Wednesday 30 November 2011

A fun day with a serious message for the Coalition


My home-made placard for today's National Strike disappeared at Lincoln's Inn Field today only for me to spot it later being sported by a young student. She was disarmingly unapologetic so I decided the fact that my efforts had been taken up so enthusiastically by the next generation  was a tribute to my artistic expertise!

The earlier rally at the Torch in Wembley had standing room only and with more than 50 Brent schools closed there was a great spirit of solidarity and some fantastic speeches. Labour councillors Janice Long and Mary Arnold were in the audience. The march itself was high-spirited, comradely and lots of fun with women in the majority.





HS2 vanity project a 'disgrace' at time of massive cuts


Last night's meeting sought to re-galvanise the High Speed Rail 2 campaign ahead of the decision on whether to proceed with the project which is expected to be announced by Justine Greening MP on December 20th.

Among the issues that were discussed were:
  • The fact that the carbon emissions from the trains will be higher per passenger than car travel.
  • The project is a standalone one sponsored initially by Lord Adonis without any links with a strategic transport development plan.
  • The lack of connectivity of HS2 (especially with HS1) and the lack of any concrete plans/station locations north of Birmingham.
  • The economic case assumes time travelling on trains is 'wasted but we all know people work on trains.
  • The costing of £32bn for the whole project does not include the many farm bridges that will be required, works needed as a result of the Environmental Impact Assessment, and the rolling stock.
  • In places under Kensal the roof of the tunnel will be less than 10metres below some houses and there is no assessment of the noise and vibration that will be made by 250mph trains as they brake going into Old Oak Common.
  • Because Euston will lack platform space we will lose the Overground link with Euston.
  • Technology does not exist as yet for running 18 trains per hour in each direction at these speeds.
  • The ongoing subsidy for HS2 will benefit the richest in society and no figures have been published for the eventual fare.
  • The Transport Select Committee Report on HS2 raises so many issues around context, finance, environmental impact, number of trains per hour that it amounts to requesting that they go back to the drawing board.
  • A Westminster Council report, although ostensibly against the project, is aggressively challenging on the route and other issues.
In discussion it was suggested that campaigners should not be duped into concentrating on the detail but instead focus  on what the £32bn could be spent on instead of HS2 at a time when public services are being cut and other railways need investment. A leaf should be taken from the St Paul's Occupiers and the project exposed as a ' @$*&%£#' disgrace'.

The meeting agreed that a bullet point update was requested that could then be used to write to MPs, including' off-route' ones, as well as London Assembly Members.

The Green Party passed this motion on HS2 at its Cardiff Conference:
The Green Party believes that long-distance service provision should not concentrate on high speeds where this will affect local service provision or take up and excessive amount of limited resources.
 Current proposals for a new north-south high speed rail route are based on assumptions about continuing growth in mobility, energy use and CO2 emissions which are not compatible with green party policy.
The Green Party does not support the current (2011) high speed rail proposals known as HS2 but will review this policy if and when evidence emerges that HSR is embedded within an overall policy context that can deliver reductions in the demand for transport, energy use, land take and CO2 emissions.
Further information:
www.stopthetunnel.blogspot.com
www.ktra.co.uk
http://pancamdenhs2alliance.org/


Tuesday 29 November 2011

Osborne’s failure on Green Economy and Jobs’

  • Cash boost for big polluters shows Osborne ‘dangerously colour blind on the green economy’; Britain needs a Green New Deal
  • Chancellor reveals plan to ‘rip up environmental and social protection laws’
  • ‘Government failing to address UK’s biggest crisis: the jobs deficit’
  • Ruling out Robin Hood Tax on financial sector is ‘huge mistake’
Chancellor George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement today, setting out the Coalition Government’s strategy to deal with the UK’s stagnatingeconomy. The announcement coincides with a number of pessimistic predictions which set the British economy on course for a double dip recession next year

Responding to the Statement, Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and leader of the Green party of England and Wales, said:
Today’s budget announcement exposes just how dangerously colour blind the Chancellor really is when it comes to the green economy and the low carbon industries which can help lift us out of recession.
And the fact that the Osborne is taking £250 million away from hard pressed families to fund a big cash boost for some of this country’s most polluting industries – whilst also rushing through major cuts to the flourishing solar industry – simply beggars belief.
Why agree on a much needed carbon tax to drag the UK’s energy intensive industries into the 21st century and pay for their contribution to the climate crisis, but then be scared into giving millions back because a few vested interests like Tata call your bluff?
This backwards and expensive merry-go-round shows that the Government is completely clueless on how to manage the low carbon revolution – and risks relegating the UK to the backseat when it comes to climate change and renewables.
Furthermore, the decision to scrap the 3p rise in fuel duty is scandalously short sighted and will set back our efforts to tackle transport emissions and air pollution. Instead, the Government should reverse the increase in VAT brought in at the beginning of the year – a better way of helping those finding it hardest to cope, as well as helping the economy to recover.”
‘Threat to our natural heritage’
Lucas continued:
What is also clear from today’s statement is that our valued countryside and environmental heritage is now seriously under threat from this Governmen’s bias towards big business. The Chancellor’s intention to scrap the so-called ‘red tape’ which protects the UK’s forests and fields from over-development, and reform the planning laws in favour of developers, is a call to arms for anyone who cares about conserving our natural heritage.
On inequality: ‘Nothing to see here’ 
This budget package – which looks suspiciously like a panicked Plan B rather than a Plan A Plus – does nothing to address the deepening inequality which is harming hard working people up and down the country.
Osborne refuses to address the vast gulf between the haves and the have-nots, and the persisting culture of entitlement in the financial sector that has allowed the earnings of top Barclays executives, for example, to increase by a stratospheric 4899.4% since 1980, whilst wages for the average worker have only seen a threefold increase.
The fact that the Government has confirmed it will not support a financial transactions tax such as the Robin Hood tax, or offer anything new to tackle tax avoidance and evasion, tells us all we need to know about the commitment to social justice amongst the Cabinet’s millionaire ministers.
And ripping up social protection laws is not the way to value our workforce and generate new jobs – indeed, industrial relations experts have shown that there is no ‘clear-cut link’ between employment protection and levels of unemployment.
On public infrastructure spending: ‘Missed opportunity to switch to green
quantitative easing’
Construction and road-building corporations are lobbying for more Government spending rather than austerity cuts – but the Chancellor lacks the courage or political vision to channel this billion pound spend into the job rich, green industries of the future.
If we invested heavily now in a major Green New Deal programme to create new state-owned renewable energy and an increase in energy efficiency measures to help bring down bills, we could create hundreds of thousands of jobs, as well as remain internationally competitive in the green technology race.
The jobs deficit
The Green MP concluded:

Ultimately, the constant downgrading of the UK’s growth forecasts is the clearest proof we need that the Coalition’s cuts plan is completely failing even on its own terms – with the Chancellor merely tinkering around the edges on our most urgent problem: the jobs deficit.

