Saturday 31 December 2011

Brent Parks Review in progress

Fryent Country Park last winter
Cllr James Powney, lead member for Environment,  has now replied to my request asking if rumours of Brent Council proposals for privatisation or part-privatisation of Brent Parks Service are true:
Ground maintenance, including parks, is subject to a review which has yet to report.  The results of the review are likely to be published in the first part of next year.
We will know more when the report is published but it is likely given the Council's budgetary situation that all possible options are being considered at the review stage, which may have given rise to the rumours. I will be watching developments closely and will report any new information here.

Lib Dems select Brent and Harrow GLA candidate

The Liberal Democrats have selected a young business woman and former vice-chairman of Liberal Youth as their candidate for the 2012 GLA Elections in Brent and Harrow. Charlotte Henry joins Sachin Rajput (Conservative) a barrister and former martial arts instructor and Shahrar Ali (Green Party) philosophy lecturer and community activist in challenging the Labour incumbent Navin Shah. More minority party candidates are likely to stand.

The election will take place on May 3rd 2012

The 2008 Result was as follows:

ALI, Shahrar, Green Party 10,129 6.54%
ALLIE, James Liberal Democrats 19,299 12.46%
BLACKMAN, Bob Conservative Party 56,067 36.21%
MCManus,Pat The Left List 2,287 1.48%
SHAH, Navin The Labour Party Candidate 57,716 37.27%
SHERMAN, Zena Christian Peoples Alliance and Christian Party 4,180 2.70%
TAILOR,Arvind English Democrats “Matt O’Connor for Mayor! 2,150 1.39%
WEBB, Sunita UK Independence Party 3,021 1.95%

Friday 30 December 2011

Video of yesterday's Preston Library seizure



Campaigners protest as Brent Council removes resources from Preston Library

Preston Library campaigners expressed disappointment this morning after Brent Council's  removal of books and other resources from the library yesterday. However they insisted that the situation was not irretrievable and they would press on with both the legal process and the mass appeal to the Culture Secretary for a public inquiry into the closure of half the borough's libraries. The latter appeal has been backed by Sarah Teather MP (Brent Central) in a letter to Jeremy Hunt.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Kensal Rise campaigners 'on watch' after emptying of Preston Library

From the Bookseller website LINK

Library campaigners on watch outside Brent's Preston Library cried "Shame on you" as books and computers were cleared from the building by council workers today (29th December), with police in attendance.

Vans arrived at 9.30am to begin clearing the library of its contents. Local campaigners had been on intermittent vigil outside the library building over the Christmas holiday, with a Christmas tree on display decorated with children's book characters.

"We campaigners are still standing here with our signs, which say, 'Children need to read,' and 'Save our libraries,'" said local campaigner and literary agent Geraldine Cooke, today. "We don't think any library should be closed."

Fellow campaigner Samantha Warrington told the Harrow Observer: "We have put an application in to the Supreme Court so while that is happening Brent should not be taking any further action to decommission the libraries. We are trying to obstruct the way but the police are moving us. I feel that Brent Council is showing contempt to the legal process and the community who have shown how much they need their local library by doing this."

Protesters are "on watch" today outside Kensal Rise Library, now the last remaining closed Brent library, which still has its books in place.

Brent council had undertaken not to clear the libraries, or board them up further, until after judgment was given in the Court of Appeal about the lawfulness of the closures. Judgment was given in the council's favour shortly before Christmas. Lawyers acting for the campaigners have now approached the Supreme Court for leave to bring a last appeal against the closures.

Christmas images from Preston Library Wall of Shame







Coverage of Brent Council's emptying of Preston Library by Max Walters of the Brent and Kilburn Times can be found HERE

Police protect Council as it seizes library stock

The following was posted by Jessica Thompson of the Willesden and Wembley Observer at 11am this morning. When I visited the library this afternoon there was no one outside and the gate in the hoardings was closed.

PROTESTERS who have fought tooth and nail in a bid to save 50 per cent of Brent's libraries are being held back by police today as council workers begin clearing books.

Around ten members of the Brent SOS campaign group are gathered outside Preston Library and have no choice but to stand and watch as staff begin emptying the building.


Preston Library is one of six in the borough to close, due to Brent Council cost cutting measures.
The campaigners say the council should not be clearing the library as they have started legal proceedings to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Around seven police officers are at the building to prevent a breach of the peace, and campaigners say they have been moved as they tried to stop council vehicles from entering or leaving the site to remove its books and contents.

Campaigner Samantha Warrington said: "We have put an application in to the Supreme Court so while that is happening Brent should not be taking any further action to decommission the libraries.

"We are trying to obstruct the way but the police are moving us. I feel that Brent Council is showing contempt to the legal process and the community who have shown how much they need their local library by doing this."

A Brent Council spokesperson said: "On 19 December the Court of Appeal found unequivocally in favour of Brent Council. All three judges in the Court of Appeal agreed that Mr Justice Ouseley's decision was correct and that Brent had made a lawful decision in closing six libraries. The Court of Appeal refused to give the campaigners leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. In spite of this the protester's have approached the Supreme Court directly for leave to appeal.

"As a result, there is no injunction against the council to restrict implementing our library transformation plans, which has already delivered a service that is open seven days a week. The closed libraries are now being emptied of stock and equipment to allow it to be reallocated to Brent libraries for the use of all residents."

Protests as Council remove books from Preston Library

Brent Council is attempting to remove books from Preston Library while police hold back library campaigners.

Monday 26 December 2011

Brent Council: 'Philistines of the year 2011'?

This letter was published in the current edition of the Brent and Kilburn Times:
I was dismayed to hear that  the Willesden Bookshop has been given notice to quit by the Council ahead of the redevelopment of Willesden Green Library. No retail space has been set aside for the bookshop in the new development and they are unlikely to be able to afford the rents demanded elsewhere on the High Road.

Half our libraries have already been closed, Willesden Green Library will be closed from July 2012 until March 2014, and the lease on  Kingsbury Plus expires in September 2013 - and now we are likely to lose our excellent local bookshop in April next year. Kilburn High Road is a poorer place following the closure of the Kilburn Bookshop in March 2010 - is Willesden High Road going to be similarly deprived?

It seems extraordinary that we have to remind a Labour Council of the importance of books to a community such as that of Brent where the hunger for education and self-improvement unites people across the spectrum of social class and ethnicity. The Willesden Bookshop offers a nationally renowned service to local schools through its expertise in the provision of children's books for a diverse community. Teachers are able to browse the collection and hand-pick books matched to the needs of the children and curriculum of their particularly schools - and get a 10% discount in the process.

For the adult  customer Amazon may be cheaper but nothing beats the sheer pleasure of handling a real book, sampling a paragraph or two and the serendipity of spotting other attractive books nearby when browsing. In addition there is a knowledgeable person behind the counter who has an affinity with books that your keyboard lacks!

The Willesden Bookshop has always supported local authors and thus makes a contribution to the intellectual and cultural life of the borough. They make an economic contribution through creating local jobs, bring money into the local economy and contribute to the diversity of our high street. Labour seems ready to see all this wiped out, leaving us with high streets dominated by betting shops and take-aways, and of course the much lauded 'designer outlets' they are building near Wembley Stadium.

