Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Brent Meeting: Parents' Mental Health & Wellbeing February 12th

Brent Council and Brent Clinical Commissioning Group have organised an event for parents in Brent on Tuesday 12 February 2019 to find out more about emotional wellbeing and recognise mental health issues which they or their children may experience.

The evening, which will be in the Grand Hall at Brent Civic Centre in Engineers Way, Wembley,  will feature talks by parents, discussion and offer information about emotional wellbeing and mental health. The event, part of the It’s Time to Talk series run by the council, is for parents or carers in Brent but other family members over 18 are also welcome. It will start at 7pm and finish at 8.30pm.

To register for the event, parents can book a ticket on Eventbrite, or email StrategyandPartnerships@brent.gov.uk or call 020 8937 1068.

Barry Gardiner on the immigration aspects of the Brexit debate

Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North, made a very long speech in the Brexit debate yesterday. The full speech is HERE but I thought people in Brent would be particulalrly interested in what he had to say about immigration:

I move on to immigration, which was a key part of the referendum debate. Like many Members, I was outraged by the dog-whistle politics of the Vote Leave campaign’s very own “Project Fear”: that millions of Turkish citizens would be queueing up for entry into the UK. That was a lie, and those Members who associated themselves with that campaign should feel ashamed.
I also want to express my disgust at those who have sought to paint leave voters as ignorant racists; it is that sort of demonisation of our fellow citizens that is so damaging to the discourse around Brexit. It precisely obscures some of the real concerns that leave voters did express, and had every right to. Their concerns were about the lack of housing, the strains on the NHS, and being undercut in the workplace by unscrupulous employers who often exploited migrants and paid them less than the minimum wage. All those issues are about public services and domestic enforcement. They will not be solved by our leaving the EU, but they will also not be solved by our remaining. What is needed is a change of Government policy, or, better still, a change of Government.
Immigration is a vital element of our economic growth, and of our trade and trade negotiations. We need migration. The Government’s own economic assessment shows that European migration contributes 2% of GDP to the UK. The Government’s proposed £30,000 salary threshold would actually preclude three quarters of EU migrants. I am not referring simply to seasonal agricultural workers or careworkers; even some junior doctors do not earn more than £30,000 a year. The Government’s supposed skills threshold is really a salary threshold, and it would do serious damage to our economy.
The irony is, of course, that EU net migration is coming down. Statistics published just last month record the number as 74,000. The Government have been complaining that free movement gives them no control over those people. Presumably they mean the sort of control that they have always been able to exercise over migrants coming from the rest of the world. Is it not strange, then, that the figure recorded for net migration from the rest of the world is 248,000?
This is why politicians are not trusted. They tell people that we need to abolish freedom of movement to bring migration down to the tens of thousands when our own rules, over which the EU has never had any say, are allowing three times that number. What we should be explaining to people is that net migration should go both up and down in line with the needs of our economy. As long as we have fair rules and competent and reasonable management of migration, this country will be better off. The trouble is that we have had lies, arbitrary targets that bear no relation to our economy’s requirements, and, frankly, administrative incompetence.
As with regulatory alignment, so with the exchange of people. The deeper the trade deal we want, the greater the need for an exchange of people. Foreign companies that invest in the UK want and need their indigenous workers to get visas, and the harder we make that process, the less investment we will secure. When the Prime Minister went to India two years ago to secure a trade deal, she was rebuffed on precisely that issue. The Times of India summed it up on its front page with the headline “You want our business. But you do not want our People”.
Students should never have been part of our net migration figures, and immigration should be proclaimed loudly by every Member to be an important and hugely beneficial resource for our economy. Yes, free movement of people will end when we leave the EU, because it is a function of the treaties of the EU, but that does not mean that we should not operate a system of immigration controls with the EU that allows broad and reciprocal access to all our citizens in a way that maximises the benefits to all our economies. That is what our businesses need: access to skills.

Brent Council seeks to reassure EU residents amidst Brexit chaos

The leader of Brent Council, Cllr Muhammed Butt, the Cabinet Member fort Social Cohesion, Cllr Tom Miller and Brent CEO Carolyn Downs all sought to reassure EU citizens living in Brent that they were valued and welcome members of the Brent community at last night's Time to Talk session on Brexit.

Cllr Butt said, 'We value every member of our community. Look at our workplaces, look at our high streets, look at our schools.'

