Wednesday 29 December 2010

How can youth be sociable?

You may have seen laminated posters, complete with a map, fixed to lamp posts around Brent. These are Dispersal Orders, mainly aimed at young people and are are increasingly being deployed by the Council and local police. In Wembley alone there are Dispersal Zones, or have been, in streets around  Ealing Road, Wembley Central, Wembley Triangle and Wembley Park (including the Chalkhill Estate).

The Council has a standard press release on these zones which usually include fairly vague complaints from residents and shopkeepers about crowds of anti-social youth and drug taking, this is accompanied by statements from the police and the bLead Member for Crime, extolling the virtues of  such zones. Each Zone has an introduction date and an end-date.

The zones give police and police community support officers powers to disperse groups of people, instruct them to leave the area and not return for 24 hours, and to take younger people home. Despite the fact that no initial criminal offence has been committed, if those ordered to leave refuse, or return to the area within 24 hours, they can be arrested or fined up to £2,500.  Although there has been some community support for the Zones there has been criticism that they merely shift the problem from area to area and that they stereotype groups of young people as automatically threatening.

In 2009  Youth Justice published  research entitled Criminalising Sociability Through Anti-social Behaviour Legislation: Dispersal Powers, Young People, and the Police. Researchers found that generally young people, youth parliaments etc were not consulted before the Zones were imposed and that consultation if it took place was often of a 'ticking the boxes' type rather than 'an essential bedrock of legitimacy'. Young people surveyed felt safer in large groups and this was particularly true of girls, but they also recognised that other people did not feel safe when they saw them in large groups. The researchers said that the paradox of dispersal orders was that when the groups were broken up and ordered out of a familiar area (often with shops, transport hubs, meeting places, green spaces and substantial pedestrian flow) individuals became more vulnerable.  Research indicates dispropotionate impact impact on ethnic minorities but Zones are often in largely ethnic minority areas. On the ground in Brent local people will often assume the orders are aimed at particular groups such as Somalis or Tamils.

The current edition of Partnership News the magazine of Brenthousing Partnership, has contributions from members of the OUR SAY youth team about Dispersal Zones in Brent which I reproduce below:
Paul Nugent, aged 17: Well just like ASBOs, it is a bad idea as you are taking away one's freedom of assembling, which I am pretty sure is a human right. So it firstly breaks that and it also will mean nothing except that young people will find another place to hang out. It's as simple as that.
Peter Nugent, also 17: If you're going to stop people hanging around in groups all they're going to do is move on to somewhere else. It could be argued that a lot of young people have nothing to do in terms of activities in their spare time; therefore they hang around in groups. Instead of wasting resources on dispersal zones why not use it to create somewhere they can hang out and not be 'intimidating'.
Daisy Farci, aged 14: Ummmmm. It is a good and bad idea as I think that it is ok to hang around in a public area during the day, but not after it gets dark as it can scare people. If groups are making loud noises and causing trouble then I think they should be told to move.
 It seems ironic that when concern is expressed about 'postal area' gangs, when youth face attack if they move outside their home turf, that there is also an official version, via Dispersal Zones, which seems to say stay in  your area/stay at home. Youth are also often told that they should get away from their computers and their 'cyber friends' and make real friends and learn to socialise. They would be right to ask 'Where?'

Funding for youth facilities is likely to be cut and libraries, often a good neutral meeting place which serves both as a homework base and a safe place for socialising, are being halved. These facilities are badly needed and should be protected against cuts.

Meanwhile the Brent Youth Parliament's admirable campaign to break down negative stereotypes of young people must surely be undermined by the proliferation of Dispersal Zones which can so easily reinforce such stereotypes.

Independent on 80 giant incinerators planned for 2011

The Independent has an excellent on-line article about the debate around the new incinerators planned for the UK LINK.

The Brent Cross Coalition has been raising urgent questions about the incinerator planned for the new development there on the borders of Brent and of course we have proposals to expand 'waste processing plants' in Park Royal as part of the West London Waste Strategy, with no information on the actual processes that will take place in the plants.

I hope our councillors will take time to read this important article.

Death of a valiant fighter for justice

Jayaben Desai (right)
Jayaben Desai, whose refusal to obey a management instruction to stay on and work overtime after another worker had been sacked for not fulfilling his quota, started the famous Grunwick strike, died just before Christmas. She was 77.

I have written elsewhere on this blog LINK how this strike in Dollis Hill, in the heart of Brent, was a significant milestone in the history of trade union struggle in the UK - and one that should feature when local schools devise their programmes for Black History Month

As someone who attended the pickets I well remember her inspiring presence in front of the Grunwick gates. This was a fight against exploitation based on race, class and gender and challenged the trade union movement's neglect of immigrant and women workers.

Here is Jayaben's own account of the working conditions at Grunwick:
On two sides there are glass cabins for the management so that they can watch you as well. He is English. He moves around and keeps an eye. You have to put up your hand and ask even to go to the toilet. If someone is sick, say a woman has a period or something, they wouldn’t allow her home without a doctor’s certificate, and if someone’s child was sick and they had to take it to the clinic or hospital they would say “Why are you going, ask someone else from your family to go”…

Even pregnant women who wanted to go to the clinic were told “you must arrange to go at the weekend.” On the rare occasions when a woman did go during working hours she would be warned that that was the last time. Everyone would be paid a different wage so no one knew what anyone else was getting. And to force people to work they would make them fill in a job sheet saying how many films they had booked in. If someone did a large number they would bring the job sheet around and show the others and say “She has done so many, you also must.”
 And here is a quote about George Ward, the boss, that sums up her strength:
He would come to the picket line and try to mock us and insult us. One day he said “Mrs Desai, you can’t win in a sari, I want to see you in a mini.” I said “Mrs Gandhi, she wears a sari and she is ruling a vast country.”… On my second encounter with Ward he said “Mrs Desai, I’ll tell the whole Patel community that you are a loose woman.” I said “I am here with this placard! Look! I am showing all England that you are a bad man. You are going to tell only the Patel community but I am going to tell all of England.”
Quotes from Amrit Wilson, Finding A Voice: Asian Women in Britain

Jayaben's funeral will be at Golders Green Crematorium  at 11am on December 31st. Her husband would like people to attend if they are able.

Sunday 26 December 2010

Do these charges protect the most vulnerable?

An excellent habitat for rats behind Neasden shops
Just before Christmas Brent Council announced increased charges for its services generally averaging around 10%.  However this average concealed some much sharper increases that raise doubts about whether Labour is keeping its promise to protect the most vulnerable in  the face of Coalition cuts in funding. The charges are operative from January 1st 2011, giving no time for those affected to organise opposition.

Charges for allotment rental are to rise by a massive 127% but in addition groups previously exempted from fees will now pay 50%. The concessionary rate for people in receipt of a state pension now only applies to those who get Pension Credit and that for the unemployed now applies only to those on Income Support or Jobseekers' Allowance.

