Saturday 30 April 2011

Censorship beneath the bunting? Facebook sites closed down

Strange things went on yesterday - and not just at Westminster Abbey.  Another Green World reported that  50 UK Facebook sites were closed down  yesterday and there were pre-emptive arrests by police across the country and raids on social centres.This appears to show that it is not just oppressive, undemocratic regimes that have an ambivalent (to say the least) relationship with the social media. LINK to Guardian coverage.

List of Facebook sites closed down yesterday

Open Birkbeck
UWE Occupation
Chesterfield Stopthecuts
Camberwell AntiCuts
IVA Womensrevolution
Tower Hamlets Greens
No Cuts
ArtsAgainst Cuts
London Student Assembly
Beat’n Streets
Roscoe ‘Manchester’ Occupation
Bristol Bookfair
Newcastle Occupation
Socialist Unity
Whospeaks Forus
Ourland FreeLand
Bristol Ukuncut
Teampalestina Shaf
Notts-Uncut Part-of UKUncut
No Quarter Cutthewar
Bootle Labour
Claimants Fightback
Ecosocialists Unite
Comrade George Orwell
Jason Derrick
Anarchista Rebellionist
BigSociety Leeds
Slade Occupation
Anti-Cuts Across Wigan
Firstof Mayband
Don’t Break Britain United
SWP Cork
Westminster Trades Council
York Anarchists
Rock War
Sheffield Occupation
Central London SWP
North London Solidarity
Southwark Sos
Save NHS
Rochdale Law Centre
Goldsmiths Fights Back
Occupy Monaco

Thursday 28 April 2011

Brent Library Closures - the final act?

There were gasps from the public gallery at last night's Scrutiny Committee last night when Cllr James Powney strode into the Council Chamber in what appeared to be an early 20th century beige Amazonian rain forest exploration costume. The gasps (of admiration or incredulity?) soon turned into gasps of shock at the man's sheer audacity when he responded to objector's representations on the closure of half of Brent's libraries.

He accused the chair of Brent Youth Parliament (see below) of not having read the hefty document on the Libraries Transformation Project and described their request as 'superfluous'. Cllr Helga Gladbaum drew mutters from the public when she said she liked the way students used tables and chairs in the Town Hall for studying. Kishan Parshotam had pointed out that during the Easter holiday there had been over-flow from the Town Hall library because of the number of students and asked what the impact would be on these numbers if six libraries closed. The BYP's request that the Executive ensure suitable study facilities be available during the 2011 examination period was reworded into a recommendation that they consider what provision could be made during the current examination period and was approved with three votes for, 1 Labour against and three Labour abstentions. There were four Labour councillors on the committee, 2 Lib Dems - including the chair, and one Conservative. Labour voted down the other two recommendations as a block and did the same for all subsequent recommendations.

The criteria for alternative business plans were the subject of a long debate when the Preston Community Volunteer Library proposer spoke of the difficulty of getting financial information from the Council in order to formulate plans. Her request for details had been treated by officers as a Freedom of Information request with a timeline that meant the data was not available before the submission deadline. A legal investigation as promised on whether that was lawful.

The council was also criticised for not making the criteria on which the plans would be judged public before the campaigns worked on them. Instead the plans were submitted before the criteria were published and it was therefore no surprise that they did not meet them. As if this was not enough Cllr Powney said they would all have failed anyway because proposals had to all to be at no cost to the council and that any handover of council buildings would be at an 'exorbitant' cost to the council. In other words the volunteer proposers would have to purchase the buildings. A recommendation that the Preston Community Library proposal be reconsidered after the proposers had time to reformulate it was rejected. A similar request from Kensal Rise Library campaigners was rejected as were requests that the timescales should be clarified in order to ensure there was no gap in service (the six libraries will close imminently but extended hours and other changes will take a long time to implement) and that school staff and students should be consulted further as so few has responded to the original consultation.

This latter caused a further debate. Only 8 of 79 schools had responded to an e-mailed survey. Preston Library campaigners over the last 24 hours had found that at least 10 schools had said they had not been consulted. Cllr Powney insisted that they had all been consulted and that in addition a meeting had been held with school literacy coordinators. He claimed that they may not have responded because they were happy that the Transformation Project would be an improvement but also that  'administration in the schools may not be effective'.  Cllr Lorber retorted that the likelihood of a response would have been reduced  if the e-mail did not make clear that the proposals were about the closure of six libraries. Sarah Tannburn, in the absence of library officers who were on holiday,  confirmed that the title of the e-mail referred to 'Transformation' but 'as I recall' some of the 15 questions referred to closures. Lorber said if the the letter had been explicit about closures, schools would have responded.

A final recommendation from Paul Lorber that the Neasden library closure be reconsidered as the library's profile did not fit with the closure criteria and that Dollis Hill residents were faced with closures at both Neasden and Cricklewood, was rejected.

Cllr Powney concluded by saying that consultation respondents were not representative of either library users in particular or residents in general, consultations were not referendums and that the council could not merely comply with consultation outcomes as they would be in breach of regulations about council efficiency, securing best value, and other legislation. He was sure that the proposals would result long-term in an increase in library usage, study space and IT provision.

