Monday 28 February 2011

Democracy in action? Cuts protesters barred from debate.

A group of protesters entered the Town Hall while others continued to protest outside

I am unable to bring you a report on tonight's Brent Council meeting, which was voting on a cuts package that will seriously damage the people of Brent,  because police barred me, and many others, from attending the meeting of the Council. Admission was by ticket only with a limited number issued. There were empty seats in the chamber and on other occasions the public have been allowed to stand. Not tonight.

I was told by the police that they had been called by the Council and instructed to remove me from the building  (Brent Town Hall)  because I was trespassing.  When I said that I was there to see democracy in action I was told that democracy was voting in elections and protesting was nothing to do with democracy. When I said that I wanted to report on the debate and the arguments for and against the cuts, I was told that it was for the Council to decide whether they wanted their proceedings reported and that Parliament  didn't let the public into all their debates.

Frustrated campaigners continued to protest outside the Council chamber for some time until they left in orderly fashion. They left having made their point that they were not prepared to accept the supine position of Labour councillors who appeared prepared to damage the very people that they had been elected to serve and protect. 

Groups from a variety of campaigns had lobbied outside the Town Hall from 6pm in a good-humoured but determined show of solidarity.

Sunday 27 February 2011

Why you should join the anti-cuts protest at Brent Town Hall tomorrow

Labour Brent Council promised to protest the most vulnerable from local government cuts, particularly as these groups had already been hit by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition cuts in benefits and the housing benefit cap, with children hit by the ending of the Building Schools for the Future Programme and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance.

But the Labour Council's cuts and increased charges will hit the same groups:
  •  £2.25m cuts in Children's Centres with reduced staffing and three centres that will not now open affecting the futures of children in poorer families
  • Cutting the portage service which helps families with children with disabilities
  • Reduced funding for children's social care affecting child in care and payments to adopting families
  • Reduced funding for services for children with special educational needs and disabilities including the end of the Easter Play Scheme
  • Cutting the funding of the Young Carers who provide support and respite for young people who look after older siblings or parents
  • Cuts in the School Improvement Service which supports schools in difficulty and ensures the quality of provision is maintained
  • Closure of the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre which generations of Brent children have used to get hands on experience of science and environmental education (negotiations are in progress with a private sponsor to take over funding)
  • Closure of 6 out of 12 libraries with, in addition, Willesden Green Library Centre closed for two years if a private developer can be found
  • The closure of the Charteris Sports Centre which is the only community resource in its area
  • The closure of Youth Clubs in Wembley and St Raphaels which have enabled youngsters to train in sports and other activities giving them self-confidence and motivation, and cutting Connexions which gives support and guidance to young people on the way to education, training and employment
  • Increased council rents hitting families already hit by the economic recession
  • Closure of day centres for people with disabilities and mental health problems
  • The sacking of park wardens who keep our parks and open spaces safe thus increasing their usage by children and older people, replacing them with a mobile patrol visiting less frequently 
  • Closure of the Brent Law Centre which gives advice and support to precisely those people who are being hit by Coalition, and now Council, cuts.
  • Loss of many jobs in Brent Council and in the longer term in schools,  increasing local unemployment  and the number of children living in poverty. 
This will be disastrous for the people of the Brent and the long-term impact will be much more expensive to put right than the money saved in the short-term. But it is not just a question of money - we know from past experience that early intervention works but if problems are left too long the result is ruined lives, lost potential and a community under siege.  We cannot let that happen.

      "Those who created the crisis should pay for it" - Caroline Lucas

      Caroline Lucas spoke about the cuts and the Green New Deal at the Green Party Conference in Cardiff this weekend.

      Support Grows for Monday's Cuts Protest Outside Brent Town Hall

      As Council's across the country face protests as they vote on drastic cuts packages the various single issue campaigns across Brent are readying themselves to join the Brent Fightback demonstration tomorrow (Monday 28th February) outside Brent Town Hall. The demonstration will start at 6pm.

      The Labour group will be meeting before the full Council and it is likely that there may be a few minor concessions from the leadership in order to keep some dissident councillors in line. However the vast majority of the cuts, despite the leadership's claims to the contrary, will go ahead and hit the most vulnerable of Brent residents, including falling disproportionately on children and young people and those with disabilities.

      If Labour councillors are to remain true to their principles they should really vote against the entire package and ally themselves with trades unions and community groups fighting the Coalition's slashing of public services.

      If you want to identify your local councillors so that you can speak to them tomorrow, follow this LINK which includes portraits as well as contact details.

      Saturday 26 February 2011

      This is what community action looks like!

      Determined campaigners brave the rain for a photo-shoot
      (Click on images to enlarge)
       Lots of local families crowded into Cricklewood Library today for a 'read-in' which showed the breadth of opposition to library closures. Guest story-tellers and some on the spot volunteers read to more than 70 children who attended throughout the 'read-in' and we even managed to have some parachute games despite the confined space.

      Graham Durham of the Save Cricklewood Library Campaign everyone to attend the demonstration against the cuts at 6pm at Brent Town Hall on Monday. Cllr Shafique Choudhary, the only councillor to attend, was thanked for turning up and urged to vote against ALL the cuts on Monday.

      Ken Livingstone said that there were two main arguments against the cuts the government were imposing. Firstly President Obama had decided not to make cuts while the economy was still weak and that decision had seen the US economy recovering quicker than that of the UK. Secondly there was an alternative to the cuts and that was to take action against tax avoidance and tax evasion by big business.

      Cut Benefits to Bankers - Not Public Services

      Lucas: Greens are the REAL opposition

      Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has positioned herself as "the real opposition" to the coalition Government.
      Speaking from her party's spring conference in Cardiff, she said: "How can they oppose the market in the NHS when they first introduced it?

      "How are they opposing tuition fees when they first introduced it? How do they oppose the selling off of the Royal Mail? That was (former business secretary) (Lord) Peter Mandelson."

      Ms Lucas added: "I've always been a bit ambitious, but I do think the Green Party is the real opposition.

