Sunday 29 May 2011

Barry Gardiner's NHS Meeting

We now have fuller details of the meeting which will take place at 3pm on Sunday June 12th at Brent Town  Hall. This  public meeting will outline and discuss the Government's NHS proposals.

Speakers include:

Diane Abbott MP - Shadow Minister for Health
Barry Gardiner - MP for Brent North
Ann John - Leader of Brent Council
Representatives from the British Medical Association & the Royal College of Nursing
Local Health Care Officials

This should be a really interesting event, please do your best to attend.

No confirmation of attendance needed.

Saturday 28 May 2011

Barcelona fans take over Fryent Way

The fans arrived in good spirits, coached in from various London airports and a little bemused to find themselves in what appeared to be the middle of the countryside.  They soon found their way to the stadium by way of the Paddocks and ASDA...

Act now on threat to our NHS

"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it" Nye Bevan
Rather belatedly, Barry Gardiner MP for Brent North has arranged a public meeting on the NHS, to be held at Brent Town Hall on Sunday June 12th. Belatedly because the 'listening exercise' closes in four days time. Opportunities for local people  to take part and make their views known have been few so please get down to the Town Hall in large numbers.

Stuart Jeffrey, Green Party spokesperson on health, wrote in the Guardian:
Turning the wheel slightly and easing off from the accelerator are not signs that Andrew Lansley will steer the NHS away from the cliff edge of privatisation (Report, 23 May). His plan must be stopped before we lose our NHS to market management. Of course, the true driver for this sorry state of affairs is the prime minister, who has overall responsibility for the actions of his cabinet colleagues. If Cameron and Lansley are able to turn the NHS into a full-blown insurance scheme, it will be a car crash.
The website 38 Degrees continues to organise opposition. Here is their latest message:

Andrew Lansley's NHS listening exercise closes in just 4 days. We need to move fast to flood it with objections to his dangerous plans.

Thousands of personal submissions to the listening exercise will make it much harder for Lansley to spin the results. He'll have to publish the figures, whether he likes it or not. They will tell a clear story: the overwhelming response is against these dangerous changes to the NHS.

It's easy and fast to send your message to the listening exercise using the 38 Degrees website. It only takes a couple of minutes. There are suggestions for what issues to raise, and you can see what other 38 Degrees members are already saying.

Get started here:

There are signs our pressure is starting to work. Yesterday, Nick Clegg said he thought Lansley's plans need to be watered down and delayed.  But today's Daily Telegraph reports that Conservative hardliners have started planning their fightback. They are determined to rush Lansley's plan through. We need to keep the pressure growing!

We've already created a huge stir this week with our hard-hitting newspaper adverts. Next week we will submit a copy of our 400,000-strong petition. So now, let's back all of that up with thousands of personal submissions telling the listening exercise we don't want our NHS ruined.

We have got until 5 PM on Tuesday, May 31 to send messages. Send yours now:

Lansley wants to use the listening exercise to claim he's building support for his plans, so he can plough ahead. But by working together we can make that impossible.

The British Medical Association's own submission to the listening exercise says Lansley's plans should be scrapped.  Nurses' groups, health care charities and patient groups all seem to agree. If we all keep working together, we can protect our NHS for future generations.

The listening exercise closes in four days. Please take a couple of minutes to write in now:

June 4th - challenge councillors on library closures

A message from Save Kensal Rise Library Campaign:

Regular monthly surgery with Councillor James Powney who made the decision to close Kensal Rise library and has been vigorously attacking our campaign in his blog, Council Executive member Bobby Thomas who voted for the closure, and Councillor Claudia Hector who voted for the cuts but has pledged to pay for a lift in the library out of her own pocket.

Saturday 4th June, 10.30 until noon,
St Mark’s Church Hall, All Souls’ Avenue, London, NW10 5HX (5 mins walk from Kensal Rise library)

Local MPs and Councillors speak on green issues

Photo by Jon Goldberg
For those of you who missed last week's Brent Green Fair, or wish to relive every minute of the proceedings, videos of the politicians' contributions are now available on the Brent Greens Blog LINK  Many thanks to Pete Murry of Brent Green Party who did the filming and stayed loyally behind the camera for several hours.

There are appearances from Sarah Teather MP (Brent Central), Barry Gardiner MP (Brent North) and Willesden Green Councillors Lesley Jones, Ann Hunter and Gavin Sneddon.

New CPZ for Civic Centre

The construction timetable and building phase details for the Civic Centre are now available on the Brent Council website HERE  The plans include details of the cranes that will be deployed, traffic movements and public transport links.

The plans for the Civic Centre also include the introduction of a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) in the area. Consultation on this will commence in September 2011. The CPZ will cover a large area (Click image to enlarge)

Boundaries of the area that may be affected by CPZ (from planning documents)

Friday 27 May 2011

Primary Places Consultation Deadline Extended

Following protests Brent Council has extended the deadline for responses on the Primary Places Strategy to July 1st. The initial deadline of June 10th gave headteachers and governors just 9 school days to respond. The new deadline should enable more governing bodies to meet and debate the issue before responding.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

We need time to give school places consultation proper consideration

Headteachers and governors in Brent have been sent a consultation document on the 'Development of a primary places strategy 2011/14'. I have long-pressed for a borough wide strategy rather than the ad-hoc approach of recent years and welcome the consultation. However I am disappointed that headteachers and governors have been given a deadline of June 10th, meaning that they have less than 10 days (taking into account that schools are closed for half-term next week) to consider a response to a complex issue. Some governing bodies have already had their summer term meeting and most will held after the deadline, giving no opportunity for a thorough discussion of the issues. I have appealed to the Director of Children and Families for the deadline to be changed to the end of the summer term.

Although parents are represented on governing bodies I think a wider consultation with parents about their children's future schooling would also give the consultation more credibility. They must be able to say if they want their children to go to primary schools with more than 1,000 pupils or to large 'all through' schools with children aged between 4 and 19.

