and found: a programme with Brent Schools

  • The Anthem: a new composition to be performed throughout 2020

  • Spacebook: an online platform to allow local people and community groups to book affordable creative spaces throughout 2020.
That does not sound like all that much, but I assume that other projects are being worked on. 

Monday, 17 September 2018

Brexit and Local Government

The coming negative threats coming for local government, including Brent, from Brexit have surveyed by Buzzfeed.  These includes threats to the supply of affordable housing, early years provision and a possible increase in hate crimes.

I still can't think of any countervailing advantages from Brexit.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Schools and Accountability

There is a weary predictability about future schools policy.  The reduction of local authority control that started back in the 1980s with local management of school has gone too far.  Hence this plea to increase management at a local level.  The pressing need for more local accountability was obvious years ago. 

Why do we have a political environment that appears to produce really bad policy and persist with it for so after it is apparent that it is bad policy?

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Still Flogging the Kiln Theatre

The Camden New Journal is still flogging the Kiln Theatre rename story.  I have remarked before that, at best, I think this is a minor issue compared to getting a rebuilt and substantially improved theatre

One detail strikes me as particularly strange.  They keep on referring to Indhu Rubasingham as a "new" Artistic Director.  In fact she was appointed in 2012, and had her first production in that role later that year.  I thought that play, Red Velvet, took the whole institution in quite a different and interesting direction, and there been many more since. 

During the same period she was working hard to get the funding together to rebuild the theatre to improve the 1980s style disabled access, improve important basics like seating and toilets and theatre lighting and make it a more welcoming venue in general.  Her critics seem to just take it for granted that money was coming Brent's way. That really isn't the case.  Raising that much money and making sure it gets properly spent is a major job in itself.

At the same time, she had to keep her team going and active, which she did at least partly through what I thought was a very welcome and imaginative outreach programme specifically designed to  get to people without traditional theatre backgrounds.  Again, there are all kinds of barriers to achieving that sort of thing successfully. 

It must have left all the people responsible feeling pretty exhausted.

Do the name change protesters really just not get what a blessing to the area they seem to be trying to drive away?

Friday, 14 September 2018

Ealing Road Library Redevelopment

The Ealing Road library redevelopment I referred to some time ago is finished giving some much needed good quality public space to the Wembley Central area.  As far as I can see this has been given no publicity whatever by anyone, including Brent Council.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Why We Get the Wrong Politicians

It was interesting to read Jess Phillips MP on Isabel Hardman's book in the New Statesman.  My interest is not so much in Hardman's new book Why we get the Wrong Politicians as in some of Phillips's own observations.

She does not regard herself as part of the "political elite" despite being a MP.  If "political elite does not include MPs then who is in this (obviously extremely exclusive club).  Would anyone admit their membership?  There is a story about Nye Bevan being told political power resided in the District Council, only then to be told to go to the County Council, only then to be told to go to Parliament, only then to be told to the Cabinet.  Sadly, he didn't reveal whether he found power once he really was in the Cabinet. 

Another interesting point is that she believes that "A politician from a pit community or raised by a single parent is, pleasingly, no longer that uncommon." Actually, I think it used to be a lot more common.  I think if she compares the 1945 PLP to now she would find a much wider range of backgrounds.  If she is referring to regionalism, I suspect she would find the same thing. 

The third thing I notice is that she doesn't mention the much wider ethnic and gender spread of today's Parliament compared to that of yesteryear, although I am sure she must be very aware of the huge effort required to achieve that.

Altogether an odd piece I thought.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Boundary Carve Up

As duly reported in the Kilburn Times,the Boundary Commission are planning a dramatic carve up of Brent constituencies.  This would lead to no fewer than five constituencies in Brent.  It is a hangover from David Cameron who did a squalid deal with Nick Clegg to redraw the boundaries in return for electoral reform. Many Tory MPs are threatening not to vote the deal through in the Autumn because they are afraid of being removed from their seats.   By now the population figures on which the whole exercise is based are hopelessly out of date so that there is a good case for simply dumping them and starting all over again.   

