Sunday 31 October 2010

Defend Public Services - Build a Greener Society

Councillor speaks out on how cuts will affect young people

The next open meeting of the Brent Fightback Campaign will be on THURSDAY NOVEMBER 4th 7.30 pm at Brent Trades Hall (it says London Apollo Club over the door), 375 High Rd Willesden. Nearest tube Dollis Hill 

Cllr Roxanne Mashari (Labour) will introduce a discussion on how the cuts will affect Brent's young people. Brent Fightback hope there will also be young people and those who work with them present to talk about their experiences and how they see their futures. 4,250 16-18 year olds in Brent are likely to lose up to £1,100 each year with the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Since Fightback’s  last meeting, the Comprehensive Spending Review has been announced. Councils, people who rely on benefits, the low paid, students and many others are reeling from the ferocity of the projected cuts. 

The Willesden and Brent Times this week highlighted possible areas for cuts including reduced entitlement to free school meals, a £1m cut in Brent’s Sure Start funding over 4 years, and a cut in capital programme funding for schools of 66% over the same period. This could mean the council is unable to provide additional school places.

Brent Fightback supporters have been involved in a number of protests:
  • Monday 18th October: Brent MENCAP staged a small but very effective demonstration outside Brent Town Hall to alert Councillors to the anxieties of people with learning difficulties who are very vulnerable to the cuts
  • Tuesday 19th October: The new Brent Fightback banner was outside the TUC's anti-cuts rally at Central Hall Westminster and a delegation including officers of the UCU, Brent teachers, Brent UNISON and representatives of Brent MENCAP lobbied Sarah Teather
  • Wednesday 20th October: The day the cuts were announced, the banner and a considerable number of our supporters were on the 3,000 strong march that assembled at Lincolns Inn Fields and joined the rally outside Downing St 
  • Saturday 23rd October: Brent Fightback supporters went to their local fire stations to express solidarity with the firefighters. The banner went to Willesden and many supporters then joined the march from RMT headquarters to the SE Region TUC rally.
The meeting will hear reports from these protests at the meeting.

Is Israel beyond the law? Public Meeting on Wednesday

Wednesday 27 October 2010


65 activists have today stopped trading at Vodafone’s largest retail store on Oxford Street, London, by blockading the doorway in disgust at the HMRC’s deal with Vodafone that have allowed them to walk away from paying a tax bill thought to be worth £6bn to the public purse.

The action started at 09:30 this morning where activists gathered at The Ritz hotel near Oxford Street following rapid mobilization over the weekend via Twitter, Facebook, blogs and text messaging.

The 65 activists confronted the minor security in front of the shop to gain entry to the shop and proceeded to blockade the entrance with arm tubes and banners before the store had chance to even receive its first customer.

This comes exactly a week after George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review in which he announced that another £7bn will be cut from welfare, producing a total of £18bn of cuts from vital welfare services.

These cuts have been widely condemned by charity groups representing the most vulnerable in society, and the highly respected Institute of Fiscal Studies confirmed on Thursday last week that the coalition’s cuts will indeed hit the poorest in society the hardest.

The issue of tax evasion by corporations and the wealthy was not however even mentioned during Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review speech, despite the fact that it is estimated that the deficit to the public purse from tax evasion amounts to at least £12bn each year.

To add salt to the wound, Osborne also announced last week that large corporations in addition will be expected to contribute 4% less in tax to public services across the next four years through a reduction in corporation tax.

Activists on today’s action also note that Andy Halford is both a financial advisor to Vodafone and a corporation tax advisor to the treasury.

Under a banner that read “Pay your taxes - save our welfare state”, Jennifer Kyte said, “The cuts are not fair, we're not all in this together, and there are alternatives. Why not start by collecting - instead of writing off – the tens of billions owed in taxes by wealthy corporations?”

She continued, “The economic downturn was caused by the reckless greed of the private sector, but it is the public sector and those at the bottom that are picking up the bill. Is this their idea of the wonderful Big Society?”

Zeketa Darby said, “We will not pay for their crisis! The public need to join together and hit the streets to take concerted action to fight these cuts”

Friday 22 October 2010

Government’s cuts are “reckless gamble with the future of this country” - Lucas

The Chancellor’s strategy is to “close his eyes, cross his fingers, and hope that the private sector will manage to produce the jobs that have been destroyed in the public sector”, says Green MP on flagship current affairs show

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP made a powerful contribution to last night’s BBC Question Time programme, in which she condemned the government spending cuts as unfair and unnecessary.

