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Monday, 29 April 2019

Labour Voters on the Buses

Picking up on some recent research in Britain Votes 2017, I notice that the best correlative with whether you voted Labour in 2017 was whether you had access to a car.  Here is the full table from that book:

It outranks even home ownership

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Registering to Vote for the European Parliament

It is estimated that there are three million EU nationals living in the UK, all of whom will be entitled to vote in the forthcoming European Parliament elections, provided they register.  In Brent the registered electorate already has significant numbers of EU voters on it, ranging from about 10% in Kenton to 23% in Alperton (according to Brent Council estimates)

Saturday, 27 April 2019

The Next Windrush Scandal

If the allegations in this Guardian report are substantiated it would be an even bigger scandal than the Windrush.  Could this finally be the end of Theresa May?

The Return of the Willesden Queens Parade

The development of the "Queens Parade" area of Willesden High Road has come back with (as far as I can see) little change.  This scheme did go to Committee in May 2018, when members were minded to oppose it.  I opposed it at the time, and I was told that the Committee voted it down rather than asked for it to be deferred.  Instead what appears to be the same application is being repeated.

The cut and paste consultation letter I have had from Brent Council informs me that the plans will be available by 17 March 2017, which does not fill me with confidence.

Altogether there is something very fishy about this application, and (given the reputation that Brent Council has acquired in recent years), the situation is far from ideal.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Funding Legal Challenges

From time to time I read comments about the amount of taxpayer money wasted by legally defending Council decisions.  A recent example was the decisions over the Bridge Park Centre.  I think that decision was really poorly handled and there really was no need to escalate it to a court case, but if you think of a valid decision, and it is legally challenged, what reaction do the complainants expect?  Is a local authority just supposed to fold instantly the moment some one takes them to Court.  If it did, it would become vulnerable to all sorts of actions just to stop the Council from working.

Of course some of these cases are also funded via legal aid so that they are actually subject to a double layer of tax payer funding, for both sides of the argument.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Another European Referendum

John Rentoul gives his take on a likely new referendum, which I find wholly convincing in both reasoning and likely outcome.  I hope that is not just bias confirmation. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Stabbing in Harlesden High Street

A stabbing in High Street Harlesden has led to the area being blocked off while the police examine it.  The attack happened last night.  The victim died in the early hours of the morning.  I believe a number of people have been arrested in connection with the incident.  Any witnesses or those with information are asked to call 101 ref CAD 7897/23Apr.

Furness Pocket Park Mosaic Removed

Very sadly, the community mosaic in Furness Road Pocket Park has been removed, leaving just the brass plate commemorating the event.  It was the last of a number of ward working projects in that year, and almost failed to get through. 

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

What Politicians can get away with

I don't think we are going to get an improved, which is to say halfway competent, politics in this country until we start holding politicians to what they say, but this is routinely ignored.  Take these comments from Nigel Farage on his new Brexit Party

In quite a short article, he:

  • Admits that he has spent 25 years in British politics, when he usually poses as not being a politician.
  • Is allowed to say that he is not asking Aaron Banks for money whilst implying the Banks has refused to give him any (without any challenge in the report)
  • Says that there is no difference in policy between his new party and the old one (Ukip) despite the latter having been taken over by the Far Right)

Monday, 22 April 2019

Sadiq Khan's Cultural Infrastructure Plan

Sadiq Khan has launched a Cultural Infrastructure Plan alongside a cultural infrastructure map, just as Brent gets closer to its time as a Borough of Culture.  The map is supposed to help the planning of activity.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Blue Badge Fraud in Brent

A local reminder of the importance of effective enforcement comes with the recent Blue Badge case in Kensal Green.  Fraudulent use of blue badges deprives disabled people of parking spaces, the exact opposite of what the scheme is supposed to achieve.  Fraudulent blue badge use is also practised on a massive scale across London.

I find it hard to understand why people can be relaxed about this, but angry about other forms of tax cheating.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Brexit's Moving Cliff Edge

Although I hate to return to the dreaded Brexit subject, it may well be that the current position have simply moved the cliff edge rather than ended it.  Meanwhile Tory MPs seem be waking up to what is going on, and realising that continued membership of the European Union is in fact the solution that suits the UK best.

