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Thursday, 31 October 2019

Council Officers in Libraries

I saw this tweet from my home County of Essex, which currently has a major controversy going on about public libraries and whether they should be closed (i.e. handed over to "volunteers" in the standard euphemism).  It does something that "campaigners" like to do, but which I consider is quite misleading.

The writer refers to the Cabinet and the CC officers as if the library staff were not Council officers.  Of course they are Council officers as they are employed by the Council.  That is actually one of the points of the Essex campaign, that libraries should continue to be staffed by paid properly trained staff.  I suspect the reason that "campaigners" seek to engage in this kind of sleight of hand is that they like to pretend that all the decisions are being made by some shadowy group of malignant people who know nothing of the services that the Council provides.  Actually admitting that the staff recommending the details of the Essex budget are not in a continuum with the same staff that meet on entering the library cuts across that idea.

It is a dishonest tactic in my view.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Disabled Access to Libraries

Despite being a Scots MP, Ian Murray (MP for Edinburgh South) has asked a question about access to digital technology in libraries.  Too often people think in terms of libraries being accessed as simply one of physical transport, whereas of course it is important the materials are accessible as well.  However it is disappointing that the question did not elicit the statistics that were being sought. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Reproviding the Willesden Library Cafe

There is now a petition to Brent Council to reprovide the Willesden Library Cafe by reducing the rents.  I am not sure that would actually be effective.  This is not least because the cafe had a period without rent at the beginning of the tenancy, and I don't think it is necessarily paying rent now.

Those of us who have followed the attempt to let the space over the years can attest the economics are tricky, but there is no doubt that this sort of colocation is effective in helping the Library and Willesden High Road.  My own suggestion is reconfiguring the building with the cafe at the front to make any cafe a more obvious feature of the site.

By the way, although the petitioners (whoever they might be) think that:

"After countless years of neglect, Willesden Green has recently started to show signs of growth and development; this is in large part due to the work of community minded individuals within the community coming together."

Those of us who recall building the library can remember when a number of people who claimed to speak for "the community" were hotly opposed to the plans which made the current cafe space possible.  Here are some of them protesting against the library back in 2013:

Still, it is nice to see that the petitioners consider the Library to be a "highly valued and much-loved facility." 

Monday, 28 October 2019

Climate Emergency and Brent Friends of the Earth

The Kilburn Times has chosen to highlight the climate emergency using a national Friends of the Earth document that doesn't really pay attention to Brent's characteristics as an area.

Naturally, it includes a quotation form Brent's Friends of the Earth who opposed Brent Council's improvements to recycling despite the positive improvements to carbon emissions.  The same group also opposed the Council's introduction of "polluter pays" parking permits.  Indeed many of them as individuals have also protested against the many actions that Brent Council has taken to reduce carbon emissions, including the Civic Centre.

The story quotes the current Chair, who says: "One of the things Brent tells us about is what a good sustainable Civic Centre they have...It's got a lot of stuff in it that makes it energy efficient but it's surrounded by a concrete desert of high rises in an unnatural environment. We don't doubt Brent's sincerity in wanting to do it but it really needs to start upping its game and moving much more quickly."

I take it that he is simply unaware that new housing in the Borough's five growth areas (which include Wembley) meet higher environmental standards (CSH4) than the Borough as a whole (CSH3).  The CSH stands for Code for Sustainable Homes, and is a standard measure.  On the street tree issue I find it hard to believe that he hasn't noticed the widespread planting of trees across Brent, which is actually not bad for an urban area

He is presumably also blissfully unaware that Brent Council has been monitoring its environmental performance for many years (as it did when I was Lead Member).  Some of these items fall by the wayside, largely because of central government cuts, but the big ones are in place.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Willesden Library Cafe Closes

Sadly the Willesden Library Cafe opened for the last time yesterday.  When I think back to how long it took to establish, this is deeply disheartening.  Brent Council probably now needs to consider whether it needs to reconfigure the building.  If the cafe were in the "Reading Room" it would have a more natural frontage to appeal to the passing trade on Willesden High Road.

Martin's Lament
Meanwhile, the closure has given Martin Francis an opportunity to showcase his negativity about Willesden Library.  It is such a good demonstration of his techniques that it is worth quoting in full.  He writes:

 "When Brent Council decided to demolish the 1980s Willesden Green Library and sell the car park to a private developer  they renamed its successor a 'Library and  Cultural Centre.' In the course of the redevelopment they closed the cinema and denied any space to the well-loved and well-used Willesden Bookshop. The bookshop could not afford the high rent and overheads that would have been demanded by Brent Council even if an adequate space had been made available. The cultural offer was limited by a closure time of 8pm and a demand that any event going on after that time should pay an additional sum for security.