The first question from the audience was put to Caroline first. Audience member Michael Teague asked: “Can the government really talk about fairness when it is talking about cuts that will devastate the unemployed, the sick and the poor?”

Caroline Lucas responded: “No, absolutely not. This reckless gamble with the future of this country and this economy is deeply unfair.

“And it doesn’t need us to say that, we’ve got people like the IFS – the Institute for Fiscal Studies – and many others, who are repeatedly saying that the poorest 10% are going to be paying at least more than the average when it comes to who actually pays the price for this.

“When you see what is being done, it is an absolutely wicked targeting of the most vulnerable.”

The Brighton Pavilion MP argued later in the programme:

“I do not think that the best way of getting the deficit down is through cuts, and I appreciate that sounds counter-intuitive, so let me explain.

“We do need to get the deficit down, but there is every risk that if we try to do that through throwing more and more people out of work, we will simply lose their tax revenues, we will have to pay out their redundancies, we will have to pay out benefits, and actually that’s going to make matters worse, that is more likely to tip us into that double-dip recession.

“George Osborne’s strategy is basically to close his eyes, cross his fingers, and hope that the private sector will manage to produce the jobs that have been destroyed in the public sector.”

She concluded:

“What this government should be doing is things like tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance in a serious way, not in the pitiful way they are doing at the moment, and use that money for investment, for example, in energy efficiency and renewable energies.

“This is the best way to get people back to work, it would also address the issue of climate change, getting our emissions down. There is an environmental crisis, there is an economic crisis: we can tackle them both at the same time.”

Caroline Lucas’s responses were greeted with applause and cheering from the studio audience.

At the end of the programme, “Caroline Lucas” was the most mentioned phrase in the UK on Twitter, and 7th most mentioned worldwide.

Caroline Lucas appeared on the panel alongside Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond; Shadow Business Secretary, John Denham; former head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt; former political editor of The Sun, George Pascoe-Watson and journalist Polly Toynbee of The Guardian.

Brent Council forced to widen Preston Manor consultation

Following complaints from residents at last week's consultation meeting that they had not been written to about the proposal to expand Preston Manor High School into the primary sector, Brent Council this week circulated 4,000 letters to local people. At that meeting they had claimed they followed procedure and could not send out lots of letters.

There was a further consultation at Wembley Area Consultative Forum on Wednesday which succeeded in producing more confusion rather than clarification. Half a dozen men from Brent Council, Preston Manor High School and Watts the project managers stood at the front of the hall next to the screen as a power point presentation was made. ("How many men does it take to do a presentation?" came the whispered comment behind me.)

The presentation included the claim that there were 72 reception aged children out of school 'in the area of Preston Manor'. This was slightly different wording than the 'immediate area of Preston Manor' claimed at the previous meeting, but I pointed out that we had already been told that this meant the whole of HA9 and HAO, which clearly includes children a long way from Preston Manor. One of the presenters said that there had been confusion about whether it was an 'all-through' school or not (without mentioning that this was a confusion stemming from different descriptions in their own two consultation documents) and claimed it was not an 'all through' because the primary building was some distance from the secondary school and separated by playing fields. In fact 'all through' is a matter of whether the primary and secondary departments have one overall management structure and one governing body - not their proximity.

A question asking what the catchment area of the new new primary school would be ('catchment'  is a geographical concept which allocates particular streets to particular schools - you can find your street on Brent's website and see which school is allocated to your children) was answered by reference to the over-subscription criteria and the priority in which places would be given - not on whether the new department./school would have its own catchment area. All Brent community primary schools, with the exception of Sudbury, have their own catchment areas. If Preston Manor were to have its own catchment then those of neighbouring primary schools would have to be redrawn. However if the new primary school has Foundation status then community school catchments would not apply and the school may devise its own admisisons criteria.

In fact we were told that Preston Manor was conducting the consultation because it was a Foundation School and therefore managed its own affairs, although it was made clear that Brent Council strongly backed the proposal. Confusion was increased when Watts seemed to be addressing educational rather than building issues and speaking for the council.