As a long-time allotment holder, first in Bridge Road, Harlesden and now at Birch Grove, Kingsbury, I know how important having an allotment is to those groups. The elderly, those on benefit or disability allowance  not only keep fit through working the allotment and healthy through eating its produce, but become part of a supportive and sociable community of gardeners, enhancing their quality of life. It is shameful that the council is increasing charges for these groups who are already the hardest hit by the Conservative-led Coalition cuts.

It is even more perplexing that the Council is introducing for the first time a charge for the control of rats. This is now going to cost £95 for one course of treatment. Sharp-eyed Brent residents will be familiar with the dark green bait tunnels to be seen around many of our estates, school playground and shopping centres. The rat population of the borough is on the increase and already resistant to many of the usual treatments.

Again the increased charges will hit those least likely to be able to pay, particularly those who live in poorly maintained, multi-occupied, private rented accommodation. The problem is likely to be exacerbated by the introduction of fortnightly rubbish collections and the possibility of sacks of rubbish being left by over-flowing bins.  Rather cynically the Council predicts that demand for rat pest control will fall by 75% to 90% as a result of the introduction of charges - will we see an equivalent increase in the number of rats running around the borough and the consequent danger of disease?

The full list of increases can be found HERE

Thursday 16 December 2010

Keeping Sight of the Bigger Picture in Fightback

Rather than report on all the detailed information that was given by speakers at last night's Brent Fightback meeting, useful though it was, I would like to look at the themes that emerged.

The major theme was that the present round of cuts should be seen in historical context as a second stage in  the attempted reversal of the post-war settlement that began with Thatcherism and continued under New Labour. The current ConDem stage, using privatisation and marketisation of  the public sector, represents the dismantling of the welfare state as we know it.

Another theme is the Government's success, aided by Labour's ambivalence on the issue, of creating hegemony on the need to reduce the deficit, reduce it quickly and therefore the need for public sector cuts. All assumptions in this need to be challenged.  I called for us to make the argument that the cuts are not necessary and put forward an alternative perspective, including investment in a green economy (made more difficult by the cut in the Green Bank announced this week), rather than just react to each new cut as it comes along. Jamie Ritchie, from Brent Law Centre, put it eloquently when he said that he thought that the basis for making the cuts will be revealed as 'as big a lie' as that which justified the war on Iraq and one that used the same kind of methods.

This hegemony was revealed when the meeting debated the role of the Labour council. Phil O'Reilly of Unison after outlining the extent of council cuts  said she wanted to work with Labour councillors, but later admitted that the Council sometimes made this quite hard. George Fraser of the GMB stated unequivocally that the cuts were going to happen and that his role was to make sure that, in terms of the workforce, they were implemented fairly and the way to do this was to work with the Council. Speakers from the floor challenged this and called for a much more forceful stand against cuts by Labour councillors and, following the election of a swathe of Labour councils across London, for them to stand together to resist the cuts. The GLC's resistance to Thatcher under Ken Livingstone was cited as a good example and it was suggested that a 'Plan of Minimum Resistance' on the main issues should be drawn up.

Cllr Janice Long (Labour), after admitting that Brent Labour was 'not what it once was', pointed out that the Council needed to cuts £98m over the next four years and that if they didn't do so they would be removed from office. If people concentrated on fighting the Council they might win that battle but they would lose the war. She pleaded, "Fight with the Council against the Government. It's a war - fight the war: not the battle."

Many speakers praised the young people who have taken part in recent demonstrations for their militancy and their inventiveness. Unfortunately young people were not well represented at the meeting with the majority present over 60 and male. The movement will really take off when the social network organised young people and the more traditionally organised over 60s are joined by the parents of young families who will be hit by unemployment, housing benefit cuts, Surestart centres closing and education cuts amongst many others. Involving them in the movement is our next big challenge.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

NHS 'reforms' under attack

The NHS Campaign has issue the following quotations from official responses to the NHS White Paper:

"We believe the plans for free choice of GP practice will be damaging in terms of continuity of care, health inequalities and, potentially, patient safety." Royal College of General Practitioners

"A market-based approach risks fragmentation, inefficiency and increased transaction costs." British Medical Association

"We are gravely concerned that the Government takes little or no account of the potential impact on disadvantaged or disengaged individuals or communities.” Royal College of Nurses

"After analysing the proposed new system, we have identified significant risks, worrying uncertainties and unexploited opportunities." NHS Confederation

"We question a fundamental reorganisation, when evidence shows that health outcomes and public satisfaction have improved in recent years." The King's Fund

"The NHS is facing the most difficult financial times in its history. Now is not the time for ripping up internal structures yet again on scant evidence base." Civitas

"At best this will be a waste of time, at worst a waste of money." The Social Market Foundation

LINK to join in action

Tuesday 14 December 2010

We are now the generation at the heart of the fightback...

Local Council Spending Cuts in Brent

These are the estimated figures based on yesterday's announcement (from the Guardian website):

Estimated 2011-12 Revenue Spending Power £301m
Change in 2011-12 Revenue Spending Power -5.85%
Change in 2012-13 Revenue Spending Power -4.0%
Change in formula grant 2010-11 to 2011-12 -11.30%
Change in formula grant 2011-12 to 2012-13 -7.40%

Wasted opportunity to get strategy right

Brent Council Executive last night refused to accept the recommendations made by the Scrutiny Committee on the Waste Strategy despite the efforts of Elaine Henderson and Viv Stein of Friends of the Earth who addressed the meeting (see below). They also decided to go ahead with consultation on the West London Waste Authority's plans for more waste processing depots in the borough, serving several nearby boroughs, despite concerns about the concentration of such facilities in Brent and lack of information on the actual processes that will be employed.  In his contribution Cllr Powney, lead member on these issues, appeared not to provide any substantial answers to the questions raised.  On waste the issue was reduced to budgetary demands rather than green principles.

Viv Stein's speech:

Brent Campaign against Climate Change endorses the views of Brent FoE regarding the waste strategy.  Having attended the previous Executive committee and last week’s Scrutiny committee I felt compelled to speak as I was so astounded by some of the comments made by Cllr Powney.

Both the Brent Campaign and FoE are in favour of increasing recycling, increasing green jobs and cutting carbon.  But this new system is likely to CUT UK jobs, INCREASE emissions and is UNLIKELY to achieve the huge increase in recycling to 60%, which Cllr Powney admitted last week is “very important to get this right as will be a major financial problem for the Council if we don’t.”

You might think this strategy is all about climate change and cutting emissions.  So much so that it mentions climate change 28 times in the document.  But will it really have such an impact?