If Brent Council is to escape the title of 'Philistines of the Year 2011' it must make sure that it finds a way of safeguarding Willesden Bookshop  for future generations.


Martin Francis
Brent Green Party spokesperson on children and families

Friday 23 December 2011

What does the Wembley by-election tell us about cuts?

Wembley Central by-election candidates (Brent and Kilburn Times)
 Just before the declaration at the Wembley Central by-election count last night Labour supporters left the committee rooms, to return in a procession surrounding Krupa Sheth their candidate, for all the world like a Royal Court protectively escorting their shy young princess into her first public arena. Barry Gardiner and Ann John performed their roles as proud King and Queen as if born to it..

There followed a raucous cock-a-hoop Labour celebration that contrasted sharply with earlier glum comments I had heard from Labour stalwarts on the street who had come out to canvas but with major reservations about the cuts. The extent of their victory seemed to take Labour by surprise and the Lib Dems, who had expected at least a closer result were visibly crest-fallen.

Before attempting any analysis of the result it is important to recognise the particular characteristics of the Wembley Central ward. Ethnic, religious and cultural organisations are influential as is clan solidarity and the predominance of large family businesses. This means that party labels may not be as important as other factors.

It was certainly not council policy, experience, or a high public profile that propelled Krupa Sheth to victory as these were all absent from her campaign. The election material from Labour that I saw did not attempt to justify the council's cuts and did little to shift the blame on to the Coalition. The focus on Ken Livingstone's promise of lower fares was the only real policy promise and Labour may be tempted to see that as a portent for the Mayoral election.

The Lib Dems had put a lot of effort into their campaign with half a dozen leaflets/newsletters concentrating on library closures and street sweeping cuts as well as personally addressed letters to voters. The Tories were much less visible on the streets and concentrated on the rights of motorists. They seemed unsurprised by the decline in their vote.

We Greens had concentrated on canvassing in one particular sympathetic polling district to maximise our support there and this tactic worked. However we lacked the resources, in terms of people on the ground, to repeat this across the ward. This was never ideal Green territory and Labour and Lib Dems were able to persuade voters that it was a two horse race.  If there is one lesson I would draw from our campaign it is that we have to build up our activist base so that we can engage face to face with the electorate and have high visibility during election campaigns. Those discussions are probably more important in giving our environmental and social justice policies a high profile than the number of votes cast. Certainly I see myself more as a community activist than an electoralist, as  I believe this blog demonstrates.

It will be tempting to portray the Lib Dem and Conservative result (down 6% and 3% on the 2009 by-election respectively) as the electorate's verdict on the Coalition and the 16% Labour increase as support for Ed Miliband's leadership but for the reasons already discussed I don't think this is realistic.

What perhaps is more dangerous in the short-term from a Green and left perspective, is the possibility that the Labour Council will be emboldened by the result to cut further in the next budget round. I did ask last night, 'What else must Labour cut before the voters turn against them?' and it is does seem that the disapprobation over library closures and other cuts had little impact on the result. It will be important for Brent Fightback, our broad-based local anti-cuts campaign, to reflect on what this means for our campaigning.

Shahrar Ali's report on Brent Greens blog HERE

Anyone know about possible Parks Service privatisation?

Having discounted earlier rumours that Brent Council was considering privatisation, or part-privatisation of the Parks Service, I am now taking them more seriously. Following Shaun Faulkner's retirement the service was merged with other departments. Sub-contractors were used to clear the disused Barn Hill tennis courts recently and construction of the new Chalkhill Park was put out to tender - the work promised for mid-October has still not started.

The rumours have become more persistent, with the sources closer to the Parks Service, so I asked the Council press office for a comment. After an initially friendly conversation I received an e-mail saying that they only dealt with 'official media' and suggested I contact the Parks Department itself or the councillor in charge - none less than our old friend Cllr. Powney.

I am still waiting for a response from both but if any readers know more please contact me.

There is nothing in the Brent Parks Strategy 2010-2015 about possible privatisation HERE

Labour win Wembley Central by-election

Election Candidate Party Votes %  (2009 by-election by party)
Krupa Sheth Labour 1402 48% Elected   (32%)
Afifa Pervez Liberal Democrats 1022 35% Not elected (41%)
Madhuri Davda Conservative 349 12% Not elected (15%)
Martin Francis Green Party 130 4% Not elected (3%)





Voting Summary
Details Number
Seats 1
Total votes 2903
Electorate 10574
Num. ballot papers issued 2916
Number of proxy votes 44
Number of ballot papers rejected 13
Number of postal votes sent 1165
Number of postal votes returned 653
Turnout 27%


Share of the Votes (%)
Krupa Sheth 48% Elected
Afifa Pervez 35% Not elected
Madhuri Davda 12% Not elected
Martin Francis 4% Not elected

Thursday 22 December 2011

Wembley By-election: lowest poll on shortest day?

Despite being a sunny and mild day, polling was very slow in the Wembley by-election today. By mid-afternoon a quick tour of polling stations indicated we will be lucky to see a turnout of over 25%. Some observers suggested that early darkness on the winter solstice may make people reluctant to leave their homes to vote this evening.

Library campaigners get Great Britons Award and Transformation Team get a Rotten Borough Award

The Independent on Sunday  has named the Brent Library Campaigners as among the 50 Greatest British 2011
And so, this being as close to the end of the year as this newspaper shall get, we have the temerity to name our 50 Greatest Britons of 2011. These are the people who have been, to our world-weary eyes, the most admirable. Some are very well known; others, we feel, have not had their full due. We hope that this humble list helps to put that right
 
Brent library protesters
Library campaigners
Residents fighting the closure of six libraries in the London borough of Brent represented the outrage felt by much of the nation's readers and researchers about cutbacks by staging a round-the-clock protest outside Kensal Rise Library, which was opened by American writer Mark Twain 111 years ago. The campaigners were the first in the country to seek a judicial review into library closures.
Yesterday Brent Council's Library Transformation Team received the Library Award from Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column, for closing six of the borough's 12 libraries in 2011. Last week the Team got an Award from Brent Council for their work.

Veolia knocked out of WLWA multi-million contract


Human Rights campaigners in West London were celebrating today following the news that controversial multinational Veolia had failed to be short-listed for the lucrative 25 years residual waste management contract covering the boroughs of Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Ealing, Richmond and Brent.

More than 600 residents had written to the West London Waste Authority  requesting that Veolia be excluded on the grounds of racist practices in recruitment and grave misconduct through its active participation in violations of international and humanitarian laws and norms in the illegally occupied territories of Palestine. Last month Brent and Harrow Palestine Solidarity Campaign held a well-attended public meeting on the issue at Willesden Green Library.

Although, as is usual in these cases,  Veolia's failure to be short-listed cannot be directly attributed to the campaign, the WLWA joins a growing list of unsuccessful contract bids by Veolia.