Only three questions were allowed by the chair of the meeting because of the crowded agenda so 'consultation' was more about residents being 'told' rather than asked. However residents did manage to speak about their concerns about increased  traffic and in a soapbox earlier, Rose Ashton, head of nearby Chalkhill Primary School, was able to express her concerns about the impact of the expansion on her own school which has vacancies in both its nursery and reception places. This phase of the consultation ends on Monday so there is still time to get a response in. Consultation document HERE

If Preston Manor governors decide to go ahead there will be a further six week statutory consultation ending in December.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

GLA Backs 'Still Human Still Here" Campaign

The London Assembly today expressed its support for the 'Still Human Still Here' campaign which calls for a change in the rules governing the right of asylum seekers to seek work.

In a motion agreed today, the Assembly said a change in policy would help many asylum seekers living in London out of poverty and would reduce the burden on the taxpayer and charities.  

The campaign calls for asylum seekers whose cases are taking longer than six months or who have been refused asylum, but temporarily cannot return home through no fault of their own, to be given permission to work until their cases are finally resolved.  

The Assembly called on the Mayor to join it in making representations to the Government in support of the campaign.

Darren Johnson AM, who proposed today's motion, said:

"The majority of asylum seekers survive on just £5 a day. If asylum seekers were allowed to earn a living and pay their own way, it would improve their self-esteem and self-reliance. It would also reduce some of the hostility they face and the burden on the taxpayer."

Jennette Arnold AM, who seconded the motion, said: 

"This would provide a route out of poverty for asylum seekers affected, the majority of whom live in London. Something needs to be done to help those who have been waiting for more than six months to have their application dealt with. What we are arguing for is a workable and fair way to deal with those seeking shelter in this country."

The full text of the motion reads as follows:

"This Assembly supports the Still Human Still Here campaign calling for asylum seekers who have been waiting for more than six months for their cases to be concluded, or who have been refused asylum but temporarily cannot be returned home through no fault of their own, to be given permission to work until their cases are finally resolved. This policy would provide a route out of poverty for those affected, the majority of whom live in London, and reduce the burden on the taxpayer and the charitable sector. 

"This Assembly resolves to make representations to the UK Government in support of this campaign, and calls on the Mayor to join it in making these representations, including by commissioning supporting evidence regarding the impact on London from GLA Economics."

"A budget to destroy a million jobs," Lucas

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP has called George Osborne’s comprehensive spending review a “budget to destroy a million jobs” – and has again argued that the worst cuts could have been avoided by an alternative policy based on a fairer tax regime.

Caroline Lucas said immediately after the budget statement:

“This is a budget to destroy half a million jobs in the public sector, according to the government’s own estimates. And the knock-on effects will be at least as many jobs lost in the private sector.”

The Brighton Pavilion MP added:

“When those public sector workers find themselves out of work they will, along with disabled people, feel the full force of the additional £7 billion worth of cuts in welfare spending, on top of the £11 billion of cuts announced in June. The housing benefit regime will become much more harsh, risking a rise in homelessness.

“They will also find that the loss of public services that this budget represents will massively disadvantage them, and all the most vulnerable people in society who rely on those services.”

She asked:

“Where’s the fairness in a budget that lets vital public services go to the wall, hitting the poorest hardest?”

Britain’s first Green Party MP concluded:

“This was a budget of false economies, undermining the economy and hitting the most vulnerable – and all, incredibly, under the banner of fairness.”

Friday 15 October 2010

No to billions in cuts!

Preston Manor Primary Consultation Riles Residents

The consultation on the expansion of Preston Manor High School to incorporate primary provision got off to a controversial start at the residents consultation meeting on Wednesday.  Residents complained that householders on nearby streets had not received consultation letters and had only heard about the meeting by word of mouth. It was apparent that they did not have full information when it emerged that many thought the proposal was only for a temporary 2 classroom building on the school site, rather than a two form entry permanent building for 420 children (more if a nursery is incorporated into the plans). A Brent officer said that there was a limit to how many individual letters to householders could be sent out. Residents retorted that householders on streets adjacent to the development had not been informed.  A quick search on the Brent planning website reveals that for a minor development, such as the temporary swimming pool at Chalkhill Primary  School, which will be in place for only 15 weeks, 104 individual letters had been sent out. LINK

Residents also complained that the timing of the meeting, from 5pm-6pm, meant that the majority of residents in employment, were unable to attend so had been denied their democratic rights.

