Friday 29 March 2013

Brent restructuring steams ahead but will have to be done again in 2-3 years

The proposed structure
I went to yesterday's Brent General Purposes Committee on a high - not in anticipation of an exciting meeting but because I was buzzing with optimism from an event I had just attended at Chalkhill Primary School. The Sports Hall had been full of families, not just parents but grandparents, aunts and uncles and children ranging from babes in arms to secondary school students.  The occasion was the graduation ceremony for the 8 week FAST (Families and Schools Together) course that had taken place at the school. Among those working with families alongside school staff was the chair of the Chalkhill  Residents Association. A real community effort. The hall was buzzing with chatter and lively with children dressed up for the occasion playing amongst the tables or tucking into food and drink while some adults were in dazzling national costume.. Real pride was on display when each family went up on the stage to get their certificate to cheers from the audience.

FAST aims to provide a fun and relaxed space for families to experience a mixture of play and learning activities, hands on coaching and support for parents and carers. Each week families can win a resource hamper to help support children's learning in the home. The programme has high success rates in improving family relationships and links between home, school and the local community. The project is run by Save the Children and funded by Morrison's.

So it was with renewed faith in our local authority community schools that I went to speak to the General Purposes Committee about the restructuring of the senior management at the council and the children and families department.

I had three main concerns. The first was by combining adults' and children's social care with education and public health that the Council was creating a 'high risk' department. One risk was that these were areas where things could go badly wrong as we know from previous child protection cases as well as concerns over the treatment of vulnerable adults. The second risk was that these are areas under huge budgetary pressures and the eventual cost of public health is not yet known.

The second concern was that that education and children's social care were being separated. They had not worked well together when they had been separate departments and as a headteacher I had seen improvements in processes when they came under one director. I said it was essential that there were clear lines of responsibility in terms of child protection and safeguarding. The operational director would be dealing with complex cases on the ground but the strategic director would have overall responsibility.

The third concern was much broader and about the current fragmentation of the local school system with academisation and free schools. I said that Gladstone Park Primary's experience had given other heads the jitters and it was essential that there was strong leadership in education that championed the role of the local authority and demonstrated that the LA had the capacity to help schools improve. In that regard the reduction in the role of the School Improvement Service and the creation of the Brent Schools' Partnership introduced a note of uncertainty underlining the need for strong leadership.

I noted that when the post of Director of Children and Families last became vacant that it was ring-fenced to existing council staff. At the time this was criticised  LINK on the grounds that schools by statute have to advertise vacant head and deputy head posts nationally so as to have the widest possible field to select the best quality candidate. I argued, recognising that there might be HR issues involved, that this should also apply to these vital posts - Brent children and adults deserve the best.

Christine Gilbert, responded to some of these points in her presentation. She recognised that this would be a 'high risk' department but said that the safeguarding aspects should carry on much as they are now. She said that the strategic directors would have to have a good grasp of the operational issues. Gilbert told councillors that there would need to be another restructuring in two or three years as further cuts were made in funding. Muhammed Butt, chairing the meeting, said that the only constant was change.

Cllr Mary Arnold challenged my suggestion that there was a risk in the Brent Schools Partnership lacking an independent critical voice and said that the partnership was with the local authority which would retain core services and offer services that schools could buy into: it was a schools partnership with the local authority.

Cllr Jim Moher expressed support for my call for strong leader for education in the face of fragmentation. Cllr Pavey spoke enthusiastically about the excitement he felt about the opportunities offered by restructuring. It's probably fair to say that his enthusiasm didn't set the rest of the room on fire.

Paul Lorber for the Lib Dems wanted more information about the role of the Assistant Chief Executive and suggested that perhaps it would be better to employ a director for one of the other service units instead. He was told that the delayed appointment of the permanent Chief Executive would go ahead in May and that the new structure, after consultation, would  help the appointment. Lorber also asked if the new structure at office level with fewer departments would mean a reduction in the size of the Executive with their parallel responsibilities. That has happened in Hounslow but not elsewhere.

