Saturday, 29 December 2012

Getting social housing in Brent to become harder under new proposals

The Housing Allocations Policy that Brent Council is currently consulting on LINK will have major repercussions for residents wishing to go on the register for social housing in the borough. There will particular impact on extended families, people without leave to stay in the UK, young adults living with their parents, those at a specific income threshold, families in rent arrears in the social housing sector or in homeless temporary accommodation.

The Council will no longer have an 'open' waiting list and in addition to having a housing need residents will need to establish a local connection through residence or work. The 'reasonable preference' criteria will include households in employment in addition those below:

· Homeless people as defined by Part VII of the 1996 Housing Act, including people who are intentionally homeless and those who are not in priority need

· People who are owed a duty under section 190(2), 193(2) or 195(2) of the 1996 Act (or under section 65(2) or 68(2) of the Housing Act 1985) or who are occupying accommodation secured by any housing authority under s192(3)

· People occupying insanitary or overcrowded housing or otherwise living in unsatisfactory housing conditions

· People who need to move on medical or welfare grounds, including grounds relating to disability

· People who need to move to a particular locality in the housing authority area, where failure to meet that need would cause hardship (to themselves or others)
The Council state that legislation forbids it to give assistance to individuals subject to immigration control:
A restricted person is a person subject to immigration control who is not eligible for homelessness assistance because he or she does not have leave to enter or remain in the UK or has leave which is subject to a ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition (s.184(7) of the 1996 Act).
The Council seeks views for when the individual subject to immigration is a member of a wider household:

Note that it is not mandatory to exclude a person subject to immigration control from a household, although a household cannot be regarded as having reasonable preference solely on the basis of the needs of a person subject to immigration control as noted above. The council is minded to adopt this exclusion but views on the point would be welcome.
 The Council its definition of what constitutes a 'household' for the purposes of allocation of accommodation. It excludes the  extended families sharing accommodation that are common amongst some ethnic groups in Brent:

Considered as households:

-A single person without dependents
- A married couple
-An unmarried couple, who can prove that they have been resident together for at least 12 months at time of application and at time of offer.   
-A lone parent and their dependent children   
-A married or unmarried couple with dependent children   
-A civil partnership with or without dependent children
 The following would not usually be considered to be part of a household when considering qualification and priority for housing:
· Anyone subject to immigration control
· non-dependent adult children over the age of 21
· other adult relatives
· non-relatives and lodgers
· Extended family members such as cousins, nephews, aunts and uncles
The scheme excludes the following:
-A young person aged 21 or over and therefore not treated as a child would not normally be considered as part of a household and will usually be disregarded when considering applications for rehousing.
- If there are children aged 21 or over who are living at home, advice will be provided on housing options but they will not count towards any calculation of overcrowding. They will be able to apply for housing in their own right but may be disqualified if they do not fall within any of the priority groups defined in this scheme.
- Given the severe shortage of housing and in particular of larger homes, the Council will consider whether people living in a household could move into smaller homes of their own, thereby creating a separate household. If a household member has already made a separate housing application they will not be included in any new or subsequent applications.
 The proposals introduce income thresholds that will try and shift those in need of housing into the private renting sector (which has grown enormously in Brent according to the most recent census and which Muhammed Butt has pledged to improve in terms of quality) or shared ownership.

The ranges which will be reviewed regularly are set at:

· 1 bed - £35,000 a year
· 2 bed - £45,000 a year
· 3 bed - £ 55, 000 a year
· 4 bed - £70,000 a year
 The Council states that in assessing the number of bedrooms required by a household, the following criteria will apply: 
· One double bedroom for a cohabiting couple
· One double bedroom for two additional persons/children of the same sex and generation.
· One double bedroom for two children of the opposite sex, where both children are under 7 years.
· One double bedroom for two children of the same sex unless one is over 10 years of age and there is an age gap of more than 5 years.
· One double bedroom for two dependents of the same sex over 18 years of age.
· One single bedroom for each person who the Council's Medical Officer considers should have their own bedroom on health grounds.
· One single bedroom for any other person included as part of the household.
· Single people will normally be considered for Bedsit accommodation.
· A couple or single parent with a child under two years of age can be
 offered a one bedroom property.
In addition the Council propose that the following categories will normally not qualify:

· Anyone guilty of serious anti-social behaviour where a possession order is being sought or has been obtained
· Anyone who has assaulted a member of staff where an injunction has been sought or obtained
· Anyone who knowingly gives false or misleading information or withholds information that has been reasonably requested.
· Applicants with an income above the limits set out above
The following will apply to housing transfers:

-Tenants with rent arrears of six weeks or more will be suspended from receiving the offer of accommodation. Consideration will be given to varying this rule in some circumstances including;
-Tenants with urgent management or medical priority in band B or A may be transferred at the discretion of the Rehousing Manager.

