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Sunday, 31 March 2019

Why Antisemitism Claims Won't Go Away

Many people in the Labour Party still seem unable to process the idea that antisemitism claims in the Labour Party are real.  Hence they seem to think if the investigations into complaints are frustrated, the complaints will stop because are merely a tactic and the tactic will have been shown to be unsuccessful.

But what if the complaints are not a tactic but a genuine belief by the afflicted group (as this poll suggests)?

Then the complaints will carry on coming until the problem is dealt with, and I have no doubt that the problem is a real and a growing one. 

Saturday, 30 March 2019

The Brexiteers' Excursions into the Military

Just as a sidelight observation, isn't it odd how many of the Tory MPs, especially the hardline Brexit people, seem to constantly appeal to military metaphors.  MPs with actual military experience (such as Dan Jarvis) don't seem to do this, but one frequently finds it with people like David Davis, Mark Francois and Steve Baker.

Steve Baker's odd speech as reported apparently had the ERG as calling themselves Spartans, a reference I presume to Thermopylae.  A more historically aware knowledge of Spartans would lead Mr Baker to know that they were actually a highly militarised aristocracy who enslaved their fellow Greeks, the Helots, and lived off their Labour.  Mark Francois appealed to his military training with the Territorials to say he "wasn't trained to lose", although  I thought the ability to conduct an orderly withdrawal is widely considered a valuable and necessary skill.  David Davis seems to have a similar weakness for Thermopylae.  They each appear to see themselves as heroes in some drama in their own heads.

Still they did avoid the mistake of yesterday's Leave marchers who headed their parade with a group of standard bearers wearing a militaristic uniform in which a black shirt seemed to be a key part of the uniform, a bit like another historic movement.  

The whole mind set seems to become very defensive, seeing everything as a test of will, and is probably not helpful in negotiations with anyone, let along negotiating with the EU.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Elections and Referendums

Following the defeat of her withdrawal agreement for a third time, Theresa May is said to be hinting at the possibility of a new General Election.  If you can call a General Election so soon after the last one in 2017, why is it an offence against democracy to call for a third referendum after the referendum in 2016?

An EU Rethink?

It has emerged that such is Theresa May's negotiating skill that she actually managed to get the EU Heads of Government to give her a shorter extension than they decided to before they spoke to her.  I have had some sympathy for her in the past, largely because her colleagues appear to be delusional, disloyal and just nasty.  Or a combination of all three, but she surely has to concede now that she is part of the problem.

It is also hard to disagree with Donald Tusk when he points out that it may well be that the majority in the UK wish to remain in the European Union.  John Curtice certainly thinks that is quite possible.  In these circumstances I see very little legitimacy in politicians who claim that rerunning the vote is unacceptable, not least given they are quite capable of rerunning votes themselves or in terms of this Parliament simply ignoring them.

It is also hard to regard the Tory and Labour manifestos as absolutely binding.  Firstly, there is good case law from the famous Fares Fair decision that is not the case.  Secondly, both the Tories and Labour actually lost the last General Election.  Whereas a government winning and seeking to implement its manifesto usually has some moral force behind, can the same be said of a manifesto rejected by the voters.  Third both Party Leaders have records of rejecting their previous manifesto promises.  Jeremy Corbyn famous voted against the Labour whip more than five hundred times including many of the Labour Party's manifesto promises, and appears to have dumped some of the parts of the manifesto he disliked.  Theresa May started ripping up her manifesto promises during the campaign itself. 

Meanwhile, thanks to Alexandre Alfonso, is a rather impressive infographic showing the pattern of the MPs indicative votes.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Parliament's Free Rider Problem

One of the few things that everyone now seems to agree on is that the record of our politicians in the Brexit process has been spectacularly useless.  They seem to have taken total insincerity as the acme of political wisdom, to an extent that I think has created a kind of free rider problem.  No one is now prepared to sign up to positions or be bound by their previous words.  Even the Tory ministers who negotiated the proposed Withdrawal Agreement refuse to accept any responsibility for it.  We still have MPs refusing to recognise that the UK is negotiating the EU, or that there are inherent choices that have to be made (e.g. an open Irish border vs a customs union).

I hope that whenever this disastrous episode is over there will be an enquiry as there was over some of our other foreign policy disasters such as the Iraq and Falkland wars. 