      "The Lib Dems are part of the Government - they can't speak out about proper constitutional reform or nuclear weapons or nuclear power or many of the things they stood for.

      "Labour is utterly contaminated by the fact they pursued many of the policies which now the coalition Government is simply taking to their logical conclusions, so I think people are looking for a genuine opposition - and you won't be surprised to know I think that's the Green Party."

      Friday 25 February 2011

      Local Press on Council Cuts

      Here is another round-up of the local press on cuts. Don't forget there is a demonstration against Brent Council cuts organised by Brent Fightback from 6pm on Monday February 28th outside the Town Hall. WWO is the Wembley and Willesden Observer and WBT the Willesden and Brent Times. These are only brief notes so do buy the papers for the full story.

      CUTS     - CHILDREN
      LIFELINE FOR SPECIAL NEEDS UNDER THREAT WWOp1  KIDS HIT BY LATEST CUTS WBTp1 Contrary to the Council's commitment to protect the front-line the portage service, which aims to give children with disabilities an equal chance in life is to be cut. A council spokeswoman admitted the service was important but said it was not legally required.
      'RESTRUCTURING WON'T HARM CHILDREN'S SERVICES' WBTp2  PROMISE NOT TO CUT SURE START, BUT NO TO NEW CENTRES WWOp10  Despite cuts of £2.25m in children's centres, and not opening those at Sudbury, Cricklewood and Kingsbury. Denise Burke, Brent early years and childcare manager,  maintains that they will not affect the service and Cllr Mary Arnold says that young people are the victims of 'right-wing slash and burn attitudes to the welfare state' but expresses pride that 'we have found a way to protect all our centres'. However Sarah Teather MP, says that the government has put the same amount of money into the Sure Start pot but Brent Council has withdrawn £2.25m. She says children centres, services and staff are at risk.

      LIB DEMS: WE CAN SAVE LIBRARIES WBTp2, OPPOSITION'S ALTERNATIVE BUDGET TO SAVE LIBRARIES AND CENTRE WWOp11  Lib Dems propose an alternative budget to the one being voted on on Monday. They propose axing the regeneration budget and using £2.2m Labour were going to put into reserves. the would not replace the director of housing, reduce the administration costs of the neighbourhood working scheme and remove the London Weighting from Hay Grade salaries.  Cllr Muhammed Butt says that the £2.2m put into reserves is a one-off grant: "If we use it this year what do we do next year? This is not spare cash." The Lib Dems claim their budget would enable libraries to stay open for a year while alternative plans are formulated to keep them open, they'd reinstate green zones, cut £1m from the CPZ charges, save the Welsh Harp Centre and reverse the children centres cuts.
      MP ATTACKS PLANS TO AXE HALF LIBRARIES IN BOROUGH WBTp4 'CUT SALARIES BEFORE YOU CLOSE LIBRARIES' WWOp5  Speaking at the Save Preston Library public meeting, Barry Gardiner MP attacks Cllr Powney over library closures and says libraries are essential to any civilised society. He questioned why there are 50 people in Brent Council who earn as much as Eric Pickles.
      WE BACK THE LIBRARIES BATTLE WBTp17 Brent Arts Council backs the Save Our Libraries campaigns.
      CLEAR SUPPORT FOR ESSENTIAL PUBLIC SERVICE WBTp17 A Queens Park residents calls on the Council to listen to residents and adapt their policy on libraries accordingly.
      MP'S VIEWS ON LIBRARY POLICY QUITE RIGHT WBTp17 Richard Cross attacks Cllr Ann John for suggesting that libraries not so important now that books are available at supermarkets, second hand and from Amazon.
      NEW TORY COUNCILLOR WILL FIGHT TO KEEP BRENT LIBRARIES OPEN WWOp10 Suresh Kansagra, who won the Kenton by-election. pledge to keep fighting against library closures.

      'USE IT OT LOSE IT' BID TO SAVE SPORTS CENTRE WBTp5 Simon Rogers of Brent Eleven Streets Residents Association seeks to save Charteris Sports Centre, the 'only community space' in the area and calls for the community to take it over. He says the worst scenario would be if the council gave them the centre without support 'but the most important thing for us is to keep the doors open'.
      ANGER OVER THREAT TO LEGAL CENTRE WBTp7 After 'transformation project' as the word for library closures Brent Council has coined 'decommissioning' as the term for closing the Brent Law Centre. Former  Labour and Conservative councillors as well as current Lib Dems combine to criticise the move and say it will store up problems for the future. OUR VIEW WBTp17 Editorial making the case for the Law Centre and saying Monday's council meeting should not vote to cut it.

      FEAR OF 'NO-GO AREAS' IF PARK WARDENS CUT WWOp13 PARC (Park Area Residents Campaign) are fighting to save the warden of Brent River Park (Tokyngton Rec. Monks Park) and fear that without the warden it will not be safe for families. Ten people will lose their jobs in park warden cuts and will be replaced by mobile teams.  Cllr Ann John campaigned for wardens eight years ago but says she has been forced to cut the funding and has no choice but to balance the books. She says if funding increases, wardens will be top of the list for reinstatement.

      Unequal Access to Education in Brent

      There is increasing disquiet in Brent about the perceived shift of the  borough's centre of gravity towards Wembley. Nowhere is this clearer  than in the distribution of secondary schools. There are only four schools open to all pupils south of the North Circular Road (counting Crest girls and boys as two schools) which include three academies. In the north there are seven, including one academy; five are in the Wembley area.  After special needs and  sibling connection the main criterion for admission is distance from the  school which clearly disadvantages pupils from the south when applying  for schools in the north.

      This inequality will be exacerbated if Preston Manor, Wembley High and Alperton follow the ARK in opening a primary school and giving priority  to those pupils in gaining access to their secondary departments. Preston Manor has already stated that it will reduce the number of  places in its secondary school available for external applications by 60.

      Despite my best efforts I have not been able to persuade the council to make the case for  all-through schools or to provide an equalities impact assessment of the expansion plans. It seems that the pressure of  providing additional places in the short-term has blinded the council to the long-term implications.