The ground now shifts to environmental issues with the WLWA's consideration of 'solutions' submitted by the remaining 4 bidders to dealing with West London's waste.These will include possible new processing sites and environmentalists will be watching closely to see if any incinerators are planned,

Here is the statement from the WLWA website released yesterday:
The West London Waste Authority (WLWA) has short-listed four bidders for a long term West London Residual Waste Services contract covering the boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, and Richmond upon Thames.
Cory Environmental Ltd, E.ON Energy from Waste leading a consortium with Tata Chemicals Europe Limited with significant sub-contractor Grundon Waste Management Limited, SITA UK Ltd and Viridor Waste Management Ltd will now be invited to develop detailed solutions as the next stage in the competitive dialogue process that is being employed.
The contract involves treating up to 300,000 tonnes of residual waste per year generated by a population of 1.4 million people, and covers all aspects of treatment including any necessary transport, the operation of transfer stations, and contracts for outputs such as energy, refuse-derived fuel, recyclates etc.
Bids were invited from “single entity” companies, consortia, or joint ventures. The WLWA has offered its three waste transfer stations at Brentford, South Ruislip and Park Royal as part of the procurement but also welcomed proposals involving sites within bidders’ control or which they intend to acquire.
The next stage of the tender process will be the submission of detailed solutions by the short listed bidders in spring 2012. Two final bidders will then be selected to submit final tenders in autumn 2012. The preferred bidder will be selected in spring 2013. The new services will start in April 2015, but WLWA is exploring with bidders the opportunity for an earlier start to begin diversion from landfill as soon as possible.
West London already recycles or composts almost 40% of its household waste, more than any other sub region of London. The new contract will allow continued flexibility to increase recycling up to at least 50% by 2020 and WLWA will focus even more on waste minimisation schemes in the future.
Veolia's contract with the London Borough of Brent ends in 2014.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Brent Council: Who's in charge?

The relationship between the Chief Executive of a council and its Leader varies between councils. That between Brent's Chief Executive, Gareth Daniel and Councillor Ann John. Leader, has come in for comment because it sometimes appears that the usual roles have been reversed: Gareth Daniel is the political leader and Ann John the manager of cuts. It is more likely that the roles have begun to merge.

Back in 1997 the Local and Central Government Relations Research No 55 stated:
Chief executives’ view of the future is coloured by their role in local governance. Interview evidence suggests most of those active in local governance think it can be developed within existing legislation.

A few would like to see the position of the chief executive strengthened at the expense of councillors, who would see their role reduced to broad policy and scrutiny. A strengthened chief executive might resemble an unelected mayor. If elected mayors were introduced some existing chief executives, it was suggested, would stand for election, a comment that reinforces evidence of a local leadership role taken by some chief executives.
Certainly Gareth Daniel had to take such a role in 2005 when he ran the council in the interregnum after the NOC election when the political parties were unable to agree coalition arrangements.

More recently his Newsletters to council staff have revealed further information about the relationship and particularly his stance on the cuts::
All councils have a legal duty to live within their means and to set a balanced budget and the Executive was clear that this is what will happen.  But they were also equally clear that they wanted to think and plan ahead at least to the end of their current four year term and to do their utmost to protect frontline services.  This approach will give us all a degree of confidence about the future and some assurance that our political leaders have both the ability and inclination to take control of events. (November 2011)
This month's Newsletter sees him taking a political stance that criticises those fighting the cuts:
I have been particularly struck recently by the electorate’s response to the financial problems facing the public sector.  It’s not that I am surprised that the British people don’t like paying more taxes, fees and charges – who does?  I am also not that surprised when local people protest against plans to close a much-loved local facility whether it is a library, a school, a clinic or a post office.  People understandably don’t like losing things that they value or which they see as important parts of their local community.  But what I do find surprising is the degree to which the public seems to be in denial about the very existence of a financial crisis at all and their curious belief that councils and other public services should somehow solve their financial problems without making any changes to service provision.
More controversially he then seeks to instruct council employees, already working harder because of staff reductions, experiencing frozen wages, and with further cuts hanging over them, to persuade the electorate to accept the cuts:
It is now the job of every council employee to help explain these facts to the very best of our ability.  It’s probably unrealistic to expect people to praise us for taking tough but necessary decisions – that really would be a surprise!  But the public do have a responsibility to live in the same real world that we ourselves occupy.  No grown up can simply ignore the economic realities and pretend that councils should continue with ‘business as usual’ regardless of the serious financial problems facing the country in general and local government in particular.  While many people are quick to condemn public servants for taking difficult decisions, the public cannot be allowed to think that difficult decisions can themselves be avoided.  That is the economics of cloud cuckoo land.

So I would like to ask all members of staff to see 2012 as the year in which we really try to get the message across to local people about the Council’s approach to budget reductions, service improvement and value-for-money.  Of course some people won’t listen whatever we say but I believe that the majority of people are open to argument most of the time.  That is our opportunity to make our case, to explain the really harsh climate in which councils are now having to operate and to win public understanding (if not actual support) for the approach we are taking.  The only alternative to the One Council programme would be even worse cuts to frontline services and even more unpopular decisions that would upset even more local people.  Brent Council has a good story to tell when it comes to budget savings – let’s all make sure we start to communicate our positive message with pride and conviction.  [Daniels' emphasis] (December 2011)
 Several councils have recently decided to do without Chief Executives. Such a decision would save Brent council Daniels' salary of £194,550 plus 20% on costs.  Unsurprisingly SOLACE , the Chief Executives' professional organisation, makes the case for Chief Executives:
The role of the Chief Executive and Leader are closely linked but are not wholly discrete –they are overlapping and complementary which brings its own set of tensions. One of the key roles of the Leader and Chief Executive should be to construct trust at a point of tension and potential conflict between the different
worlds of political logic and managerial logic. It is important that there is mutual understanding of each others’ roles, and this relies on good communications.

A Leader must be able to impart to their Chief Executive their understanding of the group and of the wider political context and imperatives without such communications being seen as disloyal. The Chief Executive needs in a similar way, without eroding the loyalty owed to colleague officers, to be able to discuss with a Leader their managerial capacity or incapacity to deliver on a particular agenda. This is not just about interpersonal skills but about mutual grasp of each other’s worlds.

A wise Chief Executive commits to their Leader unconditionally, and understands this as including roles of confidant, mentor, partisan, speech writer and PR consultant. When it works, the relationship between Leader and Chief Executive is an exceptional thing (My emphasis)

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Brent 4th highest in England for eviction risk



Shelter's Eviction Risk Monitor published this month lists the London Borough of Brent as the 4th highest local authority in England for the proportion of mortgage and landlord possession claims. The three higher local authorities are all in Greater London: Barking and Dagenham, Newham and Haringey. The total between October 2010 and September 2011 in Brent is 2,435 a rate of 22.4 per 1,000 homes. These claims do not necessarily translate immediately into evictions but show how many people are struggling to meet their housing costs. The report, perhaps obviously, shows that high risk is associated with high local unemployment levels.

We already know that the number of evictions in the borough has increased prior to the housing benefit becoming operative and the Council expects an increasing number of claims for temporary housing in the new year. Temporary accommodation will have to be provided far away from Brent and 'temporary' may mean for up to 10 years.

