Saturday, 31 March 2012

Jenny Jones explains her policies to BBC London panel

Follow this LINK to see a confident appearance by Green Mayoral candidate Jenny Jones. So refreshing after the three male candidates.

Don't stop me now!

Warning: Strong language but it is about the Tories...

Friday, 30 March 2012

Make your voice heard at Consultation Forums starting next week

The Spring Area Consultative Forums start next week.  The complete list with agenda is:

WEMBLEY - Tuesday April 3rd, 7pm at Patidar House, 22 London Road, (off Wembley High Road)
  • Establishing ward working priorities for 2012/13
  • Olympic Route Network (ORN) - update from TfL and LOCOG
  • A consultation on Allotments and Food Growing Strategy - have your say!
  • Brent celebrates the Diamond Jubilee

KILBURN AND KENSAL - Wednesday April 4th,7pm at Kensal Rise Primary School, Harvist Road, NW6 (note change of venue to that previously advertised)
  • Brent Council agreed budget for 2012/13
  • Olympic Route Network (ORN) - update from TfL and LOCOG
  • Establishing ward working priorities for 2012/13
  • Site within Albert Road, South Kilburn - a proposed redevelopment 
  • Brent celebrates the Diamond Jubilee
 HARLESDEN - Tuesday April 10th, 7pm All Souls Church, Station Road, NW10
  • Establishing ward working priorities for 2012/13
  • Next steps for Harlesden Town Centre 
  • A consultation on Allotments and Food Growing Strategy - have your say!
  • Brent celebrates the Diamond Jubilee

WILLESDEN - Wednesday April 18th, 7pm College of North West London, Denzil Road, NW10
  • Agenda not yet published
Get a,long and have your say. Remember you can book a 'Soap Box' slot to talk about a subject of your choice by arriving early and filling in a form or booking online.

Five candidates to fight Brent and Harrow GLA seat

The complete list of nominations for the Brent and Harrow GLA constituency has now been published on the London Elects website. LINK

The candidates are:
  • ALI Shahrar - Green Party
  • HENRY Charlotte Alexandra - London Liberal Democrats
  • McGOUGH Michael Jack - Fresh Choice for London
  • RAJPUT Sachin - The Conservative Party Candidate
  • SHAH Navin - Labour Party Candidate
'Fresh Choice for London' is UKIP's election guise.  The lack of 'novelty' candidates means that this should be a relatively straight-forward contest.  George Galloway's victory in Bradford may help ignite the GLA campaign which so far has been relatively low key.

2008 Result

Election Candidate Party Votes %
Navin Shah Labour 57716 37% Elected
Bob Blackman Conservative 56067 36% Not elected
James Allie Liberal Democrats 19299 12% Not elected
Shahrar Ali Green Party 10129 7% Not elected
Zena Sherman Christian Party 4180 3% Not elected
Sunita Webb UK Independence Party 3021 2% Not elected
Pat McManus Left List 2287 1% Not elected
Avind Tailor English Democrats 2150 1% Not elected

Drought impacts on Brent's country park

In the West End last night the pavement cafes were crowded with people enjoying the balmy evening - t-shirts and sleeveless dresses abounded.  However, my companion voiced an unease that is becoming more common as the unseasonal weather continues: 'This is lovely but it's not right in March is it?"

Meanwhile, on my doorstep in Fryent Country Park, the impact of the drought is increasingly evident. Some of the clay paths are already dried and creviced and some ponds are completely dry.

Corresponding with an officer in the Parks Department I was told:
Many of the ponds are at their lowest winter water level on record.  In a typical year the ponds will fill with water once the ground has saturated: depending upon the autumn and winter rainfall that can be any time between summer and December.  However, ponds are invariably full of water by late January and remain so for several months. This year several ponds have not re-filled and many are below their typical summer water levels.   There have been a few relatively dry winters since local records commenced in 1983, but this winter fewer ponds are holding water than in the previous driest.  
The  immediate impact is on the amphibian life cycle with doubts over whether some will complete their life cycles this season.  The photograph below shows the edge of the pond (above top) where some recently hatched frog tadpoles have already died after the water in which the frogs spawned receded. The black areas are masses of tadpoles stranded in shallow water. Some tadpoles are stranded in tiny pools of water created by the paw prints of dogs and foxes which will dry up quickly without rain.  Tadpoles in shallow water are easy prey for predators and crows have been very active on the fringes of the ponds.It is generally reckoned that normally out of 2,000 eggs only 5 adults will survive to breed - the odds this year must be much lower.

I have seen no necklaces of toad spawn at all in the Fryent ponds this year. Newts will also be affected because they wrap their single eggs in the leaf of a water plant and these are lacking in the residual water left in the centre of the pond.

