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Sunday, 29 March 2020

Going for a Walk

The Living Streets campaign is advising people to go for a walk unless self isolating due to illness or heightened risk.  Good advice. 

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Slippery Johnson Cannot be Trusted

If proof were need that the government are indeed as slippery with extending their powers as I have suggested, take a look at the sudden postponement of local elections.  These were postponed not just for a few days as in 2014, but for an entire year without any explanation.

The article also points out how awkward this makes life for  an existing Assembly member but new MP such as Flo Eshalomi MP (and GLAM come to that). 

A less distracted opposition would be on top of this.  Marina Hyde makes it seem easy. 

Friday, 27 March 2020

The Odd Behaviour of Jewish Voices for Labour

I don't often comment on Jewish Voices for Labour (JVL) as it is not really a local government  concern, but it does seem a strange sort of body that is mainly geared not to Jewish issues or to Labour campaigning, but merely trying to deflect accusations of antisemitism and attacking the much longer established Jewish Labour MovementThis odd document is another reminder of that.  By contrast, JLM seems to take an interest in specifically Jewish debates on Education, adult care etc. as well as wider issues such as police discrimination.

Incidentally, this table by JVLWatch below gives some hint as to why these various "Jewish" groups are not really representative and therefore (if you really want to engage with the majority of the Jewish community, it is better to go to the Board of Deputies and such like.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

On Street Parking in London

Catching up with this piece on on street parking in London.  It argues that cars are still taking more than their fair share of road usage despite being at the bottom of the road user hierarchy

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Election Study Overshadowed

Largely overlooked amid the virus crisis is serious academic research on voter behavior during the 2019 General Election.  Voters' party allegiance to the Labour Party in particular seemed weak.  The other big thing was that Boris Johnson did not seem to scare as many people as Theresa May did. 

Monday, 23 March 2020

Corunavirus and Leaving the Single Market

David Davis MP is now apparently suggesting that a collapse in international trade helps us to leave the Single Market without a trading agreement and that this is therefore desirable.  It seems a long way from "the easiest thing in the world" and "the German car manufacturers' will make sure an agreement is passed".

There is now a petition to Parliament to extend the transition period for two years as the corunavirus outbreak has made an agreement even less likely than it seemed already.  

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Stella Creasy MP's locum MP experiment

Catching up on non-corunavirus stories, I see that Stella Creasy MP's locum MP experiment has run its course.  The details of the casework I don't find surprising and would be familiar to many caseworkers and councillors.  The key problem I see with that role is where the constituent wants policy casework, explaining the MP's position on this or that public issue, or asking the MP to lobby ministers.  I don't see how that can be farmed out to anyone else. 

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Council Tax and Business Rates

The apparently well sourced stories that there will be a three month holiday on business rates make me wonder what the position of local authorities will be.  London Borough these days often get more of their income from business rates than from Council Tax.  Will they just be expected to take the hit?  Or will they be expected to recover the money at a later stage?

Friday, 20 March 2020

Prescience from Dave Hill of OnLondon

Dave Hill of OnLondon makes what I imagine will turnout to be a prescient comment on Boris Johnson below.

Brent Library Opening Hours

Brent Libraries have had their opening hours cut back to 10am to 6pm on weekdays and no weekend opening except for Wembley library which will be open 10am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday.  Thus the hours now have been hacked back almost to the level before the Libraries Transformation Project was put in place. 

Brent Law Centre Closed

Brent Law Centre is now closed, as reported in the Kilburn Times.  It opened in 1971 and had Labour MPs Jack Dromey and Harriet Harman as early workers.  During their time there they took part in the famous Grunwick dispute.  It was "saved" in the 2011 budget debate, but further cuts to legal aid have led the trustees to close it it so that it can be done in an orderly fashion. 

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Well Said Chris Bryant

Chris Bryant MP has protested against the Johnson government giving itself "emergency powers" to among other things arrest people for suspicion that they have Covid19.  The powers as mooted at present will last for two years.  He is right to denounce this.