-Offers of accommodation may be made despite rent arrears to tenants who need to move because of statutory overcrowding or because of an overriding priority awarded by the Allocations Panel or where a permanent decant is essential

-Tenants moving under the Incentive Scheme subject to the above guidelines may be made an offer with the incentive payment being set of against the arrears
Families in temporary accommodation may also face problems

· Homeless households in temporary accommodation may be advised that, if they fall into rent arrears, their housing register application may be suspended. Applications may be suspended when an applicant either

a) refuses to pay the rent
b) fails to make a commitment to repay arrears or
c) fails to provide supporting information for a Housing Benefit claim.
d) accrues an excessive level of arrears
e) is in arrears such that the landlord is taking action to end the tenancy
· If an applicant falls into arrears, their application may be suspended. The application will remain suspended until the arrears are cleared or an agreement has been reached to clear the arrears and this agreement has been kept to for an agreed period. Depending on the amount of the arrears and the nature of the agreement, discretion may be exercised to review cases and lift suspensions. Exceptions may be agreed to this policy, in particular for those cases in bands 1 or 2.
The Council recognises that private sector tenants on the register may be in difficulty because of the welfare reforms:

The council is not minded to introduce any blanket restriction on cases involving rent arrears, in particular since recent and proposed reforms to the welfare system increase the risk that some households may not be able to cover their full rent and because there are cases in which a move may assist in tackling rent arrears, for example where a household moves to a cheaper home
 There are additional detailed proposals regarding carers and military personnel that can be found in the main document.

The Consultation specifically asks for views on:
  • The period that should be required to establish a local connection
  • How that should be demonstrated through employment (inc part-time and self-employed)?
  • What othjer factors could be taken into account to establish a local connection?
  • In what circumstances should the Council make exceptions to the local connection requirement?
  • What other groups should not qualify under the scheme?
  • Should anyone subject to immigration control not be considered as part of the household?
  • At what age should non-dependent adult children not be considered part of the household (18.21.25)?
  • Are there other people who should normally be considered as part of an applicant;s household?
  • In what circumstances should rent arrears mean that a household should not qualify or that an application should be suspended?
  • The circumstances in which a transfer application can be made outside the scheme (see main document for details)
  • Details regarding how long applicant should have been in employment (see main document)
  • Are the proposed bands that rank applicants according to level of needs appropriate (see main document for details)
  • Time limits on bidding for accommodation (see main document)
  • Should the income thresholds be as set out above?
  • Details setting out factors defining 'reasonable preference criteria' (see main document)
 The main consultation document can be found HERE and should be read before responding as it is not possible to cover all the issues in this posting. I hope however that this is sufficient to alert readers to the serious issues involved. The consultation closes on March 8th 2013

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Brent fails to connect with residents on budget

In January 2012 Ann John and Muhammed Butt toured the Area Consultative Forums to speak about the Council budget. LINK One year on, after Muhammed Butt ousted Ann John promising greater openness and engagement with residents, no budget discussion has been included on the agendas so far published for next month's forums.

Pleas to formulate a needs based budget as a campaigning tool to challenge the Coalition's unequal slashing of local government expenditure have been ignored. An opportunity to engage with local residents and mobilise them in defence of vital services appears to have been rejected.

Now known as Brent Connect Forums they meet on the following dates. I include the agendas that have so far been published. 

Brent Connects Kilburn and Kensal
08.01.13 7pm Kensal Rise Primary School, Harvist Road, NW6
Brent Connects Harlesden 
09.01.13 7pm All Souls Church, Station Rd, NW10

  • Update from representatives of TfL, Network Rail and London Overground (LOROL) on the planned improvements for Willesden Junction Station approach
  • The latest news on the Willesden Energy Recovery Centre (incinerator in Ealing)
  • Plans for the development of a Neighbourhood Forum covering parts of Stonebridge, Harlesden and Dudden Hill
  • Proposed improvements to parts of the Brent River Park (Phase 2)
  • Local Policing update
  • Doing more locally with Residents' Association Groups
Brent Connects Wembley
15. 01.13 7pm Pattidar House, 22 London Road, HA9
Brent Connects Willesden
16.01.13 7pm College of NW London, College Road, NW10
  • Government welfare reforms (including Discretionary Housing Payments) - how this will affect you and the benefits you receive
  • Customer services at the civic centre - what's on offer
  • Local policing update
Brent Connects Kingsbury and Kenton
06.02.13 7pm Kingsbury High School, Princes Avenue, NW9

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Pitched battle for unique Watford allotments

Farm Terrace allotments in the summer
 In a battle that foreshadows many likely to take place in the future, allotment holders in  Watford are battling to save their allotment site. Earlier this month Lib Dems approved plans to build 600 houses on the site but the allotees have vowed to fight on.

The Farm Terrace allotments are close to the town centre and provide a green oasis and because of their unique terraced structure can be seen by the public.

The campaign has been supported by local Labour councillors and a petition launched on 38 Degrees: LINK

Campaign Website

The key findings in CIPFA comparative study of Brent Library service

The Kilburn Times LINK is reporting  the CIPFA Report on a comparative study of Brent Library Service and that of 15 neighbouring services.