The Fryent ponds are clay lined and it is possible that some garden ponds which have rubber liners will not have lost so much water, and of course their owners are able to top them up (until the hose pipe ban comes in) The 'amphibian crisis' this year means that it is important that those of us with our own ponds make a special effort to support any tadpole populations that we have.

Pond insect life will also suffer and it will be interesting to see if we have a reduction in the dragonfly and damselfly population, for example, this summer.. The Lombardy poplar trees on the crest of Barn Hill, a local landmark,  have been looking sickly for some time, with one falling last year, and I would expect further casualties if the drought continues.

Meanwhile down on the allotment my fellow gardeners are preparing for the worse, installing additional additional water butts and other rain home made rain capturing devices (eg old baths!), and thinking about drought resistance plants.

Sod's law probably means that having written this  by Monday the heavens will have opened and the conduited hidden waterways of Brent will have over-flowed.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Quintain and Brent Council unwilling to help Wembley visitors to spend a penny so residents suffer

Local residents have sent this letter to Brent Council and call on other residents to support them:

Wembley Stadium, our national treasure and home of football (probably better known around the world than the Taj Mahal!) has no public toilet facilities in the area surrounding it. So what do people do when they need the toilet?

A recent residents meeting with the Met. Police revealed that local residents whose houses are near the Stadium have to suffer people urinating and defecating in their front gardens and also on the streets. This disgusting practice has been going on for a long time and no-one has done anything about it, despite constant complaints.

The Met Police have done their best by apparently first contacting Brent Council, who claimed it was not their responsibility, as the land is privately owned by Quintain. They are a large company which is undertaking the building of Wembley City, which will be a whole new town around the Stadium.

The Police then apparently approached Quintain themselves, who flatly refused to put any toilets on the grounds around the stadium as they claim they needed the space for more vending kiosks, which of course will bring them extra revenue, (at the expense of the residents). The few existing toilets have been damaged and are now closed. Quintain are always claiming they want to work with the residents, so this is hardly an example of their good intent.

Finally, the Police went to the London 2012 Committee, who said they would be pleased to fund the cost of the toilets, as they obviously have a vested interest. Quintain was informed that London 2012 would fund the cost of these toilets, but they still refused to have them on their land!

This is a ridiculous and intolerable situation and as residents of Brent, we feel it is incumbent on the Council to take action and mediate between the parties, so that this matter can be resolved immediately, as it is a mere 4 months before the Games begin.

It is also an Health and Safety issue and it is the duty of the Council to care for and to protect its residents from contamination and infection due to a lack of hygiene. Children play in these self same gardens and on the streets, which people have used as a toilet.  Also residents and the many visitors we have, walk on these streets, which have been contaminated with urine and faeces and worst of all, the council workers actually have to clean up the mess, which also puts them at risk.

Surely it is a basic human right for residents to expect to be provided with an adequate number of public toilets, especially as some of the thousands of visitors who so often descend on this world famous venue, are the main cause of this revolting behaviour.  Dog fouling is against the law and yet the Council is willing to turn a blind eye when humans do the same! What will the visitors to the 2012 Olympics, (who come from all over the world) think if there are no public toilets provided for them once they leave the Stadium?

Quintain and Brent Council have a very close and long-standing partnership and we have no doubt that the Council can persuade Quintain to do the right thing and allow London 2012 to put as many toilets as necessary on their land for the Games, at least as a temporary measure. As time is short, installing an adequate number of portable toilets is a possible solution.
Once the Games are over, it is Brent Council's duty to ensure that some permanent solution to this unacceptable  problem is found. Some residents are very angry for having to put up with this for so long and still be ignored. Consequently, they have been forced to consult a solicitor with a view to suing the Council for compensation, if a permanent solution to this problem is not found.

Residents who live around the Stadium have been very patient and tolerant for years. Our lives are blighted in some way almost every day, as there are also many events at the Arena and now at the Fountain Studios. We are greatly inconvenienced and have to plan our lives around Stadium events and we certainly do not get any Council tax rebate for all this disruption! To add insult to injury, we are also expected to put up with the results of a lack of public toilet facilities.

 I have been asked to contact you by residents of Empire Way, Dagmar Avenue, Linden Avenue and Mostyn Avenue, who are the most affected.   Many have lived in Wembley most of their lives and some are elderly and infirm and are very distressed and ashamed by this, as we all should be. I ask you, would you put up with people urinating and defecating in your front garden?

We look forward to hearing from Brent Council and expect the Council to accept our reasonable request for adequate and permanent toilet facilities around the Stadium area, to cope with all the visitors.

