Sunday, 30 September 2012

GCSE affair "morally repugnant" senior examiner

The legal action undertaken by Brent Council, other local authorities and many schools,  seeking a judicial review of the GCSE marking fiasco has received unexpected backing from a senior figure in AQA, the examination board.. This report from the BBC:
A senior exam board figure has resigned over the shifting of English GCSE grade boundaries which left thousands of pupils with lower grades than expected. Stephen McKenzie quit the exam board AQA on Wednesday after 16 years as a GCSE English moderator. In his resignation letter Mr McKenzie said the grade boundary shift was "the worst decision ever made by AQA". He said the AQA board’s handling of GCSE boundary changes was "morally repugnant"  He told BBC News: "I could not go on working for them - to be frank AQA English has fallen apart." 

 Mr McKenzie's resignation came as the exam boards and the exam regulator Ofqual were given more time to consider a legal challenge from teaching unions, schools and local authorities asking them to regrade English GCSE papers.  The alliance has written formally to Ofqual and the exam boards AQA and Edexcel challenging the refusal to regrade GCSE English papers in England. They are threatening to seek a judicial review after thousands of pupils scored lower-than-expected results when grade boundaries were raised midway through the year. 

In his resignation letter Mr McKenzie called the handling of the affair "morally repugnant" and "disingenuous". He said that claims that teachers had marked controlled assessments too generously were based on "paltry evidence" and called the moderation of the qualification "poor, stressed and chaotic". He added that AQA had reneged on guidance to schools about the standard needed to achieve a C grade and said that this had hit the most vulnerable part of the student population hardest.

 "We have in this whole sorry business the classic social disaster scenario; mismanagement succeeded by chaos, hurt innocents succeeded by collusion between official bodies to suppress the reality of the disaster.  The various AQA English specifications have as their spine texts - To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Crucible, An Inspector Calls - where ordinary but principled people stand up for social justice at whatever cost. If I see anyone at AQA English do this any time soon, I will reconsider my decision not to work for them. Otherwise I mourn the passing of a once fine institution."

In his letter Mr McKenzie quotes emails from a senior English assessor at AQA who states that the changes to grade boundaries between January and June did "massive damage" and "instantly hit the most vulnerable" pupils. In particular the assessor's emails focus on the raising of the grade C boundary on the lower tier English 

Mr McKenzie, vice principal of Morley Academy in Leeds, says this paper is marketed at the students who would have had to work the hardest to achieve a C or better and who needed the grade to enter apprenticeships, employment or further education. 

Earlier this month letters between another exam board, Edexcel and the regulator Ofqual, were leaked to the Times Educational Supplement. These showed that Ofqual ordered the board to make grade boundary changes against its will just two weeks before the results were published. 

The TES says the Mr McKenzie's resignation letter and the emails reveal "that assessors from AQA, the board with the biggest market share in GCSE English, were just as concerned as their Edexcel counterparts about the grading changes". AQA said it was unable to comment because of pending legal action over GCSE English.
Who would you back,  the principled Stephen McKenzie or Michael Gove?

'Drink and Think' on economic growth at the Torch, Monday

The Torch, Wembley Park
                                      BRENT CAMPAIGN AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE
                  Join us for our next "Drink and Think" 
             Evening on Monday October 1st, 7.30 - 10.30

These are informal gatherings when we discuss issues of relevance to climate change and the environment. The "Drink" doesn't have to be alcoholic and the "Think" can be on any topic you wish to raise.

The starting topic for this session is "Where do we stand on economic growth". Everyone welcome.

               Function Room, The Torch, Wembley Park, 

          Bridge Road, Wembley (corner with Forty Lane)

Jubilee and Metropolitan Line (Wembley Park) - cross road outside station and turn left to the corner. Or buses 83, 182, 297 to Wembley Park Station or 245 to Brent Town Hall (south bound) or Wembley ASDA (north bound) and proceed to junction with Bridge Road.

Enter via front entrance and bear left past snooker tables or find Function Room entrance round the back of the pub near car park. Traditional pub food menu if you want to eat.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Does Labour support Adonis's academies policy?

During the Brent Education Debate, when Melissa Benn was expressing optimism about Labour's Policy Review producing a better policy on academies and free schools, and some faith that Stephen Twigg was clarifying his position, I said, "What about Lord Adonis?"

I thought I should explain.  Andrew Adonis, former Labour schools minister,  wrote an article in the New Statesman on September 14th LINK entitled Beyond Our Berlin Wall about the division between state and private education. His ideas are a long way from the support for the public sector and an accountable local schools network that were being expressed in our debate.

Adonis states:
It is academies that are systematically eradicating failing comprehensives, And academies - as independent state schools - are the vehicles by which private schools can become systematically engaged in establishing and running state-funded schools.
Explaining  how private schools should sponsor academies, he says:
I don't just mean advice and assistance, the loan of playing fields and the odd teacher or joint activity... I mean the private school or foundation taking complete responsibility for the governance and leadership of an academy or academies and staking their reputation on their success, as they do on the success of their fee-paying schools.
Taking for granted the superiority and success of academies and free schools, Adonis ignores fundamental issues such as selection, funding and small class sizes, as well as democratic accountability The day after the debate I took a class of children from a local private primary school to Fryent Country Park. There were 17 in the class; last year there were just 12. In contrast both community primary schools visiting that week had classes of 30. Is Adonis proposing that private school sponsored academies should have funding and class sizes to match their sponsors?

The New Statesman had a special reader offer of Adonis's new book, "Education, Education, Education", signed and with a "personalised inscription" at a special reduced rate of £8 (rrp £12.99). Somehow it seems to sum up Labour's confused position.

Friday, 28 September 2012

How councillors can REALLY fight back against the Coalition

Following on from the discussion with Muhammed Butt at Brent Trades Council and discussions within Green Left over Brighton Council and cuts, I thought it would be helpful to publish the Independent article  LINK by Owen Jones in full here:
Imagine coming into politics to shut down youth clubs, take money from poor people and make the lives of elderly people harder and lonelier. It’s unlikely that any councillors stuck a rosette on their lapel with these ambitions, but it is not an unfair description of their job these days. With the Communities and Local Government’s council budget being slashed by 28 per cent by 2014, the state is not just being rolled back by this radical Tory government at the national level; it’s being stripped away locally, too.

Last week, I spoke to several Labour councillors in Southampton. Although they felt they had managed the first round of cuts without inflicting excessive hardship – indeed, they have offered to reverse pay cuts imposed by the previous Tory administration – over the next few years, jobs, services and people will be hit. “ Intolerable” was a term one councillor used to describe the situation. But they had no intention of spending the next few years resigned to acting as the local Labour custodians of Tory policy, merely attempting to minimise the damage inflicted on their communities by cuts they did not agree with it. Instead, they wanted to fight back.