Cllr Miller spoke about the 60/40 referendum vote for Remain in Brent and said that public opinion had since shifted further in favour of Remain.  This was why Brent Council had recently recorded its support for a People's Vote on the deal Theresa May had negotiated.  He condemned the fact the EU citizens had been denied a vote on their own future in the Referendum. EU families had been put in a precarious position, unable to plan for their future in terms of housing, work and their children's education.

He said that the Council intended to voice its concern over Brexit, ensure that Brent remains 'open' during the transition period, work with representative EU citizen organisations in the borough and continue to support a public vote on the final deal.

Carolyn Downs, addressing EU citizens directly said, 'We will stand by you and stamp on any inappropriate behaviour towards EU nationals.'  She added that the concerns of the  40% of Brent voters who had voted to Leave should be explored and addressed by the council.

The Time to Talk session was not as well attended as organiser may have hoped with open a small number of young people and not as many EU nationals as I would have expected.  It was interesting that although there were a number of people present who I know to be supporters of Lexit (a Left Brexit) they did not air their views in the main session, although the format of the meeting may have been against them:

Attendees were tasked with discussing their concerns in  groups and reporting one issue back to the full meeting. These are some of the concerns mentioned:
  • young people were not given an appropriate voice
  • the direction that the UK will take after leaving the EU
  • emerging tensions and discrimination in the community - how do we claw back community cohesion
  • will EU citizens with settlement status in  the UK become victims of 'Windrush 2' in the next 10-20 years?
  • need for support for public services such as health and education if EU citizens leave
  • the retirement entitlements of EU citizens in the future
  • EU nationals in poorer circumstances may not be aware of and able to access the application process for settlement status
  • the need to prioritise human rights in the new situation in  which the country finds itself
  • impact of leaving on the cost of living
  • deterioration in food and animal rearing standards outside of the EU
  • impact on import and export of food
In the panel discussion a further concerns was raised about the access of people with disability to the settled status application process and more broadly to discrimination against disabled people becoming more prevalent in the post-Brexit atmosphere,

Mandy Brammer, head of the Brent Registration Service gave details of the EU settlement scheme that would give EU nationals access to work, healthcare, schools and public funds.  A 5 year continuous residence will be required and an 85 page document gives details of the process to gain settled status.  It does not apply to Irish citizens.  The cost is £65 for an adult and £32.50 for children. It is free for Looked After Children,

If EU nationals do not apply it will be illegal for them to stay in the UK, they would have no right to work and no access to vital services.  The process starts on the 30th March 2019 through to December 31st 2020.

Regarding contacting affected residents I suggested that the Registration Services speak at Parent Forum meetings in local schools about the settlement process and Mandy Brammer confirmed that they would be able to do this.

The presentation by Cllr Miller and the one by Mandy Brammer are below and can be found on the Brent Council Brexit web page  along with other vital information HERE Click on bottom right corner for full size version

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Brent Budget Panel opposes reduction in library services and suggests handover to a charitable trust and more use of volunteers

Brent Council may be relying on local people having short memories regarding the above options for cuts to library services but they did promise back in 2011, when Brent libraries were 'transformed' by closing half of them, that opening hours would be increased and there would be enhanced service provision in the remaining libraries. Certainly the promise to extend opening hours was kept.  In addition after the very bad publicity and damage to the council's relationship with the local community, a change of political leadership brought a more sympathetic attitude to local library campaigners and some support for volunteer led libraries.

However the budget proposals for reduced hours or another closure  may well bring back bitter memories and accusations that the 2011 promises have not been kept.

The Budget Scrutiny Panel have come out in opposition to the proposals but suggested an alternative which was abandoned before, of handing over the libraries to a charitable trust. This will also prove controversial as it reduces democratic control and is contrary to Brent Council's recent love to bring arms-length and out-sourced services back in-house. They also recommend increased use of volunteers.

This is what the Panel had to say:

CWB006 proposes to reduce library hours and offers no argument that residents will benefit from a better service if this is implemented. We do not agree with this proposal and believe it should have been place in the “Most Difficult” appendix. 

We are pleased that residents in Brent know they have six council-run libraries in the borough that they can go to seven days per week. Scaling back on this universal service would undermine the trust the council has slowly rebuilt with the community following the closure of several libraries before 2014. We also believe there is a real danger that demand will be dampened if people become confused about which libraries they can go to at certain times and which they can go to at others.

There are other options we feel the council could consider before passing this proposal. The first of these is transferring the library service to a charitable trust as other authorities – including Glasgow, Luton and Fife - have done. If our library service were run in this way, the six buildings could become eligible for business rates relief of at least 80 per cent, presenting significant savings without a loss in the service. 

