Saturday 30 June 2012

Wembley Consultative Forum on July 4th

The next Wembley Area Consultative Forum will be held on Wednesday 4th July at Patidar House, London Road, off Wembley High Road. The meeting starts at 7pm. Get there a little earlier to fill in a form if you wish to speak at a Soapbox.

  • Parking Charges - an update
  • Tackling illegal waste dumping
  • Shaping a Healthier Future
  • Localisation of Council Tax Benefit
  • Wembley Area Action Plan
  • Draft Cemeteries Strategy

We are being denied 'rightful access' to funding for day-to-day living - Disabled People Against Cuts

Report from Kate

I Went down to the Royal Courts of Justice this morning, where an application had been made by members of the Mental Health Resistance Network for permission for a judicial review of the work capability assessment process. A judge was deciding whether or not people with mental health issues should be able to apply for a judicial review of the WCA process. 

Adam Lotun, press spokesperson for Disabled People Against The Cuts, said that Employment and Support Allowance work capability assessments had developed “into a vehicle that is being used to deny people [with disabilities] their rightful access to funding and resources to assist them in their day-to-day living.” 

He said that the other reason for seeking the review was to stop the same damaging process being used to assess people on disability living allowance as DLA is phased out and replaced with the personal independence payment – “we want to stop the killing of the disability living allowance.” 

“These (benefits) were brought in to ensure that people of all different levels would be able to get access to funding, or resources, to enable them to cope and exist with the rest of society. Well, now that’s being taken away from us.”

 Claimants argue that the work capability assessment process discriminates against people with mental health issues.

 Result from the end of the day: Adam Lotun texted to say that: “The judge will give a decision early next week. In closing remarks, the judge said that this is something that involves hundreds and thousands of people,” and that there was concern that people would ultimately fill the court system with individual claims.

Friday 29 June 2012

Campaign for Barclays to lose its banking licence launched

Following yesterday's revelations an e-petition has been launched on the government website asking that Barclay's banking licence be withdrawn.

The petition reads:
Within a capitalist economy banks perform a vital function in facilitating the production and exchange of goods and services. In return for fulfilling this role responsibly they are allowed to hold a banking licences, which brings them great benefits in terms of the ability to create money through making loans. The systematic manipulation of the LIBOR value to serve its business interests makes clear that Barclays is not a fit company to hold a banking licence. We call upon the government to withdraw Barclays banking licence.
The petition can be found HERE

RBS IT failure may affect Brent council tax transactions

Following from Brent Council:

Brent uses the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) as its clearing bankers.

On Wednesday, 20 June, a software upgrade at the bank failed, resulting in services being unavailable. This was a nationwide problem affecting individuals and businesses that bank with RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank.

The problems affecting reporting systems meant that whatever transactions were undertaken, neither customers nor bank staff could accurately identify transactions or balances.

As a result we have been unable to verify some customers' payments including Council Tax. This could result in us writing to some customers to recover 'debts' which have actually been paid.

We will do everything possible to minimise the impact on customers and at the moment we are not aware of any transactions that have either failed or been duplicated. We will keep customers informed as more information becomes available.

Support Romayne Phoenix for Green Party leader

I am pleased to be able to support Romayne Phoenix's election campaign for the leadership of the Green Party and Will Duckworth as her running mate for the deputy leadership.

My endorsement which is on the campaign website HERE reads:
In a time of unprecedented global climate and economic crisis and with the welfare state under sustained attack, the Green Party needs a leader with grit and determination, firmly rooted in campaigns for environmental and social justice. Romayne Phoenix has demonstrated that she is able to forge alliances with other groups and trades unions, communicate across the social spectrum, and inspire all those in struggle. She would make an excellent leader.
Among others endorsing Romayne's campaign are:

Peter Tatchell (Human Rights campaigner)
Sasha Khan (Croydon Green Party)
Shan Oakes (Equalities and Diversity Officer, Green Party executive)
Lindsey German  (Stop the War Coalition and Coalition of Resistance)
Paul Mackney (former NATFHE General Secretary and the Coalition of Resistance)

 Romayne and Will want to position firmly in the anti-austerity movement:
The Green Party must be at the heart of the battle against austerity, becoming centrally involved in anti-cuts campaigns where they already exist and encouraging their formation wherever absent. We must also work towards such campaigns including a Green agenda, for instance seeking to defend and expand public transport provision in localities as part of the fight against public spending cuts.

Our position against austerity remains a fundamental differential between us and the other parties. We must have an effective campaign strategy, led by a dynamic and properly resourced campaigns committee. We should seek to involve trade unions, tenants associations, community organisations and students in broad and inclusive organisations at local level.

Since its creation in 2010 Romayne has chaired the Coalition of Resistance, a broad grouping of organisations and individuals who are building a national and international movement of opposition to cuts, privatisation and the victimisation of the most vulnerable in society. These connections and experience make Romayne and Will ideally placed to build the network needed to secure this alliance.

By becoming more effective allies in their defence of jobs and living standards we might hope to become the party that nurses, teachers and transport workers identify with most.
The Campaign FACEBOOK page is HERE

NOTE: I give this support and endorsement as an individual member of the Green Party. Other members of Brent Green Party may well support other candidates.

Save Hopscotch Nursery

News from LINK

Brent parents are up in arms. First the council decided to close two valued nurseries, Treetops Children’s Centre in Willesden and Harmony Children’s centre in Neasden, and now they are planning to close a third, highly sought after nursery. Another blow to the community in troubled times. Hopscotch Nursery, which was awarded 'outstanding' in it's ofsted report in 2011 and 2012, has been in the Queen’s Park area for 20 years and has been providing parents with a private nursery and also daily stay and play facilities, much needed by parents in the community.

Leigh Steckler 36, has 3 children and lives in the local area, 2 of which have been at Hopscotch nursery.
“If Hopscotch closes, there just isn’t an alternative nursery in the area. There is a serious lack of nursery places in our area, and I was lucky to get my son into Hopscotch in the first place. Brent Council seem to have given up on the situation arguing that they don’t have a duty to keep Hopscotch as it’s not council run.. it’s very sad for all the local parents”

Interestingly, Brent do in fact have a statutory duty, under the 2006 childrens act, to ensure sufficient childcare for working parents. The act says that local authorities must take the strategic lead in their local childcare market, planning, supporting and commissioning childcare by working with local private, voluntary and independent sector providers to meet local need.

