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Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Osborne's Errors

George Osborne has made a rare admission of a mistake or two.  These include totally unrealistic immigration targets, a total failure to do anything other than slag off the European Union and a failure to defend any upside to immigration.  That is quite a collection of whoopsies.

He doesn't however apologise for his latest disaster the ongoing failure that is universal credit

That Corbyn Apartheid Meme

That Corbyn Apartheid meme that is so commonly circulated on twitter is somewhat undermined by the stories covered in the Telegraph and here

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Gaumont State Cinema

I haven't posted any local history for a while so I thought I would explain some of the history of the enormous Gaumont State Cinema in Kilburn.  The earlier history is already summarised on the web.  Pictures are also available

It is now occupied by Ruach Ministries as a church, something I played a small part in as a member of the Planning Committee at the time.  So far it has not had the impact on the surrounding area we were hoping for at the time.  No doubt running a 4,000 seater church is a considerable challenge. 

Monday, 29 October 2018

Local Authorities and Commercial Revenue

CIFPA has issued a warning to local authorities about commercial lending, which I also warned about a few days ago.    Happily, Brent's vulnerability to commercial lending is limited.  However, the effort to generate revenue from advertising may well be subject to similar pressures in the event of an economic slowdown.  Companies tend to cut back on advertising as sales fall, so a slowdown might lead to falling revenue.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

New Rules for Standing

An interesting proposal working through the system is to tighten up the rules for local councillors to serve.  Currently, any Councillor with a prison record of more than three months is ineligible. The proposal currently under consideration is for any councillor "any person who is subject to an Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction, a Criminal Behaviour Order, a Sexual Risk Order or who is on the Sex Offenders’ Register, would no longer be able to stand for elected office in their community".

This would presumably affect serving councillors at the time that such a rule came into force, possibly leading to by elections.  It is unclear how far back these restrictions would go. In the case of Police Commissioners there is no limit, as Bob Ashford of Somerset discovered.  I thought he was given a hard time, so I do hope that whatever emerges from this proposal is carefully considered.

I always think it notable that people on other public authorities are often subject to greater restrictions than Members of Parliament invent for themselves.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

The Folly of Illegal Budgets

A further note for those who gleefully propose that Councils should take measures, such as setting illegal budgets, that encourage the Government to send in Commissioners comes from Tower Hamlets, which has just emerged from a period of almost four years of commissioner authority

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Tory Cabinet and Sheer Ignorance

We are told the Cabinet expressed "disbelief" over the blocks that would fall on trade without a Brexit Deal.  How is it possible for these Cabinet Ministers not be aware of what has been common currency for months? Still I suppose in a government where the Northern Ireland Secretary was unaware that Protestants and Catholics in that part of the world vote differently anything is possible.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Plastic Waste in Brent

China's decision to close its borders to the West's waste is making life harder for Councils as the UK waste industry has only limited capacity for recycling.  Naturally, this is one of many problems that will be made worse by Brexit. 

However, it should be eminently solvable.  Waste can be reduced from its current levels through a reduction in packaging and a reduction in food waste.  These should certainly be considered before doing something as drastic as cutting back plastic collections.  In West London, including Brent, potentially waste can be used for fuel in WLWA's Energy from Waste plant.  This now happens to all the waste that formerly went to landfill. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Photos of Ealing Road Library 2018

I mentioned a while ago the upgrade of Ealing Road Library.  Above is a photo showing the actual forecourt and below a more full on image of the front.

These are relatively minor compared to the changes in Willesden Library, Kilburn Library and Wembley Library but they are still a significant improvement.

Monday, 22 October 2018

John Harris Retrospective on the Town Problem

John Harris has done a retrospective on Labour's Town Problem.  It is a reminder that Labour victory at the next General Election is by no means as obvious as some in the Labour Party like to assume.  As he points out the Labour vote has been threatened or overturned in traditional Labour areas such as Walsall, and the Party needs to overturn the Tory vote in no fewer than 64 seats even if it holds on to all the existing Labour seats.

Whereas he is right to talk about the feeling of neglect, it is not as complete as he tends to paint it.  These towns after all also benefited from the last Labour Government's record investments in education and Health.  He is also right to say that some towns, he mentions Stoke on Trent, do have genuine signs of hope. 

Sunday, 21 October 2018

A Missed Opportunity for Labour

Yesterday's March for a new referendum seems to have been the second biggest demonstration of the last hundred years.  As such you would expect politicians to be falling over themselves to address it. However, despite his general love of such occasions Jeremy Corbyn didn't attend. In doing so he and the Labour Party are missing a crucial opportunity to seize the initiative, largely because of his own hostility to the EU.

The Liberal Democrats and the Co-operative Party are currently the only parties committed to a referendum, but it seems to be the only way to resolve what kind of Brexit if any people want.  The arguments and positions put forward by the Leave campaign and the government are so self-contradictory that the way out is to go back to the voters and ask what the priorities are.