The document asks if respondents agree with 5 planning principles:
1. Sufficiency of demand - evidence that there is a demand for additional places in particular areas in the medium and longer term.
2. Improvement of learning outcomes - schools identified for expansion must demonstrate they provide a good quality of education. The council will consider current progress and achievement and capacity to improve further.
3. Efficient use of resources - due to the limited capital budget the LA will want to secure the maximum number of additional high quality places within the available budget.
4. Improving local SEN provision - there is a projected shortfall in specialist SEN provision in both special schools and additionally resourced mainstream provision. In expanding primary provision improving the range and quality of SEN provision will also be considered.
5. Diversity of type of provision - The Council will consider different types of provision 'that will contribute to the overall objectives if providing high quality school places, cost effectively in areas of greatest need.

The paper dismisses the most obvious option of new build primary schools: "New build primary schools are currently not being considered as an option because the Council does not have sufficient funding nor the land to build upon. Similarly free schools have been excluded from this consultation because such proposals are outside the decision making of the authority."

Interestingly as you will see below they do see new build primary departments on secondary school land as an option for all-through (4-19) schools. So there is the money for that new build and the land, albeit on a secondary school site. Presumably such schools could be run as separate stand-alone primaries. I fear that in rejecting new build primary schools the Council will open the gates to free school providers.

These are the options the Council is putting to headteachers and governors:

1. Expansion of existing primary schools Advantages include building on current expertise and experience, may support improved learning outcomes particularism in smaller schools. Disadvantage is that there is limited scope for expansion in Brent's primary schools.
2. Establishing all through schools at existing secondary schools The Council see the advantages as increased opportunities for personalised learning through older primary pupils having access to the secondary curriculum, smoother transition between primary and secondary reducing the transfer 'dip', sharing of resources and expertise across phases. Disadvantages include primary schools may find it difficult to compete with larger all through schools in terms of resources and popularity, all through schools usually requite a newly built facility with a higher start-up cost. I would add  that stand-alone primary school pupils would be at a disadvantage at secondary transfer as fewer places would be available to them at secondary schools. All through schools would give priority to their own primary phase pupils. This would increase inequality particularly with regard to the imbalance of secondary school places between the north and south of the borough.
3. Establishing 5 form entry primary schools (this means 150 pupils in each year group). The advantages are claimed to be that this offers more places than conventional two or three form entry schools and that a larger budget would support wider curricular and specialist provision and a wider range of staff expertise. The disadvantage would be that parent  may be concerned about young children attending a large school and the potential impact on child-teacher relationships.
4. Amalgamating schools  This is not explained fully but seems to mainly refer to amalgamation of what are currently separate infant and junior schools. The advantages are seen as providing continuity of progression between Key Stage 1 (Infants) and Key stage 2 (Juniors) and improving the deployment of staff and resources. The disadvantages are that it will not automatically increase capacity and may be difficult and complex to achieve in some circumstances.
5. Bulge Classes This is where a school takes an additional class in a particular year group that then proceeds through the school. It does not increase the overall forms of entry of the school. Advantages are that it provides additional places quickly when there is insufficient provision and it allows for reduction of provision when demand falls. Disadvantages are that physical constraints may not allow for such classes and that parents may prefer a permanent school environment for their children. I would add that in providing space for a bulge class schools may lose facilities such as a school library or IT suite and that their may be overcrowding of halls, canteens and playgrounds. There may be suitable accommodation when children are five which would be unsuitable by the time they are 10 years old. Additionally such classes may suffer high levels of mobility as children leave to take up waiting list places in other schools and new arrivals replace them. Extra resources may be needed for children who have been out of school for some time and have fallen behind their peers. Elsewhere the LA has recognised that some schools may be reluctant to take such children as they fear they will lower their test results and place in the league tables.

Clearly the school places crisis needs to be addressed - every child is entitled to be educated and the local authority is legally obliged to provide sufficient places, but it is a complex issue as demonstrated above, and we need sufficient time to give the options proper consideration.

Monday 23 May 2011

Libraries Fight Continues - Act Now

A message from Save Preston Library Campaign:

Dear Preston Library Supporters,

You may have been told that the fight is over. Everything is lost. Far from it. If our politicians have resigned themselves to the permanent loss of our libraries (mind you, most of them will not be losing theirs), the residents of Brent fight on. And boy is it getting interesting.

To recap:  

* The closure of Preston library is UNNECESSARY and UNJUSTIFIED. 
* They say it will save £1million. 
* We say STOP the building of a new £3million library no one has asked for, and leave ours alone.
* They say, they will provide a better service. 
* We ask HOW? If we have to spend more time and money getting to facilities further away.

Brent is creating a 2-tier library system - some areas will get expanded LOCAL provision, the rest of us will lose what little we have. Fair? I think not. 


Two things:
1. All six library campaigns have formed Brent SOS Libraries and we are challenging the closure plan legally. It is an exciting prospect with excellent chances. 
Please see for more details. We ARE fundraising, so please watch this space for details of events. 
- we are all volunteers, and we haven't asked for a penny so far. We need both volunteers and donations. Email us if you wish to do either. It's your library too. 

2. Every resident affected by libraries is writing to the Secretary of State, who can step in and help us, but only if we ALL take 2 minutes to write to him. Details follow. 


Thanks to your letters, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (responsible for libraries) has asked to meet with Brent Council.  In theory the government can stop the closure. BUT the only way this can happen is if every resident writes/emails the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, to tell him how you will be affected.
Thousands are affected by the closure of Preston Library, thousands of letters must land on Jeremy's desk.

It takes 2 minutes to write a short email. Do it now. Get your neighbours and kids to sign it.

According to the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, Brent Council is obliged to provide a "comprehensive and efficient library service". The date is yet to be confirmed, but we are preparing evidence that the Brent Council is failing to meet its responsibilities.

Local Government Minister, Eric Pickles, has already criticised Brent Council's inability to make proper savings. They prefer to chop off important public services instead of cutting out waste.