What was suggested was a strategy that could pose a new threat to the Government’s whole austerity agenda. Councillors right across Britain would convene a conference to decide on a national strategy for taking on the unfolding disastrous cuts to local government. Rather than spending the next few years managing the misery locally, councillors across the country could co-ordinate a response that would challenge these cuts. It would not simply be out of principle; after all, it is local councillors who face being blamed for policies imposed by a government they oppose.

In part, such a strategy would need to drive home the impact of these cuts. Many people struggle to understand what services are actually provided locally; they only notice them when they depend on them and they abruptly disappear. Often, many will suggest libraries as the most likely victim, and indeed up to one in five face being shut down because of cuts. In Brent, for example, six libraries – or half the total number in the borough – face the chop.

But the impact is far, far greater than local libraries. The anti-cuts website False Economy have been collating examples, and the picture is frightening. Bristol City Council is closing eight of its care homes, sacking 130 workers and leaving almost 200 vulnerable elderly people having to find somewhere else to live. In York, the cost of attending day care for disabled people has been hiked by a stunning 263 per cent. In Northamptonshire and Bolton, street lamps are being dimmed or switched off, leaving women particularly at risk. In austerity Britain, the lights are literally going out.
Lunch clubs can alleviate the loneliness many elderly people face, but they are being slashed, too. In communities like Anglesey, teaching assistants face the sack, and funding for local authority social care across Britain dropped by more than 6 per cent in a year. Back in July, a legal challenge to North Somerset Council’s decision to decimate youth services with a 71 per cent cut was dismissed. Such cuts are happening across the country. Expect thousands more bored teenagers to flood on to our streets.

We don’t hear much of the Big Society these days, but local authority cuts to charities make Cameron’s flagship project even more farcical. Women’s refuges faced a drop in funding of nearly a third last year, leading the charity Women’s Aid to reveal that it had turned away 230 women a day. In a country in which two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner a week, lives are at risk.

In Liverpool, local authority funding for the voluntary sector has been reduced by £18m, or nearly half. According to New Philanthropy Capital, six in ten charities face being hit by local council cuts; and, overall, charities face losing up to £5.5bn because of local and national cuts, says the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations.

By the next election, councils across Britain will have been stripped to the bone. Amy O’Callaghan, a Labour councillor in Luton elected in 2010, says they originally anticipated local cuts of £22m but – thanks to changes in benefits and business-rate restrictions – it has soared to £48m in the past three months. That will mean the council will not even have enough money to pay for statutory services. “So as the situation stands, we won’t even carry out what we’re legally accountable to do come 2015,” O’Callaghan says.
A newly published report for the Resolution Foundation reveals a typical low-income family faces a shocking 15 per cent drop in real income by the end of the decade. Just one reason – among many – is the Government’s attack on council tax benefit. Up to six million people have either all their council tax paid, or are offered a partial rebate; but funding has been cut by 10 per cent, with councils left to decide who suffers. With the elderly protected, and councils unwilling to withdraw it from already hammered disabled people, low-paid workers and working-age unemployed people face a drop in council tax benefits of up to 44 per cent.

Those councillors in Southampton are right – this situation is intolerable. But fighting back is not straightforward. Some anti-cuts activists argue that Labour and Green councillors should simply refuse to implement cuts, and set budgets based on people’s actual needs. But councillors respond that they would not be martyred, as in the past, through imprisonment or being made personally liable for funds. Instead, the Department for Communities and Local Government – led by Eric Pickles – would simply intervene and impose cuts with different priorities. Labour-run Islington Council, for example, might then lose policies it is rightly proud of, such as free school meals and the London Living Wage.

But that does not mean inaction. Labour councillors – with other potential allies, such as the Greens – must meet and decide a national strategy. After all, they derive their mandates from opposing Tory policies. They are uniquely rooted in their communities. Whether it be planning co-ordinated days of action in their boroughs – or even more radical actions – they are specially placed to mount a challenge to national cuts.

With the failure of austerity sucking growth out of the economy as borrowing surges, it would be impossible to ignore them. The choice facing our councillors is clear: face having to take responsibility for kicking people who are poor, disabled, old or young – or join together and fight back.
What is Brent Labour's response?

Brent libraries recognise Grunwick struggle on Saturday

Jayaben Desai  outside Grunwicks in Chapter Road (now flats)
 Back in 2010 LINK I called for Brent children to be taught about the Grunwick dispute as part of local black and women's history.

I am delighted to see that Word Up! which now incorporates Black History Month has a talk on Saturday at Ealing Road Library entitled 'Striking Women' which is a talk on 'Asian Women in British Labour history from Grunwick to the Gate Gourmet dispute. There is a talk and Question and Answer session from 3.30pm to 4.30pm.

There is also an exhibition which will run until 7th October.  I haven't seen it so I am not sure if it includes the powerful video on Grunwick made by Brent Trades Council. It ought to.

I am still critical LINK of the incorporation of Black History Month into the general seasonal Word Up! festival and concerned that it will lose its political edge. I am pleased to see this recognition of a vital event in UK history and I hope schools will organise trips to the exhibition and follow it up in the classroom.

Schools are also, by invitation only, able to attend along with adults a dramatisation of the story of Ellen Craft who escaped slavery by dressing up as a white man. The performance is on Tuesday 23rd October  from 11.15am until 12.15pm.

There is a Family Black History Fun Day on Thursday 1st November 11am until 4pm at Harlesden Library plus and on Saturday November 3rd, Thamizh, a day of Tamil Culture will be held at Willesden Green library from 10am until 8pm.

Other events can ve found on the brochure below. (It is a large file so may take a while to load on slower computers). It can also be viewed as a slide show HERE

Let's have a 'healthy' Harlesden debate on Saturday

 I had to try for ages to find out what time the Question and Answer session was at the 'Shaping a Healthier Future Roadshow' to be be held in Harlesden on Saturday.

Finally we were told that although the consultation was from 10am until 4pm that the Q&A would be from 11-12. There were problems about the timing of the Q&A at the Wembley roadshow and it began late.

Now expensive advertisements from NHS North West London have appeared in the local papers and guess what? They just have the 10am-4pm timing with no mention of the Q&A and its timing.

The Q&A is of course the only time the public get to hear alternative views about the proposals which include the closure of Central Middlesex A&E. Perhaps they really want to keep it to cosy 1:1s where the PR people have more chance of pulling wool over people's eyes.

Get there at 11am and let's have a public debate!

Harlesden Methodist Church, 11am, Saturday September 29th.

Selection by ability to pay?

Shortly after the Brent Education Debate I was passing the Ark Academy and overheard a parent, application form in hand, saying to his partner, "It is the nearest we can get to sending him to a grammar school." That speaks volumes about how the academies are really seen, despite assurances that they will cater for the whole community.