Christine Gilbert asked for suggestions on alternative names for the new departments which would sum up their functions concisely.  Mary Arnold suggested that Economic Growth and Employment might better reflect the developing role of Regeneration and Major Projects.

The recommendations in Christine Gilbert's report were accepted subject to consultation on some aspects.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

London Councils calls for London to be treated as a'special case' on benefit reform

London Councils released a report yesterday  that tracks the impact of benefit reforms and suggests Londoners will be hardest hit by the changes.

The report indicates that up to half-a-million working age people could be touched in some way when the changes take effect this year. It estimates that 27,000 households in London will be affected by the benefit cap alone, due to be piloted in four boroughs from April.

An additional 456,000 Londoners will pay more council tax as a result of council tax benefit payments moving to council control, with reduced funding. And up to 80,000 homes could be adversely affected by the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ designed to deal with under occupancy in social housing.

Mayor Sir Steve Bullock, London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing, said:
While we recognise the need for reform, councils across London have concerns about the speed this is being implemented and the effect on families of so many changes taking place at once. I want to see London treated as a special case as the process moves forward.

For some ordinary families with two children looking for work their benefit could drop £183.00 per week, while an identical family unit in Manchester would be unaffected.

London Councils supports a fairer, more accountable system of welfare that encourages work. But since changes to housing benefits in April 2011 the number of households claiming housing benefit for private rented housing in London rose by over 32,000. Rents went up by nine per cent for the most basic housing in that period and this is increasingly a London issue.
The report, Tracking Welfare Reform, is available on the London Councils website LINK  along with a wide range of research and background materials.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Michaela Free School: not needed, not wanted, not interested...

I was only the sixth (and the last) person to attend the Michaela Free School Consultation this afternoon. The first on the attendance list was another opponent of the school so Michaela didn't do very well. There were more people from Michaela itself present than there were members of the public who attended throughout the 2 hours consultation period.

Nevertheless I had an interesting chat with Suella Fernandes, vice chair of the Michaela governing body. When I asked about the appointment of Katharine Birbalsingh as headteacher of the school and the process involved I was told that Katharine was the proposer of the free school so she was the headteacher - 'That's the way it goes with a free school'. When I asked, therefore, what quality control there was of the appointment, given the rigorous procedures involved in the appointment of headteachers in the maintained sector, I was told that the free school application had been 'vetted'  by the DfE.

Turning to the governing body I asked how they had been appointed, Apparently they are supporters of the bid and all 'passionate' about education. She did not demur when I said, 'So you are all self-appointed', that's how it is with free schools, apparently. I was told that apart from herself, a planning barrister, other governors included Chidi Amadi, an ex-pupil of Birbalsingh's and Dr Tony Sewell, CEO of Generating Genius. LINK

When I asked whether parent governors would be elected or appointed I was told they would be 'recruited'. As many free schools and academies have only one or two parent governors I asked how many Michaela would have. That was probably unfair as the governing body is still incomplete and hoping to recruit 'professionals' locally, and the vice chair could only hazard a guess off the record.

 Recruitment of teachers is clearly an issue with Michaela offering English, Maths, Science, History. Geography, Religious  Education, French, Spanish, Music, Art and extended day competitive sport, help with university applications, Latin, Mandarin, business and personal financial skills and social and cultural education.  It was clear from my conversation that staff recruitment had not got very far and I warned that some of these were shortage subjects where it would be hard to recruit.

With the school intending to open in September 2014 with four classes of 30 (presumably Year Sevens) I asked how the range of subjects could be covered by 'about eight teachers' and was told that this would be 'no problem at all'.

Pursuing the thought that parents were being sold a pig in a poke I pointed out that with local secondary schools parents could judge them from their examination results (except for Ark that doesn't have any yet) and Ofsted Reports, but all we had for Michaela were assertions in a glossy brochure: 'That's the way it is with free schools starting out'. But they wanted to offer parents a choice based on tradition and discipline.