Zerine Tata
On behalf of the residents who live around the Stadium.

If you agree write to the following with a short note saying that you endorse the above letter:

Consultation: Kilburn Times hits nail on the head

Hats off to the editorial team at the Brent and Kilburn Times. This editorial sums up what many Brent residents are feeling at the moment:

Livingstone supports fight to keep Cricklewood Library Open

This is an extract from the Q and A session at the London Federation of Green Parties meeting on Monday when we discussed whether to urge voters to give Ken Livingstone their second preference mayoral vote. At 14.00 mins I ask Ken, noting Brent Council's library closures, whether he will provide leadership to London councils, and particularly Labour London councils, on the cuts issue:

All the videos from that meeting can be found HERE

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Ann John to meet with Keep Willesden Green campaigners

The Keep Willesden Green campaign, which has been very successful in gaining broad public support over its opposition to the Willesden Green Redevelopment has arranged a meeting with Cllr Ann John, leader of Brent Council on Wednesday April 4th. The campaign will be represented by members of its committee.

Campaigners are opposed to the loss of the Old Willesden Green Library building and the loss of the open space in front of the current library, want to see the Willesden Bookshop relocated in the proposed Cultural Centre and most importantly want the Council to call a halt to the development while a full consultation, involving the full participation of local people, takes place.

Child Prisoners meeting on Thursday

Ken 'far from perfect' but we must prevent four more years of Boris

Green Party Mayoral candidate Jenny Jones said: "The voting system gives Londoners a chance to make a positive Mayoral first choice for a more equal, healthier and affordable London.

“However, should I not be counted among the top two candidates after the first round, then I want a Mayor who will work with Green Party Assembly Members to deliver on pay equality, less pollution and cheaper fares.

“Ken Livingstone is far from perfect, but we know from his last time as Mayor that we can work with him to make positive changes in a way that would be impossible with either Boris Johnson or many other senior Labour politicians.”

Livingstone said: ”What we are seeing is that as we get closer to the election a broadening alliance of people wants a fairer London.

“The Green endorsement for second preferences is a key building block to winning change on May 3rd. I am very pleased that the Green Party has decided to encourage their supporters to cast their second preference votes for me.

“I look forward to working again with Green Assembly Members, including tackling air pollution, creating a fairer London, and improving pedestrian and cyclists’ safety.”

Discussions focused on the clear desire among members to help prevent a further four years of Boris Johnson’s Mayorship, and the clear differentiation between recommending the Labour Party and Livingstone as a candidate, the man himself frequently opposing Labour Party policy.

Members emphasised that the priority of the campaign was to increase the number of Greens elected to the London Assembly in order to best hold the successful Mayor candidate to account.

Members raised particular concerns over Livingstone’s record on road building, the poorly regulated financial sector and air pollution.

However, the meeting meeting voted to support the recommendation after hearing pledges to curb top pay at City Hall, help the lowest paid workers, end cheats and evasions over air pollution used by the current Mayor and Government and financially support boroughs wanting to introduce 20mph zones.

Greens make Livingstone second preference for London Mayor

Following an address by Ken Livingstone on Monday evening at the Federation of London Green Parties and a full, good-natured debate, London Greens voted to recommend a second preference vote for Livingstone by 45 votes to 19.

I am quite sceptical regarding Ken and totally disenchanted with Brent Labour's performance over cuts, but in the end was swayed by the argument that Ken's election would provide some political space for Green and progressive policies.

During the Q and A I asked Livingstone about the cuts and whether he would provide leadership for London councils in opposing them. He distanced himself from Brent Labour stating that he was opposed to the library closures and spoke about the disproportionate cuts to London council funding. I was not left convinced that he would lead a huge campaign on the Save the GLC model but would hope that the left of the Labour Party would put additional pressure on him during his mayoral campaign.

There was not time in the debate to examine in depth the financial implication's of Livingstone's policies and I still have to be persuaded about their viability - particularly the details regarding the funding of a revived Education Maintenance Allowance.

Among the arguments against endorsing Livingstone were the toxic impact of Labour's cuts in London, the public asking if we were giving Ken second preference and the Green's had no chance of winning why not make him No.1, his cosiness with the city in his previous administration, his continuing commitment to road building, and his questionable support for reactionary homophobic clerics. It was also argued that the Greens with their own MP and a Green led council, were strong enough to stand on their own record without reference to Labour.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Should London Greens endorse Livingstone as second preference candidate? Decision on Monday.

The London Green Party will on Monday evening decide whether to recommend Ken Livingstone as their second preference candidate in May's Mayoral election.

The decision will be informed by an analysis by the Green campaign on how Livingstone's pledges and record tally with the Green vision for London.