Brent Youth Parliament 'Disregarded' on Library Closures

Kishan Parshotam, chair of Brent Youth Parliament made a presentation to the Scrutiny Committee yesterday setting out BYP's position on library closures. The BYP's recommendations are reproduced below:
Brent Youth Parliament’s Recommendations to Overview and Scrutiny
• BYP comprises of 72 elected members who represent the 72,000 young people of our borough’s young people.
• As a body, we understand that cuts do need to be made in the budget. However, cuts to libraries should be reconsidered, as they will have a detrimental effect on Brent’s educational standards and the young people you represent.
• Around 50% of the libraries’ regular users are young people aged 19 and under – the group that has suffered most from central government cuts already
• The sudden withdrawal of these services will hit this vulnerable group at a time when it is most needed.
• Students who responded to BYP’s “Have Your Say” forms were deeply concerned about library closures and wanted us to make it a priority to keep them open.
• Brent Town Hall, one of the libraries set to stay open, has seen overflow of study spaces for many years now. It is not acceptable to see young people studying on the stairs of the Town Hall.
• My local library, Barham Park, has been packed throughout the Easter break with students and young people of all ages. The impact on young people is going to be very substantial
• The Consultation at Brent Youth Parliament on 22nd February 2011 was ignored by the Head of Culture and Environment, who disregarded the views of young people on the day. In this meeting, the issue of study space for students was mentioned on numerous occasions – yet no proposal has been given as to how the impact on young people will be subsided.
Therefore, on behalf of Brent’s 72,000 young people, I would like the Scrutiny Committee to make the following recommendations to the Executive:
1. The Executive to ensure that the existing Libraries or suitable alternative local premises continue to be available for young people throughout the 2011 exam period
2. The Executive to look again at the implications and consequences of closing six libraries on young people living in the areas nearby
3. The Executive to consider provision of facilities of access to computers and revision space during exam periods in subsequent years in those areas where libraries are being closed. In addition, the Executive should ensure that as far as possible young people are made aware of these facilities.
Since the establishment of the Youth Parliament in 2007, the borough’s youth have
been encouraged to shape their communities. Please do not take away such a large
chunk of these same communities without considering the impacts.

Monday 25 April 2011

Sign up to save the NHS

I’ve just signed a petition to Save the NHS. Right now the government is rushing through plans which experts, and groups representing doctors and nurses, warn could break the NHS up and hand control to private health companies. It's also a huge waste of money at a time when funding is already squeezed with beds and wards being cut.

It worked when enough of us signed the petition against privatising England's forests. The more of us that sign up to Save the NHS, the more chance we have of winning. Please sign now:

Debate AV in Kilburn on Wednesday

From Yes to AVA Campaign

Next Wednesday, April 27th, there's a debate on AV taking place at St Mary's church in Kilburn.
It will be chaired by Geoff Martin, Editor of the Ham and High newspaper, and will feature Andrew Marshall and David Aaranovitch arguing for a Yes vote, and Chris Philp and Terry Paul for a No vote.
You can book your place here:

This is a great opportunity to introduce anyone who is still undecided to our arguments, so if you have friends or family who are not quite sure, please encourage them to come along.

The organisers are also asking for people to submit questions in advance. Make sure the right things gets discussed by contacting the host via the website

Download the low-down on threat to NHS

Download this very useful broadsheet HERE

Green Party Urges Nurses to Unite Against Health Reforms

The Green Party's health spokesperson has called on nurses to unite against the draft Health and Social Care Bill.

Stuart Jeffery, himself a registered nurse, has written to the Royal College of Nursing's president, Andrea Spyropoulos, and its general secretary, Peter Carter, calling for the RCN to come out fighting against the devastating changes to the NHS being driven through by the coalition government. He has pointed out that the internal market deprives the NHS of up to half a million nurses.

Stuart Jeffery said: "At a time when nurses are propping up the NHS with increasing levels of unpaid overtime and clinicians are becoming concerned about the NHS reforms, the RCN needs to take a strong stance against the government's NHS reforms. The quality of care is suffering as cuts bite into the NHS, and yet the government wants to waste even more increasing the scope of the internal market and in privatising more hospitals. This is simply immoral.

"There is enough money tied up in running the internal market to fund up to an additional 500 000 nurses, far more than we need, yet the government is wedded to the idea that a market can run the NHS. It is time to challenge the 'market knows best' attitude which will spell the end of the NHS. I have written to the RCN urging them to come out fighting against the immoral health bill and to fight to save the NHS. I hope they take note.

"Nurses have key roles to play in health care. Fighting to keep the NHS running, and out of the hands of corporate sharks, is one of them. Let us hope the RCN takes up the challenge."

Defending the NHS in Brent - May a Month of Action

The 'thinking space' on NHS 'reforms' (privatisation) has provided an opportunity for local campaigning organisations to call a public meeting to enable local people to hear the views of GP, health workers, service users and MPs on the proposals.

Brent Trades Union Council, Brent Fightback and the Campaign to Defend Brent's Health Services have combined to organise 'Defend Our Health Service' to be held on Thursday May 12th at Willesden Green Library, 95 High Road, NW10 2SF.

The following extract from a blog by Russell Razzaque on the Independent website LINK sets out the reality of the reforms:
Working within the NHS today, I have witnessed first hand the sheer confusion and, in some quarters, borderline panic, that has ensued as a result of the governments recent announcements. PCTs were established as the purchasers in the system. These are massive strategic planning decisions that involve many billions of pounds. Overnight, the government plan to remove all of them, and hand the totality of their powers over to GPs. They have not described how GPs – with no training in accounting or management – can take up this role. They have not provided guidance as to how GPs might pool together to achieve this. As the so called “GP consortia” can be as large or as small as anyone chooses, a chaotic bout of “run around” has ensued with GPs trying to partner up with each other across boroughs and local boundaries, unsure which way to go.
The PCTs have already started to dismantle and in London, staff with no future are haemorrhaging in droves, leaving a skeletal operation alone to determine the allocation of billions worth of spending. The Chair of The Royal College of GPs has described the proposed changes as the end of the NHS as we know it. The BMA, the Royal College of Nursing and several of the specialist medical Royal Colleges have spoken out against it. Calls to phase it in and start with a series of gradually building pilots have fallen on deaf ears. No one is sure how it will work or how adversely it will effect patient care. The very people who will be tasked with implementing such rapid change are already utterly perplexed by it. That is because they are supposed to be. It is an engineered shock. All the while, waiting in the wings, with a metaphorical defibrillator, will be the private sector. The large American insurance based corporations are eyeing the soon to explode UK healthcare market with salivating mouths. The vacuum that is being created, is being created for them. They will be hired to do the commissioning by and instead of GPs who are, through no fault of their own, clearly untrained and unable to do it. And it won’t be long thereafter before these same private organisations start hiring themselves as providers instead of NHS Trusts, many of which will ultimately go bust.
The government are, in fact, proposing to rig the market in their favour by requiring every single contract to go for competitive tendering. This means that, even if there is a high performing Trust with which the local population is happy, they will still have to submit themselves for retendering to the commissioners on a regular basis who will then be legally obliged to consider private sector organisations as part of the process. Subjecting hospitals to the instability of a retendering process could be disastrous. I have seen it happen myself. Staff numbers will fluctuate wildly as doctors and nurses, unsure if their organisation will survive, start moving between providers – just as they do in, say, the banking sector. This will potentially destroy continuity of care, as well as in-patient and emergency service provision which relies on regular staff numbers round the clock. A hospital shutting down as a result of losing a bid to a private sector provider, who has undercut their costs as a way of breaking into the UK market – rather than failing to provide an adequate service – could be a potentially dangerous event resulting in the collapse of secondary health care provision for the entire local area. This is why unfettered free markets are a bad idea for health care, and why the US experience has led to a hard fought reversal away from marketization. This is also why, if they were asked to vote for it, the public never would. In fact, in the last election they clearly did not. The Conservative manifesto, with its “no major reorganisations” commitment gave exactly the opposite impression. The only way such drastic privatisation can ever be achieved is through a short sharp shock to the system. Nick Boles, the pro Cameron Conservative MP, laid it out starkly, “’Chaotic’ in our vocabulary is a good thing.” Friedman would be proud. As he himself said, “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change”. This is clearly not chaos by incompetence. It is chaos by design.
Brent Fightback will be conducting a public survey about the proposals in Wembley in early May and are organising a contingent to take part in the 'March to Save the NHS' which takes place on Tuesday May 17th (Assemble 4.30pm at University College Hospital, Gower Street, WC1 to march to the Department of Health, Whitehall.

