Saturday 28 September 2013

Climate Change:'Stop listening to the siren voices of the fossil fuel lobbyists'

Video LINK

Following yesterday's release of the “Summary for Policymakers” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: 

“The scientific consensus on the causes of climate change and the risks is clearer than ever. We are talking about 95% certainty, and consensus of 97% of climate scientists, about the impact of human action on amplifying the greenhouse effect, which has been understood since the 19th century. Those who would deny the science should not have a further place in this debate: the Flat Earth Society continues to exist, but that doesn’t mean we need to take it seriously.”

Natalie continued: “The debate now should be moving away from the science and on to politics and policy. Britain led the way with the Climate Change Act, but has failed to follow that clear statement of intent with effective action. Globally, China and the US are taking steps in the right direction, but that all countries need to move much further and faster.

“The UK needs to maintain leadership, and benefit by leading in adjusting its economy for the low-carbon future. Cutting our addiction to fossil fuel use is good for consumers too. The massive rise in energy bills that has hit UK households hard in recent years is chiefly the result of rising gas bills. Fracking and the ‘dash for gas’ are expensive dead-ends.

“Instead we need to restructure our economy. Green MP Caroline Lucas has highlighted the risks of the ‘carbon bubble’ – the over-valuation of companies based on unburnable fossil fuel reserves. We also need to end the global  $500-billion worth of subsidies being paid for fossil fuel extraction, six times the subsidies being paid to renewable energy.

“Investment in energy conservation and in renewable energy technologies is the right choice both environmentally and economically. The Centre for Alternative Technology has calculated that the job creation potential of a zero-carbon economy could reach 1.5 million, covering a range of skills and sectors across the country, all at least paying a living wage.

“Currently not a penny of government money is going into insulating our leaky, poorly insulated homes, which are a huge factor in fuel poverty. A serious programme of insulation – and of building new, appropriately sited homes that are affordable not just in rent but also in heating and transport costs – could together deliver jobs, tackle poverty, and cut our carbon emissions.”

Bennett concluded: “A further important step would be to produce the long-delayed transport strategy for England, replacing the discredited HS2 plan with an approach that focuses on helping people get between home, work, study and leisure affordably and in a low-carbon way, with a strong focus on walking and cycling, and improving the many ‘Low Speed One’ rail lines around the country.

“Today’s report makes it very clear that the world is running out of time to tackle the threat of uncontrolled climate change, and that climate risks to people here in the UK, such as flooding and summer heatwaves, are even greater. Now is the time for politicians to stop listening to the siren voices of the fossil fuel lobbyists, and act decisively to put us on the path to zero carbon economy.”

Friday 27 September 2013

Manilow May-hem expected in Wembley next year

Wembley residents are usually stoical in the face of football and music fans taking over their streets for events at the stadium, Arena and Fountain Studios.

These hardened survivors of Barcelona vs Manchester United trembled though at the news that Barry Manilow, and thousands of his fans, will descend on Wembley Arena for a two night engagement on May 13th and 14th next year.

Tickets are now on sale at prices ranging from £29.50 to £111.50.

Brent Council pay-offs revealed

Gareth Daniel - pay-off better than a game of conkers
Brent Lib Dems have revealed 'the compensation for loss of office' sums awarded to former Chief Executive Gareth Daniel and former Director of Finance Clive Heaphy as £200,702 and £140,508 respectively. Gareth Daniel went after a row with Muhammed Butt, leader of the council and Clive Heaphy went following his suspension pending investigation of allegations of gross misconduct which were later withdrawn.

 The figure for exit packages breaks down as follows:
  • 2010/11 – £3.502 million
  • 2011/12 – £4.366 million
  • 2012/13 – £2.311 million
  • TOTAL – £10.179 million
The Lib Dem claim that  if it was managed more effectively this money could have helped keep closed libraries open, fix potholes and clean streets.

Gareth Daniel did not do as well as his predecessor George Benham. Benham got £700,00 compensation (including a car)  in 1998 when Daniel, then an ex-GLC left-winger, was installed in his place.

Disturbing characters feature in Brent Council horror movie

Thursday 26 September 2013


Will Bernard be given the chance to climb Labour's mountain?
The crowded field of Labour hopefuls for the Brent Central parliamentary has been joined by yet another runner. Fresh from winning a council candidate place for the Willesden Green was, Bernard Collier has now set his sights higher, and has announced he wants the Brent Central seat.

After last week's flurry of letters to the Brent and Kilburn Times (and Zaffar van Kalwala managed it again today)we can look forward to the Thoughts of Bernard jostling for a place alongside those from the other candidates.

Meanwhile here is what he wrote about himself: LINK

I have lived in Kilburn and Willesden since 1986. Bringing up two children in Brent, using local schools, GP’s and hospitals, has given me a thorough understanding of the issues that affect people locally.

I began my working life teaching independent living and advocacy skills to adults with learning difficulties. Since then I have run voluntary organisations and worked with community groups (Refugee, Pre schools, Senior Citizens) for the last twenty years. I have gained experience of promoting their collective voice and influencing social policy at local, regional, and national levels.