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

A Return to Poor Doors

The Guardian has a brief story about a development in Southwark having a poor kids playground and a richer kids playground in a situation akin to the "poor doors" policy.  The story says that this is outside planning rules, but I suspect that actually it is a case of the planning authority not being on the ball.  I think that the developer probably applied for a variation of the planning permission, and the Authority nodded it through without understanding the implications.  Permission having been granted, there is nothing it can now do about it.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Delays to Charging Points

There are reports that electric charging points are not being installed as a result of the government's cuts to local authority budgets.  This is completely unsurprising, and a natural result of Councils being forced into minuscule budgets.  It will delay the supersedence of the combustion engine and ensure unclean air long after "austerity" is gone.  All part of the enormous damage wrought by the present government.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Art at Willesden Library?

Passing by Willesden Library recently, I noticed that many of the ground floor windows are simply blacked out on the Grange Road side.  Those strike me as potentially a good site for some more interesting community art.  One of the selling points of the current library compared to the old one is that the current library engages much more with the local area.  The old one simply had a blank brick wall on this space.  I can see why the Council want it to have windows into the staff only areas blacked out, but if I would suggest they take inspiration from William Morris who used to design curtains that both worked for the interior and were also designed to be seen from the street.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Revoke Petition Surpasses Five Million Signatures

The Revoke Article 50 petition has now surpassed five million signatures.  I suspect there might be a lot more to come.  Even on the People's Vote March yesterday, I spoke to potential revoke supporters who had yet to sign it.

At the time of writing, the number of Brent Central signatures amounts to 10,836 (7.6% of constituents).  Brent North numbers 6,670 (about 5% of constituents).  Hampstead and Kilburn numbers 24,669 (about 18% of constituents). 

Labour Finally Committed to a Referendum?

Amid the political turmoil today, which includes entirely credible rumours that Theresa May is about to be forced from office, it is worth remembering the important pledge given by Tom Watson at the People's March yesterday:

To vote for a deal to go through provided it is put to a confirmatory referendum

That is a really big change that might get us out of this whole Brexit mess.

It is unclear whether Jeremy Corbyn supports this pledge.  To the surprise of some, he was in Morecambe Bay yesterday.  Jon Trickett apparently said this had something to do with the cockle picker tragedy.  I read a tweet from Aaron Bastani claiming it was do with purdah for the local elections, which of course has nothing to do with politicians, and seems an odd reason for turning down the opportunity to speak to a million people in a well publicised event. 

That means not just losing to the immediate audience but also the press attention.  Judging from the people I saw, there are plenty of people there with no very great sense of partisan allegiance, who could be persuaded to come to Labour if the right pitch were made.  The whole thing really showed that lots of people have a deep attachment to the European Union which they can't at present express through their vote for either of the two main parties.  

Bridge Park Litigation Continues

Stonebridge campaigners are claiming victory in their attempts to block Brent Council's plans at Bridge Park.  The grounds of the victory are quite technical and merely move on to another stage.  This looks like it will become an extremely long running dispute.

I looked for a statement by the Council on this matter, but I could not find one on the Brent Council web site.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

People's Vote March Today

Today is the  day for the big People's Vote referendum March.  I shall be going behind the Cooperative Party banner meeting at 83 Park Lane around noon.  Last time it was absolutely packed, and I gather it is predicted to be this time as well.  The March is of course for people to have a final say on whatever the deal is, but anyone who would just like to remain an EU member might consider signing the Parliamentary petition that is already attracting millions of supporters.  I don't think I have ever heard of a petitions getting so many signatures so quickly

Even if you don't like the details of this position, I think it is worth doing because of the general indication it gives.

In the meantime I think that the UK will be forced to apply for a longer extension than the one announced on Thursday, just to pass its own domestic legislation.  In which case the UK will have to hold European Parliament elections to make sure that European decisions continue to be legal.  Since Jacob Rees Mogg et al  have always claimed to be democrats who would oppose us being a "vassal" state, I think they should logically agree to such a vote.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Importance of Language

It seems to me that one of the reasons that political debate has so degenerated in this country is the use of language as buzzwords where the actual meaning is either obscure or hotly disputed. "Neoliberal" seems to fall into this category.  To me a neoliberal believes in a minimally sized state, as Mrs Thatcher did and George Osborne still does.  To say there is no difference between them and Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who drove record levels of increases in public spending especially in the NHS is therefore absurd, and if the people using the word actually thought about its meaning that would be obvious.  Ash Sarker apparently considers herself to be "literally a Communist" although she sounds much more like an anarcho-syndicalist to me.