We recommend that the council gives serious consideration to this idea. 

Secondly, the largest mistake, in our view, that the council made before adopting its proposal of library closures a few years ago, was refusing to give local community and volunteer groups any opportunity to run the service. We recommend that this time every effort should be made to see if volunteers can take over some of the services to prevent closures. We are aware that some libraries require a permanent security presence and that this work cannot be done by volunteers, but this is not the case in every library and so should not prevent a volunteer team from keeping these branches open. 

Thirdly, we recommend that Brent explore all options which help to maximise the use of library buildings and extract additional financial value from them. For example, residents in flats above shops often struggle to get hold of council recycling bags for their waste. If they could collect these easily from their local library this would be easier for them and give the library further status as a local hub for council services. Likewise, there is much potential to rent out event space in some of our libraries, like the upstairs floors in Harlesden Library, and we think more work needs to be done to sweat those assets. 

This are just some starting ideas, but it is our fundamental belief that any alternative to make savings in the service are considered before we resort to the drastic step of partial closures. 

Pros and Cons on Library Trusts can be found HERE

Contribute to the Budget consultation HERE

Task Group tackles crisis of so-called 'affordable housing' in Brent

A Task Groupn on Affordable Housing will report to the Public Realm Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday that most Brent families cannot afford so-called 'affordable' housing at up to 80% of market rents or the 'shocking' fact that many social rents are already too high for them.  The report does not say this but it raises questions about the amount of 'Build to Rent' construction being carried in the Quintain development around Wembley Stadium which is clearly out of reach of the great majorityof  local people. As suggested by Wembley Matters in the past, it would be helpful if Brent planners were clear about which definition of 'affordable' they are using in their reports to the Planning Committee. 80% of market rent is not affordable.

Affordability in Brent

Brent’s housing market, as with much of London, faces distinct pressures. There is high demand, a shortage of genuinely affordable housing, a diverse mix of households - including large numbers of multigenerational households, above average levels of overcrowding and many households living in temporary accommodation.

To begin to understand “affordability” of housing in Brent, it is necessary to understand the relationship between average income levels and the level of rents locally. To this end Brent Housing Department commissioned Cambridge University to carry out a study in 2017.
The report reached some shocking conclusions, most notably that social rents are already too high for a significant proportion of Brent social housing tenants.

The researchers found that over half of current working single people or couples allocated social housing in Brent were struggling to afford Brent rents for 1 bedroom flats, and that 90 per cent of families with 2 children couldn’t afford the rent for a 3 bed property (affordability here being judged by the income that a household requires in order to be able to afford the rent without the need for support from Housing Benefit).
With higher average rents the situation is even worse for tenants renting from Registered Providers.

The report concluded that the council faced a choice in the future between building a smaller number of social rented units (due to factors including the lack of subsidy available, restrictions on and cost of borrowing, and land values) or a larger number of units at “affordable rents” (in this case 65 per cent of market rent) where many more tenants would be reliant on housing benefit support to meet the rent.

We should be mindful here that the landscape has shifted since the 2017 report was commissioned, given the recently proposed lifting of the HRA borrowing cap.

Private sector rents and income levels

In Brent the acute pressures on housing are compounded by high private sector rents combined with relatively low income levels in much of the borough, when compared with London as a whole.

In September 2017 the average private rent in Brent was £1,557 per month, which represents a 15 per cent increase from five years earlier and a figure only 8 per cent lower than the average of £1,685 for London. Whereas full-time workers in Brent earned an average gross weekly pay of £576.20 in 2017, compared with the London average of £692.50, a difference of 20 per cent.

Brent private sector residents therefore face paying rents at a significantly higher proportion of their pay than the London average. Many people in work also need housing benefit to enable them to pay their rent.

It is worth noting that while private rented housing does not meet the definitions of affordable housing, many tenants that rent from a private landlord can only afford their housing costs because they receive housing benefit. Such households aren’t counted in calculations of the “need” for affordable housing (as housing benefit enables most of them to afford their housing costs), but if housing benefit support was reduced or if there wasn’t sufficient private rented housing available at a price they could afford, then this would inevitably and significantly increase the need for affordable housing.

