Thursday 31 March 2011

'Democracy key to academy decisions' say Brent teaching unions

Save Our Schools from Jason N. Parkinson on Vimeo.

The three main teaching unions (NUT, ATL and NASUWT) have written to headteachers and governors in Brent putting forward their negotiating position on conversion to academies. The letter follows Claremont High School's decision to convert to an academy from April 1st despite 70% of staff voting against the proposal.

The unions say they are opposed to academies because they are a 'large step on the way to privatisation of the management of state education',  will undermine hard-fought for national pay and conditions and will 'undermine the local family of schools and the role of the local authority'.

In a key passage they state:
Our position is one of democracy. It is that, before any application is made for Academy Conversion, there is full debate, with arguments from both sides, ending in a ballot of all staff on the question, 'Do you support ________ school becoming an Academy?'
The unions point out that Governors will want to ascertain the views of staff before any application and that this is the 'best. most democratic, clearest and most unequivocal way of doing so'.  They claim that consultation is often conducted in a way that distorts or glosses over the views of consultees so propose a secret, independently overseen ballot. They stress that it is important that parents know the views of staff before forming their own views on any proposals. The unions say that they will be looking at ensuring 'all legal avenues are explored and that parents are properly informed and consulted'.

The unions conclude:
We know that as Governors you will feel that you have to take tough and hard-headed decisions. As part of the largest volunteer workforce in the country you are also custodians of the system as a whole and we ask you to consider both the short-term and the long-term consequences of Academy conversion.
The letter comes at a time when it is believed that many Brent secondary schools are reviewing their position following Claremont's decision and seven Harrow Schools are consulting on becoming academies.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Charteris will 'close in the near future' - Sue Harper but may re-open in one ot two months - campaigners

Brent Council has decided not to proceed with the Save Charteris Sports Centre Campaign's proposal to take over and run the Centre as a community project.

In a ten page letter Sue Harper, Director of Environment and Neighbourhood Services, sets out the reasons why the council feels the project is not viable.

A detailed analysis was undertaken by officers responsible for sports and leisure provision, specialists in contract and human resources law, senior financial and human resources advisors and a Health and Safety Inspector.

The council make it clear that any proposal should be at zero cost to them and have no risks attached. They set out risks in terms of the financial viability of the proposal and question the Campaign's assumptions about revenue streams and expenditure, costs of running the building and long term maintenance, and question the free transfer of equipment assets worth £40,000.  They question whether the proposed staffing structure would ensure health and safety and suggest that TUPE would apply if the main functions of the Centre continue. Applying TUPE would involve additional costs.

The council says the proposal does not meet the expectation that Charteris would be a safe facility and cites the proposal's silence on CRB checks and safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. They suggest that the council may face legal challenge from other potential users if they offered the building at a peppercorn rent to the Charteris Campaign.

After thanking the group for the 'interest they have shown'  Sue Harper concludes: "...however, we cannot ignore the financial and legal risks involved for the council, and so we will be implementing the decision to close Charteris Sports Centre in the near future."

One key summary comment in the Council's Appraisal is perhaps a warning to other campaigns, including those proposing 'volunteer' solutions for libraries faced with closures, as well as raising issues about the viability of the  'Big Society' in general:
"Heavy reliance on volunteers. Will this commitment be sustained? Must recognise high likelihood of turnover as some people use volunteering as a springboard to career and others move away.
Insufficient material on how volunteer base will be recruited, nurtured and managed without the hard core becoming lumbered and themselves drifting away...
Meanwhile campaigners have invited supporters to attend the Centre this evening between 8 and 10pm to mark its last day as a Brent-run facility.  They still hope to re-open the facility  in one or two months saying that they have offers of 'serious money' from two sports charities and support from the Minister of Sport, Mayor of London, local MPs and some local councillors.

Save Charteris on FACEBOOK

Brent Tories and Lib Dems Call for Extraordinary Council Meeting on Library Closures

Fast on the heels of Zadie Smith's denounciation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition over library closures, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on Brent Council have have today written to the Mayor of Brent to request an Extraordinary Meeting of the Full Council in order to debate the Library Closures in Brent fully.

The wording of the letter is as follows:
We must note the massive support from local people across Brent for the campaign to save local libraries, as evidenced by local activities and the petitions presented to Brent Council. It is also only fair that the Council debates the alternative proposals made by local groups to save local libraries in response to the limited options agreed by the Executive as part of their ‘Library Transformation’ proposals.

We therefore request an Extraordinary Meeting.

Council threatens to remove equipment from Charteris Sports Centre

Brent Council has threatened to remove sports equipment from Charteris Sports Centre in Kilburn  for  'health and safety' reasons just as campaigners push for serious consideration of their business plan to save the Centre from closure.

The community struggle to keep the centre open was covered by  BBC London earlier this week - LINK

Zadie Smith Attacks Government Over Library Closures

Local author Zadie Smith launched a scathing attack on the Coalition government over library closures this morning in a 'radio essay' on Radio 4's today programme. She describes the importance of books in her childhood home 100 yards yards from Willesden Green library, many of which bore the imprint of the library and were returned in two black bags when the library held an amnesty!  She concludes that perhaps the government is happy to see libraries close because in the future people will be unable to read about their attack on public services.

The essay launches a debate about the issue which will carry on during the week.  To listen to the essay follow this LINK

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Moazzam Begg to speak in Wembley next week

The Islamic Human Rights Commission has opened a new bookshop, gallery and information centre at 202 Preston Road, Wembley.

Moazzam Begg, former Guantanamo Bay detainee will be talking talking about his book Enemy Combatant, at the bookshop on Thursday 6th April at 6.30pm.

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed  will be talking about his book The Crisis of Civilization, on Wednesday11thMay at 6.30pm.

For more about the IHRC follow this LINK

6,000 petition on library closure

Samantha Warrington (left), Peter Goss-Brent Council (centre) and Geraldine Cook (right)
The Save Preston Library Campaign yesterday handed over a combined petition of 6,000 signatories to Brent Council. The campaign was aiming to reach the target of 5,000 signatures by Monday's deadline. This enables the campaign to demand a full council debate before a final decision is made on April 11th.

Samantha Warrington of the Save Preston Library Campaign said:  
This sends a resounding message to Brent councillors that the people of Brent do not want their local libraries to close. Communities that lose libraries will not forget who it was that closed them at the next election.

This is particularly true since Tim Coates, former CEO of Waterstone’s, last week made a public presentation at Kensal Green Library  on how Brent Council can save enough money to retain the six libraries and also improve the service through operational efficiencies.
Cllr Ann John, leader of Brent Council, Cllr James Powney, lead member for libraries and Susan MacKenzie, head of Brent Library Service, were all invited to Tim Coates' talk but none of them attended.