With unemployment at its highest rate since 1994, and more than one million 16-24 year olds out of work, the myth that the private sector would step in when the Government scaled back public spending to magic up jobs out of nowhere has been exposed as nonsense.

See you at the Torch tomorrow for biggest Brent strike rally for years


I will be back at the Torch Pub, opposite the ARK Academy in Wembley Park tomorrow, for a rally of education and other public sector workers who will be striking about their pensions.

The rally begins at 9.30am and refreshments will be available. Hundreds of teachers, lecturers, caretakers, teaching assistants, meals supervisors, school secretaries and supporters will hear speeches from several union General Secretaries and Presidents before leaving en masse about 11am for the demonstration in Central London,

It will be bigger and better than the last rally on June 30th as ATL, NUT and UCU will be joined by members of NASUWT, GMB, NAHT and UNISON who will be on striketo protect their pensions.

There will be a prize for the most imaginative placard.

The Torch is at the junction of Bridge Road and Forty Lane. Cross the road at Wembley Park Station and turn left along Bridge Road.

Green Wembley Central By-election Campaign

I will be campaigning in the Wembley Central by-election against the background of the economic crisis, cuts in the welfare state and the deteriorating international situation regarding action on climate change. A huge canvas for a small local by-election so my leaflet concentrates on local issues linked to those broader ones:
Click on images to enlarge
Will anyone who wishes to help in the campaign contact me at martin.francis@greenparty.org.uk   Thanks

Green Party supports tomorrow's strike of 2 million

The Green Party strongly supports the unions' strike over changes to their Public Sector pension schemes which will see their members having to work longer and contribute more. The 24 hour walk out is set to be the UK's biggest strike for over 30 years with over 2 million Public Sector employees taking part.
We call for a clamp down on tax evasion by the rich and a tax on financial transactions rather than the proposed public sector cuts and for the Government to urgently review the state pension which remains below poverty levels. We would like to see the rapid introduction of a citizen's pension, paid at a level that allows people to meet basic needs
Stuart Jeffrey, Policy Coordinator, Green Party National Executive
The Conservative-led Government's assault on public sector pensions is a serious concern for my constituents and for workers across the public sector. While recent moves by Ministers to improve the pensions package offered some hope, it's clear that we are still far from a genuinely fair deal.


I regret the disruption caused by industrial action, but feel confident that union leaders have resorted to a full strike only as a last resort - because public sector employees up and down the country continue to feel that the Government is simply not listening.

We must not forget that these are our nurses, teachers, civil servants - the people who provide the crucial services which we rely on every day. The Greens will not hesitate to lend our support and solidarity to them on November 30.

 Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and MP for Brighton Pavilion

Greens at Westminster and City Hall will not cross the picket lines to work tomorrow.

Brent lagging behind on sustainable food


Kilburn and Kensal Harvesting Project (Video by Jonathan P Goldberg)

Brent is one of six London boroughs highlighted as "lagging behind disappointingly on action to support healthy and sustainable food" in a new report “Good Food for London” by Sustain and the London Food Link [1]
 
The report shows that although Brent is making progress in some areas such as - collecting food waste, community food growing spaces through the Capital Growth programme, and working towards achieving Fairtrade status, the Borough is sadly falling behind on many other areas - food in schools, “Food for Life”, sustainable fish, animal welfare, and healthy catering. 
 
Viv Stein, spokesperson for Brent Campaign against Climate Change, said:  “Brent’s recent Green Charter espoused the virtues of their sustainable credentials.  This new report shows that when it comes to sustainable food, they are way behind other London Boroughs and must do better.
 
Members of Transition Kensal to Kilburn planting on Kilburn tube station platform earlier this year.
“Community groups such as Transition Kensal to Kilburn have led the way in local food growing, and have shown that it can be grown virtually anywhere – there is even an allotment on Kilburn tube station!  Community-led fruit harvesting projects have also had a bumper year.  Whilst welcoming the Council’s forthcoming allotment and food growing strategy, when it comes to getting healthy, local, affordable and sustainable food into our schools and hospitals, Brent has a lot of catching up to do.”
 
Reference
Eight more Boroughs out of the total of 33 were praised for "making excellent progress on key food issues" - Camden, Croydon, Enfield, Greenwich, Merton, Sutton, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest - achieving progress on all or most of the key food activities surveyed. Meanwhile, six Boroughs were highlighted as "lagging behind disappointingly on action to support healthy and sustainable food" - Bexley, Brent, Hillingdon, Lewisham, Newham and Westminster.

Monday 28 November 2011

Brent Joint Unions rally | Day of Action 30 Nov | False Economy

Brent Joint Unions rally | Day of Action 30 Nov | False Economy

Apply for Wembley Central Postal Vote here

If you will be away fro the Christmas holiday you can submit a postal vote. Follow this LINK

Chicken shops and betting shops - how can we diversify our shopping streets?

The Green Party supports small shops and high street diversity but clearly times are hard and many businesses are failing to thrive.

One type of business which seems to do well in recession is bookmakers, with money short and few ways to increase income, gambling becomes attractive. Anecdotally that seems clear from the increased number of people buying lottery tickets in the local newsagent.

There are about 34 shops on Bridge Road/Forty Avenue near Wembley Park station and although many are well established there are a few which frequently change hands as businesses set up optimistically only to close a few months later. A Polish shop was rapidly followed by a French cafe which is now shuttered.

On the corner of Chalkhill Road and Bridge Road the Piri Piri Sports Bar has struggled to attract custom with frequent changes of cuisine. In the past it has offered pizza and pasta and then Indian food. Now Paddy Power bookmakers are applying to open a large shop on the premises despite there being a Corals a couple of hundred yards away and a Ladbrokes on Grand Parade.

There are already quite a few takeaways in the immediate area with at least three offering fried chicken. What can we do to diversify our shopping streets?

Seasonal confusion in the churchyard

Snowdrops in Old St Andrew's Churchyard on Sunday
I was chatting with some fellow gardeners at Birchen Green allotments in  warm sunshine yesterday about the current strange behaviour of plants.  I picked the last of my tomatoes about 10 days ago and still have chillies flowering and fruiting in the cold greenhouse. Nasturtium seedlings were growing healthily at our feet as we spoke.

To add to the confusing  picture as I walked through the churchyard at Old St Andrew's I spied these snowdrops in full bloom with daffodils not far behind. Snowdrops before all the trees have shed their leaves...


Saturday 26 November 2011

Copland and Queen's Park Community schools not intending academy conversion at present

More is emerging about current discussions among Brent schools about academy conversion.  There are four options under consideration as far as I can ascertain:

1. Conversion to an academy
2. Forming a federation of Cooperative Trust schools with academy conversion
3. Forming a Cooperative Trust without academy conversion.
4. Remaining as they are

Wembley High and Preston Manor are considering the second option along with some Wembley primary schools. Copland Community School is interested in a discussion around the third option with no decision or statement of intent planned.. Queen's Park Community School does not want to consider the cooperative trust option and governors issued a statement in May 2011 stating that they had 'no immediate plans to apply for academy status.'  This leaves Alperton High School and I would welcome any information readers may have about their position: mafran@globalnet.co.uk

Meanwhile a joint union meeting at Preston Manor All-through Foundation School (apparently the school's  new name) is said to have overwhelmingly passed a motion rejecting academy conversion.