With Michaela having been rejected in two areas of South London I asked how they had ended up in Brent. Initially I was told that this was because there was a need here and because of the challenges Brent faced with its multicultural population and people not having English as their first language. When I pointed out that Brent secondary schools were achieving well and amongst the top 10% of schools in the country with a proven track record, the grounds switched to the shortage of secondary places. I pointed out that the Council had published plans to deal with this but was told that Michaela was one of the ways Brent was tackling the shortage. When I pressed further the fact that there was a site available in Wembley at Arena House became the dominant factor.When I suggested that the real need was for a secondary school, open to all, in the south of the borough, Suella suggested that I find them a site.

When I asked about planning permission for a secondary school in Arena House I was confidently told by the planning barrister that it wasn't required. When I pointed out that this meant local people had no say in something that would affect them, yes, you've guessed: 'That's the way it is' but people could come along and tell them about their concerns at the next consultation. In the future there will be school students from Ark, Preston Manor, Michaela and the French School at the Town Hall concentrated in this small area of Wembley. When I said that residents were likely to raise a hue and cry the short response was 'Let them'.

I asked about play space in the new school and Michaela agreed there would be very little and they would look elsewhere in the borough for sports facilities. Apparently no agreement has been reached with the Ark about the use of their facilities. At first they did not seem to know about the Town Hall French School but them confirmed that they had been in negotiations for the building but had dropped out because it would not have been ready in time for September 2014. Instead Arena House will be refurbished - at what cost to taxpayers I do not know - but at a time when the poor state of Copland High School has made national headlines...

Suella Fernandes involvement strengthens Michaela's links with the Conservative Party. (Katharine Birbalsingh's career as a Govite was launched when she addressed a meeting at the Tory Conference). Suella is a daughter of former Brent Conservative councillor Uma Fernandes and herself stood as a Conservative candidate in Fryent ward. She attended a local Brent primary school, Uxendon Manor, but her secondary education was at Heathfield School in Pinner - a Girls Public Day School Trust establishment.

The next consultation is on April 4th, 6-8pm Powell Suite, Chalkhill Community Centre

Monday 25 March 2013

Bin Veolia in Brent boosted by Labour motion calling for Veolia's exclusion

The Bin Veolia in Brent Campaign received a boost last week when a motion critical of Veolia was passed at the Brent Central  General Committee of the Labour Party.  The Campaign calls for Veolia to be excluded from the current multi-million Brent Public Real Contract because of its complicity in the breaking of international law in the occupied territories of Palestine.

The motion was proposed Sabina Khan of the Dudden Hill branch of the Labour Party.  Those present were generally aware of the issues involved and there were several other speeches in favour.

There was a further suggestion that the issue be raised with Cllr James Powney (Kensal Green) who is the lead member for environment and neighbourhoods.

The full text of the motion and a downloadable petition can be found HERE

Sunday 24 March 2013

Risks in council's reduced role and restructuring

Long term out-sourcing reduces democratic accountability
 It was rather disconcerting during yesterday's Barnet Spring march to find a rather touching faith in the ability of the Labour Party to deliver something quite different to the Tory's Easy Council option. A speech from a libraries campaigning from Newcastle and chats with those of us from Brent, introduced a touch of realism into their expectations.

Of course Labour Brent and Tory Barnet are not identical but they do share some of the basic assumptions and I am under no illusions that the Greens in Brighton have fundamentally different views as to the future. They are all in different ways 'managing' the decline in financial and political power of local councils.

One way of doing this is to reduce the 'need' for local services through lowering expectations and reducing costs via out-sourcing to the lowest bidder. Out-sourcing is privatisation and  removes democratic accountability and further reduces the role of the council. What is required instead of accommodation to the Coalition agenda is out-right concerted defence of local government and local democracy.

