Thursday 27 February 2014

South Kilburn anger as Council denies them a voice on being dumped with ventilation shaft

A recurring theme of this blog has been the lack of democracy and poor consultation in matters involvng Brent Council: the views of library users over the transformation project, Willesden Green residents over the redevelopment of the library site, human rights campaigners over Veolia's multi-million public realm contract and more recently the denial of residents' requests to speak at Council meetings on matters that affect them.

Here a South Kilburn tenant outlines the latest case of 'democracy denied'.

Last year Brent Council changed the rules so that residents can no longer address full Council meetings about issues of concern, however much support they have. The claim is that this is unnecessary, since petitioners can address the committee meetings or Executive where the issues are discussed, and there are all sorts of consultations where there views can be heard. 
Even when such opportunity exists – committees and consultation forums – this is inadequate, since it is only when an issue comes to full Council that all Councillors are present to hear the issues.
But what happens when an issue comes to full Council without going to any committee or consultation beforehand? Isn’t it obvious that in such a situation those affected should be heard? It would be a simple matter of suspending Council standing orders for this to happen
Far from it. A report is going to Full Council on Monday (March 3rd) about the affect of the HS2 Bill on Brent. This report notes that the HS2 Bill allows for the acquisition of 2 blocks of (Council) flats and St Mary’s school in South Kilburn, and also calls on HS2 to move the planned ventilation shaft, currently proposed to be next to Queens Park station to a site next to St Mary’s school and those flats.
That report has not gone to any committee or the Executive. Affected residents were not informed of its existence by any Councillor or Council Officer, despite their Tenants and Residents Association asking for over 2 years now how they would be affected by HS2 and Brent Council being unable or unwilling to provide them with answers. Residents received recorded letters from HS2 last year saying it might want to acquire their property, and still Brent Council was unable to provide advice on what this might mean. And, of course, residents have not been consulted on their attitude to having the shaft moved next door. This in a situation where residents have made numerous complaints about the effect of living on a building site – being in the middle of regeneration with all the dirt and disruption involved.
Yet despite all this, Councillors are denying residents the right to put their views to the Council meeting. There have been attempts to fob them off by saying that their Councillors are able to speak and represent their views. Some of those saying this have no idea whether the Councillors and TRA have the same view on the issues concerned! But the very idea is patronising – who better to put their views forward than residents themselves, especially when so directly affected.

Three boroughs near solution after long 'dangerous junction' campaign by residents

Crossing photographs from Father David Ackerman

Guest blog by Jay of Kensal Triangle Residents' Association about a long persistent campaign that now looks as if it will yield results.
Positive movement on the Harow Road/Ladbroke Grove Junction!  A solution may well be in sight.
On Friday 7th February representatives from Transport for London, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Brent councils, West One ( the infrastructure management company employed by Westminster Council to manage its traffic planning) and Kensal Triangle Residents Association joined in a meeting kindly organised  and hosted by Fr David Ackerman for a meeting at St John's Vicarage to discuss the Harrow Road /Ladbroke Grove crossing. 

This brought together professionals and locals to address the need for immediate action. The campaign for the provision of safe pedestrian crossing facility has been going for nearly eight years now, and the meeting was arranged to give updates on plans formulated by West One as a result of the last round of surveys.
The meeting proved to be positive on all counts.  It was agreed by all that the attempt to improve the situation by providing wider refuges in the middle of each arm of the junction had not worked at all. West One, in conjunction with TfL are now recommending to all parties that a system be installed with a phase where all vehicle traffic is stopped at the junction to allow a pedestrian crossing phase with the traditional ‘green man’light.  This will allow pedestrians enough time to cross any one arm of the junction.  (it was not proposed to encourage crossing diagonally over the junction as is the case at Oxford Circus)  

There will also be consideration of lane confusion, signage and the hold-ups on Kilburn Lane. 

West One needs to consult with the two other councils to ensure that this solution us agreed by all parties, and further modelling needs to be done to ensure that congestion will not be increased by the new scheme, but the overall message was that positive and effective action is being taken  to make the junction safer for pedestrians and drivers. 

West One could not give a precise timetable for implementation for the plan, but hoped to finish the modelling by the end of March, and installation of the new lights by the end of 2014

The meeting was also notable for its focus on a solution, and Fr David was glad to host a meeting that brought together the most important people who can affect change.  It was extremely helpful and positive to have a meeting so close to the junction concerned, where everyone could see the scale of the problem.

