Search This Blog

Friday, 30 November 2018

Trump and Russia

The Economist has a shocking suggestion on Donald Trump's strange affection for Russia.  Essentially the piece is arguing that the President's continuing business dealings in Russia have caused him to soft pedal on US policy and that this has been the subject of a cover up. 

What can Brent Council Do about Universal Credit?

Universal Credit has finally come to Brent, and we can expect some deeply harrowing stories as a result.  I have seen the disastrous effects elsewhere in London including talking to a person I thought was near suicidal.

Central government has made a bad system worse by reducing funding, but it was always going to be awful because the people concerned tend to have very little financial resilience and are part of the "gig economy".  The system is really based on the assumption that people have infrequent periods of unemployment and that they get reasonable pay when they are in work.  For many people that is just not true.  The only people who can really solve this problem are central government, and only a change in government is likely to lead to that sort of change.

In the meantime, although it is something of a sticking plaster only, I think Brent Council should review how its local welfare schemes are designed and advertised.  This will only have limited impact, but is at least something that the Council could be doing.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

What is the Ancient Order of Foresters?

Part of the current Brent Museum exhibition is an element on the Ancient Order of Foresters, which had a long established base at what is now the Kiln Theatre in Kilburn, first established there in 1929 according to the date on the front of the building. 

It was one of many clubs that sprang up during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries aimed at self help and a limited kind of welfare provision.  Such organisations were very common and tended to combine monthly contribution, a social element such as a drinking club, payouts for uncommon events such as funeral costs and (often) customs and various other flummery.  Other examples include Freemasons and a lot of the early Druids movement that morphed into the Eisteddfods.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Islamic Art at the British Museum

It is well worth going to see the Islamic Art exhibition at the British Museum.  This kind of thing would be impossible to mount if the increasingly fashionable demands to return items to their countries of origin are actually implemented.  Such an approach would make the British Museum impossible and, I would argue, destroy the very multi-culturalism that some think it celebrates.  Indeed, I would question whether you can name one definable home for many objects

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Kiln Theatre Community Day

The Kiln Theatre have shared some numbers from its "Community Day" a few days ago. Quite impressive in my opinion.

Incidentally I saw a forlorn "Our Tricycle, Your Kiln" stall a little way short of the Farmers' market on Sunday.  I have never really understood why having a different name strikes some people as so important, but I would have though that having made the change, there really is no possibility of the Theatre changing back. 

Monday, 26 November 2018

The Future of Roundwood Youth Centre

Tonight's full Council meeting in Brent refers to Roundwood Youth Centre detailing what sounds like a further cut.  It says:

"There are proposals to change the use of the Roundwood Youth Centre that will build on the current arrangements. If agreed, the site would be used during school term time for an Alternative Provision school setting, with evening and weekend youth activities being provided by the voluntary sector. This will help meet the need in the borough for local places and preventing permanent school exclusions. Currently a number of young people temporarily excluded from their secondary school setting attend alternative provision out of borough and this will be one solution to this issue.
We are working with the voluntary sector through the Young Brent Foundation to make sure that services to young people continue from the Roundwood site and also that the broader Youth Offer across the borough is comprehensive, updated and secures charitable funding."
In other words, the Borough's only remaining youth centre will be turned over to the education service.  This would conflict with the Labour Party's national stance.  I am also not sure whether this would be compatible with the conditions of the grant that built the new Roundwood Centre, which was difficult to obtain.  Those stated that if it changed its purpose, the grant would be paid back.  I am not sure if this suggested change would indeed be such a change in purpose.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

No Clean Water, really?

I know this is from the Mail on Sunday, which is not my preferred paper of record, but since it has generally been a pro-Brexit paper I don't suppose it can be part of the supposed "Project Fear".  If there are major interruptions to our import/export arrangements we might not have clean drinking water any more

I don't recall that pledge on the side of anyone's bus. 

Growing Support for an EU referendum

I was leafleting for another European referendum outside the Queens Park Farmers' market this morning.  As always people were very friendly.  I really think opinion is shifting now that a definite deal is on the tble and people can see how far it is from what they were promised during the campaign.  Cllr Neil Nerva, who was also there, will be moving a motion tomorrow to back the new referendum on the terms of the deal.