SUN-BATHING WAR Riotous Scenes on the Banks of the Welsh Harp

Indignation was rife among local residents during the weekend at the proceedings of sun-bathers in a field near 'Sandy Cut', Cool Oak Lane, Kingsbury, and spirited protests by Hendon and Kingsbury householders culminated in violent scenes on Saturday evening and Sunday.

The sun-bathers, who are, for the most part, non-residents in this are, are members of the Sun-Ray Club and the New Life Society.  They sun-bathe on the grass near the edge of the Welsh Harp reservoir in various states of semi-nudity, while notices are chalked in surrounding trees stating, 'Sun-bathing ground. Please keep away.'

On Saturday a number of nude women women bathers were present with the men, and so strong was the objection of a hostile crowd that the followers of this cult were ultimately attacked, and found it necessary to seek police protection.

A resident of Wakeman's Hill Avenue wrote to Kingsbury Council:
Why is nude bathing permitted in the Welsh Harp Reservoir without some enclosure, where sexual maniacs can perform out of view of the more respectable members of the community? On Sunday evening last and myself were walking across from Old Kingsbury Church to Edgware Road, and were half-way over when we came upon a bunch of stark naked men hanging around the water side. Hardly a pleasant sight for a man to have to pass with his wife!
The attack on the sun-bathers commenced on Saturday, when some 40 men and women lay on the grass near the water's edges. Some wore no clothes; others wore slips or bathing drawers, Passers-by tooking objection, particularly on the ground that there were children in the vicinity, and soon a large crowd gathered, excitement growing until jeers and insults gave way to blows but no one appeared to be seriously injured.

Captain H.H. Vincent (secretary of the movement) was attacked by a woman but evaded her blows. There were cries of 'Duck him in the lake!' 'Drive them out of Hendon!' and Mr F.G.Biddle of Bell Lane, Hendon declared that he would 'get the lot of you locked up for indecent behaviour in public.' When the sun-bathers managed to get partially dressed they left the field.

A cartoon comment at the time
 Captain Vincent afterwards stated that the crowd appeared to take objection to one of the women, who wore nothing above the waist.
We put up notices warning people that sun bathing is taking place but they will come and stare at us, and some of them even take photographs. Dress or undress is optional with us. The objectors are ignorant people, with whom it is useless to argue.
The above events took place on 28th and 29th June 1930 and this is an edited account  from the Hendon and Finchley Times. My mother, who died earlier this year, and lived in Church Drive close to the the Welsh Harp, told me that she and her her sister, when children, used to hide in the bushes and spy on the sun bathers. It was their only sex education...

Thanks to Phil Grant for digging up the press coverage. There is an account of  the riots in a beautifully illustrated  new book entitled Welsh Harp Reservoir Through Time by Geoffrey Hewlett. The Welsh Harp has a colourful past including horse and greyhound racing, water skiing, motorboat racing, regattas, rowing competitions between neighbouring boroughs, ice skating and even an escaped bear!


Welsh Harp Reservoir Through Time, Geoffrey Hewlett, Amberley Publishing, £14.99 Available from the Willesden Bookshop



Friday 25 November 2011

I'm on my way to Wembley Central (again)

He was green until Coca Cola came along and turned him crimson

 Well, here we go again. Let's all look forward to a green Christmas!

I'll be standing as the Green Party candidate in the Wembley Central by-election which takes place on December 22nd.

The other candidates are:
Madhuri Davda (Conservative) who was an unsuccessful short-listed candidate for the Brent North parliamentary seat at the last election.
Afifa Pervez (Liberal Democrat) who won the last by-election in the ward but lost her seat in the Labour sweep at the 2010 Council Election
Krupa Sheth (Labour) who at 20 is the youngest candidate.

I am the oldest and the only man, oh well, should be interesting!

Turnout at the 2009 by-election was 29.3% compared with the 2010 Council election turnout of 50%. With polling day in the middle of winter and close to Christmas turnout will be a major consideration.

These are the arrangements for postal and proxy votes:
Anyone not already a postal voter and wishing to vote by post must submit a completed application form to the Electoral Services office by 5pm on Wednesday 7 December.

Alternatively electors may appoint a proxy person to vote on their behalf in which case the deadline for applications to be submitted is 5pm on Wednesday 14 December.

 electoral.services@brent.gov.uk

Community Payback covers council cuts in street sweeping

On top of concerns over unpaid youth labour in supermarkets comes the news that Brent Council is using Community Payback to cover the service gaps created by its street cleansing cuts and the impact of Autumn leaf fall.

The Kilburn and Brent Times this week (p6) reports a council spokesman as saying:
Brent Council focuses its resources on the road which are more affected, such as tree-lined streets, as residents would expect.

In areas of Kilburn, Queens Park and Brondesbury Park wards the council has worked with the probationary service to organise teams from Community Payback to clean up leaves in the area seven days a week for the past four weeks.
Community Payback is the scheme where offenders do community work from 6 hours a week to compensate the community for crimes they have committed.  It is usually done for charities and other causes nominated by local residents.

Looking at the Community Payback website there is no mention of local councils deciding what they should do and certainly nothing about them being used as unpaid labour to make up for council cuts.

Community Payback

The London Community Payback website states::

To be considered, your project must meet the following criteria:
  • It must benefit the local community
  • It must not take paid work away from others
  • No one must make a profit from the work
  • It must be challenging and demanding
  • It must be worthwhile and constructive
  • Offenders must be seen to be putting something back into the community.
Is this a misuse of the scheme?

    Thursday 24 November 2011

    Labour chooses their Wembley by-election candidate

    Krupa Sheth, aged 20,  has been chosen to fight the Wembley Central by-election for Labour. Polling takes place on December 22nd.

    The by-election has been caused by the surprise resignation of Labour councillor Jayesh Mistry.

    Brent Greens are likely to finalise their selection tomorrow. 

    Now we are all free workers for supermarkets


    The Guardian recently publicised the plight of young workers forced to work up to 30 hours a week for no pay for Poundland, Argos, Sainsbury's, Tesco and other business. Ostensibly for work experience this does not necessarily lead to a job and can last for up to two months before others are brought in to replace them. If they express an interest, and don't stop work during a week's cooling off period, they are liable to lose their benefits if they leave.

    Free workers for profit-making supermarkets!

    But I'd like to focus how we are all becoming 'volunteer workers' for supermarkets. I always avoid  self-service checkouts because I think they take away people's jobs. Yes there's someone there at a bank of six automatic checkouts to help out - but that's not the same as six cashiers.

    However I am finding it hard to exercise my choice of being served by a human being who gets  wage. At Wembley ASDA those people holding up a green pointing hand to show you to a checkout, also try and persuade you to go to the self-service checkouts - especially if you just have a basket.

    I got into quite an argument the other day when the 'persuading' turned particularly pushy.  It turned into an argument about preserving jobs at a time of high unemployment and attracted quite a lot of interest.

