Friday 31 August 2012

Never go alone to Atos assessment

Alan Wheatley and Pete Murry at today's ATOS demonstration
Guest blog by Alan Wheatley

The 'closing Atos' demonstration that Pete Murry (Brent Green Party) and I (Haringey Green Party) attended  was called by Disabled People Against the Cuts and UK Uncut, to protest at Atos Origin's sponsorship of the London Paralympics. The company is a 'top sponsor' of the London 2012 Paralympics even while what it gives to the International Paralympic Committee is but a fraction of the £112m Atos Healthcare is paid per year by the Department for Work & Pensions to assess -- and generally deny -- disabled people's eligibility for disability benefits.

About 40% of claimants denied Employment & Support Allowance take their cases to tribunal. about 40% of those win their cases to tribunal, and 40% of those win their cases. The success rate for those who go to tribunal with legal support is 70%, and cuts to legal aid will no doubt skew the tribunal results in favour of Atos. Atos and its staff who deny seriously sick and disabled people their benefit entitlements are never fined for their 'errors' when a claimant wins their tribunal, and a recent National Audit Office report stated that the cost to the taxpayer of 'clearing up the mess' at tribunal is £60m. The NAO called for the 'commercially sensitive' and thus confidential contract between the DWP and Atos to be rewritten so that Atos would be penalised for 'errors'.

I would urge anyone going for any kind of disability benefits entitlement assessment with Atos to go with someone. If you go alone, it is just your word against theirs regarding how you are treated under the examination that is really more of an observation. Moreover, I was on an anti-Atos demo outside their testing facilities adjoining Neasden Job Centre on Tuesday 28 August, with Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group. A woman with a walking stick and probably in her 50s came up to our group and told us her tale of having gone in their in her car from Hertfordshire for a 'Work Capability Assessment'. Though she had seen the adverse Panorama programme about how Atos Healthcare treats vulnerable people, it had not occurred to her that she should have someone to accompany her.

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group has increasing experience of members accompanying others to such assessments, yet no experience under such circumstances of the way the lady we met was treated when she went alone. She said, "The woman 'doctor' was so rude! She said to me while I was having difficulties getting through the door into the examination room, 'Come on! I haven't got all day! I've got another patient to see after you,' and 'Your mobility problems can't be so bad if you wear lace-up shoes.'"

But she was not the only claimant to not think of getting others' support in attending the 'Work Capability Assessment'. Two of our members recently attended a meeting for unemployed workers groups aroung London that was hosted by TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber's Secretary Tom Mellish. None of those groups had thought of accompanying people to 'Work Programme' interviews or Atos 'examinations'.

While today's demonstration might not have actually closed Atos, more and more disability benefit claimants getting support in attending Atos 'Medical Examination Centres' are more likely to get civil treatment if they go with someone.

Sign petition for student amnesty at Metropolitan University

This Coalition government is making a pig's ear of education policy with the news this week that a number of free schools that have been rushed through now not opening in September, leaving children without a school place, and the collective punishment of students for administrative problems at London Metropolitan University.

A petition has been launched on the latter issue which states:
We believe that it is completely contrary to natural justice that students should be punished for problems emanating from their University.

We therefore demand that the UK Border Agency agree to an immediate amnesty for the international students at London Metropolitan University affected by the Agency's decision to revoke the University's ‘Highly Trusted Status’. This would enable them to continue their studies while the problems at London Met were addressed.

We believe that the UKBA's decision is a disproportionate reaction to a situation that could be addressed without the recourse to such drastic action. The UKBA's decision punishes thousands of students who are entirely innocent of any alleged immigration breaches and sends a disastrous message to the rest of the world that UK higher education is not accessible to international students. Its actions threaten the immediate futures of thousands of London Metropolitan students, as well as the future of the University, and casts a huge shadow over the very valuable contribution that international students make to the culture and sustainability of UK higher education.

Sign the petition HERE

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Paralympic Torch Relay at Willesden Sports Centre

Plenty turned out despite the early start. In the end it was two hours late so additional people got to see it.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Brent Labour backs Central Middlesex campaign

Following a meeting between Cllr Krupesh Hirani and Cllr Muhammed Butt last weekend  three Brent NHS campaigners last week, Cllr James Denselow, Brent Labour Party's Communications Officer, has published the following statement:

Brent Labour fighting against the closure of Central Middlesex Accident and Emergency (A&E) services

Brent Labour Party has given its full support to the campaign against the Coalitions disgraceful plans. Labour Cllrs condemned the plans in the Council Chamber and have been working with campaigners to raise awareness of the issue. Both Cllr Butt and Cllr Hirani will address the march against the closures on 15th September.

However, the reason Brent has been unable to run a Council backed campaign against the closures is because unlike in Ealing, there is not cross party support for the campaign. Both the Lib Dems and Conservatives in Brent have refused to criticise the plans put forward by their own Government.

Cllrs from both parties should get behind the campaign so we can fight the plans as a united Borough.

List of action being taken:
1.       Motion passed but only with support from Brent Labour
2.       Letter to Secretary of State Andrew Lansley MP to come
3.       We are out on the doorstep every single weekend in Brent talking to residents on this issue
5.       We are meeting with campaigners
6.       Council will be responding to the consultation through scrutiny
7.       Brent Labour will be at the march
8.       Difficult case to use taxpayer resources for a campaign in cases where we do not have cross party agreement – that is why we the Brent Labour Party will be campaigning on this issue without taxpayer resources

Monday 27 August 2012

Gove's Olympic legacy in a nutshell

Don't let Reading Recovery get squashed pleads teacher

 I hope Michael Rosen doesn't mind me pinching this from his blog LINK but it is very relevant to children, parents and teachers in Brent.  I was trained to be a Reading Recovery teacher and taught it for many years, Tt is carried out very successfully in both Brent schools where I am chair of governors and in other primary schools across the borough.