There are now more secondary school students at the Ark but none have been there long enough to produce any exam results on which parents could base their secondary choice. Apart from the impression of modern resources and facilities, what else do parents base their choices on?

Anecdotally, the lure of 'discipline' seems to figure high with parents. The academy reinforces that with strict rules and long hours. The television screen in the school's reception area portrays all the various hair styles that are not allowed, which when I saw it seemed mainly aimed at Afro-Caribbean children.

Needless to say the children I have spoken to don't always share their parents belief in the 'tough love' approach. I have a worry, with academies in general and free schools, that some sponsors have an underlying mission to discipline and 'civilise' working class and ethnic minority students.

Actual examination results in Ark schools are a mixed bag. In 4 of the 5 Ark schools with a GCSE intake the percentage of pupils gaining 5 A*-C grades this year has fallen since 2011.  Burlington Danes is down from 75% to 64%, Walworth from 69%to 62% and St Alban's from 68% to 50%. Only Charter has increased from 39% to 49%. Of course this is in the context of the marking controversy where I welcome Brent Council's decision to join in the legal challenge.

I have been approached by parents with children in the primary department of Wembley Ark Academy with concerns about the expenses involved in sending their children to Ark. One parent said, "I know the actual schooling is free but we are expected to spend a lot on outings and this can mount up when you have several children at the school."  Many community primary schools subsidise outings as they recognise  that they contribute to a well-rounded education and should be open to all children.

The  Wembley and Willesden Observer this week (Parents find uniforms a cost too far, page 5) quotes Judy Watson whose 11 year old twins joined Ark at the beginning of this year on the high cost of school uniform:
I had to buy a blazer for each of them, which was about £60, and a sweatshirt, they had to have bags with the school logo on and a tracksuit for PE s well. They are running the school like a private school and not every parent can afford it.
She contrasted this with the reasonably priced uniform at primary school and the ability to buy low-priced essential from supermarkets.  I have covered the case for generic uniforms before on this blog LINK

The grammar school system was a selective system based on the 11+ examination. My mother always bitterly regretted that despite passing the 11+ she was not allowed to go on to grammar school because her family couldn't afford the uniform. Selection by 'ability' was also affected by 'ability to pay'.

In a time of austerity don't schools have a  duty to make sure that 'ability to pay' is not a factor in school choice?

Record fine for flouting Brent planning laws

Thursday, 27 September 2012

What Future for Brent Schools? Video of recent debate

Many thanks to Pete Murry of Brent Green Party for filming the second half of the What Future for Brent Schools debate. The video picks up after the presentations by the panel and the initial questions and statements from the audience.

The panel is from left to right (physically, not politically!) Cllr Mary Arnold, Brent Council leader member  for children and families;  Martin Francis Brent Green Party spokesperson on children and families; (Gill Wood, local parent, governor and chair); Jon O'Connor, Cooperative College; Melissa Benn author and governor and Hank Roberts, National President, ATL.

Butt on the rack says "We want to go back to what Labour stands for"

Speaking at an open meeting of Brent Trades Union Council yesterday evening, Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt admitted that some of the decisions the  council had made could have been made more wisely and that things could have been done differently. He said that he wants to take residents' views into account more in the future and that desire had caused some 'push back', which had culminated in the argument with Gareth Daniel.

He said that he wanted to take a detailed look at the council's budget, "How we provide services and why, reviewing every service."  He said that all directly employed council workers would receive the London Living Wage from October 1st  and that the council would be writing to schools to urge them to pay the LLW. He would be meeting with the London Living Wage Foundation to find ways of ensuring all the council's suppliers were London Living Wage compliant. He said that given the current difficult times the council had to do something positive to put money in people's pockets.

Other initiatives were to look at tenancies and how the council could improve standards without increasing rents, extend collective  energy procurement to include residents as well as council buildings and schools, and find ways of strengthening voluntary organisations such as the Credit Union, Private Tenants Group and the Law Centre.

He said, "We want to go back to what Labour stands for and why we are here."

In the discussion Butt was urged to recognise that the Labour Party was much more than just a council, it was part of the labour movement, and thus should be a campaigning  organisation against the capitalist system. He was asked how he was planning to organise a fightback alongside trades unions and the community.

Butt responded, "Me being here is just a start. I am willing to go anywhere, whether to a warm reception or a hostile one, to have a dialogue."

 He said that the Labour Group had appointed a new local organiser who would help get their message across and have a dialogue to move things forward, "We are starting campaigning and need to raise awareness. We want to make that change and if we don't our residents will suffer."

Asked about the budget process and council tax increases and urged to construct a needs budget as a campaigning tool,  he said that with the changes in the consultation system (The Area Consultation Forums have been replaced by Brent Connects) with a member/officer Any Questions type panel there would be more of a dialogue. Council Tax rises of 2.5% and 3.5% had been factored into budget planning but the council were waiting to see what other London councils were doing. The government's announcement of the settlement had been delayed until December but the council wanted an  indication before then. The council were also lobbying the government over the additional 60,000-70,000 extra residents indicated by the latest census which could be worth an additional £4m . This could negate the need for a rise in council tax because the council would only get 65% of the money raised by an increase He indicated that because of the delays the statutory consultation may run out of time.  He invited people to feed specific suggestions and questions into the budget making process.

When others present pursued the issue of making a needs based budget (ie deficit budget)  Cllr Butt said they were looking at campaigning  against the cuts. However, "We can oppose the cuts but budgets have to be set. We wouldn't be doing anyone any favours if the commissioners came in. They would keep only statutory services such as schools and adult social care. We would lose Sports Centres for example. We would land ourselves in more problems by taking that route. Instead we will have a dialogue which may mean working with other London boroughs. If you are asking us to take a lead, we will take a lead."

Outlining the sums the council needed to run services he said that government funding to Brent  was now £152m, was £192m, and by 2016 would be £110m.  Schools and Adult Social Care took £140m of this. The council needed £250m to run services so this total had to be made up from Council Tax and fees and charges.

Another speaker told Butt that a needs budget could not be set in the Town Hall, the council need to go out to voluntary organisations, trades unions and community groups - that was real democracy. He claimed that Labour had "forgotten what democracy looks like". In the absence of a fightback all sorts of rightwing nastiness and racism could arise.

Another speaker returned to the issue asking, "Are you considering a needs budget. It is a good propaganda tool showing what is needed and where the gaps are. Are you considering this or just administering cuts? We can't wait for the next Labour government. We need concrete exmaples of how you are going to fight."

Butt said that he was not ruling out a needs budget which would "show how much we have lost and how much we need". . Muhammed's new political advisor  he would be lobbying the Labour Party over how much cash needs to be put back into local government after the disproportionate cuts it had suffered.