Thousands are affected by the closure of Preston Library, they need to see thousands of emails/letters. We need you to do this.

*The DCMS will only take our complaint seriously if EVERYONE writes to them. This week, we must all take a few minutes to write  short email or letter explaining how the closure of Preston Library affects YOU. It doesn't need to be long or beautifully written, just needs to be written.

Here are some ideas on what you could write.

- It will cost time and money to go to Kingsbury Library - can you afford the bus fare/car parking fee everytime you want to use a library?

- Do you have time in your busy working day to go all the way to the Town Hall or Kingsbury by car or pu blic transprt to take out or return a book?

- Are you disabled or elderly? How hard is it for you to use the bus to get to Kingsbury / Town Hall? Can you manage the stairs at Preston Road Station to get to Brent Town Hall by tube? Can you face the waiting, and the journey there and back?

- Do you have a computer? Does your family have just one computer between you? Will you really be hogging the computer just to read an e-book?

- How do you feel about half the borough having better local libraries while you are deprived of yours?

- Is it fair that Willesden Library gets expensive games consoles and table tennis while you are being asked to "take a bus" because the council says it can't afford your library?
- What are you losing when Preston Library closes? Will the new virtual book groups and far away libraries compensate?

Address: Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London, SW1Y 5DH

Executive Rules OK - all reports and recommendations approved with little discussion and no dissent

Tonight's Executive Meeting started promisingly when it looked as if there might be some debate and thus calling into question the views I express below. Parents who had concerns about proposals on short-term residential provision for children with disabilities made a presentation and were supported by Cllr Helga Gladbaum. I have asked the parents for further information on their concerns and hope to publish it shortly.

Cllr Gladbaum said she had visited both units which provide short-term breaks at Crawford Avenue in Wembley and Clement Close in Willesdsen. The proposal is to close Crawford Avenue and she wanted to know if there had been consideration of the closure of Clement Close, the smaller of the units and utilise the spaciousness of Crawford Avenue. In answering, Krutika Pau, Director of Children and Families said that the closure of Crawford would save more money as it was rented from Barnardos and that it lacked a lift. In answer to Cllr Gladbaum's question about what alternative provision would be available if parents chose direct payments, instead of the council short-break provision, Krutika Pau said that there had been some successful purchasing of alternative provision and that this method would offer flexibility.  Ms Pau confirmed that the new facility at the Village School would be open in the Autumn of 2012, before the main school building which was scheduled to open in September 2012.  The Executive then voted in favour of the Officer's recommendation to cease short breaks at Crawford Avenue from October this year.

Apart from a small flurry when Paul Lorber tried to extend the period libraries will remain open for study, the pattern of the evening returned to the usual form. Lead councillors summarised reports, often barely audibly, and then the officers' recommendations were approved without discussion.  Eighteen decisions, with often far-reaching consequences, were taken in less than an hour.

The updates on Libraries and Waste Management, despite the issues covered earlier in this blog, were noted without dissent and the awarding of a 10 month contract to Brent Play Association for delivery of services at Stonebridge Adventure Playground and Special Educational Needs Afterschool Clubs was approved with no discussion of the longer term future of these facilities.

So, every recommendation approved with minimal discussion.

Brent Green Fair in all its variety

Fair Trade Stall

Sarah Teather MP answers questions from residents posed by Ian Saville

Information on training in environmental technologies

Barry Gardiner MP meets a polar bear threatened by loss of habitat

Pedal power works the smoothies machine

Parachute games for the kids - many  thanks to the Willesden Green councillors who joined in  

Photos by Jon Goldberg

More academies and possibly a free school in Brent?

Following Claremont High School's decision to convert to academy status Kingsbury High School has decided to consult on a similar move. I also understand that a secondary special school, Woodfield Sports College in Kingsbury,  is also considering conversion following Michael Gove's decision to allow special schools to become academies. All these schools are in the north of Brent and would join the Ark Academy (also in the north) and Crest Boys, Crest Girls and City Academy in the list of academies in Brent. At present Brent Council, unlike their counterparts in Harrow, appear (at least publicly) to be making no effort to dissuade them.  There will be further pressure on other secondary schools to follow with subsequent impact on  primary schools. Academies get extra money which is taken from the overall Brent school budget meaning less money for the remaining community schools.

In addition Rivendale Education Limited, recently granted permission to open a free school in Shepherds Bush has expressed an interest in opening a school in Brent citing proximity to Brent, Brent's relative deprivation and the shortage of school places.  Rivendale says it wants to run on the lines of John Lewis but its website is worrying sparse for an organisation that wants to run schools. The link to FAQs reveals none at all and the page on admissions says these are still being fine tuned. The organisation is run from a private address in Shepherds Bush a few doors from where I used to live in the 60s. The more you delve the less substance there appears to be - judge for yourself: LINK

Meanwhile Brent Council is at last seeking views on how to address the shortage of school places in order to put together a 3 year strategy.  Unfortunately they have written to governing bodies asking for a response by Friday June 10th. This gives just 10 days, taking into account next week's half-term holiday and few if any governing body will have a meeting planned in time to formulate a considered response. I hope they will set a new deadline nearer the end of the Summer Term - this is too important an issue to be rushed.

Why is Fryent Way closed all day on Saturday?

This is the question I have been asked a dozen times over the weekend by local residents. The advance notice on display at either end of Fryent Way says that the closure is due to Champions League Final at Wembley Stadium. This has left many puzzled because it has never been closed before for major matches. It turns out that it will be used as a coach park

The Council website states:
One of the world's greatest football events comes to Wembley on Saturday 28 May. The UEFA Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United takes place at Wembley Stadium.

Over 20,000 Barcelona fans are expected to attend the evening match.

We were one of the partners in the successful bid in 2007 to bring the event to Wembley and we have an obligation to ensure that it is a successful, safe and enjoyable celebration.

Due to the timing of the event and the travel arrangements for supporters, it will be necessary to close Fryent Way to traffic on the day of the final.