This is how the Brent Council restructuring document puts it:
The changing role of the Council
The scale of the challenge to public services through the reductions outlined above is considerable. It cannot be managed by the traditional local government responses of streamlining staffing and restricting access or eligibility to services which may be of poorer quality than they are now. This can only lead to conflict and declining trust among local people. We must:
find more innovative ways of preventing demand for public services arising in the first place
do more to ensure that if a need arises, ways are found to meet it without relying on public services
help people themselves self-manage a long term need, rather than relying on a service
minimise duplication by integrating all services-not just those provided by the
council-around individuals, thereby facilitating a more personalised and coherent approach
explore ways of enabling service users to improve services by commissioning services directly.
Barnet wants to do away with the local authority's day to day management role altogether with massive long-term contracts to then likes of Capita. However Brent isn't really that far behind if you consider the huge contract currently being procured for the Public Realm (street cleaning, waste collection, recycling, Parks and BHP grounds maintenance) as well as adult social care and parts of the education service.

Brent Council's restructuring of senior management is a response to the declining role of the local authority in service management but also reflects the growing role of major projects and regeneration as the Council seeks to sell the family silver (public assets) to remain afloat.

Under the proposals:
  • The Corporate Management Team will be reduced from 9 posts to 5
  • CMT Directors will be reduced from 8 posts to 4
  • Assistant Directors will be reduced from 19 to 14
  • A new post of Assistant Chief Executive will be created
A common theme is the creation of 'Strategic' and 'Operational Directors' in the new departments. As an example we can look at the newly created Education, Health and Social Care Department. As the name suggests this includes education, children and adult social care and the newly acquired public health functions. It is a huge remit and contains some of the riskiest areas of the Council's operations. BACES is transferred from education to the Major Projects and Regeneration Department.

There will be a Strategic Director of Education, Health and Social Care and s/he will manage the Operational Directors for 1) Education 2) Children's Social Care 3) Adult Social Care and a Director of Public Health (a statutory position) who will report to the Chief Executive.

This set-up may provoke some anxiety in terms of the complexity and associated risk factors in these departments, particularly regarding safeguarding of vulnerable children and adults. Both child and adult social care have huge budget pressures and as a new service it is unclear what the eventual financial position will be regarding public health.  Christine Gilbert's report claims that the reorganisation takes account of the Munro Review's recommendation that the role of Director of Children's Services should not have additional functions in order that the focus on vulnerable children should not be diluted. This proposal should be given careful scrutiny by councillors mindful of Brent's unfortunate history in this area, and the difficulty of recruitment to such posts.

The Department of Environment and Neighbourhoods will have a Straetgic Director and two Operational Directors for 1) Neighbourhoods and 2) Environment and Protection. It will now be responsible for Community Safety.

The already huge Regeneration and Major Projects department now takes on Brent Customer Services,  a new Employment and Enterprise function, and associated with the latter BACES is transferred from Children and Families. There will be a Strategic Director and four Operational Directors 1) Property and Projects 2) Planning and Regeneration 3) Housing and Employment and 4) Customer Services.

I have previously expressed concern that this department, currently head by Andy Donald, has a great deal of power and possible conflicts of interest, and my concern is not lessened by the reorganisation. As with Education, Health and Social Care, here are a great many eggs in one basket.

Petition launched against Birbalsingh's Michaela Free School

The petition from parents, teachers and local residents launched today is available as a PDF on the panel opposite. Please run off copies and circulate to friends, work colleagues and neighbours. The petition will be sent to the Michaela Academy as a response to their current consultation (the first consultation meetng is on Tuesday March 26th in the Powell Suite,Chalkhill Community Centre 3-5pm and the second on April 4th 6-8pm. The Community Centre is at 113 Chalkhill Rd  Wembley, Greater London HA9 9FX. Directions: Cross the road from Wembley Park Station - turn left and then take first right.

The wording is self-explanatory:

We are a group of local parents, teachers and members of the local community opposed to the setting up of the Michaela ‘free’ school in Brent.

We think that the planning for school places has to be done in collaboration with the local community. Putting this school in the north of the borough of Brent will directly compete with our existing local schools and is not where the school place shortages are.

We believe that the evidence from ‘free’ schools has shown that they lead to increased social segregation, lower attainment and have been run for profit. Brent schools are in the top 10% of schools in the country so have a proven track record improving attainment for all children ensuring equal opportunities for pupils from all backgrounds.  