In the analysis, the former Mayor was awarded a score of 5 out of 10. A summary can be found at:
Campaign Manager and London Assembly Member, Darren Johnson, said: On Monday, the London Green Party will democratically decide whether Ken Livingstone's policies and record warrant the Party's endorsement as our second choice for Mayor.

"Our campaign is focused on getting Jenny Jones elected Mayor and ensuring as many Green candidates as possible are elected to the Assembly.

"Our objective is to ensure that after the election City Hall is as Green as possible, tackling issues like fair pay, safer roads and improving air quality. The supplementary vote system allows voters to make a second choice for their Mayoral candidate. We are happy to work with other parties and groups wherever their policies will address the needs of ordinary Londoners."

The decision will be made by a special meeting of the London Green Party on Monday evening.

Representatives from local Green Parties in each borough as well as any other members in attendance will vote on the decision.

The analysis of Livingstone focused on key areas of policy for London. While receiving full marks on opposing aviation expansion and housing, he received nothing on the areas of policing and crime because of his ‘simplistic focus on police number officers' rather than ‘civil liberties or community relations' as well as 0 on road building owing to his championing of the failed Thames Gateway Bridge scheme.

Livingstone received half marks on pay inequality, Green jobs and local business, health, traffic reduction, walking and cycling, fares and transport investment and the environment and climate change.

By comparison, current Mayor Boris Johnson received just 1 out of 10, receiving half marks on health and Green jobs and local business.

Vote for clean air for our children

With the North Circular streaming fumes across the borough, the dust and emissions around the waste hanbdling and processing sites of Neasden and Park Royal, and the number of children and adults suffering from respiratory illnesses, we in Brent are very much aware of issues around air quality. Things will get worse if there is any further airport expansion.

The Green Party is making air quality a major issue in the GLA elections:

Libraries will survive!

Many thanks to Linda Green for this link. Great fun...

Narrow win for Lib Dems in Dollis Hill

Alison Hopkins, the Liberal Democrat candidate, beat Parvez Ahmed (Labour) by only 37 votes in the Dollis Hill by-election.

RESULT (2010 local election total for each party  in brackets)

Alison Hopkins (Lib Dem) 1205  46.49% (41%)
Ahmed Parvez (Labour)     1168 45.06% (39%)
Samer Ahmedali (Conservative) 140 5.40% (17%)
Pete Murry (Green) 79 3.05% (3%)

Rejected papers: 21

Turnout: 29.8% 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Lib Dems to win Dollis Hill by-election?

With only minutes to go until the polling stations close I will hazard a prediction on the Dollis Hill by-election front.

Despite the irritation of many at the deluge of leaflets that have gone through letter boxes this week and last,  I expect Alison Hopkins of the Lib Dems to win. Not many will have taken in the fact that many of the red and blue leaflets were not from Labour or the Tories in the  few seconds it takes to consign them to the recycling bin. If you look hard at my photograph you can even see the Liberal Democrats symbol on the small (but long) yellow leaflet.  W poor old Greens were not even honoured with a Lib Dem leaflet in our colours!

Lib Dems  have been out in force with Paul Lorber and Bob Wharton toiling away but I saw much less of the Labour Party and nothing of the Tories. The Lib Dems are likely to pick up some of the Tory votes. Alison Hopkins does have a local reputation at the Ox and Gate end of the ward for her community activism and that will add some votes to her advantage in standing in a ward that the Lib Dems held previously and the sympathy vote for her predecessor who was well and fondly regarded. One left-wing activist told me that he was voting for her on the basis of her community politics despite rejecting the Lib Dem's Coalition policies.

My colleague Pete Murry fought a straightforward and honest campaign on policy issues and I hope to see him get a decent vote in this closely contested Lib Dem-Labour battle.

Fund school places not free schools, Twigg urges

The following news report from the BBC should be of interest to Brent Labour Councillors and the local Labour Party who are currently debating whether the Council should go into partnership to promote a free school:
The government should tackle the growing crisis in primary school places rather than building more free schools, says shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg. The equivalent of 2,000 primary schools' worth of children - some 450,000 - need to be found places in England's schools by 2015, he says. Cash should be allocated where it is needed the most, he added.

 The government says it will spend £4bn on easing the pressure. This sum includes £1.9bn already announced for 2011-12 and an extra £600m announced in the autumn. It also includes a further £800m for the coming two years, which the Department for Education is expecting to be allocated. Mr Twigg accuses the government of "ignoring" what he says is a growing crisis. He highlights the fact that much of the money promised for new places has been ear-marked for free schools - the majority of which are secondaries where pupil numbers are falling.