Poorest Children Hit by Library Closures

Brent library campaigners have accused Brent Council of making service cuts without calculating the impact on the borough's poorest children.  Figures based on the Free School Meals (FSM) figures for the three schools nearest each library show that all but one are above the national FSM average of 21%:

Kensal Rise - 41%
Tokyngton -   40%
Neasden   -   38%
Cricklewood -31%
Barham Park 28%
Preston Park  27%
In contrast Kingsbury library,which is to remain open, serves a population with 21% FSM.

Graham Durham, of the Save Cricklewood Library Campaign commented:

' Councillors need to consider the impact on the poorest families of the library closures. It is the poorest families who cannot afford a car or the cost of public transport and who will be denied access to libraries when their local library closes.The council claims to be protecting the poor from the cuts but this is simply not happening. Alongside the government cuts in Educational Maintenance Allowance and student grant fee rises, education will be closed to the poorest children.
The Council agrees that there are an additional 250 children in each 5 year old cohort in Brent meaning an additional 3,000 children by 2020.It seems that, unless the Council changes course, this will be the generation that does not have the means to read books or have a quiet space to study.'

Sunday 27 March 2011

Will New Waste Sites Will Make A Bad Situation Worse?

The consultation on the West London Waste Strategy which will see new waste facilities in West London ended on Friday.  This is Brent Green Party's submission:

1. The consultation suffers from a major weakness in that it  concentrates on selection of sites and not on the processes that will  take place on them. We submit that the type of process is a major aspect of the choice of sites, especially if some form of incineration is planned. We are being sold a pig in a poke.
2. A further weakness is the separation of the process of site selection  from the SA Objective to 'minimise the production of waste and increase  reuse, recycling, composting and recovery rates' . Urgent action on this
objective as a priority must surely have an impact on the need for sites and the type of processes that will take place on them.
3. There is already a concentration of waste facilities in the Park Royal (Ealing/Brent) area and the new sites suggested will increase this concentration and associated traffic.
4. The Sustainability Assessment shows that Brent is already the most densely populated West London borough (6,278 people per square kilometre against the London average of 4,779 and Hillingdon's 2,161) - yet new waste facilities are to be sited in the borough or on its borders. The SA states,  rather obviously,  that 'In general terms it can be expected that the greater the population density, the more people that are likely
to be affected by the waste facility'.  We are against choosing sites that will have a potentially detrimental impact on larger numbers of people.
5. Brent is ranked as the most deprived borough in West London and is in the 20% of the most deprived boroughs in England. Will the quality of life of its inhabitants be improved by more waste facilities, and will the trade-off of increased employment opportunities be sufficient to make up for the negative impact on health and the local environment?
6. Brent has the lowest average age of all the West London boroughs and has a growing child population as demonstrated by the increased demand for school places. Young bodies are much more susceptible to damage caused by pollutants and poor air-quality. There is a danger that more waste sites with increased levels of heavy traffic, alongside as yet unknown emissions from as yet undecided processes, could severely damage young people's health.
7.  In conclusion although the  Sustainability Appraisal report admits, 'Waste facilities have the potential to negatively impact on human health through increased noise or worsened air quality'  the proposed sites are in an area of high population density with large numbers of young people, and with a population already suffering from the poor health and other problems associated with economic deprivation. Siting the facilities here has the potential to make what is already bad, worse.

Scenes from Saturday's Demonstration

Thursday 24 March 2011

Gardiner: Brent children's services could be restored at less than the cost of one day's action in Libya

Barry Gardiner MP spoke again about Libya during the Budget debate making the link with cuts:
I did not support the Government in the Lobby on Monday night in the vote on military action in Libya. I pay tribute to our armed services, and to their valour and the work they do, but I cannot support the cost of the military escapade taking place in Libya, and I look to what could have been achieved if the funds being expended there were instead being expended around the rest of our country.
One Tomahawk missile costs £350,000, and 140 of them were launched in the first 48 hours of the attack, which amounts to a cost of £50 million. It is estimated that the cost of prosecuting this military conflict is £6 million each day. The cost of one day of action in Libya could restore in its entirety the £2.25 million of cuts in children's services forced on my community in Brent by this Liberal-Conservative coalition Government. One month in Libya could protect children's services across the whole of London. Nine months in Libya could protect children's services across the entire UK. Aneurin Bevan once said that priorities is the language of socialism. Those are my priorities and that is why I will oppose this Budget.

Top 10 Tips for Saturday's March

The TUC's top ten tips for first-time marchers – old hands may also find useful - are:
Ø Tell everyone about it! Bring along your family, friends and colleagues to share the day. Having good company along always makes for a fun day out, and spreading the word will really boost the size of the march. How many people can you bring with you?
Ø Wear comfortable shoes. The route from Embankment to Hyde Park is nearly three miles long - and if it's been raining, Hyde Park can get very muddy - so wear flat shoes, trainers or boots.
Ø Be prepared for the weather. It will be quite a long day and March weather can be unpredictable. You might need a coat, jumper, hat, gloves, umbrella -or even sunscreen and sunglasses! If you are a public servant and normally wear a uniform wear that on the day, unless that will get you into trouble!
Ø Keep hydrated. You might not always be near a shop or newsagents, so bring a bottle of water and other soft drinks to keep you refreshed. Cafes and kiosks in Hyde Park will be open as usual but with thousands expected to attend, it may be some time before you see the Park gates.
Ø Don't go hungry. Bring a packed lunch and snacks as the march and rally take place over lunch time - and if you're marching near towards the back, it may be nearer tea time before you get to the rally.
Ø Bring a rucksack. A rucksack or a bag you can wear across your body are useful for carrying things easily - and leave your hands free for flags! Don't forget to pack any inhalers or medicine you usually take.
Ø Enjoy the sights. The route will take you from the Embankment, up Whitehall and past Trafalgar Square, along Piccadilly and into Hyde Park. It's an opportunity to see London in a different way without the traffic. Don't worry about getting lost if you don't know London. It'll be very obvious where the march is going, and there will be stewards every few hundred metres to help out.
Ø Share the moment.If you have a camera, why not take some pictures of the day that you can send to your local paper? If you've a smartphone, why not share pictures and updates online as it happens? Twitter users can follow @March26March, and there's even a special phone App for the march, that you can get from the march website
Ø Look after other people. Treat everyone with respect and look out for anyone who needs help or assistance on the way round. If you want to help others even more, why not volunteer to be a steward?
Ø Arrive on time and know your way home. Be patient - with more than 100,000 marchers the march will be leaving the assembly point from 12noon to well after 2 pm and possibly later. If you're coming by public transport think about coming later rather than early, and try to join the march from the rear - think of tube stations like Mansion House and Southwark. If you're coming on a coach make sure you know where the pick-up point is and what time the coach will be leaving. Check your route back to underground and overground train stations from Hyde Park. Ask the police or march stewards if you're unsure.