We believe that all children need decent school buildings, investment in their schools and smaller class sizes. Free schools have been funded by cutting two desperately needed grants, including the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) money promised to our existing local schools. We know that the cuts to education and public services and the raising of tuition fees will harm our communities. The free school movement is Michael Gove's experimental pet project and is part of the plan to privatise our services and will worsen education for all.

We, the undersigned, oppose the setting up of the Michaela Community School. This could destroy other local schools. We believe that school places need to be planned and the setting up of a school to ‘compete’ with others is damaging to our communities.

Dear Mr Gove (This is War)

As teachers prepare for their Easter conferences and their fire is trained on Michael Gove and Michael Wilshaw LINK I thought I would share this wonderful video with you. It deserves many more viewings so please share.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Barnet springs to the defence of local services despite rain, sleet and snow

Despite battling with wind, rain, sleet and snow,the indefatigable campaigners of Barnet marched to tell their Tory Council and the Coalition government  that they must go.

Barnet Council, as Cameron's flagship borough, is attempting the out-sourcing of most of its services on long-term contracts. Campaigners see this as the death of local democracy and the handing over of local assets to private profiteers.
march, recognising that if the Tories succeed in Barnet the 'Barnet strategy' will be implemented in other towns and cities. Brent Fightback were there as were the Whittington and Lewisham hospital campaigns. A speaker from the Anti Academies Alliance drew attention to the privatisation of local authority schools.
Fittingly the march finished at the occupied Friern Barnet library where one of the library campaigners made it clear that volunteer run libraries are not the answer. She told the people crowding into the library that the demand should be no closures and no cuts and for properly resourced local services.

Friday 22 March 2013

Challenge privatisation - join the Barnet Spring March

Barnet is in the vanguard of privatisation of services and the destruction of democratically accountable local government. Join the protest.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Gilbert wields the axe as senior posts go on Brent Council

The proposed structure - click to enlarge
There was a flurry of consternation at the Health Partnerships Overview and Scrutiny Committee the other evening when members were shocked to discover the Director of Adult Social Care had seemed to suddenly disappear. A muttered explanation was not audible to the public gallery.

Christine Gilbert
An explanation seems to lie in the Brent Council Management Restructuring paper that is going to the General Purposes Committee on March 28th. The paper from Christine Gilbert, Interim Chief Executive proposes the amalgamation of a number of departments which include a new Education, Health and Social Care Department.

The proposals aim to take advantage of the move to the Civic Centre to defragment services, restructure in line with the shrinking Council and save about £900,000. A new post of Assistant Chief Executive is created.

There will be consultation on the changes before the first take effect in May 2013.

To save readers from navigating around the Brent website I have made the paper available below.

12 year old student gets national coverage on poor state of Copland's building

In a piece recorded the day before the recent Ofsted, Copland High School 12 year old student Khadija was on the World at One today. She had raised the issue of the school's crumbling build with David Cameron a year ago in a face to face meeting and he had promised to investigate. Little has happened since.

The DfE were unable to supply a spokesman to answer her criticisms.

There are pictures on the World at One Facebook HERE You do not have to have a Facebook account to see them,

Natalie Bennett on Question Time with Michael Gove tonight

Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader, will be taking part in Question Time tonight on BBC1 at 10.40pm. You can watch here:

Other panelists include:

Michael Gove MP
Emily Thornberry MP
Mark Littlewood, Director General of IEA
Anthony Horowitz, Author

Brent students take on the challenge of climate change

The first Brent Student Climate Change Conference was held yesterday attended by around 200 people including students, campaigners, authors and local politicians. Here are some of the images from the day to give you a flavour of the event:

Children's author Caren Trafford sets the scene
Competition prize winners with Mary Arnold, the Mayor and Muhammed Butt
1st Prize Winner Suraj Velani Y8  (Dual language PowerPoint presentation)
Runner up Joshua Herskovitz-Wong Y7 (Poster)
Equal runner up Antonino Cafiero-Regueira Y7 (PowerPoint presentation)
After film, presentations and a panel discussion in the morning students used the knowledge gained in workshops in the afternoon to make their own presentations on campaigns to combat climate change. They worked in mixed groups drawn from the colleges and schools attending. Here are some of the results:

Thivya Jeyashanker and Edison Lasku of the Brent Youth Parliament ended their presentation with this slide. During the lunch interval many students volunteered an interest in joining the Youth Parliament.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Lucas: Time for 'PLAN G' after failure of austerity budgets

Amidst the tax breaks for shale gas and boastful road building pledges, there is one huge green economy-shaped hole in this flailing Chancellor's Budget.