At the time of the Good Friday Agreement, there was a wry comment that it was "Sunningdale for slow learners".  Perhaps the Brexit process has led to a remain outcome for slow learners.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Merle Court Recladding

Martin Francis has an interesting notice of further work needed at Merle Court, a new block in South Kilburn.  The block opened only seven years ago.

It seems that the block has fallen foul of the cladding issues that have followed the Grenfell fire.  A new investigation found that as well as the wrong type of cladding, the site had unspecified issues with the brick work.  It was not identified as a problem as recently as March last year. It does raise the question of whether Brent, or anyone else, is as effective in tracking these issues as it would like to think.

If so there may be a massive financial liability that landlords are sitting on top of without even being aware of it.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Sinn Fein on Brexit

The New Statesman has an interesting interview with the leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, whose comments on peace, the rule of law and the position of Irish institutions throw up a number of ironies.  I do wonder how long the public will tolerate Sinn Fein's continuing abstentionism (which does not extend to abstaining from taking the salary or expenses that MPs get). 

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Pesach Message from Jeremy Hunt

It is a symbol of how Theresa May is being sidelined that a Passover message is being circulated by the Foreign Secretary instead of her.  Surely it would be more usual for a religious group within the UK to be addressed by the national leader?  Although there is also the question as to whether politicians should really send out these seasonal messages at all.

I also found the message itself rather odd.  As with other messages of this kind, he spends time telling his audience some Passover basics about Pharaohs and so on.  Doesn't an audience of Jewish people already know all that stuff?

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Mark Gino Francois

One of the latecomers to the Brexit cavalcade is Mark Gino Francois, now MP for Rayleigh in Essex.  I imagine that even his fellow ERG members are embarrassed by him so silly are his various Second World War metaphors and appeals to military tropes.

I just thought I would mention that he actually has a Brent connection, having stood for Brent East back in 1997 against Ken Livingstone.  He lost massively of course.

Now he is prancing around trying out-hardman everyone else on the Brexit.

By the way, has middle name probably comes to him via his Italian side.  There are no doubt stereotypical jokes one could make about him not being bullied by the Germans on the basis of his ancestry, but I shall forbear from them. 

Monday, 15 April 2019

A Digression on Elections in Palestine

I am going to rather unkindly pick up on a recent tweet by Cllr Tom Miller during the last Israeli General Election, which Netanyahu seems to have won.  He points out that the people of the occupied territories were not voting on the day that all the Israelis did.

I have seen this idea repeated, and I am puzzled by what it is that is being implied.  Of course people who are not Israeli can't vote in Israeli elections as I (for example) cannot.  The only way for the people on the West Bank and Gaza to vote in an Israeli election would be if Israel annexed those territories, which would be illegal and (I imagine) completely against the wishes of the population.  It would also of course make a state of Palestine impossible.

Of course, both Gaza and the West Bank did have votes in their own elections many years ago, and these fell due for renewal a long time ago.  Neither area has had a new election, but that is the fault of the Palestinian authorities who have ignored peoples' right to vote.

Indeed both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are both so repressive that having a free election there would probably be impossible.

I wonder whether Tome and other people who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have entirely thought through their position on this.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Essex Libraries Going Brent's Way

Essex libraries are currently consulting on their future strategy.  Predictably a lot of the publicity is on libraries ceasing to be part of the network, and possibly being taken over by volunteers.

Reading their library strategy document, I am struck at how it shares similarities with Brent's own Libraries Transformation.  The concentration on services, not buildings; the need for new technology; assessment based on need.  All seem familiar.

One big challenge will be whether a very large County can cope with the transport needs that a much smaller urban authority has successfully overcome.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Campaign Trickery

From time to time I am annoyed by campaigning tactics that some people use, which they must know to be dishonest.  An example, here, is from the Save the Queensbury pub campaign.  It states that the pub will be demolished, which it will if the application is successful.

Why then is that dishonest?

Because if the application goes ahead, the pub is due to be reprovided in a more modern building on the same site.

I take it that the Queensbury campaign are very attached to that building, and don't want to see a more modern one.  That is fair enough as a point of view, but to pretend that there will be no pub there is just tricking people into supporting their campaign on false grounds.  If they believe in the "heritage" value of the existing building, they should be clear that that is what they want.  To stir people up with threats to demolish a pub when there are no such plans is deceiving people, and any arguments presented in the planning process on that ground will ignored because the planners know that the pub is being reprovided.

