Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Coalition of Resistance backs Councillors Against the Cuts

Some positive steps are being taken in the battle against local authority cuts.  In Harrow, the Council and Harrow Observer are combining in a campaign for increased funding which I support, but I am concerned that the campaign may be interpreted as suggesting that Brent is over-funded LINK.

Local authorities ALL need to be adequately funded in order to provide vital services.

The campaign Councillors Against the Cuts LINK has been set up to urge councils  to refuse to implement cuts and organise resistance against the Coalition;s austerity agenda. Recently there has been in increase in the number of councillors signing up to the campaign.

Their founding statement includes the following paragraphs:
We stand in solidarity with anti-cuts campaigns, with people defending their local services and with the broader community, tenants and residents, our children, disabled people, pensioners etc – in defence of the living standards and rights of the most vulnerable people in society as the Coalition government attacks them.

Most of us are Labour councillors and our campaign is sponsored by the Labour Representation Committee, but we are open to all left and labour movement councillors willing to pledge to vote against/refuse to implement cuts.

Whether you are a councillor, local government worker, other trade unionist, anti-cuts campaigner, community activist or Labour Party activist – get involved!
I understand that some Green councillors are signing up to the campaign nd a Green Councillors Against the Cuts Facebook page has been set up LINK

The Coalition of Resistance, chaired by leading Green Party member Romayne Phoenix, has issued this statement of support:
The Coalition of Resistance congratulates all the councillors who have launched “Councillors Against the Cuts”. This new front in the resistance against austerity is to be welcomed by all those committed to defending public services and jobs and the welfare state.
The Coalition of Resistance supports you in your pledge to “vote against all cuts to services and jobs, increases in rents and charges, and increases in council tax”. This determined stand will encourage trade unions and their members, community organisations and anti-cuts groups to campaign and take the actions necessary to roll back the attacks from the ConDem Coalition Government.

We hope that many more councillors will join you in your stand in the run-up to the formalities of setting a budget. Local authority finance is now so tightly controlled by central government, there is little credibility in the idea that it is possible to set a budget which protects local people from the worst effects of the cuts.

Your declaration to vote against all cuts is therefore important to demonstrate that there is an alternative to administering austerity. The Coalition of Resistance pledges its support to all of you, and to work together to defend the welfare state and fight for an alternative based on meeting the needs of ordinary people, not those of the banks and big business. We invite you to join us in making the People’s Assembly against Austerity in June the springboard for a broad movement that will inflict defeats on this government.

In solidarity,

Romayne Phoenix, Chair CoR
Sam Fairbairn, Secretary CoR
Fred Leplat
It would be wonderful if some of our councillors in Brent threw away their dented shields, recognise that they cannot carry on making the cuts demanded by the Coalition, and make a stand with the resistance.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Is Gove now forcing non-failing schools to become academies?

Press release from the Save Roke Primary campaign who, like Gladstone Park Primary in Brent, are fighting forced academisation:

Michael Gove is now forcing well performing schools like Roke Primary in Kenley to become academies, as well as long term failing ones. This fits in with his desire to accelerate his academies programme. Roke may be one of the first but many are likely to follow.

Roke Primary, a previously ‘outstanding’ school, is not underperforming but the DfE are handing it to the Harris Federation, run by David Cameron’s personal friend and major Tory donor, Lord Harris. The decision was made just 4 months after one poor Ofsted report caused mainly by computer failure. The Guardian published claims that Gove may be flouting his own guidance on forced academies, “…his department’s official direction say this should only happen when a school has been underperforming for some time and if the problems are not being tackled”. Guidance set out in the 2010 Schools White Paper is very clear. “Where there has been long-term underperformance, little sign of improvement and serious Ofsted concern, we will convert schools into Academies,…” (Section 7.18).

 Parents believe that forced academy at Roke is going against this guidance. Roke has no consistent history of low performance. The latest SAT results are above the national average. Roke has never been below floor targets. Both Ofsted and the Local Authority agree that Roke is improving. Ofsted’s recent monitoring verdict, received by parents on Friday, was that satisfactory progress has been made. This was the best rating Roke could achieve without a longer time between inspections to show improvements had been sustained. It is clear that Roke has improved without the need for academy status or sponsorship by the Harris Federation. Despite this, forced academy is still going ahead.