This will be in addition to traffic management arrangements that are put in place in Wembley on event dates.

The road will be closed from 8am until around midnight to provide vital coach parking.

While the closure is in place the recommended, and signed, diversion route for traffic will be via Kingsbury Road, Church Lane, Tudor Gardens and Salmon Street (part) or Forty Lane.

Access for local residents from Fryent Way will be maintained up to the junction with Broadview from the north.

Fryent Country Park will remain open throughout the period of the road closure. 
I hope the Barcelona fans infect the local population with a touch of the revolutionary fervour we have seen in Spain in recent days!

Brent: Managerialism versus Democratic Accountability

Brent as seen by the Independent, 25th October 1986
A Labour councillor greeted me at the Green Fair on Saturday by asking if I was taking a "break from having a go at the Council", before reminding me that the Green Fair was funded by Ward  Working. I can see how councillors may feel under siege at the moment with their library closures under attack from local people, the national media and the government. This blog is small fry compared with all that but the remark does imply that the Council is not being given credit where it is due.  The reasons behind this negativity deserve some consideration.

Three interconnected factors serve to remove the council from true accountability. Firstly the cabinet system of government leaves the majority of councillors, both from the ruling group and from the opposition, relatively powerless. The Executive makes the real decisions and full council meetings, because of Labour's big majority, merely rubber stamp decisions. Cllr Ann John, Brent's own 'Iron Lady' keeps a firm grip on any dissent within the Labour group.  Overview and Scrutiny Committees are ineffective and used mainly for grandstanding by the opposition rather than meticulous scrutiny and informed debate. The Willesden and Brent Times this weeks highlights poor attendance at council meetings by Councillors Simon Green (Lib Dem), Hayley Matthews (Lib Dem), Chris Leaman (Lib Dem) and Bhiku Patel (Conservative). Matthews is particularly criticised for not attending three children and young people overview and scrutiny committee meetings since last December.  The WBT editorial argued that it has been residents who voted for these councillors who have ended up doing the councillor's work, airing concerns about controversial decisions at council meetings. The real decision making often occurs outside public scrutiny at pre-meetings and Labour group meetings.

Secondly since the mid-80s when a Labour led Brent Council was pilloried by the national media, led by the Daily Mail, Labour has shied away from overtly political leadership. Instead, influenced by New Labour, the approach has been managerial. The council's role is to manage services and resources efficiently. This sounds sensible but leads to the situation where Labour has implemented the government imposed cuts, arguing it is their duty to 'balance the budget' rather than mount a political campaign against the cuts  of the kind advocated by Labour Party member and former councillor, Graham Durham, in a letter to the WBT this week.

This managerialism contributes to the third factor which is the blurring of distinctions between councillors and council officers, particularly at the senior level.After the inconclusive borough elections in 2006 there was a long period when the political parties could not agree a coalition and instead the officers under the leadership of Gareth Daniel ran the council. This inevitably increased the power of the officers and they were further strengthened because subsequently they were dealing with what was at the time a very inexperienced group of Liberal Democrat councillors. At council meetings currently it often feels that councillor's are representing officer reports rather than putting forward a political case for particular policies. Activists in campaigns such as the libraries, often see the officers as targets as much as the councillors, and at area forums officers often have to come to the aid of the councillor chairs.  Recent moves by the council to delegate more decision making to officers on Regeneration and Major Projects, Planning and the Waste Strategy reinforces the trend.

All these factors serve erect a barrier between the council and residents with decision making increasingly opaque. The controversy around consultation is an example where the council sees it as merely explaining their decisions to local people and activists seeing it as a opportunity to change decisions. The managerial approach implies that managers make the decisions and impose them on those below. Unless a manager has a particularly collegiate philosophy they tend to resent opposition from below and see it as illegitimate. That appears to be behind the council's resentment at criticism from within their own ranks, from opposition parties, from local activists, and from the local media.

The ability to make these criticisms is essential to local democracy and we must all continue to hold the council to account.

Friday 20 May 2011

Question your political representatives on green issues tomorrow

As well as all the fun of the stalls, Brent Green Fair tomorrow will offer you the chance to listen to what your political representatives have to say on green issues and ask them questions. Sarah Teather MP (Liberal Democrat, Brent Central) will speak at 1pm, followed by Barry Gardiner MP (Labour, Brent North) who will speak about the Energy Bill at 2pm. They will be followed by three local councillors at 3pm who want to hear your ideas about making Brent greener.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Make your voices heard on NHS - Consortium details here

Following the Save Brent NHS Meeting last week there has been interest in the consortia that have been set up in Brent and concern that they were already well on the way to commissioning services. It was suggested that the public concerned about changes in the NHS should contact their consortium to ask for a public meeting on the health reforms or to put their views forward. The Brent consortia have been granted 'pathfinder' status and the Wembley Consortium states that it will be" live on patient commissioning" by April 2013. This is a list of the consortia, all part of the Brent GP Federation, the surgeries that they include and contact details:

Harness GP Cooperative 10 Kingfisher Way, NW10 8TF
Church End Medical Centre, Acton Lane Surgery, Freuchen Medical Practice, Buckingham Road Surgery, Park Road Surgery, Brentfield Medical Centre, Oxgate Gardens Surgery, Stonebridge Surgery, Aksyr Medical Practice, Hilltop Surgery, Church Lane Surgery, Harrow Road Surgery, Chaplin Road Surgery, Harness Wembley Practice, Wembley Park Drive
Wembley Consortium1b Wyld Way, Wembley, HA9 6PW
Hazeldene Medical centre, The Surgery, The Beechcroft Medical centre, Kenton Medical Centre, Alperton Medical centre, The Sunflower Medical Centre, Lanfranc Medical Centre, Sudbury and Alperton Medical Centre, Premier Medical Centre, Sudbury Court Surgery, Preston Medical Centre, The Eagle Eye Surgery, Lancelot Medical Centre, Stanley Corner Medical Centre, SMS Medical Practice
Willesden Consortia no postal address given
Burnley Practice, Crest Medical centre, Gladstone Medical Centre, Greenhill Park Medical Centre, Neasden Medical Centre, Roundwood Park Medical Centre, St Andrew's Medical Centre, St George's Medical Centre, Village Medical Centre, Willesden Medical Centre, Walm Lane Medical Centre
Kilburn Primary Care Cooperative Ltd 51 Staverton Road, NW2 5HA
Law Medical Group, Staverton Surgery, Willesden Green Surgery, Chamberlayne Surgery, Peel Precinct, Chichele Road Surgery, Sheldon Surgery, Blessing Medical Centre, Park House Medical Centre, Kilburn Park Medical Centre, Lever Medical Centre, Windmill Practice
Kingsbury 245 Stag Lane, London, NW9 0EF
Forty Willows Surgery, Uxendon Crescent Surgery, Willow tree Family Doctors, Stag-Holly Road Practice, Ellis Practice, Chalkhill Family Practice, Fryent Way Surgery, Brampton Health Centre, Stag Lane Medical Centre, Preston Road Surgery, Primary Care Medical Centre, Girton Practice, Tudor House Medical Centre, Kings Edge Medical Centre, Fryent Medical Centre

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Carbon Budget Deal "Flawed" says Lucas

Responding to the Energy and Climate Change Secretary's announcement that the Government has agreed a deal to set the fourth carbon budget, committing the UK to a 50 per cent cut in greenhouse gases - compared with 1990 levels - by 2025, Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, said:
After weeks of dramatic politicking and bitter Cabinet clashes, I welcome this deal on the fourth carbon budget, setting the UK's long term climate targets in line with the recommendations of the independent Committee on Climate Change.

But the fact that this budget, which ironically will cost the Government nothing during this Parliamentary term, was ever in danger hints at the ferocity of anti-green resistance within the Coalition - especially in the Treasury, making a mockery of George Osborne's pre-general election claim that it would, under his Chancellorship, be "a green ally, not a foe".

Furthermore, this deal is seriously flawed thanks to the Government's failure to heed CCC advice on three crucial points. First, it has refused to toughen up the existing targets for 2013-2023, making the fourth budget harder and more costly to achieve.

Second, officials have slipped in a concessionary review clause which will allow the Government to backtrack on the fourth carbon budget in 2014 - reducing long term certainty on emissions reductions and potentially harming investor confidence in green technologies.

And finally, on the crucial issue of how we now meet the targets, the Government has shunned the CCC's recommendation that the budget should be met through domestic action alone. Allowing the use of trading mechanisms such as offsetting essentially means outsourcing our emission reduction responsibilities to other countries - thereby weakening the drive to achieve more green technologies and industries, with all the jobs those can bring, here in the UK.

A deepening unease

Village of the Damned (1957) adapted from John Wyndam's novel Midwich Cuckoos
We are all familiar with the science fiction technique of starting with apparent normality and then the developing sense of disquiet as it becomes apparent from small clues that things are far from normal.

I am finding that more and more people have that sense of unease about climate change. This Spring has felt rather like the beginning of a science fiction film with things gradually getter stranger: a hot spell in early Spring, the driest Spring on record and the absence of April showers in the south, cracked and fissured London clay out in the fields of Fryent Country Park and abnormally early flowering and fruiting of plants.

We associate English strawberries with Wimbledon which starts this year on June 20th and runs until the first week of July but strawberries are already ripening on my allotment in Birchen Grove, Kingsbury. Self-seeded tomatoes sprung up in my unheated greenhouse about three weeks ago and courgette plants started  flowering in outside beds a week ago.   Sweetcorn plants are flourishing at a time when we are usually only just thinking about putting them outside under fleece.

Corn and courgette plants at Birchen Grove allotment last week

I am well aware of the difference between weather and climate and that all this might be a one-off but the long term trend has been warmer so that as a gardener I am now able to grow tender plants such as chillies and aubergine outside with some success in most summers. Last year's cold Spring seems to be an exception to the overall trend (see Note). It appears that Spring 2011 may ell be over before the BBC's Springwatch is aired.

All this may seem moderately interesting but hardly world shattering. However I think it opens up a way of discussing climate change which isn't so extreme and apocalyptic that people run away and hide under the bedclothes. That sense of disquiet is something that a lot of people have felt but not voiced. Talking about it can start a dialogue leading to a deeper understanding and a recognition that action has to be taken.

The Woodland Trust publishes information on the latest UK Phenology surveys.  The findings suggest that by  2005 Spring was 11 days earlier for 80% of Spring events than it was in 1976 and that the trend has been accelerating in the last decades.

You can take part in monitoring Spring and Autumn events by registering at the website HERE

Kill the Bill!

Green Party activists joined the NHS demonstration at University College Hospital last night and there was a good turnout from Brent Fightback supporters.  The pressure is now really on the government with Nick Clegg wavering and the profiteering motives behind the Bill exposed..  The message from trades unionists, health workers and patients' groups is clear - a few minor revisions to the Bill is not enough. It must be completely withdrawn.

The Brent News Company TV report on the Brent Fightback Meeting on the NHS which took place last week in now available on their website HERE

Monday 16 May 2011

The Big Crunch on Climate Targets

As the government's position on climate change targets remained confused after differing reports over the weekend, protesters gathered outsiide Lib Dem Head Quarters at 8am this morning to deliver the following letter to Nick Clegg:
We in the Campaign against Climate Change organised a demonstration outside your party headquarters on hearing the news that there could be a risk that recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change might not be accepted. We are still dismayed at the position reportedly taken by Vince Cable on this issue.

However we are relieved to hear that the government has now decided to accept the recommendations of the independent committee for the 2023-27 carbon budget – because to allow short term economic considerations to take precedence over the Committee’s recommendations at this stage, would have set a precedent that could have effectively undermined the whole of the UK’s emissions reduction program.