CIPFA state:
The analysis is simple and non-judgemental. You will not find any quartiles, traffic lights or subjective commentary. Instead the report seeks to visualise the data and to enable readers to draw their own conclusions.
 In that spirit I too will resist a 'subjective commentary' and leave readers to make up their minds from the graphs reproduced below. The boroughs are (s) Brent, (e) Haringey, (a) Lewisham, (d) Lambeth, (x) Southwark, (t) Hounslow, (w) Merton, (f) Croydon, (h) Greenwich, (k) Wandsworth (z) Enfield, (g) Waltham Forest, (m) Hackney, (u) Redbridge, (n) Newham. (BRENT IS BLOCKED IN BLACK)

The full report is available via the link at the foot of this posting.

Above - survey of Under 16s

Fly-tipping is hard work compared with ringing for a bulky collection

Barn Hill pond
I took advantage of the 'lighter shade of grey' skies and temporary cessation of rain this morning for a brisk walk around the perimeter of Fryent Country Park.

The park is waterlogged at present with a number of temporary streams and ponds. In contrast with the Spring the ponds are full which bodes well for a better year for amphibians in 2013.

Barn Hill Conservation Group LINK who do so much to conserve and enhance the park have picked up  320 large black bags of litter as well as bigger items since January this year.  It never ceases to amaze me what lengths people go to in order to dump rubbish.

This morning in the field below the pedestrian bridge to Shakespeare Drive a huge suitcase had been dumped into the hedgerow.  This would have required parking a car by Michael Sobell Primary School, trundling the case up the tarmacked  slope to the bridge, down the steep grassy slope on the other side and then bumping it across the meadow. The case had been opened and the contents scattered across the grass. This included dozens of pairs of trainers, a Gok Wan fashion book, a guide to embroidery, an exercise book of poetry  and items of clothing.

The clothing could have been bagged and left out with the recycling, the shoes at one of the street side collection banks (the nearest is on the corner of Valley Drive/Kingsbury Road) and the books donated to a charity shop or one of the community libraries. I took advantage of the sunshine on New Year's Day to clear the dump.

The recent figures on the big rise in private rental accommodation does perhaps point to one of the reasons for the increase in fly-tipping. With tenancies changing frequently new tenants throw out stuff left by the old tenants and these are frequently left in front gardens or by the road side. This accounts for the number of mattresses scattered throughout the borough.

One idea I would like the council to consider is issuing leaflets to Letting Agents to go to  new tenants about the recycling services and particularly bulky collections. It would be helpful if this could be translated into Eastern European languages and any others felt appropriate.

Here is a reminder about what can be picked up through the bulky collection service:

Item Such as  Items must be
Furniture-plastic, wooden or metalBeds, mattresses and bedframes, sofas, tables (larger tables may count as 2 or more items due to their size), wardrobes, armchairs and chairs. Small enough to be carried and loaded on to a vehicle by no more than two workers
FlooringLinoleum and floor tilesBagged or bundled. Wooden flooring or ceramic tiles are not accepted.
MetalMetal filing cabinets less than 40kg and fire guards.
CarpetsManageable by two people, otherwise it must be cut into smaller sections, rolled and tied. Each section counts as a separate item. Underlay is also classed as a separate item.
Large electrical goodsWashing machines, cookers, microwaves, fridges, freezers, dishwashers, dryers and vacuum cleaners.
Small electrical item
TVs, monitors, Hi-Fi systems and radios
Glass or mirrorsGlass top table, mirrored parts of doors or cabinets and fish tanks.Wrapped in a safe and secure manne

Thanks for your support for Wembley Matters

It has been gratifying to receive a number of messages from readers over Christmas thanking me for Wembley Matters.  I can't promise to keep it up forever but as the blog appears to be meeting a need I'll keep going as long as I can.

Meanwhile I hope all my readers have a restful break and come back with renewed vigour to fight for environmental and social justice in 2013.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Greens celebrate double victory over Veolia and incinerator

Greens and others fighting a proposed  incinerator in Pinkham Way and campaigning against Veolia being considered for a valuable waste contract by the North West London Waste Authority, got some good news yesterday.

The NWLA have withdrawn their planning application for a mechanical and biological waste treatment plant in Pinkham Way. Originally this was to be one of two sites but it now appears that only one will go ahead and subject to a successful planning application, that will be the Edmonton site. It is likely that a campaign will continue against this site too.

Greens have also supported the No2Veolia Action Group (NO2VAG) which has sought to get Veolia rejected as a possible bidder for the NWLA waste contract on the grounds of its abuse of human rights in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. Veolia announced yesterday that it was withdrawing from the bidding process for the £4.7bn contract.

Andrew Newby of Barnet Green Party said:
Barnet Greens welcome the withdrawal of Veolia and the scrapping of the Pinkham Way plan. We call on the NLWA to abandon the disastrous procurement process -- ie privatisation - and to keep its waste services in house while it researches the various viable alternatives now available to incineration of waste or dumping of rubbish to landfill.
The NO2VAG campaign which has been energetically spearheaded by Yael Kahn and Rob Langland  stated:
For two years the No2VAG has vigorously campaigned for Veolia to be removed from the list of bidders due to its grave misconduct in providing infrastructure to illegal Israeli settlements. Despite this involvement and its dire financial, health, safety and environmental record, Veolia was shortlisted for the final bids in February 2012.