This highlights the degree to which Government investment in housing has switched over time from capital expenditure on “bricks & mortar” to the housing benefit bill.
 The detailed report LINK should be read in full for an explanation of each of the 18 recommendations as well as complex issues such as viability assessmments.
Affordable housing targets and viability
1. In the new Local Plan for Brent the strategic target of 50 per cent for affordable housing in new developments should be retained, with an expected tenure split of 70 per cent social rent / London Affordable Rent to 30 per cent intermediate affordable housing.
2. Brent Council should adopt the Mayor of London’s 35 per cent “fast-track” threshold approach to viability (with 50 per cent on publicly owned land and for industrial sites). Through this the council would forego the requirement for a financial viability assessment and/or a late stage viability review in the event that a developer guarantees delivery of the requisite percentage of affordable housing across the entire development (with the 70 per cent social rent / London Affordable Rent to 30 per cent intermediate tenure split applicable). The policy should be subject to review.
3. To help meet the need for larger affordable homes in the borough, Brent should continue to require a minimum of 25 per cent of new affordable rented homes to be three bedrooms or larger, accommodating at least a household of six (2 people per bedroom). However, this approach must be combined with a clear and effective under- occupation strategy, enabling and incentivising down-sizing in order to release more existing larger homes for re-let.
4. The council should continue to use the “Existing Use Value Plus” (EUV+) method for determining benchmark land values. Any other uplift in value should be captured for the public.
Corporate approach to affordable housing delivery
5. Future council policy with regard to the setting of rents for affordable housing should continue to be based on the traditional social rented model (like the mayor’s London Affordable Rent model) and should not be linked to volatile and irrational market rents rather than incomes.
6. Brent Council should create a cross-departmental Board of officers, reporting directly into the Corporate Management Team (CMT), to ensure a ‘one council’, joined-up,
sustainable approach to the delivery of Affordable Housing. The board should have high level responsibility for programme management and monitoring of an Affordable Housing Action Plan and associated suite of Key Performance Indicators. The Board should include senior officers from Brent’s Planning, Housing, Regeneration, Property, Finance and Legal teams.
7. Brent should consider adopting a land assembly, master planner approach, working with key partners and designating Land Assembly Zones in its Local Plan. Where attempts to encourage and incentivise voluntary land assembly do not succeed, Brent should commit to extend its use of compulsory purchase powers in these zones, where the law allows.
8. Brent Council should maximise resources available through the mayor’s fund, RTB receipts and borrowing to support direct delivery within its own capital development programme with a primary focus on rented homes at social rent levels and on larger homes (3 bedrooms or larger).
9. Brent must adopt a clear policy on access to shared ownership in the borough, making the product accessible to people on incomes that are as low as possible and ensuring the policy is designed to enable keyworkers to take advantage of it.
10. All new homes in Brent should be marketed locally first, as per the Mayor of London’s planned “first dibs” policy. Brent should investigate how such a requirement could be implemented.
11. Brent Council should explore all the options highlighted in this report for innovative partnering arrangements and delivery models with Registered Providers.
Estate regeneration
12.Future estate regeneration projects in Brent should use the South Kilburn Regeneration Programme as a model of good practice and make a clear commitment to ensuring there is no loss (in quantum terms) of social rented affordable housing and to resident ballots.
Land owned by public authorities
13. Brent should actively promote partnership working on publicly owned land with other public bodies, as promoted by the Naylor Review (One Public Estate), e.g. Network Rail/TfL sites such as potential over station and over rail land developments, as part of the Local Plan.
Industrial/employment sites
14. Brent must adopt a proactive approach to identifying opportunities where surplus commercial space, underused retail sites and car parks may have significant potential for housing development, both strategic industrial land sites and smaller commercial land sites, and in particular where sites have potential for mixed-use developments.
Small sites
15. The council and its agents should proactively explore partnerships with developers and RPs on small sites to maximise the amount of affordable housing across the borough. Brent should identify potential opportunities and funding mechanisms for increasing
development of small sites, including any further opportunities for infill development. It should be prepared to invest the necessary resources.
16. Developers of small sites with capacity for 10 or fewer units should be expected to pay a commuted sum, wherever possible, based on a consistent tariff, to Brent as a contribution to the fund for affordable housing to be built elsewhere in the borough. All affordable housing in small developments should be included in Brent’s periodic performance stats.
Community led housing
17.Brent should investigate and promote opportunities for community led housing projects, such as “Community Land Trusts” and “Self-Build” projects, which will protect homes and assets at affordable levels in line with local incomes for future generations.
18. Brent should explore setting up of a CLT model on publically owned land and encourage developers to do the same.

Caroline Lucas on changing the Brexit conversation

Caroline Lucas' speech at yesterday's Convention

It’s a pleasure to be here today, and to welcome you all to this Convention.