My varied experience, including managing Sure Start outreach teams and facilitating Community Networks for example, means that I bring both a passion for social justice and a range of strategic and management skills to “make it happen” in Brent Central.

The Labour party in Brent Central has a mountain to climb after losing a nominal majority of 19% in 2010. It is vital therefore that the candidate we choose has experience of representing, influencing and negotiating on behalf of local communities. Someone with a good grasp of policy and also a history of standing up for communities and fighting for social justice.

I believe Brent Central deserves to have an MP who has lived a life outside of the political bubble. Who has experience of the local area and the problems facing local people. A fresh face untainted by some of the negative issues that have dogged our party in recent years. Someone to represent all the communities of Brent Central.

This is why I am putting myself forward to be the candidate for selection by Brent Central CLP.

Youth Group: Home Office has to earn our respect and trust on stop and search

The consultation on Stop and Search closed on Tuesday. In this open letter to Theresa May, the Home Secretary  the STOPWATCH YOUTH GROUP tells her what stop and search really means to young people and why the consultation is only the beginning:

Dear Home Secretary,

Over the past three years, the StopWatch Youth Group has been campaigning, educating and advocating for changes to stop and search policy and practice and to improve the experiences of young people who come into contact with the police. Our aims have been to bring young people’s voices to policy debates, draw attention to the impact that stop and search has on our lives and empower our peers to deal with stop and search in a confident and informed way.

We welcome this public consultation, and that you have extended it to September, as a way to allow young people to respond but stop and search has been debated since before our members were even born.
We feel that;
  • Stop and search is a tool for the police to harass and bully people. It rarely targets the crime and antisocial behaviour that actually harms communities.
  • The powers can only be effective if employed as part of a wider crime fighting strategy - better recording can help with this and also encourages the police to consider how they are using the powers in practice.
  • Stop and search targets play a perverse role in unnecessary street confrontations. Setting targets for higher arrest rates is going to lead to arrests that may not have been otherwise made.
  • Young people are disproportionately stopped because we are easy targets; we do not know our rights and feel bullied by the police for the way we dress and because we are spending time on the street. We are treated with no respect; even when we ask the police about the reason for the stop they threaten to arrest us for not cooperating.
  • Young people are repeatedly told we “fit a description” of a suspect and we feel we are given excuses by the police to justify their search. When the police are not being honest with us it is difficult to expect us to have confidence in them.
  • Special youth groups should be set up and be given direct access to decision makers. Members from the community bringing action against the police should be supported through legal aid.
We currently lack faith in any official process and the questions you have asked in this survey are very biased, framing issues like “police bureaucracy” in a leading way. The Home Office needs to earn our respect and trust by ensuring that all stop and search powers - not just the narrow few being consulted on - are used in a much more intelligent, limited and fairer way, which we hope will be the end result of this consultation.

Yours sincerely,
StopWatch Youth Group

The Youth Group’s response is informed by our own opinions and experiences as well as discussions we have been having with young people across London and further afield. For their diverse contributions, we thank BASE- Octavia Foundation, Chelsea Academy, Fully Focused, George Monoux College, Hackney Quest, Kids Company, SE1 United, Skyway Blue Hut, Tower Hamlets Somali Youth Group, Waltham Forest Youth Independent Advisory Group, Youth Futures.

Read our responses to the Home Office survey here


The Need for a National Campaign for Education

Writing on Wembley Matters I have repeatedly criticised Michael Gove's neoliberal reforms in education, the privatisation agenda represented by academies and free schools, and the way the emphasis on test results and league tables narrows the very concept of education and deprives children of their childhood.

The Anti-Academies Alliance has recognised the may strands of this battle and I fully support their support for a National Campaign for Education.

In this report Alasdair Smith, National Secretary  of the Anti Academies Alliance, outlines the issues and notes in passing the Green Party's opposition to the neoliberal vision.
Rumour has it that policy wonks in the DfE are hard at work on how to manage “market failures”.
Indeed the number of failing academies is soaring.  But then ‘failure’ is hardwired into a system of rationed exam success, the ever-changing goalpost of OFSTED and unbridled greed of ‘social entrepreneurs’ who now claim they have a special responsibility to transform education. Peter Hyman – pass the sick bucket please.

The wheels of big business intervention are in full motion.  I have looked, to no avail, to find figures on the increase in rate of investment by education businesses over the last 10 years. My guess it is huge. Rupert Murdoch’s re-branded edu-business – Amplify ( ) is clearly backed by huge investment.  Not surprisingly alongside big money, comes a whiff of corruption - nepotism, dishonesty and manipulation swirls around the system – with exam cheating, pilfering public money and appointing family members now part of Gove’s dystopian nightmare.

Revelations that several academies have adopted Section 28 style policy outlawing 'promotion of homosexuality’ come as no surprise. Deregulation and privatisation - what Gove calls 'autonomy' - can be a licence for bigotry. The outcry raised by the British Humanist Association report has forced the government into a review but we will need hard proof that no school has Section 28 style clauses in future.