Community Skips

Martin Francis has picked up on a new community skip initiative in northern Brent.  These have been tried in the past, but it looks to me that the officers may be trialling them more systematically this time, albeit only in the North of the Borough.  The first I was aware of were the Welsh Harp ones (I think) in circa 2005/6, and there was a very successful one in Kensal Green round Tubbs Road

I wonder whether the trial of this is designed as an alternative to running the tip in Abbey Road at the southern end of the Borough, which is one of the suggested budget savings currently before the Council.  I also wonder whether it might also be an excuse for getting rid of the bulky items policy which some Council officers have wanted to abolish for years, and which I reinstated as lead member in 2010

Saturday, 20 October 2018

A New Co-op in South Kilburn?

As London gears up for what will hopefully be a big pro-European March I just thought I would share this from the newsletter of Karen Buck MP, our neighbour south of the border:

"Work has finally started on the Chippenham pub building, which we expect to open as a shop (possibly as a Co-Op). It is obviously a relief that this has happened as the building was both an eye-sore and dangerous (with window glass actually falling out onto the street at one point).

The reconstruction of the Carlton Tavern (owned by the same company!) is also finally underway, after it was illegally part-demolished in 2015, just days before English Heritage were going to list it as a historic building.

Whilst not every pub can, or should, be saved for its original purpose owners and developers cannot be allowed to get away with leaving buildings neglected and run down, or as happened acting illegally in the case of the Carlton."

I would certainly welcome a Co-op in the vicinity of South Kilburn, which is the bit of the Borough that most resembles a food desert.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Wembley Stadium Sale Falls Through

The proposed sale of Wembley Stadium has fallen through, which is probably for the best.  The are certainly doesn't need any more disruption than it has already.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Some Reason to be Thankful Despite Ongoing Budget Cuts

Whereas Theresa May has promised that austerity has ended, I doubt whether this will be apparent to most people.  The whole failed policy has left the public sector demoralised and denuded of capacity to deal with future problems.  The more so if, as seems quite possible, we are about to see another economic downturn for both Brexit and cyclical reasons. 

Indeed some of the local government trends may actually have made things worse.

Happily Brent has avoided getting into the commercial property market as some other councils have.  Thus, it will not run the risk of a fall in property values wiping out assets, or the departure of tenants suddenly leaving empty buildings as a drain on resources.  Instead, the Council perhaps more by luck than judgement, retains what income streams it has despite the poor state of the UK Economy.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Foreigners and the UK

A book I have been reading recently includes an anecdote of a new junior minister being appointed to the Foreign Office in the 1950s.  He said:"Prime Minister I think there has been a mistake.  I don't speak any foreign languages. I have never been to a foreign country except in time of war, and I don't like foreigners." To which Churchill replied: "Young man these are all advantages."

It seems to me at times that attitudes in our current government are not dissimilar to Churchill's.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Co-operative Party Backs Referendum on Terms of the Final Brexit Deal

I am recently back from the Co-operative Party Conference where Cllr Janice Long signed the Charter against Modern Slavery on behalf of Brent Council.  The Conference also committed the Co-operative Party to a referendum on the final Brexit deal.  Since the Co-operative Party is the third largest party in the House of commons, that should be a significant piece of news. 

As I write this, it still looks questionable whether any deal can in fact be reached as a result of the Northern Ireland position.  Dublin won't accept a harder border.  The DUP won't accept a divide between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and the only way to reconcile those positions is to for the whole of the UK to remain in the Customs Union, and probably the Single Market (which is also a position that the Co-operative Party is now committed to).  That is a position which appears to be unacceptable to at least a minority of Tory MPs despite their 2015 manifesto) and I imagine a large percentage of their membership. 

Monday, 15 October 2018

Corporate Plan for Brent

An item on today's Brent Council Cabinet agenda is the latest Corporate Plan.  Other than helping with some officer's infographic skills, it seems of very little use.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Reflections on Harlesden Town Centre

Current planning guidance envisages four obvious areas for redevelopment in Harlesden/Kensal Green.  They are Harlesden Plaza, the Manor Park Road development, the former ambulance station close to the main gate to Roundwood Park) and somewhere near Willesden Junction where (ominously) tall buildings will be allowed.  All this is part of trying to accommodate the huge increase in population between 2001 and 2011.

So far, I really don't get a sense that there is any real awareness about this in the community at large.

Of course, the ambulance station has been vacant for years.  I think more than a decade.  The Manor Park Road was subject to a development proposal opposed by some local councillors.  Willesden Junction may well have a broad range of difficulties due to legal title, working near railway lines and so on.