Park Royal: West London's Waste Land

Consultation closes on Friday on the draft Waste London Waste Plan. The consultation has hardly caused a ripple in Brent with only a handful of members of the public, as distinct from potential contractors, turning up at the consultation at Bridge Park.  However the Plan may have big consequences for Brent with unknown new processes taking place in the borough and a potential increase in heavy lorries transporting waste through the borough from the other boroughs as you can see from the map above.

Brent already has waste sites at Abbey Road and Veolia's transfer station in Marsh Road but additional sites are being considered in Park Royal in both the Brent and Ealing sectors. Additional facilities in Marsh Road seemed to be a favoured option in conversation with officials at the consultation meeting.

The most troubling aspect of the plan is that the choosing of sites has been separated from the processes that will take place on them.  The processes will form part of later planning applications so we are being asked to comment about sites without knowing the repercussions in terms of emissions, health and safety and traffic.

A member of Richmond Green Party comments:
When I asked the consultants about a missing table, describing possible waste technologies that could be deployed at the sites in question (a lot around Park Royal and none in Richmond, in fact) they repeated the mantra about the consultation being technology neutral, and have removed the reference to the table altogether in the online version now.
But they didn't deny that incineration could be deployed at these sites.
In contrast with Brent there was a well attended meeting in Ealing (Park Royal) where residents were horrified by the concentration of sites in the area.  Some residents were already upset about the 'stink' on the border with Hammersmith and Fulham from the Powerday facility.

Consultation ends on Friday March 25th at 5pm: To comment follow this LINK
Follow this LINK for an independent blog about the West London Waste Authority

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Sign the Petition for One Million Climate Jobs

 The national petition for "One Million Climate Jobs" has now been launched ahead of Saturday's TUC demonstration.
The petition is endorsed by John McDonnell MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Linda Riordan MP, Kelvin Hopkins MP and Sally Hunt, General Secretary UCU.

We aim to increase the pressure on the government to solve the economic and environmental crises through the urgent creation of One Million Climate Jobs.

Please sign the petition and encourage your friends, colleagues, fellow trade unionists and other campaigners to add their name. There is a PDF version available for download from the site which you can use on transport to the demonstration on Saturday.

This is what the petition says:
We the undersigned call on the Government to give urgent and serious consideration to the recommendations of the One Million Climate Jobs report including:
  1. We face a global climate crisis. If we do not halt the increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 the “prospects for the people on the planet are looking pretty bleak” (The Secretary of State for the Environment, reported 24.11.10)
  2. Britain faces a global economic crisis, with rising youth unemployment and the predicted loss of over a million jobs due to austerity measures.
  3. We need the Government to take urgent steps to address both these crises through the creation of a million climate jobs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing energy efficiency, developing renewable and environmentally friendly sources of energy, and training workers in the “green skills” necessary for a sustainable low carbon economy.
  4. Given the urgency and enormity of this task, we want the Government to employ staff directly in secure jobs, to do the necessary work through a National Climate Service.
  5. We call for an immediate, fully government-funded programme to promote energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy in existing and new buildings.
  6. We call for Government funding for free or low fare public transport services and the expansion and integration of public transport networks to reduce the use of private cars; for major investment in extending the rail network and introducing faster and more efficient trains; and the phasing-out of domestic airline flights as soon as practicable
  7. We call for direct intervention by the proposed Climate Service to create new industries, and convert existing and declining industries, to conduct the research, development, manufacture and installation of alternative technologies for generating electricity from renewable sources.
  8. We call on the Government to finance free programmes of “Green Skills” training through Further Education.
  9. Such proposals can be met at a net cost well within the scale of recent Government spending on the financial sector and would be far less costly than the possible alternative – catastrophic climate change.
  10. By adopting such a programme Britain would set a standard for the rest of the world, especially the developed world responsible for the crisis, in taking the decisive action necessary to limit global warming and ensure that future generations are left an inhabitable planet.

You can sign the petition HERE

Gardiner: Those made redundant will ask, 'What has this (Libyan intervention) got to do with Britain?'

With reporting of parliamentary debates often reduced to 'sketch writing' it is often hard to know exactly what our MPs have said without resorting to Hansard. For the record here is what Barry Gardiner MP for Brent North said in yesterday's debate on the Libya intervention:

I hope that, in a few weeks, the House will be able to rejoice that Gaddafi has gone. Few dictators have committed so many acts of psychopathic wickedness over such a long period of time. Many hon. Members will know of his atrocity at Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, where he marched 1,270 prisoners into a compound, locked the gate and instructed his soldiers to open fire from the courtyard rooftops. The gunfire and grenades rained down for more than two hours until all 1,270 people were dead. But that was in the dying days of John Major's Government in June 1996, and Britain took no action.

I welcome resolution 1973. To take action now is right, but it would be disingenuous to claim that action was not possible without Britain's military participation, involving just three planes. The question is not whether action against Gaddafi is right but whether it is we who have the primary duty and responsibility to take it. It is the families of many of those slain 15 years ago at Abu Salim who began this revolution in Libya, inspired by others across the region who had dared to rise up and demand justice and dignity from their leaders. I praise their courage, but I recognise that this is a civil war in Libya. In that respect, it is categorically different from other conflicts involving ethnic cleansing and religious domination by one faith over another. This is neither Bosnia nor Rwanda. UN resolution 1973 has authorised international interference in a civil war in which there has been no genocide and no ethnic cleansing: no Halabja there.

The resolution purports to allow no more than the humanitarian protection of civilians, but all acknowledge that the Libyan population will not be secure from harm until the country is rid of Gaddafi. Coalition leaders, when asked whether Gaddafi was a legitimate target, have been equivocal in their response. In such circumstances, the rose of humanitarian protection begins to smell of regime change, and by that name it is not so sweet. This became apparent to Amr Moussa over the weekend when he said:
"What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians".
Perhaps the Arab League was too optimistic, because that is precisely what is likely to happen, if not by British and coalition missiles then by the rebels. It is naive to think that we can stop one side fighting in a civil war and not expect the other to take advantage. In a civil war, the tragedy is precisely that civilians are killed, if not by one side, then by the other. I do not believe that the international coalition will be even-handed in stopping rebel forces advancing in the same way.

The Prime Minister said in his statement on Friday that if we will the ends, we must also will the means. To will the means, however, does not entail the proposition that we must be the means. Many people in the UK are asking, "Why does Britain always have to get involved?" In two days, we will hear the Budget and the Chancellor will explain to the country why it is necessary to cut thousands of jobs to tackle the deficit. Those men and women who have been made redundant will no doubt sympathise with the Libyan people, but they will ask, "What has this got to do with Britain?" North Africa is not on our borders. It is not in our direct sphere of influence. Libya poses no direct threat to the UK, and we have no historical responsibility as the former colonial power, so why are we spending millions of pounds on cruise missiles, and endangering the lives of British soldiers to implement the resolution. It is ironic that many people asking these questions will be among the 17,000 military personnel who were judged to be surplus to requirements in last October's defence review, when the Government cut £4 billion from the defence budget.