The scandal of free schools is even worrying the likes of Graham Stuart – the Tory chair of Education Select Committee. The huge costs, obvious lack of value for money and, most disgracefully, the fact that free schools are opening in areas where there is no need for places is causing huge concern.
There is a ticking time bomb over the shortage of school places. Some parts of London now have several 5 form entry primary schools and are considering split shift education provision unless funding is dramatically increased.

Of course Gove will point to the odd ‘success’ in his new world order. But does he ask about the failures? And what will he do about them?

Is resistance to academy conversion futile?

The academy conversion process is now so clinical, so undemocratic and so dishonest that local campaigns rise and fall within weeks. Schools are handed to sponsors on a plate by DfE brokers. As John Harris argued in the Guardian last week there is murky relationship between OFSTED and academisation ( )

This means there is little chance to build sustained campaign as happened at Downhills. Yet parents are still willing to fight. Neither Gove nor academy conversion is popular. Gove is hated by the profession. There is a profound sense that our communities are being bullied into conversion.

People understand that this policy is the same as policy as the privatising of the NHS. But unfortunately the patterns of resistance are similar to NHS too, although the sporadic protests tend to be even smaller.

One reason for the absence of serious resistance is that Stephen Twigg’s criticism of Gove’s policies has been too muted. Other Labour politicians have offered more - for example Andy Burnham's trenchant defence of comprehensive education. In some areas Labour MPs have worked hard to stem the tide and build alliances with parents and the profession.  But the few national policy announcement’s seems to be little more than ‘Gove lite’.

Elsewhere the Westminster village is in thrall to Gove. We should not believe for one minute that the Lib Dems are holding back Gove. David Laws has been central to propping up elements of Gove’s agenda such as Schools Direct and privatisation of teacher training.

Apart from the Green Party, a few principled MPs and a handful of commentators, the political class remain wholly committed to this neoliberal vision, or what Finnish educationalist Pasi Salhberg calls GERM – Global Education Reform Movement.

It means we need to think long and hard about our approach to education reform. There have been some bold initiatives. CASE, SEA and others have created Picking up the Pieces. This has identified some key features of what a good education system would look like.  The NUT and Compass have joined together to run an enquiry into future of education. Both initiatives appear to be focused on persuading Labour to change its policy going into the next election.

The viability of that strategy is a matter of some debate. In contrast the AAA has continued to try to mobilise parents and staff in campaign at school level, but with limited success. But it has also argued that we need something more. We need a new vision for education that stimulates a nationwide debate and action on achieving it.

The terrain has changed. We are not fighting a single battle against academies, but a ‘war’ in several different areas of education: curriculum, school places, primary, pre-school, teacher training and so on. The scale and breadth of attacks is unprecedented.

If the terrain changes, the vehicle has to change

From the outset we argued that the academies programme was a ‘Trojan horse’ to help break up state education as part of a much grander design to deregulate and privatise the whole system. That prediction is now becoming a reality. But just opposing academies and free schools does not always offer the best opportunities to fight back against Gove. Increasingly much of the secondary sector is now conditioned to academy status. And although academisation is new to the primary sector, it remains rare that single schools fighting alone stop conversion.

Our arguments about the real nature of the academies programme have stood the test of time, but our ability to halt it remains limited. So for the last couple of years the AAA has argued for a National Campaign for Education (NCE) to unite campaigns to create a greater sense of common purpose and above all to articulate ideas around what sort of education system we want not just what we are against.

There are many other areas of education policy on which Gove is more vulnerable. New campaigns are emerging all the time. The multiplicity of different campaigns working on different projects and timescales continue. Avoiding this sort of duplication of effort is a good argument for an NCE. But here is also another more compelling argument. The historic agreement between the NUT and NASUWT for joint programme of action that began on 27th June and will continue on 1st and 17th October offers new hope of resistance across the profession.

Whatever the success of the joint action there remains a job to be done for an NCE. It needs to keep alive ideas of what it means to have a comprehensive, progressive and democratic education system. It needs to engage in popularising a wholly different vision of education based on key ideas of the Finnish system - equality & ‘less is more’. But crucially this shared theoretical vision needs some genuine prospect of realisation for it to have any meaning. So the NCE needs to have a campaigning edge. It needs to take the debate on the future of education into schools and communities up and down the country.

As was reported at the AGM in March, progress towards an NCE has been slow. Support for it was agreed at NUT and UNISON conferences and a few practical steps have been taken.

The AAA is committed to working towards an NCE, but there remains plenty of work for us to do. Our primary function of supporting local campaign continues.

How many kinds of litter are strewn, in an English country churchyard?

Old St Andrews Church in Kingsbury is Brent's older building. The present building is probably 12th century but it is believed a church has existed here since Saxon times. In addition Roman remains have been found in the church's fabric indicating an even earlier settlement.

The grave's in the churchyard go back centuries and vegetation is kept in check by Community Payback workers. In Spring there are snowdrops, violets, bluebells and wild strawberries amongst the graves.