Another issue was a statement from the Authority that 'In the immediate local area of Preston Manor High School 72 Reception aged children' remain without a school place. When I sought clarity on what 'immediate area' meant I was told this was the whole of HA9 and HAO, a huge area compared with the common-sense assumption that 'immediate area' suggests the streets immediately around the school. It became clear that pupils attending the school would be coming some considerable distance, raising concerns  that traffic levels would increase at the same time as the ARK academy's gradual growth will produce additional congestion in the vicinity.  This is a copy of the Authority's map showing where reception pupils are unplaced. It is clear that there is a cluster in the Wembley Central area as well as several south of the North Circular:

Apart from this issue of whether a new school was actually needed on the Preston Manor site, rather than elsewhere, questions were raised about why Brent Council had not anticipated the increased demand for primary provision given that these children were born 4 years ago (although obviously some were children of recently arrived families);  whether in the face of the recession some were only temporary residents who would return to their countries of origin; and the impact of the cap on housing benefits which Martin Cheesman, Brent's senior housing officer, had said would make local rents unaffordable for many families.

When I asked what plans had been made for a primary school on the Quintain development site around  Wembley Stadium, where the next phase includes the building of 1,300 new homes, I was told that Section 106 money which could be used for a new school, would only be drawn down after the housing was built. Surely this will create a further school places crisis until the new school is completed? Overall Brent's approach seems to be 'flying by the seat of our pants' when what we need is a strategic school places 'master plan'.

At the conclusion of the meeting the Chair of Preston Manor Governors said that the governors had not yet made up their minds on the expansion proposal and welcomed representations to aid their deliberations.

There was no time to discuss educational issues but hopefully there will be time to explore these at the Wembley Area Consultative Forum on Wednesday 20th October at the Patidar Centre, 22 London Road, Wembley.  The meeting starts at 7pm and the Expansion of Preston Manor Consultation is timed for 7.35. However only 30 minutes is scheduled for this item  and discussion on parking charges and Wembley Link.

Among the educational questions that need to be answered are:

1. Is the proposal for an 'all through school' as stated in the consultation document (i.e. one school, under one leadership, perhaps with separate heads of the primary and secondary departments) or a 'feeder primary school' as stated in the glossy consultation leaflet given out at Wednesday's meeting?  A feeder would be a separate school with its own headteacher.
2. What system of governance is envisaged? Separate governing bodies for the primary and secondary schools or one governing body?
2. If it is to be an 'all through' school what are the educational arguments for such a structures?
3. As the ARK Academy is already an all-through school and Capital City is applying for primary provision, is this emerging as  the de facto favoured development option of the Authority? If so an open debate is needed on the policy.
4. What repercussions would there for local primary schools of such a policy?
5. What would be the catchment area of the new school and how would this affect the catchments of neighbouring primary schools such as Preston Park and Chalkhill?
6. Would the primary school pupils receive preferential treatment for entry to the secondary school? If so this would reduce the places available to pupils from other primary schools by a quarter.
7.  As the secondary school is popular and over-subscribed, canny parents would enrol their children into the primary school in order to secure a secondary school place. What would be the knock-on impact on other local primary schools both in terms of their rolls and social make up?

Consultation document is HERE. Closing date October 25th. If the governors of Preston Manor decide to go ahead on the basis of this consultation, there will be a further 6 week statutory consultation period.

Monday 11 October 2010

Bestway takes on Barnet Council in Brent Cross Battle

Barnet Council has been given an ultimatum of the likelihood of impending legal action by a major local company who fear the loss of their successful business to a massive waste dump.  The controversial Brent Cross Cricklewood (BXC) regeneration plans, which are fiercely opposed by thousands of local residents, politicians and campaign groups, call for the compulsory purchase and demolition of Bestway cash and carry and its replacement with a huge waste handling facility and incinerator, taking refuse from all over north London.

Bestway have discovered major flaws and inconsistencies in the plans and proposals put forward by Barnet Council and their development partners.  An official letter from the North London Waste Authority in early September stated that they no longer needed the site.  This was hastily retracted a few days later, quite likely following discussions between Barnet Council and the Waste Authority. Bestway are now challenging the whole scheme on the basis of this and other serious flaws and irregularities.  A letter from Bestway on the 8th October asks Barnet to meet with them, the developers and the North London Waste Authority as a last ditch attempt to resolve matters, since Barnet has stated that it is likely to confirm the BXC application by October 29th.  Otherwise, lengthy and costly legal action would likely follow.