This Prime Minster has repeatedly shown his contempt for parliamentary scrutiny and the rule of law, he cannot be trusted.  Nor should any government have the power to arrest people not because they have committed any criminal act but simply on the suspicion that they might be ill.

That said, I wonder how the government think they might use such a power.  Where would they put the arrested people? Back home, where they can walk out again?  In a police cell, when Brent and many other places simply don't have enough as was indicated in the 2011 riots?  In our notoriously overcrowded jails where they can infect everybody else?

It seems to me that our main defence of UK citizens against this government's totalitarian instincts is their incompetence in thinking them through. 

Suspending Parliament

Boris Johnson is apparently considering giving himself draconian powers to pass any legislation he likes without any Parliamentary scrutiny whatsoever.  Given his track record on prorogation, the EU withdrawal agreement and indeed his position as the UK's most notorious liar, I really don't think that would be sensible.

The benefits of proper scrutiny are indicated by Dr Rosena Allin Khan's question at PMQ yesterday.  Why do NHS doctors not have the protective equipment they need (or the testing that would mark out whether they are inadvertently endangering patients).

Quite apart from his genuine threats to constitutional government, what does one think of a Prime Minister who has a Conference call with CEOs about constructing more ventilators and makes a remark like this (Courtesy of Pippa Crerar):


Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Libraries and the Corunavirus

Concern appears to be rising over keeping libraries open  during the corunavirus epidemic, as shown in this Public Libraries News post (which incidentally I think has somewhat misunderstood the role envisaged by "herd immunity").

One of the problems of closure, is that much of this effort is about getting out timely and accurate public information to keep public trust.  This appears to have been undermined by recent political briefings and is a core purpose of libraries.  To close them down might leave some people unable to access information easily, which would be a major price to pay.  Of course it is sensible for any service to keep its self under review and make changes such as intensify its daily cleaning.

The Irish Prime Minister has already observed this:

I also think that there is an issue with the whole close this and close that approach that you do it as a one off, but it seems to be a bit more of a whack-a-mole situation where any country that manages to close the disease off in one place can face a resurgence coming from somewhere else, and that this is likely to remain the case until a vaccine is found.

UPDATE 19.03.20

I have a shrewd suspicion that Brent libraries will shortly announce a temporary closure to at least the end of April. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2020


The widespread closures and election postponement will hopefully slow the spread of the corunavirus, but I suspect they will also take their toll of local businesses, especially around Wembley where the events are central to drawing in customers.  I hope that other public services such as Council ones continue to be open so that businesses can survive. 

Monday, 16 March 2020

Harlesden Neighbourhood Forum Charity

It seems that Harlesden Neighbourhood Forum is finally officially a charity after almost a year of trying to get the Charity Commission to register it as such.  I can't believe that such a delay was really needed, but at least it is over now. 

The Harlesden Neighbourhood Forum has also featured in this recent GLA report.  

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Future Costs and Brent Council

One of the reasons Brent Council was so careful about scaling down its budgets from 2010 onwards is the knowledge that there were huge additional costs coming down the line because of things like demographic change and now Brexit.

Brexit will create a particularly difficult environment of Labour shortages as workers are deliberately kept out or removed from the UK.  Simultaneously, pay will be going up for legislative reasons, but also I suspect as a result of market forces.  We may also see the wholesale exit from provision by the private sector leaving the Council to clear up the mess.  This is an existential issue for local government. 

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Lexi Cinema Close to getting Second Screen

The Lexi cinema is now close to getting its target funding figure for a new screen due to large grants of taxpayers' money from both Brent Council and the Mayor for London.  The cinema will be able to add a second screen as a result.  You can learn more about the Lexi Cinema from its web site. 

Friday, 13 March 2020

Sunak's Budget Reversal

Rishi Sunak's budget is remarkable for its political amnesia.  As well as pretending to be a new government (rather than a re-elected one after a decade of mismanagement), it pretty much trashes all the thinking that led to he and his colleagues in the previous decade of cuts that have led to public services being such a wreck.