Parents are campaigning against forced academy, and the complete lack of consultation or right of appeal. They are concerned about the speed and manner in which forced academy has occurred. They oppose Harris as sponsor. Their choice is Riddlesdown Collegiate, the local secondary academy, to which most Roke pupils progress. A long term partnership with Riddlesdown has become closer since Roke was issued a ‘notice to improve’. It is clear, from the progress made, that the partnership is working. If, forced academy must go ahead, Riddlesdown, not Harris is the governor, parent and staff choice of sponsor.

Roke parent, Angeline Hind said, “I thought sponsored academies were all about improving schools which have been underperforming for years. Roke is a good school which wavered before turning itself around very quickly. To force us into academy with a sponsor used to dealing with seriously failing schools seems like an extreme reaction”. Parent Debbie Shaw commented “Roke is a great catch for an academy chain like Harris, our results are already good and they will be able to claim the credit for improvements that have already happened”. Father Nigel Geary-Andrews said “It is alarming that the government is rushing through forced academies on schools like Roke, where there is no proven record of failure over any length of time, without any consultation with parents at all and no way of appealing. This does not seem democratic or transparent to me”

Butt confirms 'dramatic' parking charge reduction being considered

A swift and unsolicited reaction to my earlier exclusive story on parking charges LINK:
Councillor Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council said:

“While no final decision will be made until we have consulted fully with residents and Councillors, we are looking closely at dramatically reducing charges for the first 20 minutes of parking. I’m personally strongly in favour of it as I believe it will help local businesses and residents at a time when they need it most. But we will have to say what the public think first.

Butt's bleak Brent budget forecast for 2014/15 and beyond

In a presentation to the Labour Party's Brent Forum at the weekend, current leader Council leader Muhammed Butt, warned members of a looming budgetary crisis in 2014/15. There was an expected 11.8% cut (£19.3m).

Even worse, there would be 7% annual cuts until 2020 threatening the future of local government as we know it.

In 2014 the Council would have to bring forward difficult decisions that they had not expected to have to make until 2015/16. He promised 'more and better consultations' and put forward the idea of a 'community budget - giving residents the choice of which servces to protect' over a 6-9 month consultation period 'using innovative methods to reach more residents'.

This of course falls far short of a 'needs budget' that would be used as a campaigning tool against the Coalition cuts and benefit changes, uniting the Council with voluntary organisations, community groups, trades unions and residents.

The Brent Fightback slogan 'Enough is Enough' seems justified by Butt's bleak view of the future in the sldie entitled 'What Future for Local Government?'

  • Growing demand for social care services
  • By 2020 – ‘non statutory’ spend will be reduced from 2/3rd to 10% of total budget
  • This means: no youth centres, no parks maintenance, no street cleaning, no employment support, no arts funding & no voluntary sector support
The options he then gives, in the absence of any widespread national campaign against the cuts and in defence of local government,  do not measure up to the enormity of the challenge.


  • Increased funding from central government
  • Allow us more freedom over tax and revenue
  • Remove Statutory Obligations 


  • Integration with partners – voluntary sector, businesses, NHS, police
  • Greater involvement of local residents in the design & implementation of services

20p for 20 minutes reduced parking charge on the cards

Brent Council Executive has agreed in principle to a reduced charge of 20p for the first 20 minutes of parking following vociferous protests from motorists and complaints from small businesses that their trade on local high streets was being affected. Opposition councillors had claimed that the present policy favoured large supermarkets,  which offer free parking,  at the expense of small shops.

Cllr Jim Moher, lead member for Highways and Transportation, had already announced at full Council that Brent was to go over to a 'linear' charging system where motorists get charged by the minute rather than in blocks. The block system meant that there was a steep increase between blocks (£1.50 for 40 minutes and £2.40 for one hour), Moher hopes that the linear system will  be fairer and also  increase revenue.

Officers are now at work to find ways of meeting the £0.8m cost of the reduced first 20 minutes charge.