Even without the cap, increasing unemployment, frozen wage; and higher energy and food costs, mean that people are finding it hard to pay their mortgages and rent. Shelter research suggests about one third of  families are struggling. At the same time, just when families will need it most, the Coalition government is proposing removing legal aid from debt, housing, welfare, employment and family disputes. The Legal Aid and Punishment of Offender's Bill enters its committee stage in the House of Lords today.

Nothing could show more starkly how Coalition policies are impacting on the most vulnerable. The video above gives an insight into what it will mean for families.

SHELTER REPORT

The Green Deal and private landlords - issues raised by Barry Gardiner MP

The issue of the Green Deal on energy and its implementation in private rented accommodation is one that has come up locally. Barry Gardiner MP for Brent North has now received written answers to his questions on the matter as set out below from Hansard:


Barry Gardiner (Brent North, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what process his Department plans to follow to determine whether a landlord has carried out the maximum package of measures funded under the Green Deal or Energy Company Obligation for improving energy efficiency in housing under the provisions of the Energy Act 2011.

Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative)
We expect the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) will be a key inspection mechanism as it will outline which measures have been installed in the property using the Green Deal and if there are remaining measures which could benefit from Green Deal finance. Local authorities, as the enforcing body for the private rented sector regulations, will have access to this information through the EPC database.

The regulations, including details of the enforcement mechanism, will be subject to a public consultation.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 19 December 2011, c991W)
 
Barry Gardiner (Brent North, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what measures he plans to put in place to protect tenants from eviction in cases where they request energy efficiency improvements.

Gregory Barker (Minister of State (Climate Change), Energy and Climate Change; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative)
The issue of retaliatory eviction in the context of the Green Deal was raised during the passage of the Energy Act. In response I established a working group to consider stakeholder concerns, and report to DECC and Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Ministers with recommendations. The report is due to be submitted to myself and the Minister for Housing and Local Government, my right hon. Friend Grant Shapps before Christmas.

 Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 19 December 2011, c991W)

Car Diet: Is There Life After Car?

My recent comments on cars as an issue in the Wembley Central by-election has elicited this Guest Blog from Molly  Fletcher:


We gave up the family car two years ago, or rather, our car gave us up. It blew up in Chiswick, West London shortly after we’d set off to go camping. The cost of repairing it was more than the car was worth, so for the first time in thirty five years, we became car less. Surprisingly, it has not been a nightmare, and looking back over the last year, being car free has brought numerous benefits. I can trace a definite improvement in our lives that started on that day.

This is an astounding statement. All my adult life I had owned a car. In the beginning it represented independence from my parents, then later it was for carrying my own children around. Having a car gave me choices, rather than relying on lifts or public transport, which was slow, expensive and unreliable. Our culture is now totally geared to car ownership, it is what we aspire to. The car we own shows our status and marks our position in the hierarchy. But something has flipped in the equation. In the real world, cars are now the slow, expensive, stressful ones. They no longer mean freedom, in many ways they imprison us.

Cars have hijacked the idea of ‘the journey’ as a pleasant experience. We sit in endless traffic jams, crammed in our disconnected worlds, pumping out a carbon cocktail. In three minutes, a car burns as much oxygen as a human being uses in a whole day. We are pushed to our limits by the rudeness of other drivers. We are left abandoned at road works, screaming and cursing at the invisible workers on the signs. If we dare to stop and catch our breath, packs of hungry traffic wardens appear from nowhere. And all is overseen by those sinister invisible cameras, watching our every move in case we step out of line.

I thought going on a car diet would be hell, but car cold turkey wasn’t that bad. We are a family of five, with three grown up sons and, living in the middle of a city we are lucky to have plenty of other transport options. We realised that actually we were hardly using the car before it died. It used to sit outside in the street and without moving, silently drain away money in tax, insurance, parking permits and rust. When we did use the car, that little voice was always at the back of our minds, coming up with vital reasons why we just had to drive: it’s raining, I haven’t got time to walk, it’s dangerous not to, I have to carry a feather round the corner, the Big Shop, I’m paying for it anyway, so why not? Our excuses were infinite. Having a car to hop into was the dietary equivalent of having a fresh doughnut stall outside our front door.

After giving up the car, we travelled much more. We started to cycle and walk, we took trains, Tubes, buses and car-shared. Occasionally we used Streetcar when we needed to carry heavy or bulky loads or we had them delivered. Of course there are people who really do need to have a car: old and disabled people, babies, or if it’s late at night or in rural areas where there are no alternatives, the car is king. But we are able-bodied, fully-grown and most of our original car journeys were under two miles, so without a car option, we had to find alternatives.

With all the extra cycling and walking, we became fitter. At first, I thought of two miles as a long cycle but over the year, my fitness and horizons have stretched. Now I think nothing of cycling ten miles – five miles there and five miles back and I really enjoy the cycle. And bikes are fantastically fast. I once cycled 3 miles from our home in NW London to teach in a school behind Buckingham Palace in 22 minutes, yet it took me 50 minutes and £5 on public transport. We also find that Tubes and buses aren’t that reliable, but when we set off on a bike, we know we’re going to get there – punctures are rare, if you’re careful. I reckon making yourself highly visible on a bike means car drivers see you and it considerably reduces the risks. Looking up your route beforehand, you can plan a way that’s back street and cycle-lane rich with light traffic. 

When you’re on a car diet, you have to get your act together with different clothing and equipment for different weather. Weather - you remember that stuff? It used to be there when we were children, weather and the Great Outdoors. Do you remember how exiting it was to step outside your front door and feel the wind blowing, the sun shining, the frost in the air? Well, it’s still all out there. The saying ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’ is true. With bikes, you have to get your gear ready to grab and go by the front door. The list is quite extensive: hi viz, wind/rain proof clothing, bike helmet, lock, lights, and keys. Another plus for bikes, is they are like sturdy little pit ponies that can carry huge loads. I regularly carry a £100 pounds worth of shopping on my bike with the help of panniers, a back pack and basket it’s no problem.

Some times, there is no way round it and we need a car for work or to transport elderly relatives. This is where sharing a car with a friend comes in. We live close to each other and she still needs a car for her work and taxiing children around. So paying part of her annual insurance and having us use the car sometimes, helps her to not use it so often. It’s encouraged her back into cycling, something she was very nervous about initially, but she has really taken to it now. Sharing a car with her has also strengthened our friendship, in the same way sharing child care does with other parents from the same school. Car sharing means you have to be on your best behaviour. You can’t slob out and leave your apple cores and old sweet wrappers on the floor, as you would in your own car. You must leave the same amount of fuel in the tank as when you picked it up. It seems a small price to pay for what seems to us now, the luxurious privilege of driving a car.

Walking is also fast, it’s easy to walk 3 or 4 miles an hour which is the average speed of a car in London, so you might as well be walking and getting free exercise at the same time. You also see more, you start to notice the seasons changing, the buds exploding, the leaves turning and the birds singing. Walking rather than driving, has made us connect more with our local area. We have joined our residents association and our Transition Town group (transition from high carbon to low carbon). Our residents association have achieved a lot. We have got rubbish cleared, more police on the beat so the crime rate has dropped, graffiti cleaned up and trees planted, and we had a very jolly street party. 

