The Brent Executive approved plans to licence leafleting in designated areas, along with a hefty overall free and additional charges per leafleter, on Monday evening. Sarah Cox and I both spoke against the proposals pointing out the lack of clarity about exemptions, the impact on small businesses and those organising events, the absence of any substantial research on the success or otherwise of such schemes in the past, and the failure to give any information on how the policy would be enforced. Sarah even pointed out discrepancies within the document on charges.
Sarah Cox, speaking for Brent Fightback, challenged Cllr James Powney's attack on the Brent and Kilburn Times in his blog LINK which implied that the campaign against the scheme was an invention. Sarah quite rightly pointed out that the BKT story was based on the Council's own statement to a journalist and said, 'It is absolutely right that the local press has been vigilant and brought this to the attention of the people of Brent".
However in his response to our speeches, Powney again had a go at the reporter about inaccuracy, despite her waving a copy of the Council's e-mail from her seat.
Now in today's Brent and Kilburn Times there is a letter from Michael Read, Assistant Director of Environment and Neighbourhood Services, which seeks to 'clarify any confusion about the powers the council has just agreed' and confirms that the exemption will cover campaigning for political purposes, such as local library campaigners'.
He does not admit that the 'confusion' arose from the council's own e-mail to the reporter, which followed the reporters request for clarification.
There is an Editor's note at the end of Michael Read's letter stating:
Brent Council's communication team has issued an apology to the Times for issuing an inaccurate statement on which our original report was based.
It is obviously up to the BKT to decide what to do but my personal view is that Cllr Powney also owes the paper, and its senior reporter, an apology.
Below are notes from the speech I made on Monday:
Talking to people about these proposals over the weekend I was told both that they were a 'farce' and that they were 'fascist'. I think the truth lies somewhere between the two!
Cllr Powney will say we've got it all wrong - it always was meant to be 'political purposes' and not 'political parties' but the Brent and Kilburn Times reporter stands by her quote from the Council and is circulating the council's e-mail here tonight.
“Licensing will only apply to certain streets in Brent. Charities would be exempt from these new rules and political parties would be exempt during election times."This is not semantics. The danger is that the Council's interpretation is so narrow that it will affect campaigns. There needs to be precise definitions in the documentation.
Cllr Powney will also say that this is not new and is merely updating of powers but this is not stated in the report and there is no detail or assessment of effectiveness of previous policy.
Cllr John has said we've got it all wrong and it is only about commercial leafleting but again this is not stated in the report.
Putting aside the political dimension what about small businesses?
Can you imagine the poor contestants of the Apprentice setting up a small shop on Wembley High Road and trying to drum up business?Let's give out some leaflets... Oh, we have to give 14 days notice....and apply for licence....and we have to wear a high visibility vest...oh, we have to have 'Authorised Distributor' printed on it...and a badge with our licence number...and pay £175 upfront plus £75 daily for each distributor...and check whether our distributor has been done for littering in the last year.The Council is in danger of making itself a laughing stock. The Executive should send this poorly written report back to be properly researched and rewritten - they cannot vote for such an unclear policy.