Further information on Keep Our NHS Public

Cuts we can and can't afford

Friday 22 April 2011

Brent Allotment Revolt - savour the speeches and oppose Coalition's threat to allotments

In an earlier blog LINK I reported on the extremely lively Allotments Forum where allottees took Cllr Powney to task over allotment rent increases and other issues.  The meeting was notable for its wide range of contributions ranging from dry detailed legal challenge to passionate speeches about the plight of pensioners.

The full flavour of the meeting can now be savoured through reading the official notes of the meeting HERE

Meanwhile the Coalition Government is threatened the future of allotments. Its 'Review of Statutory Duties' aimed at removing duties which are seen as a 'burden' on local authorities inccludes the duty to provide sufficient allotments for people who want them in an area. This would not only threaten future allotments, but present ones, and could make allotments susceptible for closure and redevelopment for housing.

A campaign is developing against these proposals. Follow this LINK to go to the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners for further information and links to the response form. Deadline is April 25th 2011.  Chris Wells has suggested responses to questions 6 and 9 HERE

Thursday 21 April 2011

Primary School Temporary Classes - My full statement

The Wembley and Willesden Observer today publishes a short quote from me about the provision of temporary classes in Brent primary schools as a result of the shortage in school places. The quote was part of a longer statement which puts the issue into context. I reproduce the original full statement below. Only the last paragraph was published:
Brent Council is still running to stand still on the issue of providing additional primary school places - and even then not quite succeeding.  A long-term strategy involving a review of provision and demand across the borough seems just as far away as when I suggested it several years ago. The Council's capacity to devise such a strategy, including a consideration of the educational implications, is now limited by the staffing cuts it has had to make and the redundancies of many experienced senior personnel.

I was pleased to see officers' acknowledge that in the case of a possible expansion of the Capital City Academy into primary provision the impact on nearby Donnington Primary School would need to be considered. This was a principle  they failed to acknowledge in the proposals for primary provision at Preston Manor.

However I am concerned at possible future actions outlined in the Executive document which include: 
more all-through schools providing for children from 4-19 years, we need an informed public debate about the advantages and disadvantages of such schools; 
the possible expansion of primary schools into 5 forms of entry giving a primary school of more than 1,000 5-11 year olds. I think these are far too large and that young children need a smaller, 'family' style environment in which to feel safe and happy;
and an increase in class sizes above 30 in the junior phase (7-11). The maximum class size of 30 has been hard fought for and still compares poorly with the much smaller class sizes in the private sector. 
There is a real danger that in the absence of a 'champion' for the values of primary education within the Council,  that expansion will be just a matter of cramming increasing numbers into any available space, ignoring the impact on the quality of teaching and learning and children's vital first experience of school.

Martin Francis
Brent Green Party spokesperson on children and families

What would YOU do with £20,000 for your ward?

The Kingsbury and Kenton Area Consultative Forum meets on Tuesday 26th April at 7.00pm at Kingsbury High School, Princes Avenue NW9 9JR. For part of the evening the meeting will break into small ward-based groups to discuss priorities for ward working for the coming year, including priorities for spending the £20,000 budget for each ward. (This forum covers Barnhill, Fryent, Kenton and Queensbury wards.) Residents can put forward their views about what the priorities should be for their  ward. All residents, community groups and businesses in the area are welcome.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Down Wembley Way Everything is Free and Easy - even if it costs £100m

The latest edition of Wembleyway (and the last - the paper edition is a victim of council cuts) has a lead story lauding, Soviet Weekly style, the new Civic Centre. The paper claims, "The building is affordable and has the backing of all Brent's political parties...."   Regular readers will know that Brent Green Party opposed the plans from the beginning but Wembleyway is correct in that Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives all approved the plans under the last administration.  However Labour raised concerns about the affordability of the project during the General Election campaign, only to revert to support once elected, while Cllr Reg Colwill for the Conservatives in the ITN interview BELOW says he can't see what is wrong with Brent Town Hall and that improvements could have been made to it at a fraction of the cost of the new Civic Centre.  Paul Lorber for the Lib Dems has already called for the Civic Centre mega library to be scaled back.

Meanwhile the council continues to insist that the new Civic Centre is cost-neutral with ' burden on Brent's council tax payers. The cost will be met with efficiency savings and savings achieved by moving out of more than twelve existing buildings."   The project costs £100,000,000 which Brent Council will borrow and they claim the new building will save them £4,000,000 a year. So we will get our money back in 25 years time. A bargain!

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Don't Blame the Workers!

As Brent Council moves into the second phase of redundancies many of the remaining local government workers are finding themselves taking on additional work.  This is not just the work of those who have been made redundant as a result of cuts but also extra work  caused by the increased needs of Brent residents hit by cuts and the recession.