Malcolm Carter, Head of Property, Bestway Holdings says, “I cannot understand why Barnet is still pursuing the Bestway site as it is patently not required any more.”

Alison Hopkins, member of the Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood Plan and Dollis Hill resident says, “Barnet Council is allowing a single unelected official to decide the future of much of North London.  This is clearly undemocratic, especially in view of the cosy relationship that seems to exist between it and the developers.  Barnet’s motive is for financial gain to cover the massive losses made by ill-advised investments in Iceland banks and huge project overruns.

“A judicial review could kill the project altogether.  This will likely cost Barnet millions of pounds better spent on services for local residents.” 

The Brent Cross Cricklewood scheme has been formally opposed since last year by both Brent and Camden Councils. It was wrongly stated at Barnet's Planning Committee that Brent had withdrawn its opposition, and that brought a stinging response from Brent's Head of Planning to Barnet officials.

The Coalition has been fighting for several years the proposals for a Brent Cross incinerator, the demolition of houses with gardens, and the massive increase in road congestion.  It is now calling on Barnet Council to reconsider before it is too late.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Gardiner leaks cabinet election results

Barry Gardiner didn't get elected to the shadow cabinet but he still managed to get his name into the story when he leaked the result on Twitter  before the expected 9pm announcement and it was picked up by the New Statesman. Here are his postings:

  1. #ShadCab Cooper 232 Healey 192 Balls 179 Burnham 165 Angela Eagle 165 Johnson 163 Alexander 160 Murphy 160 Jowell 152 Flint 139 Denham 129
  2. #ShadCab Contd: Benn 128 Khan 128 Creagh 119 McKechin 117 Maria Eagle 107 Hillier 106 Lewis 104 Byrne 100 You heard it here 1st Gardiner 41! 
Figures for those not elected were:

Thornberry 99, Hain 97, MacTaggart 88, Keeley 87, Coaker 85, McFadden 84, Goodman 80, Lammy 80, Timms 79, Bryant 77, Woodward 72, Thomas 71, Jones 68, Brennan 64, Blackman-Woods 63, Abbott 59, Harris 54, Twigg 55, Bradshaw 53, Wright 43, Gardiner 41, Hanson 38, Lucas 34, David 30, Irranca-Davies 28, Leslie 26, Flello 15, Gapes 12, Michael 11, Joyce 10

Green Party Backs November 6th Anti-Fascist Demonstratiuon

The Green Party has given its official backing for the national demonstration against racism, fascism and Islamophobia on Saturday 6 November.

The party has added its name to the statement backing the demo, which is called by UAF and backed by the TUC, the Muslim Council of Britain and a range of trade union leaders, faith and community groups.
The march assembles on Saturday 6 November at 12 noon, Malet Street, London WC1. It aims to bring together the widest possible alliance of people opposed to racism, fascism and Islamophobia – and show that the vast majority of people are opposed to the racism of the English Defemce League and the fascists of the British National Party.

Caroline Lucas MP said:
"Racism, fascism, Islamophobia and antisemitism have no place in a civilised society and must be firmly resisted. That’s why the Green Party is supporting this demonstration."
Caroline has also added her own name to the list of those supporting the demo and Jean Lambert, one of the party’s MEPs, has agreed to speak at the central London demonstration.

One Million Climate Change Jobs Now! Pamphlet Launch

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Fightback at Tory Conference

Romayne Phoenix, Green Party, speaking at Right to Work Demonstration

Report on the demonstration from Sara Cox: The Brent Fightback Campaign sent a contingent to the demonstration in Birmingham on Sunday October 3rd that marked the beginning of the Conservative Party Conference. Marching behind the banners of the Brent Trades Council and Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group were pensioners and students, employed and unemployed, trades unionists and service users including disability rights campaigners and people with learning disabilities. Trades Unions represented included the NUT and UCU teaching unions, the CWU postal workers' union, the RMT rail workers' union, bus drivers and others from UNITE. Together they braved the pouring rain to join a lively protest that brought together thousands united by their determination to resist the proposed cutbacks to jobs, services and the Welfare State that the Government is proposing to bring in to solve the bankers' crisis. 