Nevertheless we feel it will be a big mistake to disregard or delay acceptance of the Committee’s recommendation for a cut of 60% by 2030 (we would say at least) and even more important the recommendation to tighten up the nearer term targets (2013 to 2023) because above all we need strong action as soon as possible.

Further to that we would like to take this opportunity to warn you that the recommendations of the Committee are still in themselves insufficient, and to demand yet more robust action on climate. We appreciate how difficult this is to achieve politically but we believe there can be nothing more compelling than the spectre of a climate catastrophe that could kill billions. Our reasons for believing that the recommendations of the Committee are inadequate include three main considerations.

First, the recommendations include an increase in agro-fuels – that is biofuels produced through intensive agriculture. Already the increased demand for agrofuels is boosting the rate of deforestation and destructive land use change in Indonesia, South America and other places. In climate change terms we believe the increase in use of agrofuels will do substantially more harm than good. So called sustainability criteria are ineffective and probably unworkable on the real world.

Second, the Committee do not take into account the UK emissions that have effectively been outsourced to countries like China as they feed our increased demand for consumer goods.

Third, the targets enshrined in the Climate Act are now themselves, inadequate in the light of the latest climate science and represent un an acceptable level of risk. There is a good chance they would be insufficient to prevent a catastrophic destabilisation of global climate that would be devastating for human populations around the world, especially, and most immediately, the poorest and most vulnerable. This is the clear implication of those at the sharp end of climate change research like Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre who suggests that we should be aiming at something more like a 10% cut in emissions per year1, or Doctor James Hansen who heads NASA’s research effort on climate change and who says that two degrees of warming represents too great a risk.
We could add to that a fourth, namely that the international situation around the climate negotiations currently looks bleak, so that there is an even greater need to set a conspicuously bold example to break the deadlock and move things forward.

We therefore believe that the quite unprecedented situation that we find ourselves in amounts to a global emergency and requires a quantum leap in the scale of our response, over and above what the Committee on Climate change are currently recommending. The Campaign against Climate Change, for instance, are calling for an end to agro-fuel use, ten per cent cuts in emissions per year and a more or less fully decarbonised economy in a “Zero Carbon Britain” by 2030.

To do any less is still to court disaster.

Sunday 15 May 2011

NHS is for public service - not private profit

 About 60 people attended Thursday's Save the NHS meeting at Willesden Green library and many were genuinely shocked when they heard about the proposed changes and their repercussions.

Dr Ishani Salpadoula from the Kilburn Park Medical Centre tol for which they are financially rewarded. They had been organised in clusters for three years with the aim of improving performance by working together and improvements had resulted. She said that GPs were therefore some way along the government's route already but this was because GPs were 'practical people' - they were not committed to privatisation.  She said, 'GPs are not bad guys, but they are not politicised'. Although the government emphasises 'choice' the public are not being given what they asked for. Patients want their own GP who will see them in timely fashion.

Dr Ishani said that if the changes were pushed through fragmentation through privatisation and external  proviers will result and 60 years of networking between hospitals, mental health, district nurses etc would suddenly change. Patients and GPs would find themselves dealing with agencies and communication would be difficult and the system much more complicated for patients.

She said there was nothing GPs could do without having the patients behind them. She urged the audience to see their GPs and tell them what they want - including accessibility and familiarity.

In discussion one member of the audience said that what he wanted was for GPs not to be taking part in the commissioning meetings at all but to be challenging the changes GPs were trained in medicine and that is what he wanted them to do - not run businesses. Dr Ishani said that surgeries should be holding meetings with patients to ascertain their views but there was no way one GP could contact 7,000 people on his or her books. Meetings tended to be advertised in surgeries and the information only seen by 'active' patients. There were suggestions from the audience for public meetings in the cluster areas for all patients. One speaker said that there was little democratic control over the NHS already but the proposals would make things even worse and the new system was utterly opaque. There was general agreement that residents should go to their GPs and find out what consultation was planned and ensure their voices are heard.

The meeting heard that a private company was already doing triage at Central Middlesex A and E and there was potential for hiving off services such as physiotherapy, speech therapy and mental health services at the beginning of the process. One speaker emphasised that the role of health professional was vital - if professional don't cooperate the new system won't work.

Navin Shah, Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow told the meeting about his attempts to raise the issue in the GLA, He said PCTs had their problems but they were better than non-accountable private quangos. . He'd  had no response to his questions about local monitoring and auditing. A multi-disciplinary London Improvement Board would be set up and 3% of the London government grant will go to that body. Shah said he though that body should be government funded - not reduce local money available to health. He went on to say the if the reforms don't work health inequalities would increase. 

Jim Fagan from Keep Our NHS Public said it was  important  to fight the reforms in London: 'If they pacify London they've got the NHS'.

Much more was said than I can report. Videos of  the speakers and the contributors are available on Brent Greens' blog HERE

Those attending the meeting and readers of this blog are urged to join the March to Save the NHS assemble 5.30pm Thursday 17th May at University College Hospital, Gower Street WC1 (Euston, Warren Street, Euston Square tubes) to march on the Department of Health in Whitehall. Health workers should wear their uniforms.

Kilburn Library Garden will open on Saturday

The reading garden in April
 It is a pity this on the same day as the Green Fair in Willesden Green but perhaps you can spend some time at both events. After getting funds from  what was then Neighbourhood Working in 2008 local people got digging and have transformed a rubbish dump behind Kilburn Library into a reading garden. This year they have managed top get Ward Working funds for the seats.

Victory on Climate Targets?

The Campaign Against Climate Change writes:

The Observer this morning has reported that the combined pressure of the Green Movement has borne fruit and the Government has now accepted the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change. Yippee!

The demo, advertised for THIS Monday 16th, at 8.00am at Lib Dem HQ, at 4 Cowley Street, Westminster – map here.  (with a move on to Downing Street for 8.45am) will still go ahead. But it will now take the form of a reminder to the Lib Dems and to the government, that despite this victory for the greener forces within the government we are still courting climate disaster until we see a real quantum leap in the scale of our response to the climate crisis.
This is because – in particular:

1) The Committee on Climate Change recommends an increase in the use of biofuels which will do more harm than good.