This extraordinary withdrawal of Veolia comes after an intensification of the campaign against the company. The No2VAG staged twelve protests over the last two months at each council contributing £600m to the £4.7bn contracts.

The procurement process was shrouded in secrecy and campaigners faced a wall of denial when it came to Veolia’s unethical practices, environmental and technical shortcomings and financial instability. Engineer Rob Langlands and secretary of No2VAG said:
 North London residents want an environmentally responsible and cost effective solution to waste disposal. The Veolia technical proposals were not on track to provide this. I am especially delighted because of the ongoing Veolia involvement in the illegal Israeli settlements that the Veolia bids have now been consigned to the rubbish bin.
 Yael Kahn, chair of No2VAG said:
Our strategy to force councillors to seriously consider and publicly debate the issues at stake and the further actions planned No2VAG played a critical role in achieving our aim of eliminating Veolia from the NLWA procurement process.

'Green' Civic Centre to be surrounded by huge car park

Brent Council has been boasting about the controversial new Civic Centre's green credentials but one green credential - accessibility based on use of public transport - has been unpopular with councillors themselves and with many staff.

Anyone seeing the packed car park at Brent Town Hall for the recent full Council Meeting, and the overflow on King's Drive, could see that it might be hard to prise councillors out of their cars. Watching the area around the Civic Centre being levelled may have aroused suspicions amongst locals.

Muhammed Butt promised grumbling Labour councillors that he would see what he could do and 'Hey Presto!' the council has received a planning application for a temporary 1,350 space car park in the land surrounding the Civic Centre (the unnamed rectangle on Engineers Way below):

 The original plans for Quintain's redevelopment area did include 3,000 plus car parking spaces in the area although the Stadium was sold as a public transport destination. The nearby multi-storey car park is being demolished as part of the Designer Outlet development. The car park above would only be temporary while another parcel of Quintain land is developed and the developers argue that it does not increase the overall number of parking spaces.  Clearly the car park  will occupy a large and lucrative site that Quintain will eventually want to build on.

The plans will keep councillors quiet for a while but they will not be able to get too comfortable with their new parking facility.

Nearby businesses and schools currently make money from event day car parking and this income  is likely to be hit by the new car park which will be much more accessible. It remains to be seen how much councillors and council workers will have to pay for their parking and whether Quintain will offer them a reduction compared with the general public.

The application is dated 27.12.2012 and will be decided no earlier than 17.01.2013 Details: LINK

Friday, 21 December 2012

French parent voices doubts about Wembley Lycée

French parents in Central London have not been too impressed by the possibility of a  Lycée in Wembley.  A  French parent sent me this statement:
We were all surprised by the decision because it does not reconcile with Wembley regeneration plans with the creation of jobs for the Wembley local community nor the creation of school places for the local Wembley kids !! Basically it will be a rich kids school for parents living in Westminster and Chelsea. Although the last Brent Executive meeting suggested that they needed the money for the new Civic Centre (last Brent Executive minutes on the net).

Indeed a French school will provide jobs for builders for a while and a few 'dinner ladies'. The rest of the staff lives in Central London. The French children going to school in Wembley will be transient i.e. go into the borough for school and go back home to their Central London homes. Most French families live in the vicinity of the current schools. 

The French community is not happy with the choice of Wembley because they will be imposed Wembley for their children regardless of their home address in London. 

In France and in the UK, the school for your children is normally decided upon by your home address. This means that for those French parents who have three children at different school  locations (South Kensington, Kentish Town, Wembley) will be expected to do the school run between South Kensington,. Kentish Town and Wembley simultaneously for 09.00am by tube!!! 

When asked about this, the French Embassy dismissed the parents' concerns. with a 'take it or leave it' attitude.
Moreover French parents are very worried at letting their 10-11 years old children commute on their own from Central London to Wembley and back. The timings of the French school day is anything between 08.00 and 18.00 (unlike the UK). Furthermore, it appears that the children might have to walk 15 minutes or so, on their own, from Wembley Park station into a tunnel/motorway to reach Brent Town Hall. Again the Embassy does not seem to be concerned about the safety or welfare of kids nor about the time that these kids will need to spend in commuting  from their home in Central London to go to school and back.. The Embassy is treating children as though they were adults going to a new place of work.

Another problem? What will happen when there are no tubes to get from Central London to Wembley? bus? car? What time of the morning will these kids need to get up if taking a bus from South. Ken or Battersea to go to Wembley for 09.00!? Again the French Embassy did not seem to care too much.

Birbalsingh, Gove's heroine, to open free school in Wembley Park

Michael Gove and Katharine Birbalsingh
 The controversial teacher who attacked the 'chaos' of comprehensive education at the Conservative Party Conference and illustrated her talk with photographs of her pupils, claims to have found premises for a secondary free school in Wembley Park.

Katharine Birbalsingh, who got a standing ovation from the Tories,  lost her job as a consequence of her attack and tried to set up a free school in Tooting but was forced to abandon the plans.

A great fan of traditional education and discipline she is prone to throw away remarks, obscure quotations and huge generalisations. She and Michael Gove are mutual admirers and the Daily Mail worships her.