For more information about Brent Fightback go to or email

Friday 1 October 2010

Brent starts school budget claw back process

Brent Council is in the process of sending members of the Schools Finance Team into schools with large budget surpluses to examine the paperwork associated with their spending plans. The Department for Education have stipulated an 8% of the school budget share threshold for primary and special schools and 5% for secondary. However local authorities can take into account the reason the school is holding a large surplus before deciding whether it is excessive or not. Schools may hold balances above the threshold when they are being used for specific projects, especially around building works.

It is likely that in the Comprehensive Spending Review for 2011/14 to be published on October 20th that Local Authorities will be required to monitor balances closely and implement claw back more vigorously. Local Authorities coping with cuts in their overall budget may well be tempted to claw back as much as they can. However, schools using their own budgets for building works actually save LAs money by rebuilding and refurbishing schools out of the school's own money, rather than letting buildings deteriorate to such an extent that the LA has to use its own money to remedy the situation.. Schools often put money aside over a period of years in order to build new libraries, IT suites, toilets, kitchens and classrooms that enhance the quality of education and standards of achievement.

If surpluses are clawed back in a period of retrenchment it will also rebound on schools' capacity to withstand the impact of cuts and lead to staff cuts as staff costs form the bulk of school spending. This will be most keenly felt in the provision of ancillary staff including teaching assistants, learning mentors and parent liaison workers. All of whom do great work in providing for children requiring extra support in order to achieve heir potential.

Brent has identified 39 schools with surpluses giving a potential claw back of almost £8 after setting aside 'acceptable' carry forwards at the 8% and 5% levels. . However the schools have largely claimed that these are ear-marked for specific projects and this will now be verified by the Finance Team. Some schools however still have uncommitted balances of which the largest are Michael Sobell Sinai at £169,000 and St Marys RC Primary £108,000.

The Finance Team will be looking at the following:

1. Where schools have given details of specific projects, evidence of inclusion in the School Development Plan, approval at Governing Body/Finance Committee meetings and correspondence with other agencies such as Asset Management, Architects, Planning, is seen. Also timescales for completion of the projects.

2. Where funds are being used to cover salaries, they will be asked to show how the long term funding will be covered once the surplus balances have been used.

3. Where funds are being used to balance 2010/11 or 2011/12 budgets, they will be asked to show where the pressures are and what the long term aims are to address those pressures in the form of monthly budget monitoring and budget setting spreadsheets.

Lack of evidence will lead to Brent implementing the claw back mechanism  at the next budget setting cycle for 2011-12.

Preston Manor on Academy Road?

In August I high-lighted the fact the School Places document going before the Council Executive during the school summer holiday included proposals for an expansion of Preston Manor High School into an 'all-through' 5-19 school.

Things have moved quickly since then. Matthew Lantos, headteacher of Preston Manor, presented his plans to the governing body at their September meeting. There was disquiet because this was the first most of the governors had heard of the proposal despite the School Places document stating: Preston Manor Secondary School: has agreed to house temporary accommodation for two Reception classes on the school site from January
2011. The school has principally agreed to provide permanent primary provision from September 2011 (
my emphasis). Further discussions need to take place with the governing body.

 Nevertheless the governors agreed to consult on on whether respondents agreed to support 'the proposal to expand Preston Manor High School by creating a two form entry permanent primary provision from September 2011." Consultation paper HERE

The consultees list includes Preston Manor High School (parents,staff, student council), all maintained schools in Brent; Westminster Diocesan Education Service, the London Boroughs of Ealing, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, Barnet, Harrow, Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; Trade Unions, Brent MPs, Admissions Forum, local Residents Associations, councillors, London Diocesan Board for Schools and the Brent Governors Forum.

All these organisations are expected to respond by October 25th despite the fact that many schools will not have a scheduled governing body meeting by then.The Preston Manor governing body will then consider publication of a statutory notice by 1st November.  If it decides to go ahead there will then be a formal six week consultation with the Council Executive making a final decision in January 2011.

As with the ARK the decision is foreshadowed (pre-empted?) by a temporary 2 form entry Reception  building on the site to be erected in January 2011.

The document is based on meeting the need for primary places because of the growth in Brent's population but no data is supplied providing evidence that there is a need in this particular area of Brent. No assessment is made of the potential impact on the roll of other local primary schools.