There is no contradiction in welcoming the enabling authority given by UN resolution 1973, which allows those who have a direct interest or who have historical responsibilities as the former colonial power to act in Libya and, at the same time, to insist that we have no such direct interest or responsibility. Today, we are debating this after the event-we have taken that responsibility before a vote in the House, yet no one in government has sought to explain the policy of the rebels, on whose side we now find ourselves. We know that they are against Gaddafi, and that is a good start, but we certainly have no knowledge that they intend to replace him with an open, tolerant, liberal democracy. The whole of north Africa and the middle east are changing more rapidly than at any time since Suez. Shi'a minorities in Yemen and Bahrain have been shot or silenced by an invasion from Saudi Arabia. Iran is known to be eager to get involved. Egypt and Tunisia have effected home-grown revolutions and even Syria is experiencing serious internal tension.

In that extraordinary context, the Government have judged it right and in Britain's interest to involve our forces in military action. I pray that in a week's time Gaddafi is gone, and I pay tribute to the valour of our armed forces, but I believe that the Government were wrong to ask this-

The speaker interrupted at this point to enable another MP to speak.

Caroline Lucas Reveals 'Green Budget' Wish List

On the eve of the Budget, and after the announcement of further diminution of the Green Investment Bank, Caroline Lucas discusses what a Green budget would look like. Follow this LINK

Barry Gardiner votes against UN backed Libya intervention

Barry Gardiner MP (Labour, Brent North) joined Caroline Lucas (Green Party, Brighton Pavilion) and 11 other MPs  including Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Dennis Skinner in voting against the Government in yesterday's vote giving support to the UK's involvement in the intervention in Libya.

The vote was 557 for and 13 against. Sarah Teather MP (Brent Central) voted for the Government and Glenda Jackson MP (Hampstead and Kilburn) did not vote.

Government urged to rise to green investment challenge

A new report released today reveals the scale of the green investment challenge facing the UK.

The Green Investment Gap report, released by environmental think tank Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC), finds that the UK devoted just £12.6bn towards green investment in 2009-10.This figure amounts to less than 1% of UK GDP; less than what Britain spends on furniture annually; and less than half the annual green investment needed over the next decade to build the green economy.

“These figures reveal, for the first time, the size of the green investment challenge facing the UK,” said PIRC’s Director, Guy Shrubsole. “But they also show the size of the opportunity awaiting the country. At a time when the future of our national energy system is being reconsidered, in the wake of record oil prices and the Japanese nuclear accident, we would be foolish not to invest more in clean energy options.

“We don’t invest enough currently, but if we are serious about creating green jobs, insulating the country against oil shocks, and tackling climate change, we need to invest more. Green investment should be central to the government’s strategy for a sustainable economic recovery. To ensure that happens, the Chancellor needs to announce a strong Green Investment Bank
in tomorrow’s Budget.”

The report recommends that government, industry and the third sector work
together to:

• produce an annual audit of green investment;
• commit to closing the green investment gap facing the UK;
• legislate for a strong, public Green Investment Bank with the ability to
borrow and lend.

Investing sufficiently to meet our 2020 targets for emissions reduction, renewable energy and energy efficiency would result in:

• Greenhouse gas emissions declining by 34% on 1990 levels.
• The creation of hundreds of thousands of new green jobs. The Department of Energy and Climate Change estimate 250,000 green jobs will be created in energy efficiency industries over the next 20 years, whilst the Offshore Valuation Group estimates  the potential for 145,000 jobs in the offshore wind industry over the next four decades.
• Insulation against oil and gas price shocks. The government estimates that a doubling of the oil price (from $90/bl to $180/bl) would result in a cumulative loss of GDP of £45bn over 2 years.

The Green Investment Gap also shows that:
• Public sector green investment was £6.7bn in 2009-10, whilst private sector green investment was £5.9bn.
• Green spending by the private sector, third sector and households all show positive trends in recent decades, but the public sector is making up for lost investment following privatisation of the energy utilities in the 1980s and 1990s.
• Other investment decisions show up the small scale of UK green investment. For example, the UK spends £35.3bn on defence, and is likely to spend £100bn on decommissioning old nuclear power stations and oil and gas infrastructure.
• The UK lags behind other countries in green investment: South  Korea, for instance, is devoting 2% of its GDP to financing clean technologies.

Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) is an environmental think tank, dedicated to producing research and advocacy on climate change, energy and sustainability issues.

The full report is available HERE

Monday 21 March 2011

Barry Gardiner Questions UK Libya Involvement

Brent North MP, Barry Gardiner, had the following exchange with the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on Friday:

Barry Gardiner (Brent North, Labour)

I welcome the UN resolution, but I oppose Britain's military involvement in implementing it. The UN resolution is not to secure a no-fly zone for humanitarian protection, but an extraordinary authorisation of regime change. Unless the Prime Minister believes that Libya's Arab and African neighbours lack the capacity or the compassion for their Libyan brothers and sisters to act independently, why does he insist on putting British military personnel at risk?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

Obviously I respect the hon. Gentleman's view, but it seems to me that if we will the end, we should also will the means to that end. We should never overestimate Britain's size or capabilities, but neither should we underestimate them. We have one of the finest armed services in the world. We are one of the world's leading military powers, and we also have huge strength in diplomacy, soft power and development. We should not play a disproportionate part, but I think that we should play a proportionate part alongside allies such as France, America and the Arab world. To say that we should pass such a resolution but then just stand back and hope that someone, somewhere in the Arab world will bring it about is profoundly wrong.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Jenny Jones to be Green Candidate for London Mayor

Three-term London Assembly Member Jenny Jones has been selected as the Green Party’s candidate for Mayor of London.

In a ballot of London party members, Jones received 458, or 66%, of the 1st preference votes.
Shahrar Ali, parliamentary candidate for Brent Central last year, took 133 1st preference votes (19%), and Farid Bakht, who ran in Bethnal Green & Bow, was the first choice of 90 members (13%).

Six members voted to re-open nominations, and two papers were spoiled, out of a total of 689 ballots received.

All three candidates are also seeking nomination as London-wide members of the Assembly

Cavalcade Cascades Leaflets for March 26th

Brent Fightback supporters gave out between 1,000 and 2,000 leaflets today in a four hour cavalcade of cycles and cars, led by a decorated lorry through the streets of Brent accompanied by boucing balloons, cheerful car horns and a tireless PA system publicing next week's TUC March for the Alternative.  Stops were made at Harlesden Jubilee Clock, Wembley Central Square, Wembley Park ASDA, Neasden Shopping Centre, Cricklewood Broadway and Kilburn High Road.

It is always hard to leaflet busy shoppers, but those who stopped to talk were very concerned about the cuts and some spoke about already being hard up and how they would be hit really hard. They were pleased that there was a campaign and a march even if they themselves couldn't make it next week. However it was heartening to hear how many were already intending to come.