On the issue of Willesden Green Library, raised by three members of the audience, Cllr Butt  said that he had met with Keep Willesden Green campaigners and had passed on their concerns to Galliford Try, planners and the Regeneration Team, and their points will be taken into consideration for the new plans being presented in December.. He said that the old Willesen Library was now being retained and this meant internal redesigns. The council were still looking at 92 private units at the back of the site and this was the only way to fund it.

He was challenged with  the alternative of a small amount of building and refurbishment and the loss of the cinema,  bookshop and car park in the current plans.   The questioner said, "It's like saying I need a new boiler so I will knock my house down! I've heard it called asset stripping."  Butt responded that a lot of the 'stuff' in the 80s building had come to the end of its natural life and the building was unfinished. The cafe and cinema  had closed as a result of not being used. "We need a mini Civic Centre in Willesden so people from this area don't have to travel all the way to Wembley and we need it an no cost to us."

On the plight of the disabled he said that he took the point about how they were being hit and that he was looking at helping them through the Council Tax Support Scheme: "If we have to lobby the government we will do so."

In answer to another questioner about the council's ambivalent attitude to free schools and academies and a possible forced academy in the borough, Butt said that they were a last resort to address the shortage of school places. He said that for free schools the council had set out criteria for partners that would keep the essential principles in terms of admissions, ethos and teachers conditions of service. He was urged to consider federation of schools and extending schools as an alternative.

Asked about the Counihan family, Muhammed Butt said that it was a difficult case. Brent had 18,000 families on the waiting list and only 900 properties available. The council hoped to provide 1,700 affordable properties by 2014. He said the only way  to tackle the problem was through regeneration and Section 106 funds  and the council needed to find developer partners. The situation would be exacerbated by the new Right to Buy scheme which would take out larger properties.

Clr Butt concluded by saying that the council had been rubbished by the press and had to admit it had got its messages wrong: "We need to get better, even if it means starting from scratch."

Pete Firm, chair of Brent TUC said that he felt the council were rolling over in front of developers. Labour seemed to be assuming it was going to win the next election, However, it should not be a matter of voting Labour because the alternatives were worse but Labour putting forward policies that people would be enthusiastic about.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Brent Council joins in GCSE judicial review call

Brent Council has  confirmed it will be joining other local authorities in an attempt to seek a judicial review into the altering of grade boundaries for GCSE examinations between January and June this year.

The council took the decision after conducting a thorough survey of predicted and actual GCSE pass grades among all of its secondary schools which found that as many as 100 students who sat exams in June were adversely affected by the grade boundaries being reset.

Brent's Lead Member for Children and Families, Cllr. Mary Arnold said:

"We believe that the AQA and Edexcel exam boards altered their grades between January and June of this year which resulted in a marked difference in students' predicted and actual grades. On behalf of the hundred or so students affected in Brent and the many thousands of other young people across England we are whole heartedly behind the legal challenge to Ofqual for a thorough investigation into this matter."

A formal joint letter of complaint, to which Brent is signatory, was issued to Ofqual on 20 September calling for a judicial review into the increase in grade boundaries.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Clive Heaphy spoke out on Brent school victims of IT scams

Yesterday I tweeted about Brent schools being featured on Panorama's 'Reading, Writing and Rip-offs' last night. This was based on a circular from the council to headteachers.

In fact Brent weren't mentioned as such but Brent schools have had similar experiences, although not as expensive as some reported.

Clive Heaphy  Brent Director of Finance (since suspended while allegations of gross misconduct are investigated) spoke to the Times Educational Supplement about it earlier this year and reported on this blog LINK
Furness Primary is being sued by a finance company for £301,083 plus interest calculated at £14,579 in April and still rising. But Brent Council said the equipment involved was worth just £9,150 when it was sold off by the finance company in February.

Kensal Rise Primary is being sued by the same company for £287,000. Both schools have made counterclaims for money they say they have already paid “in error” - £805,000 in the case of Kensal Rise. The same school has also received a more recent claim from a second finance company for £253,000.

Brent says schools have been tempted into such deals by offers of up to £15,000 “cash back” a quarter from equipment suppliers that make initial lease repayments appear more favourable than the real long-term cost. Clive Heaphy, the authority’s finance director, said that primary heads were not always “business savvy” and cannot always “see through” such offers.
Given the political disagreement about academies Heaphy was very clear with his warning:
 “Inevitably there is a recipe there for difficult times ahead and potentially for some mismanagement issues and possibly some fraud issues,” he told TES, adding that increased autonomy for local authority schools had already made it much harder for town halls to guard against them misusing public money.

“I still retain personal accountability for schools’ finances and yet I see less and less data and have fewer and fewer levers to be able to do anything about it,” Mr Heaphy said. “There is very little action in reality you can take.”

On academies he said: “The only watchdog over them is the Department for Education itself. We have no relationship with them, but who does?”


Monday, 24 September 2012

Brent LINk vote against Central Middlesex A&E Closure

After a debate between Dr Mark Spencer of NW London NHS and Graham Durham of the Brent Patients Campaign, Brent LINk members and any public attending, voted to oppose the closure of Central Middlesex A&E. There were two abstentions and no votes against.

In the course of the debate Dr Spencer repeatedly failed to answer Graham Durham's request for him to explain why he had stated in a BBC interview before the consultation began that four Accident and Emergency units would have to close in NW London.  Dr Spencer also admitted that despite the rise in the number of children in Brent schools and the importance of child health, that schools, headteachers and governing bodies had not been consulted.

There will be another chance for the public to make their views known when the 'Shaping a Healthier Future' roadshow comes to Harlesden Methodist Church on Saturday September 29th. The Q&A session will be from 11am until 12 noon.

Will Sarah Teather MP  come and hear what her constituents have to say about the proposals so that she can champion their views in the House of Commons?

Reading, Writing and Rip-offs and Brent Schools tonight

BBC Panorama tonight at 8.30pm, BBC1 apparently includes section on Brent schools exploited by IT companies:

Debate NHS changes in Stonebridge tonight

Dr Mark Spencer, proponent of 'Shaping a Healthier Future' will be debating with Graham Durham, of the Brent Patients Association, an opponent of the plans,  at this meeting tonight.

Muhammed Butt Q&A with Brent TUC on Wednesday

A message from Pete Firm, chair of Brent Trades Union Council

Muhammed Butt, the Labour Leader of Brent Council is coming to the meeting of Brent Trades Union Council this Wednesday evening, 26th September.

This part of the meeting will be a question and answer session with Councillor Butt, in which people may wish to ask him about the Council’s budget strategy and cuts, its relationship (or not) with chief officers, its involvement in the campaign to defend the NHS among other issues.

The meeting is open to all interested people, though preference in discussion will be given to Trades Council delegates, and is at the discretion of the chair. You are also welcome to stay for the rest of the meeting after Muhammed Butt has left.

Please try and arrive on time to avoid disrupting the meeting.