The document states that "the LA consulted with primary schools in the borough to explore the possibility of increasing the number of school places." As a Brent school governor I challenge whether any such formal consultation has taken place - instead there have been a number of informal discussions and an ad hoc series of decisions made to add a 'bulge class' to some schools (a one-off class in a particular year that moves through the school as an additional class in that cohort) or increasing the form of entry of some schools..  The process seems neither well-researched or well thought out and my fear is that there may be repercussions later when demand stabilises and some schools find themselves with half-empty classes with a consequent detrimental impact on their budgets.

Informed sources suggest that Matthew Lantos sees this as the only way that Preston Manor can compete with the ARK Academy just down the road. Year 7 pupils started at ARK this term as the first cohort in the secondary school.

The danger is that once (if?) the all-through school is approved that Lantos will then decide that the only way to fully compete with the ARK is for Preston Manor to seek academy status - otherwise the ARK would have the edge in terms of finance, curriculum flexibility and the ability to decide its own teachers' salary structure and conditions of service. If  Preston Manor becomes an academy that could start a domino effect with other Brent high schools feeling that they have to take the academy route in order to compete.

This was exactly what happened in the 1990s when Claremont, Kingsbury, Convent of Jesus and Mary, Queens Park, and Copland high schools all applied for self-governing Grant Maintained Status, creating problems for Wembley High and the then Willesden High. Willesden was designated a failing school and became the first City Academy in Brent.

If this were to happen Brent Council would be in the position of losing a lot of money to the academies with a detrimental impact on the remaining schools, special needs provision and other services. In turn poor local authority support and provision  could lead to more schools opting for academy status and thus ending democratic control of local education.  This is not so far-fetched: Surrey Council is in talks with the DfE over plans to convert all its secondary schools to academy status.

Fightback Against Cuts Strengthens

Brent Fightback met again this week to plan against against council and government cuts. The meeting was strengthened by attendance from the local branch of the NUT.  Plans were made to circulate the Brent Fightback Newsletter via local trade unions as well as posting it as widely as possible via e-mail lists and blogs.

Fightback supporters will be joining a number of events organised around the Autumn Spending Review including a TUC rally on October 19th and a March and Rally on 20th October organised by Camden Trades Council and supported by a wide range of organisations including Brent Trades Council and Brent Fightback. Assemble at 4.30pm at Lincoln's Inn Field (Holborn Tube) to march to the rally in Whitehall. On Saturday 23rd October the NUT, PCS, RMT, NSSN and FBU are having a march and rally against the cuts. Assemble 11am outside the RMT's Unity House in Charlton Street (Euston or Estoin Square tubes) to march to Bedford Square.

Meanwhile Green Party member Derek Wall has published the following article on the cuts in the Morning Star (edited extract)

Politics is about power. Not the power of swapping one party for another but the art of making fundamental change.  Effective political leaders do not simply win an election but uses electoral power to shape society. In 1945 - while I of course don't defend its pro-US foreign policy - the Labour government of Clement Attlee changed Britain for the better. The creation of the NHS, the expansion of the welfare state and the building of hundreds of thousands of council houses were just some of its many achievements. 

Now fast forward to 1979. Margaret Thatcher won the general election and ushered in a right-wing revolution. She destroyed the trade unions outside of the public sector, started a trend towards privatisation and outsourcing, dramatically weakened local government and freed finance capital so it could profit from esoteric and exploitative practices. 

There should be no doubt that the present government has similar ambitions to fundamentally change Britain. While its liberal politics rejects the shrill homophobia and other petty prejudices of Thatcher, David Cameron and Nick Clegg want to create a more market-based Britain just as Thatcher did.  The deficit provides an excuse for massively rolling back the state and outsourcing the entire British economy. The effects will be brutal but neoliberals Cameron and Clegg worship the market and are closely allied to the City of London. 

Forget the mock outrage of the Daily Mail in response to Vince Cable's attacks on the banks - he was the court jester put in place to keep a nervous party on board. While the government would like a stable banking sector the bigger goal is an assault on public-sector spending. Above all, cuts are being justified by the deficit. On the face of it this is economically illiterate. Britain has had far greater debt in the past - one thinks again of the 1940s when Attlee's government spent more money to create a more just society. Likewise, cuts will slow or reverse economic activity reducing tax revenues and making things worse. 

