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.