Details for March for the Alternative Next Saturday

View March for the Alternative Route in a larger map

Here are some details for the March for the Alternative next Saturday from the dedicated WEBSITE:

The March:

The march will gather on Victoria Embankment and form up between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges from 11am.
It will start moving off around noon, but because of the likely size the last marchers will not be leaving until after two, and possibly later.
People coming under their own steam from London and the South-East may therefore not want to arrive for the start as it would be better for people with long return journeys and trains to catch to be at the front of the march.

The rally:

We estimate that the march will arrive in Hyde Park shortly after 1:15pm. We will therefore start the rally around 1:30.
Because we expect large numbers we estimate that people will still be arriving in the Park at 4pm – and possibly later. We will therefore keep the rally running until around 4:30pm. Of course, not everyone who arrives early will want to stay through to the end – and indeed we hope that early arrivals will move to allow those coming later a good view.

In the Park:

In addition to the stage and giant screens in the park, there will be refreshment facilities and extra toilets. (There are good public toilets in Trafalgar Square along the route too.)

Travelling from Brent:
A reminder that if you want to go to the demo with other Brent Fightback supporters, we will be meeting on the Southbound platforms of Kilburn Jubilee line and Kilburn Park  Bakerloo line stations. Look for the Brent Fightback or Brent Trades Council banners - one will be on each station. Meet at 9.30am.

Friday 18 March 2011

Playful Protest on March 26th

"Join us in playful protest on 26 March as part of the national March for the Alternative, taking place in response to the government's programme of fast and deep public spending cuts."
Play England and Unite's Community and Youth Workers section are proposing this under the banner of the Play England led campaign, Save Children's Play. Thousands of children and young people will be affected by cuts to play services, so join your fellow play people on 26 March and stand up for play!
The main march will gather on Victoria Embankment and form up between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges from 11am. We'll be coordinating a meeting point close by where we can all gather and head down together.
We're looking to create a carnival atmosphere to demonstrate the positive impact of play. Come playfully armed, with space hoppers, hula hoops, skipping ropes, juggling balls, musical instruments, stilts, you name it!
You can pledge your attendance here: Don't forget to put the date in your diary and forward the link to all your friends and colleagues in play. You can share your playful ideas for the delegation and keep informed about the plans via the Save Children's Play Facebook page. Visit, and don't forget to 'Like' us! If you're not on Facebook , email us at to receive updates about the march and register an interest.
Let's make some noise for play!
Unite has also launched a survey to gauge the effects of cuts to play services. The survey can be accessed at and runs until April.

Crest Academy Boss wants to run 250 more schools

Sir Bruce Liddington, head of E-Act has told the Times Educational Supplement that he wants to run 250 more schools. He says he expect to have around 50 free schools, 50 'traditional' academies that replace under-performing schools, 100 'converter academies' (the Claremont type) and 50 primary schools over the next 5 years.

E-Act runs the two Crest academies where 21 teachers are being made redundant. E-Act used to be known as Edutrust but changed their name after the then head, Lord Bhattia, resigned after accusations of financial mismanagement. Sir Bruce Liddington is paid £265,000 annually and E-Act made a £2.4 million profit in 2009.

Primary schools around the Crest Academies better look out because Liddington said, "We are also interested in chains of primaries. As funding becomes tighter you will find that small primary schools will need to get together if they are going to survive. We are also starting to talk about chains of primaries in inner-urban areas around our existing traditional academies."

Alasdair Smith, Anti-Academies Alliance national secretary said:
Today’s revelations in the TES confirm the point consistently made by the AAA; academy conversions and free schools are about privatisation. 
It is about the corporate takeover of education. Politicians may claim it is about ‘raising standards’, ‘closing the attainment gap’ or giving school leaders ‘more freedom’, but the harsh reality is that big business wants our schools. 

EACT is not alone. Before the election, VT Education claimed it wanted 1000 schools. CfBT are looking at models to control whole areas such as Lincolnshire and ARK and the Harris Federation are busily expanding. All these chains claim to be ‘charitable’. But they are big businesses with fat cat bosses

Scandalously it appears that the DfE is now diverting significant resources to this end. The Coalition is aiding and abetting the privatisation of our state education system. There is also a clamour in ‘edu-business’ circles to allow ‘for profit’ providers to enter free schools market. The direction of travel is for wholesale privatisation of state education. 
Every academy conversion and every new free school will hasten this process. We urge governors and head teachers to resist the inducements to convert. We urge parents and staff to organise and protest. 

 There has never been a better reason to join the TUC’s protest on the 26th March.
More from Anti Academies Alliance

Harrow Education Unions Challenge Academy Conversion

As education unions in Brent consider taking action over Claremont High School's conversion to academy status, their counter-parts in Harrow have issued a statement about proposals for seven of the borough's high schools to become academies. In contrast to Brent Council, Harrow Council has clearly stated its opposition to their schools becoming academies.

This is the statement by the NUT, ATL, NASUWT, GMB and Unison:
Our hard working members in teaching and support roles across Harrow face an unprecedented period of change as seven of Harrow’s secondary schools decide whether or not to break away from the local authority and become answerable to government as independent academy schools. Academy conversion brings with it serious repercussions for our membership who face potential job loss and alterations to their terms and conditions. Yet all we are hearing from school management teams in this consultation is half hearted ‘intentions’ to retain existing national and local terms and conditions with no commitment to formal agreements. 
We will take full part in these important consultations and will use all available means to act in our members'  best interests but we are vigorously opposed to academy conversion and we support Harrow Council’s preference that all schools should remain within the local school family. Our members do not want to become academy employees, do not support the academy programme and are passionately opposed to it.
If the seven school governing bodies do decide to convert to academies, they will be independent from the local authority breaking a rich tradition of community based, locally accountable and publicly-managed schools. For many years our comprehensive schools have been nationally recognised for achievements in educational excellence which have benefited many generations of Harrovians. We do not have a tradition of failing schools which the original style of academies were mainly focused on.
The expansion of academies are no more than a Coalition Government experiment which is intent on breaking up state comprehensive education by introducing competition and demanding that schools compete for money, students and staff as businesses against one another. It is proven that market capitalism has no place in education and these changes are driven by an ideological disdain for all thing’s public. The Coalition Government should not be allowed to play party politics with our children’s future.
It is also claimed by Government that academies will improve standards but independent research and evaluation provides no evidence that academies are better than other schools in raising educational performance. We struggle to see how academy conversion will help schools in Harrow who are already judged to be outstanding and given the unknown and risky implications of conversion, this could have serious implications for our young people’s life chances.
It is also unclear how any of the freedoms which the Government claims academies will bring can improve schools. Harrow schools already work with the biggest devolved school budget than any other local authority in the country and with a significant degree of discretion and freedom to act in collaboration with other schools and Harrow Council.
To suggest, as Bob Blackman MP has done (Conservative Harrow East), that schools should be ‘freed from the dead hand of Harrow Council’ is fundamentally wrong, unhelpful and is fuelled by political prejudice. He does not recognise that academies will be under a far greater degree of central control and scrutiny, in terms of budgets, school performance and governing body appointees than at present and will be directly answerable to the Secretary of State and his regulator, the Young People’s Learning Agency. Free from bureaucratic interference this is not.
"Harrow schools play a major part of community life which means the academy consultation is of paramount importance to the residents of Harrow. The decision by school governing bodies will not only affect the seven schools in consultation but we believe will have a negative impact upon all schools in the borough and will have far reaching implications on the level of educational provision across the area.
Conversion will impact the life chances of future generations of Harrow’s young people and will involve a huge transfer of public assets (e.g. school buildings & land) to the private sector. Any decision should not be taken lightly or without hearing all views from the local community.
"A ‘big question’ like this requires ‘big society’ input, consultation and civic engagement from the wider community. We encourage pupils, parents, staff, our members, Harrow Councillors and interested residents to take part in the school consultation meetings which are taking place on Monday 21st March 2011 at the seven affected schools (more information is available from school websites).
 To hear more of a presentation of the real facts concerning academies we urge people to attend an Anti Academies Alliance parents/public meeting on Friday 25 March at 7pm (Council Chambers, Harrow Civic Centre, Station Road, HA1 2UU).