Meanwhile a wholly separate process is underway for local boundaries.         

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Shisha Cafe Award

Nice to hear that Brent Council's innovative work on Shisha Bars is up for an award.  This has been a problem in Brent for years and was first researched by the Brent Youth Parliament and ward working.  That was important to changing the Planning Policy.  Brent Council has now followed up with a programme of enforcement.  It has taken a long time to get here. 

Monday, 10 September 2018

Kiln Theatre Finally Reopens with New Season

Finally got to the reopened Kiln Theatre for its new production, Holysh!t, on Saturday and thereby got my first look at the new theatre

Kilburn High Road Entrance

The Kilburn High Road frontage is broader with a yet to be opened café sharing the frontage with the old entrance in what used to be the Forresters' Hall.  Behind that are the toilets as go up the corridor towards the auditorium.  The signage is somewhat confusing and I saw women trying to get into the male toilets and men into the womens'.


The actual auditorium has obviously been the focus of a lot of thought.  As promised the sightlines are much better with a fuller view of what seemed to me a wider stage.  More importantly the seats are more comfortable, numbered and accessible via an aisle either side.  That may not sound important, but it meant that the audience could get in and out before and during the interval much quicker and without all that standing there waiting to get past someone trying to pick up their bag or coat. 

The distinctly 1980s disabled access appears to have been replaced by more modern arrangements, and according to press reports, all the lighting and so on is now much more modern.  The bar and box office seem to be largely the same, although there is a very big homage now to the history of the theatre, similar to the feature on the Kiln Theatre web site

This may be intended to try to assuage the people still angry about the name change.  Personally, I think such people might do well to appreciate just how hard it is to achieve what the Kiln Theatre team have now achieved.


Which brings us to Holysh!t the play, which is after all the real heart of any theatre.  It was a much darker play than I had imagined it would be, revolving around the cultural politics of identity, fairness and parental anxieties.  The whole play climaxes with a scene involving victim hierarchies which is all too accurate.  It may be that I particularly feel this after the Labour Party's torrid Summer dealing with antisemitism, which has been more than a little demoralising. 

However, the return of the theatre as a going concern should be an enormous benefit to Kilburn High Road.  The premises have a 24 hour licensing application, I believe, under consideration at the moment, and assuming that goes through it should be able to become even more effective. 

UPDATE 11.09.18

Whatsonstage has an interview by Indhu Rubasingham explaining her thinking in the rebuild project

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Pigovian Levies and Brent Council

The Brent Times reports that Brent Council is still investing in fossil fuels "indirectly".  If you look at the story it seems to be based on an assumption, more bluntly a guess, rather than hard figures.  Yet, I am not sure how practicable it is do otherwise so long as Brent uses "pooled funds."  The funds will presumably follow an investment strategy for all their clients together, which is why the funds are "pooled".  If the Council want to disaggregate it will have to manage its own funds directly.

That said, I suspect this is one case where the market may be moving against companies that have bad pollution.  Sooner or later big extraction companies are going to face clean up bills.  Indeed in some jurisdictions there are already requirements such as bonds to put money aside for cleaning up once the extraction ceases.  There is also a some point in the future a likelihood that such companies will face a Pigovian levy to clean them up.  It may well be a lot smarter for an investor to get out before the regulators catch up with not just the local damage caused but also perhaps the longer term climate change damage.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Brexit Legislation

Seema Malhotra MP has uncovered that the sheer mechanics of Brexit seem to require an awful lot of extra legislation still.  I can't say that I am reassured by Andrea Leadsom's answer, which seems to be yet another attempt to paper over the cracks in the government's Brexit strategy.  Apart from anything else, it is remarkable that the government still doesn't know how many statutory instruments it needs, so the assurances that it will not need extra time don't really count for much.