Yes we do understand there will be less emissions in the collection within Brent – with fewer lorry journeys (as less frequent collections) and instead of recyclables sorted manually on the kerbside they’ll be crushed (so you get more in the trucks).  But when you consider:

-there will be larger vehicles, using more fuel
-the mechanical separation at the materials recovery facility (which uses loads of electricity)
-the additional distances lorries have to travel to these
-the likely reprocessing overseas (as we’ve heard the commingled low-grade materials are likely to be sent further away including China), something not ruled out now by Brent, our emissions do not stop at Brent’s borders, so overall they will actually INCREASE.

Camden Council did an energy audit of their commingled collection, when they switched from kerbside sorted and found that, The carbon footprint of the co-mingled collection system, transfer and MRF is 77% greater than for the kerbside sorted waste collection.”  They then changed to a twin-stream system, with paper collected separately, as Brent FoE proposed previously.

My question is – has an energy audit been modelled into the proposed new system?  If not, how can you possibly claim it will reduce emissions?

We’ve heard that commingling will produce low quality materials, so another question is – is this paving the way for incineration of Brent’s waste? Only last week the UK Confederation of Paper Industries expressed concerns that increasingly paper that could be recycled, may be used to generate energy instead.  This is both an incredibly inefficient use of resources and as a means of energy production, besides all the other concerns that incineration brings.

One of the main reasons why commingling is bad is that the crushed glass contaminates everything, but it also has implications for emissions.  According to WRAP (waste resources action programme) “co-mingled collection of glass frequently results in glass used as road aggregate, which creates 2 kg of CO2 for each tonne of glass. Whereas, glass that is not compacted during the collection phase is made back into bottles and jars, which saves 314kg of CO2 for every tonne.”

So to conclude I am asking for the Exec to reconsider the current kerbside sorted system, and if for some reason you really can’t, I would urge for an amendment that “glass be separated for collection in a twin- stream system” which would be preferable. (These could be collect in the existing green boxes and put in a wheelie bin on the kerbside).

Friday 10 December 2010

Vote for the Ice Factor - forget the X Factor this weekend

If like me you are fed up with the priority given to cars after snow and ice - with roads gritted and cleared and pavements left for us to slip and slide on, then you may be interested in Living Streets' campaign on behalf of pedestrians.

Follow this LINK to take part in their 'Ice Factor' game (a totally different meaning to 'break a leg' than the X Factor)a fun way to bring the message home.

Living Streets are calling for local authorities to agree a winter contract with communities, committing to:
  • Make sure that a severe weather plan is in place that sets out what the Council will do to reduce the impact of severe weather on all road users – including pedestrians
  • Make sure that paths are gritted so that everyone, including older, younger and disabled people, is still able to walk to essential services
  • Send staff and contractors to help clear pavements if they are unable to carry out their main job because of the severe weather
  • Keep all grit bins filled so that grit can be used where it is needed
  • Coordinate a list of volunteers who can be activated by email to help clear streets and alert the local public to help.
A sample contract can be downloaded from their website and sent to your council.

Blackman and Teather Renege on Election Promises

It wasn't just Sarah Teather who reneged on her election promise to oppose a rise in tuition fees. I shared a platform with Bob Blackman, former leader of Brent Conservatives, at a General Election hustings at Harrow College. He spoke against tuition fees and signed the NUS pledge.  Last night he voted for them as  MP for Harrow East and today attacked yesterday's demonstrations.

He stands exposed alongside Sarah Teather.  Both MPs have a large number of students living in their constituency and can expect retribution.

The Green Party continues to maintain its election commitment to oppose tuition fees.

Vodafone Appeal Brent Phone Mast decision

A similar mast at the Salmon Street/Pilgrims Way/Fryent Way roundabout erected July 2010
Vodafone have put in an appeal to Brent Council's refusal of a proposed phone mast at the junction of West Hill and the Avenue. Details of the original reasons for refusal are HERE and Brent Council documentation HERE.

The phone mast would be 13.6m tall with 3 antenna, plus equipment cabinets.

The case will be decided by  the Planning Inspectorate based in Bristol. You can find details on their website and eventually click through to a submission form HERE. The case reference number is 2141400.  The timetable for the appeal is as follows:

Stages and Dates
Start Date: 29th November 2010
Questionnaire and amplifications: 13th December 2010
Statements and interested parties comments: 10th January 2011
Final comments: 31st January 2011

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Sarah Teather: Reasons for opposing tuition fees (2003)

I thought readers may be interested in Sarah Teather's maiden speech in the House of Commons, 27th November 2003 (Still on Brent Lib Dem website LINK)

The Liberal Democrats' newest MP Sarah Teather, today used her Maiden speech in the House of Commons to make an impassioned plea against tuition and top-up fees.

As the youngest of all 659 MPs in the House of Commons, Ms Teather used her own experience of student debt to highlight the fears of thousands of students facing the prospect of massive debts from huge university fees.

Sarah Teather said:

"There are many issues I intend to champion during my time here. Funding for local schools, the need for more police and GPs, campaigning to make the local council more responsive to local needs. But today, in this debate I want to raise an issue of great importance to my constituents - tuition and top-up fees.

"Although the Liberal Democrats are united in opposing these fees, there is great debate about the issue in the other parties too. I do not see it as a party-political matter.

"It is an issue that is particularly dear to my heart. As the youngest MP, I am almost certainly the only MP still paying off her student loan. I am aware that I was still very lucky in that when I went to university I received a full grant. I graduated before tuition fees were introduced.

"Students beginning GCSEs and hoping to go to university in the future could face extraordinary levels of debt - £33,000 according to Barclays Bank. That is more than my parents' mortgage.

"I feel intense frustration when we talk of widening participation, only then to debate introducing a policy which would deter the very students we hope to attract. Fear of debt is as real to many people as real debt.
"Top-up and tuition fees are serious issues of concern to my constituents. All the evidence suggests that fear of debt will deter those from lower income families and ethnic minority communities. This is particularly the case for Muslims - a large community in my constituency - where attitudes to debt are very different.

"Fundamentally, I believe that this is about whether we want to encourage a world class education system, or a class based education system where students choose universities according to their ability to pay, and universities are judged on the level of their fees.

"That is not a system I am comfortable with. It is an issue of great concern to my constituents, and many millions of people around this country. I hope honourable members will oppose the measures when the time comes."

Students at the end of their Teather

Westminster University students demonstrated outside Sarah Teather's Willesden Green office this morning over tuition fees. Full report on Willesden and Brent Times website

Monday 6 December 2010

Brent Reserves the Lowest in London

Figures released last week show that Brent Council's reserves (as a proportion of revenue expenditure) are the lowest  in London, although Harrow's are only slightly higher. The reserves are used for contingencies and also put aside for major projects. They are a necessary part of good financial management. Brent will be in trouble if sudden unexpected expenditure is required but at the same time the Borough faces damaging cuts.

Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary, used the large reserves held by some councils as a stick with which to beat them while anti-cuts campaigner cited excessive reserves as a reason why some councils need not  make drastic reductions in services.

Brent's low reserves show why the council was trawling through the carry forwards of individual schools with a view to clawing back non-earmarked surpluses.

These are the figures for Brent and neighbouring councils.

Non-school reserves £m
Revenue Expenditure £m
Non-school reserves as % of revenue expenditure
Hammersmith & F

It's Teather's Turn Tomorrow

Students who study at the Harrow Campus of Westminster University, many of whom live in Brent Central, plan to visit Sarah Teather's office TOMORROW, Tuesday morning at 11 am. People who had hoped to speak to her in her surgery last Friday and those who weren't able to come then might like to come too. 

As the students' Facebook page says:
The University of Westminster's Harrow Campus has many students who reside and vote in the Brent Central area where Lib Dem MP Minister for Children and Families, Sarah Teather, holds a seat.

She is keeping low on the radar and has not announced how she will vote on the 9th. This is good . She is clearly not confident to come out and say she will vote in favour.

We know that in the past, as the Lib Dem Shadow Minister for Education, she has voted strongly-against student top-up fees. let's hold her to account and make sure she follows this logic in the vote on the 9th.

She has also voted against the war in Iraq and the Trident nuclear programme. UWSU has a free education policy and believes that as well as taxing big business, these are two other areas where funding for education could be found. Let's push this message too!

So, this Tuesday we will have a demonstration outside Sarah Teather's constituency office where we will pass over a set of demands including 'a vote against rising tuition fees' and a warning (including signed petitions) that Brent students will not vote for her if she fails to deliver what we've asked.

It will be peaceful and lively demo complete with chanting, singing and a special prize for the most imaginative UWSU/student banner.

Meet outside her office at 11am or, meet at Harrow Campus on the street at 9:30am and we'll travel together.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Support the Biking Bishop!

Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, was asked to withdraw from public ministry after the Daily Mail publicised his Facebook comments about the forthcoming royal marriage. His remarks were pretty forthright in his typical fashion and reflected what many people thought when they heard the news. My personal view is that he deserves support. As a self-proclaimed Christian Socialist and anti-racist he quickly backed and circulated the unity declaration put together by Bent and Harrow Unite Against Fascism opposing the EDL's attempts to divide our community. Now it is our turn to support him.

The bishop, who rides a bike around the area or uses public transport, as any good greenie does, is a breath of fresh air. To support the Facebook campaign for him follow this LINK

Saturday 4 December 2010

Brent Friends of the Earth Call for Waste Rethink

Living the new Waste Strategy - what difference will it make?

Brent Friends of the Earth (FoE) severely criticised Brent Council’s new waste strategy at Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday 30th November.  The group presented their own strategy to the Council instead, and argued that the new system would lead to export of waste, loss of jobs, and that the consultation was highly misleading.

Brent’s Lead Member for the Environment, Councillor James Powney, and two Council Officers were brought before the committee to defend their proposals at a special meeting called by the Lib Dems.  Plans for Brent’s new waste strategy, which had been put out to public consultation, and reductions in the Council’s street cleansing service, which had not, were discussed.

Brent FoE has expressed major concerns about the new waste system, which would introduce a "co-mingled” (mixed) collection of recyclable waste to houses, as opposed to the current system, where materials are sorted at the kerbside.  Elaine Henderson from the group presented evidence that Aylesford Newsprint, the company who currently purchase Brent’s paper, would no longer do so since the new co-mingled collection would mean a more contaminated and poor-quality product.  This raises major concerns about the destination of Brent’s recycled waste and the revenue raised from its collection.  Another waste contractor, May Gurney, can offer a kerbside sorted collection system at the same price or cheaper than a commingled collection, because the value of the materials collected is much higher.

Elaine Henderson, Brent FoE’s spokesperson on waste said, “Brent’s new plans mean we will be going from the best method of collecting recyclable waste to the very worst.  The system we have now is not only more cost-effective, but it is also better for local jobs and the environment.

“We do not believe Brent can possibly achieve the huge increases in recycling that this strategy demands by the methods proposed.  It is a complete waste of money for the Council to be spending a massive £1.7 million on new large wheelie bins just to collect additional mixed plastics and tetra-packs, when they could simply re-educate residents to use the current system instead.

“These changes mean that the company who take Brent’s paper would lose their contract, and we would get less money for our recycled waste.  I was shocked to hear Cllr Powney, who had previously stated our waste would be processed in the UK and Europe, now admit he was not bothered where it will end up.  I also question the impact of this new system on our carbon emissions.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Paul Lorber said, “Our colleagues from Brent  Friends of the Earth have clearly shown that ending the green box system and sorting of recyclable materials on the kerb side would be a mistake. We need to protect UK jobs by ensuring that materials collected in Brent are capable of being used by the UK recycling Industry. I would be appalled if, as a result of the proposals agreed by Brent Labour Councillors running the Executive, recyclable materials collected locally were being shipped 5,000 miles to China with all the resultant environmental pollution that transportation would cause.”

Elaine Henderson stated that previous mention of the possibility of a judicial review over the Council’s misleading consultation was raised by her as Chair of a Residents’ Association, and not on behalf of Brent FoE.

The Committee voted that recommendations be referred back for further consideration by the Council’s Executive Committee, which is due to meet on December 13th.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Alternatives to axing public services - Caroline Lucas, Green MP

Instead of axing public services we should be addressing the deficit by cracking down on the tax avoidance and evasion that costs the country billions every year. We should be increasing taxes for the very wealthiest, introducing a Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions and scrapping Trident. We should also be investing in job-creation, to keep revenue up and benefits payments down.

“And in terms of local authorities, instead of slashing services we should be looking at cost-effectiveness and fairness and sustainability. This would give us a list of sensible measures including cutting the excessive pay of senior executives, trimming the consultancy bills, spending less on PR, and reducing council fuel bills by making schools, libraries and other public buildings more energy efficient.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Waste Strategy Challenged

Elaine Henderson of Friends of the Earth made a well researched and cogent critique of some aspects of the Council's new Waste Strategy at last night's Scrutiny Committee.  The Lib Dems had called-in both the Street Cleansing and Recycling proposals.

Elaine made the case for making reducing landfill  costs the main focus of the strategy. She said that adopting co-mingled (mixed) collection of recyclables in place of kerbside collection and sorting, would mean that the material would be contaminated and less acceptable to UK based processing companies.  She had talked to Aylesford, Brent's current buyers of paper waste, who had said they did not knowingly buy paper from co-mingled collections. She said that co-mingling would make it more likely that Brent's waste would be sent abroad for processing. This would reduce the price paid by processing companies for Brent's recycled waste.  In answer to a claim that it would be too costly to extend kerbside collection at the price offered by Veolia,  she said that another waste management company, May-Gurney. could offer a kerbside service at the same process as co-mingled.