      The danger is that secondary schools  seeking primary provision in the face of the all-through competition from the ARK Academy, will also seek academy status on the same basis. The local education authority, already weakened by cuts, will lose further funding and will relinquish its role in ensuring fair admissions procedures and an equal distribution of school places.

      The paucity of secondary places in the south of the borough will provide a rationale for private providers to seek to set up a free school (a school set up by individuals or a charity, using tax payers money, but outside the control of the local authority) in the area with a further loss of funding to the local authority. A 'bare bones' authority would offer so little to primary schools  that there would be little incentive to them resisting going it alone and seeking academy status.

      This would mean the end of democratic accountability of our schools.

      Primary Expansion Programme to go to Scrutiny on March 2nd

      Cllr Harshadibha Patel has 'called in' the Executive's decision of February 15th on primary places expansion. This particularly relates to the controversial Preston Manor Primary School project.

      The meeting will be held in Room 4 at Brent Town Hall on Wednesday March 2nd at 7.30pm.  Anyone who wishes to speak on the issue should contact Brent Council via Toby Howes on 020 8937 1307

      Rally to Defend Our Public Services on Monday


      Lobby Brent Council's budget fixing meeting 
      Bring your placards and banners, bring your friends and your neighbours.
      Be on the steps of Brent Town Hall
      Forty Lane, Wembley HA9 9HD
      From 6 pm.

      Spread the word. 
      Please forward this link to everyone who will be affected by cuts to libraries, the Law Centre, Charteris Sports Centre, Voluntary services, children's centres, services for children with special needs, services for the elderly, services for people with disabilities &/or learning difficulties, parks, council workers who will lose their jobs, council workers who will have their pay cut, council workers whose working conditions will get worse, people with mental health problems whose services are being cut and rents are going up, young people whose youth centres are being closed or cut, people with allotments, people who need to bury their relatives ..........


      Support Cricklewood Library on Saturday and Bring Your Children

      From the Save Cricklewood Library Campaign

      What happened to the Mayor's cat, Ken ?


      Local and London authors are sharpening their story-telling skills for the Read-In at Cricklewood library on Saturday
      26 February (10.30-2pm,152 Olive Road NW2)

      Supporting our story telling local resident  Ken Livingstone,candidate for London Mayor in 2012, by contributing their tales  are :

      John Simmons - internationally known writer and teacher of writing for business and the contributing co-editor of 'From Here to Here' - 31 stories inspired by London's Circle Line amongst his numerous other books

      Martin Francis - famous 'Wembley Matters' bloggist and organiser of environment education scheme 'Brent School Without Walls'

      Anna Dolezal - well-known University of the Arts trained   local artist who has written five poems specifically for the  day

      Jan Palmer -  retired local primary school teacher and artist whose children 'loved the library'

      Graham Durham -  special educational needs expert consultant and secretary of the Save Cricklewood Library campaign

      The event is open to all and is part of the campaign to prevent Brent Council closing Cricklewood Library and five other Brent libraries.

      Wednesday 23 February 2011

      Preston Manor Primary School Approved

      Brent Planning Committee tonight unanimously agreed the application to build a 420 pupil primary school on the Preston High School site despite 81 different objections from residents. To the last there were complaints about lack of consultation, disputed claims about the need for a school in this particular area, concern over the impact on local primary schools, worries about traffic and a general sense that this was a 'done deal' whatever representations were made..

      Carmen Coffey, for the children and families department, continued to insist that there was a demand for reception places in the 'immediate area' (in earlier consultations we established she meant by this the HA9 and HAO postal codes!), but later said that only 40 places of the 60 place temporary school at Wembley Christian Centre had been filled.

      When Cllr Bobby Thomas asked if the addition of a primary school meant that there would be fewer places at the secondary school for children from other primary schools she did not answer directly, instead she said that children from these schools often went to other secondary schoolssuch as Wembley and Claremont. In fact because children from Primary Manor Primary School will get automatic admission Preston Manor High School does propose to reduce  the places open to other schools by 60 places. She did state that children from the south of the borough would be unable to get into the school if it was over-subscribed.

      Cllr McLennan asked about the impact of the housing benefit cap on pupil numbers as families were forced out of the borough. Carmen Coffey said that an assessment was being made but suggested that the families may be replaced by those forced out of inner London boroughs. This raises the question of why rents would be affordable to inner London families on capped housing benefit and not Brent families with the same cap.

      The applicant suggested that residents' worries about traffic and parking would be answered by staggering the start and finish of the primary school in consultation with the secondary school and that children arriving by car from the west would be met at Ashley Gardens by a member of staff and escorted to the primary building. She conceded that in the first year because of the backlog of unplaced children there would be a number coming from the south of the borough by car but expected that by 2016 most of the children would be coming from the local area.

      The issue of the covenants was raised by Councillor Cummins but he was told that this could not be considered by the Planning Committee and was a 'separate issue'. One that doubtless residents will be following up.

      There is also the possibility of an appeal to the Schools Adjudicator when the admissions procedure to the secondary school is published.

      Academy staff vote to strike against proposed redundancies

      Staff at Crest Girls Academy in Brent were shocked to hear that 21 staff redundancies were being proposed. At an emergency joint unions meeting last Thursday, 79 staff (with 3 against) voted for strike action in the event that the current "business plan", which basically means the redundancy of 21 staff members, goes ahead.

      Crest Girls is run by the academy group E-ACT and last year Crest Boys took successful strike action to prevent any compulsory redundancies at their academy.

      A group from Crest Girls joined by other anti academy campaigners and ATL, NASUWT and NUT union officers from Redbridge who face E-ACT academies there, had a demonstration outside E-ACT's HQ in London. E-ACT were left in no doubt the strength of feeling felt at Crest Girls and particularly in the circumstances where their Director General (!) Sir Bruce Liddington earns over £265,000 plus bonuses per year.

      Residents fight for park wardens

      Local community rally to keep their park warden

      Park Area Residents Campaign (PARC) has been formed to fight for the retention of a full-time park warden in Brent River Park. The Park covers Tokyngton Recreations Ground (Monks Park), St Raphael Open Space and the wild area around the Stadium Trading Estate.