We have become born again train lovers. It feels so relaxing to be driven safely, in comfort by someone else with total responsibility. People say trains are too expensive and slow compared to the car but we have found it to be the opposite. We booked ahead last year for a friend’s New Years Eve party and got to Cumbria by train in 3 1/2 hours, half the time our car would’ve taken and for a fraction of the petrol costs. We went to Berlin by train, leaving our house at 7am and arrived in the centre of Berlin by 7pm. If you take into account travel time out to and from the airport, check in time, security checks and waiting for baggage the other end, there’s not a lot in it. Speeding smoothly along, you can see wonderful scenery out of picture windows, rather than the dreary motorway hard shoulders in a car or tiny cramped aircraft windows. We have also been to Spain, Switzerland and France by train, none of which we would have attempted by car. On a train, you can read, walk about, stretch your legs, go to the loo when you want, or go get a cup of tea. Instead of dreading long journeys as an ordeal, now I really look forward to blissful hours of reading.

Train travel means having to get much more disciplined about time keeping. Cars appear to give you more choice, but not having to decide where you’re going until the last minute, is actually more stressful. It’s false choice in the same way supermarkets appear to give you a huge range of fruit and veg from all over the planet, but they’re often unripe, tasteless and disappointing. The way cars allow you to plan multi stop offs in a day, is also an illusion of freedom. What it actually means, is that you only dip in to each, keeping an eye on the clock, rather than fully experiencing just one. Before giving up the car, we found it difficult to leave the house and so were frequently late. Now we have to decide, book the tickets and commit to an arrangement in advance. Coming by train we are able to let people know when we will be arriving and when we will be leaving. Then we don’t have to think about it again until the moment we grab a few things and leave the house to go to the station.

Luggage is much simpler without a car. When you have to carry what you take, you soon learn to whittle it down to a few bare essentials. These only take a few minutes to pack/unpack into a small bag that fits easily onto the rack above in the carriage. Trains are supposed to be unreliable but over one year, we’ve only had one journey where the train was delayed for an hour because a suicide on the tracks in a far off part of the system, ground the whole of the West country to a halt. Otherwise the trains have been on time to the minute and connections, seamless.

Another benefit of leaving car world, is we have rejoined the human race. We used to go from our house box, to our car box without a nod to the neighbours but sharing transport with strangers has made us less anti-social. People are so diverse, they have different faces and hairstyles, they dress differently, they’re all ages, shapes and sizes and different cultures. Other people are not as scary as they appear when looking out from inside a small metal box. They are often surprisingly kind and polite. When occasionally they’re not, I carry earplugs with me at all times. We always used to argue in the car, it seemed to be a flash point. We’d argue about whose route would have been better and whose music at what volume to have, we’d argue about arguing. In public, you can’t argue, so we have learnt to behave.

So being car free has made us fitter, more sociable, better behaved, less stressed and we enjoy travelling now. Our present culture revolves around the car and the burden of its escalating demands on our space, air and fuel. It’s time we shook ourselves free and taking Basil Fawlty’s lead, we need to show the car who’s boss. Step away from your car, there’s an all singing, all dancing Technicolor show going on out here and it’s really very lovely.

Monday 19 December 2011

At last some passion from a Labour councillor

It's good to see a bit of passion at last from a Labour councillor admitting the damaging impact of Council cuts rather than repeating the usual bland assurances we get from Cllr Ann John  that we won't notice the difference.

This is what Cllr Krupesh Hirani blogged after today's Libraries Appeal judgment: LINK
No left-wing Councillor relishes making the decisions that Brent is having to make to comply with the Tory-Liberal deficit reduction plan.

Even if you believe that the cuts are necessary and that the debt should be tackled within one Parliament (The Coalition Government’s original plan A on the economy), is it fair that Brent Council has to make cuts in the region of 27-28% of our controllable budget whilst other Councils are getting more money? Brent is making a staggering £104 million cuts over the next few years. This is from a controllable budget of around £280 million. Therefore the public will expect Brent to run £280 million worth of services with around £170 million. Every cut has a cost.

Core services include streetcare, waste collection, care for the elderly and disabled, libraries, administering and facilitating a school place for every child in Brent. It is impossible for all of these to not be affected when making a £104 million worth of cuts from a £280 million budget. All of this when at the same time, demand for services is higher. As the country is struggling to overcome the economic troubles due to the banking crisis, more people are out of jobs, more people are living longer leading to an increase in demand for care services. As unemployment rises, so does crime, therefore putting more pressure on anti-social behaviour teams at Local Authorities.

How can the Brent Tory Liberals defend Brent losing out on resources while other areas are having Budget increases? I have blogged about this before LINK.

Why should Brent have to cut more than others? If Brent Tory Liberal Councillors do blame Labour for creating the deficit as they have done at and the Coalition Government are holier than thou, are they still defending the level of cuts to Brent compared to others and supporting the damage made to Brent while other Councils are being given more money?
This contrasts with the Labour leaflets for the Wembley Central by-election which, so far, have not mentioned the cuts the Council has had to make.

Recognition that they are damaging, if not devastating, for the local community is the first step to mounting a campaign alongside residents and activists against the reductions in local authority budgets and the Coalition's aim to reduce local government.

Communites need, want and will support public libraries


 Margaret Bailey of SOS Brent Libraries and one of the appellants said after the Court of Appeal dismissed the campaigners' case:
Our legal team presented compelling evidence of damage to communities from Brent Council's library closures, so we are disappointed that the appeal judges have not found in our favour.
Closing half of our libraries has had a devastating effect in the most vulnerable members of our community, among them children and families, the elderly, the disabled and those unemployed or on low incomes.
Brent has always had the means to keep these libraries open, it just lacks the will. The overwhelming strength of public feeling over the last year shows that communities need, want and will support local libraries.

Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt has so far held back pending the outcome of this test case.

The thousands of letters and petitions he has received demonstrate that Brent  is neglecting its duties under the Libraries and Museums Act, and he must now hold a public inquiry into the actions of this council.

Brent SOS Libraries campaign will also present evidence to the select committee that clearly demonstrates Brent's failures.

We are grateful to the excellent and committed work on behalf of the community of our legal team, John Halford, Dinah Rose and Gerry Facenna and are taking their advice on our options in the light of this judgment.

There are now three balls in play:

1.  An appeal to the Supreme Court if they give permission. The Appeal Court refused permission for such an appeal today but the Supreme Court can be petitioned on grounds of the public importance of the case.
2. Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State, agreeing to a public inquiry following letters from more than 2,000 residents. So far he has not acted pending the outcome of the appeal.
3. Submissions to the media and culture parliamentary select committee investigating library closures. The committee, however, has no power to reverse the closures.





Appeal Court rejects library campaigners' case - Supreme Court next?