It is an intensive, structured, 1:1 daily lesson by experts and so is 'expensive' - but it works.  With the change of college heading up the scheme, the possible demise of Brent School Improvement Services that provides training and continuing support, the government's exclusive emphasis on a particular phonics teaching method, and funding cuts, Reading Recovery is under threat.

This heartfelt post by a Reading Recovery teacher was carried on Michael's blog.
I am a Reading Recovery teacher. RR is based on more than 40 years of research and analysed data. It is proven to be cost effective. It works. The government knows it works. But it is not run as a business. RR's only purpose is to help children learn to read...

When we read we bring together 3 sources of information:
Visual, which means the words and letters and punctuation and layout etc
Structure, which means what is it possible to say in this language?
Meaning, does it make sense?

Children and adults who can read are using these automatically. When children learn to read, right from the start they are bringing together the 3 sources of information, as you well know.

When children who can read make mistakes on the phonic screener it is probably because their brains are overriding the nonsense; they are trying to make meaning because that is what reading is.
Lots of the readers at my school did not do well at the phonics screener. The head teacher was shocked - it is a high achieving / outstanding school in all other aspects. She said "But I can read and I know what the non-words say?" I said, "Yes but you are not 6 years old and you were expecting it. You are maybe more used to the world trying to catch you out?"

And from now on there will be even more phonic drilling, so that next year the schools will get 'better results', and the govt will say, 'Told you so, phonics is the answer'. We (but not me!) are going to be teaching children to deliberately switch off the use of structure and meaning and just decode using visual information like a robot can do.

At the moment the children get 30 minutes phonics a day and 10 minutes, if they are lucky, a WEEK reading with their teacher. They hardly ever get read to, just for the fun of it. Teachers don't have time for this. Given many children's impoverished oral language, these days, research shows that little children should be getting 3 stories a day. This never happens. Never.

Although I would make very different use of the time, 30 minutes phonics a day does have some relevance to real reading of real words, but is now going to morph into even more time spent on learning to sound out nonsense words.

Interestingly, the contract for supervising ECaR which also looks after Reading Recovery, has been removed from the Institute of Education and given to a university (Edge Hill) that is also now going to be responsible for pushing phonics schemes at us. The phonics people have been working very hard to squash RR and it looks as if they have done it. RR is trademarked and copyrighted etc, so is not available for someone to step in and make £millions out of it...
£millions have already been made out of phonics but it would seem the train is not yet full of gravy.

My soul is destroyed.

Do subscribe to Michael Rosen's blog it is a vital and entertaining ongoing  critique of the Coalition's damaging education policies.

Alf Filer's killer jailed for drunk driving

Alf with  students defending  the Harrow Mosque from the EDL in 2009
 The man responsible for the death of Alf Filer,  local activist in Brent, member of Brent Fightback and a lecturer at Harrow College before he moved to Worthing, has been jailed for drunk driving. Alf is greatly missed and often crops up in our conversations. If he was still alive he would be in the forefront of the current battles against cuts and austerity.

Here is the item as carried by the BBC:
A drink-driver has been jailed for six years for killing a man who was standing by his broken down car in East Sussex.

Joseph Lavelle, 36, of Worthing, West Sussex was two-and-a-half times over the drink-drive limit when he hit Alf Filer, 58, on the A27 in Hangleton. 

He was jailed at Lewes Crown Court having admitted death by careless driving under the influence of alcohol.

The painter was also banned from driving for five years, police said. 

Mr Filer, also from Worthing, died at the scene on 23 June last year.

The political activist and former lecturer had only moved into the area from London in the past year.
Sgt Neil Walker, from Sussex Police, said: "This is another tragic example of the way in which drink-driving wrecks lives. This terrible incident has robbed a family and the community of a well-respected and much-loved man."

Kids needed to promote the outdoors

Using the sense of touch to get to know a tree in Fryent Country Park
Seeing the reaction of children when they visit Brent School Without Walls LINK with me in Fryent Country Park and have the chance to run through meadows, build shelters, pond dip and bug hunt, always reminds me of the importance of such experiences.  Often children seen as behaviour problems in school surprise their teachers by their engagement and on one occasion that I remember a child who was an elective mute in class chattered happily about what she was doing.

Now there's an opportunity for children themselves to find ways of encouraging more children to make use of the outdoors.

A group of advisors – made up entirely of children – is being recruited by the National Trust to provide advice on how to encourage more of the nation’s children outdoors. The idea follows the charity’s recent Natural Childhood Report of 50 things to do before the age of 11¾ campaign. It shows the Trust stepping up its game in encouraging children to explore the outdoors and to experience nature at first hand.

The National Trust is looking to sign up ten children aged between seven and twelve to the council where they are to take up an important role in developing the charity’s outdoor campaigns as well as making their properties more fun for younger children.

The perfect candidate will be brimming with enthusiasm and fun, plus having a natural love for the outdoors and fresh air. Potential applicants are also required to have an adventurous spirit and a wild imagination. A fondness for rolling down hills or jumping in muddy puddles would be considered a bonus.

 Offering children the chance to try out the National Trust and to gain inspiration on what might be improved, if appointed to the Kids’ Council, the Trust has opened up its doors to children for free during the whole month of August. Over 200 places are be free of charge to children, giving the opportunity to explore National Trust properties across the country.

Successful applicants to the council will be announced later in the year. These children will be offered free year-long access to places for themselves and their family. Canoeing, surfing and camping will be part of the winning prize to offer kids and their families access to the full range of the National Trust properties.