 In a Guardian interview LINK she discussed her views on education:
But Birbalsingh is adamant: "Teaching is the most wonderful job on the planet." She was devastated, she says, when, after her speech, she was suspended from her job and eventually had to resign. "I was unemployable in the state system. You're just not allowed to speak out. I talked to a couple of heads and the atmosphere was: you've done the unthinkable. I went to see a headhunter and he told me to go under the radar for a couple of years and said failed heads get jobs eventually. And I thought: I'm not a failed head, this is ridiculous."
Birbalsingh insists she has nothing against teachers, nor against comprehensives. "It's the system," she says. Her Penguin, To Miss With Love, is withering about Ofsted, which, in Birbalsingh/Snuffy's (she blogged as Snuffy) view, measures the wrong things in the wrong way. She says standards are in headlong decline so that, to get a C in GCSE English, "you don't have to read a Shakespeare play", whereas in fee-charging schools, "they read one Shakespeare play a year". She believes mixed-ability teaching, used in "about half" the schools, is "political fantasy", and says children should be held back a year if they're failing. She thinks black children misbehave because they know that any teacher who disciplines them is accused of racism. "Black kids," writes Miss Snuffy, "all have that winning ace up their sleeve – the race card ... The kid can literally smell the fear. So the teacher starts to back off."
I am unclear where Birbalsingh's Wembley Park free school premises  are, and whether her school (Michaela Community School) had their eyes on Brent Town Hall, but she seems a very unlikely free school partner for Brent Council given the terms for partnerships the council set out last year.LINK

On the MSC website LINK  the proposers state:
The proposers of the Michaela Community School are delighted to announce that they have secured a building in the Wembley Park area of Brent and are now progressing through the pre-opening phase.

We have always been committed to setting up a community school which serves London’s inner-city which sets high expectations and raises standards and aspirations and our choice of location and building is perfect in this respect.

We will be out and about in Brent discussing the school with parents, carers and potential pupils and will post more information here when we have it.
Birbalsingh,  who is named as the 'Proposed' headteacher (I wonder who proposed her?) writes:

Welcome to the website which sets out our proposals for a free school based in the Wembley Park area of Brent.

Michaela Community School (MCS) will be a mixed community secondary school for pupils aged 11-18 of all backgrounds, offering an excellent, traditional education.

The school is approved into ‘pre-opening’ for September 2013 and we have secured a wonderful building in the Wembley Park area of Brent. If you would like to be kept up-to-date with our progress and wish to consider MCS for your child(ren), please fill register your details through this site.

We believe that a first-class education based upon traditional values should be within the reach of every child, no matter their background. MCS will bring the values and advantages of a private school education to young people by providing a highly academic curriculum and strong discipline.
The school is named after Michaela, an inspirational teacher whose traditional values ensured her pupils achieved great success. Michaela died in 2011 but her commitment to tradition, discipline and providing pupils with confidence and ambition will live on through the MCS.

The curriculum will prioritise academic subjects with an emphasis on knowledge-acquisition. Click here to find out more about our curriculum. We will encourage aspiration and motivation and ensure our pupils are confident in the basics. Mastering English and Maths to a high standard will form the basis of learning at the school for every pupil. High-achieving pupils will be stretched and those who are struggling will be given extra tuition in English and Maths as part of an extended day. The academic rigour at the school will offer pupils the opportunity to progress to the very best universities in the country, including the Russell Group universities and Oxford and Cambridge. All of our pupils will leave MCS with high levels of numeracy, reading, writing and spoken English.
If this proposal comes to anything the concentration of schools in the Wembley Park area will increase even more. What will be the impact on neighbouring schools as well as on the image of education in Brent if this  school opens and  Birbalsingh becomes part of our local landscape?

Wembley Lycée confirmed by Frenck UK Councillor

Olivier Cadic, UK Councillor for the Assembly of French Citizens abroad, has announced on his blog LINK the acquisition of a Wembley property for the education of French children in London,
I announce the acquisition by the French Education Property Trust (FEPT) site in Brent (near Wembley) to construct the third French secondary school in London! This is a great step forward.  The school is expected to reach its initial goal of creating 1,500 additional places in teaching French in London by the start of 2015. Those involved in the planned  school, who helped make this long-awaited progress, deserve the gratitude of our community.
This does not confirm that the site is Brent Town Hall but the passage in the Executive Report I quoted in an earlier blog and the lack of any alternative sites of a similar size in Wembley seems to indicate that it is the Town Hall.

Planning permission will still have to be sought.  If successful it will mean that there are three large schools in fairly close proximity:  the  Lycée, Ark Academy (4-19 year olds) and Preston Manor All-Through School (4-19 year olds).

Veolia withdraws from lucrative North london waste contract

Veolia's contract with Brent Council for waste collection, recycling and street cleansing comes to an end in 2014 and the procurement process for a new contractor has begun for a new contract which will also include parks maintenance.
Today (21 December) the North London Waste Authority announced that Veolia Environmental Services‘ will not be submitting final tenders for either NLWA’s waste services or fuel use contracts’.