I want to start by saying a huge thank you to everyone who has made it happen at such short notice.
And - perhaps more unexpectedly - I also want to say a genuine thank you to the 17.4 million people who gave the Establishment such a well-deserved kicking in 2016.
Thanks to you, the crisis at the heart of our democracy – and the intolerable levels of inequality and insecurity experienced by so many – can no longer be ignored.
The place that we’ve been brought to by the outcome of the referendum is difficult, dangerous and divisive.
But we mustn’t let that obscure the truth, or distort our analysis.
Many people took the question they were being asked to mean “Should the country go on being run in the way that it is?’
And they voted “NO!” with a collective howl of rage.

That response was justified then - and it’s justified now.
For some, it might have been mixed up with fear, even bigotry, and an impossible longing for the past.
But there was - and is - a core message at the heart of the Brexit vote.
That the status quo in this country is intolerable for huge numbers of people. 
That the social contract is broken and the power game is rigged.
It is right and reasonable to be furious.
The questions we must ask going forward have to start with that acknowledgement.
And with a powerful commitment not even to try to go back to the way things were.

There has to be something better.
Better than both the inequality and the powerlessness we’ve been grappling with for decades and that still haven’t been resolved -
A democratic failure as well as an economic one.

So throughout today, I want us to address three key questions.

First, how do we address the very real grievances that led so many to vote for Brexit in the first place?
Those living in communities with proud histories, but which have been hollowed out by de-industrialisation and decades of neglect, compounded in recent years by an ideologically driven assault on public services in the name of austerity?

Second, how do we make staying and fighting for the Europe we want a pathway to change -  to a society that isn’t just less grim than what we have now, but is genuinely fair, green and fulfilling? 
How do we inspire people with a vision of the way membership of the EU can make a positive and practical improvement to their lives? 
How do we ensure that Project Hope overcomes Project Fear?

And third, how do we renew our democracy?  How do we genuinely take control?

Shift the framework entirely and hand power to people not just for one vote, but forever, so that our country can unite around a new settlement that gains popular consent across the Brexit divide?
Today is about changing the conversation about Brexit. 
It’s about moving forward - humbly, positively and with hope.
And it’s about putting young people, those who will be most affected by Brexit, at the heart of all we’re doing.
Change is coming, one way or another.
Let’s think anew and act anew.  Let’s shape it together.
And let’s start with some honesty about the real causes of Brexit.

Because telling the truth is what sets us apart from the populists - the political insiders who dress up as rebels, and use Europe to distract from their own failures.
People were, and are, angry and frustrated for many reasons.
And they can, at least partly, be summed up in the words of the inimitable Russell Brand: “People saw a bright red button that said Fuck Off Establishment, and they pressed it.”
For many, there was a genuine sense that any change was better than the status quo.
That they had nothing left to lose.
The tragedy, of course, is that they do and likely will.
Particularly those least equipped to cope.
Concerns about access to housing, jobs, and the NHS are real and have to be addressed.
And so too do concerns about migration.
Changing the Brexit conversation means proudly celebrating free movement - and the opportunities it’s given to individuals and to our country.
It was not just a political failure, but a moral failure, that saw the Remain campaign hide away from talking about migration in 2016 - preferring instead to bandy about economic threats, rather than engage in a serious debate on this pressing issue.
It also means making those opportunities of free movement genuinely available to all - when for vast swathes of people today they’re not even imaginable.
But we must also be very honest with people about free movement.
I’ve heard some Remainers say we should re-negotiate it, ask the EU for an exemption if we’re to remain.
That’s simply not going to happen, and it would be an utterly perverse thing to demand from Brussels.
Because we know that migration has been a good thing for Britain - but not everyone has felt those benefits.
And big changes to our communities can be frightening, especially when they happen fast.
We can’t shy away from these concerns.
And we must also act anew by hearing very carefully when they are caught up with something else.
Fuelled by anger at being ignored and neglected.
At the failure of successive governments to deliver jobs and other opportunities.
A future for communities – any kind of future, let alone a better one.