      PARC are a  broad  non-political alliance who fear that the area will degenerate and become unsafe if the warden is removed.

      To find out more and to support the campaign go to their website HERE

      Tuesday 22 February 2011

      Brent Parks consult on dog control orders

      Brent Council Parks Department is currently running a consultation on Dog Control Orders. They are seeking to balance the  protection of children with the need of dog owners to have areas where their dogs can run free. One major measure is a restriction on the number of dogs being walked by one person at a time to 6. Professional dog walkers currently often have more than 10 dogs at a time. The proposals follow similar measures on Hampstead Heath. They also list areas where dogs will be completely excluded and where dogs must be kept on a lead.

      The consultation ends on February 28th and the document is available HERE

      Ken Livingstone Tells Stories

      Latest news from the Save Cricklewood Library Campaign:

      Confronting the Council
      Yes local resident and former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone,will be telling stories at the Cricklewood Library  Fun Day and  Read - In on Saturday 26 February 10.30 am - 2pm.

      This is part of the campaign to stop Brent Council closing Cricklewood and six other Brent Libraries as proposed by the Council.The full Council meets on 28 February to decide the libraries fate.

      Ken said ' I shall be dashing from my Saturday morning radio show on LBC  to read to local children in support of the library. The proposed closure of libraries across the country is wrong '

      Brent Council has admitted that Cricklewood Library receives over 1,000 visitors a week and that Brent libraries received an astonishing 1.85 million visits in 2009/2010.

      Graham Durham ,Secretary of Save Cricklewood Library Campaign, said
      "Whilst everyone knows that 27% cuts are being forced on all councils by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition it is wrong for Labour councils to meekly slash library and other services at the behest of government. Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North and Ken Livingstone  are the two most respected figures in the Labour Party in Brent and oppose these closures..This week it was revealed that if Barclay's Bank alone paid corporation tax at  the average rate for developed countries then all 521 libraries threatened across the country could be fully funded for the next 50 years."

      Monday 21 February 2011

      Brent Library Closures Fail the Evidence Test

      Samantha Warrington of the Save Preston Library Campaign made an impressive speech to last week's Brent Executive setting out the areas in which the Council had failed to make an assessment of local needs in its 'Transformation' project involving the closure of half of Brent's libraries.

      • No analysis or projection of the return on investment from the libraries transformation programme - so no measurable targets on which to assess the success of the project. We could just be throwing money into a bottomless pit.
        • No evidence that people want larger libraries and will travel to them
        • No projections of how many people will travel to alternative, more distant libraries
        • No environmental impact assessment
        • No assessment on the effects on literacy on the schoolchildren of Preston ward
        • No adequate plans for the children of Preston Park school to have access to a library
        • Equality impact assessment is still not complete
        • No assessment on the health and fitness of the people of Preston ward and beyond who walk to the neighbourhood facilities
        • No assessment of the effect on community cohesion
        • No assessment of the effect of closure on local business
        • No assessment of the effect on people who do not speak English as a first language
        • No adequate transport assessment
        • No accessibility impact assessment for people with mobility issues or disability
        • No assessment of Preston Library users alternative access to computers and the internet
        • No assessment of the impact on people with learning difficulties
        • No exploration of opportunities to co-locate additional services at Preston Library
        • No attempt to leverage private sector involvement to support the operation of Preston Library
        • No exploration of innovative property solutions such as sale-and-leasebacks to facilitate continuing library provision at the Preston Library site
        • No exploration of opportunities to leverage private sector funding and/or sponsorship at the £3m Wembley Stadium mega-library ("no time" said Sue Mackenzie)
        • No exploration of alternative revenue streams
        • No exploration of charitable donations or educational grants from the private sector to fund library facilities
        • No attempt to scale back the £100m Civic Centre and £3m mega-library
        • No analysis or projections of the uptake of computer-based ebooks which form the basis of the library provision in the future

      Sunday 20 February 2011

      Preston Manor Travel Plan Deficient

      The Travel Plan for the proposed primary school  submitted to the Council by Preston Manor High School ahead of the Planning Committee to be held on Wednesday was given a 'FAIL' by the council officers. Apart from missing detail there is some uncertainty about the geographical source of pupils. If the majority of pupils come from the local area this may have a destabilising impact on existing local primary schools. If they come from further away increased car traffic and congestion may be involved.
      The Travel Plan is very light on detailed information for the school (e.g. general
      background, assessment of existing transport network, policy review, detailing of the Travel Plan Co-ordinator’s role and detail around the implementation of the Travel Plan, such as an Action Plan and details of how it will be secured and funded). It is also missing some key measures, such as the operation of breakfast and after-school clubs to assist in staggering arrivals and departures and an on-site car parking management system (such as giving priority to car sharers).

      A further major issue that has not been addressed in the Travel Plan is the proposed catchment area for the school. The Transport Assessment alludes to the shortage of school places for children in the southeast of the Borough, which could result in a large proportion of the future school roll initially coming from areas some distance from the school. This would make implementation of a number of the key travel plan measures, such as promotion of walking, very difficult and would require consideration of alternative measures, such as dedicated school buses from key population centres.

      The Travel Plan has been assessed by the Council’s Highway officers using TfL’s ATTRIBUTE  programme and has scored a “FAIL” (29/83).

      The applicants consider that although initially there may be a higher than usual percentage of children travelling to the site, this will balance out over time as the school's criteria for attendance becomes applicable. The applicants have therefore not anticipated that a dedicated bus route is necessary.

      What is a Green Job?

      Fuming in the rain, just fuming in the rain...

      Residents at the Preston Manor Primary School site

      Brent Council hasn't covered itself in glory regarding the expansion plans for Preston Manor High School.

      Initially it did not inform most of the residents of the plans, and then organised a consultation meeting at a time when most of them were still at work.  Its statutory notice documentation had to be revised three times due to inaccuracies and many of the planning documents on its website were so poorly scanned as to be illegible. Many questions raised by consultees were not answered in the expansion documentation that went to the Executive last week.