Northwick Park A&E falls well below national targets

The North West London Hospital Trust is failing to meet targets for A&E according to figures submitted to the Brent Health Partnership Overview and Scrutiny Committee LINK.  The national target is that patients should spend no more that four hours in the department from entry to exit. The annual average for Northwick Park (Type one) is 90.55% and in the week leading up to the report was only 73.71%. One quarter of patients were there for more than four hours.

Central Middlesex A&E figures, on a much lower total of patients, were 97.05% and 95.45% respectively.

Commenting on Northwick Park, Tina Benson, Deputy Director of Operations at the Trust, states:

Gladstone Park gains window of opportunity on forced academy conversion

Gladstone Park Primary Reception Class  December 2012
The Department for Education has told the governing body of Gladstone Park Primary that they will delay making a decision on the proposed sponsor until February 11th. The DfE had been expected to name a sponsor last week.

The letter, which appears on the school's website LINK broadens the grounds for forced academisation:
Where schools are underperforming (my emphasis) or in an Ofsted category, Ministers have been very clear that the Department should lead on brokering sponsored Academy solutions. This is because the Department's sponsor assessment process and regular contact officials  have with sponsors means that the Department is best placed to provide a complete view on an individual sponsor's current capacity and capability to deliver.
The designation of 'underperforming' clearly widens the scope for forced academisation and confirms that this is a strategy designed to escalate the conversion of local authority primary schools to academy status.

 Offering  the governing body the opportunity to give its views and ideas 'before the proposed sponsor is decided' (Note - not whether academisation is the the best solution for the school and one favoured by the governing body, staff and parents) the DfE Brokerage and School Underperformance Division delay the decision until February 11th.

However, having offered that limited opportunity, the DfE makes it clear that 'formal consultation' only takes place AFTER the governing body has agreed that the school should have a particular sponsor:
...The Department believes it is most appropriate to meet with the governing body to discuss Academy status as it is the body responsible and accountable for the school's performance and strategic direction, and can make the decision to apply for an Academy Order. We recognise the importance of consulting locally and this is a requirement before any school can open as an Academy.The formal consultation is usually started when the proposed sponsor has been identified by the Department, the governing body has met with, and agreed to be sponsored by the sponsor, and the proposal has been given Ministerial approval to be taken forward. As the key stakeholder groups (parents, staff, the local authority and the wider community) are represented on the governing body in elected and non-elected roles, it is well-placed to take this decision.
There is a tacit recognition of the potentially conflicting claims of the DfE and ministers and the local democratic role and responsibilities of the governing body. 

Reading between the lines it appears that the Department wants to avoid appearing to ride rough-shod over current democratic arrangements (as it did at Downhills) by recognising the role of the governing body, but at the same time seeks to have the deal signed, sealed and delivered in advance of the consultation.

A key word is the 'usually' in the passage in bold. Perhaps there is space here for the governing body to insist that the consultation includes alternatives to academy conversion including the school managing its own improvement in collaboration with Brent's School Improvement Service or some other agency, or forming a soft or hard federation with another school.

It is important that Brent Council steps in to offer Gladstone Park support in such an approach.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Brent Council to be lobbied on cuts

Excellent editorial on forced academies in Kilburn Times

For those of my readers beyond Brent here is the Editorial from our main local newspaper, the Kilburn and Brent Times LINK


When taking a look at the recent education news you could be forgiven for thinking that Brent was fast becoming education secretary Michael Gove's dream borough.
It seems more and more schools are adopting Academy status.

Last week's front page on the (now cancelled) strike at Preston Manor in Wembley over the (still happening) conversion to the Academy model showed this.
But while we respect a decision that is made by the school alone, there are sadly those that are having this controversial ideology forced upon them.

Gladstone Park Primary School is well regarded and fared well in the recent primary league tables.

But a new and stricter Ofsted system has meant the school will be forced to convert by the Department for Education (DfE) due to 'serious weaknesses'.

What this actually amount to was a slight decline in pupils' achievement  in the middle years, despite the majority actually leaving the school in better shape academically than when they started.

From what parents and governors have conveyed to us, there is a real belief that they can continue to offer ample education and solve the issue.

Why the need to hand responsibility to a private 'sponsor'?

Surely it should be left to locally-elected governors and established and committed teachers to decide what is right for their school?