The Kids’ Council will meet throughout 2013 and will report its findings to the National Trust’s Visitor Experience Director so that suggestions can be put into practice, helping make the outdoors more fun for the nation’s kids.

The application process closes on 7th September 2012. Application forms can be downloaded from the website at and sent back via email or handed in at National Trust properties.

Tony Berry, Visitor Experience Director of the National Trust, comments: 
We are really committed to helping kids enjoy the great outdoors and we want to make our places the most fun and family-friendly day out destinations in the UK.  I’m really excited that our new Kids’ Council will help us do just that. Our Kids go Free promotion for the entire month of August will not only give kids and their families the chance to go out and explore, but hopefully inspire them to apply for our Kids’ Council and so let is know what we can do better in future.

November review for Dog Control Orders

I understand that there will be a review of  Brent Council's Dog Control Orders in November, 6 month's after implementation (rather than six month's after the policy was approved which seems fair enough)..  Paul Hutchinson of the Sports and Parks Service  wrote to Barn Hill Residents Association
We agreed to a review of the orders,(six months after implementation) which will take place November this year. This will give us the chance to look at whether we think that 6 dogs is still problematic and seek to change this to 4 if we wish.

We are currently working with Brent’s legal team on how best to implement the orders and whether we should give fixed penalty notices or address the issue of repeat offence through the courts. (I have attached a copy of the actual orders that were agreed by the executive for the purpose of clarity)

It would be fair to say that the implementation is proving difficult with current staffing resources, but we are targeting the problem sites and hope by doing this we can solve the problem. I understand that the ‘Control’ notices at Fryent Country park are being taken down by the dog walkers and that the Parks staff will continue to erect them where necessary.

I can only agree that the idea of large packs of dogs roaming our open spaces is not what we would like to see, and I can fully understand that it certainly does spoil some peoples enjoyment of our local open spaces and Parks. I would like to assure you that we are doing all we can to minimise the problem.
 As I pointed out at the Executive the current orders leaves a loophole where two people walking together can still have up to 12 dogs between them which means that the problem of a large pack remains. I suggest that a simple amendment along the lines of 'The number of dogs being walked together by one or more persons should never exceed six (or 8)' would deal with the problem.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Teather fails to support battle for Central Middlesex A&E

Cllr Krupesh Hirani, Brent Executive member and lead member for Health and Social Care, has tweeted that he door-stepped Sarah Teather MP today with the petition to save Central Middlesex A&E.

He says she refused to sign.

A new primary school for Wembley and other children's issues

The September 19th Brent Council Executive will be a big night for Krutika Pau, Director of Children and Families, with several major reports from her department being discussed.

However the first on is being fronted by Andy Donald, Director of Major Projects and Regeneration and concerns the acquisition of a site in the Wembley Stadium area for a new primary school.  This has been on the cards for a while and was part of the original Quintain/Wembley Plan. It was expected to be in Fulton Road but concerns have been expressed about the proximity of 'bad neighbour' waste management facilities. These concerns will have been heightened by the recent problem with a vile stench from the Careys/Seneca MRF in Hannah Close.

Educationally, and this is where Krutika Pau comes in, it is likely to be controversial if the council follows through the Executive's August decision to vigorously purse partnerships with free school and academy providers.

Ms Pau will be leading on 'A Plan for Children and Families in Brent 2012-2015' which sets out how to keep Brent children healthy and safe, close the attainment gap between different groups, provide school places and integrate services to 'develop resilient families'. Complex and challenging.

The Executive will also consider the Local Safeguarding Children's Board Annual Report and will be expecting to see significant improvements in some areas that were only deemed adequate when last assessed.  The Annual Fostering and Adoption Annual Report is also due to be considered and attention will focus on whether there have been improvements in the rate of adoption placements, the number of adoption orders, increasing the number of Brent adopters for Brent children and earlier matching of children to adopters.

For fostering the council seeks to increase the number of foster parents recruited and move children out of Independent Fostering Agencies.

Brent parks: charging and privatisation

Poster for recent Eid event at Fryent Country Park

Following the council's cuts in festivals and other events, and the subsequent use of the parks and open spaces by organisations putting on their own events, the September Executive will consider a range of charges to contribute towards the council's costs in assisting the groups meet health and safety requirements. Having lost their grants the community organisations will now face charges when they try and put on their own events to replace those cut by the council!

I can confirm my July prediction LINK that Brent Council appears likely to combine waste management, recycling, street cleaning and parks maintenance in one new 'super contract'. The Council's Forward Plan LINK lists these items under the heading 'Managing the Public Realm' and states that it is considering collaboration with Barnet, Richmond and Hounslow councils on the delivering of the services.  Consultation on this will only be internally within the council and the decision on procurement arrangements will be made at the15th October Executive.

This seems to rule out any public debate on whether the parks maintenance service should be out-sourced (privatised)..

Better news is the declaration of Masons Field, Kingsbury as a Local Nature Reserve, and part of Fryent Country Park.