The meeting is at 7.30 p.m. at the Trades Hall, 375 High Road, NW10 2JR, near Willesden bus garage.
Map is here:

Sunday, 23 September 2012

FA to build World Football Museum at Wembley?


The Football Association is hatching plans  to build a ‘World Football Museum’ at  Wembley Stadium.
A planning application has been submitted  to Brent Council in north-west London for permission to construct a building to display exhibits including a crossbar from the  1966 World Cup Final.

The new World Football Museum will house a unique private collection of football memorabilia which has been assembled over many years,’ the FA’s planning application says.

The FA expects up to 1,200 visitors through the doors every match day. The stadium stages up to 30 games and other events each year.

The new museum will be in the pedestrianised Olympic Way – known to fans as Wembley Way – near the stadium’s entrance.

The plans envisage a space half the size of the National Football Museum in Manchester, which opened in July. 

FA sources said the plans were still in their ‘early days’. One said: ‘Like all potential  ideas there are lots of hurdles along the way.’

Brighton Council sets out budget options

Further to the previous article I reproduce below the page on which the minority Green Council in Brighton and Hove is consulting on its budget.  Last year's consultation in Brent at the Area Consultative Forums consisted of  a presentation by Ann John and Muhammed Butt which was very broad sweep with few details or options. Audiences were rather frustrated as a result. Will the new leadership have a more detailed consultation in the new Brent Connects forums?

 Budget public event

The council is inviting anyone who lives in the city to come to a free event at Jubilee Library, Jubilee Square, Brighton on Wednesday, 26 September from 6.15pm to 8.30pm. Attendees will be able to have their say about how the council should plan for the future. 

Booking a place is essential, registration is free and only takes a few minutes. Please register using our budget public event booking form.

There are many ways you can get involved and have your say on the budget, find out more on our your money, your services, your say page and join the debate on twitter using #BHBudget.

Budget examples activity

During this event one of the activities will include looking at five broadly different ways the council could work.

You will be asked to consider 'what if the council used this way of working and how would it affect me?' As well as this it is worth considering how the different examples would affect others, such as:
  • A single young professional, living in a shared flat in the city centre
  • A single mother of a child aged 9, living on benefits
  • A family of five - two working adults and three children aged 13, 7 and 3, living on the outskirts of Brighton
  • An older couple living on their pensions
You can find out more about the examples by clicking on the links below. Each of these include suggestions of how the different ways of working may affect certain services and people.

’Just the basics’

Aside from some services that it must undertake, the council would provide only basic services (like social care, bin collection, council housing) and charge for everything else as and when you want it. 
This would reduce the amount of money the council would need to spend to fund services and mean that council tax might be lower or, at least, would not increase.
Here are examples of the changes this might lead to: 
  • Collecting rubbish less frequently, say fortnightly. If you needed rubbish or recycling taking away any sooner you would pay an extra fee for the disposal of each bag of rubbish or recycling.
    - “I’m surrounded by students who make loads of rubbish compared to what I put out to be collected”(Single mother)
  • Increasing charges for leisure, library or cultural facilities.
    - “It used to cost us £x to go swimming together on a Saturday morning. Now it costs £y. That’s a lot, but in truth we can afford it” (Mother in the family)
  • Charging for the use of public toilets such as those in pavilion gardens, and not providing others at all.
    - “I do get caught short now and again. It seems wrong to ask me to empty out my purse each time.” (Pensioner)

‘Prevention rather than cure’

The council focuses spending on services which work to stop behaviour or events that lead to higher costs for the council in the future. 
Long term, the prevention of these issues would reduce the overall financial burden on the council and public services in the city, but in the short term more expenditure might be needed. This may only be achievable by cutting back on less critical services until long term costs reduce. 
Here are examples of the changes this might lead to: 
  • Spending more now on tackling anti-social behaviour, alcohol and substance misuse before these become expensive problems further down the line. For example, Community Support Officers could patrol parks to prevent and deal with anti-social behaviour. Similar to the government’s stop smoking campaigns, more resources could be put into helping people reduce drug and alcohol use.
    - “I spend a lot of time in the parks. I feel a lot safer seeing people on patrol.” (Pensioner)
  • Talking with families and communities early to prevent or seek early resolution of cases of domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, substance misuse, anti-social behaviour, school exclusion, etc.
    - “This is a waste of money. Even if every resident’s problems were sorted out, there would always be more people turning up. People should sort out their own problems.” (Young professional)
  • Working with health services and other partners to find ways to maintain people in their homes and communities for longer, avoiding the need for more expensive care.
    - “This has made a great difference to the quality of life of my parents, and, to be honest, a great difference to us in terms of not having to pay fees to nursing home.” (Wife in the family)

‘Keeping services not cutting them’

The council delivers all services on the basis of need without any extra charges. This means people paying for services they may not use but which are vital to others. 
To deliver all services for free would require an increase in overall revenue, including revenue from council tax. 
Here are examples of the changes this might lead to: 
  • Children’s Centres that deliver more services free of charge.
    - “I don’t see why rich families with lots of children should be able to use Children’s Centres for free when they have the money to pay. It was their choice to have so many kids.” (Single mother)
  • Health related gym passes.
    - “Why should I have to pay for other peoples gym passes, their health is nothing to do with me. (Young professional)
  • Garden waste collection for all properties.
    - "I live in a flat and don't have a garden, why should my money go towards this service." (Pensioner)

‘Partnership council’

Services are still provided to businesses and residents but not necessarily delivered directly by the council. 
This could reduce the cost of those services to the council and council taxpayers.
The council would play a supportive role in making sure that services were delivered in a way that best suits the community and the city. 
Here are examples of the changes this might lead to: 
  • Adult social care could be delivered through a combination of reduced council provision but increased private and voluntary sector organisation provision.
    - “I’m worried about ending up in a private care home after some of the things I’ve read.” (Pensioner)
  • Neighbourhood councils could involve communities more in local decisions. Community organisations might then be invited to deliver services, for example, parks or street cleansing.
    - “I’d love to be involved in some of the decisions that affect me, but no-one listens to me at present.” (Single mother)
  • Youth services could be provided by community/voluntary or private organisations working in partnership with the council.
    - “I’m involved in a youth club. I’m sure we could run some of these services better than what the council does.” (Teenager in family)

‘Go for growth’

The council re-directs more funding to help build the local economy. Spending on the transport system would ease congestion, for example. More new homes would be built to attract new investment. Loosening of planning regulations would enable swifter building of housing and business developments. Targeted business rate discounts could be introduced to make the city more attractive to investors. 
In the short term council income would be reduced which could endanger some basic city services like bin collection and libraries. 
In the longer term people should have more money to spend as the economy should thrive which in turn will create more jobs as businesses can take on more staff, which in turn leads to more growth. There would also be revenue from an increased number of council tax payers and extra business rates from more companies. 
Here are examples of the changes this might lead to: 
  • Spend more money on better infrastructure to improve how people can travel around the city, which could help businesses develop.
    - "It takes a long time to get around the city in rush hours because of the congestion.” (Young professional)
  • Invest more in affordable housing to attract people and businesses to the city.
    - “I just can’t find any decent jobs in Brighton, which is why I’m stuck in this one bedroom flat." (Single mother)
  • A reduction in business rates to encourage big businesses to set up in the city.
    - “We have a pretty good life, but the worst thing about it is commuting up to London. I wish there were more better paid jobs in Brighton & Hove so I could spend more time with my kids.” (Husband in family)

Key questions for the anti-cuts movement as councils start budget setting process

Brent Council, along with all other local councils and public sector bodies, are beginning the process of formulating its budget this month.   The anti-cuts movement is faced with what to say to councils as they review their policy in the face of reduced central government funding.