It is highly reminiscent of the opposition to the new Willesden Library, which gathered objections against the project by giving people the false impression that the Library was being demolished and simply replaced by housing instead of by The Library at Willesden Green

Friday, 12 April 2019

Reconsidering Brexit

Peter Oborne does not fit into any box easily.  Here he is going through his reasons for becoming a reconsidering Brexiteer.  I wish more people had his honesty and courage.  Among other things, he observes that business, as well as poliicians, have been reluctant to say what they actually know.  That Brexit is in itself immensely and unecessarily damaging this country.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Out of Control Social Spending at Brent Council

More than a third of Brent's social workers are short term agency staff, according to the Guardian.  Having 36.9% of people working as short term employees sounds to me like an inherently unstable service which simply won't be able to deliver reliable services to clients.  The service appears to be locked into a vicious spiral of cuts, overload, rising demand and low morale.  The agency staff are generally paid more than permanent staff. 

What, I wonder, are councillors planning to do about it?

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Alan Wylie and Community Libraries

Alan Wylie, a well known Libraries campaigner, has published some usage figures on independent and staffless libraries on his face book account.  He says:

“East Barnet Library lost 85 per cent of its visitors since becoming a volunteer “partnership” library and reducing its opening to 15 hours a week.
Meanwhile, Golders Green and North Finchley libraries, which have pin-code restricted access for under-15s and lost their children’s rooms, lost 66 per cent and 51 per cent of their visitors respectively.”

Library users and campaigners in Sheffield and Doncaster have also highlighted a huge decrease in usage in their volunteer-led ‘libraries’;
“FOI data re Doncaster & Sheffield Libraries:
- Huge fall in book loans and other use at Doncaster libraries transferred to volunteers.
- an increase of 50% in lost and stolen items in the year following the transfer of libraries to volunteers.
Book loan figures from Sheffield Libraries for 2014-2016 show a huge decrease in book loans and other usage since transfer to volunteers.
Book loan figures from Sheffield Libraries for 2017-2018 show a continuing decrease in book loans and other usage for 2017 and 2018.”

Also in Lewisham;
“Data obtained via FOI showing that stock issues have plummeted by nearly 50% in Lewisham Libraries between 2009/10 - 2015/16, point made that the Lewisham model isn’t sustainable.”
And in Warwickshire;
Library loans in Warwickshire down by 46% since 2011/12…/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-33…
“The number of loans has gone down at all 12 of Warwickshire's community libraries since they were formed following council cuts.
There were 112,832 loans in 2014/15 compared to 207,619 in 2011/12, a 46% fall.
Opening hours reduced at seven of the libraries after volunteers took over”
Also in Manchester;

Library visitor numbers plunge as cuts force drastic reduction in opening hours"

It frustrates me that the various routes outlined above have been subject to very little scrutiny.  Meanwhile Brent's excellent record on visits and loans and user satisfaction gets very little attention.  Indeed the figures for pin code libraries are the only ones I have ever seen for that kind of library anywhere. 

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Independent Community Libraries

The report I quoted the other day is unusual in trying to assess the performance of libraries that fall outside the statutory framework (such as the volunteer libraries in Brent).  Unfortunately, such libraries are not directly covered by the CIFPA figures, although the commentary in the report is able to suggest that commissioned libraries and public libraries have an advantage in longer term budgeting, mutual support and probably more imaginative leadership.

By the way, Sadiq Khan features Willesden Library on a London centres of culture video here.  

Monday, 8 April 2019

Willesden Housing Block

A small block of flat is coming forward at the Planning Committee on Wednesday.  The six flat block will be developed in front of the former Spotted Dog on Willesden High Road in front of the Sainsburys car park.  Although the block will be located in the Willesden conservation area, there will be no effort to preserve the frontage in the manner of the Spotted Dog, or indeed Willesden library

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Losing Parking Rights

There is an interesting planning case in Kensal Green coming forward at the next Committee.  It allows the small car park at the back of 124 Purves Road (just opposite Princess Frederica School) to be built on.  Not only will the residents in the flats lose their parking spaces, but a condition of the application is that their right to parking permits will be curtailed as a condition to the new development.  Thus people who had the right to park near by will no longer have that right.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Library Visit and Loan Decoupling

I have often posted on Brent libraries performance, where usage and book loans seem to have been decoupled.  Visits have gone up tremendously, and book loans have also gone up but to a lesser degree.  A Cambridge academic has noticed this as well with the national figures.  She mentions Brent as an improved service on page 21. 