With the UK's green economy now worth over £120bn - 9% of GDP - providing nearly a million jobs and generating a third of our most recent economic growth according to the CBI, it is completely inexplicable that George Osborne keeps pretending it doesn't exist.

Given the huge potential of green industries and clean energy generation to provide British jobs and prosperity, as well as the obvious environmental benefits they will deliver, it's time to drop austerity and go for Plan G.

There's no doubt that the cuts have failed - now we need urgent investment in nationwide green infrastructure to stabilise the economy, tackle the environmental crisis and deliver clean and secure energy for the future.

 This should also mean the Chancellor ditching his irrational obsession with gas. It's outrageous that the Government is willing to gift yet more tax breaks to companies drilling for hard-to-reach shale - a costly gamble that risks keeping the UK addicted to polluting fossil fuels at precisely the time we should be leaving them in the ground.

A Government which really cared about bringing energy bills under control and improving energy security would put its money on renewables - where the costs are predictable and falling - and agree to recycle carbon tax revenue into a jobs-rich energy efficiency programme, rather than deepening our dependence on gas, where prices are set to keep rising.

Going all-out for offshore wind, for example, instead would save £20bn by 2030, create 70,000 more jobs, and lead to both lower climate emissions and lower fuel bills.

And with the new nuclear facility at Hinkley announced yesterday expected to come with a £14bn price tag, this Government should urgently think again before ploughing ahead with its deeply misguided nuclear strategy. For the cost of one nuclear reactor, it's estimated that 7 million households could be lifted out of fuel poverty.

With the negotiations for a strike price for nuclear operators getting on for double the current price of electricity - to be paid by households and businesses already struggling with high bills - it's clear that the main beneficiaries of this policy will be EDF and the French state.


With the Joseph Rowntree Foundation warning that tax rises, welfare cuts, and wages freezes will push over 7 million children below the breadline in the next two years, it's scandalous that this millionaire Government is still so reluctant to make the richest in our society pay their fair share of tax.

While millions across the country struggle to pay rising household bills, the Government is cutting tax for corporations like Amazon, Starbucks and Google - when they choose to pay it at all - to 25% next month, 23% by 2014 then 20% the year after.

The General Anti Avoidance Rule announced today will not be enough to stop the tax dodgers, as the tax QCs Graham Aaronson who worked it up has admitted it will be "narrowly focused", and apply only to the "most egregious tax avoidance schemes".
If the Government was really serious about cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion, including shutting down tax havens, it would have supported my Private Members Bill requiring all companies to publish what they earn.

It would also seek a strong international agreement to force all multinationals to report their tax practices transparently. HMRC has a duty to prosecute multinational companies who do not pay their taxes in the UK and it's right that offenders are publicly named and shamed.

Isolated Powney lashes out at 'Loony Left' Fightback

Sujata Aurora writes:

Last Thursday I spoke on behalf of Brent Fightback at Kensal Green Labour ward meeting. There were 11 or 12 people there, including all 3 ward councillors, and the response was very positive. This was not an anti Labour rant but I presented a few issues where I thought the council was lacking and Labour members could be exerting pressure.

These were namely  1) the closure of Central Middlesex A&E where I said that Labour should take a strong stand within the Health Committee and refer the decision up to the Secretary of State, and 2) the response to housing/benefit changes where I said the council should look at reclassifying homes to avoid the bedroom tax (as Knowsley Housing Authority has) and also adopt a policy of no evictions in the way that Dundee council has. (I did also mention a needs budget but its didn't get taken up in the discussion afterwards).