The tragedy, of course, is that Brexit would actually make it harder to address all of these problems.
Not least because - under every single Brexit scenario - there would be less money available to repair and rebuild the social fabric that has been so viciously torn apart.
Britain has become a place of grotesque inequalities
Not just between classes, but geographically between regions, especially between North and South; and between thriving cities and failing towns within the same region.
Last year, the Commission on Social Mobility identified the 30 worst ‘coldspots’ for social mobility - and every single one of them voted to Leave.   I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Shamefully, levels of interregional inequality in the UK are 50% higher than in similar-sized economies such as France and Germany, a third higher than Italy, and almost twice as high as Spain.
Income levels in London have risen by a third since the financial crash - but fallen - yes, fallen - by 14% in Yorkshire and Humberside.
Nor is growing inequality on its own the full story of the economic injustice people experience.
It’s accompanied by acute insecurity.
A huge rise in debt, a loss of long-term prospects, affects everyone.  
As inequality spins out of control, people in all classes feel helpless.  That’s why the slogan “Take back control” had such resonance.
It promised agency in a system in which the rich and powerful, who clearly do have agency, were telling us that the market rules, and there’s nothing anyone can do.
In short, this is a country where what dictates your success isn’t how hard you work, or how much you care.
It’s not your passion or your commitment.
No.  This is a country where your success is dictated by your postcode, the income of your parents, the year in which you were born.
It’s a country of dead end streets for those with the least, and open highways for those with the most.
The lie at the heart of the Leave campaign was that this downward spiral could be reversed by leaving the EU.

We don't need to leave the EU.
We need to think anew.
We urgently need a new social contract: better jobs, high-quality public services, investment in the green economy, people of all backgrounds and communities treated with respect, and given the opportunity and the power to thrive.

It's not enough to assert that EU migrants bring a net economic benefit to the country as a whole.
That benefit needs to be felt in those areas that experience the greatest changes, with those communities coming together to decide themselves how to invest that funding.
And to reverse the cycles of decline that blight so many parts of Britain, let’s make sure we transform the future with funding that delivers real opportunities and lasting hope.
Thinking and acting anew to tackle inequality and insecurity can help heal our divided country.
So too can an honest conversation about what we have in common.
About a fairer, greener economy that works for us all but also a conversation about who we are as a country - and what we aspire to be.
Those living in once proud communities that have been gutted often feel have very little to lose.
We need to give them something to gain from remaining in the EU.
Likewise, the well-off in non-metropolitan areas who also drove this genuine nationalist vote.
We all need a reason to think anew.
To choose to stay and fight.
The 2016 result should tell us that “project fear” won’t win people over.
They want hope.

If Britain voted again tomorrow, the demographics of this country would probably already have shifted in favour of staying in the EU.
But that’s not enough.
This isn’t just about winning at the ballot box. It’s about winning a different kind of shared future.
To do that, we must urgently learn the lessons of the past.
The mistakes of the Remain campaign mustn’t be repeated.
Mistakes that meant the campaign was seen primarily as defending the status quo, with the political elite pulling the strings.
A campaign that utterly failed to inspire any kind of connection with, or love for, the EU.
Something worth defending – and yes, staying and changing too.
To stand any chance of winning a People’s Vote, we have to abandon all association with a vapid centrism that has failed to deliver for so many people, and would fail again.
We have to think and act anew.
To start using the ideas and language now that will set the tone for a very different kind of referendum campaign.
One that’s hopeful, inclusive, energetic and radical. One we can all feel part of and one that appeals to our hearts as well as our heads.
That builds on the work of groups like Another Europe is Possible, Our Future Our Say, For Our Future’s Sake, and the nearly 200 local groups supporting a People’s Vote.
That shows people - and young people in particular - that there is genuinely a diversity of voices championing our continued membership of the EU.
I welcome the central role give to young people at today’s Convention.

Let’s make sure we listen to those voices and that they are part of owning the way forward.
And we need a referendum campaign that compellingly sets out what kind of EU we want.
An EU of the people, an EU of solidarity.
A vision that galvanises people to stay and fight, not walk away.
One that’s positive about who we are as a country: our ambition and our courage.
It was these values that helped create the European Union.
That helped us emerge from the rubble and destruction of the Second World War into peace with our neighbours ever since - a miracle few would have dreamed possible when the bombs were raining down.

The EU is the greatest international venture for peace, prosperity and freedom in history.
Where in the world has there ever been a better example of collaboration in pursuit of such values?
That astonishing achievement ought to be front and centre of the Brexit conversation – and it’s up to us to put it there.

So too the social and environmental protections, and the remarkable gift of free movement - that precious right to travel and to work and to live and to love in 27 other countries.
And so too, the good angel sitting on our shoulder when it comes to upholding human rights, the friendships across borders, the cultural opportunities, the life without fear and the solidarity.
To have reduced all that to an argument about the cost of a trolley load of shopping was such a tragedy.