I recently received an e-mail from a Brent employee sent from their office at 7.30pm. Increased work demands result in longer (often unpaid) hours, increased stress and eventually increased sickness.  As a result so-called 'efficiency savings' actually result in inefficiency.This is exacerbated by the fact that many senior staff have taken redundancy leaving less experienced colleagues to deal with complex issues. The result is errors, delays and even loss of some funding in the case of the temporary primary school expansion programme. The setting of final school budgets for the current financial year have been delayed as firm figures are not yet available from the Council and it is likely that schools will not be able to submit their final figures, approved by governing bodies, until June. This may cause cash flow problems in some schools.

The central education services provided by the Council, which are 'bought-in' by schools, have had their workforces cut but the schools are being charged more. Many schools are looking to buy them from elsewhere on the basis that this offer is poor value for money (they have a statutory duty to look for 'best value') but information on Council service level agreements and precise costings were received so late in the budget making process that there has not been time to do this effectively. Other schools have reduced the number of services they buy-in, while some have wanted to support the local authority and decided to buy-in for this year and review the situation in 2012.

As different departments seek to meet savings targets and manage workload boundaries become more strictly policed, and disputes arise about which department is responsible for a particular area. Disputes involving say the clearing of rubbish from a vicinity arise as the Parks Department, Streetcare and Brent Housing Partnership all claim it is not their responsibility.  At a broader level there are likely to be disputes between the Council and Health over funding of particular areas of special needs such as speech therapy.

Inaccuracies, delays and lack of response are all likely to irritate the general public and infuriate them at times. Rather than blame the poor workers who are trying to hold things together against the odds we should put the blame firmly where it belongs: the Coalition for reducing local government funding and front-loading the cuts and the Labour Party and Labour councils for not putting up more of a fight.

Monday 18 April 2011

The Wall Street Journal sums up Brent's library closures and the Civic Centre

When they write the history books, the councilmen and bureaucrats who chose to close a library rather than postpone some self-aggrandizing boondoggle won't make the cut, even if, for now, they are making the headlines.

See what the kids of College Green Nursery think LINK

Wembley Park Rubbish Dump

Returning to Wembley on Saturday evening after a brief holiday,  I was struck by the enormous amount of rubbish on Bridge Road and Forty Lane left by fans attending the match between Manchester United and Manchester City.  The bright blue carrier bags, discarded beer cans and take-away containers were scattered over the pavements, in the gutter, and on the grassy banks of the flats opposite ASDA. It was clear that many fans bought beer in bulk from the shops and then drank it at the roadside.

As I walked up Bridge Road local residents were steering their way through the rubbish and stepping over pools of beer on the pavement.  A child of about seven clutched his mother's hand and complained about the 'horrible smell'. On the corner I encountered a gang of street cleaners desperately trying to work out a practical way of tacking the mess in the time allotted to them.

There was much more debris than usual because of Saturday's late 5.15pm kick-off which allowed fans to get hours of solid drinking and snacking in before the match. According to the Guardian the late kick-off, arranged for the benefit of maximising ITV's live audience, had been criticised by the police, who saw it as a 'high grade' risk and by Virgin Trains. Alex Ferguson criticised the massive consumption of fuel entailed in getting two sets of Manchester fans down to London. The FA requires semi-finals to be played at Wembley to help pay for the out-standing stadium construction fees.

A suited drinker who was not a football fan approached me to ask where the nearest pub was as both the Torch and the Crock of Gold had closed because of the pressure of too many drinkers.  The Council's decision to build a mega library at the new Civic Centre, close to the stadium, looks even more foolish in the light of these events. Will the library have to close on match days and match evenings?

Sunday 17 April 2011

Library closure decision under scrutiny by councillors as campaigns band together and legal challenge mounted

The Council's library consultation and closure decision will come under scrutiny again on Wednesday April 27th at the Call In Overview and Scrutiny Committee. It will form the main part of the agenda as set out below:
• To fully investigate all proposed business plans put forward by all
campaign groups
• To discuss fully the impact of the closures on age and race equality
Suggested action for the Call-in Overview and Scrutiny Committee to
One group of councillors suggested the following:-
• To consider the full implications of the decision and to discuss
alternative methods of library service delivery.
Another group of councillors suggested the following:-
• To consider how to support community and other groups in running
their library services locally by providing sufficient time for business
plans to be developed.
• To consider possible efficiency savings and the use of the
Council’s financial reserves to enable further library service
Meanwhile the separate library campaigns have set up a joint  campaign BRENT SOS (Save our Six) LIBRARIES.  There will be legal action in court this week to lodge a judicial review and an attempt to stay any action by the Council while the case is heard.

The Council's action at Charteris Sports Centre when they boarded up the Centre with police present in advance of the expected closure is a worrying precedent. Be alert!

Continue the Fightback - come to Monday's meeting

The next Brent Fightback meeting is tomorrow, Monday April 18th 7.30pm, at Brent Trades Hall/Apollo Club. 375 High Road, Willesden - Dollis Hill tube. 

All are welcome, we will be discussing the next steps in building the campaign against the cuts, in particular:
  • The continuing campaign in defence of Brent’s libraries after the Council’s decision to close six;
  • The proposal to conduct a “People’s Scrutiny” of the cuts on May 7th in Wembley;
  • Building for the MARCH TO SAVE THE NHS, Tuesday 17 May 5.30pm

Jayaben Desai: Lessons from the past for the future

The scene outside Grunwick's, Chapter Road, Willesden as painted by Dan Jones
The Tricycle Cinema was crowded this afternoon for a commemoration of Jayaben Desai, leader of the Grunwick Strike Committee, who died in December 2010.  The meeting temporarily brought together councillors and activists who have recently been battling over local council cuts.  As the audience reflected on the events of the 1970s both sides could draw lessons from this historical strike.