So, families in Brent have grounds to require that Brent council provide childcare, but what can be done; a full campaign has been launched to save the long running nursery which sets out to highlight the real lack of nursery provision in the area and the terrible loss to the community if the nursery and drop-in were to close.

Another Hopscotch Mum, Claire Hind 31, says

“I had just moved into the area and had a new baby. I was slightly daunted at the prospect of meeting other mums but I found the drop in details online and went along. I met so many local mums, all with the same age children as me, it was like a little community”

The situation in Brent

  • Brent has a high and increasing birth rate relative to the national average and to the London average.
  • 30% of families who already use childcare predicted their need for childcare will increase in future (compared to 10% who said it would decrease.)
  • 38% of Brent families surveyed need childcare between 8am and 6pm
  • 25.8% of parents surveyed reported they were unable to find childcare within the hours they required

The situation in the area surrounding Hopscotch

In the report, 'Kilburn' means Kilburn, Brondesbury Park, Mapesbury and Queen's Park.

All points below were true at the time of publication (Feb 2011.)

  • There are 3, 253 nought to four year- olds in Kilburn.
  • Compared to other Brent localities, families in Kilburn require the most hours of childcare (average = 28.1 per week)
  • Kilburn has no childcare places at playgroup or pre-school (Kingsbury and Wembley have more than 100.)
  • It has the lowest number of childminder places in the borough (120 compared to 222 in Willesden.)
  • It has the lowest number of vacancies in the borough at both childminders and nurseries
  • In 2011 there were only 12 part- time nursery vacancies for 2- 5 year- olds and only two for children over 3 (full time nursery vacancies not reported.)
  • In a survey, Kilburn families were the least satisfied in the borough with availability, choice and ease of obtaining childcare
  • 54% of Kilburn parents disagreed with the statement: 'there is plenty of childcare available.'
  • The report concludes that:

“there may be a lack of choice of childcare (in Kilburn) compared to other localities (and that) The availability of childcare may be more of an acute problem faced by families in Kilburn than it is for families in the rest of Brent.”

This ‘acute’ problem faced by family’s needs to be addressed by the council in providing more childcare in the area and making available there facilities to make sure parents have access to daily drop in centre’s and have a choice about their childcare. Having no option is not an option.

Parents also relayed their fears for affordable childcare if plans to close Hopscotch go ahead. Parents in the borough say that many of them will be forced to give up jobs because of a shortage of affordable nursery places. While Hopscotch costs £33 a day, other local nurseries are said to cost up to £70.

In a report written by the Director of Children and Families in Brent, it states,

“A growing body of evidence shows that good pre-school childcare gives children a head start and leads to better outcomes as they move through school. It also allows children to take part in a wide range of interesting activities that foster their personal development in a safe environment”

Brent are obviously well aware of the advantage of the children in their borough getting the best start in their educational and social lives, so putting parents and children under financial and emotional stress by giving them no alternative childcare seems illogical.

For more information about the possible closure of the much loved Hopscotch nursery, please click here.

To join the Save Hopscotch Nursery campaign, please click here

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Lib Dem councillors give verdict on the Coalition

If only......

Lib Dems wake up to school places crisis but where's Teather?

It is good to see that Brent Lib Dems have woken up to the school places crisis with their press release today (see below). Other urgent issues still remain to be addressed regarding academies, free schools and the future of the School Improvement Service. See my recent posting HERE
Liberal Democrat councillors are demanding urgent confirmation from Brent Council Education chiefs about whether there will be enough reception places available for four and five year-olds due to start school in Brent this September.
A newsletter circulated to councillors and governors recently admits:
…we will be able to provide Reception places to all the on-time applications received and offer places for most of the unplaced children in other years.
However, this still leaves us with insufficient places for the large numbers of late applications for Reception places which continue to arrive and are difficult to predict.
Liberal Democrat councillor Barry Cheese, who sits on the Children & Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said:
Every year hundreds of parents miss the main closing date in January 2012. Often this is through no fault of their own: for example they may have recently moved into Brent. This is why the council organises eight further rounds of applications between May and August.
Brent Council has received £55 million from the government to pay for extra primary school places – equivalent to a dozen new primary schools.
We owe it to local children to make sure that they aren’t stuck at home when they should be starting their exciting journey through school. We need answers from the Council.
Sarah Teather MP reading with primary school aged children
Sarah Teather MP, Minister of State for Children and Families, has announced millions of pounds more funding for Brent Council to provide more primary school places.

Currently the Labour councillors who sit on the council’s decision-making Executive are not due to consider the school places issue until August, less than a month before the start of term.
As they have illustrated their Press Release with a picture of Sarah Teather it is pertinent to ask their position on the apparent Coalition policy of restricting funding of new schools to address the places shortage to academies or free schools, rather than the local authority community schools favoured by most Brent residents.

I hope they and other governors will bring these issues up at today's Conference for Brent School Governors at the Crown Moran Hotel in Cricklewood.

Meanwhile John Prescott and others have been active on Twitter asking why Sarah Teather was missing from the Education Debate in the House of Commons LINK

Monday 25 June 2012

Oppose Brent Parks Service privatisation - support park workers

View across Fryent Country Park meadows to Kingsbury
I was looking at this view with a class of 7 and 8 year olds recently and telling them how we owed the preservation of Middlesex countryside in Fryent Country Park to the far-sighted councillors of Middlesex Country Council who in 1938 purchased the farmland on either side of Fryent Way to preserve some open space from the encroaching housing.

Since then this remaining fragment of Middlesex countryside has escaped proposals to build housing, a golf club, a zoo and even an Olympic Village for the unsuccessful 1988 London OIympics bid.

Now the councillors of Brent Council are making a proposal that could do considerable harm to Fryent Country Park and other Brent parks and open spaces. This week the Brent and Kilburn Times LINK confirms my fears of December 2011 LINK that the Council were considering privatising the parks service. The Council refused to answer my questions on this on the grounds that Wembley Matters was not 'official media' and then refused to answer a Freedom of Information request on the same matter.