Changing the conversation about Brexit has to mean moving on from the facts and the figures, and connecting instead with the feelings, hopes and dreams that will unite us. It’s got to be about who we are as a country, and how we want to be seen.

Now you don’t need to tell me that the EU is imperfect - I was an MEP for 10 years!
It is, at times, a highly political, top-down, opaque and technocratic set of institutions.
One that, actually, could be made instantly more transparent and accountable by live streaming all meetings and publishing minutes, and key papers like trade negotiation documents.
But here I want to challenge the media too.
Not just those with an almost pathological hatred of the EU - but the Guardian, the BBC - the so-called mainstream, the so-called liberals.
Decisions which are made in the EU affect us every single day, the laws that are passed make a real difference; our members of the European Parliament represent us.  
So let’s stop the fake news about straight bananas, let’s stop treating MEPs as though they didn’t exist, let’s talk about politics in the European Union whenever news is made, not just when Nigel Farage stands up and makes another speech attacking the European Commission.

In the medium term, a Constitutional Assembly should be set up to examine the steps needed to democratise the EU - strengthening the role of the European parliament at the same time as respecting national self-determination.
And longer term, the EU must dismantle the habitual domination of corporate power over the will of citizens, and re-politicise the rules that govern our single market and - for those countries that joined it - the single currency.
Such reforms are long overdue and we shouldn’t be afraid to advocate changing the EU at the same time as fighting to stay part of it.
Transforming the EU into a beacon for democracy brings me to my third question - and the serious democratic deficit in our own country.
Brexit laid bare the extent to which our governance structures are derelict.
When citizens were deprived of a credible, representative power that clearly belongs to, or is accountable to them, it led to anger with the most remote authority of all.
The EU was blamed for the UK’s structural elitism, and held responsible as the source of all powerlessness.
Yet Brexit shows no sign of giving us back ‘control’ or changing the way we’re ruled.

A People’s Vote should be the starting gun on the race to genuinely democratise the UK.
Looking anew at the way Britain is governed, not just by the EU but by Westminster as well.
We are one of the most centralised countries in Europe, with disproportionate power held at Westminster, and far too little in our regions and local authorities.
Powers need to go back to the regions of the UK, where people have a better chance of influencing it.  And, if the English want it, to England.
The DUP’s sectarian interests in Ireland are a world away from the interests of Northern Ireland or modern Britain.
The evolving views from Wales have been treated by this Government with contempt.
And it is inconceivable that Remain-voting Scotland should be forced out of the EU against its wishes.
Years of failure to engage with the need for overall constitutional reform has left us with an incoherent patchwork of piecemeal changes.

If we’re to think and act anew, we must open up to new forms of power and politics – better distributed, more diverse, more strongly integrated, and more modern.
Parliamentary sovereignty needs to be better rooted in the people.
One of the best ways to “take back control” is to rid ourselves of a winner takes all politics, and an outdated electoral system that systematically shuts people out.
68% of votes cast in last June’s General Election were effectively wasted – they made no contribution at all to the distribution of seats.
No democratic renewal is complete without proportional representation.
And let’s seriously explore ideas like Parliament moving out of London to a city such as Leeds or Manchester – with the chance to rebalance our economy as well as our politics.
The Palace of Westminster, Gothic, rat-infested, and crumbling into the Thames, has become a powerful symbol of political decay.

If we mean what we say about changing this country for good, then why not make moving Parliament out of London the first in a series of changes which turn the UK into a 21st century democracy?
Let’s learn from the inspiring way in which Citizens Assemblies have been used in Ireland, for example, to facilitate informed debate on contentious topics and build deep consensus and understanding.
And let’s ensure that democracy can no longer be undermined by fake news and post-truth advertising by introducing new ground-breaking digital democracy laws.
Though the Prime Minister would have us believe otherwise, we have a wealth of choices facing us right now.

Amidst all the noise about the meaningful vote and parliamentary amendments, and whether to extend or revoke Article 50, it’s easy to lose sight of the much bigger choices we can make.
The public want to take control - and we must start to deliver that with a People’s Vote.
If we are to break the Brexit deadlock in parliament, we the people must lead the way.

When Theresa May rules something out, it’s often a strong indication that it’s right around the corner. On that basis, a People’s Vote on her Brexit deal might be getting closer by the minute.
So let’s not squander this moment. Let’s look ahead and build on the radical rejection of the status quo represented by the referendum outcome.
A People’s Vote must look, feel like and reflect our wonderful country – diverse, raw, plural, noisy and, above all, run by and for the people.
We’re told Brexit is the will of the people – but it’s relevant to ask ourselves the will of which people?
Over 70% of voters aged 18-24 voted for Britain to remain, as did 62% of 25-34 year olds.
No wonder it’s been called an “unforgivable act of generational theft”.