Sarah Colborne, Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said:
Veolia’s bid for this waste contract which covers a vast area of North London was deeply controversial, with local residents outraged that such a toxic company could potentially provide services to them. Veolia is complicit in Israeli violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Veolia operates bus services to illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, is involved with the Jerusalem Light Railway which was designed to serve the needs of Israeli settlers,and Tovlan landfill which operates in the Jordan Valley.
This decision comes after a recent report by Professor Richard Falk – the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories – in which Veolia was singled out for its activities in the Occupied Palestinian  Territories and after Palestine Solidarity Campaign members in the area have been actively campaigning against Veolia’s bid.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Butt's lamentations will change nothing

Nearly Christmas and we now know that Brent Council will lose more funding next year. Muhammed Butt, leader of the council has issued more lamentations and condemnations but we need more than that.  There is still no word on whether his council will devise a needs based budget to rally a community campaign against the cuts, how the council will consult residents on the budget, and at what point they will refuse to make a budget that they know will bring more deprivation to the people of Brent.

From Cllr James Denselow's blog:
Councils in England will have their spending power cut by 1.7% next year, the local government secretary, Eric Pickles, has announced.

The shadow communities and local government secretary, Hilary Benn, said: “It is clear that he is living in a world of his own, because he simply does not understand the impact that his decisions on funding are having on the services and local people who use and rely upon them.”

Cllr. Muhammed Butt, the Leader of Brent Council said “this looks like another disastrous settlement for local authorities. I spent the weekend helping out at the Brent food bank – helping people who literally can’t afford to eat. Make no mistake, Eric Pickles announcement today will mean they have to help thousands more people in Brent alone in 2013. It is a direct attack on the poorest residents of our community, and it is shameful.”
As the year ends insiders tell me that Butt's position as leader is far from secure with critics both in the Executive itself and in the  wider group of Labour councillors, with former leader Ann John returning to a more active role.

Join in carols with library campaigners

Tireless campaigners continue to keep the libraries issue live over the Christmas period with a number of events.

Climate Change - Deadlier than the Deficit

On a wet and windy Westminster night a banner was briefly unfurled yesterday outside Parliament reading 'CLIMATE CHANGE - DEADLIER THAN THE DEFICIT'. We were demonstrating against the Energy Bill which despite Coalition PR gives the go-ahead for nuclear and fracking and does nothing to support green solutions to the energy and climate change crisis.

John McDonnell MP addressed the demonstrators from various campaigning groups and I spoke as a member of the Green Party and Campaign Against Climate Change on the need for a restructuring of the economy and a defence of the welfare state.. The recently formed Campaign Against Fuel Poverty made the connection between fuel poverty and child poverty.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

French to storm Brent Town Hall?

Following my earlier posting on the mysterious bidder for Brent Town Hall I have received the following information.  It seems to make as much sense as any of the other rumours and we know that the French population of London is rising and Wembley Park has good communication links:
There are rumours that it might have been purchased by the French to open  a French secondary school just for their French children to carry on with  their French education over here in the UK. 
The French have a few French schools  in Central London but can no longer accommodate the growing demand for the
Certainly Brent Town Hall features in a document from the French Embassy on school places provision issued by the French Embassy in July. It appears to be among several possible sites in the suburbs  with a site in Queens Park also named.  All share the disadvantage that French parents are unlikely to want to see their children commute out of Central London. See section III

Legal action against 'unfair' disability tests

From False Economy website:

 This is a joint post from Patrick Lynch, Disabled People Against Cuts, Public Interest Lawyers and False Economy. An article about this legal action appeared in the Guardian :

A disabled man who was wrongly found fit for work under the government’s disability benefit assessment scheme is launching legal action to try and stop more disabled people being wrongly kicked off the social safety net.

Patrick Lynch, a former social care worker who was forced to quit work because of his impairments, is seeking a judicial review of the controversial disability benefit assessment scheme run by Atos.

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which determines eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for people whose health or impairment stops them from working, is at present hugely unreliable, with many people wrongly found fit for work despite severely debilitating and in some cases life-threatening conditions.

The legal action is seeking a ruling that would require Atos, the private firm that runs the WCA process on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), to grant all ESA claimants the unequivocal right to have their assessment recorded and to receive their WCA report before a decision on their eligibility is made – both key safeguards against people’s health conditions being misreported or ignored altogether.

DWP research and a survey conducted by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) both show widespread demand from claimants to have their WCA assessments recorded, to ensure their medical conditions are not misrepresented in order to wrongly strip them of benefits. But while the DWP granted the right to request a recording earlier this year, there are considerable bureaucratic obstacles to both securing a recording and then using it in an appeal, with Atos recently introducing a restrictive ‘consent form’ for those wanting a recording of their assessment.

The case is being brought by Public Interest Lawyers, and draws on research by Disabled People Against Cuts and the TUC-backed campaign group False Economy.

Mr Lynch wants the DWP and Atos to adopt the following safeguards:

a) Universal recording to ensure that all claimants undergoing a WCA or an assessment under the new PIP benefit system will have the right to have their assessment recorded;
b) Claimants will get a copy of the WCA report before a decision is made on their eligibility for ESA, and will have the chance to raise any concerns with the DWP decision maker;
c) The DWP/Atos will be responsible for obtaining medical evidence from the medical professional named by the claimant;
d) The DWP ensures that all assessment centres are fully accessible.