      Damagingly the Council failed to make adequate searches ahead of the planning application and were taken by surprise when residents uncovered covenants that appeared to limit development of the site.  The Council fast-tracked the planning application so that it will be decided on Wednesday February 23rd ahead of a decision on the statutory application on Monday February 28th.

      When residents queried why a site visit had not been organised by the Planning Committee a visit was hastily organised for Saturday morning.  However the committee turned up late on a rainy morning day and  did not possess the right keys for the site. This had also happened previously at the site meeting for the temporary primary school building in Ashley Gardens. According to one resident who attended, councillors began to drift off halfway through the proceedings and residents were left fuming when the chair cut off the discussion prematurely.

      Perhaps not the best way to win hearts and minds?

      Squalid Gateway to Wembley 2012

      Wembley will be hosting football, gymnastics and badminton for the 2012 Olympics. Spectators using Wembley Central Station will be greeted by a dilapidated station where the new lifts have been installed but have never been commissioned, destination boards don't work and platforms are flooded. The facade of the station looks like an allotment shed amidst the gleaming new development. During the May election Barry Gardiner MP claimed the credit for a 'new' station but the truth is that it has never been finished after money ran out and quarrels about responsibility between the Council, Railtrack and Transport for London were never resolved. With only a year to go urgent action needs to be taken.

      The 'allotment shed' entrance 

      Destination boards don't work  
      The flooded Bakerloo/Overground platform  
      Flooded platform on the Southern East Croydon-Milton Keynes line

      The exit from the Southern platforms

      Saturday 19 February 2011

      Could a 'Needs Budget' unite us?

      It was clear as I was chatting during the by-election count on Thursday evening that there is a great deal of disquiet amongst some Labour councillors about the Council's cuts programme.

       "Me! Closing libraries... I can't believe it!" was the comment from one Labour councillor, while a former Lib Dem councillor lamented the lack of political power of ruling group councillors who aren't on the Executive. He said that the new 'cabinet' form of local government sharply reduced the role of 'back-bench' councillors.  It is those Labour councillors, often newly elected, who stood last time in order to improve the quality of life of Brent residents, who will be faced with a stark choice on February 28th when the full Council meeting is due to vote on the budget.

      The Labour leadership has undermined its own position to some extent because they have denied that the cuts they propose will have a detrimental impact on already disadvantaged local people. To make the cuts palatable they have sought to placate opposition by insisting that those most in need will be protected and that the quality of service, despite massive staff cuts, will be maintained.   Added to this they have sometimes echoed David Cameron's 'Big Society' smokescreen by calling for volunteers to run libraries and other services. The people of Brent aren't fools and can see through the spin.

      The Labour leadership thus separates itself from local community activists, users' groups and trades unionists who seek to defend public services. Rank and file councillors find themselves at odds with erstwhile friends, colleagues and comrades and some are sickened by the position they find themselves in.

      Rather than act as the Coalition's bailiff's, Labour could be taking the lead in fighting the Coalition's cuts imposed at local and national government level by constructing a 'needs-led' budget in collaboration with local activists.  Rather than deny that the cuts will hit the most vulnerable they would analyse what services local people need to survive the forthcoming period of  economic turn-down and social stress and cost them.  They would also look at what investment and job creation needs to be made locally order for Brent  to move out of recession.   Such a budget would, for example,  immediately show that cuts in children centres, youth provision and Brent Law Centre are counter to the needs of local people.

      Armed with this budget, and the detailed analysis on which it is based,  the Council could fight a campaign, alongside organisations such as Brent Fightback, against the Coalition cuts and make the case for fair funding for Brent based on the needs of the population.   They could also unite with Labour councils elected across London at the last election in a London wide campaign publicising the irrevocable damage public service cuts will cause.

      LINK to report on similar campaign in Portsmouth

      Gardiner's attack on Brewnt library closures

      Full story on Barry Gardiner's attack on Brent's library closures HERE. This is a key extract from his speech:
      “But I remember Nye Bevan said that priorities are the song of socialism. These libraries are our priorities, and they should not be taken away. They should be expanded."
      Speaking about the ‘genteel decline’ of the nation’s reading rooms, the former junior Northern Ireland minister added:
      “It is a trick councils do up and down the country. They look at resources like libraries and they find that they are not as well used as they used to be.

      “But instead of thinking they can improve the resources, they say ‘OK, let’s run it down’. They use it as a justification for taking that resource away."

      Friday 18 February 2011

      Shambolic government policy making exposed

      Caroline Lucas MP released the following statement yesterday on the Coalition's u-turn on forests:

      On behalf of the many hundreds of my constituents who have written in to oppose the sell-off of our public forest estate, I welcome the Government's decision to ditch these reckless plans - and am encouraged by the commitment given to me by the Secretary of State that those people who led the inspirational grassroots movement against the sell off will be included in the new panel of experts set up to consider the future of the forests. Now it will be vital to ensure that the panel itself operates in public. This major u-turn exposes the shambolic nature of the Government's policy-making - and is the inevitable consequence of ministers blindly charging ahead with ideologically driven cuts.

      Lib Dems beaten into 4th place in Kenton by-election

      Robert Dunwell, a former Conservative and latterly Democratic Conservative councillor, beat the Lib Dems into 4th place in the Kenton by-election on a turn-out of less than 25%.

      Suresh Kansagra         CONSERVATIVE          1063
      Eleanor Southwood                  LABOUR             907
      Robert Dunwell             INDEPENDENT             185
      Chunilal Hirani    LIBERAL DEMOCRAT          179
      Alan Mathison                             GREEN                75              

      Thursday 17 February 2011

      Barry Gardiner tells Cllr Powney that the Council is wrong to close libraries

      At a packed meeting of 120 local people to oppose  library closures at Preston Park School yesterday, Brent North Labour MP Barry Gardiner  told the meeting and many Labour councillors present, that he was opposed to the proposal to close six libraries.