Meanwhile directors at the controversial Michaela Community School, set-up by free school supporter, Katharine Birbalsingh, have confirmed they will be parachuting into Wembley Park.

We should all watch very closely as consultation nears and hope that local education with a local say is not a thing of the past.

The contradiction at the heart of Gove's school policy

This is the full version of my letter to the Guardian which was published on Tuesday. The last paragraph was omitted:

The decision to send Ofsted into 'under-performing' local authorities is another step in the transformation of Ofsted into the political agent of Michael Gove. The main  contradiction of Tory education policy is that it preaches autonomy for schools but at the same time seizes centralised control of them via converting them into academies, answerable only to Michael Gove. 

The DfEs official directions say that Michael Gove's powers to force schools to become academies should only be used after a school has been under performing for some time and if the problems are not being tackled. The DfE is currently acting beyond that direction..

Roke Primary School in Croydon and Gladstone Park Primary in Brent, the former previously graded Outstanding and the latter Good, have recently been downgraded by Ofsted and immediately forced to become academies. Roke's Outstanding was given only 7 months before the Inadequate grade. Gladstone Park got a Good assessment in January 2011. Gladstone Park, an inner city school, has SAT results above the national average and twice the national average at Level.6.

The DfE sends in someone who can only be described as a kind of Commissar, unyielding and not interested in dialogue, just intent on imposing a private sponsor on the school. Deadlines are tight and governors, staff and parents find themselves faced with a fait accompli. In both schools parents are organising in defence of their children's education and against becoming a forced academy.

Ofsted inspectors now know that if they grade just one area of a school 'Inadequate' the DfE will move in and turn it into an academy. With the jury out on whether academies actually improve the quality of education we are faced with a hugely risky strategy that threatens to massively destabilise our schools.  The outcome is in direct  contraction to the Government's supposed support for localisation and  will move more power to the centre.

Gove's policy on academies and free schools, the curriculum, the examination system, and even the exclusion of Mary Seacole from the National Curriculum, exposes a Secretary of State who is committed to seizing control of schools, not liberating them.

Gladstone Park Primary School Governors in order to be open and transparent with parents have published their e-mail communications with Jack Griffin, the DfE's academisation officer, on the school website LINK

Friday, 25 January 2013

Vodafone deal to make Brent Council workers mobile

Vodafone's press release - does this make the Civic Centre redundant?

Brent Council has signed a deal with Vodafone for the operator to use its One Net solution for a new communications infrastructure.

The council said the operator will help them to create a mobile workforce, allowing employees across 30 different departments to work remotely and use smartphones as often as landlines. The systems will help the council reduce desk space, allow employees secure access to information remotely, reduce staff travel and cut their use of paper.

Brent Council said the deal will increase productivity but reduce its operating costs. The infrastructure is being provided as the council moves from 14 separate buildings into one civic centre.

Vodafone will provide the council with a bundle of texts, minutes and data in one bill. Staff will be able to be reached on any device through one phone number and will have access to one central voicemail. Councillor Ruth Moher, deputy leader for London Borough of Brent Council and lead member for finance and corporate resources, said: ‘This was a very complex project so we knew there was a need to keep things as simple as possible, which is one of the reasons why we chose Vodafone.

‘Vodafone had the most coherent presentation of a unified system and we felt they would be the best choice to implement and host the system, allowing our employees to focus on their core functions rather than dealing with IT issues.

‘The future is all about mobile working. Our employees are currently using as many mobile applications as possible and we want to see how far we can push the concept of working through apps.’

Ian Cunningham,  head of public sector at Vodafone, said: ‘Brent Council’s facility is state of the art and we’re delighted to be involved in such a cutting edge project. The council is setting a fantastic example for government organisations, showing how they can find better ways of working by making improvements in four key areas – people, processes, technology and property.’

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Coming Soon- Academies and Lies!

Butt challenges Teather to 'pick up the phone' and make a difference to Brent residents

 The early start to the campaign to win marginal Brent Central following Sarah Teather's sacking from the Government and her pledge to devote herself to her constituents,  was confirmed today when Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt wrote her an open letter accusing her of not standing up for Brent residents.