Incidentally, people seem to have given up on the literal meaning of literal, and simply seem to use it to mean "purely" or "extremely".

Equally "Zionist" to me simply means a Jewish Nationalist essentially no different from people who think that French people are entitled to live in France, Italians in Italy, or indeed Palestinians in Palestine.  Other people seem to get very confused as to whether it means what they regard as a use of force, or whether it is just a random term of abuse.

I see that many people apparently don't know what antisemitism is, i.e. hostility or hatred towards people who are Jewish.  Apparently 40% of people, and a greater proportion of younger people, don't understand the word at all.  Campaigners against antisemitism might well be more successful if they talked more of anti-Jewish hatred rather than antisemitism

What puzzles me is how it is that we have higher and wider levels of education and yet people can be so ignorant about quite basic things, and use language quite uncritically.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Cricklewood Library

"Cricklewood Library" was the most plausible of the schemes put forward during Brent's Libraries Transformation Project, albeit one that the Council couldn't support.  It has now received  substantial grants of public money to be brought forward, and whilst still not open, it looks as if it will open eventually.  The old building was demolished and there is a major improvement in that the new building gives not only some new housing, but also community space with proper disabled access.

So far the cost to the taxpayer has come in a one off grant.  What would be disastrous would be if at any point, it started to be given revenue from the Council which would inevitably be drained off public services.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

So Far No Brexit Delay Disorder

The government is writing to the European Union to delay Brexit.  Only a short time ago, this was being predicted to be viewed as a "betrayal" that would lead to "disorder".  So far the disorder seems not to have occurred.

Private Eye Cover

I thought this was the best Private Eye cover I have seen so far this year.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Granville Centre

A number of people have been protesting about the loss of community space in South Kilburn, as a result of new building at the Granville Centre.  I am surprised that this hasn't had more attention, as there was controversy about another similar proposal quite recently.

The protesters point to the loss of community space at other South Kilburn developments, and the lack of facilities in South Kilburn generally, and I think they have a good point although it sounds to me that their points were rejected by the Council.  They point to Labour Party policy, but they might also point out that protecting community space is embedded in both the Council's planning guidance and has underpinned several recent decisions.

It was explicitly referred to in the planning decisions on the former Cricklewood and Kensal Rise libraries.  It has also been implicit in the Council's decisions on community asset transfer, as well as the otherwise hard to explain decision to turn the former Tokyngton library into a Mosque

Monday, 18 March 2019

Gaps Between Brent and Camden

This Camden Momentum agenda, recently published on Jewish News, reminds me of many of the differences between the two Boroughs and the culture of Momentum and the Labour Party.

Brent Labour Party for many years has had an agenda of much more localised campaigning.  Debates have traditionally been much more based on local issues, such as education, and grown out of events in Brent.  While international issues have never been entirely absent, there has in all my time in the Labour Party in Brent been a suspicion of "pie in the sky" objectives and an emphasis on practicality.  This is partly a legacy of the disastrous 1980s, when the Labour Party in Brent would have policy positions on the politics of Central America but was visibly failing to deliver effective local services at a reasonable cost.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Under Praised Brent Trading Standards

By the way, this piece on dodgy tyre sales, reminds me that Brent Trading Standards are one of the most responsive and pro-active parts of Brent Council.  They do not get the recognition they deserve.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Inter-generational Illiteracy and Public Libraries

Surprisingly, many people don't think of public libraries when seeking to address illiteracy issues (as with this piece with Seema Malhotra MP, or indeed this video).  This is despite the very obvious role in libraries in providing a plentiful supply of free reading materials, access to all kinds of IT facilities, giving language training, and the increasing levels of rhetoric by politicians about using the service for everything.   As well as the traditional kind of literacy there is a role in bridging the digital divide.  It is good to see that Brent libraries, which have just revamped its web site, is also at the forefront of engaging the public in IT matters according to the CIPFA comparisons

If politicians were more aware not only of the importance of libraries in contributing to solutions for a whole range of policy problems and the way that publicly controlled libraries can contribute they might be keener on providing adequate funding for them. 