     But worse was to come. In the last couple of days I have been in shops where you can't exercise the choice at all as there was no cashiers at their desks at all.

    At the Coop in Central Square there was just the self-service checkouts available and a single member of staff flitting about and available occasionally to help wrestle with the computer.  At Tesco in Neasden shopping precinct at 4.30pm in the afternoon there was just the security guard and shelf-fillers with customers all lined up at the self-service and having a one sided conversation with the robot voice: 'Unknown item in the despatch area' kept ringing out across the store. There was no one to help any elderly or confused unable to handle the technology. For the lonely one more source of human contact has gone.

    We have become more free workers for profit-making supermarkets!

    I feel a campaign coming on....

    Veolia campaign steps up


     All Brent councillors have been sent a letter from Brent Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Dump Veolia West London campaign requesting them to support the following request:
    That Veolia Environmental Services be excluded from the bid and tender process for the West London Residual Waste Services because we believe there is evidence that:

    a) Veolia has demonstrated racist practices in its recruitment policies; and

    b) Veolia has been guilty of grave misconduct through its active participation in violations of international and humanitarian laws and norms
    Veolia is on the long-list for the multi-million 25 year contract for dealing with the residual waste of Harrow, Hounslow, Hillingdon, Ealing, Richmond and Brent. 302 Brent residents have signed the letter setting out the evidence for the request based on Veolia's activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The full letter is HERE

    The WLWA will shortly be drawing up the short-list for the contract and campaigners hope that they will be excluded at this stage. Councillors were invited to a public meeting on Tuesday November 22nd where the  legal, moral and human rights case for Veolia's exclusion was put forward. A recording of the meeting can be viewed on the Brent Green's blog along with a report of the meeting by Shahrar Ali  HERE

    Cllr James Powney is Brent's representative on the WLWA.

    Yesterday evening Brent TUC (Trades Council) approved a model motion on the issue and decided to affiliate to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

    Meanwhile Brent Council's contract with Veolia for waste management and street sweeping runs out in 2014. The procurement process will start well before then.  Recently Veolia failed to win a similar contract in Ealing. 

    Wednesday 23 November 2011

    Brent Council calls for Government leadership on climate change

    There were a number of motions before Brent Council on Monday night. Thnere is a certain ritual about this as, because of Labour's large majority,  their motions are always approved and those of the opposition routinely defeated. Often Labour's motions congratulate themselves on their administration's achievements.

    Cllr James Powney moved a motion on Climate Change on Monday which combined huge global issues and the move to Brent's new Civic Centre. It reflected the concerns raised by Brent Campaign Against Climate Change at their recent public meeting addressed by Jonathan Essex of the Green Party and Barry Gardiner MP:
    Council notes that climate change is the greatest threat to the future of our planet and that urgent action is needed if we are to reverse its effects.

    Council also notes that there are alarming signs that the effects of global warming are already underway, with storms, floods and droughts happening more often around the world.

    Council notes the measures being undertaken by Brent Council to reduce our impact on climate change, including the move to the Civic Centre, the introduction of emissions based parking permits, the setting of a carbon emissions targets target and reducing emissions from landfill.

    Council calls on the Government to show real leadership at the forthcoming UN climate change conference in Durban by pushing the EU to commit to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, as a route towards a global deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and delivering on climate finance to help poorer countries deal with the effects of global warming.

    Tuesday 22 November 2011

    Email Navin Shah about traffic danger spots in Brent and Harrow

    Navin Shah, London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow is calling on local residents to name the most dangerous roads, junctions and roundabouts in Brent and Harrow. The appeal for information is in conjunction with National Road Safety Week (21 - 27 November 2011). Please email Navin  Shah at navin.shah@london.gov.uk if there are any areas you would like him to be aware of.

    Cuts will have 'enormous and profound' impact on Brent - Ann John

    I was a bit miffed at having to leave a particularly good edition of Radio 4's, 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue', to attend last night's meeting of Brent Council.  I needn't have worried as the Council seemed to be running its own version.

    There was a lot of the usual knockabout stuff with taunts running along well worn lines and Cllr James Allie doing his impression of a recalcitrant adolescent challenging the teacher (Mayor)  from the back of the class.

    The mood darkened when Ann John, leader of the council, spoke about the 'enormous scale' of the Coalition government's 'social engineering'  which would have 'an enormous and profound' impact on the people of Brent with 10,000 households s unable to afford local rents.  Alongside this  was the enormous impact of a 38% cut in Brent's grant from central government.

    She said that 10,000 households in Brent would find their rent unaffordable and that this would have a 'huge and profound' impact: Tory policy was taking us back to the 80s. Brent Central had seen a rise in youth unemployment of 106% since January and we were producing a generation that would go straight from school into unemployment 'never knowing work'.

    John said 700 council jobs had already gone and that there would be another 300. By the time the Council moves into the new Civic Centre the Council workforce would have shrunk by 1,000. For me of course, this raised more questions about the project. How many people will be working for Brent Council in 25 years time when the project has finally paid for itself, if indeed Brent Council still exists? Will the 'Civic Centre' be mainly let out to other organisations?

    Cllr John said the the Council would in future be much smaller and what it does will change significantly. She outlined the Council's priorities for next year on creating opportunities for employment through training and apprenticeship schemes, improving quality of life through neighbourhood ward working, provision for young people before they leave school, integrating social care with health provisions and continue the improvements created by regeneration.

    Opposition parties in their response did not challenge these priorities. Instead the Lib Dems pointed out that the Council had spent more money on closing libraries that would have been spent on keeping them open. Both Lib Dems and Tories called for the libraries to be re-opened. The Tories said that the Council should not put the £2.6m grant for freezing Council Tax into reserves but use it to protect services and keep the libraries open. They also said that monies recovered from the Icelandic banks, 'that had almost been written off' should not be put into reserves.

    The issue of reserves deserves wider discussion. Last December a report was published that showed Brent reserves were the lowest of London boroughs and below what was financially prudent. The Tory argument is that they have not be used this year and so should not be added to. LINK to reserves report

    A further are for discussion before the 201213 budget is set is the decision on whether to raise the Council Tax. The Budget Report warns about the erosion of the Council's tax base caused by year on year freezing of Council tax and Cllr Moher from the front bench said that he saw no reason not to ask council tax payers to pay for 'quality services'.  It appears that the Labour group see raising of Council Tax as an option to be considered.

    I have called before for wider discussion of the budget so that it involves the wider public, rather than decisions made in committees and at 'away days'. There is still time for this to be done before final decisions are made.

    Monday 21 November 2011

    Call for reduced dog walking limits

    An ePetition to Brent Council has been organised by Carol Nicholls calling for the limit on the number of dogs walked by any one person in Brent Parks to be reduced to four, rather than the limit of 6 agreed at the Executive last week:

    The petition can be signed HERE

    We the undersigned petition the council to change the decision of the Executive, which sat on the 14/11/2011, which was to allow a person to walk up six dogs in the parks and open spaces of Brent.