 As free schools are parent-promoted they do not necessarily emerge where the population pressure points are. Mr Twigg says it would make more sense to spend the money on tackling the shortfall in primary school places, but that this could include some free schools. He says: "Across England we need nearly half a million more primary places - the equivalent of building an extra 2,000 primary schools between now and the general election.

"At the moment, the government has only promised an extra 100 new free schools, many of which will be secondaries. The government seems oblivious to the problem, preferring to focus on pet projects rather than real need. If we are to improve the number and quality of our primary schools, the government needs to start rolling up its sleeves."

 Mr Twigg is not saying that 2,000 primary schools need to be built, and readily acknowledges that many of the children could be accommodated in expanded primaries. But he urged ministers to address the issue head-on in the Budget, "allocating all its education capital to meeting real need, not salami slicing some off for pet projects".

He added that if the government did not address the real need the effect on pupils' education would be dramatic, with many "squeezed into temporary bulge classrooms in Portakabins".

The problem is particularly acute in London with 100,000 places required by 2015. Extreme measures are being taken to tackle the problem. In Barking and Dagenham, where an extra 8,000 places are needed, the council are proposing to rent out an empty Woolworths and an empty MFI store. And in Sutton, the council leader has asked for permission to end the infant class size limit of 30. In Brighton, where 2,000 more places are required, there are plans to teach children in a football stadium, a bingo hall and redundant churches. And in Lancashire alone a whopping extra 14,000 places are needed and predictions show 11,000 places are needed in Birmingham, Leeds, Hertfordshire and Hampshire.
 Hannah Richardson BBC New March 20th

Brent teachers to strike over pensions on March 28th

Teachers in Brent schools will be coming out on strike again on Wednesday March 28th in further action over the pensions issue.  They will be distributing a leaflet to parents and carers setting out their case:

A message to all parents and carers in Brent
Teachers across Brent will be taking strike action on Wednesday 28th March.

We know this may be inconvenient for you but we hope you will understand why we are doing this and that you will support us.

Teachers do not like taking strike action but we believe we have been given no choice by the government.

We are striking because the government won’t listen to us and insist on making unnecessary changes to our pensions. We believe these changes will be damaging for teachers and for education.

Below we list some of the facts about our pensions we think you should know. For more information please talk to teachers at your school.

Teachers, and other public sector workers, are being asked to pay 50% more for their pensions, work longer and get a smaller pension when they retire.
Teaching is an all consuming and tiring job and can be stressful. We do not believe it is reasonable to expect all teachers to work until 68 to get a pension.
The government says our pensions are unaffordable but their own figures show that this isn’t true.
Many private sector workers have no proper pension scheme. The government should do something about this, not cut the public sector pensions.
Cutting public sector pensions will just make more pensioners poorer and put the cost of supporting them on to the State and taxpayers.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Town Hall Hotel in Wembley?

From 'The Caterer and Hotel Keeper'

Conversion to a hotel is a possible option for the future of Brent Council's Town Hall, which is soon to be put up for sale.

The Grade II-listed 1930s building, which sites on a five-acre site with views over London, is to be sold as its life as a town hall will end with the opening of Brent's new Civic Centre in June 2013. It is hoped that a new owner, who will preserve the heritage of the building, will be found before the council leaves.

Property agent Colliers International has helped the council prepare a planning brief, in conjunction with a heritage report, which says the building could be converted to a hotel or be used as a residential, healthcare, leisure or retail development.

A precedent for the conversion of a Grade II-listed former town hall to a hotel was created with the £20m opening in Bethnal Green of the Town Hall Hotel and Apartments, in 2010. The hotel went on to win the RICS London Award for Building Conversion.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Barn Hill by-election on May 3rd

The offiicial notice announcing a by-election in the Barn Hill ward has been posted on the council website. The by-election follows Cllr Judith Beckman's resignation following her move out of London.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Dollis Hill shenanigans continue with scurrilous leaflet

Following the controversy over the Lib Dem leaflets with a near invisible imprint which was last week  raised in Parliament via a Labour attack on Sarah Teather, a leaflet emerged this weekend with no imprint at all.

Printed on one side of A5 in black and white it is is headed  GUILTY . Beneath that word are portraits of Sarah Teather and two Lib Dem councillors and a list of their alleged misdemeanours it goes on to urge 'Vote for whoever you want. Don't vote for Lib Dem losers'.

I am not sure of the legal situation regarding this particular leaflet but it does not state who has produced it nor have any details of the printer.

As the leaflet makes a couple of environmental points I should make clear that it has nothing to do with the Greens and we disassociate ourselves from its contents.

We have distributed the London Green News in some parts of Brent, including Dollis Hill, but are delivering only one A5 leaflet for the by-election.  This is at the most 1/20th of the Lib Dem's distribution per household!