The old Church was redundant but has recently been rented out to a Romanian congregation who each Sunday overflow out into the churchyard, bringing life back into the ancient building.

Sad then it is to see that alfresco drinkers have strewn the churchyard with beer cans and other litter with carrier bags of litter dumped along the alley way/footpath leading to the church. When I last enquired about this being regularly cleared, Brent Council told me it was unadopted and therefore the street sweepers could only sweep it if they had some spare time. After the cuts they clearly don't have time, even more so in the season of leaf fall,  so it is currently an eye sore.

The footpath
Behind St Andrew's Nursery

£100m spent on the Civic Centre and the phones don't work

Town Hall car park still full
I spoke to one of Brent's Labour councillors recently about the problems at the new Civic Centre. The councillor had been frustrated by unanswered telephone calls and inaudibility when they were answered. Now told that things may not be working properly for another 6 months the councillor was outraged, 'Why couldn't they wait until everything was checked and working properly before rushing to move us in?'

The Council's corporate risk assessment had recorded a risk with the telecommunications system before the move and the danger this posed both to the effective running of the Council and to its reputation.

The councillor added, 'No one is talking about it publicly but we all know how bad it is.'

Meanwhile residents puzzled as to why the now empty Brent Town Hall has a full car park need look no further than the Civic Centre.  The Centre was designed to discourage car use by council staff and encourage a shift to public transport. Instead it seems that staff are driving to the Town Hall and parking there, thus avoiding parking charges, and walking round the corner to Bridge Road and accessing the Civic Centre via Olympic Way.  That option will soon disappear when the French School starts work on adapting the Town Hall.

Help bring Kensal Rise Library fraudsters to justice

A request from the Kensal Rise Library Campaign

We are expecting the council to pursue the origins of the fraudulent submissions of support for the planning submission as reported in The Kilburn Times LINK  and The Evening Standard  LINK last week.

We have been promised an investigation and report as soon as possible.

Help us to keep up the pressure on the council to find out where this dodgy support comes from by writing to the Leader of the Council and your local councillors asking them to make sure the council makes every effort to find out who is guilty of this fraudulent support. We can’t allow local democracy to be undermined  by such abuse of the consultative processes of the council.

Leader of the Council Muhammed Butt

You can contact your local councillors by email:
Kensal Green Ward
Bobby Thomas  Claudia Hector
James Powney

Queens Park Ward
James Denselow  Simon Green
Michael Adeyeye

Brondesbury Park Ward
Barry Cheese   Mark Cummins
Carol Shaw

We are expecting the council to pursue the origins of the fraudulent submissions of support for the planning submission as reported in The Kilburn Times and The Evening Standard last week. We have been promised an investigation and report as soon as possible.
Help us to keep up the pressure on the council to find out where this dodgy support comes from by writing to the Leader of the Council and your local councillors asking them to make sure the council makes every effort to find out who is guilty of this fraudulent support. We can’t allow local democracy to be undermined  by such abuse of the consultative processes of the council.
Leader of the Council Muhammed Butt
You can contact your local councillors by email:
Kensal Green Ward
Queens Park Ward
Brondesbury Park Ward
- See more at:

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Solidarity with FBU strike today over 'dangerous' increase in retirement age

BBC London News revealed last night that 12 tenders dealt with Monday's bio-chemical fire in Park Royal. They said that this was about half the tenders that will be available for the whole of London during today's four hour strike.

The FBU is striking over the later pension age and the danger that represents for both fire fighters and the public. Similarly teachers have been arguing in their 'Too late at 68' campaign that the stresses and strains of teaching means that later retirement is good for neither teachers themselves nor their pupils.

Teachers in London  are due to strike on October 17th.

Further information LINK

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Primary school champion Robin Alexander slams Gove's 'Discourse of Derision'

From the TES blog: LINK

Teachers have more power than they realise to resist government reforms to primary education, Professor Robin Alexander, author of a wide-ranging review into primary education, has said.

The respected academic, who led the Cambridge Primary Review – a three-year analysis of all aspects of primary education published in 2009 - attacked the current "discourse of derision" in which the government denounced those who disagree with its ideas was the real "enemy of progress".

He was referring to a recent argument over the review of the national curriculum in which 100 academics curriculum proposals as an "endless lists of spellings, facts and rules" and were in turn denounced as "enemies of promise" in a newspaper article written by education secretary Michael Gove.

Professor Alexander said at an event in London last night: "It's surely proper to ask whether heaping abuse on members of the electorate because they hold different views is what government in a democracy is about.
"It is especially bafflingly during a period of public consultation when different views are what the government has expressly invited."

Alexander is no fan of the current coalition government’s national curriculum review, saying it uses international data with ‘eye-watering selectivity’.

Alexander's Cambridge Primary Review contained 75 recommendations but just one - start formal lessons at six - made the headlines, and the report was consequently largely dismissed by the then Labour government and had commissioned its own overhaul of the primary curriculum.

But he pointed out that many of the 2009 report’s recommendations did not need government action, they could be and were being, implemented by headteachers and teachers themselves.