    The only people who would wish to walk such a large number of dogs at one time are professional dog walkers. Many of whom do not live in Brent, but come here because their own councils have a far lower number. These people do not pay Council Tax to Brent whilst those that do have to pick up the bill via the Parks Department budget.

    Local park users of all ages are apprehensive, if not frightened, by such large numbers of excited dogs who are allowed to run free off of their leads. It is impossible for a person to have proper control of six dogs or to see when and where they have fouled. This means that the walker is unable to pick up the faeces. It just lays there until an unsuspecting child or adult comes across it. Dog faeces on a child or adult's shoes is at the very least unpleasant, but worm infested faeces has severe health implications should a child or football player get some on their skin, in a wound, or in their eyes.

    All park users, whatever their age, have the right to walk, play, socialize or just sit in Brent's beautiful parks and open spaces without the fear of six excited dogs disturbing their peace, or have to look before taking a step, just in case they tread in something unpleasant.

    For all these reasons we ask that the councillors rethink their decision and make the maximum number of dogs a person can walk to be four.

    Most Brent schools will be closed by pensions strike on November 30th

    Most schools in Brent will be closed on November 30th as staff from the teacher, headteacher and support staff unions show their anger at the Government's plans to make them pay more, work longer and get less in their pension. The National Association of Headteachers has voted overwhelmingly to strike alongside the other teachers and lecturer unions ATL, NASUWT, NUT and UCU as well as the support staff unions UNISON and GMB.

    On visits to schools around the borough staff have raised concerns with union representatives s, not only about their own pensions,  but how the Government’s proposals will put off young graduates from entering teaching. Already those young teachers with large loans to pay back are thinking twice about staying in the teaching profession if their contributions rise by 50%.

    But the idea that teachers will not be able to retire on a full pension until they are 68 is the one that causes the most disbelief and anger.

    Jean Roberts, Joint BTA Secretary said, “Everyone knows that teaching is a stressful and demanding job, one that requires a great degree of stamina particularly with younger children. Do parents want their children educated by 68 year olds? This proposal for a start shows that the Government have no idea of the realities of teaching today.”

    Shane Johnschwager, NASUWT secretary said, “Teaching is a hard job that no one ever gets rich doing. A good pension has always been part of the deal and all Brent teachers are asking for is a dignified retirement. We are sure that Brent parents recognise how hard their children's teachers work. The Government wants us to pay more, teach until 68 years of age, and receive less. Can anyone see the logic of this? Striking is a last resort. We feel we have been left with no choice.”


    Hank Roberts, ATL Secretary added, “ The bankers and financiers, with the Government aiding and abetting them, nearly bankrupted the country. We, the taxpayers, were forced to bail them out and now they are trying to make us, who did not cause the crisis, pay. George Osborne had said our pensions are being made worse and we have to pay more to pay off the deficit. We are not going to. We are fighting for a fair pension for teachers and a fair pension for all.”

    On 30th November the joint unions are holding a rally at 9.30 am outside The Torch pub in Wembley Park (Bridge Road, opposite the ARK Academy and close to Wembley Park station). Speakers include Mary Bousted, ATL General Secretary and Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary who have made a special effort to attend before leading the march of thousands of education workers which will be held in central London.

    Comment
    As a school governor, retired teacher and NUT member I am strongly in favour of this strike for all the reasons stated above. Our teachers and our children deserve much better than the treatment they are receiving from the Coalition government. Most public sector pensions are not enormous, despite what the Tories say, and of course mean that such workers do not have to have recourse to pension credit and other benefits.

    Rally around the Torch of solidarity on November 30th

    Click on image to enlarge
     November the 30th will see a powerful show of solidarity when striking education  workers rally at the Torch pub in Wembley Park before departing for a rally in Central London. The rally is supported by  seven unions and will hear speeches from Mary Bousted (ATL), Christine Blower (NUT), Terry Hoad (UCU) and Shane Johnschwager (NASUWT). Mary Turner of the GMB has also been invited and the rally and strike is also supported by the National Association of Headteachers and UNISON. The unions cover headteachers,  support staff, lecturers; nursery, primary and secondary teachers and many others.

    The rally will commence at 9.30am and is open to all who support the action to safeguard pensions. Strikers and supporters will then leave en masse about 11am to join the central London demonstration in Lincoln Inns Field before marching to the rally at Victoria Gardens.

    Sunday 20 November 2011

    2012-13 Budget and School Crossing Patrols to be debated on Monday

    Brent Fightback's demonstration against school patrol and street sweeping cuts
     Monday's Council Meeting will debate the Council's Budget priorities for 2012-13 - Town Hall 7pm.

    At the end of the Council Meeting which debates the  First Reading of the 2012-13 budget or at 8.30pm, whichever is sooner, there will be an Extraordinary Council  Meeting on a motion from the Lib Dem  Opposition about school crossing patrols:

    School Crossing Service

    Council notes:
    • That the council’s proposal to axe 30 out of 47 school crossing patrols in Brent aroused immense public concern
    • That as a result the administration brought forward revised proposals in September,which were agreed by the Executive
    • That whilst the new policy has reprieved some of the most high-profile crossing patrol sites it will still result in the council reducing the number of school crossing patrols over time, initially at so-called “low-priority” sites
    • That the following schools have crossing sites designated by the administration as “lowpriority”

    o Malorees Infants & Junior (Brondesbury Park) – Aylesstone Avenue & Brondesbury Park
    o Swaminaryan School (Stonebridge) – Brentfield Road
    o St Marys RC Primary (Kilburn) – Canterbury Road
    o Kensal Rise Primary (Queens Park) – Chamberlayne Road
    o Fryent Primary (Fryent) – Church Lane
    o Our Lady of Grace Juniors (Dollis Hill) – Dollis Hill Lane
    o Our Lady of Grace Infants (Dollis Hill) – Dollis Hill Lane
    o Stonebridge & Our Lady of Lourdes (Stonebridge) – Hillside
    o John Keeble Primary (Kensal Green) – Manor Park Road
    o NW London Jewish School (Brondesbury Park) – Mapesbury Road
    o Salusbury Primary (Queens Park) – Milman Road
    o Wembley Lyon Park Schools (Alperton) – Mount Pleasant
    o Oakington Manor Primary (Tokyngton) – Oakington Manor Drive
    o Convent of Jesus & Mary Infants (Willesden Green) – Park Avenue
    o Roe Green Infant & Junior (Queensbury) – Princes Avenue
    o Salusbury Primary (Queens Park) – Salusbury Road
    o Sudbury Primary (Sudbury) – Harrow Road

    Council believes:
    • That school crossing patrols are an important road safety service
    • It is wrong for the council to seek to blackmail schools into paying for crossing patrols by threatening to withdraw crossing patrols unless schools contribute, especially as schools are unable to use their delegated schools budget for this purpose and many school crossing patrols service children from more than one school.