I outline some of the issues below. In the last two Brent by-elections Brent Green Party has stood anti-cuts candidates and the party as a whole has opposed the austerity agenda. However it is no secret that there has been disagreement over the minority Green council in Brighton and Hove, where a 'Purple Coalition' of Labour and Conservative councillors defeated the Green budget. The Greens rather than resigning, decided (with one dissenter) to work with the budget, which has led to the implementation of cuts.

Green Left, of which I am a member, organised a public debate on the situation which was reported in Red Pepper.LINK Romayne Phoenix, a supporter of Green Left, who is Chair of the Coalition of Resistance, stood in the recent leadership election which was won by Natalie Bennett. However, Will Duckworth,  her running mate, won the deputy leadership contest - not on the highest number of votes but because of our rules which require the deputy should be male if the leader is female and vice versa.
I think the main issues are:

1. Probably fundamental - whether local authorities have any real power when most of their funding comes from central government and that has been cut and is to be cut further.  LAs of whatever political complexion end up delivering central government cuts locally and have little room for manoeuvre once statutory services have been provided.
2. Whether devising a 'needs based' budget - either to shape an actual over-spend budget or as a campaigning tool to show the area needs more money than government.funding provides, is a demand we should make.
3.  If it is, how should we go about campaigning for such budgets and what form should consultations with the local community take?
4. Where do we stand on the raising of council taxes when local councils argue that this is the only way to protect vital services. Aren't  council tax rises,  particularly with the changes in council tax benefits, going to cut the disposable income of the poor even more?
5. If we decide that such rises are needed should we be triggering a local referendum on them to bring the cuts right out into open democratic debate?
6. The Brighton Question - the Socialist Party/TUSC are busy 'exposing' Labour (and probably Green) councils who implement cuts and advocating old Militant/Liverpool solutions of setting deficit budgets to defy the Coalition and being taken over by commissioners etc. They are planning to stand TUSC candidates in the local elections and re are busy building their platform now. (See Fightback Facebook
7. Recognise that cuts are being passed down the line and that soon school governing bodies will be facing making cuts in staffing (if they have not already done so). What should Green and anti-cuts governors do? (In answer to the question 'Are schools allowed to submit a deficit budget?' Brent Council  has responded 'No. A school that identifies a potential deficit must submit a deficit recovery plan, and work with [the council's] Children and Families Finance department to get formal approval for the deficit and recovery plan'.)
8. How do we build an anti-cuts movement across local authorities involving trade unions, political organisations, voluntary groups,  single issue local campaigns, patient groups, parents, etc?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Whistles, leaks and the public interest

In its 'Council at War' front page story on September 6th the Brent and Kilburn Times, LINK apart from  reporting the proceedings of the Brent Labour Group regarding the relationship between Muhammed Butt, the current Brent Council leader, and Gareth Daniel, then the Chief Executive, also published extracts from a series of e-mails.

The content of the e-mails vividly illustrated how the relationship was at breaking point. Daniel accused Butt of writing in a 'vitriolic and accusatory tone' and Butt described Daniel's e-mail as 'aggressive' and doubted whether they could continue to work together.

The Council's whistle blowing policy  is mainly aimed at uncovering fraud and offers protection to the whistleblower.. The most prominent local case has been Hank Roberts' reporting of alleged fraud over bonuses at Copland High School in a case which is ongoing. He has received official recognition for his whistleblowing.

In the case of community  schools the whistleblower can go to the chair of governors or the local authority. As far as academies go it is not quite so clear, particularly if the alleged fraud involves the chair of governors. In that case it goes straight to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, who has an increasing number of such schools under his direct management.

What happens in the case of the council when the whistle blower is confronted with evidence of a major bust-up between the two most senior people on the council?  It is not fraud or even unlawful but surely it is in the public interest that residents should know about a matter that directly impacts on the efficient running of their public services. Surely council employees have a right to know that their employers are at war with each other?

So someone leaked the e-mails to the press; perhaps a council employee with access to the e-mail accounts of both men, or a councillor with similar access. Either way I imagine they would have to have been quite senior.  It seems unlikely that Butt or Daniel themselves may have done the leaking - but these are the strangest of times. The central question for me is: does this leak constitute a form of whistle blowing? Some might argue it was all just tittle tattle.

If the leaker was an employee, their union representatives may well be able to mount quite a strong case that the leak was in the public interest and so he or she should be protected. 

Policies are derived from the Public Interest Disclosures Act 1998 and this section seems relevant:
Disclosure of exceptionally serious failure.(1)A qualifying disclosure is made in accordance with this section if—
(a)the worker makes the disclosure in good faith,
(b)he reasonably believes that the information disclosed, and any allegation contained in it, are substantially true,
(c)he does not make the disclosure for purposes of personal gain,
(d)the relevant failure is of an exceptionally serious nature, and
(e)in all the circumstances of the case, it is reasonable for him to make the disclosure.
(2)In determining for the purposes of subsection (1)(e) whether it is reasonable for the worker to make the disclosure, regard shall be had, in particular, to the identity of the person to whom the disclosure is made.
The last section looks a little dodgy and comes back to the question of whether there was anyone else, other than the press, to whom a disclosure could have been made. There is also the question of whether the employee is in breach of a duty of confidentiality that forms part of their contract.

From the trade union representative point of view this could be a fascinating case. When I was a Natsopa print union representative at Reuters back in the 1960s I found myself handling some bizarre cases. One involved defending a worker who was found lighting paper in the basement of the Reuters building, apparently to set fire to it, Another was a studious young man fresh from college who took a week's unauthorised leave without contacting the management. On his return they decided to sack him.  It turned out that he had used the time to come up with some ideas for automating the workplace  and reducing the workforce. I found myself negotiating to stop the sacking of a union member who wanted to do us out of our jobs!

On reflection this case may be more straightforward and I wish Unison or any other union involved the best of luck.