I understand the feelings of people who just want the whole thing to be over, but the truth is accepting Theresa May's deal would just move us into another phase of the same thing.  We would go into another time limited transition period except amazingly this one can only be ended by a joint UK/EU decision.  The clock would be ticking and Brussels could once again force concessions whether over more payments, Gibraltar, fisheries or anything else that EU members decided to throw in the pot.

The only way to extract ourselves from an endless negotiations over the terms of Brexit is to stop the process by remaining as an EU member.  Leaving in any form will take years just as joining took years and the slow dissolution of Commonwealth bonds took years.

That is simply reality.

More Traffic Lights

I gether there is a scheme to add to the traffic lights at the junction of Wrottesley Road and Harrow Road as you turn right from Wrottesley Road towards Scrubs Lane.  The indicative plan is below.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Derelict Land Turned to Housing

Passing there a few days ago, I notice that this patch of formerly derelict land is now having housing built on it.  It was the last part of the rebuilding of Willesden Library.  It was originally touted as the first part intended for redevelopment, ahead of what is now Newman Close, but has now become the last. 

New housing is surely a better use than an area of weather beaten tarmac covered in weeds. 

Friday, 23 November 2018

Size of Housing

Some time ago, the Guardian reported on a proposal in Westminster to ban larger housing in an effort to keep that Borough' super rich out.  I doubt whether it is actually going to be an enforceable "ban" since that would fetter discretion, but I can see the intent.

Brent actually does the opposite, not to placate the super rich but to provide for larger families.

The market itself does not cater to such people because developers can make more money though building rabbit hutches than family housing.  As a result, practically the only family housing being built is that where Brent has demanded it as part of the planning process, something to consider when you next hear about the number of "affordable" units in a development. 

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Looking Further

Sometimes it is good to look outside your immediate area to take a fresh look at issues and Leith Walk is an example of that.  Most of the issues raised will be familiar to people who have experience of regeneration in Kilburn and other places.  While the issue of overmuch short term letting is not such an issue in London, most of the other matters ("social cleansing", affordable housing, the demolition of older buildings, above all what the planning priorities are and who should decide them) all are.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Brexit and Brent

Brent's next full Council has a paper on the impact of Brexit on Brent which could be substantial.  This is not least because Brent has the second highest number of EU citizens in London (22%) In terms of the electorate registered it ranges from about 10% in Kenton to a whopping 23% of Alperton.  Issues that the paper refers include:
  • The effect of potential new customs barriers on imports and exports.
  • The effect of barriers to labour movement on public services, especially the NHS.  Apparently around 10% of Council employees are originally from the EU.
  • A possible fall in house prices, affecting the viability of regeneration projects.
  • Possible changes to funding as economic growth will be more restricted.
  • Changes in the law following Brexit.
Whereas the impact on the Council payroll seems limited, some of the contractors have very high levels of EU employees.  For instance, Veolia has more than half its employees as EU nationals, and agency staff are about 70% EU.  The construction industry in Brent is quoted as about 27% EU.  Funding for schools is decided on pupil rolls and these may go down if the EU population leaves. 

Over time there may be delays in accessing certain goods, e.g. medicines, which are certified later outside the EU then in it and may be affected by border controls.  The paper also refers to possible food shortages, assuring us that this will be dealt with by central government.  Given the government's manifest incompetence, I can't say I find that reassuring.  I hope that the current Brexit Secretary at least realises that we live on an island.

So far, that is all well known.

There is also a reference that "It has been reported in the press that voting rights will be extendedfor EU citizens living in the UK allowing them to vote in general elections and referendums as well." (3.48).  If that is true, it could easily help change the result in any future referendum. 
As far as I can see, the report lists absolutely no advantages to Brent in leaving the European Union. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Sian Berry Gets Co-operative on Housing

It seems that Sian Berry has been looking at ideas that make me think that she should consider joining the Co-operative Party.  I am not sure that this particular proposal will fly.  Two major problems would be forcing private owners to sell at a loss, which is bound to be unattractive to them, and the obvious danger that as they approach the "cliff edge" where such a right came into force they would be incentivised to throw their tenant out.

The positions of housing associations and Councils is not really comparable as they have no choice but to implement a scheme as imposed by Parliament.  In the case of Councils "Right to Buy" has simply led Councils to no longer build housing which is of course part of the failure of the current housing market. 