    Council resolves
    • That the implementation of the policy should be suspended pended a referral to scrutiny to consider:
    • That the council should provide school crossing patrols at the sites listed above at no cost to local schools
    • That the council should withdraw its policy not to recruit and fund replacement crossing patrol staff at the above sites when the existing member of staff leaves
    • That the council should withdraw its policy of ‘poaching’ staff from “low-priority” sites to fill vacancies at “high-priority” sites.


    Stark impact of government 'social cleansing' housing policy in Brent

    Post eviction scene?
    Brent Council expects 512 families to lose their homes through being unable to afford their rent in private accommodation as a result of  the Housing Benefit cap in January 2012, a further 714 in February and 799 in March. 

    The weekly loss of benefit will be:
    1 bedroomed accommodation £7.69
    2 bedroomed £34.40
    3 bedroomed £98.74
    4 bedroomed £200
    5 bedroomed £282.24

    Clearly the cuts will affect people with large families disproportionally.

    Jacky Peacock, Executive Director of Brent Private Tenants Group, in quietly setting out the figures at today's meeting organised by Barry Gardiner at Brent Town Hall. did more to bring home the seriousness of the situation than any passionate politician's speech could have done.

    She reported that in 2009 there were 22,281 privately rented homes in Brent, representing about 84,000 people. There were more children in privately rented housing than in social housing.  Tenants were young and not so young professionals often having to stay in rented accommodation into their 40s or 50s, half of all  renters were on housing benefit. There were students, migrant workers and older tenants with regulated tenancies.

    She said that in 2010/11 Brent Council had to find private lettings for 548 families and between April and October another 173. Anyone moving into 'temporary accommodation' as a result of losing their home could expect to be in it for 10-11 years. Many rents in the cheapest third of rental accommodation were already above the capped amounts.

    Rents had already increased by 5.7% this year and landlords were expecting another 6% over the next 12 months. One third of privately rented homes fall below Decent Homes Standards and 15% have serious damp problems compared with 8% owner occupied and 10% social housing. Private tenants were four times more likely to live in a cold home with resultant health problems. May were forced to go to bed to keep room rather than  try to keep warm sitting in their room.

    Jacky said we had never seen a situation like this before: families would be forced to move out of London to find affordable accommodation with the resultant dislocation of support from friends and families and disruption of children's education.

    Cllr Janice Long, Brent lead member for housing, told the full hall that she had nothing but doom to convey.  She said she could see no light at the end of the tunnel. She told tenants that the worse thing they could do was to not pay the rent and get into debt - it would  be better to move, She said that if they got accepted as homeless by the Council that was not the end of the problem as there was no spare bed and breakfast accommodation - it would be provided outside of Brent. She said that making the argument that children's education would be disrupted if the family moved far away wouldn't wash - they would have to find a school elsewhere.

    Looking forward to the future Janice said that 'affordable' housing wasn't the answer as the Coalition government had changed the definition of 'affordable' to 80% of the market rent - making it not affordable to Brent residents on the average Brent wage. In addition the government would cut housing benefit to those without a job whom they deemed able to work.

    She said, 'The Council is not to blame. It's the government that has decided on the social cleansing of London."

    Contributing from the floor Shahrar Ali admired Cllr Long's honesty but wondered if rather than merely manage the consequences of the cuts ('You sometimes sounded like a member of the Coalition') the Council should be doing more to engage in the fight against them.  We heard about landlords harassing 80 year olds to get them out of property, landlords giving tenants notice to quiet who tried to get the landlord to improve insulation through the Green deal, a 25 year teacher who could not afford to move out of her mother's home, people who had the income:price ratios to get a mortgage but not the hefty deposits now required, a woman who been forced to move six times in rapid succession losing deposits and fees with each move.

    The social cost in terms of health problems, disrupted education and temporary accommodation costs would outweigh the 'savings' made by the government through their benefit cap, according to several contributors. However, as I murmured to my neighbour, most of those costs would be shifted to already hard-pressed local authorities and away from central government budgets.

    In my contribution I told the meeting that my experience at Chalkhill School was that families were already being evicted as tenancies came to an end and there were already increased numbers in temporary accommodation. Families were being offered accommodation as far away as Birmingham and Milton Keynes. Sometime ago I met a Nepalese family who had moved to Milton Keynes who had to move again because of racial harassment from local youth there.Brent families, used to living in a multiracial environment, might face similar problems.

    I noted that the recent consultation on the Wembley Plan stated that developers were not currently willing to build affordable housing because of low profits. Plans had been put on the back burner and they were instead investing in private student accommodation. The Council needed to negotiate with Quintain, the main developer, to ensure the housing was built. Cllr Janice Long confirmed that the Wembley Plan's definition of affordable was the old one, rather than the new 80% of affordable rent definition.

    When  I asked that more be done about locating and taking over empty housing, Janice Long at first said that often such housing had a story attached to it, but later said that the present Compulsory Purchase of Empty Properties policy inherited from the last Brent administration was gummy (lacked teeth) and could do with strengthening. Jacky Peacock said that despite problems her experience was that if the local authority had a robust CPO policy on empty properties and implemented it, for every one property compulsorily purchased owners would put anothet100 on the market.  Jacky also agreed that with Sarah Cox that other empty property in Brent could be purchased and converted to housing where appropriate.

    Chris Williamson, Labour MP a member of the shadow housing team, said that the previous Labour government hadn't got everything right on housing but would learn from its mistakes. The Labour Party wanted to bring the private rented sector up to standard but accepted its role in society. He stressed that the Labour Party was in 'listening mode'. He said that the supply of affordable housing needed government intervention and investment in it would provide a stimulus to the economy.

    The meeting ended with a call for a big campaign on the issue and requests for people to join the Brent Private Tenants' Rights Group. LINK Navin Shah, Labour AM for Brent and Harrow, reminded the audience that they would have a chance to express their views electorally in next year's Mayoral and London Assembly election.

    Find out more from  Brent Private Tenants' Rights Group 36-38 Willesden Lane, Kilburn, London NW6 7ST Tel: 020 7624 4327 info@bptrg.org   Website: www.bptrg.org

    Climate change havoc must be addressed urgently


    With the economic crisis wreaking havoc on people's lives  it is hard to maintain a focus on an even greater threat:  climate change.  I think the economic crisis is like the aftermath of an earthquake with everyone concentrating on getting people out of the wreckage and saving lives. Meanwhile on the horizon a huge tsunami, representing climate change, is inexorably heading towards us, and will sweep away our feeble efforts...

    On Friday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report stating that heavier rainfall, fiercer storms and intensifying droughts will have a devastating effect in coming decades.  The Guardian reported Connie Hedegaard, Europe's climate chief, as saying, 'Last week, the serious warning from the International Energy Agency. Today this IPCC report...With all the the knowledge and rational argument in favour of urgent climate action, it is frustrating to see that some governments do not show the political will to act. In light of the even more compelling facts, the question has to be put to those governments in favour of postponing decisions: for how long can you defend your inaction?'

    Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute at the LSE said, 'The report shows that if we do not stop the current steep rise atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, we will see much more warming and dramatic changes in extreme weather that are likely to overwhelm any attempt human populations might make to adapt to their impacts.'