According the the BKT the 80 park and cemetery  maintenance service workers have already received letters warning them that the Council is considering out-sourcing the service. The management of the Parks Service was merged with the Sports Service under one Head of Serice recently after the retirement of Shaun Faulkner, a champion of Brent's Green Flag winning parks and open spaces. It will come as no surprise to regular readers to hear that Cllr James Powney is the lead member for this service.

Brent Council says that it spends £3m on parks maintenance and.."we face unprecedented financial pressures, so we are looking at all our services, including saving money on grounds maintenance while also protecting the quality wherever possible". That "wherever possible" should serve as a warning  to all who love and appreciate our local parks.

It is those 80 maintenance staff who have enabled our parks to win Green Flag awards, who have got to know and cherish them and maintain the spaces sensitively, preserving and enhancing natural habitats. Although staff will have rights under TUPE,  if money is to 'saved' whilst giving the private company a profit, hours, numbers of staff and conditions of service will be reduced.

My fear is that this will result in the sort of parks maintenance that is evident in the private contractors operating in some of our housing estates where trees and shrubs are not pruned or cut-back by experts but 'shaped' by a workman with a chain-saw and grass cut whatever the weather resulting in churned up lawn areas.

In the Wirral last year there was a huge row over the privatisation of parks with Labour opposing the plans put forward by the previous Lib Dem-Conservative coalition and a dispute over the possibility of an 'in-house' bid for the contract. LINK Here Labour is putting forward the plans and although Council Leader Muhammed Butt tweated this weekend about Brent's oldest building, Old St Andrew's Church in Kingsbury, Labour has a poor record on preserving our heritage.

As I pointed out to that primary class, parks are part of our heritage.  That heritage should not be threatened by short-term financial cost saving to the detriment of our long term social and environmental capital.

Brent residents should oppose parks privatisation. If despite opposition the plans go ahead everything should be done to provide support for an 'in-house' bid to run the service.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Building a mass movement against austerity and privatisation

Romayne Phoenix, from the Green Party and Chair of the Coalition of  Resistance, launched last week's rally with panache and demonstrated that the Green Party, alone of the Westminster parties, is prepared to question the current ideological attack on the welfare state that is being made under the guise of deficit reduction.

Len McCluskey urged the coming together of trades unions, community organisations, churches, students and pensioners in one movement to oppose the privatisation of the NHS that is happening in front of our eyes. He urged a combination of industrial action and civil disobedience and said that the London Olympics were a legitimate target for protest.  He told the audience that People Power can bring down governments and tyrants: "Don't despair, don't let the media debilitate us, have faith in our values of truth and justice".

Mary Cross, of Disabled People Against the Cuts, said that the destruction of the welfare state is the destruction of peoples' lives and reminded that audience that anyone can become disabled through accidents or illness. Mary said that 1 in 4 families with disabled children are unable to afford to heat their homes and drew attention to the rise in hate crimes against disabled people. People under 65 leaving hospital after a stroke were being immediately assessed for fitness to work. Cuts in housing benefits were making disabled people homeless. She claimed that these attacks amounted to crimes against humanity.

Salma Yaqoob in a passionate speech drew attention to the Guardian's reports on working  families being one bill away from disaster and said that although the government did not like being told this, that they had launched a class way, and were all about  'divide and rule'. With only 10-15% of cuts made so far this was the first generation since WW2 who would be worse off than the generation before them.  Declaring that solidarity does matter she said that it was people who gave each other strength. She said, "If we do our job well we will expose austerity as a poison, just as we exposed the lies used to launch the war in Iraq".  Supporting a Financial Transaction Tax of 0.5% she said that this "would not turn the rich out of their homes" but would raise £30bn to challenge the 'need' for cuts.

A delegation from the Coalition of Resistance, which included Romayne Phoenix,  had recently visited Greece and the events there resonated throughout the rally. Vassilis Fouskas, from Syriza, was received enthusiastically. He  spoke about the conditions for left success in challenging austerity in which bail outs were really a  'bonanza for bankers'.  He said that the social devastation and poverty now hitting Greece was familiar to the people of the global South and Eastern Europe. The only original factor was that it was being applied to a country of the EU. There had been 17 general strikes in Greece over the last two years and hundreds of demonstrations and occupations. The Greek people had rejected the guilt inducing mantra of 'lazy south' stereotypes and formed alliances. Without this mobilisation the break through from the left could not have happened. Their experience led people to realise that what was needed was a proper political alternative.Syriza had become the only credible alternative on the left, present in organisations but respecting their autonomy and unifying the anti-austerity movement. Solidarity was an essential requisite for success.

In his concluding speech, Tony Benn said that he had learned a lot from the previous speakers, "What we have been doing is part of a national education campaign". He defended public expenditure saying that it was vital for democracy and transferred "power from the market to the polling station". Coalition policies were reopening battles we fought and won over centuries and that imposition of policies on Greece and the Egyptian military takeover showed that all over the world the issue was an attack on the peoples' democratic rights. What was happening was the imposition of poverty and we needed to take inspiration from previous vociferous campaigners such as the Miners Women's Support Groups.  He said that 87 he was more encouraged to go into battle now than at any other time in his life.

I enjoyed the meeting but feel strongly that although it is important to mobilise for the TUC's October 20th action that even more important is to bring together all the various groups and individuals affected by austerity, most of whom are not in trade unions.  One day TUC actions often end up in an anti-climax the day after, 'Was that it? What now?' October 20th should be a medium term marker on the way to the longer term goal of building an alternative economic and social strategy supported by people across the social spectrum.

You can see videos of the above speeches and those from other speakers HERE

Damning report on hospital closure plans

Plans to drastically cut health services are exposed in a hard hitting Report “North West London’s NHS - Under the Knife”, written by John Lister, Director of London Health Emergency.
The Report, commissioned by Ealing, Brent and Harrow Trades Union Councils, shows that far from improving or modernising services, the outcome of the NWL NHS plans, “Shaping a Healthier Future” , would inevitably be a massive reduction in both hospital beds and services, without any corresponding increase in alternative provision.
Dr Lister states that the proposals “could result in the loss of 1750 NHS jobs in 12 months, and 5,600 jobs by 2015, along with the downgrading and downsizing of many local hospitals and services, and the closure of up to 4 of its 8 A&E units.”
Although NWL NHS try to avoid stating which hospitals and A&E Departments are under threat; Dr Lister’s analysis shows that the targets of the cuts are likely to be Ealing, Central Middlesex, Charing Cross and Hammersmith, leaving a massive area of London without A&E provision.
He goes on to say that “trendy arguments ... suggesting that new “settings” can deliver services more efficiently and effectively than hospitals: the only snag is that these “settings” and services exist only on paper, lacking the funds, facilities, staff and any political commitment to make them a reality.”
Dr Lister will be the headline speaker at the Ealing TUC public meeting on Tuesday 26th June at 7.30pm in Ealing Town Hall.  