2) The Committee’s recommendations do not take into account the effective outsourcing of a large proportion of UK emissions to countries like China to feed our increased demand for consumer goods.

3) In the light of the latest science, the targets enshrined in the Climate Act are inadequate. This is what those at the sharp end of scientific research into climate change are saying, like Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre who says we need something more like 10% cuts a year, or James Hansen who heads the climate research effort at NASA who says that 2 degrees of warming is too dangerous.

We’ll take this message to the Lib Dems and to Downing Street.

How the story has unfolded - up to the victory that became clear last night

On Monday May 9th The Guardian broke the story that the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change warned that a key cabinet decision on whether or not to stick to the UK's climate change targets was imminent, describing it as "the key test of the government's green credentials".

Later that day, Friends of the Earth called for Chris Huhne, the minister for Energy and Climate Change to resign if his fellow ministers renege on targets. Soon, George Monbiot had penned an article about it and the Guardian printed a follow-up story, claiming that Vince Cable had clashed with Huhne, arguing that an aggressive level of cuts would be "would be detrimental to UK", arguing instead for a weaker target. This led to public outcry, with the heads of 15 environmental NGOs writing an open letter to the Prime Minister, as well as the leader of the opposition and former Energy and Climate Change minister Ed Miliband writing his own letter.

Any more updates will be on, and of course on Twitter @campaigncc

Stonebridge Adventure Playground stays to avoid Big Lottery clawback

Stonebridge Adventure Playground in earlier times
Another report going to the Executive on May 23rd seeks authority to award a contract to Brent Play Association for  running the Stonebridge Adventure Playground and Special Educational Needs Afterschool Clubs in Brent.

The contract has been going through years of short-term renewal since 2008 when BPA lost the contract to a charity called Kids after a bidding process. Kids sponsors included David Cameron and Cheri Blair but there were doubts about its ability to cater for Brent's diverse community and concern that the 'locally grown' playleaders who offered a positive role model to local children would be lost.  Kids eventually said they were unable to deliver the contract and withdrew. The BPA were invited to step back in to retrieve the situation and there followed a series of re-tendering proposals, short-term contracts and uncertainty for staff and children.

The uncertainty continues with this contract as it only runs from 1st June 2011 until 31st March 2012.
While securing play for children over the summer holiday  it still leaves the future in doubt. Playworkers will be in a quandary about whether to seek other work after the summer and the BPA is likely to have to once again issue protective redundancy notices to staff.

The Council faces a major problem with the Stonebridge Adventure Playground because the Playground Project was funded in 2008 under a deed of dedication with the Big Lottery Fund. Under the deed the site can only be used for the Project and cannot be disposed of without the consent of the Fund. In addition the Fund can withdraw funding or require repayment if the Council does not comply with any of the terms of the deed. The short-term contract removes the risk of repayment. 

The ten month contract is valued at £150,000 and the Council  will pay the running and utility costs of the Stonebridge Centre and the running costs of playschemes. The BPA will continue to occupy the Adventure Playground. Over the summer officers will consider options for the  'most appropriate future service delivery models for providing play services in Brent.' Sounding a note of of warning the report states that 'within a reduced budget it is likely this service will be increasingly targeted to those in greatest need'.  This sounds like the rationing of children's play opportunities. Sad, when £150,000 in the context of the overall budget, is such a small sum.

Meanwhile the campaign to secure the long-term future of Stonebridge Adventure Playground continues LINK
The Council report can be found HERE

Declaration of Interest: I am a trustee of Brent Play Association and a member of Play England which is dedicated to improving play facilities for children. This blog represents my personal views and not necessarily those of either organisation.

Waste Strategy Costs Mount

Will the new Waste Strategy mean no more Brent scenes like this?
The cost of the implementation of the Council's Waste Strategy which involves fortnightly collections of residual waste and expanded dry recycling, has increased following urgent decisions taken by the Chief Executive of the Council under his delegated powers. The costs relate to the deployment of new vehicles and the purchase of more than 100,000 new collection containers.

The original plan to purchase 12 new waste vehicles at a cost of £1.7m, including interest charges, spread over 7 years (approximately £243,000 annually), has been ditched. Instead Veolia will hire vehicles for the remaining two and a half  years of their contract, at a cost of £1.1m, to be paid for by an increase in their contract price. The annual cost will be £440,000, £197,000 more than buying and £493,000 more over the remaining two and a half years. The original plan left the Council with the vehicles when the contract expired but the new plan leaves them owning none.

Officers argue that they  will save £600,000 in total costs in the long term (£1.7m versus £1.1m) and that hiring will 'relieve the Council of the burden of ownership (my emphasis) at the end of the current contract in 2014, which will improve our ability to go to the market for the replacement contract and seek competitive prices.'  My reading of this is that this leaves Veolia holding all the cards at the end of the contract and puts them in a winning position for the new contract - after all Brent will have a waste strategy with no vehicles!

The other additional cost is in waste containers with wheeled bins replacing the current green boxes (I am still waiting to hear if they are going to be recycled). This is a table of the new purchases:

The caddies and kerbside containers will cost £96,300 and Officers deemed this a low value contract not requiring Executive approval.  In the case of the bins Officers considered that it was prudent to conclude arrangements on bins and vehicles at the same time as the two were interdependent.They needed to make a purchase quickly because of  the rise in prices for the oil-based polymer from which thy are made. The total cost of the bins will be £1,693,250 which is £58,000 over budget. The urgency again meant that the Chief Executive made the decision. Officers argue that the deal is still affordable and within budget as they will use the existing container revenue budget of £97,000.

Read the document for yourself HERE

Brent Library Closure Delays

No Brent libraries will be closed until after the last 'A' Level exam on July 1st according to a report on the Libraries Transformation Project going to the Executive on May 23rd. This will mean that no action need to be taken of the referral made by Scrutiny Committee earlier this month after representations from Brent Youth Parliament.