Alexander was speaking at the launch of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust, a not-for-profit company with core funding from educational publisher Pearson. The trust, based at York University, will carry out research and training building on the review's evidence and principles. There will also be a separate body to develop branded professional services and materials for schools.

The launch event included a panel debate, Any Primary Questions?, which was chaired by broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby. Graham Stuart, chair of the Commons education select committee, was one of the panellists. He said afterwards that he felt more political attention had been focused on secondary than primary issues.

“It is important that primary community speaks up, rather than despairing of politics," Stuart said. "One of the priorities of The Cambridge Primary Trust is a policy dialogue and the Trust could become a strong advocate for the world of primary.”

Monday 23 September 2013

Park Royal fire reignites Harlesden's safety concerns

The bio-chemical fire earlier today at Midland Road, Park Royal, highlights residents' concerns about the issue of air quality in the area and the dangers posed by some of the local industrial facilities. The  Kilburn Times report is HERE  As the heavy smoke spread across parts of Ealing and Harlesden and residents were told to close their windows, questions were again being asked about the safety of plans for an incinerator in the Harlesden area. Ealing Council are due to consider the planning application again after postponing a decision in the summer. The plans have been opposed by Brent Council.

The photographs of the scene (below) were contributed by a local resident:

Labour also fail to grasp the significance of Gove's education revolution

Following the Green Party Conference's  failure to approve a full review of its education policy, in consultation with teacher organisations, parents' groups and students, it appears that the Labour Party has also failed to grasp the full extent of Michael Gove's neoliberal revolution.

The following account has appeared on the Left Futures website LINK

The debate on the education section of the NPF report, on the first day of Conference, was opened by Peter Wheeler (NEC). Six delegates spoke: three prospective parliamentary candidates and three union delegates (GMB, Unison, Unite). Stephen Twigg replied to ‘discussion’. No teachers, local authority councillors, educational campaigners or university educationalists took part. This session lasted 36 minutes.

Although the nominal purpose of the session was to debate the two sections of the NPF report devoted to education no one spoke for or against anything in the report. It was a debate in name only. Had the speakers read the education section of the NPF report? Did they approve its contents? We will never know.

An innocent observer could be forgiven for wondering why the party that came to power saying that its three priorities were education, education and education could only find 36 minutes of its annual conference for the subject. Such an observer might also be forgiven for wondering how it was that all the Labour Party’s complex policy-making machinery could result in educational material for conference that passes no comment on the transformation of education under the Coalition. Schools have been removed from local authorities and made into “independent” units – often under the aegis of powerful private sponsors. Local Authorities are being progressively removed from the sphere of education and private operators play an increasing role, but none of this seems to figure in Labour’s concerns.

How is it that Labour can present policies on education which do not deal with these problem? The answer has to be that Labour does not think that such things are problems. Labour policy differs from that of the Tories/Coalition on matters of detail (which is not to deny the importance of some of those details) but on basic principles it would not be possible to get a cigarette paper between Tory and Labour Policy.

In opening, Peter Wheeler for the NEC said that Labour wants cooperation in order to produce the best education while the Tories favour division and competition. And yet the reality is that Labour and Conservatives believe that the way forward is to make schools into independent units competing for parental choice. He said that only Labour authorities were resisting Coalition policy. Sadly this is quite untrue. Some Conservative Councils have put up more resistance to Gove’s reforms than some Labour Councils.

Of the three union speakers two spoke about the importance of teaching assistants and the Coalition cuts forcing a reduction in their numbers. This is a good point but there is nothing in the NPF report about this. One speaker called for the abolition of tuition fees in FE/HE but this point was simply ignored as if it had never been said – such was the nature of the ‘debate’.

The prospective parliamentary candidates tried to raise enthusiasm with talk of Labour as the “Party of Aspiration”, denunciations of the Tories on childcare and rising child poverty, the demand for quality apprenticeships and the claim that the economy “must be powered by the many and not the few”. However, this was all speech making to move conference along and none of it had the slightest implication for the NPF report which was supposed to be under consideration.

Stephen Twigg replied to the preceding non-discussion. He talked of growing child poverty and Labour’s plan to provide child care as of right from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm. He denounced the use of unqualified teachers and claimed that Labour’s “mission” was to “place power and wealth in the hands of the many not the few”. This radical sounding statement (which has no reality in Labour policy) was immediately offset by an elitist discussion of opportunity. Success for Stephen Twigg seems to be measured by getting to a “top university” (a phrase he used three times in his eleven minutes on the podium). It seems not to have occurred to him that if a small minority of universities are designated as “top”, then by definition the great majority will not go to them. Someone should tell him that if you focus obsessively on “the best” you forget the rest.

Finally Stephen Twigg repeated Labour’s commitment to providing high quality apprenticeships for all those who do not go to university although he did not tell us how this would be achieved beyond saying that firms with government contracts would be required to provide quality apprenticeships.