The report is posted below:

Saturday 23 June 2012

Navin Shah opposes Brent Labour's library demolition

Last month Navin Shah, Labour London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow wrote to Andy Bates, the planning officer for the Galliford Try planning application, regarding the demolition of the old Willesden library building.. This is what he wrote:

Dear Mr. Bates,

Application for Conservation Area Consent for the demolition of the old library building. Willesden Green Library Centre, 95 High Road, London NW10 2SF

I am writing to you about the conservation area consent application for the proposed demolition of Willesden Green Library. I strongly object to the proposal for demolition on the following grounds.

As the London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow I have been contacted by a number of residents in Brent who are extremely dismayed at the proposals to demolish the library. I fully share their dismay as I feel that this is a historically important building of local interest and importance which should be preserved.

As an architect by profession with special interest in listed buildings of architectural and heritage value I feel preserving Willesden Green Library is extremely important. The old building of ‘Arts and Crafts’ design contributes greatly to character of the area and should be celebrated as an iconic building, rather than be demolished.

This library building is a social and cultural tool and knocking it down would destroy the historical and architectural contribution it makes to the Borough of Brent and its special significance to the character of the area. This is a much loved building making positive contribution to the surrounding areas which is recognised by its local listing by Brent council and local people love it, as do I. So why destroy local heritage?

I’m not against the principle of regeneration for the site but there are other options available to the Council without destroying this cute little local landmark. Once a building of this character is destroyed, you will never get it back. I urge the members of planning committee to save Brent’s heritage by refusing the consent for demolition

Willesden Green redevelopment in trouble?

With the on-line comments on Galliford Try's application to demolish the Willesden Green Library Centre and Willesden Bookshop along with the Victorian Library,  showing over-whelming opposition from local residents, LINK it appears that the developer has launched a last-ditch attempt to find the 'silent majority' councillors have claimed are in favour of the scheme.

A PR company has allegedly been employed to go door to door in Willesden Green to collect signatures for a pro-redevelopment petition claiming that the new building will be 'lovely'.  See 'Beware the stranger at your Willesden door' LINK The petition will squeeze in between the formal deadline and consideration by the planning committee.

Meanwhile the Victorian Society has added their voice to the opposition and chided the Council:
It is disappointing that despite a request in March to be kept informed of developments in this case, the Council failed to notify us of this application. Instead we have been reliant on a huge number of concerned local residents to inform us that an application was submitted
Their full submission can be seen HERE

Cllr Ann John and Cllr George Crane signing agreement with Galliford Try (Brent Magazine April 2012)
There are various technical issues relating to the planning application and particularly the aspects relating to Grange Road that are being challenged as well as doubts over the application  being solely in the name of Galliford Try when  the scheme was a partnership with Brent Council. There have been so many responses that planning officers have been overwhelmed and acknowledgements of written submissions are taking several days and on-line comments taking some time to upload.

A further complication is the role of Cllr Ann John who now sits on the Planning Committee. As someone who as leader of the council advocated the scheme,  she may decide that it would be better not to take part in the discussion and decision making on this issue because of claims of 'predetermination' i.e. that she had already made up her mind before the Committee's perusal of the application.

Meanwhile public notices have appeared in the vicinity and the local press advertising the application to register the public space in front of the present library as a Town Square. The space will disappear if the redevelopment takes place and a successful registration will clearly have repercussions for the developer's plans.

Friday 22 June 2012

Whither police accountability in the GLA?

Fun and games with an empty chair at the GLA leaves serious questions over accountability:  LINK

Good to see Jenny Jones pressing for answers.

Fight fruit waste by 'shaking the tree'

A talk and film about harvesting local fruit, organised by Transition Willesden, is taking place on Monday 2nd July in Willesden.  The event will mark the Transition group’s first anniversary and is being held at St Mungo’s in Pound Lane at 7.30pm.
This will be a chance to find out about harvesting apples that would otherwise fall and rot in local gardens. A short film 'Shaking the Tree' on fruit harvesting in Kensal to Kilburn, made by Willesden photographer Jonathan Goldberg, will be shown.  Michael Stuart and Viv Stein will be talking about how they set up a group that has picked 3.5 tons of apples, pears, plums and cherries from city gardens in Kensal to Kilburn, and lead a discussion of how to start a harvesting group in Willesden.
Dollis Hill resident and Transition Willesden Co-ordinator, Viv Stein, says, “Picking fruit that otherwise goes to waste is a fantastic way to connect people with local, free and fresh food in their community.  We want to encourage residents to come along and get involved in a new fruit harvesting group in Willesden.”
Kilburn resident and Transition Kensal to Kilburn’s Local Fruit Harvesters Co-ordinator, Michael Stuart, says, “150 people help harvest apples and pears in Kilburn, it’s such a popular project. We already know about lots of fruit trees in Willesden so just need Willesden residents to make it happen.”
The meeting is being held in the Activity Room, St Mungo's, 115 Pound Lane, Willesden, NW10 2HU (opposite Willesden bus garage) on Monday 2nd July at 7.30pm.  All are welcome to attend.  This is a free event, refreshments are available and donations are welcome.  For more information about the event see  LINK  

Monday 18 June 2012

Lucas on the Coalition's Trident 'cowardice'

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond today announced a £1billion contract to cover work on the reactors used to power the UK’s Trident submarines, despite the fact that a decision on renewing the nuclear deterrent will not be taken until 2016.

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, said:
The Defence Secretary’s announcement of a £1billion contract to include the development of reactors that will power the as-yet-unauthorised next generation of nuclear submarines raises yet more urgent questions about the profligate spending habits of the MoD – and the Coalition’s cowardice on a crucial political issue.