As I watched the film and once again saw Jayaben's bravery in the face of police violence, her impish sense of humour that bettered many a journalist, her self-identification as a strong woman against crude stereotypes of Asian female submissiveness and  most of all her steadfastness in standing up for her rights and that of her fellow workers, I could not help but be moved.  As people spoke about Jayaben from different perspectives our appreciation deepened. We heard from Amrit Wilson how Jayaben invited her to her home and talked at length about herself and the strike and the links with race and colonial struggle. It was alleged that George Ward, the Grunwick boss, continued to pursue Jayaben after her death, with threats of legal action against obituarists who mentioned accusations of racism  at Grunwick.

We heard from an Asian Women's group how Jayaben clashed with the group's chair about the suppression of ego and advised the women to stop buying jewellery with their money but instead empower themselves by using the money instead to buy driving lessons. It also emerged that she was an erudite contributor to the Gujerati Literary Society.

Cllr Janice Long asked for support to persuade Brent Council to name a building after Jayaben Desai to commemorate her life and urged to audience to write to the leader of the council, Cllr Ann John, who was  also present. Another speaker, stressing the need for children to be educated about the importance of Jayaben's role, urged that a school be named after here.

Broader issues were also raised. Pete Firmin linked the struggles of immigrant workers, and the support they received from  rank and file white trade unionists, with David Cameron's attacks on multiculturalism and the attempt to divide new arrivals into 'good' and 'bad' migrants.  Jack Dromey, then Secretary of Brent Trades Council and now a Labour MP reminded the meeting that a few years before Grunwick, dockers and Smithfield meat porters had marched in support of Enoch Powell after his 'rivers of blood' speech. Jayaben had said, 'We are lions - I am afraid of no one' . She went on to say that the strike had shown that immigrant workers will fight and white workers will support them. Dromey concluded that Grunwicks had 'demonstrated all that is best in our movement and in our immigrant community'.

There were many critical comments about the TUC's role at Grunwick's and warnings that their lack of will to fully use their potential power remains in 2011 as we face the attacks on public services, benefits and the vulnerable. Geoff Shears, at the time a young  legal representative for the strikers, confessed that he had felt intimidated by Mrs Desai.   He said that anti-trade union laws did not exist in their present form then but instead there was a conspiracy that enabled courts to break the law by restricting the solidarity action of postal workers, the police to break the law by attacking pickets, and George Ward to ignore the recommendations of the Scarman Inquiry that came down 90% in favour of the strikers.  He said that had prepared the ground for Thatcher in the 1980s and warned that it would be used again by the Coalition government.  Mrs Desai had understood the meaning of solidarity as requirement for workers to organise collectively to ensure that the unions served their interests.

Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication  Workers Union (successor to the Union of Post Office Workers) said that the union's next conference would be considering awarding honorary membership to Jayaben Desai and wiping out the fines imposed by the union on the Cricklewood postmen who refused to deliver Grunwick mail at the time.

As I have remarked on this blog before LINK Jayeben and the story of Grunwick is a far better subject for children to study in Brent Black History Month than rehashed versions of American black history that currently dominate the curriculum.

URGENT - library consultation critique needed by noon tomorrow

The Kensal Rise Library Users have put out an urgent call for feedback to to their legal advisers concerning the Council's consultation on libraries. The feedback is need by noon tomorrow (Monday 18th April). Send to
1. in what ways is the statistical information about use of the
 libraries up for closure misleadingly presented in the officers'report?:
2. what relevant information about local needs and impact of the
proposed closures could the Council gave gathered, but did not (e.g. the
views of schools, the Education Dept., regular users who were
disproportionately under represented amongst consultation responders)
and what difference might that information have made?;

3. what else is wrong with the needs assessment included in the
officers' reports?;

4. the impact of the six closures on use of the remaining libraries (and
indeed the impact of the future planned closure of one of the remaining
ones) does not seem to have been analysed. This seems to be a serious
shortcoming. In your view, if the Council's plans are successful and all
those who currently use the six libraries up for closure do use the six
remaining ones, will that be practical? If not, what particular problems
will there be;

5. are there groups that can be defined in terms of race, gender,
sexuality, disability and religion whose particular needs are met by one
or more of the libraries up for closure, but will not be in future and
have not been taken into account in the equality impact assessment: and

6. what comments the public made in response to the consultation (by any
means - i.e. in meetings or written submissions as well as on the
on-line questionnaire) that were either not passed on to the Cabinet, or
were summarized in a misleading way?

Labour Councillor: Closing libraries is 'the best thing we've done'.

I am just back from holiday and catching up on local news. It was no surprise to hear that the Brent Executive voted through the library closures as that decision was anticipated by the budget approved by the Council earlier, by the officers' report to the Council and by Cllr Powney's utterances throughout. 'Consultation', 9,000 petition signatures, 'Big Society' schemes and even two hours of eloquent  presentations to the Executive. mean nothing if the Labour leadership and its supine councillors have already made up their minds.

The attitude of some Labour councillors is summed up by this comment posted on the Save Preston Library Facebook page. Cllr Colum Mahoney was alleged to have said at the end of the meeting when demonstrators said how gutted they were at losing their library:
He said with a wide grin on his face, "It's the best thing we've done." As we he was walking out of the Town Hall doors, he shouted back at us, "Go and read some books."
The issue of the Civic Centre has come to the fore as a result of the press and TV coverage and the Conservatives on the Council, despite being part of the previous Council Coalition that initiated the project, are now more vocal in their opposition. When all the political parties on the council voted unanimously for the Civic Centre, the Greens were the only voice of opposition.  Cllr Reg Colwill can bee seen on the London ITN News criticising the project:

Interestingly even the Wall Street Journal LINK suggests that Brent Council could move into cheap office space:
......instead of constructing what it aims to be "the greenest building in the U.K." Forgoing the new center's wedding garden, winter garden, terrace, and charging points for electric cars might also leave a little more cash for libraries.
My colleague Shahrar Ali has posted a report on the Executive Meeting HERE

The question for me remains, 'What price local democracy?' The Willesden and Brent Times last week in a editorial echoed my warnings about the impact of poor consultation procedures, decisions made in advance of consultations and the rubbishing of active citizenship on the electorate's long-term relationship with the Council. The Council may express concern that only 20% of residents use the public libraries - those same 20% are probably a much bigger proportion of those people who actually vote at local elections (only just over half of those on the electoral roll last May).