Writing on the Labour List website LINK today her said:

Dear Sarah,

As Leader of Brent Council, I was somewhat surprised to read in our local paper this week that you have been “working with the Council” on the issue of welfare reform, and are leading our efforts to mitigate the impact on our residents.

I was surprised because I don’t remember your help in preparing residents for the cuts in Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit that are going to devastate our community. Surprised because I don’t remember your help while everyone at the Council was refocusing their efforts on getting as many residents as possible into work and increasing local wages to minimise the impact.

Nor do I recall you standing up for residents by supporting our stance on the Living Wage, or helping reduce residents’ bills through our bulk energy buying scheme. I don’t recollect your offer of assistance in tackling slum housing and rogue landlords or in persuading landlords to accept lower rents rather than throw residents out on the street.

I can’t remember you lobbying Eric Pickles not to strip over £100 million from our funding or to give us the money our residents deserve for underestimating our population by over 60,000. Nor do I remember your help in supporting Brent’s food bank as they broke their own record for the number of vouchers given out in a single day over Christmas.

That’s because unlike the other MPs in Brent, you haven’t helped us or our residents with any of these issues – so far. 

If you really want to help our residents, instead of writing press releases claiming undue credit, why don’t you pick up the phone and ask what you can do to actually make a difference?

Our residents need someone to persuade this Government that they simply can’t take any more pain, they need someone to stand up for them in Parliament on a regular basis and they need help bringing together all partners in Brent to work together to protect them.

I look forward to your call; there is a lot of work to do.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Muhammed Butt
Leader of Brent Council

Green's '3 yeses' on Europe: referendum, reform, remaining

 Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said today that the Green Party stood for "Three Yeses - yes to a referendum, yes to major EU reform and yes to staying in a reformed Europe".

Natalie urged people to consider the first "Yes" in a different context to David Cameron's promise of a referendum - only if the Conservatives win a majority in the 2015 election - which has more to do with political game-playing and trying to hold together a deeply divided party that is failing in government.

The Green leader said: "The Green Party believes in democracy and self-determination. On important issues like this, voters should be given the opportunity to express a clear view."

On a reformed EU, the Green Party believes that decisions should be made at the lowest possible appropriate level, closest to the lives of the people it affects. It supports democratic decision-making - not the imposition of dictats from above, such as the austerity that has been forced on the people of many states in south Europe.

Natalie added: "'Yes to the EU' does not mean we are content with the union continuing to operate as it has in the past. There is a huge democratic deficit in its functioning, a serious bias towards the interests of neoliberalism and 'the market', and central institutions have been overbuilt. But to achieve those reforms we need to work with fellow EU members, not try to dictate high handedly to them, as David Cameron has done."

On 'yes to staying in a reformed Europe', the Green Party believes Great Britain should not abandon the European Union, but instead work from inside to make it into a fair and democratic union rather than just a vehicle for international trade.

The European Union is well placed to enact policies on crucial issues such as human and workers' rights, climate change and international crime. It is through EU regulation that our renewable energy targets have been set and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created.

European action on air pollution, meanwhile, is forcing the British government to take the issue seriously, and the EU is leading the way on a financial transactions tax while Britain, in the grip of the City, resists.

Natalie concluded: "We need to continue to work with our European partners to build strong, locally democratic communities that decide their own way within the framework of minimum standards on workers' and consumer rights, the environment, and on human rights - and which work together to build a more peaceful and sustainable world."

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Schools urged to book for Brent Climate Change Conference

Free Invitation to “Brent Students Conference on Climate Change”  20 March 2013

Brent Council, in conjunction with the College of North West London, and Brent Campaign against Climate Change are organising a conference open to all students in Years 11–13 and Further Education. The conference will be held at the Dudden Hill Campus of the College of North West London, Dudden Hill Lane, NW10 2XD.

I hope you have already received the Climate Change invitation letter, sent by post on 13 December.
The aim of the conference is to increase awareness of climate change and discuss ways to lessen and  adapt to its effects. To encourage the engagement and participation of the young people, the conference will hold a number of environmental activities.

The event will also provide information and advice on relevant courses in Further and in Higher Education and careers in related industries. 