Now the Delipod Hub cafe, on the ground floor of the building, which has been attracting a local following, especially for its Friday night music sessions, has thrown in the towel in after a valiant attempt to keep going."

Firstly, it is wrong to say that the cinema was closed "in the course of redevelopment".  In fact the cinema ceased to show films round about 2000, because it was not commercially successful and could not afford digitalisation.  The Willesden bookshop was charged very little in the old centre because the space that was built there had inadequate storage for a retail use.  Had the bookshop wanted to continue as a bricks and mortar enterprise, Willesden High Road has a number of shop fronts of varying sizes.  The fact that the same owner closed their Kilburn bookshop branch at the same time hints that they were responding more to the rise of the Internet, which has been devastating for the physical book trade.

The final point about opening times is valid and I have raised it myself, although Martin doesn't really make any allowance for the financial pressure on the Council from the Tory cuts.

He also doesn't mention that the old Cafe Gigi also closed down some time in the first decade of this century, so it is clear that the whole sector is a tough one to operate in.  It is not just a matter of Brent Council being somehow just malignant.  I notice he also doesn't mention the presence of the art gallery, the Brent Museum, the small scale occasional dramatic/artistic/musical/film and book reading events in the library, the smaller exhibitions or the other art works on Willesden High Road in his dismissal of the "Borough of Culture".  He also seems to have forgotten that his own opposition to rebuilding the Willesden Library would have meant it continuing without any cafe at all.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Legal and Administrative Difficulties of a 2019 Election

With so much talk of an early election, I wonder whether anyone in Parliament is thinking about the practical and legal difficulties of having an election on 12 December, when the new register comes into force on 1 December?

This will be hard for the political parties who would have to spend most of the campaign with the old register before suddenly switching to the new one.  There will be a similar problem for returning officers sending out polling cards in November, only to find that some of the people given them will have dropped off the register, some will have come on and everyone polling numbers will have changed on polling day.  People may even be sent a notice to vote only to be turned away when they get there.  There will be similar issues around the dispatch of postal votes and proxy votes.  This will certainly cause confusion and possibly legal problems.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Kiln Theatre and the Community

I was sorry to have missed the Seven Ages of Patience at the Kiln Theatre, which was sold out.  It certainly got a good review in The Stage, and the Director shared some of the challenges and benefits of producing it with the Kilburn Times.

It is also a vindication of the new direction that Indhu Rubasingham has brought to the Kiln Theatre in terms of linking it to the Brent community.  This is a story told by and about that community and is in a fine UK tradition of popular theatre.  It demonstrates that some of the criticism directed at her for not linking to the local area is seriously off the mark.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Children Centre Closures

Brent is being forced by central government cuts to close another six of its childrens centres, as local government cuts continue to bite despite the warm words of the Conservative Government.  This is part of a wider pattern that has been going on for years.  The six centres that are closed are: Barham Park, Harmony, Mount Stewart, Treetops, Wembley Primary and Wykeham.  Some of these sites are near schools which may be able to use them for educational purposes, and there is a private user at Treetops, that may may be able to use the whole building. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN)

I was interested to see in the Kilburn Times that there is a new group of architects called Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) formed to work out techniques to decarbonise the built environment.  They want to prioritise retrofitting.  Whilst it is important that this area be tackled since it many of the buildings in the UK are old and need to be improved, they should not ignore the possible use of new techniques in completely new buildings such as Brent Civic Centre.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Brent Central Labour Party Marching for a New Referendum

Saturday's People's Vote March, which a group from Brent Central CLP attended (photo courtesy of Martin Francis) demonstrated once again that a substantial body of people want a final say on any proposed Brexit deal.  The only argument I have heard from Boris Johnson on this is that he sees his interpretation of the 2016 referendum result as binding pretty much forever.  I notice that seems to apply a different judgement to the results of the 2017 General Election, where he wants Parliament's mandate renewed by a new General Election.

Is it possible that he adjusts his arguments according to what he finds convenient at any given moment?

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Kilburn Rebuild Approved

South Kilburn residents have approved the regeneration of the area with 72% of the residents voting in the referendum.  However, I would suggest that this leaves a lot of key issues in doubt, such as tenure mix and so on. 

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Go Further than Extinction

I see that some people are beginning to voice the view that the "Extinction Rebellion" activists have "gone too far".  Of course, if you follow their extinction of the human race rhetoric, it is hardly surprising that they go to extremes.  Those who indulge in such rhetoric are hardly free of responsibility for what follows.