She criticised the Council's Brent Magazine and on-line consultation as not making it clear that residual waste would now only be collected fortnightly and that residents would  have to have  another large wheelie bin for dry recyclables rather than the green box. The new containers will cost the Council £1.7m.  She suggested that the council should consider the use of large reusable bags for paper as used by other boroughs. She cited the ambiguous language of the survey and its inaccessibility to residents not fluent in English. Elaine made it clear that comment about the possibility of a Judicial Review on the issue that she had made at an earlier meeting, was raised as a member of a Residents' Association, and was not the policy of Brent Friends of the Earth.  She presented the committee with a two page alternative Friends of the Earth Waste Strategy.

A rather irked Cllr Powney was caustic in his response and claimed that it had been a 'good consultation' and compared well with similar Brent consultations. He said that he had personally appeared at all the Area Forums to explain the strategy and that there had been articles in the local press about it. He claimed that the new strategy was not a reduction in service but an enhancement as it would now extend to 28,000 more households. He said that the waste once collected by Veolia was their property and where it was processed was no concern of the council.

Cllr Lorber (Lib Dem) who was chairing the committee said that he agreed with Brent FoE that the consultation was not fair or reasonable and suggested referral to the Local Government Ombudsman. In the debate there was much discussion of numbers and recycling rates as well as practical issues about how people with small gardens would cope with three bins. Cllr Moher tried several times to get further discussion on the co-mingling verus kerbside sorting issue, rather than the consultation, but had little success. Cllr Lorber said he did not want to see at some future date a TV documentary showing Brent's waste being sorted by child labour abroad.

Earlier the committee had discussed a reduction of in the sweeping of residential streets from three times a week to twice a week. Officers claimed that there would be no reduction in standards because Veolia would still be held to a Grade a or B standard of cleanliness. Independent surveys had shown public satisfaction with the standard of street cleanliness and these surveys plus increased monitoring should maintain standards.

At the conclusion of the meeting Paul Lorber used his chair's casting vote to put forward recommendations to the Executive to reconsider key aspects of the Waste Strategy, in the light of projected savings being over and above those required. However, Cllr Powney's vociferous defence of the strategy seemed to indicate that the recommendations would be rejected.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Hard Times Ahead for Education in Brent

Brent Council, faced with having to make 'savings' of £90m by 2015 is undertaking a 'fundamental review of purpose' headteachers and chairs of governors were told at a briefing last night. Krutika Pau, Director of Children and Families, said this would involve deciding what services the council will continue to offer, reduce, stop or provide in partnership with others.  The council's 'One Council Programme' was designed to both reduce costs and protect front line services. What counts as 'front line' will need to be reviewed.

The Children and Families Department will lose £1.8m in-year grant reductions. Grant information is not yet available and school budget figures for 2011-12 will not be available until February or March 2011, only days before the start of the new financial year. This will make forward planning by governing bodies extremely difficult.

Capital spending for buildings will be reduced by 60% over the next 5 years and will be limited to spend on demographic pressures (additional children) and maintenance - not new build or rebuild.At the same time Brent  is facing an unprecedented increase in pupil numbers and a 55% increase in referrals to Children's Social Care. 1,000 additional children have needed school places in Brent since August.

Clive Heaphy, nine weeks into his job at Director of Finance and Corporate Services, presented the picture on funding. The DfE will receive cuts of 10.8%. Funding for the schools budget will increase by £3.6bn in cash terms by the end of the Spending Review period, a 0.1% increase in real terms each year. However pupil numbers will increase by an average of 0.7% per year equalling a cut  in spending  per pupil of 0.6% per year, a total of 2.25% over the five year period. The  'increase' will also have to cover the  £2.5bn pupil premium.  Schools wil be expected to find procurement and 'back office' savings of around £1bn. The public sector pay freeze is expected to 'free up' another £1bn.

The ring fences around previously centrally allocated budgets will be removed and hard-pressed schools may have to use the funds for basic purposes. These headings include:
  • One to one tuition
  • 'Every child' catch up programmes including Every Child a Reader
  • Extended schools
  • School lunch grant
  • School Standards Grant
  • School Development Grant
  • Special schools grant
  • Ethnic Minority Achievement grant
  • National Strategies budgets
  • Dedicated schools grant
  • Academies running costs
The council will be reviewing Children's Centres. some of which have only just been opened, as SureStart funding is likely to be reduced. Krutika Pau said that funding will now target the most vulnerable Under 5s and that there will be a need to 'redefine Children Centres' core offer'. A new provision that will need to be funded is the allocation of 15 hours free nursery education per week to the 'most deprived' 2 year olds.

Questioned on academies, Kruika Pau said officers would remain neutral in terms of the debate but she promised to model what would happen to funding of Brent schools if some became academies. As academies attract funding that would otherwise go to fund central services there will obviously come a tipping point where there will insufficient funds to run effective central services. The services would become too expensive for schools remaining in the local authority 'family' when other school pulled out, and the services and those functions of the local authority would no longer be viable. Cllr Mary Arnold said she had already made her position on academies clear at a previous meeting but didn't seize the opportunity to 'rally the troops'. However, members of the Teachers' Panel who attended the meeting as observers were able to give out a leaflet about the issue.

Rik Boxer, Deputy Director of Children and Families, gave a briefing on the achievements of Brent LA. At the end of the reception year Brent children were below national and London  averages, but by the end of Key Stage 2 (11 year olds in Year 6) they were above the national average. At GCSE  Brent children are 6 percentage points above the national average. He said that much needed to be done and that there would be a strong focus on schools moving from an Ofsted rating of 'satisfactory' to 'good'.  He said current proposals on academies and free schools presented a real danger of fragmentation and emphasised the need fop overall coherence, strategic planning, collective responsibility and collaboration.

Added to the financial and organisational uncertainties, and a basic lack of concrete information, are the 'reviews' that the Coalition government have announced. These cover child protection, early years, capital spending, child poverty and early intervention. Alongside this schools and governing bodies have to cope with 'policy on the hoof' which I feel are really stabilising. Over the last few months there have been several policy changes on Academies which  the Anti Academies Alliance summarised:
  • On the 4th November Michael Gove announced that the government would use its powers to turn schools in Special Measures into Academies.
  • On Friday 12th November the FT reported that the White Paper, expected during November, would pave the way for every school to be directly funded from the government,meaning every school would effectively become an Academy.
  • But then on Wednesday 17th November the press reported that Gove was inviting every school to become an Academy, as long as they were partnered with an ‘Outstanding’ school.
In addition the announcement that in future the government would fund schools directly, by-passing the local authority, was quietly reversed last weekend.

Schools face a difficult task as it is and all these uncertainties need to be sorted out quickly so that they can get on with their central task of educating the next generation.