For anyone following the dramatic changes to the educational landscape in England the whole debate would have had a strange air of unreality. None of the major political issues of the Gove revolution in our schools were even hinted at. For the moment Labour is still set on the educational course and the educational philosophy set by New Labour. It is a path to fragmentation and division in education. Its basis is in neo-liberal ideology and as far from a democratic and socialist perspective it is possible to be.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Greens debate whether local councils should act as the Coalition's bailiffs

There was a lively and passionate debate at the Green Party Conference on 'Greens in Local Government' in which a position  that Green Councils should propose budgets that do not entails cuts, and another  recognising that the reputational damage to an anti-cuts party of Green Councils carrying out cuts on behalf of central government, may outweigh the benefits of trying to make cuts in a 'caring and consultative manner', were defeated.

Despite this setback a Green Left fringe meeting attended by some Brighton and Hove councillors carried on the debate, demonstrating that this issue remains live. The recent undermining of local government through financial cuts and the unexpectedly large cuts that will take place next year make this a genuine issue for all local councils of whatever political complexion. Are we content to be the Coalition's bailiffs?

These videos are  a record of that fringe meeting:

Saturday 21 September 2013

Boris's Housing Horror: The Video

There was consternation when I revealed that the new flats at Willesen Green Library were being marketed in Singapore with the unique selling point implying that they contain no riffraff because there were no affordable homes or key workers on site.

The redevelopment at West Hendon on the Welsh Harp includes tower blocks of luxury flats clearly aimed at the international market rather than Londoners.

Darren Johnsons's report BELOW set out how this is part of the London Mayor's policy. The video puts the message over succinctly.  How many more Brent developments will be aimed at overseas investors or buy-to-let landlords?

Cheeky Caroline greets Labour in Brighton with 'Greens are the REAL opposition' message

Labour Party members attending their conference in Brighton this weekend, in the constituency of the UK’s first Green MP, will be welcomed by a billboard making the case that it is Caroline Lucas who is offering the real opposition in parliament.

The digital advert will be on display prominently on Queen’s Road – one of Brighton’s main thoroughfares. The street is the main route down which Labour delegates and lobbyists who arrive by train will travel to reach the conference at the sea-front Metropole Hotel.

The ad starts with a check list, against a red backdrop, reading: “Saving the NHS, Fighting Austerity, Railways in Public Hands, Scrapping Trident.” As the screen turns green, the billboard says “Brought to you by the Green Party.”

The final screen displays a photo of Caroline Lucas MP and reads: “Welcome to Brighton – Home of the True Opposition in Parliament. p.s. Labour is down the hill on the right.”

Rob Shepherd, Chair of Brighton and Hove Green Party, said, “We know a lot of Labour members want their party leadership to stand up to austerity and NHS privatisation, and to support progressive policies such as public ownership of the railways.

“We wanted to remind them that there’s an MP already fighting for these causes in Parliament. It would be great to see Labour members using their conference to encourage Ed Miliband to follow Caroline’s lead on standing up for these causes, and bring together a powerful coalition of voices to reverse the consensus that austerity and privatisation are the only game in town.”

The Green Party’s own autumn conference took place last weekend, also in Brighton.  In her conference speech Caroline Lucas criticised cuts to welfare and local services, and argued that it is the Green Party, rather than Labour, that is offering the real opposition to the Government's agenda of austerity and privatisation.

She is speaking at two events at Labour’s conference – a Compass panel discussion called ‘Labour – an open tribe?’ and an Institute for Public Policy Research event titled ‘The Condition of Britain’.

Her Private Member’s Bill to bring the railways back into public hands is due its second reading next month.

Friday 20 September 2013

Crumbs for Londoners - Darren Johnson on the Mayor's housing policy

The Mayor expects 80% of new housing to be in these 33 regeneration areas
 Darren Johnson, the Green Assembly Member,  has published a thoroughly researched report on the London Mayor's approach to the housing crisis and the construction of  luxury blocks, such as those at Willesden Green Library, which Boris Johnson  supports as part of the solution.  The full report is available HERE

The Willesden Green apartments are being advertised in Singapore with the selling point that they have no affordable housing or key workers on site. Yesterday it was revealed that flats in Stratford are being adverised in a similar way.

Darren Johnson writes:
It is much easier for the big developers behind these projects to get the finance from banks if they can sell lots of housing off-plan (before it is built). Investor landlords are quite happy to buy off-plan and have little difficulty in securing the cash or mortgage.By putting the money in up front they have, in the Mayor’s words,“helped bring forward housing development”. The Mayor estimates that one third of all buyers of new homes are from overseas, and that two thirds of all new homes are sold to investors
Whether it is a Londoner looking for a buy-to-let investment,a pension fund investing in new private rented housing,or an overseas investor exploiting the exchange rates, the Mayor is a champion of anything that gets housing built.
After looking at a series of case studies and examination of the evidence Johnson concludes:
National government policy has put local councillors, planning officers and residents in a difficult spot. They are constrained by a free market dogma that says we just need developers to build more homes, and that ignores the potential for other approaches.

The law of supply and demand works with things we consume. If the price of TVs is high, produce more TVs to meet demand and prices will fall. But private developers are very unlikely to meet the demand for housing. If the supply of TVs doesn’t increase and prices stay high then demand should fall off.