The Government chose to delay the decision on replacing Trident until after the next election in order to prevent a major Coalition fall out – and now the taxpayer is having to stump up for technology that may not even be needed, while our public services take the hit from austerity.

If the Government is determined to plough ahead with this spending spree, then ministers must give some assurances that it will be able to negotiate its way out of these expensive contracts if the decision is taken not to renew Trident.
Lucas added: 
In his statement today, Philip Hammond clearly implies that he believes Trident is necessary for national security – despite the doubts already expressed by some in the military about whether upgrading what is essentially a Cold War nuclear weapons system is the right defence solution for the future.
 This insidious attempt to pre-empt Parliament’s decision seriously undermines our democratic system, and sends out a worrying signal to the rest of the world about the UK's commitment to nuclear disarmament.

We MUST hear from Children and Families about these vital issues

Brent Council's website is acting up but there still appears to be no report from Children and Families going to the Executive this evening.

I have posted before on this silence regarding a major area of Council business.  Here are some of the things happening right now that the Executive really should be asking about:

CHILDREN'S SAFEGUARDING - The possible injury or death of a child is quite high up in Brent Council's Corporate Risk Assessment and the Council's last Ofsted inspection in this area was only 'satisfactory' with some inadequate areas.

CHILDREN NOT IN SCHOOL - Failure to meet statutory obligations regarding offering all children of school age a school place is another issue on the Risk Register and it appears that some expansion programmes are falling behind.

FINANCIAL MISMANAGEMENT IN BRENT SCHOOL - A forth Brent headteacher hit the headlines in the Evening Standard last week after being suspended while investigations into financial management issues take place and the Copland accused appeared in court. These matters are damaging the reputation of Brent Council and Brent schools and deserve some scrutiny.

FREE SCHOOL - The School Expansion Report confirmed that the Council was seeking partners to set up a free school and this is something that split the local Labour Party.  Have any sponsors been found? Are they the rumoured Christian organisation?

ACADEMIES - Staff at Alperton high School have been on strike following the governing body's decision to seek Cooperative Academy status and Queens Park and Wembley High are  considering co-op conversion. All this will mean a further loss of money to the hard-pressed local authority. Meanwhile Sudbury Primary, already a foundation school, is also trying to fast-track to academy status. Sudbury was in the headlines last week for charging children to listen to the children's poet (and socialist activist) Michael Rosen.

COOPERATIVE TRUST - A public notice was published last week indicating Preston Manor All-though School's decision to go for Trust status with partners including The College of North West London, the Wembley Primary School Cluster and Woodfield Special School. The LA will have one trustee on the board.  

SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT SERVICE - It appears that Brent Primary Headteachers' Group  has rejected all the possible options for future school improvement services and in-service education provision put forward by the Council and appear to be determined to 'go it alone' unless the SIS comes up with something better. This raises all sorts of questions about whether schools have the ability to provide such a service, how it will affect the workload of headteachers, and whether it will be sufficiently stringent to ensure that failing schools are spotted early on before children are damaged.

Neither the Lib Dem nor Tory opposition groups have a spokesperson on Children and Families, despite it being a major department, and it seems to me that these issues are not being given the attention they deserve.

The lack of leadership on education from either Brent officers or councillors has created a vacuum which ate present appears to have been filled by the two Johns: Yates and Simpson who as consultants are advising Brent primary headteachers.

Willesden Bookshop selling off stock - but haven't given up yet

The Willesden Bookshop has started selling off its stock at bargain prices today but owner Steve Adams is adamant that this is not the death knell for the shop. This applies to all stock, including children's books.

He said that although the council has extended the lease until the end of August, the shop will be subject to a one week notice (either way) from the beginning of August. "We simply cannot move in one week so we are beginning to clear our stock now.  We are still looking at alternatives in Willesden and hope to carry on, but we have to be practical at the same time."

He says of course that it would be wonderful if the council saw sense and by one means or another the planning application was withdrawn in the next few week.s 

The shop is hoping to be able to carry on the much-valued service to local schools, even if it is not able to have a store front for a period.  More details about this will be sent to schools over the next few days.

Don't miss this vital meeting tomorrow

Romayne Phoenix, a London Green Party activist will be chairing this important meeting tomorrow evening. We will be brought right up to date with the events in Greece as well as strike action being planned by various unions.

Bringing  together the public sector unions, campaigns and  community activists this will be a vital step in organising the resistance to austerity and privatisation.

HS2 will devastate our community

Follow this LINK to see how HS2 will impact on a long established community.

Get rid of your surplus and broken electricals on Thursday

Today's fast moving developments in electronics combine with  feverish consumerism,  the search for the latest gadget and a 'throw away' society to produce a breathtaking amount of electronic waste. Computers, printers, video players, analogue TVs and mobile phones are a major stream along with broken kettles and other kitchen gadgets.

Harrow Council is giving residents a chance to get rid of their surplus electricals and  simultaneously showing concern for the environment by giving them a chance to  drop off unwanted electrical appliances at the council’s ‘Bring Event’ on Thursday 21st June.

As part of National Recycle Week, Harrow Council’s Civic Centre will be transformed into a collection site for unwanted or broken electrical equipment. The event is being supported by 1, 2, 3 Recycle for Free, a free electrical recycling service recently launched in Harrow.

The service collects items directly from businesses to be recycled at an approved treatment facility. The service is a partnership between DHL Envirosolutions and SWEEEP Kuusakosk, supported by Harrow Council.

Harrow Council’s Portfolio Holder for Environment and Community Safety, Cllr Phillip O’Dell, said:
By recycling old electrical appliances instead of throwing them away, residents will be helping to save landfill space, save valuable resources and prevent damage to the environment. We must reduce and reuse wherever possible!

Harrow residents are doing tremendously well at recycling – our rates are among the highest of all London Councils. This is why waste minimisation has been identified as an area we would like to work on. Reducing waste will ultimately have a huge impact on landfill costs.

 A staggering 1.2 million tonnes of electrical waste goes to landfill in the UK every year - the equivalent of 150,000 double decker buses.

To do your bit to reduce the general level of waste that the borough sends to landfill drop your unwanted electrical equipment at the civic centre in Station Road, from 9am until 4pm.