Monday 29 November 2010

Audacious action on cuts

David Cameron will get his "big society" quicker than he thinks, judging by the huge attendance at a conference called last Saturday 27 November by the Coalition of Resistance to Cuts and Privatisation.
Over 1200 delegates packed the conference, which brought together MPs, trade unions, campaigning organisations from across the country, student activists, representatives from pensioner groups -- all corners of societyfacing government plans to cut public services to the bone.
Speakers at the conference -- from MP John McDonnell to Len McCluskey, the newly elected leader of Britain's largest trade union UNITE -- all had the same message, the spirit of which was captured by 15-year-old school Barnaby Raine, who joined last week's protests against education cuts:
"If the police think that 'kettling' students will stop us coming on demonstrations ever again, they are sorely mistaken. Students have only two choices: either they lay down and accept what the government throws at them,or they fight back."
The student protests and occupations are inspiring new levels of militancy and audacious action, which will be taken up across all the campaigns to stop the government cuts.
As MP John McDonnell told the conference, we will build a fast gathering, united movement of opposition, which will see strikes, demonstrations, occupations, direct action and campaigns of civil disobedience, on a scale not seen for a generation.
Tony Benn, who was elected president of the Coalition of Resistance, said David Cameron is going to see what a "big society" really looks like.
He spelled out the task we are facing: a government which aims to roll back 60 years of progress, and return to the dark days before the creation of the welfare state, must be stopped in its tracks.
The Coalition of Resistance will support all anti cuts campaigns and is calling for the widest solidarity with the national day of student protests on Tuesday 30 November. A national week of action against the cuts is planned for February 2011 and the Coalition of Resistance is committed to help make the TUC demonstration against the cuts on 26 March one of the biggest protests ever seen in Britain.

Waste Savings and Strategy Challenged

Tomorrow's Overview and Scrutiny Committee (7.30pm Council Chamber, Town Hall) will consider call-ins on the Street Cleansing Efficiency savings and Waste Collection Strategy decisions made by the Council Executive on November 15th.

The reasons cited for the call-in of the Street Cleansing Efficiency Savings are:
  • The decision departs from the principle of protecting front line services.
  • Consider the implications for the cleanliness of local streets.
  • Consider the implications of prompt identifying of dumped rubbish and  their removal.
  • Consider full and effective consultation with local residents on this.
The reasons cited for the call-in of the Waste Strategy are:

  •  To discuss concerns regarding the nature and openness of the consultation and the possibility of full consulting residents.
  • To consider the concerns of residents around the reduction in service and the implications of the increase in the number of bins.
  • To discuss concerns regarding the co-mingling of waste and contamination of waste.
  • To fully review the options available.
  • To consider how to retain public support for recycling and not lose it by scrapping weekly refuse collections.
  • To consider implications of fortnightly refuse collections on housing estates and properties in multiple occupation.
  • To consider the risk of Judicial Review

Sunday 28 November 2010

Brent: Waste Capital of West London?

The West London Waste Authority, covering the boroughs of Brent, Harrow, Hillingdon, Ealing, Hounslow and  Richmond, is seeking to process and dispose of more of the rubbish in its area, in order to meet targets in the 2009 London Plan. It is suggested an extra 20 hectares of processing will be required on top of the existing 17 hectares in the WLWA area.

This will require new sites or the expansion of existing sites so that they process rather than merely transport rubbish. The Harrow Observer recently revealed the lists of sites being considered for this 'intensification'. Four are in Brent and another five in Park Royal, close to Ealing's border with Brent. That covers 9 of the 14 possibilities  (The others are one in Harrow, 3  in Hillingdon and one in Hounslow. There are none proposed in Richmond).

BRENT: Abbey Road, Park Royal; Rail Sidings, Premier Park Road, PR; Alperton Lane Industrial Area, Marsh Road; Hannah Close, Great Central Way, Wembley. 
EALING: Park Royal 8, Coronation Road; Park Royal 9, Coronation Road; Park Royal 2, Chase Road; Park Royal 1, Victoria Road; Atlas Road, Park Royal.

These proposals are for designating land and no details of the processing involved will be available at this stage in the consultation.  Therefore residents will not have access information on the possible health hazards of the processes involved when the sites are given planning approval. Brent sites are favoured because it is claimed they are not close to housing. It is like designating an area for a power station and not syai9ng whether it is coal, oil or nuclear.

Brent councillors were unhappy about the repercussions for Brent when the proposals were discussed. There are concerns that Brent will be handling waste from more affluent boroughs who will avoid any prcessing depots in their borough, increased lorry traffic and pollution. Brent, as the poorest of the boroughs will be dealing with the waste of the richer boroughs - without any financial compensation. It appears that the Alperton depot, owned by Veolia (controversial because of its pro-illegal settler activities in Palestine LINK), is likely to be a favoured option. It won the Camden waste contract largely because of the Alperton depot - Camden had sold off its own.

It is interesting that Brent is the most easterly of the WLWA boroughs. The east side of London was always the site of polluting processes historically because smoke and smells were taken away on the prevailing winds and did not affect the west of the city.

The West London Waste Plan  is behind schedule but key milestones for the contractors are:

March 2011 - Publication of the WLWP document and sustainability proposal
April-May 2001 - pre-qualification of bidders
May-June 2011 - WLWP examination in public
December 2011 - WLWP adopted
January 2012 - short-listing of bidders
June 2012 - possible further short-listing of bidders
September 2012 - final tenders
October 2012 - preferred bidder/tender award

2012-14 Planning
2014-16 Construction of new plants
2015-16 Plants operational

Brent councillors will have to have their wits about them if they are to fight for the rights of Brent residents in this process. We must not be bought off by promises of extra jobs if this is to the detriment of the long-term health and quality of life of Brent residents.

An independent blog-site has been set up to monitor the activities of the West London Waste Authority LINK

Friday 26 November 2010

Agenda for tomorrow's Coalition of Resistance Conference

Agenda for tomorrow's Coalition of Resistance Conference against the cuts at the Camden Centre, Bidborough St, WC1 H8
10:00 - 10:30, REGISTRATION

10:30 - 11:45, OPENING PLENARY - Camden Centre main hall
Clare Solomon NUS, Andrew Murray, Jean Lambert MEP, Bob Crow RMT, Christian Mahieux (Solidaires unions, France), Heather Wakefield UNISON, Rachel Newton (People's Charter), John McDonnell MP, Lindsey German CoR, Ken Loach, Mark Serwotka PCS, Paul Mackney.