It is rather as if a husband battered his wife for a decade and then arrived with a bunch of flowers.

Of course, the new spending pledges often just take things back to levels of spending inherited in 2010, and sometimes not even that.  And the institutions meant to spend them are so enervated that they will struggle to spend the new largess properly.  In particular adult social care can not easily make up for the years of cuts, especially with the immigration restrictions likely at the end of this year.

Lisa Nandy is quite right to ask for an extension of the EU transition period. The reactions of all the Labour Leader and Deputy Leader candidates are published by Labourlist. 

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Unsafe Cladding

Interesting example of the SNP passing the buck to be found on the Red Brick blog here regarding unsafe cladding in blocks.  I quote in full:

"Scotland has an unusual problem. Even though there is no leasehold/freehold distinction north of the border, the Scottish Government has limited influence on the actions of mortgage lenders since this power is reserved to Westminster. The London Government has issued an advice note that deals with fire safety in buildings post Grenfell throughout the United Kingdom. Even though building standards are higher in Scotland than in England, lending organisations now require home inspection reports to reflect the new London imposed standards. Consequently, some leaseholders in Scotland who wish to sell or remortgage have found that they have been imposed with a nil valuation."

Of course, Scotland has more than fifty MPs at Westminster, almost all SNP, who can pursue this or any other issue in the same way as any other Westminster MP.  If they have a "problem" it is probably the reluctance of the SNP MPs to raise such bread and butter issues as it does not accord with the Nationalist narrative. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Flooding and Austerity

The government is now reversing course on its cuts to flood defences here.  I pointed out the likely consequences some years ago, as (in considerably more detail) did Simon Wren-Lewis. The new funding announced is therefore just the government admitting that it has been making a disastrous (literally) policy for almost a decade, and simply undoing some of the damage that the government has already done.  As well as the financial cost, the cuts have also led to a delay in building the defences.  Had the government continued the trend it inherited from Labour back in 2010, many of the flooded properties of this year might never have been flooded.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Priti Patel and Bullying

The ongoing defence of Priti Patel from the accusations against of a pattern of bullying remind me of a similar case I can recall in Brent Council.  In that case the bullying was of a man against a succession of women and sometimes others.  The behaviors were similar, and so were the excuses

  • The behavior was minimized as just a bit "hardball"
  • It was suggested that the complainants were oversensitive
  • It was suggested that rather that it was just a management style.

Above all, the bully saw themselves as the victim, and in the Brent case, tried to respond by making it impossible for anyone to complain about his behavior. 

Monday, 9 March 2020

Flytipping in Alperton

The Kilburn Times has spotted a truly shocking level of flytipping at a site in Alperton.  The tone of the reportage seems to be why hasn't the Council cleared it up?  This seems to miss the point somewhat.  If it were public highway that would be what the Council would do automatically, but is private land.  The Council can issue a notice against the owner to clear it up provided it is judged a public nuisance and even forcibly clear it and send the bill to the owner.  This would take time and proof of the nuisance (e.g. a massive rat population).  It is dismaying that neither the the recently elected Lib Dem councillor for Alperton nor the Brent Council respondee make this point.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Agreement on Brent Libraries

It is always nice to find areas of agreement, and so I would like to say that I agree with both Paul Lorber and Martin Francis that the reference in a Brent poster to ten libraries is misleading.  Brent runs six libraries serving far more people in more ways than it did with twelve in 2011.

There are six publicly run libraries in Brent.  These are the two new ones Wembley and Willesden, one completely refurbished one at Kilburn, one partially refurbished one at Ealing Road and towo others in Harlesden and Kingsbury.  They are open to all residents, pupils and workers in Brent free of charge for all kinds of library services and subject to various statutory guarantees.  They are staffed by paid staff on the Council payroll with the various worker rights that guarantees.

Not so the four "community" libraries which each private organisations that do not publish things like visitor or loan numbers, and do not give the kind of access guarantees that Brent's seven day libraries have.  I would be surprised if they access the range of services either since that would be extremely expensive.  In the past, it appeared that one of them seemed to be more a bookshop than a library

Sadly, I do have to point out that Paul Lorber is doing a bit of misleading of his own in implying that Brent could have just handed over buildings to volunteer groups. That is simply not so.