But when house prices rise people see an opportunity to make money so demand can keep rising, especially if investors from around the world join the feast.

The Government is encouraging buy-to-let mortgages with tax breaks; helping people take out unaffordable mortgages with Help to Buy; encouraging overseas investors to buy new homes off plan.

The Mayor supports these policies because he says they increase supply, but of course they are also increasing demand.In fact, they are probably more successful at increasing demand than they are at increasing supply, so they are actually making the problem worse.

Councils and residents can’t do very much about this.

But the Mayor of London is in a unique position to advocate bold changes to housing policy. He has recently argued that stamp duty revenue in London should be devolved to City Hall, giving him a large budget for affordable housing.

He could go further and call for a housing policy that:

1. constrains demand by putting controls or extra taxes on overseas investors and second home owners, or by putting a tax on all land values to dampen speculation and stop developers sitting on large, unused land banks
2. gives councils, housing associations and co-operatives the money and powers to build affordable homes that stay affordable forever whatever the market is doing, instead of expecting the private market to build them
3. puts ordinary people in a better position to weather the crisis while it is tackled, for example with continental-style stabilising rent controls and protections for private tenants, ideas backed by the majority of the Assembly in its own reviews of housing and its majority support for the Let Down campaign

Comments can be sent to: or the researcher

Brent Beats with Simon Mole on Thursday at Wembley Library

In association with Spread the Word, spoken word poet and MC Simon Mole leads this taster workshop on Thursday 26th September at Wembley Library (Civic Centre) opposite Wembley Arena. 4pm to 6pm

Try your hand at Freestyling and Spoken Word… and create a piece of your own that you can perform along with Simon and other poets such as Raymund Antrobus, Adam Kammerling and Deanna Rodger at the Chill Pill Open Mic at the Brent Civic Centre Opening Ceremony on Sunday 6 October.

Simon will also be running workshops on Sunday 6 October at 12.30pm and 2.30pm, where you can create more poems and raps, and prepare for your Chill Pill moment….

Rally and rhetoric at WL People's Assembly but strategy needed

Owen Jones gets into his stride (Photo: Simerjit Gill)
About 100 attended the Assembly (Photo: Simerjit Gill)

Last night's West London People's Assembly was certainly a lively affair with many passionate speeches but I was a little concerned when I saw the chair of the meeting and 5 speakers on the platform. There was some anxiety at the main People's Assembly at Central Hall that it would be more of a rally than an organising meeting. In the event it was a bit of both. I was concerned that this local assembly, covering Brent, Hammersmith  & Fulham and Ealing, would also be more of a rally, although surely that must be where we  analyse and prioritise  local issues and our strategy?

Although speakers were keen to say they would not just describe how awful things are it inevitably becomes the main theme topped off with rousing calls for action and unity. This certainly raises morale but doesn't get down to the nitty gritty. Advertising trains and coaches for the Tory Party demonstration on September 29th is important but what are the next steps in keeping our local A&Es open or fighting the privatisation of our schools? How relevant is it to organise across boroughs when local councils, even of the same political complexion, are dealing with the cuts in such different ways?

 Next month there will be a founding meeting of the West London People's Assembly where its structure will be decided and officers elected and perhaps these issues will be discussed then.

As a common issue across the boroughs, and of course a national issues, the future of the NHS was prominent in the speeches and contributions as was the general theme of the poor being made to pay for the bankers' crisis, and the demonising of the poor by politicians and media in an effort to divide and rule. The focus on the real human stories behind austerity made us both more angry and more determined.

It was good that the Campaign Against Climate Change shared the platform with UK Uncut, hospital campaigners and trade unionists. Suzanne Jeffrey for CaCC made some telling points comparing  the economic and climate crises.

She said government and bankers knew the system was a sham but pretended there was no problem  or indeed that they were creating the problem, and when the crisis broke blamed it on over spending in the public sector and making the poor pay. Government and industry similarly pretended  there was no problem with climate change, denying their role in creating and increasing the problem, and then shifted the responsibility on to ordinary people and their life styles, or even worse on to people in developing countries.

Having just returned from the Green Party it was interesting to note that many of the solutions that Owen Jones proposed in his summing up are in fact Green Party policy.

Thursday 19 September 2013

West London People's Assembly tonight in Hammersmith

Cllr Pavey calls on local MPs to support School Places Crisis campaign

Cllr Michael Pavey has written to local MPs Barry Gardiner, Sarah Teather and Glenda Jackson asking them to support the 'School Places Crisis Campaign'. The campaign seeks the restoration of  power to local authorities to plan and build new schools to address the current shortage of primary school places.

The campaign has already been supported by Green MP Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader.
Pavey wrote:
Dear Barry, Sarah and Glenda,

I am writing to ask that you support the NUT's 'School Places Crisis' campaign: 

As you know, we have a terrible shortage of school places in Brent. As a Council we are proactively expanding our schools and opening up additional spaces such as the Gwenneth Rickus Building. Yet even with all these additional forms of entry the shortage continues.