    A recent meeting Food, Floods and Climate Change held at Willesden Green Library was very timely in dealing wiuth these questions.  It was addressed by Cllr. Jonathan Essex (Green Party) and Barry Gardiner MP, Ed Miliband's Special Envoy on Climate Change.  Full videos of the meeting can be seen HERE

    Extracts are below:


    Introduction and Cllr Jonathan Essex (Green Party)


    Barry Gardiner MP (Ed Miliband's special envoy on Climate Change)

    Chalkhill demonstrates its 'Get Up and Go' at community event

    Willow plans - will Chalkhill residents lose out?
    Chalkhill residents displayed a 'get up and get things done' attitude yesterday when they met for their AGM and Community Information fair.   The regeneration of the estate and the recent positive publicity around Chalkhill Primary School's excellent 'good with outstanding features' Ofsted report fed a mood of optimism, although the impact of cuts cast a shadow over the future.

    On the optimistic front we were told that there was a meeting in a few days to consider the bids for the work on constructing the new Chalkhill Park and work should begin within 4 weeks. It is hoped to open the park by June 2012 but things could be delayed in the event of severe winter weather.

    Winston Small, the new manager of the Poplar Grove Youth Centre told the meeting he had already taken action to restore the MUGA (Multi Use Games Area) at Poplar Grove.  Along with a possible restoration of the BMX track at St David's Close and installation of a skateboarding area, the shared community/school play area at Chalkhill School, and the new park with its two children's playgrounds, adult exercise equipment and 'kickabout area' much needed facilities for children and youth seem to be taking shape.

    Barry Gardiner spoke about his work with youth and particular concerns about disproportionate use of stop and search of black youth. Gardiner and Chalkhill youth had raised the issue of lack of respect and transparency in the way stops were carried out with the Borough Commander. A new App had been adopted as a pilot in Brent. This will allow youth to record the reference number of the stop, the officer's number and whether they had been treated respectfully.  The information would be publicly available making the process more transparent and accountable.

    We applauded Elmi. who had worked on this issue with Barry Gardiner,  a member of the CRA and the Chalkhill Wanderers football team, who has just been awarded a Masters degree. He said that he would not have been able to achieve what he had without the support of the Residents' Association. Louisa, another young member who works with local youth spoke about the success of the Chalkhill Sports Academy, which is funded by Ward Working. She said, "We're all neighbours but we don't know each other. Working together lets you know that we have issues in common and we can do something about them".  She paid tribute to the support they received from Barry Gardiner and Shafique Choudhary, one of the local ward councillors.

    Among issues that residents felt needed to be addressed were confusion over the new recycling arrangements and the 'cyber inequality' experienced by residents who could not afford land telephone lines.  I told residents that we had 20 free (15 hour) nursery vacancies at Chalkhill available for any children who have their 4th birthday before August 31st and some residents said that full-time places would be really appreciated by the community.

    The current consultation on the future of the Willow Children's Centre was a concern. There was some confusion over what the proposals might actually mean for local families.  It was strongly felt that the Willow was a resource that formed an integral part of the regeneration of the estate and a route to tackling deprivation. If the number of places was reduced because it was switching the priority to providing for disabled and special needs children this would impact on the community.

    The information note to parents and carers states (LINK):
    Nursery services will continue at Willow but the focus from 2012 onwards will be towards providing places for children with disabilities or children in need. Although there will no loss in terms of the number of places at Willow, the allocated places for children with disabilities and children in need will increase. The current children will not be affected in terms of places but in the future this will lead to a reduction in the number of general fee paying and NEG (15 hour free entitlement) places. In addition to this as a result of the proposed restructure your child’s key worker may change
    It is not clear what proportion of the available spaces will be taken up by children with SEN or disabilities and how many ordinary places will be left for local children. The proportions will also dictate whether the Willow is mainly a 'special nursery' or an integrated provision.

    Full consultation details are HERE. The consultation ends on December 14th and decisions on the reorganisation of the Willow Children's Centre and closure of Treetops and Hamony nurseries will be made in January 2012.

    Veolia under scrutiny on human rights

    Brent councillors will shortly be receiving a letter (LINK) signed by 302 borough residents setting out the case for Veolia, the French multi-national, to be removed from the list of potential  contractors for the new 25 year, multi-million contract for the West London Waste Authority. A similar letter has been signed by residents in the other five boroughs that constitute the WLWA.

    The case is based on the premise that in its activities in the illegally occupied territories:
    a) Veolia has demonstrated racist practices in its recruitment policies; and

    b) Veolia has been guilty of grave misconduct through its active participation in violations of international and humanitarian laws and norms
    Veolia is one of the company's on the current 'long-list' from which the WLWA will be making a short-list soon.

    Brent and Harrow Palestine Solidarity Campaign is holding a meeting on Tuesday November 22nd at 7pm at Willesden Green Library to discuss the issues concerned (see notice below):



    Saturday 19 November 2011

    Kingsbury stabbing an 'isolated incident in a safe area'

    After the stabbing of four policemen this morning in Kingsbury, the community police liaison officer for Queensbury Ward  has issued the following statement to the community: BBC Report HERE

    This morning at approximately 8 o'clock there was a incident in Kingsbury High Road. Police officers were dealing with an individual who became violent.  Three police officers were hurt during this.


    The individual has been arrested.


    The officers who were involved are from Harrow Borough, the officers are receiving medical attention and the injuries are not life threatening.


    I would like to reassure you that this was an isolated incident, Kingsbury is a safe area and I would encourage you to pass this message into our community.


    Officers will be carrying out further patrols to reassure the shop keepers and local business in the area as well as the community of Queensbury and Kingsbury.


    'Secret' woodland opened up by Parks Department

    After the Dog Control Orders another piece of good news from Brent Parks Department.  A small but precious piece of woodland is being opened up on Barn Hill. The wood is between the large expensive houses of Barn Hill and the Pilgrims Way council estate and includes the disused tennis courts that have now been colonised by small trees, shrubs and brambles (circled below)

    Birds' eye view with woodland area circled
    It was surrounded by an 8 foot fence which protected wildlife but also prevented public access. The fence was broken down and dangerous in places and is currently being removed.

    The woodland this morning, alive with small birds
     The Parks Department said in a letter to nearby residents:
    The Council recognises the importance of the wildlife in this area and aims to enhance the wildlife. The aim will be to have a mosaic of woodland, a few footpaths through the woodland, some open areas with herbaceous vegetation and nearby grassland areas.
    The lower tennis court backing on to the estate, where the surface remains relatively intact, will be retained as an informal 'kick about' football area for local children and youth.

    Good news on a lovely autumn day, although the pear tree next door, in full blossom, seems confused by the unusually mild weather!

    Friday 18 November 2011

    Brent's Housing Crisis under the spotlight on Sunday

    Victoria Hall in Wembley Park under construction - now occupied
    Martin Cheesman, former Brent Director of Housing, warned more than a year ago that housing benefit cut would hit local families hard, with many families unable to afford the rents of housing in the area.