The Background to a Long Campaign

The Harrow Road/Ladbroke Grove Junction

KTRA have been campaigning to get ‘green man’ lights at this junction for 8 years.

It took a long time to find out which Borough took responsibility for the junction as it is on the boundary of three boroughs.  Westminster is the lead borough, as it has the south east and north east corners.  R B K and C has the south west corner and Brent the North West.  This is one of the difficulties, as funding is complicated due to shared responsibility between the three boroughs.

Further, as it is a main road, Transport for London is involved, and has to survey the junction to determine what difference a change in phasing would make.  This also has implications on funding any changes.

Almost everyone who lives in the area agrees that the junction is dangerous. It is particularly hazardous for anyone with impaired mobility or eyesight, and it is a nightmare for parents with children, or teachers with school groups trying to cross. It is a huge barrier in the way of any attempts to get more children walking to school

Over the years we have delivered a petition of over 1000 signatures (the previous incumbent at the church collected some of them from the congregation) two long scrolls of wallpaper covered with drawings and comments, many form children, asking for the junction to be made safe, and attended two meetings at Portcullis House arranged by Glenda Jackson with representatives from all t he boroughs to try and find a way forward.  Martin Low from Westminster Council has said in one of these meetings that he is not averse to the idea of a pedestrian phase at the lights, but it depends on TfL and price.

Our position is
1).  Even though there have not been any fatalities or major injuries the junction is dangerous.  There are people who get the bus one stop to Sainsbury’s rather than cross the road there.  There is no time when it is safe for pedestrians to cross any arm of the junction

2) It can only get worse. The junction is used by several different groups of school children as well as  anyone getting off the number 18 to get a bus going down Ladbroke Grove.  In the morning and evening rush hours it is particularly bad.  As the area is developed more and more there will be more pressure on the junction – especially as Sainsbury’s remains the only large supermarket in the area.

3) Widening the refuges in the centre of each arm has not made a difference - most of them did not last a week.  They did not tackle the central problem; that it is unsafe to cross the road.

4) Every junction on the Harrow Road from Harlesden clock to the Edgeware Road has a pedestrian phase, except this one.  There are also numerous pedestrian crossings along the Harrow Road.

Every Junction on Chamberlaine Road from Kensal Rise Station down to the Harrow Road has a pedestrian phase.

There are no traffic lights  on Ladbroke Grove until you get to Ladbroke Grove Station, where there is a separate pedestrian crossing controlled by lights.  It is obviously generally accepted that on all of these roads pedestrian safety needs to be ensured by the provision of light controlled crossings.

5) We consider that putting a pedestrian phase into the Crossing will not cause more traffic queues. 
Coming down Chaimberlaine Road from Kensal Rise the traffic is held up by the lights at Harvist Road and Bannister Road: it is more often than not fairly clear after both of these junctions until cars reach the bend by Ilbert Street: congestion is caused there by the narrowness of the road and parked cars at any time of day or night.  Crossing the Harrow Road is relatively straightforward, except for right turning vehicles.

Coming up Ladbroke Grove, congestion is caused by the two roundabouts at Barlby road and the entrance to Sainsbury’s.  This can cause tailbacks to Ladbroke Grove Station.  Once over the roundabout at Sainsbury’s cars move freely to join a short queue at the Harrow Road lights

There is congestion all along the Harrow Road from Harlesden: it can take seven minutes to get from the Scrubs Lane Junction to the lights at Kensal Green Station.  There is then usually some clear road before the tailback at the Ladbroke Grove Junction.  This tailback is caused by the poor layout of the junction and the bus lane.  The road essentially becomes single lane, with space for only four or five cars to pull into the left hand lane at the junction in front of the number 18 bus stop. Consequently, most of the cars wishing to continue east along the Harrow Road are stuck behind cars attempting to turn right into Ladbroke Grove – and only about four of these make it across the junction in any given phase of the lights.  Moving the bus stop back a few yard would help – it is still set up for the now defunct bendy buses,  and does not need to be anything like as long as it is. 

There is much less problem for traffic coming out of Central London on the Harrow Road: there are two lanes and a left filter lane at eh junction, and although it is still nerve-racking for vehicles turning right up Kilburn Lane, cars going straight on or turning left are not impeded.