(By the way I 'won' both cases with appropriate help for the workers involved)


London Public Meeting Wednesday 26th September  7pm
  Indian YMCA, 41 Fitzroy Square, London WC1 (Great Portland Street, Warren Street or Goodge Street tubes) 
 With Professor Peter Wadhams, Head of the Polar Oceans Physics Group at Cambridge University and John Vidal, Guardian Environment Correspondent (just back from a trip on the Greenpeace ship to the Arctic) To be sure of a place you can now register in advance for this meeting HERE

 Organised by the Campaign against Climate Change with the Arctic Methane Emergency Group 

The Arctic ice cap is disappearing before our eyes: this is the first large scale unmistakable impact of climate change, clearly visible from space. The Arctic sea-ice broke an all time record for lowest ever extent on Friday 24th August (after breaking several other records according to other methodologies of measurement by other scientific institutions etc…). This was a bombshell because it was nearly a month before you would expect the ice to reach its seasonal minimum – it is still decreasing now and we can expect it to continue decreasing until around mid September. (so we should probably have a good idea of the absolute minimum by the time of this meeting). 

What does this mean for our estimates of when the Arctic will be completely ice-free at the end of the summer?

What will be the consequences when this happens?

How will it affect the Arctic biosphere, its animals its indigenous people? 

More to the point how will it affect the rest of the world, global weather patterns  and the agriculture and food supplies dependent on those? 

What about the melting of the permafrost? How fast will that happen and how much will that accelerate global warming? 

What about the methane hydrates under the Arctic ocean?. How suddenly might they be released? Are we looking at apocalypse tomorrow? 

Professor Wadhams is a leading expert on sea ice. Whilst the forecasts of the IPCC for instance have been left well behind he has been at the forefront of those in the scientific community predicting a rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice. In his own words : 
For 40 years I have been measuring sea ice thickness in the Arctic from UK submarines. I first detected substantial thinning in 1990, and since the most recent submarine voyage in 2007 I have been warning that the combination of sea ice retreat and a massive amount of thinning will lead to the disappearance of the summer sea ice by as early as 2015. Despite the fact that this is a simple extrapolation of a clear and measured trend I have been vilified by scientific colleagues for making such a seemingly radical prediction. I am pleased to see these same colleagues now jumping on the bandwagon and supporting my prediction
Come to this meeting to find out how significant what we are now seeing really is – and what the future might hold.

Time for a Brent campaign for accountable and equal education?

'At the heart of every a unique genius and personality. What we should be doing is to allow the spark of that genius to catch fire, to burn brightly and shine'
Michael Morpugo          
'Though this (Exam and Test) cult pretends that it can discern differences between people and makes judgements on their worth, this has little relation to real people's real worth in the real world, where all kinds of other capabilities are needed which the cult can't and doesn't test. eg ability to contribute to and learn from others in the process of performing a task; being flexible when confronted by the unexpected; knowing what to do and how to do it if required to research, investigate or enquire - particularly if the enquiry is going to involve more than one person; being able to motivate oneself (or a group of people) without an outside authority demanding that you do so' 
Michael Rosen        

Getting carried away at the Brent Education Debate
I cannot offer a comprehensive summary of the speeches made at the Brent Education debate this week by Cllr Mary Arnold (lead member for children and families), Jon O'Connor (Cooperative College), Melissa Benn (local parent and author) and Hank Roberts (President ATL). This was because I was due to speak further down the list and constantly updating what I was going to say as other speakers raised the issues that I had planned to cover.  Always a problem with a list of speakers. I hope to publish something more from an attendee later.

What I can do, however,  is outline some of the key themes that emerged.

Melissa Benn spoke about the introduction of the market into education and the way the state sector was being opened up to profit makers. She spoke about the continuities of approach of both Conservatives and Labour but also expressed hopes about Labour's current policy review. I broadened the analysis to suggest that the destruction of the post-war settlement which created the welfare state was an attack on the alternative, communitarian values of the public sector because of the threat they posed to the market values of competition and profit making.  The bottom up innovations by teachers in the 1970s and 80s and their broad and progressive definitions of the nature and purposes of education had been attacked through the abolition of the ILEA, removal of teachers' wage bargaining, the national curriculum,  testing, league tables and centralised systems such as the Numeracy and Literacy strategies. There has also been changes in teaching training which served the new agenda. Teachers, as well as pupils, were being disciplined into the market.

The threat of fragmentation of the school system through  academies and free schools was also a recurring theme.  The lack of democratic accountability, limited parental representation and the  limited powers of the LA to intervene could not bring about just fragmentation and limit the ability to plan school places, but could also create segregation and limit access for children with disabilities or special needs. I pointed out that although we didn't talk about it there was already segregation in Brent schools. I mentioned two cases of places in Brent where a community school and a faith school were next to each other. When children left at the end of the day, one school's pupils would be mainly white and Afro-Caribbean and the other mainly Somalian and Middle Eastern. (Clearly here religion and ethnicity overlap).

Cllr Mary Arnold said that in order to provide school places, and because all new schools had to be either free schools or academies, the council were trying to find an acceptable free school partner. This was better than having a less acceptable one turn up in the borough. The council had devised criteria LINK that the partner would have to meet.  I expressed doubt that a partner would come forward that would meet these criteria as justification for creating free schools and academies was not to be bound by such demands. I expressed concern about council's policy of increasing the size of primary schools to meet the school places shortage. Primary schools of more than 1,000 4-11 year old pupils would be the result and I questioned whether this was a suitable size of institution for young children. I said that the Green Party favourd small schools where the staff knew all the children and their families and where special needs and vulnerable children could be catered for. I was especially concerned about safeguarding in large schools.

Jon O'Connor, who has been involved in talks in Brent about setting up Cooperative Schools and Cooperative Trusts, stressed that such schools still followed LA admissions guidelines, were financed through the LA, did not take funds away from other schools and had a positive democratic ethos. He did not go into detail about Cooperative Academies which are a different kettle of fish. Melissa Benn, who is a parent at Queens Park Community School which has become an academy despite parental opposition, joined O'Connor in pleading that schools making very difficult decisions in the present climate, particularly in terms of the financial benefits of academy status, should not be harshly judged by others.  Hank Roberts said that he against academies and would carry on fighting even if only one survived, said that there was a hierarchy of preferences starting with the community school, through cooperative trusts and federations, cooperative academies to free schools and sponsored academies. O'Connor said that becoming a cooperative trust could protect schools from being 'enforced' academies but Roberts retorted that Gove would quickly close that loophole if it proved effective. He praised the staff and parents of Downshill  Primary in Haringey who had fought Gove's decision to enforce academy conversion. Cllr Mary Arnold said that the formation of a federation between Furness Primary and Oakington Manor Primary had prevented the possibility of the former being forced to become an academy.