Sian Berry, and anyone else, can learn more about Co-operative policies to help with the housing crisis and private renters by consulting Standing Up for Private Renters

Monday, 19 November 2018

Negativity Around Public Libraries

I still see a large number of tweets reflecting on public library services and reflecting how they are being cut, mutualised, privatised etc.  The tone is summed by articles like this, which is written by some one who fiercely opposed Brent's own public libraries transformation.  Part of the problem is that the campaigners in these cases always seem to be relentlessly negative to all sorts of change.  In the aforehand example even self service machines are attacked. 

To mount a successful defence of a public service, you need to show that it is doing a good job and providing value for taxpayer's money.  Simply opposing all change, and not demonstrating how the service is delivering benefits to the public plays into the hands of your opponents.

I don't think that there is any difficulty in demonstrating that Libraries such as Brent's are indeed value for money .  Brent achieves this through precisely the kind of Council pay roll, publicly owned and fully staffed model that Alan Wylie (the author above) says he wants to see.

Adequate Food Supplies Will Be Maintained

Warehousing space for food is apparently running out according to the Guardian.  This is the kind of thing that normally only happens to a country with a major natural disaster, a war or complete economic meltdown.  Another Brexit triumph.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Brexit Going Round the Bend

It is always interesting reading right wing papers like the Telegraph just because they have such a (to me) weird take on the world.  In today's Telegraph Suella Braverman is claiming that the civil servants have imposed their own view and that ministers were powerless to resist.  Robert Tombs is even stranger in suggesting that the May deal is the Remainers' choice rather than that of a government of leavers.

It was after all drawn up with ministers such as Boris Johnson, David Davis et al negotiating over the past two years.  The fact is that none of these people ever gave any thought to what Brexit would mean in practice.  They just thought that some one else would sort out the mess.

The offer on the table is the one they put together, if they don't want to accept it why shy should people who wanted to stay in the EU?

The Caseworks in Kensal Green

I gather that the Coop is making a licensing application at The Caseworks in Kensal Green which would add to the retail diversity of Harrow Road NW10.  So shortly after their acquisition of NISA I am surprised at the speed with which that chain is expanding.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Copland School Disaster

This is one of the truly dreadful Brent stories of the past few years.  The abuse of position at Copland School not only removed large amounts of money from the school but also did so at a time when the very fabric was crumbling away.  It also led to years of difficulty making the school work as a community and to uphold educational standards there

People who turn a blind eye to the removal of public monies should reflect not just on the amounts stolen, but also this wider damage.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Another European Referendum

The disarray of the Tory government over Theresa May's Brexit deal seems to have pretty much killed it.  I would think that there is little prospect of a General Election since, despite their lead in the polls, there is too much chance of the Tories losing.  That means that the only way out is the increasingly popular one of another European referendum which requires an extension of the Article 50 period.  Humiliating as that would be for Theresa May, it seems to be the last option left.

Universal Credit in Brent from 21 November 2018

Universal Credit will start being implemented in Brent from 21 November 2018, we are told.  The policy is already widely recognised as a disaster, even by the Tory politicians who voted it through.  It massively increases poverty partly because George Osborne ensured it was a vehicle for cutting spending, and partly because the inherent design of the scheme is based on a paradigm of a monthly salary and regular employment that may have been familiar to the designers, but is simply not familiar to lots of people on the receiving end who exist more in the world of in work poverty and the gig economy. 

Universal Credit just doesn't really fit the reality of many peoples' live even had the budget for it been more generous.  This is also something that those in favour of universal basic incomes should think about.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

New LED Streetlighting

These there is little to see in Brent Council that is not gloomy so the new street lighting arrangements should be welcomed.  I advocated this a while ago.  A programme is underway to provide more modern white lighting across the Borough starting with residential streets and ending up with the Town Centres such as Harlesden. 

This supersedes the twenty year PFI that began under Paul Daisley in 1998, and was primarily geared to reducing the street crime fears of that time.

The new lighting should be better directed on the pavements, have less yellow "sodium glare" light and help to reduce carbon emissions

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

What Will Happen Next with the Brent Local Government Boundary Review?

I have been asked what will happen next with the Brent Borough boundary review.  Brent Council, unusually, did not make a submission although it passed on the correspondence it received and some other paperwork.  The Commission will use this and any other ideas put forward to construct a scheme.