For more information on the service provided by 123 Recycle for free, please visit

Saturday 16 June 2012

Preston Manor moves towards Trust status

Preston Manor All-Through School has launched its bid to become a Cooperative Trust with a public notice (below) in local newspapers. At the same time Alperton Hugh School is moving to convert to a Cooperative Academy.

The distinction is important, the former remains locally authority funded with national conditions of service for staff, the latter follows the government's privatisation route. The concern of many, including myself, is that Trust status is only a transitional step to full Academy status.  We will need considerable reassurances from Preston Manor that this is ruled out as an option.

The counter-argument is that Trust status, in a period when Michael Gove is using various methods to try and get all schools to convert to academies (including forcing schools such as Downshill in Harringey) that a Trust gives some kind of protection.

The Preston Manor Co-operative Learning Trust Statutory Notice

Notice is hereby given in accordance with section 19(3) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 that: the governing body of Preston Manor School intends to make a prescribed alteration to Preston Manor School which is a Foundation School located at Preston Manor School, Carlton Avenue East, Wembley, HA9 8NA

The proposed alteration is to: Together with one or more of the proposed partners to acquire a trust established otherwise than under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

The proposed name of the Trust will be The Preston Manor Co-operative Learning Trust and the proposed implementation date is 31st July 2012

The Trust does not already act as a foundation for any foundation or voluntary school.

The proposed members of the trust are:
§ Co-operative College (1 Trustee)
§ The Local Authority (Brent Council) (1 Trustee)
§ The College of North West London (1 Trustee)
§ Wembley Schools Cluster (1 Trustee)
§ Woodfield Special School (1 Trustee)
§ Preston Manor School (2 Trustees)
§ Trust Forum or Council (2 Trustees)

In addition, learners at the school, parents, staff, members of the local community and local community organisations will be able to become members of the Trust. The Trust will have a Stakeholder Forum composed of members, which will be able to appoint some of the Trust’s trustees. As the Trust develops the Trust will welcome other schools joining the Trust.
The rationale for acquiring the Trust, the contribution it will make, and the direction it will provide to the schools can be summarised as follows:

Our desire to be at the heart of our community leads us to seek new challenges and opportunities to help children fulfil their potential. As an all-through school, we build relationships with local families in our Lower School through to our Sixth Form. 

Formally embracing Co-operative Values would reinforce our emphasis on placing responsibilities before rights; this has been embodied in the school motto, Munus Prae Jure, since 1938.

We believe that acquiring Co-operative Trust status will help us to further develop our community and social dimensions and to make this school even better. The proposed Trust, supported by a range of partners and stakeholders who are united behind our vision, will enable the school to benefit from their skills to enhance learning. We hope to not only transform the life chances of every pupil that passes through our own school, but to have lasting positive impact on the wider community as well.

This notice is an extract from the complete proposal.

Copies of the full proposals can be obtained from or from the school by writing to the Governing Body (address above) or e-mail

Within four weeks from the date of publication of this proposal any person may object to or make comments on the proposals by sending them to the school at or in writing to the Governing Body of the school (address above). 

Ms Christine Collins
Chair of the Governing Body
Dated: June 14th 2012

Friday 15 June 2012

Campaigning on youth unemployment in Brent

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group will be hosting a talk by TUC envoy David Braniff at the regular KUWG meeting on Thursday, 21 June that starts at 3pm. David is setting up a campaign on youth unemployment in Brent. The  meeting is at Kingsgate Community Centre, 107 Kingsgate Road, NW6 2JH and lasts until 5pm.

Campaign launched to save Central Middlesex Hospital

The overnight closure of the Accident and Emergency service at Park Royal's Central Middlesex Hospital is likely to be the first step in running down the hospital and its eventual closure a Harlesden meeting was told last week.

North West London NHS is currently consulting on an amalgamation of Ealing, Central Middlesex and Northwick Park hospitals and it looks as if Harlesden and Stonebridge, the poorest areas in Brent may lose their local hospital and have to travel to A and E at Northwick Park, despite very poor public transport links. It is likely that A and E at Ealing, Charing Cross and Hammersmith may also close.

John Lister addresses the meeting
 John Lister, from the London Health Emergency has been commissioned by Ealing, Brent and Harrow Trade Union Councils, to write a report on the likely impact of the cost-cutting changes. The report will be available soon and a condensed version will be distributed as a tabloid newspaper.

Lister said that the pattern was one of a gradual reduction of different services, starting with A and E, eventually leaving the hospital as an nearly empty shell, which is then closed because people are not using it and nurses and doctors are reluctant to apply for jobs there,

With £314m cuts to be made by NW London NHS by 2015 the hospital closures are just the beginning. Stressing that decisions are being made in order to balance the books, and not on clinical grounds, Lister said that 1,750 jobs will go in the near future, of which 1,000 are clinical.

The aim is to direct patients to 'lower cost' settings, including the setting in which you die. That setting may be your front room and the carer yourself. Jargon such as 'pathway redesign' and 'corporate efficiency' conceal an overall strategy to reduce the number of patients seeking treatment and to restrict access to expensive treatments. The target is to reduce emergency cases annually to a level equivalent to 391 hospital beds and a 22% cut in out-patient appointments.

A further aim is to introduce private providers into the service so that the NHS, the largest public sector organisation, is open to exploitation for profit. The NHS will be left with A & E and maternity services, which are 'too dangerous' for private companies but 'any qualified provider' will offer other services (Virgin, Sainsbury's) undermining pay structures and qualification systems. Lister stressed that with PCTs due to go,GP commissioners will be left holding the baby, but wouldn't have been responsible for the changes that have been made.

John Lister urged local people to use the consultation period to build a movement against the local changes AND against the privatisation of the NHS, lobbying GPs, MPs and local councillors.

Candy Unwin urges broad-based campaigning
 Candy Unwin from Camden Keep Our NHS Public recounted campaign success in saving Whittington Hospital . Different hospitals, cross party and non-party political groups, trades unions, tenants and unions had come together in a united campaign. She said that 1 in 6 Labour members of the house of Lords and 1 in 4 Tories get money from private companies and that 30 MPs get funding from Virgin, one of the main bidders.