The two Michaels quoted above introduce the next theme which is that of the impact of all these  'reforms' on childhood, the role of education, the nature of teaching and learning and much else beside. It is significant that they are both children's writers in regular contact with children and schools. The narrowing of the curriculum, exam and test driven teaching, the target culture (an audience member said that in one primary school children responded to their name being called in the register with their targets rather than 'Yes Miss') and packed timetables all impact on children. With the pressure of testing, even now extended to phonic testing of infants, the abolition of the EMA, introduction of  tuition fees and prop[sects of unemployment our children are under pressure as never before. I described how when I was a headteacher, a parent accused the school of putting so much pressure on her daughter regarding SATs that she was being robbed of her childhood. I urged that children,  rather than the needs of industry and international PISA comparisons, be put at the centre of education. We needed to reclaim the right to childhood as well as reclaim our schools. 

The last theme, proposed by Pete Firmin of Brent TUC, was that of resistance to what was going in education just as there is resistance to the destruction of the health service. A parent voiced, to loud applause her determination to resist the increasingly political role of Ofsted by promoting a parent strike when Ofsted visited, with children being kept off school. Cllr Mary Arnold spoke about demands that were being formulated through  London Councils that would mean a united strategy across London and cooperation between boroughs.  I suggested that with the demise of the local Campaign for the Advancement of State Education (CASE) and the Brent Federation of School Governors that from the meeting we should build a broad-based campaign involving parents, teachers, governors and students  on the basis of the  basic principles emerging from the meeting.

Jon O'Connor had been been busy with pen and pad as I was speaking and suggested a campaign called Building the Right Education Now Together (BRENT).

A little clumsy perhaps?

More than 70 people attended the debate which was very ably chaired by Gill Wood a local parent and governor. The audience included students, parents, teachers, governors and the headteachers of Copland, Kingsbury and Preston Manor High Schools. Unfortunately, although I don't know them all by sight, I could see no primary headteachers at the meeting.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Twitter viruses and viral sorrowful Lib Dem leader

My Twitter account was hacked overnight and apparently some followers received some objectionable messages. I did not send these. Do not open any Facebook links sent via Twitter from Wembley Matters as they may contain a virus.  My password has been changed so all should be okay now.

Meanwhile this has gone viral but just in case you missed it:

Boris's bus will slowly live and die in London


From Left Foot Forward:

The New Bus for London is loved by many and nice to look at, but it is wrong in so many ways that it is hard to know where to start. It is probably bad news for British exports, probably bad on value for money, very bad for fares and awful for the environment.

 The Mayor has created what he describes as a ‘world class piece of technology’, but the problem is that the world doesn’t want it. Despite the Mayor talking up ‘covetous foreigners’ sniffing around the new bus earlier in the year, the reality is that the odd design of the bus makes export sales unlikely.

Rather than being a bonus for British industry, it may well divert one of our main bus companies away from a focus on export sales. In fact, the unique design that the manufacturer is unlikely to find any takers for these Boris buses anywhere else in the UK.

Despite TfL denials, it is the unique design which has led Transport for London (TfL) to take the unprecedented step of buying the buses themselves and to state the buses would spend all their 14-year ‘economic life in London’.

Instead of achieving the economies of scale from a production run of thousands, the Mayor is ordering 600 over a four-year period. Instead of opening up the bidding for building the new bus to a selection of manufacturers in a highly competitive market, we have a monopoly supplier dictating the price of a Mayoral manifesto promise.

Instead of a bus which can be resold in a few years time to operators elsewhere in the country, we have a bus which will live and slowly die in London. Instead of a bus like the old Routmaster - which I’m told you could fix with a spanner and a host of inter-changeable parts - we have a bus full of ‘uniqueness’.
This country has a highly developed bus market in which bus operators compete for contracts and purchase their buses from a large pool of bus manufacturers. Boris has now bucked the market and set up a monopoly in which he tells operators to use the bus he personally favours.

Londoners are shouldering all the costs and risks of this venture. Fares will rise because of the £37 million a year bill for the extra staff who have to be present when the rear door is open. Fares will also rise to cover the cost of a bus that is bought at a premium from a monopoly supplier and which TfL can’t sell on. Any additional insurance costs (due to the open rear door) will also be covered by TfL within the price of the contract.

A big selling point of the new bus has been its environmental credentials. I have raised doubts about the environmental claims made by the Mayor. I have accepted the Mayor’s claim it is more fuel efficient that the average new bus and has lower emissions, but it is only marginally better than other new hybrid buses which are starting to roll off production lines.

The thing is technology is improving all the time and TfL are constantly raising the environmental bar on what they expect from new buses. We are only a short while away from all new buses being cleaner than the Mayor’s New Bus for London and it is even conceivable London will follow the path of other European cities and switch to all electric buses.

London’s bus contracts are on a five-year cycle and this enables TfL to constantly tighten the standards. That is why London bus operators resell their older out of date buses to places like Bournemouth. The problem for the New Bus for London is it is spending the whole of its ‘economic life in London’. I worry that in 14 years time it will be old and outdated compared to every other vehicle in the London bus fleet, but Bournemouth won’t be a retirement option for this bus. Instead it will be heading straight to the scrap yard.
Finally, there is the problem of TfL spending £160m of its capital budget on the new bus, rather than the operators making the purchase as part of the normal contractual arrangement. This figure has appeared in the Standard and on BBC, but it has been my own unofficial estimate based upon the Mayor keeping his promise that the new bus (bought from a monopoly supplier) will cost no more than a standard hybrid bus.

Whatever the price, the real problem is that this money could have been used by the Mayor to stick to his commitment that all new buses would be low-polluting hybrid buses from 2012 onwards. Instead of 600 low-polluting uniquely designed buses by 2016 we could have had thousands of the ordinary low-polluting kind.

The Mayor has wasted another opportunity to improve London’s chronic air pollution problem.

Darren Johnson Green AM

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Lively Brent Council conference expected tomorrow

People are getting in touch with disbelief about the latest turn of events in Brent and asking what's the suspension of Clive Heaphy. I don't know what the specific allegation is but gross misconduct has to be pretty serious. Things such as racism, sexism, misuse of IT systems, major breaches of confidentiality would all be covered but it could be something quite technical. Remember these are only allegations and the council has a duty to investigate to see if they have any basis. Suspension is a neutral act while an investigation takes place and doesn't imply guilt. The same applies in the case of teachers and headteachers.

Meanwhile the Brent Executive and Senior Officers and Managers have a conference tomorrow which was arranged long ago. It should be interesting. Any flies on the wall should get in touch!

Brent budget making process threatened by suspension of Director of Finance

The news that Clive Heaphy, Brent's  Director of Finance has been suspended while allegations of gross misconduct are investigated deals a further blow to Brent's budget making process that takes place at this time of the year.

A Brent Council spokesman said the allegations were not related to financial irregularities and Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of the council, said, "Suspension is a neutral act and does not imply guilt in any way. When allegations are made, you have to follow them up and that is exactly what we are doing."