So I say again, young people must play a leading role in the way forward - because they will live the longest with the consequences.
And let’s make sure the voices of those who once supported Leave but reject Theresa May’s deal are heard too.
Redistributing power fairly and equally must be both one of our objectives and integral to the way we operate ourselves.
It means politicians like me must spend time far more time listening than talking too.
That’s why I have pledged to actively seek out leave voters, listen to their views and identify what unites us rather than what divides us.
Today I’d like to call on you to think anew and act anew by doing the same.

So in conclusion, I simply want to say that never in my lifetime has our future felt more uncertain.
But when people come together and reach for a bigger future, we’ve shown we can change the course of history.
We do that when we act with honesty, humility and courage.
When we look for, and believe in, the good in others. In our shared hopes and dreams.
I’d like to close by sharing some of Seamus Heaney’s words, from the wall of the General Post Office in Dublin, scene of the bloody 1916 Easter Rising.
He has written:
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme
I believe this is one such moment, that another vote is possible and that, together, we can make change happen.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

GMB call for Brent Council to bring cleaning services back in-house following report recommendation

Since I published the earlier article (January 8th LINK)reporting that Monday's Brent Cabinet will decide whether to bring back estate cleaning services in-house, the GMB have issued the following press release:
After 10 years of minimum wage and poor terms and conditions under Wettons Cleaning services our hard working members deserve better, says GMB London
GMB have called for the approval of Brent Council’s cleaning services to be brought back in-house at a Council meeting on Monday 14 January.
This is following a report which recommended tenants and leaseholders get more control over the service, by the cleaning of council estates being dealt directly by Brent council.
Wettons Cleaning Services Limited currently clean housing estates across the borough, after being awarded the contract in 2009. They are responsible for the maintenance of the internal and external communal areas of blocks of flats managed by the council.
Krissy O’Hagan, GMB Regional Officer said:
“After 10 years of minimum wage and poor terms and conditions under Wettons Cleaning Services our hard working members deserve better, bringing the service back in-house will correct this pay inequality and improve working conditions.
“Brent Council are committed to bringing services back in house, and GMB ask that this commitment is honoured and they do the right thing!”

Friday, 11 January 2019

Brent to set up Knife Crime Task Group - where's the youth representation?

The Resources and Public Realm Committee of Brent Council is to set up a Knife Crime in Brent Task Group. Members will be councillors Kabir (Chair), Gbajumo, Johnson, Chappell & Stephens plus Richard Harrington, Senior Policy and Scrutiny Officer.

A Public Health approach to the issue is advocated:
Give that Brent Council has closed most youth provision in the borough, including infamously the Stonebridge Adventure Playground, I am surprised that an assessment of impact of closures is not in  the terms of reference and that youth organisations (or even the Youth Parliament) are not listed as consultees. It would have been useful to have representatives of the YP on the Committee itself.


A.         CONTEXT


In London, the total number of offences involving knife crime has increased by 4%, and in the last year in Brent, it increased by 18% to 755 knife crime offences. This was the 3rd highest level of knife crime of the 32 London boroughs.
Knife crime is not only an offence; it impacts on the health of victims, and their families and peers. The cost to the NHS of each stabbing is upwards of £7,200.
Violence acts like an epidemic disease, and can be tackled using a multi-agency public health approach. This involves treating violence as a preventable public health issue, using data and analysis to identify causes and focusing on prevention through multi-agency systemic approaches.
In Brent there are a number of interventions already in place for older children and teenagers, while early intervention programmes for younger children are currently being developed.


The aim of the task group is gain a better understanding of knife crime in Brent and how interventions can reduce knife crime, and which ones will work locally. With this knowledge the task group can make recommendations that will help in reducing rates and mitigate negative impacts on Brent residents.
According to the constitution and the 2006 Police and Justice Act the group can make recommendations to the Community Safety Partnership through Full Council when discharging their duties as the Crime and Disorder Committee.

The task group will:

Review the links between knife crime and gangs in Brent

Review partnership working arrangements
Review what can be done locally to complement the wider London public health approach, including:
The use of Red Thread and other violence interrupter schemes
Street based interventions
Education and employment opportunities for ex-offenders
Using education for nurturing children to prevent crime
Early intervention scheme for different ages, including younger children