The most interesting is Harlesden Plaza.  I recall that during the Harlesden Town Charter process it was generally agreed that the Plaza would be the obvious choice as a central focus for Harlesden.  Any development there would probably take a lot of effort and imagination, not to mention the kind of fortitude needed whenever any major projects needs to be carried through.  One aspect that miught not occur to many people is that it really should be made as compatible as possible with the Harlesden Conservation Area.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

A Failure of Understanding

The Labour Party has continually shot itself in the foot over antisemitism, and I have been reflecting why that is so.  The arguments that there is a vital "free speech" argument doesn't convince me the adoption of the IHRA definition was rapidly followed by the Conference motion on Palestine where no one appears to have been constrained by definition that the Labour Party had finally adopted.

I think the real difficulty lies in people who consider themselves as anti-racism campaigners as a key part of their identity having to come to terms with accusations that they are in fact articulating racist ideas in the shape of antisemitic tropes.

Part of this problem is the question of whether a binary choice of racist/non-racist is actually appropriate.

I would certainly argue that racism, and other forms of prejudice, tend to be on a spectrum.  Very few people will be entirely obsessed with hating a group of people, and very few people will be entirely free from any prejudice or assumptions whatsoever.  This contrasts with an idea which seems quite common among leftwing activists that there is a group of virtuous campaigners (themselves) and a group of KKK types, and no one in between.

Debate under that model becomes not an act of persuasion to suggest to some one that they a (perhaps unconscious) bias and that they need to correct it, but more an attempt to pin a label on them and then excommunicate them as a result.  The consequence tends to gladitorial combat rather than reasoned debate.

It also tends to emphasize intentionality with surprisingly little attention paid to institutionalised prejudice.

I can recall when the Macpherson Report first came out, and the difficulty many police found with the whole idea of institutionised racism.  They didn't intend to be racist and they found it hard to accept that the way the Met operated might be inherently biased against certain groups through the procedures it had or unconscious bias.  I suspect come Labour activists are going through a similar difficulty.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Black History Month

Black History Month is now in full swing, and celebrated in Brent primarily through Brent Libraries.  Other authorities, such as Tory held Wandsworth, have rebranded this event as "Diversity Month" attracting a number of critical comments.  Personally, I would have thought the whole concept of Black History Month is really quite broad already since it encompasses the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and black communities outside those core areas.  There is still probably a lingering idea as in Trevor -Roper's notorious quote that Africans have no history.  Indeed, such attitudes underlay the controversies over who built the ruins of Zimbabwe or shaped the famous Benin bronzes.  I think it would be quite complacent to imagine that such views have entirely disappeared. 

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Ian Hislop at the British Museum

I didn't enjoy the British Museum exhibition Ian Hislop's I Object as much as I normally like British Musuem events. I suppose partly the celebrity marketing grates on me, and the sense that I was seeing something really modelling a TV or radio program rather than an exhibition in its own right.  It also seemed to have quite a thin sense of what dissent was, with most of it focusing on quite a binary sense of authority and dissent to authority rather than any wider context.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Childcare Costs

A short discussion on childcare costs shocks me by the disparity of the UK compared to other countries like Germany and Sweden.  I don't know if the author is right in their prescription, but it troubles me that Angela Rayner is only really talking in terms of pushing more money at the issue rather than trying to reform our system to bring the costs down. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

West London Orbital Connection

Some people in Brent have been arguing the value of a West London Orbital line for many years.  I recall Cllr Shafique Choudhary of Barnhill as a particular supporter and Brent Labour Group decided to approve the idea in principle back in 2011. 

Recent documents give an update on present status

Basically, still a very long way off.  For example the whole GRIP stages part generally takes years and has not yet begun.  "Details" like the nature of the rolling stock and the configuration of the platforms are still unformed, so don't expect anything soon.

Monday, 8 October 2018

A Frightening Warning on Climate Change

The IPCC have issued a frightening warning on climate change and its consequences.  The UK continues to ignore this and other problems whilst devoting endless time to Brexit, an illustration of the huge unaccounted for damage that the Brexit policy is doing quite apart from its more obvious negative impacts..

Council Tax Reduction Scheme in Brent

The review of Brent's Council Tax reduction scheme is part of the next Cabinet agenda, published on Friday.  Once again it is recommended to keep the scheme as originally designed.  This is a remarkable tribute to the scheme as adopted in 2013.

At the same time, the Budget proposals suggest that this is an area for further savings, which I take it would require a redesign.  The discussion in the Council papers does identify substantial savings but also a very big burden on the poorest residents.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Cutting Brent's Library Service

Following yesterday's post, I have gone through the documents to look at what the suggested options for library cuts are.  Four options are listed:
  • Closure of all libraries on Sundays
  • Substantial cuts to opening hours at weekends, evenings and at least one weekday.  This would probably be done by keeping Wembley and Willesden going, but having only four day opening at Ealing Road, Harlesden, Kilburn and Kingsbury.
  • Closure of one branch entirely.
  • Late opening of all libraries.
I suspect the third option is simply included because under Cllr Butt, Brent has adopted a practice of including "options" in an officer report that no one has any intention of following.  I am not sure why this is done.  It strikes me as a rather futile activity.  In particular closing a branch when all the branches bar one had substantial investment during the Libraries Transformation process seems an odd thing to do. 