Saturday 9 April 2011

I'll be missing all the action on Monday

I will not be posting for a week as I am taking a week's holiday.  Many thanks for all those who at various meetings, demonstrations etc have made positive comments on Wembley Matters and encouraged me to 'keep on blogging'. I look forward to hearing how things went at Monday's Executive Meeting when I return.

Tribute to Jayaben Desai, Sunday April 17th

Click on image to enlarge

Friday 8 April 2011


Brent Fightback along with library campaigners will be lobbying the Executive Meeting on Monday outside the Town Hall from 6pm. The Executive is the decision making body on library closures. The Extraordinary Council Meeting later in the week is not empowered to change Executive decisions. 

Public attendance arrangements for Monday's Executive meeting are the same as for the recent budget setting Council meeting. Admittance will be by ticket on a first come - first served basis.  Tickets will be distributed at the Town Hall door from around 6pm.  There will be 48 tickets only for the public gallery.

There is a notice on the door of the Town Hall Library saying that the library, which usually closes at 8pm on a Monday, will be closed at 5pm 'Due to the Executive Meeting'. This presumably is to avoid any repeat of the Council Meeting when protesters,  frustrated at the limitation on attendance,  circumvented security and the police by entering the Town Hall through the adjoining library.  Certainly 48 is a very small number of the public compared with the more than 9,000 who have signed petitions to keep the libraries open..

Both The Willesden and Brent Times and Wembley and Willesden Observer have editorials critical of Brent Council this week. The WBT says Labour councillors have 'steam-rollered' their original plans through and ignored the results of consultation. They state along similar lines that I have argued here:
As one activist said, the impression is that the council is just going through the motions rather than taking people's views into account. If the council are not careful residents will just stop engaging with them or, in their eyes, worse, take their votes elsewhere.
 The WWO says residents have never been so vocal as on the libraries issue and say it has left campaigners wondering what the point of consulting was if their views were always intended to be ignored:
It seems the protesters were unfortunately always doomed to fail in this sham of a process which has now been deemed a farce by campaign groups. Brent Council had already made up its mind when it set the budget back in February - before the consultation finished.
They call on the Executive to look beyond the closure report and:
consider the overwhelming community spirit which has united the borough in the crusade to save their beloved reading rooms...
 It is rare for our local newspapers to criticise the council in such harsh terms and great to see them making a firm stand alongside local people in the best tradition of a strong local press holding the council to account.  A huge turn-out on Monday is essential to reinforce the message: The fight for our libraries and our other services is not yet lost. The ConDem government is doing a u-turn on the NHS, Brent Council should think again.

Brent Library Closures Hit Evening Standard

Follow this link for today's story LINK  The story contrasts the library closures with the £3m to be spent on a mega library at the new Civic Centre

Thursday 7 April 2011

The Future Under Carbon-rationing as Climate Change Hits Crisis Point

Author Saci Lloyd will visit the Willesden Green Library Centre on Saturday 9th April  to read from her acclaimed teenage novels “The Carbon Diaries 2015” and “The Carbon Diaries 2017”. Following the readings there will be discussion with a teenage audience about the prospect of carbon rationing in the UK and feelings about the threat of Climate Change.

This event is the first in a series of “Green Writers” at the Willesden Green Library Centre, where authors will read from their books about an environmental aspect and discuss them with the audience. The series is organised by the Brent Campaign against Climate Change in liaison with the Willesden Green Library.

Saci Lloyd's first novel “The Carbon Diaries 2015” was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards in 2008.  Its heroine is Laura Brown, a teenager who struggles to cope with her family, dreams of a breakthrough with her punk band and fancies the boy next door. When on 1st January 2015, the UK is the first nation to introduce carbon dioxide rationing, Laura chronicles the events of  this drastic bid to combat climate change and illustrates how carbon rationing is threatening to turn her family, her local environment and the whole country out of control.

In the sequel “The Carbon Diaries 2017” Laura tours Europe with her punk band and becomes involved with an increasingly dramatic sequence of climate change-related events that include drought in Europe and Africa, a tidal-wave of desperate immigrants, a water war in the Middle East and clashes between Londoners and the army in the town centre.

Ken Montague, Secretary of the Brent Campaign against Climate Change says, “After the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Summit and the limited outcome of the recent climate talks it is easy to forget that if we don’t act now climate change will be a far worse threat to our future than the economic crisis. It will be the generation of Laura Brown's children who will see the fight over natural resources. ”

The reading and discussion is from 2- 4pm on Saturday, 9th April 2011 at the Willesden Green Library Centre, 95 High Road, Willesden, NW10 2SF. All are welcome. Please bring your copy of the “Carbon Diaries” along if you would like it to be signed by the author.

Park Lane celebrates 100 years of primary education

The whole school assembled on Park Lane to mark 9/11
Park Lane Infant and Junior School, Wembley will be marking its 100th anniversary this evening from 6pm. Former staff and pupils are all invited to attend the celebration.  This week staff and pupils have been dressed in Edwardian clothes and lessons have taken place on Edwardian lines.  I popped in yesterday to find pupils seated in  rows facing the front and each class stood in unison as soon as I entered the room. 

I inspected finger nails and unfortunately found one boy who appeared to have been planting potatoes before school and several girls with painted finger nails! There were several cases of tardiness and one of non-return of homework. Fortunately I found a cane in the teacher's cupboard...

Interestingly it was corporal punishment in a Welsh school that set off a series of children's strikes also one hundred years ago in the autumn of 1911. Eventually, in those days before social messaging or even radio,  the strikes spread to more than 60 towns throughout the UK. There is still debate amongst historians about whether the strikes were merely copycats of the industrial unrest then occurring across the country or something more.

Children walked out of school over Iraq in 2003, striking children in 1911
One hundred years later there is again social discontent and children are suffering disproportionately from public spending cuts.

More on 1911 Children's Strikes HERE

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Urgent short-term solutions put forward for school places crisis

Children out of school - click image to enlarge  
The Brent Executive will be considering further expansions of primary schools at their meeting on April11th and the report they will consider contains an unprecedented delegation of decision making on sums above £1m to the Director of Regeneration and Major Projects due to the urgency of the situation.