As far as I am aware the only two political parties to have put a scheme forward are Brent and Harrow Cooperative Party and Brent Labour Party.  Both those schemes regarded the North Circular Road as the cardinal divide in Brent. 

The Commission's proposals will be published in February next year and make as much or as little use of the correspondence they received as they like. A further consultation runs until 15 April, which in principle could overturn the Commission proposal although I would be very surprised if it did. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

New History Exhibition in Willesden

Brent has recently opened a major new local history exhibition at the Brent Museum in Willesden Library Centre.  It covers a wide range of grassroots projects in the Borough including the Ancient Order of Foresters, the Stonebridge Bus Depot Project (that eventually became Bridge Park), the Grunwick Strike and lots of local NHS facilities.  Some of it was certainly new to me and it is well worth a visit for anyone interested in local history.

It looks as if it is partly grown out of the refurbishment of the Kiln Theatre whose lottery grant was partly dependent on demonstrating community involvemnt.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Poppy Ride in Parliament

This is a picture of the IPT Poppy Ride this year at the stall where more than a hundred MPs and parliamentarians took part.  The IPT Poppy Ride 2018, in association with The Royal British Legion, sets out to raise funds and awareness for the Poppy Appeal in Parliament.  Each of the participants spends time and energy going round on a stationary bicycle as far as they can whilst not actually going anywhere.

It is not intended as a metaphor for Brexit.

For Dominic Raab's Information

The Institute for Government has come out with an infographic illustrating UK trade.  This will no doubt be helpful in the education of Dominic Raab.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Changing Your Age

There is Court case to allow people to change their self description of age to whatever time they choose.  I find this latest manifestation of the denial of reality completely beyond parody, and I do hope the Court has enough sense to throw the whole thing out.  The argument is that age is simply a measure of your physical well being.  Of course, the idea that younger people are healthier on the whole than older people is well known, but does that mean that younger people who are unhealthy will then be described as older than they are?  Aside from well being, isn't age also about the amount and the kind of lived experience you have.  For instance, it is often argued that younger people are automatically "digital natives" in a way older people are not.  Finally, you can identify some one's age in a way that you can't simply identify their religion (by their date of birth).

This whole idea of taking people as simple reflections of a particular aspect of their identity (being black say) and putting all sorts of assumptions and baggage on top of that seems to me to have started creating more problems than it solves.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The Lessons of Versailles Almost a Century Ago

I saw that Margaret Macmillan has a lengthy piece in the New Statesman on the poor decision making of 1919.  What is even sadder to reflect on is the way that today's politicians don't seem to get the reason Versailles was such a failure.  The punishing of the German economy on a massive scale stalled economic growth throughout Europe and since trade is reciprocal and mutually beneficial it was to the disadvantage of the Germans and everyone else.  Exactly the same zero sum approach is being taken today to the Brexit negotiations. 

Friday, 9 November 2018

Kiln Theatre Agreement

Just a reminder to the Our Tricycle, Your Kiln campaign that I regard as so quixotic: here from 2016 is Indhu Rubasingham explaining her thinking on the refurbishment of the Theatre.  I genuinely believe that she didn't mention the naming issue that so exercises them because she didn't see it as a major point.  Judging from the points that they raise in the comments, I think most of their supporters actually agree with what she is trying to do.

Perhaps they should attend the community open day on 17 November rather than standing outside the Theatre complaining about it. 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Environmental Costs of Brexit

Mary Creagh MP has published correspondence from Michael Gove confessing that Brexit does indeed damage environmental standards.  In this case it is because the staff enforcing those standards are being taken off that duty to work on Brexit.  Although he has sometimes argued the opposite, it is also because many of Michael Gove's colleagues want to use the demise of European regulations to strip away the environmental standards that they regard as "bureaucracy". 

For instance we could go back to Blackpool as it was in the 1980s will sewage washing up on the beach.  This might not advantage even economically as such a beach probably would not appeal to holiday makers, and in any case the direction of travel seems to be that we need more (or more effective) regulation rather than less. 

I have yet to discover any way in which Brexit actually makes the UK better.

Cooperation in Practice

The New Statesman has discovered Preston and touted it as an example of Labour in practice.  I fact a lot of this is related circulating in the Cooperative Party and the Cooperative network of Councils, of which Preston is a member.  Some people actually welcome Brexit in the belief that the kind of procurement policies followed in Preston will be easier, although of course everything that is going on in Preston at the moment is compliant with European Union rules which are a lot more flexible than some people seem to realise.