Nine reasons why public libraries are vital

The fight to save public libraries is happening in the US as well as the UK. Stephen Abram an American writer on strategies and innovations in public library provision has published this list on his blog LINK

“Here are some reasons why our libraries are still the place where we as a nation will achieve our destiny:
  1. The house of the 99%: The foundation of democracy is an educated electorate. When the economy is down, it is all the more vital that we the people have access to information, education, news… and now in modern times the internet, computers, and other sources of media tools as well. Libraries do that. For everyone.
  2. Libraries build equity: Research shows that depressed neighborhoods and declining communities are not just culturally enriched by libraries. The institutions serve as a community focal point, like a town square, and communities that have that resource rebound.
  3. Community hope chest: Libraries don’t just curate the Harry Potter series and lend copies of the latest blockbusters on DVD, they also house special collections based on the needs and unique identities of the communities they serve. The library district where I live houses a special collection on a World War II magnesium plant that helped turned the tide of the war (as well as establishing the second largest city in Nevada). That’s living history that gets lost without a public space to keep it alive.
  4. Renewable resource: How much do you save by being able to borrow materials from the library? How helpful is it to have this resource — especially now that even retail bookstores, movie rental shops, and record stores are closing? There’s a calculator for that.
  5. Literacy: Studies show (PDF) that children’s literacy is greatly improved by access to summer reading programs and preschool reading programs at public libraries. And children’s literacy is a building-block of adult literacy. When I was in college I interned at a non-profit that worked on illiteracy, targeting at-risk youth. I worked in their summer reading program at an elementary school with one of the lowest rates of economic depression in the state (Oregon). This meant that most of the kids who went to that school were enrolled in summer school — even if they were good students — simply because it was a cheaper alternative to child care. At the end of the program each child got to pick out one brand-new book to keep. For all but just a few of the children, it was the first book they ever owned. Maybe you don’t “own” the books at the library (although, as a tax-payer I would argue we do), but the libraries are a place where the socio-economic realities that push the starting line so far back for so many can be equalized. And that’s like a small miracle in the life of a child who has already had to learn how to be hard in the face of a world that cuts them no breaks. There are very few individuals who could buy every child a book and start them on the road to literacy. (And it’s been shown that access to books in childhood is one of the biggest predictors of literacy.) But all of us together can buy a kid a building full of books. That is a miracle.
  6. Leveling the playing field: Libraries offer vital resources for communities that might not otherwise be served or feel integrated. People learning English (or other languages), the elderly, deaf people, the homeless… the list goes on.
  7. Safe space: In some communities, the public library may be the only free space available that is also a safe space. Young victims of bullying, kids who live with domestic violence, LGBT youth, and many more can find a safe place (and often a caring librarian) at the library. I know from personal experience — having spent time camped at my local library when I had no other safe place to go as a teenager.
  8. Cultural touchstone: Many libraries showcase art — often by local artists. Likewise, the buildings themselves are often architecturally significant and enhance the beauty and character of the communities they serve.
  9. Drop in or drop out: Libraries can also be a place that means the difference between a child’s success or failure in school. Many libraries offer tutoring programs, free classes, as well as access to volumes of information and technology that a kid might not have anywhere else. Believe it or not, even in these modern times there are kids who don’t have computers at home who need to type their papers for school. There are kids who can’t afford the expensive private tutor to get through Algebra. Libraries can make the difference to a kid teetering on the edge. And high school dropout rates have a direct correlation to the health of a community.”

Efficacy of dog walking limits need to be reviewed

Dog walkers on Barn Hill earlier this week
I spoke at the Brent Council Executive in November last year LINK on the proposed restrictions on the number of dogs one person could walk in Brent parks. The proposal was to restrict the numbers walked by 'professional dog walkers' who earn upwards of £10 per dog per walk, to six. I had witnessed one dog walker with 15 dogs.

I suggested that enforcement would be a problem with the number of wardens cuts and many of the walkers coming from outside Brent.  I was also concerned that they would bring along a friend and thus reduce the ratio to the prescribed limit.

At the same meeting Cllr Powney agreed to a suggestion by Cllr Gavin Sneddon that the dog control orders should be reviewed after 6 months.  This appears not to have been done yet.

Last week I came across the dog walkers above on Barn Hill in Fryent Country Park  (there is another dog out of the picture) and two women who appeared to be waiting for them to move on.  The  women told me that the previous day they had been jogging around the field and were pursued by a pack of dogs, they thought there more than in the above picture, and that the solitary dog walker with them was unable to call them off.  A confrontation ensued about her lack of control.  As a result the women were now fearful of jogging when large numbers of dogs are around and it had spoiled their enjoyment of the park. They did remark that the walkers in the above picture appeared to have their dogs under better control but they were not taking any chances.

I am concerned that if this situation continues the public will be put off using the park and, in the worst case, there could be a serious incident. One dog walker who contacted me by e-mail to berate  Brent Council for introducing the ban quite unselfconsciously referred to 'my pack' of dogs. We really shouldn't be in the position of having packs of out of control dogs roaming in one of our Green Flag parks.

A review of the effectiveness of this policy is urgently needed.

Friday 24 August 2012

Northern jaws drop at sight of Civic Centre

This morning I  was asked by a couple of northerners down for tomorrow's rugby challenge final about the strange building arising opposite the Wembley Arena and the Stadium. They were staggered when they heard it was the council's Civic Centre and cost £100m. They thought we were all mad when I said the same council had closed down half our libraries.

Never mind, Cllr Powney still berates Brent Green Party  for opposing a fantastic green building. If the council erected a marble Stalinist Palace of Culture in his honour at a cost of £250m he would still expect us to support it if it had a grass roof!

Anyway make up your own minds. For my friends from the south who may not yet have seen it here are some pictures taken today. Decide for yourself if this is just a touch grandiose...

Thursday 23 August 2012

The cost of schooling - CAB campaign tries to help

Uniforms were not always the norm - my class in 1980s
I was chatting to a neighbour who has a child in the primary school at Wembley ARK Academy the other day.  She was remarking on how, although it was not a private school, she was finding herself paying out money every term - not least for trips. She had only one child at the school but pointed out that it was proving difficult for families with several children.

Trips are to be encouraged but their costs impact on family budgets at a time when many are hard up. If they contribute to learning it is clear that all chidlren should have an opportunity to gain from them.