The conference will run from 10.00 am – 3.45 pm and be divided into three sessions:

Morning Session: The Issues of Climate Change
Short introductory talks and Q/A with a panel of speakers.

Lunch Session: Courses and Careers
A tour of the college’s Industry Week displays and an opportunity to talk to employers and admissions tutors. 

Afternoon Session: Tackling Climate Change
Supervised workshops exploring how students can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change in their schools & colleges, or through participation in community and campaign groups.
Free lunch and refreshments will be provided.

I would be grateful if you could bring the details of this letter to the attention of your staff/students and encourage them to attend the conference. Teachers wishing to bring a group should express an interest by e-mailing by Friday 8 February 2013, with an indication of likely numbers.

We would be happy to answer any further queries you may have, please call 020 8937 5564. Alternatively a team member accompanied by a Councillor can visit your school to discuss the conference. We will be contacting you in due course to see if you would like to arrange for a visit, either to meet with staff or talk to groups of students.

Yours sincerely,
Davide Pascarella
Environmental Projects & Policy Officer

Monday, 21 January 2013

Brent Council confirms Birbalsingh Free School in Wembley Park

Arena House opposite Wembley Park Station
Cllr Mary Arnold, lead member for Children and Families announced that she had heard today that Katharine Birbalsingh is acquiring the ex-CNWL site at Wembley Park for her Michaela Community Free Secondary School.

Arnold said that the Council had not been consulted by the DfE. Although the school will have to apply for planning position the Council has no powers over it.  However she said that the Council was concerned about teaching and learning, equalities and conditions of employment in the school. They would have talks with the providers in order to try and apply the Council's free school criteria.

Cllr Michael Pavey (Labour Barnhill) said that he shared Cllr Arnold's concern.  As Chair of Governors at Wembley Primary he said that his school did not educate its pupils in order to hand them over to unqualified teachers at a Free School. Free Schools had an average of 9% of children on free school meals whereas Wembley Primary had about a third. Schools should be run to nurture and educate children, not for private profit.

To applause, he urged the Council to take a strong and principled stand on this issue.

The school will be subject to planning permission but this is unlikely to be a problem given the very lose regulation around Free Schools and the buildings previous use as a further education college.  Play space will be limited but I suspect a deal may be done with the Ark Academy which is just across the road and has extensive playing fields.

Will Brent Council continue to leave the public out in the cold?

It will be interesting to see what happens at tonight's Full Council Meeting regarding the admittance of the public.

The November 2012 Council Meeting passed the following Procedural Motion:
Councillor Butt moved a procedural motion stating that it was with considerable regret and sadness that following advice received from the Director of Legal and Procurement, in order to enable the proper democratic meeting of the Full Council  to take place, he had felt it necessary to exclude a number of members of the public who had previously caused such disruption to Council meetings and meetings of the Executive to the extent those meetings had not been able to continue without moving to another room and thereby restricting the rights of the public to observe the proceedings. Councillor Butt added that he would continue to require officers to work to find a better solution than excluding members of the public from the Town Hall.
that the exclusion from this Full Council meeting of members of the public who have caused disruption to the previous Full Council meeting and/or to the previous  meeting of the Executive and/or the Budget and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee be endorsed.
 It seems that the democratic right to make a protest is in conflict with the Council's need to meet undisturbed to pass policies with which members of the public profoundly disagree. Recent there have been demonstrations, including occupations at Liverpool, Sheffield and Birmingham councils as they approve more cuts. Other Councils seem to manage dissent better and as I pointed out in a recent blog Barnet Council provided an over-flow room with a TV link to the council chamber when the public gallery was full during a very heated confidence debate.. I wonder if the Civic Centre has been designed so as to maximise public access to meetings?