The full rather useful report is available here.

The conclusions are not surprising, although the flawed nature of the statistics is interesting and certainly backs the suggestion that DCMS really does not carry out its monitoring duty properly.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Positive Cultural Appropriation

Thinking a bit more about cultural appropriation and the idea it is always colonialist and nasty (pace Edward Said), it is worth observing that there have been times when appropriated a culture has been a direct compliment to that culture. 

I am thinking especially of the Romans and the Greeks, who throughout European history found their cultural symbols/tropes/words and institutions interpreted to add dignity/legitimacy to existing rulers and institutions.  Some example in no particular order might include the barbarian kingdoms that succeeded the Romans adopting their words/institutions/religion.  The most famous being Charlemagne who created the Holy Roman Empire which was of course neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.  The use of many later cultures to add dignity to their architecture through the additional of classical styles.  The somewhat bizarre convention in certain eighteenth century paintings for modern English gentlemen to appear in togas.  The use of Latin and Greek for various inscriptions and dedications long after those languages were being used by anyone for anything practical. 

There are examples which I am quite surprised to find occurring given the link being son tenuous, but it is suggested that William the Conqueror built his enormous Colchester Castle in that location because it was on the remains of the Temple of Claudius, thus giving the Norman warlord a kind of ancestral link to the Roman Emperor who conquered Britain. 

In all these cases the "appropriation" is not to dominate a culture, but more to claim greater legitamcy from it. 

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Knowles House Work Starts

The redevelopment work at Knowles House is now underway.  As far as I can see there has been no opposition despite the campaign against the similar development on Manor Park Road Which recently got planning permission after all).  It is hard to see any consistency here.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Athenian Democracy

It is a little unfair to single out Jonathan Freedland, who I think is a very good columnist, but one phrase he used in a recent piece annoys me.  It is "In an ideal world of Athenian democracy" and it uses it to describe a calm rational discussion.

Anyone who has read the Peloponnesian War knows that is the last way you should describe Fifth Century Athenian Democracy.  It did not include women, or slaves, or foreigners (i.e. most of the Athenian population.  It ruled over colonies and extracted taxes from them in the crudest of ways, and many of its its debates and decisions were cruel, arbitrary and incompetent.  Our own representative democracy with rule of law, checks and balances and a full franchise is a much better arrangement, albeit not one being shown at its best during this wretched Brexit process.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Brexit Innovations

Yvette Cooper appears to be genuinely innovating with her bill to prolong the Article 50 date.  Traditionally, bills have been forward by the Queen-in-Parliament so this really is quite new.  What the EU Commission are going to make of it I can't imagine.  We tend to find our own constitution very hard to understand so I imagine non-British people find it utterly bewildering.  I take it that it makes a fresh set of elections to the European Parliament inevitable if it gets through. 

Returning to the Manor Park Road Site in Harlesden Town Centre

Returning to the Manor Park Road site, it turns out that my instinct that the developer would win his appeal was correct.  I understand the case has now been decided by the national planning inspectorate in the applicant's favour.  This is unsurprising since Brent Council has approved a number of applications in the same area, including Park House, Willesden Social Club and the Green Man.  Alongside the lack of objection to the development of Knowles House, objecting to building on this one site just seemed very odd

OPDC Board and Cllr Muhammed Butt

I see that Cllr Muhammed Butt has got himself on to the OPDC Board.  His remuneration is listed in the accounts as £17k a year for this.  This would be on top of his allowance as Council Leader and Brent Councillor. 

I take it that the level of remuneration is decided by the OPDC's Appointments and Remuneration Committee, which has three members, one of whom is Cllr Muhammed Butt.  Brent Council and the Mayor of London send observers to the committee, although other Boroughs such as Ealing do not.

Given Cllr Muhammed Butt's record on planning matters in Wembley, this picture does not fill me with confidence. 

Monday, 1 April 2019

Revoke Article 50 Debate

The Revoke Article 50 petition is to be debated today.  I assume the April Fools date is purely coincidental.  So far the government response has been a stubborn refusal, but who knows with this lot?