Another factor for many parents is the high cost of school uniform when they are asked to purchase from specialist school uniform shops or from the school itself, rather than buy the generic uniforms available from stores such as ASDA. Rapidly growing children will requite new uniforms regularly but may end up, due to lack of money, sprouting out of clothes far too small for them.  Some schools help by arranging uniform swap shops or arranging sales of second hand uniforms. Grants or vouchers are available in some areas towards school uniforms but not in Brent.

The Citizen's Advice Bureau has set up a campaign to address these issues:
Get involved in the Adding Up campaign today and help families struggling to meet the costs of schooling
This is what you can do to help:
  • Encourage: Does your local authority provides school clothing grants? Then make sure the grants don’t become victims of cuts by writing to the local authority. Here is a model letter (Microsoft Word 28kb) for you to use.
  • Don’t know what your Local Authority Policy is? For a quick check type a post code into the section on school uniform grants on the Directgov website.
  • Top tips: Could schools in your area do more to help parents by making uniforms, trips and kit more affordable ? If so then check out Citizens Advice top tips (Adobe Acrobat Document 160kb). Send a copy to your head teacher and/or chair of governors and ask what they are doing to help families.
  • Tell us about it ? The Adding up campaign wants to hear your experiences on school costs. Do you feel you are paying too much for uniforms, trips and other essential equipment ? What help is available in your local authority area and what is your experience of accessing it ? email Citizens Advice campaigns
The Adding up campaign helps families by:
  • encouraging schools and education authorities to promote cost-cutting policies on school uniforms, trips, kit and other items. This can save families hundreds of pounds a year
  • lobbying local authorities to tackle child poverty by offering school clothing grants to those most in need.

Astonishingly, no risk assessment carried out on NW London NHS proposals

The NW London NHS proposals for far reaching changes in health provision have not been subject to a risk assessment despite them involving the closure of four Accident and Emergency facilities, including that at Central Middlesex Hospital, and the down-grading of several hospitals in the area.  The proposals affect 700,000 people.

The revelation was made at the August 2nd meeting of the NW London NHS Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee on which Cllr Sandra Kabir is Brent's representative. Risk registers are a standard method of assessing the risks on a High, Medium or Low traffic light system, establishing the nature of the risk and who is affected, and the strategies for reducing that risk.  Brent Council has such a scheme in its Corporate Risk Register LINK

Instead the authors of the Shaping a Healthier Future proposals proposed that the risk assessment would only be made AFTER the consultation and when the proposals have been approved. This means that councillors and the general public will have no way of assessing the severity of the risk posed to residents,  which clearly could  be a matter of life or death, during the consultation period. In effect they will be making a response without knowledge of the potential impact of the proposals on people's health and well-being.

The committee was clearly concerned and agreed to 'revisit' the issue at a later meeting.Cllr Lucy Ivimy (Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham) wrote to a concerned member of the public who attended the meeting:
I agree with you about the lack of a risk register and as you say, for the NHS to produce one only after the decision has been taken is extraordinary. The committee will be looking further into various aspects of risk. I am personally concerned that the full impact of the proposed changes has not been made clear in this consultation process.
A further critical issue was the consultation document's claim that the proposed changes were based on 'tried or tested ways of delivering healthcare' that it claims already work in many parts of NW London and the rest of the county (p20). The two expert witnesses heard by the committee were less sure. Asked about whether the structure worked in other parts of Europe Professor Welbourn admitted, 'there is no evidence the  system will work'. Asked whether it would be possible to deliver the necessary community services involved in the changes, Dr Honeyman said, 'no one knows, no one has ever been here before'.

These revelations show that we are being sold a pig in a poke and it is imperative that the proposals are subject to robust scrutiny at the appropriate committees at the  NW London NHS and local council level. They confirm the need for a broad-based campaign against the changes..

Monday 20 August 2012

Brent Executive agrees free schools, academies and privatisation

Brent Executive took a few more strides along the privatisation road this evening.

They agreed to look for free school and academy partners in order to meet the demand for school places and approved school expansions increasing the size of some primary schols to more than 1,000 pupils. Although Cllr Arnold, lead member for children and families, said that this was an 'educational approach'  I fear for young children in such large institutions - particularly those on the autistic spectrum. Andy Donald's report did not mention the Gwenneth Rickus Building, currently the Centre for Staff Development Centre, in Brentfield Road. This was formerly part of Sladebrook High School and will become redundant when the Civic Centre opens next year.  It  may be put on the market along with Brent Town Hall - or perhaps it is ear-marked as a potential free school?

 The Executive  agreed to set up Brent Meanwhile Partnership (see previous blog LINK) which gives further powers to Andy Donald, Director of Regeneration and Major Projects - although Cllr Crane did not mention this in his very brief report which did not do justice to the wider repercussions of the policy..Donald will be delegated  to set up a London wide organisation as well as a local one and will be Brent's representative.

The public are not allowed to see how much of their money the council is going to pay to out-source the facilities management of the Council's entire property portfolio to Europa Facilities Services Ltd in a contact that will run from November until June 30th. Andy Donald's report outlines TUPE procedures for existing staff and says that the contractor has agreed to a staged voluntary redundancy process which he 'believes is acceptable to the GMB'. The staff concerned are older than the council average and have a higher proportion of ethnic minorities.

Following delays in setting up a new management agreement for the Brent Housing Partnership (BHP) the  Executive  agreed to delegate authority ot the Director of Regeneration and Major Projects (Andy Donald - of course)  in consultation with the Director of Legal and Procurement any  subsequent amendments between now and March 2013.

Chalkhill Park taking shape

The much delayed and keenly awaited new Chalkhill Park is beginning to take shape at last.  Many local residents had given up on ever seeing it completed with rumours that it was going to be used to build flats flying around the estate.