Taken together, these measures would address some of the inaccuracy inherent in the disability benefits system. Disability campaigners have raised repeated concerns over how the WCA process causes huge stress for ESA recipients, with many disabled people’s lives ruined after wrongly having their benefits removed.

Mr Lynch, now a campaigner with DPAC, was found fit for work following a flawed WCA report in 2010, before the DWP reconsidered and reversed the decision. His most recent WCA this year upheld his benefit entitlement, but even then Atos’ report of his assessment contained inaccuracies.

In bringing the action Mr Lynch notes

“Disabled people and the poor in this country have always struggled to get what they are duly entitled to. The fight must go on to address the injustice caused by this out of touch Government.”

A DPAC spokesperson said:

“The evidence is clear – more than 98 percent of those responding to our survey said they wanted their assessment recorded and that they believed it would provide a better account. However, many reported a whole host of barriers in getting a recording in place.”

A spokesperson for False Economy, whose investigations into WCA recordings informed some of the background to the recording debate, said that the rights of ESA claimants are crucial.

“Too many people feel vulnerable in this process. People feel that their final assessment reports inaccurately reflect information exchanged during work capability assessments. We've found it hard to pin down the DWP on recording policy. Universal recording, and giving people the opportunity to see their WCA reports before final eligibility decisions are made, will go some way towards restoring fairness and accuracy while the WCA process continues.”

Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers, Mr Lynch’s solicitor states:

“The Work Capability Assessment process needs urgent reform. There is an unacceptable risk of unfairness in the current system and we hope these safeguards will be instituted to help mitigate that risk.”

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

“Assessments of disability must be fair and proportionate, treat people with respect and be part of a consistent system. There is overwhelming evidence that they have fallen far short of these basic standards. It is right that they should be challenged in court.”

More funding needed to pay London nursery workers a proper wage

 The following statement has been released by London Councils, the body representing 33 local authorities in London:

Pressures on London’s childcare system mean that almost 25,000 extra nursery places are necessary to meet a headline pledge by the Deputy Prime Minister, new research shows.

London Councils, the body which represents the capital’s 33 local authorities, commissioned Daycare Trust, a national charity which campaigns for affordable childcare, to look at how to make the entitlement for free part-time early years education for the poorest 20 per cent of two-year olds work in the capital.

The research reveals that a minimum of 24,100 new places are needed to meet the pledge. This will rise further to 31,700 places by September 2014.

Factors adversely affecting the capital, including higher levels of poverty, rising birth rates, migration and higher staff and property costs, mean that the costs of delivering the scheme will be significantly higher than elsewhere in the UK.

To meet this challenge, the report outlines how a number of boroughs are taking innovative approaches to deliver the offer. This includes augmenting early years education with home learning and parental support. This eases pressure on childcare providers and provides targeted and integrated support to deprived families. 

The report makes a number of recommendations to government about how best to make the programme work. As well as supporting combining early years education with targeted parental support, the government should provide sufficient funding to London Boroughs to allow providers to be paid £8 per hour. Based on government allocations, providers will receive a significantly lower average of £5.71 per hour if all revenue funding goes to providers.
Mayor Jules Pipe, Chair of London Councils, said:

“Today’s research shows that councils are thinking innovatively about how to create the places needed to deliver this new entitlement. However, London has more births, more poverty and more expensive childcare costs than elsewhere in the UK. The government needs to take this into account.”
Anand Shukla, Chief Executive of Daycare Trust, said:

“This policy has the potential to boost the life chances of the most deprived children in London but finding an additional 25,000 early education places for two year olds is proving a huge challenge for local authorities. A shortfall in day-to-day funding, for providers and for local authorities, risks compromising this ambitious policy. A small amount of extra funding would get the buy-in of providers and the essential local authority infrastructure needed to make this scheme a success.”

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Evening Standard report on hungry children reinforces need for free school meals for all

Following on from my posting earlier this month accusing the Coalition of knowingly increasing child poverty LINK and reporting being accosted by a hungry child in a local school. the Evening Standard has published this story: LINK:
Thousands of London children are going to school hungry because their parents are too poor to afford breakfast.

A harrowing investigation reveals today that scores of children have even passed out in class due to lack of food.

Three quarters of teachers interviewed by the London Assembly in a snapshot survey said they had personally taken action to help hungry children. Of those who said they had “taken action” to feed pupils, 60 per cent said they provided food at their own expense.

Almost 20 per cent of those interviewed who regularly gave food to hungry children did so up to four times a month.

Fiona Twycross, who is leading the study, said:
It’s heart-breaking to think that children are going to school hungry. Some kids have told us there’s no food in the cupboard at home at all. The problem might be even more widespread than we think. There are probably thousands going hungry.
You can’t see a hungry child, you just see a child who is listless or a bit ratty and lacking concentration, so unless a teacher spots it and asks the right questions we just don’t know.