What I still find striking is the lack of knowledge and focus.  I saw one protester quoted in The Times who said he was furious that the mainstream media did not report on environmentalism adequately.  Asked for evidence he said he didn't have any because he did "not read newspapers."  I would have thought that if you really believe what the protester say they do, a little bit of research might be appropriate.

Mind you, I don't believe that real progress on climate change will actually come from all these protests.  Real change will come from people in committee rooms passing new regulations and creating new technologies to solve the problems.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Haringey Momentum Learns Local Government the Hard Way

Haringey Momentum influence a decision to block a scheme in the Borough.  This decision is now overturned.   The Planning Inspector has the power to levy costs on Haringey Council if he thinks the previous decision unreasonable.  This is why you cannot have political caucases simply issuing dictats on planning applications.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

March for a Confirmatory Ballot

The time for a Peoples Vote March this Saturday is fast approaching.  I also suspect that support for a confirmatory ballot is growing, not least because a further Brexit delay is inevitable given that much of the necessary legislation has simply not been passed.  I also find it rather ridiculous that MPs are expected to examine and pass whatever Johnson's deal is with such little time to study it.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Not What it Seems on the Tin

The £250 million for Creative industries and culture recently announced is one of those numbers designed to sound big whilst actually not being that great.

Firstly, is is a five year grant so it is actually £50 million per year.  Secondly, the £125 million for "libraries and museums" is not that much per authority even if it were evenly spread across England's c. 150 library authorities.  Thirdly it won't be, it will be awarded by ministers on who knows what criteria to whoever they pick.  One Museum, like the National Rail Museum for instance, could easily suck up a good deal of it in one go.  Fourthly, as non revenue spend, it will have to go into capital expenditure, and such relatively small sums can be used up very quickly.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Community Infrastructure Levy

Brent is now open to community bids for grants for Community Infrastructure Levy projects.  These tend to be one off projects to improve local areas.  As they use taxpayers money they have to be responsible in terms of using the money.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Is Labour's NEC Personally Liable for Damages Arising from the Antisemitism Claims?

Is Labour's NEC Personally Liable for Damages Arising from the Antisemitism Claims?  That is the question raised by the Independent.  I have no idea what the legal position is, although it may well be different from that of a charity.

It will also be crucial to see whether the Labour Party was following its own rules, reasonably relying on officer advice, and whether NEC members were trying to make judgements conscientiously of simply on a factional basis.  It would be interesting to discover whether NEC members would have been less cavalier over claims of antisemitism and sexism if they were themselves subject to personal penalties.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

The Daily Mail and Vaccination

The Daily Mail has recently been praised by Matt Hancock and others for coming out against the anti-vax campaign.  That is good news, but those with longer memories than Mr Hancock can remember that it was not always so clear. 

Take this story from as an example.  Under the heading "New MMR link is found with autism" it is distinctly favourable to Mr Wakefield, calling him a "specialist" who was "forced out of his job".  As I understand it he was a surgeon so not sure he can really be called a "specialist" in a story about autism.  Over the years the Mail published a number of articles with a similar line, implying some kind of unreasonable cover up, like this one, or this one. 

In 2003 Melanie Philips was particularly insistent along these lines (11 March 2003). 

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Cuts in Overground Ticket Offices

It is reported that train station ticket office operating hours are to be reduced at Brondesbury, Brondesbury Park, Kensal Rise and Kilburn High Road.  Whatever the other effects, this is likely to inflict damage on the Kilburn High Road economy since the cuts are in the evening and most of the day.  This should be a major concern for Brent Council and I hope some one is raising the matter with TfL.

On the plus side, I welcome a new lift at Brondesbury, although I recall that the Kilburn station lift up the road always used to be closed because there were said to be no staff to help passengers.  Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

Friday, 11 October 2019

Labour Party Selections

Currently, the Labour Party NEC have closed down parliamentary selections in seats without a candidate despite the fact that a General Election (whilst imminent) has not been called.  This is the first time I have ever known this to happen.  Previously NECs have certainly truncated the process once an election is called.  Something of that kind happened when Dawn Butler MP was selected for Brent South in 2005, but even in that case members got a vote.

Where no candidate is in place candidates have sometimes been imposed, but every effort has been made to make sure that members have been involved to the maximum logistically possible, not least because members will be unlikely to feel motivated to campaign for a candidate simply imposed by the NEC.