People were very receptive and interested to hear that there was far more that the council could be doing to fight the cuts. Many of them had not considered or even heard about some of the possibilities such as reclassification of homes.

Throughout the meeting I emphasised that that Brent Fightback saw its role within the broad Labour movement and wanted a dialogue with Labour members and councillors about how best to resist cuts.

Despite not raising a word of disagreement at the time, Councillor James Powney is now attacking Brent Fightback on his blog as the "loony left alternative" whose "main activity consists of attacking people in the Labour Party". This strikes me as more than a little dishonest and perhaps an indication of how isolated he is from ordinary members within his own party.

Join in the discussion HERE

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Brent Labour shrinks from supporting Ealing on hospital reorganisation

A motion referring the Shaping a Healthier Future proposals to the Secretary of State, moved by Cllr Claudia Hector, failed to find a seconder at tonight's Brent's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.  The proposals will mean the closure of Central Middlesex A&E.

At the Labour councillors' pre-meeting an alternative motion was amended so that it read that the Committee 'noted' Ealing Council's decision to refer the proposals in case it should appear that Brent Council supported their action. Instead the anodyne motion from Cllr Pat Harrison, seconded by Cllr Helga Gladbaum, said that 'it was right'  that the proposals should be 'thoroughly examined'  and sought assurances that services would not be  reduced or closed  unless changes in infrastructure had 'proved to deliver successful outcomes for residents'. This was passed with Lib Dem support from Cllr Ann Hunter.

The motion was in stark contrast to the earlier passionate call for arms from Sarah Cox of Brent Fightback and Brent SWP who told the Labour councillors that they were heirs to the creators of the National Health Service and, reflecting the commitment of the recently released Spirit of 45,  it was not too late for them to stand up for the NHS, and for the people of Harlesden and Stonebridge, and refer the  decision to the Secretary of State.

Her speech was loudly applauded by Lib Dem councillor Barry Cheese, who went on to make his own heart-felt intervention from first hand sources about the inadequacies of the ambulance service at Northwick Park. He had been told by ambulance workers that two stroke victims in separate ambulances had been delayed treatment because the vehicles had been behind 12 ambulances already on the hospital ramp. As presentations continued he repeatedly called out condemning privatisation. He seems to have moved to the left of the Labour group - which, let's face it, isn't hard.

There was a tedious presentation from NW London NHS on 'Improving Healthcare for people in Brent' that nearly had Cllr Gladbaum chewing the carpet in frustration.  However,  embedded in it was the tiniest hint that there may be slightest of chances that the Central Middlesex A&E decision may only be about 98% final.

One slide read:
  • The NWL Hospitals Trust has set up a project board to consider future  options for the A&E (includes senior representatives and clinicians from the trust and stakeholders)
  • Commissioners expect to be fully involved in any decisions regarding the future of the A&E and would require reassurance regarding any future change in services around:
The reasons for any changes and the evidence behind this view
The likely impact on neighbouring services (eg Northwick park and Imperial)
The alternatives that had been considered
The monitoring that would be put in place
The involvement of stakeholders inc the OSC

The litmus test is whether a change of service would be safer that the current service
I read this as an opportunity for campaigners to continue to put on the pressure and make the case for the retention of the A&E. What we should also be saying though is that the 'current service' at Central Middlesex needs to be strengthened and its running down halted. This view is somewhat reinforced by news that the number of ambulances being directed to Central Middlesex had increased recently.

So let's not give up just yet - keep up the pressure.

Green Party supports tomorrow's PCS strike

GREEN Party leader Natalie Bennett will tomorrow (Wednesday) morning be speaking at a PCS Union rally outside the Euston Tower in Central London in support of the union’s budget day protest, expressing support for PCS members on strike that day across the country.

Natalie said: “The union is rightly calling for decent pay for all civil servants this year, while pointing out to the government that this – and many other steps to reverse its austerity programme – could be paid for by serious action against wealthy tax dodgers.”