12:00 - 13:15, WORKSHOPS

1. YOUTH, STUDENTS AND EDUCATION - Camden Centre main hall
Speakers from school and student protests, Alex Kenny NUT, Jean-Baptiste Tondu (NPA France)

2. ANALYSING THE CRISIS - Camden Centre canteen
James Meadway, Stathis Kouvelakis, Derek Wall, Hilary Wainwright

Range of speakers from anti-cuts and other organisations from around the

Liz Davies, Samir Jeeraj (Green Party), Billy Bragg, Laurie Penny

5. MOBILISING THE UNIONS - School canteen
Alan Whittaker President UCU, Rebecca Allen PCS, George Binette UNISON

6. WOMEN AND THE CUTS - School classroom
Katherine Connelly, Feminist Network and others

13:15 - 14:00, LUNCH

14:00 - 15:15, WORKSHOPS
1. DEFENDING THE WELFARE STATE Camden Centre main hall
Colin Leys KONP, Chris Nineham CoR, Dr Jacky Davis, Eileen Short DCH

2. ALTERNATIVES TO THE CRISIS - Camden Centre canteen
Ozlem Onaran, Richard Brenner, John Hilary (War on Want)

Zita Holbourne, Terry Conway, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Mary Davis (Charter for Women)

4. Coalition of Resistance: HOW AND WHY - School Hall 2
Andrew Burgin, Lindsey German, Joseph Healy

George Thompson PCS, Colin Hampton Chesterfield UWC, Pip Tindall Brighton
Benefits Centre

Chris Baugh PCS, Jonathan Neale CACC, Peter Robinson

15:30 - 17:00, VOTING, ELECTIONS AND CLOSING PLENARY - Camden Centre main hall
Dot Gibson (Pensioner campaigner), Lee Jasper (BARAC), Jeremy Dear NUJ, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Salma Yaqoob (Respect), John Rees CoR, Kate Hudson CND, Chris Bambery (Right to Work), Lowkey, Tony Benn

Kettling lessons - brilliant article

 Video showing mounted police charge on demonstrators (1min 10secs in)

Laurie Penny, writing in the New Statesman, vividly describes the kettling of children in Whitehall

It's the coldest day of the year, and I've just spent seven hours being kettled in Westminster. That sounds jolly, doesn't it? It sounds a bit like I went and had a lovely cup of tea with the Queen, rather than being trapped into a freezing pen of frightened teenagers and watching armed police kidney-punching children, six months into a government that ran an election campaign on a platform of fairness. So before we go any further, let's remind ourselves precisely what kettling is, and what it's for.

Take a protest, one whose premise is uncomfortable for the administration - say, yesterday's protest, with thousands of teenagers from all over London walking out of lessons and marching spontaneously on Westminster to voice their anger at government cuts to education funding which will prevent thousands from attending college and university. Toss in hundreds of police officers with riot shields, batons, dogs, armoured horses and meat wagons, then block the protesters into an area of open space with no toilets, food or shelter, for hours. If anyone tries to leave, shout at them and hit them with sticks. It doesn't sound like much, but it's effective.

I didn't understand quite how bad things had become in this country until I saw armed cops being deployed against schoolchildren in the middle of Whitehall. These young people joined the protest to defend their right to learn, but in the kettle they are quickly coming to realise that their civil liberties are of less consequence to this government than they had ever imagined The term 'kettle' is rather apt, given that penning already-outraged people into a small space tends to make tempers boil and give the police an excuse to turn up the heat, and it doesn't take long for that to happen. When they understand that are being prevented from marching to parliament by three lines of cops and a wall of riot vans, the kids at the front of the protest begin to moan. "It's ridiculous that they won't let us march," says Melissa, 15, who has never been in trouble before. "We can't even vote yet, we should be allowed to have our say."

The chant goes up: "what do we want? The right to protest!" At first, the cops give curt answers to the kids demanding to know why they can't get through. Then they all seem to get some sort of signal, because suddenly the polite copper in front of me is screaming in my face, shoving me hard in the back of the head, raising his baton, and the protesters around me are yelling and running back. Some of them have started to shake down a set of iron railings to get out, and the cops storm forward, pushing us right through those railings, leaving twenty of us sprawling in the rubble of road works with cracked knees. When they realised that they are trapped, the young protesters panic. The crush of bodies is suddenly painful - my scarf is ripped away from me and I can hear my friend Clare calling for her son - and as I watch the second line of police advance, with horses following behind them, as I watch a surge of teenagers carrying a rack of iron railings towards the riot guard and howling to be released, I realise they're not going to stop, and the monkey instinct kicks in. I scramble up a set of traffic lights, just in time to see a member of the Metropolitan police grab a young protester by the neck and hurl him back into the crowd.

Behind me, some kids have started to smash up a conveniently empty old police van that's been abandoned in the middle of the road. "Let us out!" they chant. "Let us out!" A 13-year old girl starts to hyperventilate, tears squeezing in raw trails over her frightened face, unable to tear her face away from the fight - I put a hand on her back and hurry her away from the police line, Her name is Alice, and she is from a private school. "Just because I won't be affected by the EMA cuts doesn't mean I don't care about the government lying," she says, "but I want to go home now. I have to find my friend."

As darkness falls and we realise we're not going anywhere, the protesters start to light fires to keep warm. First, they burn their placards, the words 'rich parents for all!' going up in flames, with a speed and efficiency gleaned from recent CV-boosting outdoor camping activities. Then, as the temperature drops below freezing, they start looking for anything else to burn, notebooks and snack wrappers - although one young man in an anarchist scarf steps in to stop me tossing an awful historical novel onto the pyre. "You can't burn books," he says, "we're not Nazis."

As I look around at this burnt-out children's crusade, I start to wonder where the hell the student activists are. Whatever the news says, this is emphatically not a rabble led by a gang of determined troublemakers out to smash things for fun. In fact, we could do with a few more seasoned radicals here, because they tend to know what to do at demonstrations when things get out of hand. I find myself disappointed in the principled anarchists and student activists I know, who aren't here because they've decided that the best way to make their presence felt is by occupying their own lecture halls. I realise that these school pupils are the only ones who really understand what's going on: even people my age, the students and graduates who got in just before the fee hike, are still clinging to the last scraps of that dream of a better future, still a little bit afraid to make a fuss. These teenagers, on the other hand, know that it's all nonsense. They sat their school exams during the worst recession in living memory, and they aren't taken by the promise of jobs, of education, of full lives and safe places to live.They understand that those things are now reserved for the rich, and the white heat of their rage is a comfort even behind the police lines in this sub-zero chill.

Smaller children and a pregnant woman huddle closer to the fires. Everyone is stiff and hungry, and our phones are beginning to lose signal: the scene is Dante-esque, billows of smoke and firelight making it unclear where the noises of crying and chanting and the whine of helicopters are coming from.

This is the most important part of a kettle, when it's gone on for too long and you're cold and frightened and just want to go home. Trap people in the open with no water or toilets or space to sit down and it takes a shockingly short time to reduce ordinary kids to a state of primitive physical need. This is savage enough when it's done on a warm summer day to people who thought to bring blankets, food and first aid. It's unspeakably cruel when it's done on the coldest night of the year, in sub-zero temperatures, to minors, some of whom don't even have a jumper.