Phil Rose, a regional official from UNITE, said that the changes would result in high quality provision for private patients and low quality for the rest of us. He said that one thing standing in the way of privatisation was NHS workers' terms and conditions which the private sector cannot match. The pensions changes was an attempt to reduce these conditions to make the sector attractive to the private sector. He urged support for the '68 is too late' campaign on retirement age and drew parallels with the creeping  privatisation of schools. Job cuts, down-grading of jobs and pay cuts were all in the offing.

In a powerful speech a member of the Methodist Church spoke about Harlesden being a poor area and needing and valuing its local hospital and pledged herself to make people aware of the situation. She said 'Some people are going to die because of these changes'.

 I spoke about the link between health and schools as not being just in terms of the privatisation issue, but also that schools were frequent users of A and E when children have accidents and reliant on accessible emergency treatment in incidents such as that at Chalkhill Primary (see below). With its many railway lines, the North Circular Road, Wembley Stadium, industry at Park Royal and Neasden, there was a risk of a major incident and we needed accessible emergency services to cope. Added to that, although things were quieter at present, there was the possibility of violence and the need for a hospital experiences, as Central Middlesex is, in the treatment of gun shot and knife injuries.

Graham Durham's suggestion of a march in September from Harlesden to Central Middlesex Hospital under the banner of Save Central Middlesex Hospital, Save North West London Health Services, was enthusiastically endorsed by the meeting as was a message of solidarity to doctors taking action on Thursday.

Inspiring story from Chalkhill

It was great to see Chalkhill Primary School featuring on the front pages of our local newspapers this week LINK for such positive reasons.  There can be nothing more wonderful than to know that you are responsible for saving a child's life.

I hope the story inspires more people to train in CPR: LINK

Thursday 14 June 2012

Now rubbish lands on the Town Hall's doorstep

We are all becoming familiar with the mattresses that are left all over the borough, often it seems after short-term tenants move from a property (or are evicted).

One arrived on the Town Hall's doorstep at the weekend and was still there earlier this week.

North London Waste Plan in trouble

One of the largest MBT waste processing sites in Europe is coming to North London and it's much closer than you think. The North London Waste Authority (NLWA) wants to build an industrial-scale waste processing plant in our community to manage waste from up to seven London boroughs, and other parties. They plan to do this on land that is very close to houses and schools and is currently a mature wildlife habitat that acts as a green buffer from the North Circular. It will also increase traffic congestion in an already congested area and further pollute the already poor air quality, which will affect the health of nearby residents.
The Pinkam Way Alliance have posted the following update on the North London Waste Plan:

The Examination in Public (EiP) of the North London Waste Plan (NLWP) was to have taken place for six days over this week and next, with sessions examining the soundness of different aspects of the plan.  At an EiP, a planning authority must demonstrate to a Planning Inspector that their proposed plan is sound.  The first morning was for NLWP, the waste planning authority for the seven North London boroughs of Barnet, Haringey, Enfield, Waltham Forest, Camden, Islington and Hackney, to demonstrate that their plan is legal.  For example, the Localism Act imposes a legal duty on Planning Authorities to cooperate with one another regarding the sustainable development or use of land that has a significant impact on at least two planning areas.

South East Waste Planning Authority Advisory Group (SEWPAG) and East of England Waste Technical Advisory Body (EEWTAB), representing the waste planning authorities of the East and South-East of England had submitted a joint written statement prior to the hearing.  They complained that the NLWP had failed to cooperate with them.  Because some districts generate more waste than they can cope with, and others have more capacity to manage waste than they need, there is a system of “apportionment” where waste authorities are allocated the amount of waste that they must manage.  Some are therefore helping others.  Most of the landfill of London’s waste that happens outside London is accepted under this apportionment system, and some extra to it. 

Although the NLWP envisages gradually reducing North London’s reliance on such landfill to zero by 2031, the East and South-East waste authorities would prefer this to be sooner, are doubtful of the accuracy of the NLWP’s landfill reduction figures, and would, anyway, prefer smaller apportionments: but there is little they can do about that.  However, they claimed that nearly all the authorities who accept waste from North London had received no communication, let alone cooperation, relating to formulation of the NLWP.  Oxfordshire County Council had written to the NLWP and received no reply.   Some types of landfill site were due to close, and others to open, so discussion about alternative provision was necessary but lacking.  “This additional work has not been carried out” alleged these authorities, who take nearly a million tonnes of waste  per year from North London.

 The PWA planning team studied this joint SEWPAG and EEWTAB submission as part of our preparation for the hearing, but could not assess, in advance, how much impact it might have.
 As it was, the NLWP official could do little to rebut these allegations, save for mention of having met at regional advisory board meetings, one of which he missed while taking annual leave.  There was no answer in terms of specific discussions to agree particular matters of concern.  Instead the NLWP’s main defence came from the barrister they hired to argue that the legal duty to cooperate applies only to strategic matters, and the matters complained of were not strategic.  Hence, she reasoned, NLWP was legally compliant.

The North London Waste Authority’s barrister had evidently worried about this problem prior to the hearing.  He distributed, to all of us at the table, a three-page written legal submission which argued that the complaint did not relate to the development and use of land in the NLWP, and that cooperation and engagement had taken place within the processes of the making of the London Plan, and of the Regional Technical Advisory Boards.

Readers may feel that commonsense should have guided the NLWP to make sure, through face to face discussion with their Councillor and officer waste management partners outside London, that the latter were supportive of the NLWP, or at least reluctantly acquiescent to the point that “cooperation” was a reality.  And that colleagues would cover for one another’s annual leave. 

Even after this very full discussion, the Planning Inspector was left in such serious doubt whether the NLWP was legal, that he decided to adjourn the EiP, to give himself two weeks to consider the matter in depth, and give his detailed written opinion one way or the other.  Thereafter, the NLWP and any other interested party will have a further week in which to respond, before the Inspector finalises his decision on this point.  If he rules that cooperation has taken place, the hearing will resume, but not before September 2012.  If he rules that there has not been cooperation, that is what he called a “showstopper”, and the NLWP will have failed its EiP for being unlawful.  A new Plan will then have to be produced, consulted on and examined, before North London has a valid Waste Plan.

Further details will be made available on the NLWP examination website.