Brent Performance Report reveals impact of cuts

Brent' Council's Performance Report for the third quarter of 2011-12 which is published as a supplement to the Performance and Finance Review gives an indication of how both Coalition policy and council cuts are beginning to hit services.

It uses a  RAG (Red, Amber, Green) traffic light system where Red indicates performance below target, Amber performance below expected levels but within tolerance of the target, and Green where performance is as expected and the target met or exceeded.

All the tables below are of services given a warning Red rating. Therese are the services where improvements need to be made. It is fair to point out that many services also achieve Green ratings and these are likely to be publicised in Brent press releases and the Brent Magazine.

The Environment and Neighbourhood Services department has suffered cuts and reorganisations so it is not surprising that out of 12 performance indicators half have a Red rating and 2 an Amber and only one Green. The others are black indicating that the Council thinks performance cannot be fairly measured against a target. In reading the table remember that there is another quarter to go.

Environment and Neighbourhood Services

Performance indicator
2010-11 end of year
2011-12 year to date
2011-12 current target
Volume of residual waste kg per  household
% of household waste sent for recycling
Tonnes of waste sent to landfill
Number of fly-tipping incidents
Active library borrowers as % of population
% of streets below standard for litter

Despite the Council's claims made for the Library Transformation Project the target  for the percentage of Brent residents who are active borrowers was set below the 2010-11 level and performance is below that lower target. Next year with the closure of Willesden Green for redevelopment. the figure is likely to decline further. The number of library visits  per 100,000 population gets an Amber rating. The target was 4,834 compared with 6,660 in 2010-2011 and after the third quarter stood at 4,606.

The Council ridiculed the Green Party's claims that cuts to street cleansing would result in Brent becoming a dirtier borough but the figures justify our claim and the residual waste/recycling figures are also below  the Council's expectations.

Children and Families

Performance indicator
2010-11 end of year
2011-12 year to date
2011-12 current target
Net shortfall of places at Key Stage 1 (5-7 year olds)
Percentage of 16 to 18 year olds not in education, employment or training
Percentage of care leavers in  education, employment or training
Number of looked after children with independent fostering agencies
Number of looked after children placed with in-house foster carers
The shortage of school places is a continuing problem which has been addressed by an ad hoc mixture of school expansions, temporary classrooms and bulge classes. Coalition policies giving priority to free schools and academies and providing them with disproportionate amounts of funding, makes it difficult for the Council to build the new schools that are needed.

At the other end of the age range the number of school leavers not in education, employment and training is likely to increase in the recession and the situation has been worsened by the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance. The plight of looked after children is highlighted by the number of care leavers who, as they enter adult life, are not in education, employment or training.

Regeneration and Major Projects

Performance indicator
2010-11 end of year
2011-12 year to date
2011-12 current target
% of major planning applications processed within 13 weeks
Gap between Brent and London for working people on out of work benefits
Number of households living in temporary accommodation
Proportion of residents with no qualifications (gap between Brent and London. Minus figure reflects higher than average gap)

The increase in the proportion of people on benefits compared with the London average and the increase in numbers of temporary accommodation are clearly the most worrying items ion the short term but the 'no qualifications' figures builds up problems for the long term.

Central Services

Performance indicator
2010-11 end of year
2011-12 year to date
2011-12 current target
Serious violent crime rate (per 1000 of population)
Serious acquisitive crime rate (serious thefts, burglaries per 1000 of population)
Serious knife crime rate per 1000 of population
Gun crime rate per 1000 of population
Time taken to process Benefit claims (average number of days)

Crime usually increases in a recession and although I am not suggesting a direct causal link, clearly delays in benefit payment do not help.

Adult Social Care

The Council is not meeting its target of 90% of Mental Health Social Care assessments completed within four weeks and the figure currently stands at 65%. Similarly the percentage of social care packages put in place within the recommended timelines following assessment is 65% against a target of 95%.

Financial Report

Adult Social Care is a major financial pressure  and although overspend has reduced compared with the second quarter the General Fund overspend stands at £292,000.  In Children and Families' General Fund there is as underspend on Achievement and Inclusion (School Improvement Service and Connexions which was cut) but an overspend on Social Care partly due to an increase in child protection cases following the baby Peter case.

Environment and Neighbourhood Services had no overall  under or overspend with savings from Neighbourhood Services (including libraries and transportation) offsetting an increase in Environment and Protection costs which receives a Red rating.

The Regeneration and Major Projects General Fund had a small underspend and there were underspends overall on Capital Budgets with that of the Civic Centre underspent as a result of 'adjusted profiled cash flow'. It was originally £51m and reduced to £29.5m.  Children and Families Capital Projects which this department has taken over gets a Red grading with an overspend of £5m.