Friday, 15 March 2019

Closing Down Shisha Bars

Local Government wants more powers to limit Shisha Bars, according to the Kilburn Times.  These are indeed hot spots for all kinds of illegality and tax evasion.  Effectively since the introduction of the indoor smoking laws, these kinds of bar have become almost impossible to run.  The problem has been in Brent for years.  For instance there were major problems at Shisha bars in both Harlesden High Street and Harrow Road NW10.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Muhammed Butt Moves in Mysterious Ways His Wonders to Perform

After presiding and indeed creating something of a shambles with the proposed ward boundary changes in Brent, Cllr Muhammed Butt appears to be set on a repeat performance.  He appears to have decided to sign off any comments that Brent Council makes to the LGCBE at a General Purposes Committee meeting at 4.30pm on Tuesday 19th March.  In other words he wants Brent Council to put its views to the LGCBE much earlier than it needs to (The deadline is 15th April, so he could quite easily have made any decision later), and through a forum that has as little participation by Brent Councillors as possible.  It also means that the Council's response will have been signed off some days before the Labour Party has finished its own internal consultations on the subject.

This is for once a radically unconventional approach to pursuing this kind of issue.  Most politicians, including all those I have worked with on various other exercises of this kind, want to draw their colleagues into a discussion to reach a consensus.  They then get "buy in" from the people they have consulted and everyone can be supportive of whatever they have agreed to.

Cllr Butt seems to work with a small number of unelected Council officers and perhaps some random cronies behind closed doors, cook something up, and then present it as a fait accompli to the rest of the Labour Group, Brent Labour Party and indeed the public at large.  He has form on this and other issues of using these techniques.

The result has been frankly chaotic.  I think it was very strange that Councillors didn't seem to realise the obvious implications of their decision at full Council to cut councillor numbers from 63 to 57.  When challenging some of them, I was told that Cllr Butt had simply assured them that changes would be minimal, which is something that a little bit of common sense should have shown them was obviously untrue.

When they did wake up, all sorts of odd options were put forward by individuals in a completely unco-ordinated way with Labour councillors apparently failing to discuss these things with each other, let alone anyone else.

This really is no way to run a local authority

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Opportunities in Northern Ireland?

A poll in the Irish Times reveals that a cross community majority in Northern Ireland want the backstop and are dissatisfied with the DUP and Sinn Fein (the first for its anti EU position, and the second for not turning up to Westminster at all).  I would have thought that represented a gaping opportunity for the Labour and Cooperative parties to contest elections in the North as an avowedly non-sectarian alternative in favour of the European Union and a continuing free border.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Brent Library London Comparision

I have been slow to publicise the CIPFA comparison of library data which is now available for 2018.  Those who like to attack the Library service in Brent have previously used this information to suggest that the Libraries Transformation Project failed despite the rise in numbers and user satisfaction

I particularly notice that Brent is now the second most visited service in London comparator group it is in.  It is also has fairly low spend, low reliance on volunteers, and is low in terms of numbers of libraries.

It is also at the higher end for number of book issues (although fairly low for numbers of book stock).  This argues that the book stock is well chosen since it is being well utilised.  Indeed by concentrating the facilities in a smaller number of libraries in easy to access locations, all of them become better used since there is inherently less downtime.  If you go to, say, Willesden Library, and many of the computers are in use you can still find a vacant one.  If you went to a smaller library with fewer PCs the chances of them all being occupied or of standing empty would be higher.

A More Negative Take
I had already started writing about this subject when I noticed that Martin Francis has beaten me to it.  As usual, his take is extremely negative.   He ignores the CIFPA comment that "Brent is within the higher quartiles suggesting that the library service engages well with the population when compared to the other authorities", and instead concentrates on the lower number of libraries. This is unsurprising given having fewer libraries more efficiently used was one of the key points of the successful strategy.

Wembley Library
He also has a specific objection to Wembley Library as people go through it to access the Civic Centre, which is true, as it was also true of the old Brent Town Hall library, and is a key feature of any strategy that tries to benefit from co-location.  That is one reason why I would reject his take that the increased number of visits at Wembley are an invalid measure.  The other is that the sheer scale of increased usage.  An increase of 787% in visits cannot be attributed solely to the provision of a side door, which in any case was also present in the predecessor library.  Finally, it is worth noting that Brent Town Hall library was a relatively small library even within Brent; the new Wembley Library is actually one of the best used in the UK.

Home Delivery Service
Martin also suggests that there should be a service for delivery of books to the housebound, apparently oblivious to the fact that there already is one.   Wembley Library has long had one of those irritating continuous loop films advertising this service.  One of the benefits of the transformation was the increase in usage of this service.