The same meeting that considers this report will consider renewing the lease for Kingsbury library.  If the Council decides to do that and then decides to close it subsequently again that would look very odd.

Even to be thinking about these cuts sits rather oddly with the considerable largesse handing to those who want to operate privatised libraries as well as with the Borough of Culture plans

Cuts to Brent's libraries service also raise a political problem that it is a high profile service where Brent can genuinely claim to be one of the best in the UK.  There are few areas of the Council where Brent can make that claim.  I am not sure that the present leadership of the Council have the intellectual clarity to understand that argument.


Saturday, 6 October 2018

Recommended Budget Savings

Among the recommended budget savings in the forthcoming Brent Council budget agenda are:

  • Ending the remaining youth services at Roundwood Youth Centre and making it a purely educational resource.
  • Reducing scrutiny committees again.
  • Dimming street lights
  • Closing the Abbey Road recycling centre
  • Cutting adult social services
  • closing all the childrens centres
  • Drastic cutbacks to Council Tax support
  • and part time opening at "some" Brent libraries.
I shall be particularly looking at the details of the proposed cuts to Brent libraries since they are likely to go against the ethos of Libraries Transformation Project, and undermine the impressive achievements of Brent Libraries.  I wonder how many of the library litigants will be concerned?

Friday, 5 October 2018

What Do Libraries Do?

I remarked that people don't seem always aware of the full uses of public libraries.  This often struck me during the consultations over the Libraries Transformation Project where one would meet people who began by saying "I don't use libraries but..."  This would be followed by a highly imaginative description of what that person imagined a standard library user to be like.

For a more accurate account it is worth reading Chris Paling's "Reading Allowed" which is a short account of working in a public library service somewhere outside London.  A copy of this book is also available from Willesden Green Library

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Ground Shifts from under the Government Yet Again

Politics certainly has the ability to be unpredictable and the sheer scale of Theresa May u-turns yesterday was remarkable.  She hasn't admitted that austerity was a huge error but she appears to commit to more public spending from now on, which effectively means that she thinks Osborne's pursuit of a smaller state was a big error.

Even more startling is the commitment to more Council homes.  Selling off Council stock was a key part of the Tory election strategy from 1979 to the present day and she has just committed to more of them.  I wonder what Kit Malthouse, who thinks of Council tenants as second class people, thinks of that.

It is also notable for some of the things it did not say like addressing the collapse in social care, the growing financial crisis in local government, how the extremely restrictive immigration policies during her watch marry up with the Tory Conference theme of praising diversity, the onmgoing failure of Universal Credit and the holes in the UK's defence capabilities. 

It demonstrates how the underlying basis of politics is shifting and that a whole range of possibilities, including a second referendum, are possible.

The main limit of course is that national debt is much higher than it was in 2010 and all forms of Brexit will hit the economy, some of them very hard indeed.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Libraries and Private Computer Use

I pointed out some time ago that using public libraries for accessing confidential information was not without problems and I have recently had personal experience of this.  Sitting down at a PC in Willesden Library, I could see quite clearly that the previous person had failed to log out and his universal credit application was on open display. 

Libraries are reasonably enough designed to be public places, not least so that the staff can monitor peoples' safety.  They are just not set up to be used as benefits offices.  If the government wants them to be used in that way, they need to be adjusted to be more suited to privacy needs.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Planning Reflections from Martin Francis

Martin Francis has a piece on planning and views of Wembley Stadium on his blog.  It is critical of the Planning Committee for allowing the view of the arch to be eroded after various decisions.  However, the officers' reply that no rules have been broken is quite right, and has to be the approach taken.

Planning policy is a guide not a diktat, and it is perfectly reasonable to judge each case on its merits. 

Indeed to do otherwise would be "fettered discretion" and would effectively make all development in the stadium area impossible.

Therefore it is not so much that a rule has been broken, as that Martin disagrees with particular decisions.

I am no admirer of the way Brent's planning functions appear to have been bent in the last few years, but it is important to distinguish between legitimate, although perhaps questionable, decisions and unethical, illegal or illegitimate behaviour. 

New Dementia Garden

So much news has been depressing over the past couple of years that it is really nice to find a positive story once in a while, such as the new dementia garden opened in Brent.  Well done to Cllr Lia Evans-Colacicco for making it happen.

Monday, 1 October 2018