The Court of Appeal  today dismissed the appeal by Brent Library Campaigners over the closure of six Brent Brent libraries.  However the indefatigable campaigners are now looking to petition the Supreme Court over the decision.  They would seek a hearing on the grounds that the case raises issues of public importance in terms of library closures and wider public service cuts. It would be the first opportunity for the highest UK court to consider both the equality duties at the heart of the case and the legality of large-scale library closures.

The campaigner's solicitor, John Halford, of Bindmans LLP said:
Today's Court of Appeal ruling is very difficult to reconcile with what Parliament intended when it enacted the equality duty that obliges Brent, and all other local authorities, to properly grapple with the impact withdrawal of local services of this kind has on communities. The Court of Appeal appears to accept that there is a risk of indirect discrimination against significant numbers of people in Brent resulting from its plans to impose devastating cuts on local library services, but it has excused the Council from properly taking that risk into account before deciding to make those cuts. Our position is that this is simply wrong in principle. If the Supreme Court is willing to hear  this case, we anticipate the outcome being very different.
The full text of the judgment can be found HERE


Judgment on libraries this afternoon

I will be going along to the Royal Court of Justice in the Strand  with other library campaigners this afternoon to hear the outcome of the Brent SOS Libraries appeal on Brent Council's closure of six libraries.

The judgment will be handed down at 2pm by Lord Justices Pill, Richards and Davis.


Sunday 18 December 2011

Hindu Council intervene in Wembley Central by-election

Leaflet distributed in Wembley Central today
In what is likely to be controversial  move the influential Hindu Council of Brent has intervened in the Wembley Central by-election. I have blogged here LINK on the Council's removal of grants for the celebration of Navratri and other festivals and this is the main subject of the Hindu Council's leaflet which has been distributed to households in the Ealing Road area.

After accusing Brent Council of trying to appease the 5,000 'Save Our Navratri' petitioners with the 'token gesture' of a fireworks display this year, that was combined with bonfire night, they go on to say:
However from 2012 onwards Labour Councillors in Brent decided to SCRAP the support for Navratri and a number of other community Festivals.

Whilst stopping the Grant, the money would only go towards Brent Council's budget and not for our festivals and hence deprive Hindu Communities in Brent.
The leaflet goes on to state:
We really need to look at the Political Parties that supported us and will support us for the future.
And finishes:
 Ask the candidates for their views on Navratri Grant for 2012 and use your democratic vote accordingly.
The Ealing Road area of the Wembley Central ward has a very high Hindu population and the intervention, particularly given the 5,000 signatures and the number of Hindu Council affiliated organisations in the area, could make a significant impact.

On this blog and in the Green Party's magazine Green World I have questioned the Council's narrow definition of the Equalities Act which they used justify cutting the festival grants and also their intention to organise a hodgepodge 'Festivals Of Brent' event that would combine different festivals:
The bundling together of different religious and cultural festivals all on one day, at a time when they weren't actually being celebrated, seemed crude and insulting. The Hindu Council told the council that the Navratri Festival aimed to improve community relations, as it was open to all. (Community spirit, Green World Autumn 2011)
I went on:
 ...despite my own lack of belief, I see the positive role played by local faith/cultural communities. Rather than the extreme individualism of post-Thatcher neo-liberalism they provide a form of social solidarity that provides strong support in adversity. This has been evident in fund-raising for victims of earthquakes, tsunami and famine and was most evident recently when the community came together after the death of a Palestinian mother and her five children in a house fire.
It is worth noting that much of the Navratri grant came back to Brent Council in a roundabout way as it was used to pay local schools for the hire of halls over the festival period  and thus augmented the schools' budgets.









Saturday 17 December 2011

Facing some challenges in Wembley Central today

A challenge to Green canvassers
A sense of humour, if not a sense of the absurd comes in handy when canvassing, and certainly was essential today when I started out in the early morning rain in Wembley Central. I was particularly taken by a woman who wanted the nuisance street trees chopped down in a road that already had 90% of its gardens paved over. "Not natural green territory," my co-canvasser surmised. I  liked the 'garden gas-guzzler' above which, parked up tight to the garden gate,  challenged me to clamber over it to deliver my precious leaflet.

I was a little concerned at one house when, having rung the doorbell and trapped myself between the inner and outer door, I saw a notice proclaiming, "I am a soldier of the LORD and I will smite HIS enemies DEAD!" - turned out to be a potential supporter but I didn't stay to talk...

Otherwise the welcome was warm and the idea of an independent voice on the Council was well received. Some people complained that issues the victors had promised to raise at the Council elections had not been dealt with and these often related to basic matters such as fixing dangerous broken pavements and roads that required re-surfacing. There was anger about the amount of fly-tipping in roads such as Station Grove. The deterioration of properties let out on a series of short-term contracts was also raised. When tenants change, mattresses and other household effects are often dumped in front gardens or on the street with a detrimental impact on the local environment.

A troubling aspect was the number of  people blaming recent arrivals from Eastern Europe for various misdeeds  including street corner drinking and street robberies. The comments came from people who were themselves longer-established immigrants to this country.  As the economy deteriorates there may be a parallel deterioration in community relations.

The new waste collection system and reduced street sweeping was also an issue with some residents and it was clear from the blue bins full of residual  rubbish that the recycling message has still not been fully understood, perhaps because of language difficulties.

We will be out and about again tomorrow and if you would like to help e-mail me on mafran@globalnet.co.uk - bring your sense of humour with you! We are meeting outside Wembley Central station at 11am.




Willesden Green Library report now due at January Executive

I am grateful to Cllr. Ann Hunter (Lib Dem, Willesden Green) for this information from Brent officers on the redevelopment of Willesden Green Library.

A recommendation on the Willesden Green Redevelopment Project will be taken to the Executive on 16th January 2012. The Executive Report was delayed as officers required more time to ensure the proposals could meet the Council’s objectives. Please note I will be inviting the local ward Councillors to another briefing session the first week back after Christmas. 
 
Due to the programme delay it is now envisaged the Willesden Green Library Centre will be closed between, September 2012 – March 2014 (inclusive) to enable its redevelopment. However please note to secure vacant possession by September 2012, the WGLC decant will begin in July 2012. It is also envisaged a number of the third party tenants may vacate the site prior to July 2012. 
I presume the last sentence mean that the notice to Willesden Bookshop to leave by April 17th could  remain in place despite redevelopment work not starting until September.

I urge  Brent residents to rally around the bookshop and insist that they are offered some viable and affordable premises to continue their invaluable work.



We need a socially just and ecologically sustainable new economic order - Lucas

Caroline Lucas on the Guardian Environment Blog

In a month dominated by the political and economic crisis in Europe, those of us following events at the COP17 climate summit in Durban took what little hope we could from the talks.

Politically, there was some success in the form of a roadmap towards a new treaty to succeed the Kyoto protocol. The fact that this new agreement to cut emissions, which will have legal force, is to include the United States, as well as the fast growing economies such as China, India and Brazil, is encouraging.
Sadly, it says a great deal about people's faith in the UN climate negotiations process that, after so many summits and empty pledges over the years, an agreement "in principle" to tackling climate change without much in the way of substance could still be hailed as an overall success.