There is a video available Seema of raising this issue in the Chamber

Friday, 7 September 2018

Drinking Fountains for Brent

One of the changes of the past few years which might actually be positive is the decision to allocate public health spending as a local government responsibility.  In principle, this could lead to a more responsive and prevention led approach to public health.  In practice, the funding was shortly after cynically cut.

One area where it would be used to good effect would be through the increased use of drinking fountains, which in turn would cut plastic use.  If Brent Council were under more imaginative leadership it would examine this idea. 

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Ealing Road Library Remodelling

I am not quite sure why, but the remodelling of Ealing Road Library that I mentioned quite a while ago never actually happened.  I am told that it is still planned although it is unclear when. 

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Little Free Libraries

The Guardian praises the little free libraries scheme in Leeds.  I think this actually shows one of the problems with the way libraries are reported.  Schemes like this and volunteer libraries are seen as heart warming stories by journalists, but the merits of a properly run public library service are overlooked. 

This is partly, I suspect because the journalists have little or no idea how modern libraries work and what they can do in promoting the arts, encouraging mental well being, acting as social centres, linking in with other services, promoting literacy, educating people and helping people access other services.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Labour Party and the IHRA Definition

The Labour Party NEC will be meeting today to discuss the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.  Hopefully is will re-adopt the accepted definition with all the examples that it has already been using since December 2016.  As Ann Black says, the whole thing has just got the Labour Party into a nasty confrontation with the Jewish community that is deeply damaging to our reputation.  I attended the very successful JLM conference on Sunday and there is no doubt of the depth of feeling on this issue.  It has drained the Labour Party's effectiveness all through the Summer and we should never have tried to revise it for all the reasons that Gordon Brown explained.  The full text of Gordon speech is now available

I gather that a range of people, many obviously anti-Labour, are urging the NEC to try to invent quibbles to keep the argument going.  I think these people do not have the Labour Movement's best interests at heart.

UPDATE 12.17pm

I notice that the usual assortment of people are out protesting on this return to the December 2016 policy.  The very phrase "Israel Lobby" as if all Jewish people were part of an organised conspiracy rather than just people concerned at racist discrimination against them well illustrates the way in which racism has so entered some of these peoples' thinking that they are not even aware of it.  We would never respond to concerns by, say, Sikhs as part of a "Sikh Lobby" organised by a foreign country.  

These people are inflicting damage on the Labour Party's reputation and the effects are already likely to last for years.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Cuts to Local Government and Civil Society

I fear John Tizard is being overoptimistic about the Tory government's views on Civil Society.  He is quite right that local government has a really important role in supporting civil society and that the budget cuts to Councils are making that role impossible. 

Yet the whole "Big Society" debacle actually demonstrates that the Tories really do have an engrained culture that local government simply has no value.  Part of that ideology, which is so embedded that it is not even articulated, are that the public sector in general is simply a burden on the private sector in the manner that right wing tropes such as "Tax Freedom Day" imply.  They assume that running public institutions needs no skill and very little money and that anyone working for the public sector is essentially a parasite.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Tzipi Livni and Jeremy Corbyn

It is difficult to keep up with all the stories coming out now quoting Jeremy Corbyn on Israel/Palestine issues, but this one caught my eye.  Extraordinarily, it quotes Jermey Corbyn as saying in 2009 that he had never heard of Tzipi Livni before.  As well as being Leader of the Opposition now, at the time of the quote she had been a Cabinet Minister in Israel for the previous eight years, and was serving as Israel's Foreign Minister at the time.  As such she was a key figure in any attempts to create a peace agreement.  How can it be claimed that Jeremy Corbyn was even interested in any peace process if he had never heard of her?

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Kiln Theatre Reopening

Only a few days before the rebuilt Kiln Theatre reopens with its new season.  I am really looking forward to seeing how it is changed.