One week to go!

Thursday 17 March 2011

Parents Campaign Against Free Schools

Coalition 'Free schools' are likely to be a contentious issue over the next period - promoted by dubious groups, undermining democratic accountability and destabilising neighbouring community schools. The Parents Alliance for Community Schools has taken up the issue and has a very informative website at:

Cavalcade Against the Cuts

Brent Fightback supporters will be out in force on Saturday touring the borough to encourage people to join the TUC March for an Alternative on the 26th March.

There will be a cavalcade of cars and cycles touring the borough and calling on the major shopping centres.  They will be reinforced by pedestrians armed with leaflets.

The Calvalcade will be at Harlesden Jubilee Clock at 11am, Wembley Central 11.50, Neasden Shopping Parade 12.40pm, Cricklewood Crown Hotel 1.20pm and Kilburn Square 2pm.  Cars and bikes will assemble at Roundwood Road (back of  Roundwood Park alongside cemetery) at 10am to decorate vehicles with posters and balloons.

Supporters are urged to join us for all or part of the Cavalcade. 

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Claremont Announces Academy Conversion

The unions opposed to Claremont High School are currently deciding on future action on what they regard as a flawed consultation process which denied parents the right to a debate about the issue and a secret, independently run ballot.  Meanwhile the school has posted the following notice on its website about the Governing Body's decision to convert to an academy.
The Governors of Claremont High School have written to staff and parents at the school informing them of the decision expressing their thanks for the range of responses that they have received both for and against the conversion.

The Governors have clearly stated the principles that they applied in reaching their decision. These were:
  • The decision must be made with the pupils at the centre of the process so that their happiness at school and continued success should be assured.
  • Governors will take full advantage of the opportunities that conversion will bring and also know and act on the new responsibilities.
  • Governors will support current staffing levels and ensure that resources are in place to recruit the best teachers and support staff.
  • Governors will work closely with the school's leadership team to ensure continued strong financial management so that its students continue to have access to excellent resources and excellent opportunities to enrich their learning.
  • Claremont high School will not change its name or its ethos; it will not change its admissions criteria without due process and it will remain within the Brent family of schools.
  • Claremont High School will continue to offer the breadth of subjects that it currently offers to ensure that all of its pupils, regardless of their backgrounds or abilities, will reach their full potential.
We believe that whilst this is a significant decision for our school it is one that will bring many opportunities, benefits and advantages to our pupils. We will remain focused on creating a harmonious learning culture; developing our approaches to care, guidance and support; challenging our pupils to achieve and grow and our teachers to be at the top of their game in teaching and learning. In short, all those things that have made us Outstanding.
The  statement does not directly address the concerns of parents and unions and ignores any mention of the impact conversion will make on Brent's overall education budget. Basically Claremont will get  additional money taken from the budget for all schools. There is no mention of the loss of democratic accountability to the wider community. At the briefing meeting for headteachers and governors held last year after the local elections, Councillor Mary Arnold, lead member for Children and Families, made her opposition to academies clear but Krutica Pau, Director of Children and Families said her department would adopt a neutral position.

The headteacher of Claremont has already stated that the school is already in a 'market' situation and the question now arises about what action other Brent secondary schools will take. There were reports last year that the secondary headteachers had informally decided that the schools would all convert at once, to avoid damage to those who didn't convert or converted later. Recently it has been said that the rest were waiting to see  what happened to Claremont before acting.  A mass conversion (sorry about the religious overtones) would mean Brent council would only be responsible for nursery and primary schools which would operate on  significantly reduced  funding with the education budget top-sliced by the new academies.

Lorraine on the Bus - Why You Should Join Us on March 26th

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Consultation Under Fire

Way back in Winter 2008 I wrote in Brent Green News about concerns about consultation in Brent. As complaints multiply about recent consultations it is worth returning to the topic.

Brent Council's website states:
Consultations give you the opportunity to get involved with decision-making in Brent.

We consult with the public on proposals and plans and take responses into account when deciding our policies for the borough
Many residents now think that consultations do not enable them to get involved in decision making - decisions have often been made before the consultation ends. Some major decisions are not consulted about at all. Residents often also feel that their responses are not taken into account.

Some residents thought that if  there was enough opposition to a Council proposal then it might be abandoned. Cllr Ruth Moher.  in the case of the adult day centres when users were overwhelmingly opposed to closure, clearly stated that this was not the case.

The question then arises about what the point of consultation is. A cynic may respond that it is to enable a box to be ticked in documentation - and no more than that. Let's look at some variations in consultation.