The Department's main pressure is caused by the housing benefit cap with an increase of 27% in homeless applications and 42% in acceptances compared with last year. The total pressure is forecast at £750,000 for 2011-12.

Beneath all these figures are real people experiencing real hardship as a consequence of  the Government's cuts to national benefits and the  public sector, alongside cuts in local authority funding leading to cuts in Council Services.It all adds up to further evidence of the damage the Coalition's austerity measures are doing to people who are not to blame for the crisis.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Housing: The Brent crisis and Jenny Jones' solutions

As a result of rising rents, housing benefit cap and demographic pressures the crisis in housing is likely to deepen in Brent over the next year. Green Party Mayoral candidate Jenny Jones has launched a 'mini-manifesto' to address the issue across London.

At present the media private rent for a two bedroomed resident in Brent is £1,300 a month compared with £975 in Harrow and £1,100 in Ealing. As a proportion of the media of local  individual take home pay that is 74% in Brent, 49% in Harrow and 61% in Ealing. So Brent residents pay more in cash terms and as a proportion of income.

The proportion of the population claiming housing benefit is of obvious relevance to future pressure when the cap hits and this is 14% in Brent, 7% in Harrow and 10% in Ealing.

Brent has 2,370 empty homes which is 2.13% of the housing stock. 27% of these have been empty for more than 6 months. Of Brent's total 59 are owned by the council, 290 by housing associations, 24 by other public bodies and 1,997 are privately owned.

Jenny Jones has issued a mini-manifesto which seeks to address the roots of the problem:

LET’S MAKE HOUSING AFFORDABLEWe will build genuinely affordable housing and refurbish over one million homes to cut energy bills. We will push to give private tenants more security and stabilise rent levels. We want to change the housing market from a playground for speculative investment to a source of secure, affordable homes. (In Brent the proposed Willesden Green regeneration includes NO affordable housing in Galliford Try's development)

1. Build genuinely affordable homesBuild at least 15,000 affordable homes per year, of which 40% will be family sized. Calculate an annual London Affordable Rent for the average household and use public land to keep rents at or below that cap.

2. Build homes that are affordable to runEnsure all homes are actually built to high energy and water efficiency standards with enhanced building control checks, making them affordable to run as well as rent or buy.

3. End fuel poverty and cut carbon emissionsRoll out the RE:NEW home insulation scheme to over one million homes in London by 2015, helping people to install simple measures and to access the Green Deal, and work with councils and housing associations to bring all social housing up to an enhanced Decent Homes standard by 2016.

4. Help co-operatives build more housingEstablish the London Mutual Housing Company to help communities set-up Community Land Trusts, which will give them control over the design, development and management of permanently affordable homes.

5. Help co-ops restore empty homesSet-up a clearing house to make all suitable publicly owned empty homes available to be brought back into short-life or permanent use by self-help co-operatives, and encourage private owners to list their properties on the system.

6. Protect the rights of private tenantsLobby for comprehensive and smart reforms of the private rented sector to bring down rents, make tenants more secure in their homes with a default secure five year tenancy agreement, protect tenants from exploitative landlords and improve the condition of private rented housing. Guarantee these rights for homes built on public land and with public money.

7. Create an Ethical Lettings Agency Set-up an ethical lettings agency for private tenants and landlords, and a web site for tenants to post feedback on landlords and letting/managing agents.

8. Protect the rights of tenantsOppose all elements of the Government’s housing agenda that weaken security, raise rents for social tenants, and that reduces housing benefits for private and social tenants instead of reducing rents.

9. End rough sleepingBring all grants for pan-London homelessness services into the GLA to protect frontline services, and work closely with homelessness organisations to ensure nobody needs to spend a second night out sleeping rough on the street.

10. Campaign for root and branch reformUse our influence and new research to build momentum behind radical reforms such as land value taxation and a ban on foreign investors, solutions which could stabilise house prices. Our housing crisis will only deepen if we fail to fix the roots of the problem. 

Angry residents question Cllr Crane on Willesden Green Library plans

At a public meeting - called by the Keep Willesden Green Campaign - the Green Party candidate for Dollis Hill, Pete Murry, has called on Brent council to rethink its plans to demolish Willesden Green Library. The meeting, which was originally intended as a hustings for the by-election, saw a huge amount of anger directed at Councillor Crane; the Labour executive member for regeneration. The public demanded to know why the regeneration plan did not include any provisions for social housing. The audience also asked why there has been no proper consultation on the plans and why their  petition of 5700 names was being rejected by the council. 