Book Stock
His stricture on book stock also seem curiously negative.  He omits mentioning that book loans have gone up, even though the spend is relatively low.  This suggests that he is not particularly interesting in the efficiency of spending, and hence ignores that Brent spends an unusually high proportion of its libraries budget on materials.  He also seems to ignore Brent's membership of the London Lending Consortium, which allows a reader in Brent to access the book stock across roughly half the Boroughs in London.

Library Fines
One thing that simply surprises me about his reaction is how laid back he is about the increase in charging that came in April.  This doesn't make much money, and some libraries are abandoning fines entirely

National Decline in Libraries
Martin also doesn't seem to appreciate that libraries in general are declining in usage across the UK.  This includes in terms of book loans.  Brent has done remarkably in seeing visits go up, loans go up and satisfaction levels go up despite the national decline.  That this has all been achieved on a much lower budget is a strength not a weakness.I think the fact that all Brent libraries are now open seven days a week is key to this achievement. 

Monday, 11 March 2019

EHRC Enquiry into Antisemitism in the Labour Party

There is a short piece here by a former senior official of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) describing what the effect of an investigation , such as that recently launched into the Labour Party would be.  Some points he makes are:

  • The decision to go to pre-action correspondence is itself significant and probably only comes after examining a considerable amount of evidence that there is a case to answer.
  • The first stage is suggesting a satisfactory internal review.  This perhaps lies behind the suggestion that Lord Falconer undertake a role.  The EHRC decision to make its own enquiry seems to make his role somewhat redundant, since their powers would be far wider as Lord Falconer has acknowledged
  • The test for a finding of "discriminatory practice" is balance of probabilities.
  • In the event of such a finding, the remedy can be enforced through "a range of options ... including unlawful act notices that would require the Labour party to undertake compulsory changes to stop unlawful activity."
  • He suggests that an agreed process is the best option left from a Labour Party perspective.
This is what happened in Brent Council when it had major problems with racism allegations some 20 years ago.  In those days the relevant body was the Commission for Racial Equality, and a plan to deal with the problems was agreed.  The agreement led to a significant improvement in race relations at the Council leading to a falling off in accusations of racial discrimination amidst the work force.

This presumably behind John McDonnell's reported welcoming of the investigation, although the suggestion in the Sunday Times yesterday that the LATO was intervening in specific cases was presumably not so welcome.  

The first stage in sorting out a problem is to recognise its existence.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Minor Note on the Independent Group

One thing that I am surprised that more people have not remarked on with the "Independent Group" is that it is the first Parliamentary Group made up of more than half women.   I exclude Caroline Lucas MP from that calculation since a single MP is not really a "group".

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Zionism and the IHRA Definition

This recent piece on Zionism and the IHRA definition in the Guardian seems me to be completely undermined by the failure of the author to get one key fact about Zionism.  The proposal to have two state solution in Israel/Palestine is an inherently Zionist idea since it includes the concept of a Jewish national state.  The arguments then move to the very difficult issue of where the borders should be.  Certainly, I think that among Labour supporters this is by far the most common form of Zionism.

Peter Beinart (the Guardian author) seems to assume that Zionism automatically means being hostile to a Palestinian state, a false assumption that to my mind undermines his whole argument.

Friday, 8 March 2019

People's Vote March and the Cooperative Party

The Cooperative Party are mobilising to have a presence at the People’s Vote march on Saturday 23rd March.  There is no reason why everyone can't join in such a March.  You don't have to be a Co-operative Party member.  Alternatively, there will be many other groups and you can join them.  The Co-operative Party will be meeting from 11.45am outside the Esso Petrol Station, about half way down Park Lane. This is at 83 Park Lane, Mayfair, London, W1K 7TS.  The nearest tube appears to be at Marble Arch on the Central line. The group is expecting to move from there at around 12.15pm.

Personally I think a Brexit delay is inevitable, if only because of the vast mass of UK legislation that has yet to be processed.  The second inevitability is Brexit claims of betrayal since

(a) The Brexit decision was never going to solve the problems it claimed it would
(b) The more extreme Brexiteers are geared to see any form of interaction with Europe as a betrayal (c) The Brexiteers have been lining up the betrayal narrative as an excuse to avoid blame for all the failures that the process has led to and is going to lead to.

If so, we might as well have a referendum, because unwelcome as it is, it is the only way we can get out of this whole ghastly process.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Climate Change and Water Colours

Interesting idea to collect digitalised water colours as a means to track change.  It does, of course, depend on the original accuracy of the artist.  There are plenty of reasons why images might look different to what the artist saw.