The map above shows the distribution of need for September 2011, although an important caveat is that the smiley faces do not indicate a 1 to 1 relationship and that positioning is only approximate.  The actual numbers for March 2011 are in the last two columns below
Click on image to enlarge
Regular readers will know that I have long been pressing for a borough-wide long-term strategy to address the problem rather than the ad-hoc approach of the last few years. The report says the council is developing a four year medium-term strategy which should be presented in the next two months, but this will not be in time for the September 2011-August 2012 school year. They say there are several options being considered to increase capacity without compromising educational outcomes.

These include:
  • All-through schools (5-19 yr olds) - no educational discussion has yet take place on this despite the council's approval of Preston Manor's conversion into an all-through school and ARK's development into an all-through school.
  • Five form entry primary schools (which would give a primary school of 1,050 pupils - larger than many secondary schools in the rest of the country)
  • Larger classes with 'qualifying measures' to take account og legislation. This will ring alarm bells for headteachers, teachers and parents.
Such measures would require a thorough-going public educational debate - not one just based on the urgency of the school places crisis.

As an interim measure the report puts forward plans to expand eight schools on a temporary basis.  'Bulge' classes are an additional class added to a school on a one-off basis. It progresses through the school as an additional class of usually 30 children in that particular cohort and suitable accommodation has to be found as the children get older. In contrast a one form entry expansion eventually requires space for 7 classes of 30.

After assessing the risks attached to the possible expansion of 14 schools, including Capital City Academy and Wembley High taking primary classes, the report lists eight schools which it intends to temporarily expand:
Click  on image to enlarge

Preston Community Library proposal will now be considered by Executive

From the Guardian website, but in Brent Labour is doing the Tories' work for them
Sue McKenzie, head of Libraries, Arts and Heritage has now told the Save Preston Library Campaign that their proposal for a community library will now be appraised on the same basis as other proposals and the outcome will be submitted to the Executive On April 11th.

The proposals had been submitted to the Council by e-mail in time for the deadline but were mysteriously not received and not mentioned in the Executive Report published on Friday.  See earlier POST for details.

Town Hall Library Closes Its Doors

No, it's not closing down, just shutting early on Monday at 5pm.  There is a notice posted on the library door that says this is due to the Executive Meeting being held at the Town Hall that evening. The Town Hall Library is usually open until 8pm on Mondays.

Public attendance at the Executive will be limited to 48 ticket holders.  Tickets will be distributed on a first come, first served basis,  from around 6pm and will be given out at the Town Hall door.

The Executive is making a decision on library closures and the Council clearly expects a large attendance of library campaigners. 48 is rather a small number compared with the more than 9,000 people who have signed Save Library petitions: perhaps the Council should have held the Executive at the Wembley Arena!

Improving Our Local Democracy

Cllr James Powney, the lead member for libraries, points out on his blog that the Extraordinary Council Meeting on library closures to be held on April 13th will make no difference because under the present Constitution full council now has no power to overturn decisions made by the Council Executive. He says it is just a 'talking shop'. In another posting he laments the 'partisan' atmosphere of the Scrutiny Committee which he suggests if used properly could have a role in improving council decision making.

The whole issue of council democracy could do with a fresh look.  Recently I have talked to Labour and Liberal Democrat backbench councillors who feel that under the present system they have very little voice in their own party's policy and little chance to contribute. Some are quite depressed by the experience and not likely to stand for election again.

On a wider level there is a danger that citizens who engage with the council will become disaffected by what some see as a disdainful rejection of the representations and proposals  they have made on issues such as library closures, Charteris Sports Centre and day centres.  Surely with the Coalition undermining local government through cuts and very low voter turn-out in local elections, the Council should be promoting active citizenship rather than dismissing it?

Council call police in as they close Charteris

From the Save Charteris Sports Centre Facebook page:
As most of you are aware, Charteris ceased operations on Thursday, March 31st. Council, in a last act of thumbing their nose to all of those who worked hard to keep it open and have supported Charteris over the years with their patronage, shut the centre in the middle of the afternoon rather than their normal 10pm closing time. They brought police officers to shoo everyone away and a work crew to board up the premises. The staff weren’t even alerted in advance. Evidently, they can’t imagine that those of us subject to their budget cuts and trapped by their inability to imagine another course of action could actually leave quietly and respectfully, as we would any other night. Shame on them.
It is likely that the Council feared that the premises may have been occupied by campaigners ahead of closure. Next step libraries?

The Curious Case of the Missing E-Mail

Save Preston Library campaigners searched fruitlessly over the weekend for any assessment or even mention of their proposals for a community library in the report that is going to the Council Executive on April 11th. Cllr Powney had mentioned the proposal publicly when talking to the Wembley Observer about responses to the Library Transformation Consultation. The campaign had asked Brent Council to keep the library open for a further six months while they finalised plans to run it on the successful Chalfont St Giles Community Library model.

Yesterday it emerged that Sue McKenzie had not received the campaign's proposals which had been sent to the Council on March 4th, the deadline day for responses.  The author confirmed that the e-mail had been sent and asked that the Council consider their proposals. Sue McKenzie initially said that it was too late as proposals had to be read by five officers and then promised to consult colleagues today to see what could be done.

The campaigners also discovered that only 50 of the 400 letters sent by the children of  Preston Park Primary School had been seen by Sue McKenzie and that these representations had not been mentioned in the report. Local children will be some of the main losers if the library closes.

The report to the Executive does mention Preston terms of options for selling the site.

If the community library proposals are not assessed by officers and an addendum published to the report,  the Executive will be making a decision based on incomplete information and will be ignoring proposals made by a campaign that collected nearly 6,000 signatures on its petition.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Charteris Boarded Up but Campaign Goes On

Brent Council lost no time in following through Sue Harper's promise that Charteris Sports Centre would close 'in the near future' after she had rejected the Save Charteris Campaign's proposal to run it as a community venture. Campaigners expected it to close on Friday April 1st but in fact the council boarded it up on Thursday.