1. NO CONSULTATION - The Council does not consult at all but just goes ahead, often on the most important issues.  This includes not consulting on the principle of academy schools in the case of the Wembley Ark Academy. Consultation was about the plans and the name, not whether we should have academy schools. Similarly the Council did not ask whether Brent residents wanted a grandiose Civic Centre, but we could comment on the design. Currently the Council is going ahead with an all through school at Preston Manor without consultation on whether this type of school is wanted, again consultation has been limited to planning issues.
2. DECISIONS MADE BEFORE CONSULTATION ENDS - This appears to be the case with the closure of Brent libraries. The Council budget setting meeting, and Cllr Ann John herself, assumed the closures would go ahead despite consultation still having some days to run and no report available on the outcomes.
3. CONSULTATION NOT TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT BECAUSE OF THE NEED FOR SPEEDY DECISIONS - This is a new development and linked to financial deadlines such as the front-loading of cuts this year and the need to spend school places safety valve money before August 2011. In cases such as the Charteris Sports Centre and the libraries insufficient time is given to the search for alternatives solutions and the closures go ahead anyway. With school places there is not sufficient time to change the location of Preston Manor Primary School to reduce its impact on traffic congestion 'because the plans are already in place' and no time to discuss incorporating the Mission Dining Club into the new building at Newfield Primary School.The Council applied for planning permission for the Preston Manor Primary School before the Executive had considered submissions on the statutory consultation and approved it. 
4. HALF-COCK CONSULTATION/PARTICIPATION - The residents raising issues with the planning committee on Preston Manor had two site visits with the planning committee on which keys to the site were not available. On the last occasion some councillors wandered away while residents were trying to talk to them and one clambered back onto the bus.  A further problem has been the illegibility of poorly scanned documentation on the Council website. The library campaigns have taken up the inaccuracy of library visit statistics that formed a key part of the Council's case for closures and the figures on children without school places in the vicinity of Preston Manor have been challenged.
5. RESPONDENTS QUESTIONS/COMMENTS NOT ANSWERED - Again in the Preston Manor case some questions remained completely unanswered in the Council's response undermining the legitimacy of the decision.
6. PROPOSALS/QUESTIONNAIRES DISGUISING THE REAL ISSUES - The most obvious one here is the Library 'Transformation' Programme which some library users through was about redecoration and not closures! The Brent Magazine questionnaire on the Waste Strategy was less than clear that it involved a switch to fortnightly residual waste collection.
7. INFORMATION GIVING MASQUERADING AS CONSULTATION - The recent allotment 'consultation' on the rise in  rents was held after the Council approved the rise and when it had been announced before Christmas. Allotment holders were really just told why rents had risen in the context of the Council's financial difficulties and not asked whether they should have been put up or whether there were any alternative proposals.
8. RESIDENTS NOT INFORMED OF CONSULTATION - A regular issue, particularly with planning applications. It arose over Preston Manor when many residents living nearby the school were not told about expansion proposals. After initially saying that what they had done was adequate the Council did send out additional letters. Under the last administration similar complaints were made about the Wembley Masterplan.

All this really riles residents and contributes to a distrust of politicians. More importantly, it discourages active citizenship and participation at a time when local government needs all the friends it can get.

Friday 11 March 2011

Lock Down as Academy Forced Through

The governing body of Claremont High School approved the school's conversion to an academy  after campaigners claimed the headteacher had doors padlocked, brought in extra security and made areas of the school no go areas to prevent lobbying by parents and staff unhappy with the what they see as lack of consultation and accountability. The decision is controversial because nearly three quarters of all staff, teaching and non teaching, at the school had voted NO in an independently overseen secret ballot. The school has now written to parents to say the school will be an academy from April 1st.

Parents who turned up to a meeting organised by the unions on Wednesday had voiced concerns that they had not had the opportunity for proper consultation. There had been no meeting where they could have heard pros and cons, asked questions and debated the issue. Therefore the next day the Headteacher received many emails from parents asking for a delay in making a decision until consultation in the form of a meeting for all parents had taken place and some asking for a ballot similar to the staff one. 

Comments from the emails included:
“We are concerned that there has been no consultation with any parents or any concrete information indicating what implications these changes would have for the future.”
“As parents, we think it would be democratic if there was a meeting and a ballot with the parents of the school before any final decisions are made.”
“An e-mail … voicing our concerns ... you failed to respond, thereby confirming our suspicions that there would be no meaningful consultation over these plans.”

“As you are aware the majority of staff have objected to this application .  There must a very good reason as to why so many of them feel so strongly.”

“I do not feel I have been properly informed about this change and DO NOT wish for this important change to happen without more discussion.”
Parents were astounded that they were not allowed into the school yesterday to make these points in person. They told staff outside the school gates, who earlier had been banned from lobbying the meeting or even delivering letters appealing for a delay, that it was appalling that parents could be treated in this way. They felt it was undemocratic and demeaning to treat the parents of the children who have made Claremont an outstanding school in such a manner.

The unions had written to the Headteacher and Chair of Governors stating that there would be industrial and legal action unless the decision was delayed as the governors had not followed the proper legal processes during consultation.

Claremont Teaching Unions' Appeal to Governors HERE

Allotment Holders Revolt Against Rent Increases

More than a hundred Brent allotment holders crowded into the Town Hall last night for a 'consultation' about the recent rent increases. Several people stopped me after the meeting to ask me what the point of consultation was when the increases had been announced before Christmas and approved at the February 28th budget meeting. Good question.

Councillor Powney was again in the firing line and faced a barrage of passionate and eloquent speeches from the floor which surpassed speeches made at other cuts protests. Alongside the fiery speeches there were also closely argued contributions challenging the legality of the increases and referring to case law.

Many speeches dwelt on the iniquity of rises of more than 100% and pensioners having to pay for their allotments for the first time - the concession will be 50% of the rental with the first five poles for £37.50. The average plot is 10 poles. Pensioners told the Cllr Powney (lead member for Environment) and Shaun Faulkner (Head of Brent Parks Service) how important the allotments were in enabling them to keep fit, get out and about, eat healthily, and socialise. "I can't afford the increase from my little pension and I don't want to get old and sick. We keep ourselves going, struggling to pay our bills. Why do we have to be left hungry?." said one pensioner.

Shaun Faulkner said that the Council were committed to the allotment services and recognised the many benefits t that accrued apart from the actual growing of crops. He claimed that even with the rent increases the allotments would still be subsidised and that improvements would be made from additional funds such as Section 106 money and the formation of partnerships. He said he didn't want to go back to the poor service that used to exist in Brent. In the past there was only a 30% to 40% uptake of plots but now there was a waiting list of more than 1,000 people. The rent rise might mean that some present allotment holders would reduce the size of their plots releasing more for people on the waiting list. He said his department was saddened by the increase and sympathised with allotment holders but 'a process had been gone through'. He added that he knew allotment holders were not making money out of their allotments, that they had to pay for tools, seeds and fertilizers; that they were not just about gardening but also a sense of community; and emphasised that he wanted to be honest with allotment holders.

Cllr Powney outlined the process, saying that a rental  comparison had been made with other London boroughs before the increase was fixed and that this process had been followed for other services. However I challenged him on this because earlier he had admitted that the Brent charge was the second highest in London. I suggested that if this was done on a comparative basis than it would have been fairer to set the rate at the average London level. He replied that it had been hard to get the figures out of other London boroughs and to make exact comparisons because of different rates and services.  He said the most expensive borough, Wandsworth was charging £20 a pole. In  response to the steepness of the increase for pensioners who had previously paid no rent he undertook to see if the increase could be staggered as it was a 'hardship issue', but warned that the money required would have to come from other provision.