    The cap comes into effect early next year but families are already being given notice to quit by private landlords and are having to be move into temporary accommodation, including bed and breakfast placements in hotels. The Brent Budget report to be discussed by the Council on Monday predicts this will make a significant impact on Brent's already depleted budget. Some families are having to move to Milton Keynes or even Birmingham to find affordable housing with a disruptive impact on the children's education.

    Single people, and especially the vulnerable, will be badly hit by the Cap and will be required to share accommodation as Housing Benefit will not be enough to pat the rent on a one bedroomed property in the area.

    The problem is compounded by developers reluctance to build affordable housing in the current economic and they have switched investment to other areas included the building of student accommodation in the Wembley Stadium area. In all there will be about 2,600 students in the Stadium area, about 10% of the population.

    This could, with careful planning, have benefits for the area if amenities are provided locally that students will use and thus benefit the local economy. It could bring some much-needed creative political thinking into the borough, However if their needs are not addressed students will use amenities close to their colleges and Wembley will lose out ,with the blocks becoming little more than dormitories.

    This is the accommodation, built, under way or planned: Victoria Hall, Opened September 2011 - 436 places; Quintin iQ, to be completed by Summer 2012 - 660 places; Dexion House - consent granted 14.06.11 - 661 places; Quintain NW Lands Planning Committee approved 12.05.11 subject to Section 106 agreement and GLA approval, 880 place

    Clearly though if the building of affordable housing is put on the back-burner by Quintain and other developers, local families already on the waiting list will suffer as well as those made newly homeless. In the Spring council rents in Brent are likely to rise by 7%.

    On Sunday Barry Gardiner MP is holding a public meeting on the housing crisis at 3pm on Sunday at Brent Town Hall.  The meeting with examine standards, costs and availability in private rented housing.


    The debate on Sunday will discuss the likely impact on vulnerable private tenants in light of the coalition government’s Housing Benefit caps. It will also focus on the impact of current rent rates and housing conditions on low-waged people in work, particularly young people and students, who are finding it increasingly difficult to save for a property of their own as a result of ever increasing rent rates.



    Speakers at the event will include Chris Williamson MP, shadow minister for Communities and Local Government, Jacky Peacock, director of the Brent Private Tenants Rights Group, and Navin Shah, London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow.



    The meeting will start at 3pm in Committee Rooms 1-3.


    Thursday 17 November 2011

    December 22nd - Wembley Central by-election

    The Returning Officer for Brent has decided that the by-election to fill the vacancy in the Wembley Central ward will be held on Thursday 22 December.

    Anyone wishing to stand for election may submit a completed nomination form between Friday 18 November and 12noon on Friday 25 November.

    The nomination forms are available from the Electoral Services office at Brent Town Hall.
      
    The by-election follows the resignation of Labour councillor Jayesh Mistry.

    Brent Fights Back at the People's Assembly - Video

    Thanks to BNCTV for this footage of last week's People's Assembly


    Wednesday 16 November 2011

    High Court ruling on libraries may have ramifications for Brent decision

    A ruling in the High Court reported by the Independent today may have some relevance to the upcoming High Court decision on Brent libraries:

    Judge McKenna, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, ruled Somerset and Gloucestershire had failed to comply with "public sector equality duties" owed to vulnerable social groups, including single mothers, children, elderly and the disabled.
    The judge declared the decisions were "not merely unlawful decisions, but in substance 'bad government', and it is important to the rule of law to give due respect to these issues of equality".
    The ruling means that Gloucestershire council must reconsider its plans to withdraw funding from 10 of its 38 libraries and the withdrawal of its mobile library service.
    Somerset must reconsider its plans to end funding for 11 of its 34 static libraries and four of the six mobile libraries already off the road.
    James Goudie QC, appearing for the councils, warned the library campaigners that the victory could turn out to be an "own goal" - and even more "draconian" reductions in library services could be introduced.
    He said that, when the local authorities came to reconsider their decisions, it was at least "highly likely" they would make the same decisions again.
    He said: "They might actually be more draconian from the point of view of those challenging libraries' closures than the decisions made months ago."

    Tuesday 15 November 2011

    Preston Manor High School to take the Coop route to academy status?

    Preston Manor All-through Foundation School is considering applying for academy conversion, along with several other Brent secondary schools using the Cooperative Trust model.   They are approaching neighbouring primary schools to see if they are interested in joining in the process.

    Matthew Lantos, following in the steps of the headteachers of Kingsbury High and Claremont, is arguing that his school community should not be deprived of the additional £600,000 that conversion would bring. During the debate surrounding Preston Manor expanding into primary provision, he denied that eventual conversion to academy status was on his agenda. I argued on this blog that competition with Ark Academy made that likely and since then Claremont and Kingsbury High have converted.

    The argument is of course that schools converting to academy status may gain for themselves but at the cost of the schools remaining within the local authority because the central education fund is cut as a consequence - up to £900,000 per secondary school according to Brent's Budget Report.  Such a loss, multiplied several times over, would severely affect Brent  being able to carry out its role as an education authority.  Ironically one of the arguments put forward for this strategy is that the role of the local education authority has been weakened making conversion more attractive.Conversion will weaken the education authority even more.

    If the main reason for adopting a cooperative school model was the adoption of cooperative principles this could have been done without becoming an academy and without the funding implications. By adopting the cooperative school approach of working in clusters alongside academy conversion, academies are extended into the primary sector.

    The cooperative model may on the surface look attractive in terms of ethos and values but will need close scrutiny during the consultation process.  Preston Manor's plans should make for an interesting debate when headteachers and chairs of governors meet with Krutika Pau, Brent  Director of Children and Families on Thursday evening.

    More on Cooperative Trust Schools HERE




    Monday 14 November 2011

    Well doggone! Dog Orders Approved

    Multiple dog walker in Fryent Country Park

     Brent Executive tonight approved new Dog Control Orders for Parks and Open Spaces. It restricts the total number of dogs that can be taken onto land  by any one person to six, excludes dogs from certain areas such as playgrounds and specifies areas where dogs should be kept on leads.

    A local resident spoke in favour of reducing the maximum to 4 reflecting lower numbers in neighbouring boroughs and for more controls in Edward VII Park Willesden because of the number of children using the park. She also advocated restrictions on the length of leads as dogs as those on long leads were less easily controlled.

    I spoke in favour of the  restriction on numbers walked by an individual and told councillors about my experience of encountering packs of up to 15 dogs in Fryent Country Park accompanied by a single 'professional' dog walker, and the danger this posed to children, and animals such as the horses at Bush Farm.  I warned about the difficulties of enforcing the Order when many of the professional dogs walkers come from outside Brent, having been displaced by similar Orders in their own boroughs.  There was also the possibility that they would bring a friend and thus increase the number of dogs they could lawfully walk.

    Cll;r Powney (yep - he's in charge of this as well) said the policy would be reviewed after a year as the Council hadn't had such a policy before and needed to assess its enforcement.   Cllr Gavin Sneddon suggested that rather than a review after one year there should be one after six months and Cllr Powney (yep, he's is charge of this as well!) accepted the proposal.