Pete Murry, who is a long standing Brent resident and user of the library said:
It beggars belief that the petition submitted by Keep Willesden Green is being fobbed off on a technicality. We will continue to press for the petition to be accepted and for a full council debate to be had.

The Green Party do not agree with the demolition of the library in the first place and are fighting against it. If, however, the Labour plans do come to fruition it seems absurd that there will be no social housing built as part of the project; especially considering the fact that almost 15,000 Brent residents are on the housing  waiting list.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Centre for Staff Development to close in 2013 amidst uncertainty over future provision

The Centre for Staff Development (Gwenneth Rickus Building) which houses Brent's School Improvement Service and is the local authority's base for in-service education, will be closed in the Summer of 2013.

The building in Brentfield Road, close to the Swaminarayan Temple , was formerly part of Sladebrook Secondary School, which closed in the 1980s to be replaced by the fee-paying Swaminarayan Hindu all-through school.The school suffered some bomb damage during air raids in the second world war but is of a very solid build, characteristic of the period - in sharp contrast to some of our newer buildings!

The building has been much improved and has is  an exemplar of energy saving innovations with very low energy costs. It will be sold off by Brent Council and there is a possibility, because of the shortage of school places in the south of the borough, that there may be an approach by a free school provider - either alone or in partnership with the council (see previous posting on the internal Labour debate about this LINK).

When I worked on children's consultation in Brent this was a building that was considered as the possible site for a new secondary school. Controversially, the Wembley Park site was chosen instead.  More recently a group called Ma'at has formulated a bid for a secondary free school to serve the south of Brent. This was partly the result of the lack of secondary schools in the area compared with north of the North Circular and also the views of some black parents and teachers that black children were being failed by the school system - although the organisers denied that this would be a school for only black children. See my previous post on the issue HERE

Although the new  Civic Centre is due to house most of Brent Council staff from Summer 2013 this is more complicated in the case of the School Improvement Service as it may well not exist in its present form by then.

This morning John Simpson, now an independent consultant, but a former Brent Chief Executive and Director of Education, gave a presentation to school governors at the CSD on 'The Future of Services to Schools in Brent'.

Against the background of local authority cuts, the Coalition's wish for reduced local government, and schools converting to academies as well as  the setting up of free schools, he argued that the Council could no longer carry on as before. He set out a model whereby the council would continue to provide core statutory services but others would be traded services.

Options for the core services were:
1. Minimum interpretation of what the Council should provide.
2. Intervention support - intervening in schools which are in difficulty and support them in overcoming them
3. Prevention support - preventing schools getting into difficulty which would involve monitoring and visits.

Options for the traded services were:
1. The council withdrawing from the market completely - schools would buy-in from elsewhere
2. The council establishing a local authority traded services company in collaboration with schools
3. Schools establish an independent public service mutual organisation with the local authority as a minority partner - cooperative working between schools.

John said that at recent headteacher consultations he had been surprised that many heads had favoured Option 2 rather than 3. In a contribution I suggested that the danger was that headteachers would become business managers whose main job was procurement, leading to a neglect of the main job which is the improvement of the quality of teaching and children's learning.  I also expressed a fear that the uncertainty would lead to a loss of some key staff (68 people are employed in SIS) and thus a deterioration in the quality of the service schools were being asked to buy into.  This has already happened in the case of some other council departments.

Another speaker thought that Option 2 gave more democratic accountability and would be less of a distraction to headteachers.

Further questions are raised about overhead costs, particularly in the case of Option 3 but also possible with Option 2. In the case of the Willesden Green Cultural Centre we have been told that as this is a high quality, state of the art building, rents would be high. As the Civic Centre is probably an even higher specification building, positioned next to the Arena and the Stadium, how much would an independent traded services mutual organisation  have to pay for office space and meeting rooms so that they could provide in-service education?

There was a concern that the changes would lead to fragmentation:  reduced in-service education and training, and increased isolation of schools because of the lack of affordability of buying-in when council revenue and government funding are being reduced. Paying for services that were formerly free and increased charges for those that were subsidised, amounted to a cut in real terms to school budgets.

Discussion afterwards also speculated on practical issues of whether teachers from the south of the borough would find it easy to travel to Wembley for courses starting at 9am (i.e. rush hour) and the lack of parking spaces at the Civic Centre.

These changes need to be very carefully considered. The briefing will be repeated on the evening of Thursday March 22nd at the CSD and I urge all Brent governors who didn't come today to attend. The wrong decisions could have a devastating impact on the future education of our children and their life chances.

The Schools Forum recommendation on the issue is likely by December 2012 so it is important that governing bodies discuss the issue this term or early next.

Monday, 12 March 2012