Thank goodness for caring teachers who pay for food for hungry pupils out of their own pockets – although it is scandalous that they have to in this day and age.  What worries me even more is what is happening during the school holidays when this extra help isn’t available.
The Assembly member added:
We’ve heard really devastating stories about pupils passing out. It’s a dramatic illustration of the problem and hopefully not very widespread but it does happen. Even if it’s just one child going hungry and we don’t do anything about it that’s a scandal.
More than 95 per cent of teachers interviewed said there were always a few pupils in their class were starting the day on an empty stomach.

Almost 20 per cent said as many as 15 pupils went without breakfast.

Half of the respondents from primary and secondary schools across the capital said the children went without because their parents could not afford it.

And almost all of the teachers interviewed - 97 per cent - said hunger impacted negatively on their pupils’ concentration in lessons.

The Assembly’s health committee, which publishes its full report in March, spoke to 164 head teachers and other staff across 21 different boroughs - including Lewisham, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets - to establish the scale and impact of hunger.

There are just over 2,000 primary and secondary schools in London educating around 1.25 million pupils so the scale of the problem is likely to be more widespread.

The study found there was a growing demand for food banks, breakfast clubs and free school meals as the economic downturn takes effect.

Investigators have uncovered harrowing tales. One teacher came across a child standing outside a cookery class sniffing the air as cakes were baked inside.

She described the scene as “like something out of a Dickens story” as the child had not eaten breakfast or lunch because he couldn’t afford the food.
It would be good if the Evening Standard took up the Green Party policy of free school meals for all children. It would end the bureaucracy  associated with applying for free school meals and ensure that, at least during term time, all children got a decent hot meal, impacting on health, behaviour and educational achievement. Many parents find applying for free school meals difficult and there are also families who do not qualify as their immigration status means they have 'no recourse to public funds'.

Secrecy surrounds Brent Town Hall bidder

Brent Town Hall this evening
The identity of the potential purchaser of Brent Town Hall is the subject of some speculation following the Council's decision to keep many documents secret at the recent Executive that approved sell-off plans.

The disposal of the site is not as straight-forward as first thought. The report to the Executive noted:

The Town Hall land is subject to a number of covenants including a covenant that no part of the land shall be used for any noisy noisome or offensive trade or for the erection of workmen’s dwellings or flats for the housing of the working classes other than such quarters or caretakers lodgings as are usual and necessary in connection with a Civic Centre.

There is the risk that the above covenant could be capable of being enforced by injunction thus preventing the construction and use of the site for a redevelopment consistent with the Town Hall Planning Brief. The appropriation and use of Section 237 powers is required with the object of removing this risk and to facilitate the carrying out of redevelopment scheme.
The application of Section 237 powers would ease the problems although there is still a risk of legal challenge. Another issue is that the site includes open space in the marriage garden that borders The Paddocks. I for one missed the following advertisment in the local press:

The Town Hall site includes a Grade II Listed Building and open space.Public notice of the proposed appropriation to planning purposes of the Town Hall site under Section 122 of the Local Government Act 1972 and disposal of the open space under Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 was advertised in the local press on 13th and 20th September 2012. No objections were received
The site concerned can be seen in the pan below and covers a considerable area:

There have been rumours in the past about the possibiolity that the site could be used as a school and the need to address the problem of  'noisome uses' and the inclusion of the public space might reinforce that. The need for getting maximum profit from the site and the proxomity of the Ark Academy  had seemed to make that unlikely but the report includes this intruiging passage - again we don't have sit eof the confidential item in question:
Comments on end user

Members are asked to note the confidential letter received at Appendix 3.

As the Executive is aware from the report considered at its August meeting, the Council is projecting a shortfall of school places and has developed plans to expand primary provision. In addition, proposals to increase secondary provision (where the demand is manifested in later years) will be brought to the Executive for consideration in January.

The Town Hall is not identified specifically as an education site and is not factored into any of these plans, firstly (in terms of secondary provision) because of its close proximity to Ark Academy and secondly because its sale at market value is required to enable the Council’s move to the Civic Centre.

Education uses outside the state-funded sector on this site might have some wider benefits for the local population but their impact would be mainly neutral in terms of their impact on local state education provision.
The last paragraph seems to suggest that there might be the possibility of use by a private school. The Swaminarayan may have decided not to apply for free school status at present but would they be interested in this site?  It is a long way from the Swaminarayan Mandir but is more central and closer to Harrow which supplies many of the pupils. The school told me last month:
The Swaminarayan School is considering applying for Free School status. Whilst we have not found a site, we would wish to locate to a site in the heart of the Hindu community. The excellent education that the school provides at present will be open to all.
Even if free school status is rejected, would they be interested in a prestigious site such as the Town Hall?  Is it 'in the heart of the Hindu community'?

This is pure speculation but I did report back in May 2009 LINK that the Swaminarayan were considering a move to the north of the borough. This would free the present site, which used to be that of Sladebrook High School, as a possible site for a much needed secondary school in the Harlesden area - with the added bonus of the neighbouring Centre for Staff Development becoming free when it moves to the Civic Centre in Summer 2013. As I said pure speculation....

Meanwhile the report approvingly notes that in the bidder's plans for the Grade II listed building::

The key ‘character spaces’ in the existing building are thoughtfully used with minimum design intervention, and the extensions are shown in locations that the brief identifies as being suitable for additional building/enlargement.