The present policy does pose a s number of questions:
  • What does the Council constitution say about the right of the public to attend meetings or the Council's right to exclude them?
  • How does the Council define disruption?
  • How have they identified those they wish to exclude?
  • Have they provided their private security guards with photographs of the excluded?
  • If so have those who have had their photographs taken been informed?
  • Does the Council have a database of the persons concerned?
  • Is the Council or their hired security guards entitled to ask for proof of identity/proof of address from members of the public wishing to attend a Council meeting as they did at one such meeting last year?
A wider consideration is the need to consider why the public feel excluded from, and frustrated with, the 'democratic process'.  This has not only been been anti-cuts protesters that the Council probably see as the 'usual suspects' but solid middle of the road citizens concerned about the closure of libraries, sports centres, day centres and regeneration projects. The disaffection stems from consultations that turn out to be done deals, Executive meetings that rubber stamp decisions already made in pre-meetings, an Opposition that seems ill-prepared and flying by the seat of its pants, and full Council meetings with no real power but reduced to an arena for political jesting and grandstanding. As with the House of Commons it sometimes appears to be a cosy club despite political differences. 'Us against them' becomes councillors against their active citizens.

A plethora of Brent budget discussions the week after next - but will they make any difference?

The dates for the Brent Budget 'Discussions' (note NOT 'Consultations') have now been sent out in an invitation letter  (see below). The Labour Group is discussing the budget on the evening of Monday February 4th and the Finance and Budget Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be discussing it at 7.30pm on Tuesday February 5th.  It is not clear where that leaves the February 7th meeting in terms of influencing the budget but presumably more details should be available by then following the earlier meetings
Budget Discussion – Invitation to a Public Meeting

Cllr Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council would like to invite you to one of two public meetings about Brent Council’s budget proposals for the forthcoming year.

Both meetings will take place in Brent Town Hall.

Mon 4th Feb
2.30 to 4.30pm
Committee Rooms 1, 2 and 3.
Cllr Aslam Choudry
Thur 7th Feb
7.00 to 9.00pm
Paul Daisley Hall. 
Cllr James Denselow

Everyone is welcome to attend. These meetings will give you an opportunity to question and raise issues of concern with Cllr Butt and members of the Council’s executive.

You can also hear about the difficult choices facing local government in the current economic climate and Council’s proposals to continue to maintain high quality services for our residents.

I do hope you be able to attend one of these meetings? If you need any further information please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kindest regards

Owen Thomson
Community Engagement Team
Customer & Community Engagement
Brent Council
Tel: 020 8937 1055

NUT claims victory at Preston Manor despite academy conversion going ahead

 PM at PM 5 years ago. What do Labour say now?

Press release from Brent Teachers Association

In calling off the strike action planned for Wednesday 23rd , Preston Manor School NUT members, the overwhelming number of teaching staff, thanked their union for negotiating the best possible deal to protect their terms and conditions of probably any converter academy in England.

Facing a potential closure of the school on Wednesday, and after a further negotiating meeting with the NUT on Thursday, all five key points asked for by the staff were fully greed by the school, alongside other guarantees, at the Joint Governors Staff Committee that evening. The two staff reps Jerry Taylor and David McLoughlin, both NUT members, were delighted with the outcome of the meeting. This would not have happened without that final threat of action.

There was disappointment that the Governors did not draw back from converting to an academy as they had gone ahead and signed the funding agreement despite the 86.5% of staff being against this move.

As Jean Roberts, Brent Teachers Secretary said:
Members have been solid in their determination to oppose this conversion, first voting overwhelmingly in the staff ballot and then as NUT members voting for action when your views were just ignored – not even a governors meeting was called to discuss the result. I would hope that Matthew Lantos, Headteacher and the Governors realise they will need to rebuild the trust of staff over what had happened and to apply those Co-operative values of democracy which they signed up to.
We are pleased, however, that we were able to negotiate the best possible terms for staff. We expect to receive all these concessions in writing in the next few days, as the NUT ballot is still live, and any reversal on what has been agreed would mean members again being called to take strike action.
My comment::

As a trades unionist since 1963 and a retired member of the NUT I welcome  the BTA's success in their conditions of service negotiations.

However, as an opponent of both Labour and the Coalition's policy on academies and free schools I regret that Preston Manor governors have gone ahead with academy conversion despite their assurances last year that becoming a Cooperative Trust did not mean that they intended to go one step further and become a Co-operative Academy in the near future. The signing of a funding agreement, apparently in secret, without responding to the staff and parent ballots opposing conversion bodes ill for the future.