But at least we do now have an international consensus on the need to cut emissions. The real tragedy is that our government will completely fail to rise to the challenge in the post-Durban, euro crisis landscape - and seize the opportunity to build a different kind of economy.

Drowning out calls for the coalition to deliver on its green pledges and invest in the low-carbon industries which can help lift us out of recession and create jobs, are those who frame the debate as a false choice between "going green" and keeping the economy on track.

And drowning out news about critical decisions made in Durban has been the coverage of the prime minister's euro-sceptic swaggering at the Brussels summit, where he singularly failed to defend the interests of the people of Britain who, like Europeans, are threatened by a financial crisis that could result in the loss of their homes, their life savings and livelihoods.

Preventing financial meltdown was, after all, the purpose of the summit. Instead, Britain used the occasion to defend the interests of a tiny minority - the 1% - that are the cause of the crisis, and that thrive on the back of taxpayer-backed subsidies in the City of London.

In answer to my question to the prime minister this week: "Why did he choose to conflate the interests of the nation, with the interests of the City of London?" no real explanation was offered.

Meanwhile, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy appear hellbent on accelerating the crisis by intensifying austerity across the eurozone. This is likely to be explosive: in economic, political and social terms.
But for all their misguided approach to the consequences of the crisis - rising public debts - German and French politicians are clear about the causes: lax and loosely regulated financial centres like the Square Mile.
And in that analysis they are not wrong. The City of London is set, once again, to play a major causal role in the coming financial catastrophe.

The reason is not hard to find. This week we learned about the impotence of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in dealing with bankers at RBS that destroyed a bank, caused many to lose their jobs, and stripped British taxpayers of £45bn.

That's £45bn which could have been used to keep millions of young people in employment for a considerable time, to support renewable energy and energy efficiency measures to create jobs and help those in fuel poverty, or to pay more nurses and teachers.

Payday lenders have scuttled across the Atlantic to avoid the anti-usury laws of Canada and the United States, and found refuge in what the FT calls the "singularly attractive market" that is the City of London - where there are no usury laws.

According to Thomson Reuters, the City's "lax and loose regulation" allows companies, like the recently bankrupted MFGlobal, to gamble with money that belongs to clients and then " …to finance an enormous $6.2bn eurozone repo bet … a position more than five times the firm's book value, or net worth."

It is this kind of financial speculation that once again threatens not just Europe, but the global economy.
Occupy Wall St protesters at St. Paul's are exploring alternatives to this failed system of financial liberalisation. Even the Bank of England, in papers published this week, is considering a transformation away from deregulation towards a rules-based system, that constrains capital mobility and secures stability and "internal balance" for countries like Britain.

Our politicians should be debating these profoundly important issues. They should be leading us out of this global financial morass, towards a more just, stable and sustainable future.
But they are not. Across the political spectrum - from Ed Balls, to Ed Miliband, to Nick Clegg and David Cameron - we are governed by politicians that have all promoted and defended the current neo-liberal system: "light touch regulation".

They are all part of the design team that brought you credit crunch 1.0 and that is about to deliver credit crunch 2.0.

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.

So I want to appeal for a debate about how we transform our economic system away from today's failed economic order - designed to serve the interests of the City of London's 1% - and instead build a new one.
One that is socially just and ecologically sustainable. One that provides useful and meaningful employment for all and strengthens our communities. We can and must find a better way of bringing people closer together and building a better society, while operating within the limits of the ecosystem.

Why will my fellow politicians not engage in these debates? The system we have is catastrophically impaired, yet our leaders remain prostrate before neoliberalism - an ideology that has destroyed jobs and firms, ruined the life-chances of millions, while enriching crooks, thieves and oligarchs. I call on others to join me in calling on our political leaders to match progressive politics with meaningful action, and in taking a principled stand to challenge the deeply corrupt financial system that has plunged us into environmental and economic crisis.

Poor public response to Wembley Action Plan consultation


The report on  the consultation on the Wembley Area Action Plan (Issues and Options) has now been published.  The result is very disappointing in terms of public participation with comments seldom getting into double figures for each issue and mainly limited to organisations. The report could have far reaching implications for Wembley's development and the fact that the great majority of people are unaware of this will store up problems for the future.

The document can be found HERE you need to click on the Comments tab on each section to see the responses.

Friday 16 December 2011

Have your say on Brent Council's budget 2012/13

Having called for the Council to have a public debate about its budget I thought it only right to reproduce the following item from the Council website.  Rather than tell them where to make cuts and the divide and rule this entails, I think we should call on them them to work with residents to devise a 'needs led budget' which would set out what services local residents need to maintain their quality of life. They can then use this budget as a campaigning tool to call on the government to reverse their cuts to local authority funding and work with other councils on directly challenging the Coalition's approach.


Have your say on the proposed budget for the 2012/13 financial year by joining the discussions at our Area Consultative Forums.

Residents and businesses are invited to take part in the Area Consultative Forums that are being held early 2012 as we want to hear all the views about our budget priorities.

Each of the five area forums will be discussing the budget proposals and will include a presentation by either Brent Council Leader Councillor Ann John OBE or Deputy Council Leader Councillor Muhammed Butt. There will also be a question and answer session to share views and to get answers first hand.

As well as setting the council's expenditure priorities, the budget process also sets the council tax rate which households must pay and the local authority's spending and provision of services.

The proposals for the 2012/13 budget recognise the difficult financial position faced by Brent Council because of the loss of central government grants and other funding, which will be equivalent to a 26 per cent loss in funding between April 2011 and March 2015 and which will continue through to 2017.

The Executive's proposals for the 2012/13 budget will be scrutinised by the Budget and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee before going to the Executive on 13 February 2012. The final decision about the budget and council tax for 2012/13 will be made at the Full Council meeting on 27 February next year.

The dates for the next Area Consultative Forums are:
  • Harlesden Area Consultative Forum, 7pm, on 10 January 2012 at All Souls Church, Station Road, Harlesden
  • Kilburn and Kensal Area Consultative Forum, 7pm on 11 January 2012 at Granville Plus Community Centre, Granville Road, Kilburn
  • Wembley Area Consultative Forum, 7pm on 17 January 2012 at Patidar House, 22 London Road, Wembley
  • Willesden Area Consultative Forum, 7pm on 18 January 2012 at College of North West London Denzil Road NW10
  • Kingsbury and Kenton Area Consultative Forum, 7pm on 8 February 2012 at Kingsbury High School, Princes Avenue, NW9.

Council tells Willesden Bookshop to quit by April 17th 2012

Steve Adams and other workers at the Willesden Bookshop have sent me this comment on  my story about the bookshop's uncertain future if the Willesden Green Library redevelopment goes ahead.
We are mystified and a little confused by the fact that both the November and December Executive meetings did not have the redevelopment proposals on the agenda. We had originally been told that a decision would be made at the November meeting, and just prior to that the Property and Management division of the Council served a Section 25 notice on us: a legal notice giving us 6 months' notice to terminate our tenancy and requesting vacant possession by April 17th 2012. They made it clear that there would be no provision for retail space in the new building.