The PWA team were content with this outcome, because it is consistent with our considered view that the NLWP is deficient in multiple respects, and not only in its selection of the Pinkham Way site.  But those of us who have worked as local government professionals were saddened by the state of affairs revealed at the hearing.


Met racism review should include stop and search

Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has shown that the Metropolitan Police Service are 11 times more likely to stop and search black people than white people. The research looked at the powers used under section 60 of the 1994 Public Order Act, which does not require suspicion of involvement in crime. 
The EHRC found that in 2010-11, the Metropolitan Police stopped 32.8 out of every 1,000 black people in its area. The figures also show section 60 may be ineffective in fighting crime. According to the report in England as a whole 2.3% of section 60 stop and searches resulted in an arrest in 2010-11.
Responding to the research Green Party Assembly Member Jenny Jones  said: 
This research shows black youth are being disproportionately targeted with stop and search. It’s no wonder some communities feel over policed and under protected when they are targeted in this way. The Met has to stop the amount of wasteful stop and searches it currently carries out. It’s alienating communities and has a poor arrest rate for the damage it does.
The Met need to act on the findings of this research to address the problems of disproportionality in section 60 stop and searches now, or face losing this power. The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime should widen its review into racism within the Met to include the ongoing problem of disproportionality with stop and search.

Monday 11 June 2012

Risky times ahead for Muhammed Butt

Brent Council records the level of  corporate strategic risk on a 1-6 scale for impact and likelihood. It's latest assessment  records the political and reputational risk of  the move to the Civic Centre at 6 ('very serious') for impact and 5 ('probably' a 61-80% likelihood).

The risk relates to the combined risks of multiple service changes including the move to the Civic Centre on April 1st 2013 and new ways of working for staff (these include hot-desking); self-service help for residents and the impact of  new legislation such bas the benefit caps and local council tax rebate changes. The major impact could be major IT and customer service failure.

The possibility that the Civic Centre completion timetable will over run or that the move from other buildings will result in a systems failure is rated at 6 for impact and 5 ('probably') for likelihood which would result in damage to the council's reputation, delays in expected savings and disruption where building leases have already been terminated.  One issue that is not mentioned in the report but has been by officers and councillors is the lack of car parking at the Civic Centre. With workers from the Town Hall, Chesterfield House, Mahatma Gandhi House, Brent House and the Centre for Staff Development, to name just some of the buildings to be vacated, all converging on the Civic Centre there is an expectation that nearby roads and some of the event day private parking places will be used by Brent workers, resulting in congestion and punctuality problems. Of course they may all arrive by bus and tube as we Greens would like them to - let's wait and see...

The Town Hall car park this morning
Even worse though is the assessment of the economic risk factors including budget reductions, recession, demographic change and local benefit changes which will bring increased demand for services. This risk is assessed at 6 for impact and 6 for likelihood ('almost certain') with increased demand for council accommodation, increased crime and antisocial behaviour along with the possibility that the council will not meet its statutory service demand or its objectives.

An insight into the role of regeneration in Brent Council's thinking is provided by the risk represented by lack of external investment in the borough which reduces income from business rates and increases unemployment and poverty. Scored 6/6 this is 'de-risked' by 'assisting with planning permissions etc on behalf of developers' and 'maintaining dialogue with investors/developers'. This is clearly an area in which a conflict may develop between the council-developer alliance and local residents.

The risk that the council will fail to comply with legislative obligations, including consultation and equality duties, when it makes policy changes is rated at 6 for impact and 4 ('Likely') for likelihood with the possibility of legal challenges and Judicial Review.

At an individual level 'very serious' risks are recorded for both child and adult safeguarding. Both could impact through 'abuse, injury or death of vulnerable persons. Reputational damage to council'  After taking into account extensive council actions the probability is only reduced to 4 ('likely' 41-60%% likelihood) for children. This must be a cause for great concern. Adult risk is reduced to 3 'possible'.

Recruitment and retention of staff, with  'fewer people having to work harder and do more', with resulting stress and absences is given a 6/4 rating but this is reduced to 5/3 with controls around human resources issues including flexible working.

Of course the purpose of  the risk register is to take action to reduce the risk but all in all it looks as if Muhammed Butt, his officers and of course we, the residents,  have a tough and possibly dangerous time ahead.The register provides stark evidence of the impact of the Coalition cuts in local government funding and the damage they are causing.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Peace rally in threatened Willesden Green public space

The Brent chapter of London Citizens rallied in the open space outside Willesden Green Library on Saturday as they launched a 100 Days of Peace. The 100 days refers to the 50 days of peace that were observed between warring groups before and after the ancient Olympic Games that allowed athletes to get to the games safely.

Following last year's riots and recent violent crimes London Citizens aim to create 'CitySafe Zones' where the community works together to provide safe havens. There were speakers from many local schools and organisations, including a Year 2 pupil and Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council expressed his support for the scheme. Former MP Dawn Butler was also in attendance.

Willesden Green is one such safe space so it was ironical that the rally  was being held somewhere that will disappear if the proposed redevelopment. of Willesden Green Library Centre goes ahead. Instead of being on the high road and open to view, the replacement open space will be behind the new building and over-shadowed by the new flats. It will be in shadow most of the day and shoppers will not be able to see it from the High Road. Many local people think that it will be far from safe.

An allocation has made been to register the open space as a Town Green or Town Square. It is not yet clear what impact, if any, the application will make on the redevelopment plans.

The rally from Wembley High Road
Muhammed Butt addresses the crowd 

The crowd represented Brent's diversity
Can we afford to lose this public space?

How's this for a new Brent logo?

Martin Redstone suggests this as the new logo for Brent Council. He notes: "The logo  was designed for the Madhatters Theatre Club's 2003 production of The Government Inspector (by Gogol) Guess what the satire was aimed at!". See LINK

 Commenting on the new Brent logo LINK Martin said,  

It is appalling. Brent Council's coat of arms is a historic and proud insignia, but I assume Brent don't want to keep anything historic/heritage.

Also it won't print so well in Black and White and will therefore cost more to print and will look rubbish as a photocopy.

It is a meaningless symbol.

Finally, whatever happened to the motto 'Forward Together'. Presumably this is not the modern ethos of Brent.

What a waste of money.