      Graham Durham,Secretary of Save Cricklewood Library Campaign commented:
      'Under the pressure of the huge campaigns to save six  libraries in Brent the local Labour party is now at war with itself with many Labour councillors threatening to join Barry Gardiner in opposing and voting against library closures. In Doncaster Labour leader Ed Miliband is actively campaigning against local library cuts and his lead should be followed in Brent .Everyone understands that the massive cuts demanded by the Con/Dem government will, if implemented,devastate services in Brent. Labour councillors have a clear way forward - stop doing the Con/Dem Coalition's dirty work and join the huge resistance across Brent.'
      Brent Fightback are organising a leafleting campaign to maximise attendance at the full Council meeting on February 28th at Brent Town Hall.

      Meanwhile the Save Cricklewood Library Campaign are holding a FUN DAY AND 'READ-IN' at Cricklewood Library on SATURDAY 26TH FEBRUARY  10.30AM-2pm.  There will be story-telling, plays and games and all ages are welcome.

      Wednesday 16 February 2011

      You MUST see this

      Willesden Green Library Interim Arrangements?

      Just a small item from last night's Executive. The meeting also passed the proposal to explore ways of regenerating the Willesden Library Centre to raise money, which would mean it closing for two years while redevelopment took place.

      Cllr Ann Hunter (Lib Dem, Willesden Green) proposed that if this went ahead that Cricklewood and Neasden libraries be kept open in the interim.  Cllr Powney said that some interim arrangements would have to be made and did not rule the proposal out.

      Preston Manor Governors asked to 'cease and desist' building works

      Local residents yesterday served a 'cease and desist' order on the governors of Preston Manor High School over building works for a primary school on the school playing fields.  The order follows residents' investigations of covenants on the land which appear to prevent the building of a school.  The governors and/or Council will have to go through a consultation process to change the covenants.  Money for a new school has to be spent by August 2011.

      Meanwhile temporary reception classes are operating at the Christian Centre on the corner of Elmstead Road and Forty Avenue.  They are due to move into temporary buildings at Ashley Gardens after half-term. A parent who enquired about a place for her child was told that only two thirds of the 60 places have been filled despite claims that there were more than 70 chidlren without a school place in the area.

      I once again tried to raise the educational and equality issues connected with secondary schools expanding into primary provision at the Executive last night. Once again my questions were not answered. My speech is HERE

      Tuesday 15 February 2011

      Brent Labour Executive Vote for Cuts

      The largest public attendance at Brent Executive for years
      Tonight's meeting of the Brent Executive was crowded with the public who had turned up to protest about various cuts and closure plans. Some were locked out when the room became too crowded but the mood was subdued as if everyone knew that the Labour councillors would just nod it all through. And so it came to pass.

      The biggest turn-out was from Charteris Sports Centre and the various library campaigns. Speeches were eloquent and often emotional.   The Council's consultation processes once again came under attack with figures described as inaccurate and often misleading and with overwhelming lack of evidence for some of the claims made in documentation.

      One library campaigner described the Civic Centre as a 'white elephant which nobody wants' and evidence of the Wembley-centric nature of the Brent Council. He said, "The Council knows the price of the libraries but not their value" and claimed closing libraries was as much a crime as burning books.

      Another said that by saving money in the short-term the Council was permanently damaging the borough in the long-term.

      Supporters of the Charteris Sports Centre said that it had above average use by youth and disabled groups and that the local police had said that crime was likely to go up in the area  if it closed. They were proposing a council-community partnership and condemned the lack of an Equalities Impact Assessment on the closure plans. To cheers the representatives  expressed their determination to keep up the fight.

      An amendment to the budget motion from Cllr James Powney, stating that the council remains in talks over library services and Charteris Sports Centre which may have an effect on the budget, was adopted by the Executive.

      Jamie Ritchie spoke on behalf of the Brent Law Centre and said that the Council had given a demonstration on how NOT to treat the voluntary sector. They should not tell an organisation that they had funding for a year and then cut it halfway through and not say that they will consult and the decide to close it before the consultation was completed. He said the Law Centre was experiencing a double whammy from the Council and the Government. He pointed out that law centres ave the authorities 10 times as much money as the amount that is spent on them. Law Centres were required more than every and demand was increasing. Deprived of such assistance people would turn to 'self-help' in the form of crime.

      In a heart-felt presentation two parents who use the Three Trees Children's Centre in Kensal Rise described the strong support they had received from staff and how it had changed their lives. Councillor Ann John stated that there was no intention to remove any substantial services and that there would be consultation over changes. She insisted that no Children's Centre would be closed, but did not mention that  three planned ones will not now open.

      There was no debate about the budget proposals on the Executive and no questions. There were brief presentations from the lead members, often inaudible to the public, and then each proposal was agreed unanimously.

      Action will now move to the full Council meeting on February 28th where Brent Fightback will be holding a lobby from 6pm outside the Town Hall. Campaigns are urged to bring banners and placards and as many supporters as possible.

      Sunday 13 February 2011


      The Save Our Libraries campaigns will continue right up to the deadline. The official non-party e-petition for the Save Preston Library campaign is on the Brent Website HERE.  Please encourage as many people as possible to sign and make sure you sign it yourself. Pass on the link via Facebook etc.

      A couple of clicks and you've done  your bit!


      The more the merrier so that Brent Council gets the message loud and clear:


      Saturday 12 February 2011

      Say NO to Coalition Attempts to Divide Us

      Caroline Lucas, Green MP, along with Peter Hain MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP , Salma Yaqoob (Councillor and leader of Respect) and many others from many backgrounds have signed the statement below. I intend to do so and hope you will too.  Brent is a brilliant example of a multicultural society that works.

      We the undersigned believe that our multicultural society and the respect and solidarity it is built on is a cause for pride, and reject any moves by this government to undermine and destroy it.

      We must not allow this coalition government to turn the tide back to the days when it was acceptable, through ignorance and fear, for people with a different religion, culture or skin colour to be scapegoated and treated as inferior or outsiders.