Personally I believe the diversion of precious public money into Free Schools is a terrible distraction from the urgent challenge of providing additional places. It is absolutely essential that, rather than sitting back and hoping that appropriate providers establish appropriate Free Schools in appropriate locations, Government policy allows for the strategic planning of new school places. I firmly believe that this function is best performed by local authorities. 

To meet the ongoing shortage of school places it is absolutely essential that the law be changed to allow Councils to open new schools. I would be very interested to get your thoughts and would strongly encourage you to support the NUT campaign in the interests of Brent families.

Best wishes,

Cllr. Michael Pavey
Lead Member for Children & Families
Labour Councillor for Barnhill, Brent Council

Kensal Rise Library development plans rejected by planning committee

Campaigners are celebrating after the application to convert Kensal Rise library into flats with a token library/community space was unanimously rejected by Brent Planning Committee on the recommendation of officers.

The battle to retain the building is not yet won but this is an important victory.

Well done to all the Kensal Rise campaigners.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

More student accommodation coming to Wembley Park

Affordable family housing in the Wembley Stadium regeneration area seems even further away after this announcement:

Developer Unite Group has purchased a one acre development site in north west London's Wembley for a mixed-use student accommodation and retail scheme.18 Sep 2013

Unite's plans for the site, which is currently occupied by a car park, include the construction of student housing to accommodate 700 students as well as 10,000 square feet of space for shops.

The site is located within the Wembley Park regeneration area, which also includes plans for new homes, shops and offices to be built around Wembley Stadium.

Subject to planning consent, the scheme will be developed by the London Student Accommodation Vehicle (LSAV) which is a joint venture between Unite and GIC Real Estate.

“This development is the third scheme to be secured as part of our LSAV joint venture, representing 65% of our target, and demonstrates UNITE’s knowledge and experience in sourcing the best locations for student accommodation," said Unite managing director of property Richard Simpson in a statement.

"As well as being a key milestone in the Group’s development strategy, this site is close to the shops, entertainment and excellent transport links of Wembley Park, including the London Designer Outlet, and will strongly appeal to students,” he added.

Unite said it expects the scheme to be completed in 2016.

Brighouse says some of Gove's powers should be taken away from him

Following the failure of my motion at Green Party Conference calling for a review if our education policy in the light of Michael Gove's reforms it is interesting to read today's report by Professor Sir Tim Brighouse for the New Visions for Education Group. The report 'Improved National Decision Making About Policy and Practice for Schools' sets 5 key  test questions for improved decision making in education.

The full report can be found HERE

This key  question is particularly pertinent to what I argued at Conference:

Assuming the context of the desirability of the principle of democratic accountability and subsidiarity, will the proposed change increase or decrease the power of the centre and the Secretary of State?’

We have referred to the fact that the Secretary of State now has many more powers than was once the case.
As we have outlined earlier however there is the need for democratic accountability and originally it was envisaged that much of that could and should be exercised locally. We agree with that starting point not least because we think that local knowledge can be powerful in securing equity for individual pupils and their parents.

Some of the powers which the Secretary of State has acquired should be taken away from him. It is astonishing that a system has been created whereby schools (in the form of Academies and Free Schools) have in effect been nationalised and are subject to private contract law to the Secretary of state who controls them in what they do. It is surprising too that parental complaints should be handled not by local government nor by an ombudsman but by the Secretary of State.

There are some powers of course which are best held centrally- for example securing an adequate supply of suitably qualified teachers and making sure that scarce capital resource is distributed fairly and to minimum acceptable standards. They are functions of planning which is necessary to secure equity. It makes no sense for the Secretary of State to abandon the duty in this respect, as has recently been done, as it will lead to shortages of teachers and schools with inadequate space and facilities. But there are other powers which are best exercised locally. A guiding principle of subsidiarity should start from the assumption that powers are best exercised and held democratically accountable locally.

Who will do a 'Margaret Hodge' over fake Kensal Rise emails tonight?

'Now Mr Gillick, what do you have to say about these fake emails?'
What a pity I have a Green Party meeting tonight. I would have liked to attend the Brent Planning Committee taking place this evening at the Civic Centre after the revelation today that a large number of emails sent in to support the Kensal Rise Library redevelopment were fake. See Kilburn Times LINK

The facts will be reported to the planning committee which is due to hear representations from campaigners against the development. I presume the developer Andrew Gillick will make a presentation to the Committee. I hope one of the councillors will 'do a Margaret Hodge'  and subject him to some some close questioning.

Meanwhile if the police are called in I suggest they also investigate similar claims over the Willesden Green Library regeneration.

This afternoon the owner of the Gracelands Cafe and Yard found she had been listed as a supporter of the development while away on holiday. The story emerged on Twitter:

  1. yes we are listed online as being in support of the development. The Yard is v much in support only of the library. So underhand.
  2. Brent Council received ‘high proportion’ of fake emails supporting Kensal Rise Library development plans - News
  3. Yes someone's lodged 'support' response for development on behalf of the Yard & we're outraged. Have complained but no reply