It is expected to be finished by November but final completion will be subject to planting conditions for trees and shrubs in the Autumn.

Meanwhile consultations are due to take place with local residents on the public art to be installed in the park.

Procurement errors lead to school expansion delays

Modular building from Elliott's website
As Brent Council Executive is set to discuss further school expansions this evening, it has become clear that current expansions at Mitchell Brook, Fryent and Barham primary schools will not be completed by the forecast date.

The delay appears to have been caused by problems in the preparation of the original bid documents according to the report by Richard Barrett, Assistant Director of  Regeneration and Major Projects, that recommends Andy Donald, awards the contract.  Normally contracts of this value require approval by the Executive but they delegated this authority to Andy Donald, Director of Regeneration and Major Projects at their April 2012 meeting.
On receipt of bids and initial evaluation, it was determined that there were some areas of ambiguity in the Council’s bid documents which had led the different bidders to interpret the Council’s requirements in different ways. As a result, the decision was taken to retender the pricing element only to ensure that all the prices were submitted for exactly the same requirements. Unfortunately when these further tenders were received and clarified, all of the bids were unsuitable, either because of being too high or because or qualifications to the requirement to accept the Council’s contractual terms. This led to a further process of further process of clarifying contractual terms around design risk and giving the opportunity to reprice.
The contract will be awarded to Elliott Group Ltd  with a value of £3.1m for Barham Primary, £4.4m for Fryent Primary and £2.7m for Mitchell Brook Primary. All with a start date of August 22nd.  Because of the time constraints it was decided to use a modular steel framed building system for all three schools which themselves vary greatly in their architecture. 

Barrett argues that despite the delay the timings will still allow for pupils to start in September 2013. However this assumes that all goes according to plan, which has not always been the case with the expansion programme.  Even a July 2013 completion date is challenging for schools in terms of setting up new classrooms with the potential for that work having to be carried out during the summer holiday.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Now tube bosses kick up a stink about Wembley stench

The Brent and Kilburn Times reports that Jubilee Line bosses are now calling for action on the Wembley-Neasden Stink from Seneca's MRF , following complaints from passengers.


Seneca's publicity video below shows how close the Materials Recyclign Facility is to the railway line. Seneca hopes to build a biomass plant there in the future.


Vital health elections underway in Brent

It was unfortunate that only three members of Brent LINk (Local Involvement Network) who were not candidates turned up for the Management Committee elections hustings on Friday.  Candidates out-numbered the rank and file by about 6 to 1.  LINk in Brent gives local people  a say in how health and social care services are commissioned, provided and improved. The organisation has about 750 members. Website HERE

Clearly the role is very important at a time of enormous upheaval in health and social care provision and the current plans in Shaping a Healthier Future which will see several Accident and Emergency facilities in North West London closing and other services down-graded or handed over to private providerss.

In addition Brent LINk is due to be replaced by an organisation with even more powers and responsibilities called Brent HealthWatch.  BHW will be a 'corporate body' with it own legal authority to carry out its functions and will be subject to legislative compliance.  It will be an independent organisation with a seat on the local health and well-being board and will be able to appoint its own staff.

Brent LINk could be transformed into Brent HealthWatch but other  voluntary organisations, social enterprises and charities would be able to make bids when the service was procured.

This raises a major issue in terms of the LINk election which is already one for governing bodies of schools. How do you balance the contribution of local people with in-depth experience as users of local services and that of professionals with the skills to frame a successful bid for the BrentWatch brief and the experience to appoint and manage staff, plans budgets and undertake research. Things are made more complicated by the fact that the budget for the new organisation which will come from HealthWatch England via Brent Council is not yet known.

The LINk Management Committee has 10 places, 5 for individuals and 5 for representatives of organisations. Five organisation put forward candidates so there will be no election for those posiitons. They are John Bryne of Brent MIND. Elcena Jeffers from the Elcena Jeffers Foundation, Prakash Mandalia from B.Heard, Anne O'Neil from Brent Mencap and Lola Osikoya from the Amazing Grace Women's Association.

There are 17 candidate for the five individual positions. New voting cards will be sent to LINk members to replace the green cards sent out last week which lacked clarity about voting method. There will be a further hustings on September 13th 7-9pm at Brent Asssociation for Disabled People, Main Hall, Robson Avenue, NW10 3RY. The voting dedline is 19th September 2012, Count 21st September, and first meeting of the new Management Committee on 27th September.

Brian Hoe Hunt, a consultant working on HealthWatch, was at pains to emphasise that the new organisation must be able to show that it truly represents the voice of the local community and that this requires carefull research and an evidence base.  It has to be able to demonstrate that the views it puts forward are actively backed up by the community.

With this in mind candidates were asked about the future of the Central Middlesex A&E and privatisation. I noted that many candidates has concentrated (quite rightly) on the needs of older people asked them what they thought the main priorities were for the health and well-being of Brent young people at a time of recession, benefit cuts and a housing crisis.

Emma Tait made clear her opposition to the Central Middlesex A&E closure and said that as a member of Brent Fightback she recognised the connections between all the various cuts and 'reforms' that would eventually impact on each other and  health in the community.  She emphasised her professional management experience in social work, and as the Executive Director of the National Back Pain Association, her ability to lead groups, write reports and speak publicly but she also stressed the need for independence and public campaigning.

Robert Esson said that he had first heard about the Central Middlesex A&E closure on TV which was clearly wrong, and told the audience that he has been assured 3 years ago by NW London NHS that it would remain open. He spoke about the waste of the £65m investment in the hospital and the iniquities of PFI.

Philemon  Sealy said that no way should Brent LINk be an advocate of government policy and regretted that the organisation hadn't stood up to the government more.