The legal issues centred  around law which states that allotments are a recreational activity, should be subsidised and any increases should be in line with other recreational activity charges. Dr Franklin quoting case history from 1981 said that the increases were a tax on the poor and vulnerable. He said he was prepared to take the council to the High Court if necessary.  He urged those present to refuse to pay the increase and just pay their old rent when the bills arrived. Cllr Powney advised allotment holders not to take legal advice from a non-lawyer and stressed that the increases had been approved by the Council's legal department and that the Borough Solicitor was considering Dr Franklin's e-mail. He said that this was the fourth threat of legal action he had received in the last week. Challenged about the possibility of further increases Cllr Powney said he 'would be surprised if there were any further charges over the next few years".

Many of the audience complained about the lack of facilities on their allotments including toilets, footpaths and robust fencing. Those from the Dog Lane plots were particularly vociferous about the difficult conditions they faced on their waterlogged site. Cllr Powney suggested there was a contradiction in that the audience were opposing rent increases but also demanding better facilities. However, it does seem that forced to pay much more in rent there will be rising expectations of the service from allotment holders.

Declaration of interest: I cultivate an allotment at the Birchen Grove site, near the Welsh Harp and when I lived in Harlesden had a plot at Bridge Road.

Accountability behind locked doors

There's a notice on the Claremont High School website saying that consultation on conversion to an academy ended on March 9th and that comments would be considered at last night's governing body meeting. This morning there is no news about any decision made by governors.

However, I am told that things were far from normal when parents and staff arrived to lobby the governors last night. In an echo of the Council's budget setting meeting on February 28th there was increased security at the school, doors were padlocked and lobbyists were not allowed in.  At the last governors' meeting on February 9th, Mr Malloy, headteacher, told governors that if the school became an academy it would be accountable to the community at at a much 'higher level' than at present. Hmm.

Meanwhile the school should have received letters from the trades unions about legal action and some parents are also looking at the possibility of legal remedies to inadequate consultation.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Charteris Meeting on Saturday

A message from the Charteris Sports Centre Campaign:

Public Meeting on Saturday the 12th of March, 4.30 at Charteris.

The future of Charteris is at stake.

Please come and be part of the future:

Please bring your friends, neighbours, local residents, Charteris users.

Demand a General Election - This government has no mandate for cuts

Guest blog from Mike Shaughnessy of Haringey Green Party

From what I hear about advance coach and train bookings, it appears that the TUC demonstration on Saturday 26th March is going to be very well attended, with some predictions that a million people will join the march through central London. But, let’s not be complacent, and everyone who can possibly attend this event should resolve themselves to do so. A huge show of opposition to the ConDem government’s attack on public services and the welfare state itself, is necessary to display for all to see, the strength of feeling aroused by these damaging slash and burn policies. This is no less than an attempt to turn back the clock to Victorian era social policies.

I know that there is some cynicism amongst the public about single set piece demonstrations after the massive anti-war march in 2003 was pretty much ignored by the Labour government, but a low turn-out will be easily dismissed as a ‘vested interest’ protest by public sector employees. Communities (service users) need to show solidarity with the unions on this, and to be quite frank, to encourage the often ‘conservative’ minded union leaders to escalate the battle and call coordinated strikes which they can do legally, over things like the proposed changes to occupational pensions.

I also expect this protest to be a bit different from other large scale marches, in that I expect there will be perhaps hundreds of smaller direct action type protests surrounding the main demonstration, where organisations like UKUncut have led the way with sit ins at high street banks. It is important that large numbers attend the main protest to make the smaller flash mobs more difficult for the authorities to contain. There are hundreds of legitimate targets for protest in London which given a large main demonstration, will be impossible to police.

The establishment has been busy lecturing the population that there is no alternative to the cuts, but there is indeed an alternative to this devastation of our communities, it just doesn’t get much publicity from the mainstream media, so we must make them listen, and this protest can be the beginning of the process.

We could start by ditching the ridiculous white elephant that is the Trident nuclear weapons system, saving billions of pounds. Then there is increasing income tax and National Insurance contributions for high earners (those on more than £44k per year pay only 1% NI on earnings above this figure, whilst everyone working pays 11% below this amount). It is further estimated that £120 billion is lost in tax revenue from wealthy individuals and corporate bodies to tax avoidance and evasion, these loop holes should be closed. Investment in energy efficiency measures like insulation would save millions of pounds. And the tax exemption for private schools must end and the savings be channelled into state schooling. That’s a starter for ten anyway.

The UK deficit is not even all that large by historical standards and we have the sixth largest economy in the world as measured by GDP, so why the urgency to cut public provision so savagely? Well, that’s because these cuts are ideologically driven by a government that wants to shrink the state, whatever the level of public debt, and they want to try and get the pain out of the way now. So in four years’ time they can call a general election and hope everyone has forgotten what they did to country.

Now is the time to stop the ConDem government dead in its tracks, and we should demand a general election immediately, because this government doesn’t have a mandate to inflict these policies on the people, since most were not in the Tory or Lib Dem manifestos at last year’s general election. Mubarak said there was no alternative in Egypt, and look what happened to him.

LINK to Haringey Green Party blog

Parents Demand a Voice in Claremont's Future

Despite short notice and a clash with a school production, concerned parents  of Claremont High School students attended a meeting tonight at Kenton Methodist Church Hall about the possible conversion of the school to an Academy.

Parents reported that they had heard little about the proposals and were surprised to hear that a decision may be made tomorrow. One parent reported that he had e-mailed the school with six questions on the issue but had received no response. He had rejected sending his child to Wembley ARK Academy because he had reservations about the academies programme only to hear that the school where he had eventually sent her may itself become an academy.  Another parent commented that 'surgeries'  with senior staff and governors on the issue had been held when other meetings were taking place. There were also complaints about the difficulty of accessing the academy documents on the school's website. One document had a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) with no answers. A letter that had been sent to parents on February 1st had not reached all the parents present and was not seen as even handed in its presentation of the case.

An exchange of opinion and information took place during the meeting and Hank Roberts of the NUT and ATL, two of the unions that had called the meeting, said this was precisely what the education unions wanted.  All they were asking was that parents should have the same opportunity as staff:  to hear both sides of the debate, time to make up their own minds, and then have the chance to express their views in a ballot. A teacher remarked that if the school leadership was so proud of what they were doing in seeking academy conversion why had they not proclaimed it, rather than be secretive. A parent asked why the school hadn't used recent parent meetings to inform them about the issue.

There was general agreement that parents should contact the school by e-mail to say they had not been properly consulted and asking for a delay in the decision so that parents could research the issue, attend a debate representing the case For and Against the proposal, and then cast a ballot. Some parents would attempt to speak to governors before the meeting.

Hank Roberts said that if there was a fair debate and a ballot that went against the unions' point of view they would accept that was the view of parents. The governing body would have to weigh up the views of staff and parents in considering whether to convert. He emphasised that it was all about democracy and that there was the possibility of legal action to ensure the fairness of the process.