The report acknowledges that it is difficult to give firm dates on the closures 'due to management of variables including contractual notice for facilities, the profile of staff who are leaving and the potential legal proceedings'.

The report states:
The library users may commence legal proceedings against the Council by way of Judicial Review. This could also have implications for the date of closure of the six libraries
Councillors are reminded that a report on the implementation of the Project is not scheduled until April 2012

LINK to report

Saturday 14 May 2011

Defend the Planet Against Government Hypocrisy - before breakfast!

The Lib Dems look as if they are going to renege on yet another promise - is it double figures yet? Environmental organisations have called an emergency demonstration for Monday - a good one for the early risers amongst you:


8.00 am at Lib Dem HQ, at 4 Cowley Street, Westminster Demand the Lib Dems stand up for their environmental principles!  Or are they just poodles to the Tory right? 
8.45 am  Move on to Downing StreetDemand that Cameron stick by all he argued for when he supported the Climate Act. Or was that all just green posturing? Is this the most green-backtracking government ever?

The Campaign Against Climate Change say:
This looks like crunch time for this government, and for the country on whether we will have any meaningful targets on emission cuts, or whether they will be watered down in the interests of the business lobby and short term economic interest every time…

The crucial decision will be taken at a meeting on Monday… hence the timing of this demo

Never mind that the targets - even before they are watered down - are not stringent enough in the light of the latest science, anyway. Never mind that the UK’s whole carbon-cutting strategy will rapidly unravel once regular budgets for cutting emissions like this are not maintained. Never mind that delaying emissions cuts risks putting a fatal amount of carbon in the atmosphere before we ever get to making those cuts anyway. Never mind that the fate of billions hangs on us actually getting to grips with the climate crisis and making it our number one priority. Never mind that we will never be able to influence other countries effectively if here at home we are seen to put our own economic welfare before the global environment  we share with the rest of the world….

…still it looks like short sighted, short term, economic considerations are threatening to take us down the path to misery and suffering on a colossal, unimaginable, scale…

New Kids on the Box

I bumped into a community TV crew at the Save the NHS meeting on Thursday who have just started operating in the area. They are Brent News Company Television (BNCTV). This is currently a web-based channel. First reports cover Dollis Hill House demolition, Library Closures (an interview with Graham Durham of the Save Cricklewood Library Campaign), and Fryent Country Park's lottery-funded project.

BNCTV says:
We are committed to delivering news reports and all the interesting stories from our Borough.

The diversity and richness of everyday life, economic and social changes in the Borough of Brent make it ever so interesting and relevant to us, local people.

We aim at bringing together all these aspects by creating a regional on-line TV news company.

BNCTV – a company with good values, committed to, focused on and based in Brent.

We are interested in everything about Brent.
It will be interesting to see how they shape up in the months ahead and if they win the advertising that they will need to keep them going.

To see BNCTV follow this LINK

Caroline Lucas speaks out for freedom for Palestine

Activists from Brent and Harrow Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Brent Stop the War and Brent Green Party were among those who attended the 'End the Siege of Gaza' demonstration at Downing Street. As well as continuing to press the case for government and EU action on the siege the event also helped launch the next Free Gaza Flotilla which will leave in June. The demonstration was noteworthy for the wide range of support it attracted and in particular the increased role of trade unions.

There was a lovely moment when children, complete with scooters, took on the pro-Israel demonstrators who had been allowed to mount a counter-demonstration directly outside the gates of Number 10. More kid power coming a few days after the great 'boy in a skirt' stand-off!

Teather lobbies Lansley, Cameron and Clegg on NHS Changes

Safe in her hands?
In a letter to constituent Sarah Cox, Sarah Teather MP has recognised the concerns of local residents on the proposed NHS changes:
I have received letters from an overwhelming number of constituents on this issue and I am well aware of the strength of feeling. I believe our National Health Service is a major part of this country's history and something to be proud of.

As I am sure you are aware, the Department of Health are taking the opportunity to pause and review the plans and allow for more consultation with GPs and the public.

I have already written to Andrew Lansley, Secretary of State for Health, outlining the concerns that many of my constituents have raised. I have today written to both David Cameron and Nick Clegg to make them fully aware of the views of the people of Brent on the proposed NHS reforms. I will be sure to write again as soon as I received a response.
Sarah Cox responded by saying, "We don't just want the NHS to be part of our history but part of our present and future too!"

Green Fun and Games in Willesden Next Saturday

Click on image to enlarge
Brent Friends of the Earth are announcing the line-up of stalls and a programme of activities for their first ever "Green Fair" on Saturday, 21st May 2011 in Willesden.  This free community event will take place outside the Willesden Green Library Centre, 95 High Road, Willesden, NW10 2SF from 10am - 5pm.

Stalls include free bike-fixing, children’s activities (I will doing parachute games) for Brent School Without Walls), vegetarian food, a bicycle powered smoothie-maker, advice on food waste from “Love Food Hate Waste” and on home energy-efficiency, Brent Council’s environmental projects, local environmental campaigns including Brent Friends of the Earth and Brent Campaign against Climate Change, a furniture re-use charity, and a car club.

A programme of platform activities, compered by Magician Ian Saville, includes demonstrations on gardening and fruit-picking, a “Green Question Time” with local MP Sarah Teather, plus a “Making Willesden Greener” debate with local ward councillors.

Steffi Gray, Community Liaison Officer for Brent Friends of the Earth says,
Our Green Fair will bring together local groups, businesses and individuals with an active interest in the environment, and show Brent residents that there are plenty of options for a low-carbon lifestyle in their area.  We have over twenty stalls, activities for children, a series of short talks and demonstrations throughout the day, plus a platform discussion with local Councillors and a “Green Question Time” with our local MP.  We hope it will encourage people of all ages to go greener.
The Green Fair is open to all.  It is funded by the Brent Ward Working scheme.  See for more details.