Naturally, we are dismayed at the prospect of our tenancy being terminated. Having looked at rent levels on the High Road we are not confident that we could afford to relocate - given all the current pressures on independent bookshops in this new age of the Kindle and Amazon's dominant market position - although we have not taken any final decision on this.


We will circulate a link to your blog amongst various customers and local residents who have offered support in trying to make the Council aware of the strength of local opposition to these plans for a mammoth apartment complex with a library and museum buried somewhere in its midst. No local residents we have spoken to want this development - and consider it further folly that when 6 libraries are being closed, one of the few remaining large libraries should then be closed for al least two years with only some adhoc temporary facility taking its place.
The Kilburn Bookshop  closed at the end of March last year. You can see the manager's comments on its demise HERE

Brent Library Judgment on Monday

Lord Justices Pill, Richards and Davis are to give their judgment into the closure by Brent Council of six of its 12 libraries at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, London.
 
The judgment will be handed down at 2 pm in Court 72. Brent SOS Libraries appealed against a High Court judge’s decision that Brent’s closures were lawful at a two-day hearing  on 10-11 November.
 
Dinah Rose QC argued on behalf of library users and Brent SOS Libraries Campaign that in deciding to close six libraries, the library had failed to prevent discrimination against groups such as Asians, young children and local school children, by neglecting to assess the impact on such groups.
 
Using the very same data that the council executive used to decide to close the libraries, Dinah Rose showed that 28% of Brent’s population is Asian and that 46% of active library users were Asian, so it was
obvious that the closure of the libraries would disproportionately affect Asian council residents.
 
She also showed that the highest concentrations of Asian populations in the borough were concentrated around three libraries – Preston, Barham and Tokyngton – all of which were closed. She had evidence to show that since closure, the library that users of these three libraries were expected to use instead – Ealing Road – was overcrowded.
 
Meanwhile the Council Executive has twice deferred its consideration of a report on the redevelopment of Willesden  Green Library which would mean its closure for two years and it has been revealed that the lease on Kingsbury Library Plus expires on September 2013. This work case scenario would leave only four fully-functioning libraries left.
 
The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has since launched an inquiry into library closures to which the Save Preston Library Campaign, Brent SOS Libraries and library users from Brent will submit evidence.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Be prepared to support the Willesden Bookshop

An invaluable community resource
The report on the redevelopment of the Willesden Green Library was deferred again this week as the Council awaits the result of the High Court appeal. However it does appear that there are developers interested in redeveloping the site and things are likely to move quickly in the new year with the library closed for two years during the building works.

Although some less than adequate plans have been made for the continuation of library services nothing has been said about the provision of alternative premises for the Willesden Bookshop that shares the site.

The magic of children's books
The well-established bookshop is an invaluable community resource and is widely used by local schools because of its excellent children's book service and generous discount. The bookshop also supports local authors and is a vital cultural resource for the local community.

The Guardian newspaper recently launched a campaign to celebrate in dependent  local bookshops and their role in the community and it is a campaign that as a Green I fully support.  The Willesden Bookshop:
  • Keeps money in the local economy
  • Provides local employment
  • Reduces journeys to central London and thus helps the environment
  • Contributes to the diversity and health of Willesden High Road
  • Provides expertise through staff's knowledge of authors and new publications
  • Provides an expert service in children's books for schools and nurseries as well as study materials for local students
We must be ready to campaign to safeguard the future of our local bookshop.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Hospital Merger Plans Challenged

36 people turned up at the Sattavis Patidar Centre, Forty Avenue last night to discuss the proposed merger of Ealing and North West London Hospitals Trust (covering Central Middlesex, Northwick Park and St Mark's hospitals). This compared with 100 at the recent Ealing meeting and a 'client' base of 800,000 people.


Professor Rory Shaw, Medical Director, made the case for the merger. The organisational merger would enable the joint Trust to have larger specialist teams which would be more viable than the present small teams, enable shift-work to take place and would attract high calibre staff Economies of scale would mean the Trust could keep pace with developments by buying up to date equipment and make resources, including scanners and operating theatres 'work harder' and the buildings 'earn their keep'. 

He said that Northwick Park's  stroke care unit was a good example of the merits of large, centralised teams and had led to better survival rates and fewer cases of paralysis.


Although the Chair of Brent LINk (Local Involvement Network) had stipulated that the meeting was not to discuss services, Shaw said that the merger was being proposed against the consultation on the commissioning of services that would take place in Summer 2012.  The focus would be on prevention and long-term conditions and more care and treatment in the community. He claimed that the latter was bothe cheaper and more effective.


He said that the move was taking place as a time when there was a general recognition that bigger was better. Other speeches from the six suited males on the platform extolled the merits of 'an army of generic workers', with an implication that these might be volunteers, who could help patients at home with hospital-home transition. We were treated to the management  mantra 'Localise where possible, centralise where necessary'.


Challenged that the presentation had not mentioned the financial plight of the NWLH Trust and that the merger proposal was a cover for cuts, the platform said that there was a financial saving involved of £7m and that this was specified in the Business Plan. Savings would be made in management and through reduction in 'back office' costs. Asked if  'developing the estate' meant selling off prime sites, especially in the light of the apparent running down of the Ealing and Central Middlesex hospitals, they said that sell-offs were not in the Business Plan but 'there may be scope for that in the future'.

Carers criticised the emphasis on volunteers and a speaker from the Sickle Society was concerned about the speed of the changes and poor consultation with users. He said that there had not been sufficient consideration of the needs of people with Sickle Cell and Central Middlesex Hospital's historic role in providing specialist care.

The platform was challenged on the implications of patients having to travel further for treatment and concern that the disadvantaged population of South Brent would be further disadvantaged if Central Middlesex was run down. Health inequalities would increase. A speaker from the floor made a strong demand for a Equality Impact Assessment. Despite repeated requests the platform were un able to advise which bus patients should get from Harlesden to Northwick Park Hospital.

Behind it all was the implication that larger teams would mean each site would have different specialisms which would not be offered at other hospitals in the Trust. The platform argued that routine care would still be provided at each hospital. A question asking if the new arrangements would be able to cope with a 'major incident' in South Brent with its many railways, the North Circular, waste sites and commercial premises; was not answered.


Brent LINk will be putting together its response and you can contribute: brentlink@hestia.org Tel: 020 8965 0309. Brent LINk Unit 56, The Designworks, Park Parade, Harlesden, London, NW10 4HT

Harrow LINk will hold its own consultation:
HARROW LINk: Thursday 12 January 2012. Registration and refreshments from 5.30pm. Event starts at 5.50pm and will close at 8pm. Premier House Banqueting, Canning Road, Harrow, HA3 7TS. Places are limited. If you like to attend please contact Harrow LINk at info@harrowlink.org.uk
or call 020 8863 3355.


TIMETABLE
November 2011 Outline Business Case for merger signed off by NHS London
March/April 2012 Full Business Case approved by the Trust Boards and NHS London
May 2012 Submission for approval by Department of Health Transaction Board
July 2012 Merger takes places
Autumn 2012 Commissioning of Services

Shahrar Ali's report on the meeting is HERE