A union report has demonstrated that since the start of recession in 2008 the real value of wages has fallen by 7%, more than £50 billion a year. The report also found that median pay in the civil service is 4.4% lower than direct private sector comparators. In some grades, the gap was 10%. It is calling for a 5% rise in civil service pay this year to keep pace with inflation, and an end to reduction in pension rights.

The union represents, among others, customs, immigration, benefits and Jobcentre staff.
Natalie said: "Congratulations to the PCS for rightly identifying the importance of tackling tax evasion in rebalancing our economy. David Cameron has said he wants to act on the issue, but has failed to take any meaningful concrete steps.

“To save time, I’d point him to Green MP Caroline Lucas’s 2011 Tax and Financial Transparency Bill, which set out how the government could force companies to ‘publish what tax they pay’, requiring all companies filing accounts in the UK to include a statement on the turnover, pre-tax profit, tax charge and actual tax paid for each country in which they operate, without exception. He could simply move that as a government bill, and take a big stride towards collecting money the UK is owed.”

Natalie added that the PCS call for fair pay for all civil servants and for all contracts to be underpinned by the living wage, would be a small step towards rebalancing the UK economy, in which the wage share had fallen from around 60% to 55%, with a great increase in the inequality of the distribution of those wages.
“We need to make the minimum wage a living wage – that is an immediate step the government should take, but in the meantime, ensuring that government outsourcing meets this basic standard is an important step.”

Natalie added: “It is clear that we need to not only reverse George Osborne’s austerity agenda, and invest in the infrastructure we desperately need – including energy conservation, renewable energy, but also to move towards a living wage economy with jobs that workers can build a life on.”

Health and housing on the agenda tonight

Brent's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be asked by local campaigners to refer the proposal to close Central Middlesex A&E to the Secretary of State at this evening's meeting. Ealing Council has already taken this step which has drawn an irritated response from NW London NHS:

Ealing Council has asked the Secretary of State for  Health to consider the programme. This is a shame, as  this process normally takes a few months and will d elay implementation of much needed improvements to local services which the majority of clinicians, local GP s and other local councils want to see go ahead.
Of course many residents think it is a 'shame' that we may lose out local A&E, especially when the alternative facility, Northwick Park, is already over-loaded.  A local resident has written to Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt putting her views:

Dear Cllr. Butt,

I am a resident of Brent and Brent should be fighting on behalf of their residents to keep all four Hospitals A&E departments open.  Urgent care centres are not acceptable they are not manned by many doctors or nurses, and are no alternative to an A&E unit.   How far will Brent residents have to go to the nearest A&E dept? will they be seen? How long will they have to wait?  This will put their lives at risk.  
St Marys Hospital Paddington, Northwick Park Middlesex A&E depts. are already full with the present numbers they deal with, how will closing four A&E's in North West London help the people of Brent?.

I have had two operations this year in Charring Cross Hospital, this hospital is to be sold off for real estate. Charring Cross Hospital services the people of Brent, I was sent there as St Marys Paddington do not have the facilities or the beds to cope.

The NHS was founded by the labour government in 1948, I expect a labour council to look after all its residents North and South of the borough and back Ealing borough council in fighting to keep all four A&E departments open. Emergency's, Maternity and the Ageing population are all at risk

Yours sincerely
Margaret von Stoll
Apart from the important issues of the future of Accident and Emergency services in the area and the Shaping the Healthier Future proposals, the Committee will also discuss and question NHS officers on failures in local pathology services:
A serious incident was logged in December 2012 after a concern was raised by a GP about the new system. It became clear that this was not an isolated case, and another GP complained of spurious results, missing results and samples not  processed. It was further identified that training for GPs had not taken place and that  alleged meetings with GPs had not in reality occurred. A number of issues have now been identified with different test results and these are listed in the report.
 As as health campaigners are attending the Committee, housing campaigners will be at Mencap in Willesden High Road for a meeting starting at 6.30pm to discuss strategies for dealing with the deepening housing crisis in the borough. Details were published earlier on this blog and can be found HERE