Brexit, and the extended stagflation that seems likely to follow, will actually limit the scope for imaginative local government as it will hit economic growth and hence UK finances as a whole.  It will therefore push the UK's procurement more in the direction of the Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) of the 1980s and 1990s and away from more modern values based approaches.  For some of the hard right supporters of Brexit, this is the main attraction, that it will force the UK into stripping away the regulations that they believe hold the economy back, but which many of us value.   

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Another Boundary Review

As part of looking at Brent's current electoral boundary review, I discovered that there is scope for a process changing the boundaries of local authorities.  This is a problem in Kensal Green and to some extent other parts of the Borough, such as the southern edge of Kilburn, where properties bisect the Borough boundary. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Casual Brexit

I am astonished at the continuing casualness with which government ministers deal with Brexit.  I doubt whether anyone has any real idea of what the consequences of this decision are going to be, but a serious period of stagflation, possible civil unrest and the break up of the UK all appear to be on the cards.  Yet ministers appear to be unable to agree things even among themselves let alone with anyone else.

Just as a reminder how close to the wire we now are here is Robert Peston's explanation


This morning a Survation poll saying that the public are now 54%/46% against Brexit.  Unless it is an outlier, that raises the interesting prospect of Theresa May taking us off the cliff into Brexit against the wishes of the majority and with disastrous consequences.  In which case, it might well finish the Conservative Party for good.

Monday, 5 November 2018

No Fireworks at the Kiln Theatre for 5 November

I see that the group protesting the Kiln Theatre's name change is organising a quiet candlelit vigil outside the Theatre tonight.  I really can't imagine why they don't just go in and watch the play, which I thought very good.  Among other things they might discover that it name checks parts of Brent more than any other production I have seen there.

The proposed "quiet" nature of the protest is apparently out of respect for "our" local author Zadie Smith.

As well as the concept of finding the name change so discombobulating, I also frankly don't recognise some of the comments I see posted on their site.  For instance one refers to: "Irish, Caribbean, African, Women’s theatre, LGBT theatre, reflected the changes that were re-defining the country".  Apart from the LGBT bit, that is pretty much a summary of what the current White Teeth production is about. 

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Changing Brent's Boundaries

Tomorrow is the last day for suggesting new ward boundaries in Brent to the Local Government Commission for Boundaries in England (LGCBE).  This is quite different to the parliamentary process and relates only to local government wards.  It is triggered by the population growth which has now made the Borough seriously uneven in electoral equality.

Back in July, without perhaps realising quite what they were doing, the councillors agreed that the Borough should have no more than 57 councillors to represent it.  Only in the last couple of weeks have some councillors apparently realised that this whole process is guaranteed to drastically change all the wards in Brent.  There has therefore been a flurry of interest ending in the GP Committee on Wednesday deciding not make a submission as the matter was too controversal.

That makes Brent an unusual Borough.

The political parties, and anyone else, can still make their own contributions of course.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Petition Against Libraries Cuts

There is currently a petition against library cuts gathering signatures rapidly.  I have some reservations about this as I don't like ringfencing, that can easily lead to problems in other areas.  However, signing this petition would help to raise the profile of public libraries as a service that is being cut often savagely despite the many benefits that libraries such as Brent deliver

Friday, 2 November 2018

White Teeth at the Kiln Theatre

I went to see White Teeth at the Kiln Theatre on Wednesday and I thought it thoroughly vindicates the new auditorium.  I was seated right at the back, but the properly tiered seating allowed me as good as a view as anywhere in the Theatre.  Of course, the very high production standards are something that audiences at the venue have begun to take for granted.  This even includes the music which is not always at its strongest in theatrical productions.  The tone is quite fast paced and much more generally upbeat than the somewhat dark Holysh!t that preceded it, and a very strong emphasis on the local Kilburn setting. 

Altogether, if you can still get a ticket, to be recommended.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Fire Alert at Wembley Library

Quite recently, I was in Wembley Library when a fire alert was announced.  Although I go there quite often, this was the first time it had happened and reminded me of one of the more desperate arguments for denying the improved performance of Brent Library service

I also notice that there some work men rolling up the enormous poster that disfigures one side of the building.  I assume that this is necessary to do in order to help contain fires.