The current NEC, which is made up of a faction of people who claim to be interested in extending democracy within the Labour Party are doing more than anyone has ever dared to close it down.  The likely result will be a number of legal actions, that will knock back the Party's General Election message from day one.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Heidi Allen MP in South Cambridgeshire

I must say I have some sympathy for candidates who have got themselves selected in particular seats only to be elbowed aside by johnny-come-latelys from another party, as in the case of South Cambridgeshire where Heidi Allen is now standing for the Liberal Democrats. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Nuclear Change

Peter Hennessy has unearthed documents suggesting that the UK's nuclear deterrent use during Harold Macmillan's premiership relied on finding a nearby telephone box and ensuring he had sufficient loose change to get through to Number Ten to authorise nuclear retaliation in the event that the Soviets were dastardly enough to attack us when he was outside London.  This system persisted to 1970.

It is all rather reminiscent of that scene in Dr Strangelove when Group Captain Mandrake has to persuade Colonel Bat Guano to shoot the lock off a Pepsi machine to make a call to the White House to tell them the recall call for the Bombers.  Except that was supposed to be a farce.

I wonder if one of Kubrick's script writers knew something?

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

What is Going on in Park Royal?

The legal problems in Park Royal, with the suggestion that the removal of Cargiant is financially unviable, is on of the big problems that is currently not getting the attention they need.  As usual, I haven't seen any comments by Brent Council on this one way or another despite it being of vital importance to both Harlesden and Kensal Green wards.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Will the 31 October Deadline Be Extended?

Boris Johnson continues to make the contradictory claims that he will abide by the law but the Article 50 deadline will not be extended.  He appears to get this past his supporters by hinting there is some plan of Baldrick-like cunning to evade Padfield to reconcile the two objectives.  As the Waugh report said last week:

"No.10 still have things up their sleeve to try to get out on October 31, yet as I wrote earlier this week there are some around Johnson who now reluctantly admit that he may be forced into an extension to Article 50, as long as it paves the way for a quick general election soon after."

I suspect that all this is pure wishful thinking and that there is no plan at all just a vague hope that something will turn up.


Meanwhile Peter Kellner has some actual research on what voters actually think.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Northern Ireland Border

There is a story being spread on the Eurosceptic Right that the whole concern over the Northern Irish border is confected and artificial.  In fact, as anyone who remembers the Troubles will know, a closed border was a major barrier to the people living there, and a significant drag on the local economy.  The area below is inhabited by around 625,000 people.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

The 25th Anniversary of the Fairtrade Mark

The 25th Anniversary of the Fairtrade Mark is being celebrated at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square today.  This will start from 11am.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Special Majorities

The prorogation controversy has led some to renew calls for a written constitution.  I find this odd as it would undoubtedly create more occasions where the Courts would be required to decide questions that have been traditionally kept to politics, which is generally contrary to what such people want.

Secondly, it would require a form of special majority decision making where the situation would not as now be decided by one decision making process but be more than one, whether the immediate decision was compatible with a written constitution.  It is arguable that this has been a key part of creating the Brexit mess since Brexit has been treated as a single decision through the referendum and then been subjected to a second decision making process through Parliament.

Much of the fury at the decisions made by Parliament are generated by the assumption that it should be subordinate to the decisions presumed o have been made in the Referendum.

The same problem would arise with all those who argue that the referendum should have a special majority of some kind, whether (say) a 60% majority or a quorum as in the 1979 Scottish devolution debate.  Those who wanted a 50% majority regarded as binding would regard any blockage based on a higher majority as illegitimate.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Internal Labour Rules

For those interested in the extremely dreary internal rules of the Labour Party, Luke Akehurst has pointed out that, following this year's Conference:

"New LGCs all have to be one third councillors, one third affiliates, one third CLPs. So in Hackney the 2 CLPs have to give up half their seats to the unions, in most places it gives far more seats to the Labour Group (Hackney unusual in already having 1/3 cllrs)"

As he observes this tends to work to the disadvantage of Momentum.  Given the abject failure of Brent Momentum slate over ward boundaries that is probably something to be thankful for.

What is called a LGC, or in Brent a LCF, is a Borough wide body that Brent Momentum appears to have decided to try to use as a platform to foist its agenda on Brent Council.  The Labour Party, borne of bitter experience, has a tradition of new allowing this to happen, but using it for campaigning instead.  Brent Momentum, perhaps unaware of Labour Party history in this respect as many of them are only recent members, seem to want to discover this the hard way.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Public Toilets and Business Rates

One of the effects of the Supreme Court's voiding of prorogation is that the Bills that would have been lost are still in the Parliamentary process.  One of these is an otherwise obscure measure to allow buildings with public toilets to claim exemption from rates.

If this comes into force, Brent Council should investigate whether it can claim exemption for its own buildings.  The Civic Centre, and all the Council libraries have publicly available toilets which meet disability access requirements.  Savings on business rates could be substantial. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2019