I think it is also worth pointing out that Brent is one of a dwindling group of authorities that still provide a museum and archive service (at Willesden Green), and that Philip Grant's point about having an exhibition.  There has been at least one previous exhibition on Ernest Trobridge, at the Willesden Museum back in 2010

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party

Coverage of the goings on in Hampstead and Kilburn CLP gives cause for concern as they appoint constituency officers with some very strange behavior behind (and quite possibly in front of them).  They are not known as people keen to go out on the doorstep, quite possibly because they would find a lot of the public disagree with their views.  Both Brent Labour Party and the Party nationally will need to consider whether such people should continue their activities or whether the Regional Director needs to step in. 

Friday, 6 March 2020

Electric Trial for Dust Cart

I see that Brent are trialing electric dust carts with Veolia.  That seems eminently sensible.  A dust cart has a fairly short and predictable circuit so the amount of energy used should be predictable.  The batteries can be charged at the depot, and overall pollution would be reduced.  Of course, a similar argument might be made for buses. 

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Fantasy Shadow Cabinet

That YouGov poll that showed Keir Starmer with a clear lead in the leadership election, also had an interesting take on who Labour Party members might like to see as shadow Cabinet members:

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Commenting on the Morland Gardens Development

Subsequent to my post on Friday, there have been further comments on the Morland Gardens redevelopment proposal.  Philip Grant, a local historian, has written on the history of the building.

The assessment accompanying the application is that during the building's long life the historical features were all stripped out and only the shell remained.  As an aside, I don't recognise his various descriptions of the debate around Willesden Library which was subject to a number of misconceptions.  Essentially, he wants to turn down the current proposal for 65 housing units, some workspace and a further education college in order to retain the Victorian shell and have half the number of housing units.  Which choice one would make depends on a value judgement.

UPDATE 09.03.20

Mr Grant has commented below.  Just to unpack my comment on misconceptions.  I was commenting on misconceptions in general, which I summarised at the time.  I believe that Mr Grant suggested that the only publicity given to the proposed redevelopment was a small focus group, and nothing else.  This was not so as a number of reports and Council meetings had described the options as they were developed (all in the public domain), the Willesden Area Consultative Forum had been informed as referenced in the 2012 post I have just linked to, the Willesden and Brent Times had covered the story (as referenced in the article I just linked to, and I personally had had a number of conversations on the subject with various parties to the library litigation.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Shadow Cabinet Speculation

Keir Starmer's lead in the Labour leadership election now seems so compelling that people are speculating as to the identity of various front bench posts.  More important than who is ultimately getting a new critique of the government's strategy.  The Tories have deftly abandoned their austerity narrative which tacitly concedes that the last decade of suffering was a pointless, self inflicted disaster.  Labour are so preoccupied with internal arguments that the Conservatives have been allowed to do this pretty scotfree. 

Hopefully Oliver Kamm's piece on import substitution will help give some pointers

Monday, 2 March 2020

Fair Trade in Brent Civic Centre

I learn via the Cooperative Party that:

On 4th March the Mayor of Brent will be officially opening the exhibition of Fairtrade themed artwork by Brent schools at Brent Civic Centre.  Start time 4.30pm. At the rear of the ground floor. 

Brent first became a Fairtrade Borough in 2012.  

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Scrutiny and Thames Water

Camden Council has been quizzing Thames Water about why their pipes burst, according to the Camden New Journal, and the answer is they don't know.  That is disappointing as Brent suffers from this problem routinely and a real answer would be reassuring.

This was done via one of Camden's scrutiny committees.  I have never understood why Brent does not use its Scrutiny system in a similar way to the one that Camden use theirs, as my understanding is that it has powers to question about the use of public money anywhere in the Borough. 

However, I can't help but notice that the Camden meeting struggled to get a quorum so things are not perfect there either.