Such reasons might include simple fashionability (as is said to have been the cases with images of the Dodo); altered perspectives for artistic effect (as Canaletto often practised); use of art as a marketing tool (as with John White's pictures of early America); cultural bias (as with insertion of items that "should" be there) e.g. Russia should be cold and full of snow.  I wonder how the project will deal with all of those?

Interactive Environmental Map

Sadiq Khan has created an interactive environmental map for Greater London.  It charts various statistics across London, including by Borough.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

When Councillors Move

Two councils have requested that the SoS give them powers to remove councillors who move a long way away.  This has happened in Brent before.  In other Councils I can think of at least one councillor continued in office despite moving to Arizona.  This is becoming an increasing issue as the public are starting to expect more of their representatives.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Libraries and Mothballing

Aberdeen is apparently proposing to "mothball" most its libraries according to this press report which says "It is also hoped that a saving of £863,000 could be achieved by mothballing all of the city’s libraries other than Aberdeen Central."

This was one of the suggestions made during the Libraries Transformation in Brent.  It is based on two majorly flawed premises.

The first is that the service can suddenly be revived in a few years if a new government came in that decided to fund local government properly.  This isn't going to happen.  Even a much more generous central government would have (a) other pressing priorities such as the NHS (b) Huge continuing pressures (e.g. an aging population) that the current local government structure cannot support without big new resources.  Re-opening old libraries is just not going to trump that list of priorities.

Secondly, libraries that are closed are not just frozen in time.  The stock begins to go out of date (e.g. the reference books, How to books and so on.  If these books are not weeded and replaced, the old volumes can be positively misleading.  Similarly, all the IT equipment (which may well be leased) continues to go out of date.  The building continues to cost money as it sits there.  It needs to be guarded and maintained.  Rates on it need to be paid.  It is not just an object.  It continues to have running costs.  If it is simply not operating you get the running cost but no actual output.  There is also an opportunity cost in that the book collection and IT, if placed in a location people can actually use them, can benefit people instead of just sitting there idle.

Monday, 4 March 2019

The Local History of Volunteer Library Bids in Brent

Some days ago, I posted on the apparent change in "Kensal Rise Library" policy between running the building independently and running it as a Council building.  Given the ongoing decline in Council budgets, running the building as a Council library would entail reversing the successful Transformation strategy and closing down at least one library somewhere else, presumably one of the closest alternatives Kilburn (as suggested by the litigants in the past), Harlesden or Willesden.

The original intention of the campaign that first met on 1 December 2010 was simply to reject the Brent Council Transformation proposals, at least as they related to Kensal Rise Library.  That meeting also thought about the possibility of bidding for the building although I sensed with a lack of enthusiasm and a certain lack of realism about what it entailed.

In January, along with the Head of Libraries, I met the two chairs of the FKRL to discuss the possibility of a third party takeover of the building in the old Education room at Willesden Library Centre.  My heart sank when before they even sat down I was asked "How much money can you give us?".  I was then shown a map with a triangle drawn with Chamberlayne Road on one side and All Souls Avenue on the other and the assertion that this was the area that "the Community" lived in.  To their disappointment I emphasised how Brent Council was being forced to reduce budgets, and suggested that they needed to construct a business case if they wanted some sort of transitional arrangement to an independently run branch.  I also offered to meet other members of the group, but was declined.

FKRL continued to pursue its campaign against the strategy in general with one of the co-chairs apparently trying to persuade some councillors not to vote through a Council budget at all that year.

The FKRL bid was sent to the Council by the March deadline and dealt with in the 11 April Executive report.  It was rejected on the grounds I explained at the time.

The litigants then persuaded some councillors to call the decision in, which resulted in it being reaffirmed.  They then took the Council to court with a judicial review.  I am sure that at this stage they did so because they were certain that the Courts would overturn the decision.  The challenge was to the whole strategy, but also relied on arguments specifically relating to the rejection of the various alternative proposals.  The High Court heard the action in a case in July, and delivered a verdict in the Council's favour in October.  That day the Council started implementing its decision with notices to staff etc.  This quickly led to the litigants launching an appeal to block the strategy.

The first positive steps for the Strategy came with the introduction of seven day opening in November.