Some of them have fainted, and need medical attention, or the loo. They won't let us out. That's the point of a kettle. They want to make you uncomfortable, and then desperate, putting your route back to warmth and safety in the gift of the agents of the state. They decide when you can get back to civilisation. They decide when the old people can get warm, when the diabetics can get their insulin, when the kid having a panic attack can go home to her mum. It's a way of making you feel small and scared and helpless, a way for the state's agents to make you feel that you are nothing without them, making you forget that a state is supposed to survive by mandate of the people, and not the other way around.

Strangers draw together around the makeshift campfires in this strange new warzone right at the heart of London. A schoolgirl tosses her homework diary to feed the dying flames. "I don't even know you, but I love you," says another girl, and they hug each other for warmth. "Hands up who's getting a bollocking from their parents right now?" says a kid in a hoodie, and we all giggle.

He's got a point. This morning, the parents and teachers of Britain woke up angry, in the sure and certain knowledge that the administration they barely elected is quite prepared to hurt their children if they don't do as they are told.

It's not looking good for this government. This spontaneous, leaderless demonstration, this children's crusade, was only the second riot in two weeks, and now that the mums and dads of Britain are involved, the Coalition may quickly begin to lose the argument on why slashing the state down to its most profitable parts and abandoning children, young people, the disabled and the unemployed to the cruel wheel of the market is absolutely necessary.

Let the government worry about the mums and dads, though - I'm worried about the kids.
I'm worried about the young people I saw yesterday, sticking it out in the cold, looking after one another, brave and resolute. I'm worried about those school pupils who threw themselves in front of the police van to protect it from damage, the children who tried to stop other children from turning a peaceful protest into an angry mob - and succeeded. I'm worried that today, those children feel like they've done something wrong, when they are, in fact, the only people in the country so far who've had the guts to stand up for what's right.

The point of a police kettle is to make you feel small and scared, to strike at the childish part of every person that's frightened of getting in trouble. You and I know, however, that we're already in trouble. All we get to decide is what kind of trouble we want to be in. Yesterday, the children of Britain made their decision, and we should be bloody proud of them toda

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Brent school students kettled for more than 7 hours

Just heard that some of the Brent school students taking part in today's demonstration have been kettled since 12.30pm (it's now 7.45pm) and mobiles running out of juice.  They must be cold and hungry and desperately needing a lavatory. Presumably the police are trying to teach them a lesson....

Here's a solidarity message from Radical Education Summer 1979 (originally created 1973)

Is Big Really Beautiful?

As Cllr James Powney has recently accused me on his blog of trying to wreck the expansion of primary school places in Brent I thought it it might be useful to if I outlined some of the issues that concern me so that readers can make up their own minds.

There are currently many 4 and 5 year olds without school places in Brent and the borough has received 'safety valve' money to provide extra places. This money has to be spent by the end of August 2011 or it will be lost. As a result there are a number of schemes under-way to add extra classes to some primary schools and a proposal for a 2 form entry primary school at Preston Manor High School, creating an all-through 4-19 school of more than 2,000 pupils.

It is the Preston Manor expansion scheme and associated secondary expansion schemes that concern me. The Preston Manor proposal for a 420 pupil primary provision only emerged during August and the consultation has been 'stream-lined' because of the need to spend the money by August 2011. The quality of the consultation has been affected by the need to meet the deadline but also by the impact of staffing cuts in the department concerned and the restructuring which has transferred the department from Children and Families to Regeneration and Major Projects. These factors have resulted in one consultation meeting for residents being held at a time when most residents were still at work; local residents only receiving consultation documents after vociferous protests; a 'consultation' at the Wembley Area Consultation Forum where after a PowerPoint presentation by seven project managers and council officers, only three questions from residents were allowed; and documentation that has already had to be revised twice.

A major weakness has been the lack of educational input into something that represents a major change in local education provision. Instead it has been seen as simply an exercise in creating extra classes or buildings to house children. The Ark Academy in Wembley will eventually provide 'all-through' education from 4-19. Preston Manor is five minutes away from the ARK and in competition with it and now consulting on offering the same range of provision. In addition, Alperton High School, Wembley High School and Capital City Academy have all expressed an interest in expanding to include primary provision and others may follow. Nowhere in the consultation has there been a thorough discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of such all-though schools which will each have a total pupil population of  1,600-2,000 or more.

Nor has there been proper consideration of the impact of such provision on nearby 'stand alone' primary schools. Preston Manor intends to give preference for admission to its secondary school to pupils who attend the primary school. This would represent 25% of their Year 7 intake. If you add preference given to siblings already at the High School this reduces the chance of children from stand alone primaries gaining admission to the High School significantly. Canny parents will want to send their children to the primary school in order to secure admission to the secondary school. In effect this means choosing your child's high school at the age of four. There is a real danger that stand alone primary schools will be destabilised as a result, losing pupils and experiencing high pupil turnover as they cater for an increasing proportion of pupils in short-term transit through the borough. A major consideration should be how this will affect equal opportunity for access to quality secondary education in the borough.

A further consideration is that the proposed expansions, with the exception of Capital City, are all in the North of the borough while much of the demand is in the South. The Harlesden/Stonebridge area lacks a community secondary school and there have been moves by parents to set up a 'free school' there. 'All through' schools in the north will reinforce that basic inequality and further shift the centre of gravity of the borough to Wembley.

To its credit the council has recognised that the rush to expand may affect the quality of the new provision. They should also recognise that the quality and viability of existing primary provision will be put at risk in the long-term if all-through schools become the norm. A further imponderable is the impact of the housing benefit cap on local families with the Council's own senior housing officer predicting that many may be forced to more out of the borough. Indeed there has already been an increase in evictions resulting in more families moving out of London or into short-term bed and breakfast accommodation. If that trend continues we may see a reduction in the number of pupils seeking school places.

The Green Party is in favour of genuine all-through schools which would be smaller and where the form of entry would be the same throughout.  Small schools where the headteacher and staff  know all the pupils have huge advantages in terms of creating a caring, family and community centred ethos. Large schools may be able to offer a wider curriculum and more shared resources as well as economies of scale but lose a lot in the process and I question whether large institutions are good places in which to care for and educate young children.

Brent used to offer a range of sizes of primary schools from one to three form entry but the number of one form entry schools (210 pupils from Reception to Year 6) has been reduced as a result of expansion plans and there are now some four form entry schools (840 pupils) which are bigger than many secondary schools. This process has been taking place over several years and there are legitimate  arguments for and against  which deserve a public airing before 'In Brent Big is Beautiful' becomes our borough slogan.

It may be inconvenient to ask these questions but it is not a wrecking tactic. Important decisions are being made and parents, teacher, governors and residents deserve to be part of the discussion.