This now means that only Copland High School remains outside the academy/voluntary aided sector. This places Copland in quite a dangerous position in terms of maintaining its position in competition  with other Brent secondary schools. When most Brent secondary schools converted to Grant Maintained status some years ago, with similar promises of autonomy,  the two schools that remained firmly in the local authority sector, Wembley High and Willesden High, were destabilised by high pupil turnover and an unbalanced intake with large number of refugee pupils and new arrivals. Willesden High became one of Labour's first academies as Capital City and Wembley went through some bumpy years before recovery.

Now Wembley High is an academy and it is planned that it becomes an all-though school with a four form entry (840 pupils plus nursery) primary department on site.  Preston Manor followed ARK academy in becoming an all-through school and now Wembley High is taking the same route.. Wembley High's current status, and the extent of privatisation can be summed up by this statement on its website:

Wembley High Technology College (The Academy) A Company Limited by Guarantee Registered in England and Wales Registered No. 08137772 VAT Registered No. 140 4732 42

In the primary sector Sudbury has already voluntarily become an academy and forced conversion to academy status are taking place at Salusbury and Gladstone Park after poor Ofsted reports.It appears that primary schools are next in line for academisation.

Since starting this blog in 2009 under the Labour government I have been warning that this privatisation will remove the local democratic accountability of our schools, lead to the demise of the local authority and undermine equal provision for children with special needs and disabilities. The process is accelerating with the local authority reduced to spectators as Brent schools are snatched away from them.

More than ever we need that community campaign to reclaim our schools that I have been urging.

A video for all teachers suffering under government education policies

Don't watch this if you are offended by the F word and other obscenities. Do watch if you feel current education policy justifies such language use. The video pre-dates the Coalition and so applies to the target culture of the three main parties.

Butt's blog bites back

Brent Council leader, Muhammed Butt's, New Year blog has on the Council website LINK has received four comments.  He wrote about the Council's strategy on improving and creating employment opportunities:

Posted 16/01/2013 10:05:11 by Shel
It's great to see that the creation of new jobs and getting people into work is a top priority. I hope Brent will be able to fund projects aimed at getting locals into work through training sessions on interview techniques, job hunting, finding relevant training programmes etc... I can-not express the great importance of such programmes. 4 years ago, I attended a 2 day workshop run by Brent Council aimed at getting the long-term unemployed into work. At that point I had been busy raising 3 children. The workshops gave me the confidence to get back into employment and my career has been moving from strength to strength. I feel indebted to the programme.

Posted 16/01/2013 08:56:47 by Jean Roberts
It is good to see that you are concentrating on jobs and growth. Education is also under attack by this government with its drive to make all schools academies or free schools through bribery with our money or by force to big chains who will ultimately run the education system for profit. Brent should be doing more to stand up for our great community schools. We now face a possible free school paid for by the DfE (our taxes) without any consultation with the community, appearing somewhere in Wembley Park. The ruling by the Information Commissioner that this process should be open and transparent will hopefully mean we will find out exactly what is happening.

Posted 15/01/2013 22:34:19 by Tracey Burke
Increasing employment opportunities is a laudable aim but I have concerns that this is being promoted as some kind of panacea for the supposed ills in society. What type of employment opportunities will these be? Will there be affordable housing and ethical private landlords to house these employees? There is a wealth of research that points to perceived ills as being in depth and entwined issues, the underlying commonalities being inequality, low pay scales, lack of affordable housing and statutory services raising the gateways for access to services. We are mindlessly accepting central government cuts that will decimate our most vulnerable members of society. What you don't clarify Mr Butt is how your cabinet will support people who work for disgustingly low pay with little or no employment rights. Nor do you address your strategy for supporting Brent residents who will never be able to work? As you are only too well aware the universal credits system that will hit us shortly is a template for increasing inequality. How are you and your cabinet planing to ensure that this government doesn't impact on the residents who vote for you and for whom you have statutory duties of care?

Posted 15/01/2013 17:41:41 by Michael Calderbank
I'm very glad to hear that jobs are such a priority. In that case, I take it, the council won't be making compulsory redundancies as a result of implementing cuts to the budget? Also, I wonder how many people who work for external contractors procured by Brent Council to provide services are paid less than the London Living Wage, and why paying a living wage isn't a precondition of the tendering process? Perhaps you can let us know on your next blog?