      To add your name to this statement go to

      Charteris Campaign will lobby Brent Executive on Tuesday

      Lobby Brent Council
      on Tuesday, February 15th 6pm
      at Brent Town Hall Wembley


      For more details and help:
      Join our campaign on facebook

      E mail :

      Thursday 10 February 2011


      The Coalition for a Sustainable Brent Cross Cricklewood (BXC) Plan has learnt of bitter criticism by Brent Council of transport plans for the proposed £4.5 billion Brent Cross Cricklewood development.
      In a draft document for its "Local Implementation Plan" (LIP) for the Mayor of London released in January, Brent tears into the Brent Cross Transport Assessment and wants neighbouring Barnet Council to stop the whole Brent Cross development until revised modelling and assessments are carried out.
      In its LIP document  Brent says:
      "Brent Cross / Cricklewood ... Brent has concerns about the potential negative impacts of aspects of the proposals on parts of Brent. There are particular concerns about the robustness of the transport assessment."
      "Brent will have to object to the proposals until revised modelling and assessments are carried out."
      Brent objected at the time of the Brent Cross planning inquiry, but Barnet Council played down the scale of Brent's objections. A promise made since by Barnet, to jointly consider increased traffic congestion on the A5 Edgware Road, has not changed Brent's position.
      Brent also insists that road changes around Staples Corner:
      "should not prejudice future opportunities to provide light rail, or other fixed link, to the [Brent Cross area].”
      This follows Brent Council’s endorsement of a future North and West London Light Railway (NWLLR) project at a full Council meeting on 24 January.
      Brent Council, Harrow Council and Ealing Council  have all now voted unanimously, to support in principle the "North and West London Light Railway" as one of several solutions for an orbital railway line across outer London.
      John Cox, BXC Coalition member and transport campaigner says,
      “Brent Council is right to reaffirm its concerns about the Brent Cross transport figures, and the resulting road congestion we will all suffer. It was due to questions that the "Brent Cross Coalition" raised about Barnet Council's figure of over twenty-nine thousand extra cars a day (including at West Hendon) that led Barnet to magically revise this figure down. After five years of the high figure, It now states a more "politically acceptable" nine thousand cars, somehow managing to lose twenty thousand.
      "Barnet has misrepresented the numbers by assuming car journeys would account for one third rather than two-thirds of trips. Brent also recognises that the transport assessment needs to be revised again in view of other new plans, such as the Wembley regeneration. However, the desire for extra money from the Brent Cross developers has completely stopped the council from representing the public interest.
      “In common with Brent Council, we just don’t believe these dubious figures. Barnet and the developers need to go back to the drawing board. We know the real impact their car-based scheme will have on congestion and air pollution in Barnet, Brent and the surrounding areas.”
      Shafique Choudhary, Brent Councillor and BXC Coalition member, says:
      “Alongside many local residents, councillors from all parties have been campaigning against this damaging development and the impact it will have on us. I am pleased that Brent Council planning and transport department are yet again pointing out major concerns about the severe congestion that the Brent Cross development will bring.
      "I am dubious about the quality of the 'A5 Corridor Study' that Barnet is now trying to palm us off with. It is not going to reduce the car levels from Brent Cross one bit.
      “I am also delighted that all political parties at Brent Council are supporting proposals for a North and West London Light Railway – a sustainable public transport project that will go a long way to ease the gridlock and provide alternative routes right across north and west London."
      There are campaigners in Barnet who want to extend such a light-rail line across Barnet, via Colindale and Mill Hill East, to benefit even more people. The Coalition believes that the car-based developments at Brent Cross (costing £4.5 Billion) , Colindale (£1.5 billion) and elsewhere could pay for it, if only the political will is there.


      Summing up the 'Big Society'

      Simon Hoggart has the ability to put things in a nutshell sometimes. In the Guardian today he says the shape of the Big Society seems to be forming:
      It seems to be along these lines: librarians and people who work in citizens' advice bureaux or run community centres, are going to be fired. This will leave them with loads of free time to do voluntary work in libraries, citizens' advice bureaux and community centres.

      Green alternative to destruction of public services by Tories, Lib Dems and Labour

      Caroline Lucas, Green MP and Green Party leader, had the following letter published in the Independent today.
      “Deficit denier” is a very ugly term for those of us who have a positive and constructive viewpoint on managing the country’s financial and other problems.

      We can make full acknowledgement of the deficit, and still identify different options for dealing with it. The response of ruthless cuts and austerity measures is an ideological choice made by the big three parties. For Labour and some Lib Dems to criticise the “pace and scale” of the cuts is still a pro-cuts, pro-austerity choice.

      The Green Party, many unions and some economists have proposed an alternative choice. This would involve cracking down on tax avoidance and tax evasion, saving billions every year. It would involve the wealthiest people in society pay a fairer share. It would mean saving £100bn over thirty years by scrapping Trident and its proposed replacement. It would involve a windfall tax on bank profits as well as a heavy tax on bankers’ bonuses. It would mean reducing the deficit more slowly, and thus avoiding these savage cuts. It would mean smart switching of funds from high-carbon to carbon-reduction spending (for example away from motorway-building and into public transport), and other ways of generating funds such as a green investment bank. 

      It would mean having enough cash to invest heavily in a Green New Deal – a major plan to kickstart the transformation to a post-carbon economy while creating a million new jobs and training places. And the new jobs would in turn bring in extra revenue to support public spending (whereas cuts will cost the country a million jobs).

      Greens and many others who do not “deny the deficit” would prefer the government to make this ideological choice – based on fairness and sustainability – not the one based on destroying public services and punishing the poorest people in society.

      Let the Kids Carry on Shining!

      Learning from the outdoors
      Shine, an extended learning programme for 60 disadvantaged youngsters based at the Preston Manor City Learning Centre could be affected by the possible closure of the Welsh Harp Environmental Centre.

      The students attend the programme every Saturday during term time and focus on activities connected to the science, maths and English curriculum using technology and creative media as motivational tools.

      In the Summer term they are working on 'Powerscape' which is centred around teaching children about alternative energy sources.  Each student will be travelling to the Welsh Harp and working on environmental sculptures related to this theme. The sculptures will be nestled in the woodlands and unveiled in July.