The appeal Court again rejected the appeal in December, when the Council was able to resume implementing its decision.  At that time, FKRL submitted another bid to run the building independently, arguing this time that it would do so at no cost to the Council.

Meanwhile they attempted to persuade the Supreme Court to take another appeal.  This appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court in February the following year, whereupon FKRL decided to threaten the Secretary of State with legal action over his failure to make a decision on some of their other complaints.  He effectively voided this by rejecting their complaints.

Meanwhile, in February 2012, if you are still with me, All Souls College wrote to the Council suggesting that they now owned the building.  The Council took legal advice on this contention, and wrote to the College in April saying it did not contest it.  Finally, the building was handed over to the College in vacant possession to the College in May that year.

Since the building was no longer owned by the Council there was no actual decision to reject FKRL's second bid to run the building as an independent concern.  It simply became irrelevant.

Once the building was back in possession of All Souls College, they decided to put it on the market.  Brent Council briefly considered using for school places, but the College decided to sell it to a developer instead.  At this time I believe FKRL put in their own independent bid to obtain the building.  The developer appeared to be keen to work with FKRL, but the group reacted furiously to their third attempt to run the building being rejected, and demanded that the College rerun the whole process.  The College declined to so, and the litigants met the new owner.

There followed an extremely lengthy war of attrition against the new owner, seeking to prevent him from getting planning permission for the building.  This lasted until July 2014, when the decision went through.  Once granted the owner decided to sell to a new developer called UpLift, who converted it and began marketing the flats from July 2016.  FKRL appear to have managed a less hostile relationship with this developer and since then repeatedly suggested that they are going to manage the building independently again.

Although they have had a number of capital grants from the Council, these have not been as part of the Council's statutory library service, but are based the idea that the FKRL group is an independent charity for the purposes of running the building as a stand alone institution.  A recent announcement put this in doubt

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Celebrity Endorsement

I was reading recently Alan Bennett's diaries, which I picked up in Kilburn Library.  They cover 205 to 2015, including two comments on the Brent Libraries Transformation Project.  He attended a public meeting in Brent where he referred to the libraries transformation as "child abuse", something that was broadcast by BBC Newsnight.  His reaction to the Council's successful defence to the legal challenge was to claim that any suggestion that Brent Council might improve its libraries was "a dreary and cliched PR strategem" of a kind that "worked for Goebbels".

Of course he can't have known in 2011 what level of success Brent Libraries would subsequently attain, but as far as I can see he made not the slightest attempt to find out what the Council was proposing.  He just relied on an evidently one sided briefing from the litigants that ignored all that.

He also remarks that a library has to be "handy", which suggests to me a lack of familiarity with the area.  If one stands at the door of the old Kensal Rise Library, roughly a mile to the left is Kilburn library, roughly a mile to the right is Harlesden Library, and roughly a mile behind you is Willesden Library.  Together with North London's extensive public transport connections there can be few places in the UK where it is so easy to find a public library open seven days a week.

As I said, I picked this volume up in Kilburn Library which prior to the project was open only five days a week, and is now open seven.  As a result of the project it got an extensive refurbishment that should see it many years into the future.

Of course, Alan Bennett like all celebrities didn't feel the need to check any of this, or to correct what he published.  Nor will anyone ever hold him to account for not doing so.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Charging for Libraries

This story from the Huffington Post about Pevensey Library has a rather worrying aspect to it.  East Sussex is apparently asking people what they think about being charged for using libraries.  It seems odd for a Council to be consulting on such an issue because it is simply illegal under 1964 Public Libraries Act.  East Sussex seem to be saying that they are just asking the question, but why are they asking a meaningless question?  They can't charge for the service unless the Act changes and they have no power to change the act. 

Are they making discreet enquiries on behalf of the Conservative government?

Or are they wanting to know before they "re-open" their libraries as volunteer libraries, which not being part of the statutory duty, would not be required not to charge?

Friday, 1 March 2019

Hezbollah and IHRC

The proposed ban on Hezbollah announced by the Home Secretary may have implications in Brent, as there is a closely related organisation, the IHRC, based in Wembley in Brent.  It is not entirely clear what the Labour Party position on this is.  An example of the kind of concern the organisation gives rise to in the Jewish community can be found from this article in the Jewish Chronicle

Meanwhile, an open letter has appeared which at last at least acknowledges that antisemitism is a legitimate complaint.  It has taken a very long time to actually happen, but it is better than the previous policy of direct denial.  We shall see if members of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) find it convincing.