Meanwhile the determined supporters of the Centre haven;'t given up and this message was pasted on their Facebook Page:
Brent Council has rejected the Business Plan put forward by the Save the Charteris Campaign Group and therefore the centre will close on Friday 1st April (how appropriate).

Instead of trying to work in partnership and seeing the bigger picture (a Business Plan) of what we are trying to achieve, Brent has focused on every minor detail of our capability to run the centre – details that can only be fully covered in weeks rather than the days we’ve had to content with.

We have a viable business model approved by the London Marathon Trust. We have the full support of the GLA. We now also have written financial commitments from Funding bodies.

We are going to answer the Council on each of their points and prove to them we can run the centre – better than they can.

We will update you shortly with next steps, how we will move into the next stage of the campaign to keep the Charteris open and how you can all get involved.

Preston Library Campaign appeals for help and Extraordinary Council Meeting fixed for April 13th

Things continued to move on the libraries closure issue over the weekend after publication of the report to the Executive on Friday. Save Preston Library Campaign's proposals for a volunteer-run library do not appear in the report or its appendices, although it was apparently sent to the Council.

The campaign is still working on a business plan:
We are preparing a business plan for Preston Library. It is based on Chalfont St Giles Library (C L) (run by volunteers for 4 years) who are helping us. It must be lodged with the councillors and officers well before the 11th April meeting when the cabinet want to confirm the closures of all six libraries.

It is essential that we obtain enough volunteers to run the library for the days we decide it will be open. We have over 40 volunteers already with varying skills. Some to run the library others with skills such as an electrician, health and safety expert, two retired librarians. We need volunteers who can offer three hours a week.

We also need pledges of money and offers of interest free loans and to start fund raising.
The campaign asks anyone who can help in any way to write to them at: bunce.linsell@virgin .net

Meanwhile the Mayor of Brent has agreed to the request by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for an Extraordinary Meeting to discuss the library closures. It will be held on Wednesday April 13th at 7pm in the Council Chamber at Brent Town Hall. This is of course after the Executive meeting on Monday April 11th which has the closure report on its agenda.

An excellent account of Tim Coates' talk on Brent Library finances can be found on the I Spy in Queens Park blog HERE

Saturday 2 April 2011

Standing up for the NHS

One of the most powerful statements in support of the NHS you are likely to see:

Despite massive opposition Brent library closures recommended to Executive

The report on the Libraries Strategy which will go to the Executive on April 11th has now been published LINK to Report and Appendices.  It recommends the closure of six libraries despite massive opposition and rejects all the alternative proposals that have been put forward.

82% of respondents said that the rationalisation proposals which include the closures was unreasonable against 11% who thought it was reasonable. 24% of respondents agreed and 61% of respondents disagreed with the broad proposal that Brent Libraries will become community hubs with revised service delivery and funding principles.

The report attempts to undermine these figures by suggesting that respondents are unrepresentative:
8.5 It is therefore all the more important to recall that consultation does not constitute a referendum. There are serious challenges within the consultation feedback as to how representative it is of library users, of non-users, or the borough’s population as a whole. Members should be aware of these shortcomings as they consider the weight they give to the outcomes of the three-month consultation alongside the other drivers for change, including the needs assessment, the available resources and the equalities impact assessment.
8.6 In particular:
• Only 23% of the Borough’s population used a Brent library in the last year (borrowed at least one item during the year and/or accessed ICT services) which is in itself an important challenge for the new library offer. By contrast 87% of respondents to the questionnaire use a library regularly (at least once a month). It proved extremely difficult to engage with non-users and analyse their reasons for not using the libraries, which highlighted the importance of improved marketing of the services available
• respondents focused almost exclusively on the proposals to close six libraries.
Thus Kensal Rise (34%) and Preston (24%) users account for 58% of all questionnaire responses, and 83% of all responses named one of the six. However, all six libraries taken together represent less than 25% of total library visits in 2009/10 (without adjusting usage to account for the temporary closure of Harlesden library)
• some elements of the questionnaire responses are contradictory. For instance, 61% of respondents disagreed with the broad proposal that libraries become community hubs with revised service delivery and funding principles, but 79% of respondents suggest that libraries could also be used as community meeting places and 44% that other public services could share library buildings.
• The population of respondents is significantly different from that of the population of active borrowers, and from that of the Borough as a whole, particularly in relation to ethnicity. 60% of respondents identified as white (45% white British), compared to 32% of active borrowers.
• where it was possible to have a more detailed conversation, for example at the Open Day, or analysing the Red Quadrant research undertaken in October 2010, there are differing opinions about the ambitions for the service, for example concerning the balance between PC availability, quiet space, stock and children’s services.
My claim that young people will be disproportionately  hit by the closures is supported by the Report's figures on young borrowers:
Library Total number of Active Borrowers Number under 19’s %
Barham Park 1800 912 – 51%
Cricklewood 1341 698 – 42%
Kensal Rise 1707 714- 54%
Neasden 2336 1294 – 54%
Preston 3194 1494- 45%
Tokyngton 1496 877- 58%
Total 11874 5989
 The Report considers in detail (Appendix 6) alternative proposal.s It rejects outright proposals to reduce opening hours of all libraries to keep all 12 open, cutting of 'support' costs by 90% and making savings elsewhere.

Specific proposals are given a rating of 1 - 4 as follows: (Click to enlarge)
The report does not recommend consideration of any of these proposals and goes on to reject specific schemes that have been put forward: (Click image to enlarge)

A number of Petitions will be presented to the Executive at their meeting on April 11th which together contain approximately 9,600 signatures although there is likely to be some duplication. Numbers are as follows:
Petition, Lead Petitioner, Approx number of Signatures
Cancel Plans to Close 6 Libraries, Wembley Observer, 124
Keep Cricklewood Library Open, Friends of Cricklewood Library, 1317
Against Closure of Neasden Library, Local Residents, 800
Save Preston Library, Conservative Councillors Colwill and HB Patel, 819
Save Preston Library Campaign, Samatha Warrington, 5897
Stop Labour's Library Closures, LIB Dem Councillor Lorber, 672

These documents are very long and  this is only a quick summary. I would welcome comments about other aspects of the reports from readers and campaigners.