      They will also be working on an informative advertising campaign (print and film) to educate young people about considering reducing the energy they use and the things they can to do to help reduce energy consumption.

      Shine has made real impact over three years and helped young people to aim higher and bridge learning gaps. It would be a terrible shame if the twin threats hanging over the Welsh Harp Centre and the City Learning Centre should end the project which enhances learning and contributes to Brent's Climate Change Strategy.

      Brent as a Self-Harming Black Knight

      The Green Party strongly supports the role of Local Authorities in ensuring adequate and effective educational provision including that for children with special educational needs and disabilities, with fair admissions procedures and support for schools in difficulties.

      Unfortunately the cuts and charges being implemented by Brent Council as a result of the Coalition Government's reduction in grant have the effect of the council actually reducing its own role and may eventually lead to its demise as an education authority. It is as if the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail cut his own limbs off!

      In addition to the cuts outlined in previous posts the Brent School Improvement Service based at the Centre for Staff Development in Brentfield Road near the Swaminarayan Temple  faces cuts of  nearly £500,000. The staff there provide support services for schools across the borough in terms of management, curriculum development and pedagogy training teachers and support staff as well as school improvement advisors. The Centre has itself come under threat in previous rounds of cuts.  The training and support provided has contributed to the great improvement in the quality of education in Brent over the last few years with local schools out-performing similar schools in other boroughs. It also provides a forum for staff from different schools to learn from each and collaborate with successful programmes such as the Learning Project which also involves the London Institute of Education.  Training in Reading Recovery and other intervention projects  all contribute to support for children who are falling behind their peers.

      This reduction in central support will mean that schools will now need to buy-in these services from private companies or consultants adding to the pressure on their budgets. Where central services still continue but with reduced staffing they are likely to become less efficient and headteachers may choose to buy-in educational psychologists and other advisory staff. Inevitably this will lead to a spiral of decline in the central support services leading to further cuts in staffing. This spiral is already evident in some departments after last year's staffing cuts.

      The budget proposals already include an increase in charges to schools for the Brent Music Service of £50,000. The  BMS provides singing and instrumental tuition in schools and coordinates the amazing annual  Brent Schools Concert at the Wembley Arena. Follow this link to see the 2010 I Have A Song To Sing event: LINK  I challenge you to watch it and not be moved.

      Just as the council has had to make decisions on what to cut governing bodies of schools will be faced with choices of what to buy in. If services do not attract enough support from schools their future will be put in doubt.

      The real danger is that as support from the local authority is reduced or becomes inadequate,  schools will be tempted to go it alone and opt for academy status as the advantages of being an LA school become less evident. There are already rumours that secondary headteachers have informally agreed that if they decide to  opt  for academy status that they will do so as a group, rather than individually. The Brent NUT and ATL have already intervened at Claremont to ensure that this isn't a headteacher's decision but one for the whole school community. As schools become academies the amount of money available to the local authority is reduced.  Academies and free schools will erode local democratic accountability despite being funded by our taxes: taxation without representation.

      The Local Schools Network recognises these issues LINK and deserves wider support. Their basic principles are:
      1. Every child has a right to go to an excellent local state school, enabling every child to achieve their full potential.
      2. Every state school should have a fair admissions procedure.
      3. Every local school should be responsive to their parents and pupils’ needs and wishes and be accountable to the local community.
      4. That local schools in difficulties should be supported to improve, not attacked and  demoralised.

      Wednesday 9 February 2011

      Trade Unions and Climate Change Meeting Tomorrow



      Thursday 10 February 7.30pm, Willesden Green Library Centre, 95 High Road, NW10 2SF

      1. THE FIGHT FOR CLIMATE JOBS - Chris Baugh (PCS) Nick Grant (NUT)
      2. THE FIGHT FOR GREEN WORKPLACES - Sarah Pearce (TUC Green Workplaces Project)

      Chair: Pete Firmin (CWU, President Brent TUC)

      Brent Youth Slashed

      From Brent Connexions Website
      The budget outlines cuts in youth provision that brought about the mass meeting at Brent Town Hall last week LINK 

      Restructuring of the Brent Youth Service including job cuts will slash £153,000 from the budget with the cutting of the Dennis Jackson Centre (in Wembley) £36,000, St Raphael Centre £70,000, and Wembley Centre (£101,000). Cuts to Connexions which offers vital  information, advice and support to 13-19 year olds LINK will lose staff.

      So the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition has stopped this generation of youths' schools being refurbished and taken away their EMA; and the Labour Council has closed their youth clubs and removed support.

      Stand by for a summer of discontent!

      Protecting the Vulnerable? Looked after Children and Those with Disabilities and SEN Hit

      Victoria Climbie
      'Transformation' is the Council's sub-Orwellian speak for cuts. The 'Social Care Transformation' is due to save £1,800,000 and I have been able to find few details about it. However the budget document going to the Executive on Tuesday  says that costs will be reduced in: foster placements, children in residential homes, semi-independent living, payments for adopted children as well as families 'without recourse to public funds'. They also expect to save costs on the Youth Offending Team.

      A further  £1,300,000 will be saved through 'rationalisation' of fostering and adoption services and a 'rationalisation' of the safeguarding service through a 'streamlined' child protection conference process. The Young Carers Centre will no longer be funded - a vital support for younger children who are carers to older children or adults in their families.  These children often have to have time off school, take responsibility far beyond their years, and probably save other services thousands of pounds. There will also be reductions in the Crisis Intervention Service.

      We were told that there would be no cuts in 'front-line' services - nothing could be more front-line than the services above. In a borough that in the past has been no stranger to scandals over inadequate child protection LINK this is just storing up problems for the future.

      The budget also impacts on children with Disabilities and SEN. The valued Easter holiday play schemes will be axed. Alongside the cuts in children centres there will be a reduction in Special Educational Needs support for early years.  What many regard as an already under-staffed Education Psychology Service will be decreased further and a whacking £108,000 charge for non-statutory services will be shifted to schools.

      All this will delay help for children most in need and add extra pressures on school staff and school budgets. Again the most vulnerable are being hit.