Economic insanity is trumped by more fundamental considerations - utter stupidity is not an obvious feature of the British right in government. The deficit is a means to legitimise policies based on the desire to dismantle what little is left of the Atlee legacy. 

Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine could read as a manifesto for Cameron and Clegg. Klein starts with the overthrow of the socialist government of Allende in Chile in 1973 to describe how a crisis is used to justify intensified capitalism - in the 1970s, as Pinochet's government killed and tortured opponents, the "Chicago Boys" such as monetarist guru Milton Friedman flew into Santiago with their neoliberal blueprints. 

Britain's current deficit was created by the billions of pounds needed to bail out the banks that had crashed because of the fundamental contradictions in global capitalism, triggered by regulatory failure. The deficit is now being used to cut, privatise and outsource on a massive scale - a failure of capitalism is being used to strategically extend the rule of capital. 

The Con-Dem's ambition is to take five years to cut so fundamentally that they cannot be reversed. Massive public-sector cuts are intended to destroy public-sector trade unions so that politics can be permanently shifted right.
It is hoped that if the pain can be introduced swiftly, "reform" of the electoral system together with a continuing partnership with the Liberal Democrats can be used to cement a permanent rightwing, neoliberal politics. From "free schools" to the "decentralisation" of the NHS to an assault on the BBC, Cameron and Clegg believe clever tactics can be used to shove society in their desired direction. 

The fight against the cuts is a life or death struggle for the left in Britain. I would urge all readers of the Morning Star to support the Coalition of Resistance and to build a fight for the survival of the NHS, free education, pensions and the other services under threat. We need to build solidarity for unions taking action against the cuts like many of us did for the miners' strike in the 1980s. We need to create and sustain local anti-cuts networks. We need to build for the Coalition of Resistance national conference on November 27 in Camden, London ( 

There is going to be a fight within and across different political parties too. The very fact that the hardcore neoliberals mounted a coup against the social liberals within the Liberal Democrats enabling the neoliberal coalition to rule shows that while we may be in a particular political party contests within other political parties are crucially important....

There will also be a battle in Labour - I am not a Labour supporter and I am broadly hostile to Ed Miliband given his failure to fight for climate action at Copenhagen, including trying to lean on the left Latin American countries which in contrast to Britain and the US, are at the forefront of action to save our planet. Nonetheless the defeat of his Blairite brother and Ken Livingstone's double victory - once again topping the NEC poll and winning the mayoral nomination - are to be applauded. Labour Party members must push their party towards real opposition to the cuts. There are some tiny straws in the wind indicating that with focused effort this might just be possible.
Socialist parties must be assessed by their ability to learn from Marx, link up with others and fight the cuts in a non-sectarian way, and I am confident that this will be the approach of Morning Star readers. 

Within my own party, the Greens, I have been impressed by the leadership Caroline Lucas has shown in supporting the Coalition of Resistance. The newly elected Green Party campaigns co-ordinator Romayne Phoenix stood on a platform of making the anti-cuts campaign a priority for the Greens. The cuts cannot be justified economically and, as Lucas has argued, the deficit can be tamed by cutting nuclear weapons, war and taxing those with cash. 

The deficit is a weapon which will be wielded to smash the left and transform Britain into a society ruled by and for the hyper-rich. If the cuts agenda succeeds we can forget demands for social justice and progressive policies for a generation at least. 

A viciously neoliberal but intelligent enemy has thrown down the gauntlet and failure to respond will lead to long-term marginalisation of all those who want a fair, humane and green Britain. 

See you on November 27th.

Lib Dem on Academies: This isn't fair and it will cost us dear

Yesterday's Evening Standard carried a vital letter which challenged the whole Coalition academies policy. Importantly it was written by Kirsty Jerome, executive member for Education and Schools at the Liberal Democrat Sutton council.  She states that if academies open they will take money from other children's services:

There will be less "money which means children with physical disabilities such as hearing impediments or emotional or behavioural problems from damaged backgrounds get early support and which helps children avoid exclusion, detention and attainment issues."

She concludes. "Kids get only once chance at education, yet a huge experiment is about to begin that could leave the most vulnerable behind. This isn't fair and it will cost us dear."

I look forward to seeing Sarah Teather's response in view that special needs children are her responsibility at the Department for Education.