On the other hand Mansukh Raichura said that he ws involved in the NW London Hospitals merger programme.  He stressed the need to be 'realistic'. Samer Ahmedali told the audience that he was chair of Brent North Conservatives and lived in Harrow. He knew the local community because he worked for Wembley ASDA and wanted to give something back.

Loletta Cameron-Hayles on the issue of young people said that she was concerned about the opportunities that would be available to local children post-Olympics with no playing fields in the South of Brent, others being sold off, swimming lessons discontinued, and supervisors replacing teachers. She had grave concerns about the services they would get.

Maurice Hoffman said that 90% of Brent children were healthy (there were some dissension here) and it wasn't for Management Committee members to say what their needs are. They have to get out there and speak to them but also find out what provisions remains in terms of school nurses and particular projects.

Colin Babb, Brent LINk Coordinator said that the question of how they engage with young people was fundamental. There was a Young LINk organisation engaging with 16-19 year olds and a Young Advocacy Programme aimed at ensuring that young people were involved in articulating their own voice. However a younger LINk member voiced her frustration that funding for a youth development worker had been cut.  The LINk's work was useless without adequate resources. Prakash Mandalia added that however good strategies were they were no good without resources.

Cllr Sandra Kabir, Chair of the Health Partnerships Overview and Scrutiny Committee who introduced the meeting complimented the work of LINk's task groups but voiced her concern that the most vulnerable Brent groups will be most affected by the proposed health service changes.

Cllr Krupesh Hirani, Lead Member for Adults and Health, was not present but it is top be hoped that he will make the next hustings.

A chance to support a French restaurant in Wembley Park

The Planning Inspectorate are considering an appeal by  the owners of Montparnasse  Cafe in Bridge Road, Wembley against Brent Council's refusal of planning permission to convert it into a restaurant.

The Council's decision was condemned on this blog at the time LINK and locals were perplexed by the Council officers' claim that a restaurant would 'result in an unacceptable loss of a retail (A1) unit which would impact on the viability and attractiveness of the centre for shoppers, contrary to policy SH7 of the UDP 2004'.

Since the refusal the Montparnasse has been shuttered pending the appeal.

Comments on the appeal can be sent to the Planning Inspectorate no later than September 25th 2012. They should be sent to the address below quoting reference number APP/T5150/A/12/2176952/NWF

Rachel Owen,
The Planning Inspectorate
Room 3/14
Temple Quay House,
2 The Square, Temple Quay,
Bristol, BS1 6PN

Meanwhile on nearby Grand Parade, Pippa's Cafe, famed for its great selection of cooked breakfasts, has finally closed down after serving the local community for many years. Customers included: building workers, the motor cycle training school, Town Hall workers and a loyal group of self-styled 'Last of the Summer Wine' customers who meet up regularly to solve the world's problems.   The family who ran the cafe  finally admitted defeat after losing money for several years. The cafe  is likely to have been hit by new local parking restrictions. The cafe, the family  and the bubble and squeak will be greatly missed.

However, Zayona, the Middle Eastern cafe/ restaurant next door has come to the rescue of bereft customers and has offered to open up in the morning  for cooked English  breakfasts.  I popped by the other day and found the 'Summer Wine' crew settling into their new home.

There's something rather comforting about the final twist in this story.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Fare hike makes no economic sense - London Greens

The London Green Party has said that the rail fare hike is the latest evidence that ministers are out of touch with the lives of people struggling to make ends meet.
London Greens pointed out that commuters will have to fork out at least £132 extra for an annual travel card for Zones 1-6. They said that Londoners will be particularly hard hit by the increases, given the money that many spend on commuting.
The government say that many fares will rise by 6.2% in January - almost double the rate of inflation - and some fares could be higher still.
This would see a one-day travelcard for Zones 1-3 rise from £10.60 to £11.26. A single peak ticket from Zone 6 to Zone 1, on Oyster pay-as-you-go, would rise from £6.90 to £7.32.
Noel Lynch, co-ordinator of the London Federation of Green Parties, said:
Once again, Tory and LibDem ministers have shown they are out of touch with the lives of people who are struggling to make ends meet. With unemployment going up and living costs rising, this fare hike makes no economic sense. Londoners will be hit hard as they travel to work.
The relatively smooth running of most of London's public transport during the Olympics shows that efficient railways are a real possibility. But money is going into profits, not invested in decent trains and track. Let's take our railways back into public ownership and run them for people, not profit.

Help save Centerprise from closure

 It is not just Brent where there are demands from the council for commercial rents after valuable social enterprises and community organisations have had peppercorn rents for  years. In Hackney the Centerprise Bookshop and Cafe which was a pioneering centre for black books, community action and education from the 70s onwards is threatened with closure.

From the 60s there were a number of black bookshops across London including  Bogle L'Ourverture, Unity and New Beacon which also published political pamphlets and books. Bogle published Walter Rodney's influential The Groundings with my Brothers in 1969.

The bookshops' political influence and success made them targets for racist and extreme-right groups so it is all the more galling that Centerprise, like Willesden Bookshop, will be closed by a Labour council.

It appears that Labour councils can no longer measure the social and community value of such amenities but instead have succumbed to the values of neo-liberalism and the 'market'.

From The Voice

An ongoing  fight to save one of Britain’s oldest black bookshops and an iconic community centre is to go to court later this year.

Officials at the Centerprise Trust Community and Arts Centre in Dalston, east London warned the centre could close because Hackney Council is to take its trustees to court in October to evict them.
Centerprise’s trustees have called a public meeting for August 29 at 7.30pm and are calling on the black community to help save the centre.

They said the public meeting, to be held at the Kingsland High Street-based Centerprise, would discuss ways of preventing the Council from evicting them and then selling the premises.

In a statement, Centerprise’s representatives said: "The organisation has served the people of Hackney and other Londoners for over 42 years. The Council is taking Centerprise Trustees to court on 15 October 2012 to evict them for no reason at Central London County Court."

Local residents have been up in arms over plans to close the centre, which also runs a restaurant and offers Saturday classes in English, maths and science to local children aged five to 18.

More than 800 people have so far signed an online petition to keep the centre from closing.

A Hackney council spokeswoman told The Voice: "We would much rather that this issue with Centerprise did not end up in court, but the current rent of £10 a week for a double shop-front, two floors and a basement on a busy high street is not a rent level that could continue for any organisation."

The council added: "Over the years the council has offered Centerprise a number of opportunities to apply to be considered for discounted rent under the council’s voluntary and community sector lettings policy. They did not take this up, despite a number of attempts from the council to encourage them to engage with us."

But Centerprise’s Emmanuel Amevor told The Voice last November trustees did not receive a change of rent document the council allegedly sent but were later told the centre had lost the right to protected tenancy.

He added: “We got this building under the Inner City Partnership Fund programme in 1983/84. The building was bought for us after successfully winning a competitive application. Instead of giving us a cheque they bought the building for us.”

Amevor added: “We used to pay what was known as the ‘peppercorn’ rent, which was £10 per week, but I believe this building is ours, so a penny paid to them is a penny too much."

“Now they want to move from peppercorn rent to market rent, which would be £37,000 per year.”

The online petition can be seen at

Brent Council MUST do more to fight A&E closure

Ealing Council continues to put Brent in the shade as far as fighting for the health care of its local community goes. Brent Council has passed a resolution opposing the closure of Central Middlesex A&E and leader Muhammed Butt has agreed to speak at the march on September 15th but that's about it.

Ealing Council has been actively leading their local campaign and delivered leaflets and posters to every household i the brough. They are distributing 25,000 leaflets in the top 9 community languages and advertising on bus shelters and buses. A further household leaflet distribution will be made to advertise the planned March.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council has also been proactive as can be seen in the extract from their website below:

Join the 'Save Hammersmith' campaign

Hammersmith & Fulham Council is urging people to join it in campaigning to save Hammersmith hospital's A&E department.
The council says:
  • Closing the A&E at Hammersmith could leave large numbers of residents dangerously far away from emergency care.
  • No evidence has been provided that moving services to St Marys, in Paddington, would improve outcomes for residents.
  • With thousands of news homes and jobs coming to the borough, we need more local capacity, not less.

Save our hospitals - public meeting

- Do you agree with the NHS plans to downgrade local hospitals?
- Are you worried about having to travel out of borough to receive urgent medical care?
- This is your chance to question NHS bosses and have your say!  
Hammersmith Town Hall
Tuesday, September 18

» Download a summary of the NHS hospitals proposals
(pdf 109KB)
» Download a map of proposed NHS hospital closures (pdf 527KB)
» Message from Cllr Marcus Ginn, cabinet member for community care

Lend you voice to our campaign:

Take part in the NHS consultation - closes October 8, 2012
Have your say

Read your stories

Sign our petitions:

Sign our petition

Share your stories

Like us on Facebook

Volunteer to collect signatures:

Contact us for a campaign pack by emailing us at

Download petitions:

» Download a Save Hammersmith hospital poster (pdf 16KB)
» Download a postcard to send to your doctor (pdf 54KB)
» Download a printable petition to pass to your neighbours  (pdf 81KB)

Send us your stories:

We want the NHS to understand what their plans mean to our lives by publishing your stories. Have our hospitals saved yur life or helped a loved-one? Email us your story and a picture:

Read and comment:

» Waiting times to soar under 'half baked' A&E closure plan
» Charing Cross health services to ‘fit in a gym’
» Expert to dissect NHS hospital downgrade plan
» Closing stroke centre 'will put lives at risk'
» No show for botched NHS road show
» Doctors 'sceptical' on A&E closures
» H&F residents speak out on hospital cuts
» Battle to save local hospital services begins
» Save Charing Cross hospital
» Councillors quiz health bosses over accident and emergency closure plans
» Mass A&E closure threat across west London
» Charing Cross downgrade a reality - vascular surgery moves to St Mary's
» Warning over brain surgery plans - brain surgeons move to St Mary's
» Support Charing Cross - major trauma centre - Charing Cross loses out to St Mary's
This is a chance for Brent Council to try and recover some of its credibility by showing that it is capable of standing up and mounting a strong campaign in partnership with the local community.  The e-petition urging it to do just that is HERE

 The petition reads:

We, the undersigned, petition Brent Council to do all in its power to prevent the closure of the Accident and Emergency Department at Central Middlesex Hospital. This will include making the case against the closure and seeking support for this position on all appropriate bodies on which the council is represented.


> North West London NHS is consulting on proposals in 'Shaping A Healthier Future' which would mean that Central Middlesex Hospital's Accident and Emergency Department, already closed overnight, will close for good. This is likely to be the first step in the complete down-grading of the hospital and its potential closure in the long term.

> The hospital serves some of the most deprived wards of South Brent which have poor transport links with Northwick Park Hospital, the likely alternative A & E.

> The area is the location of major roads including the North Circular and the Harrow Road; railway lines including the Euston-Birmingham main line, Overground, Bakerloo, Chiltern, Metropolitan and Jubilee lines, a major industrial area in Park Royal; as well as waste management and other potentially pollution causing processing plants in the Neasden area. The area also includes the major venues at Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena.

> All of the above are potential locations for major incidents necessitating ready access to an Accident and Emergency facility.

> Ealing Council has already committed itself to actively fighting the proposals and Brent Council should do the same.