A light system with a pedestrian phase, and with right turn filters on the traffic phases would be of benefit to pedestrians and drivers alike

Buildings crisis for Brent free schools opening in September

The Michaela Academy site today
Although the funding for the Michaela Community  Free School has been approved by Michael Gove and the first cohort of Year 7 pupils are due to start in September there is no sign of any work going on in the building which is looking increasingly forlorn. The very limited play area beneath the bulding, right next to the railway line is rubble strewn, there are broken windows and there are reports that the building is ridden with asbestos.

Things are even worse for the other two secondary free schools due to open in September with Year 7 pupils. Neither Gladstone nor Gateway have yet to find a site. Gladstone's offcial address is the Crown Hotel in Cricklewood and Gateway has offices at 5-6 Empire Way. Gateway was rumoured to have its eye on a building in London Road but the school's website states that it hope to inform parents of the school's site in 'the New Year' and has not been updated. Gladstone announced to the local press today that it was not now proposing to build on the local Gladstone Open Space after community protests and it is still looking for a site within a mile radius.

Whatever one thinks about free schools, and my views are well known, this puts parents and pupils in a difficult position when they receive information about their school applications on Monday. What will happen to them if the buildings are not ready in September? Transfer to secondary school is fraught enough without this additional uncertainty. Will Brent Council suddenly be confronted with a substantial group of pupils not in school?

Wembley wakes up to the smell of coffee

A well known hairdressers in Bridge Road, Wembley Park, is to close on 29th March and a planning application LINK has been submitted to open Costa Wembley on the site. This involves a change of use from A1 to A3 (cafe and restaurant).

A French Cafe serving coffee and cakes opened a few doors down and closed due to lack of custom. A planning application to turn it into a restaurant was rejected by Brent planning committee.

The hairdressers, LAMARTINE, has a set of loyal long-term customers from the local area. It is known for its creative seasonal shop window displays and excelled itself during the 2012 Olympics and its proprietor is well known and respected in the community.  It will be sad to see a local small business make way for a multinational.

Meanwhile staff were training today ahead of the opening of another multinational coffee chain. This one is housed at Brent Civic Centre and due to open on Monday. 

Last year Starbucks paid UK corporation tax for the first time in five years LINK

Costa benefited from the row about what campaigners saw as Starbuck's tax avoidance and increased its sales LINK

Delay continues over Kensal Rise email fraud: some niggling questions

Guest post by Meg Howarth

On 13 February, Brent council confirmed that we have passed the police all the information they have requested in connection with Kensal Rise Library and that we continue to co-operate fully with their enquiries’. The police had previously stated that ‘[we]have been informed that there is further evidence to support the allegation of fraud and are awaiting receipt thereof. A decision whether to progress the allegation will be made after all the evidence has been scrutinised’ (Police may look again at email fraud evidence in Kensal Rise development, Wembley Matters 6 February).

So a police investigation in to the apparent fraudulent use of local, and other, residents’ addresses in support of a change-of-use planning application for the Mark Twain library is finally underway - five months after the Friends of Kensal Rise Library and others first reported the matter to the council. The Kensington and Chelsea force is handling the affair - developer Andrew Gillick’s head-office for his Platinum Revolver/Kensal Properties firms is in the royal borough.

There is currently no indication of when the police will decide whether or not a prosecution will follow.

Mr Gillick’s original planning application for one of Brent’s few remaining historic buildings was unanimously rejected by the council’s planning committee last September but it’s understood he has a revised application in the offing. That is why a speedy resolution to this tawdry affair is required. Despite the council’s official line that it,  
has a responsibility and obligation to consider any valid planning application that is put forward from any individual(s)...consider[ing] each on its merits in accordance with its statutory obligations’ (Christine Gilbert, acting chief executive)
most people will find it incomprehensible if the planning committee is asked to determine a further application before the outcome of an active police inquiry is known. Speed does not, of course, mean cutting corners. 

Meantime, some niggling questions remain:

Why wasn’t all the information and evidence the council had amassed handed to the police in the first instance, instead of what appears to have been a summary of its findings?

Would an investigation have been launched sooner if the police had received a complete dossier earlier?

Why did it take 10 days before council leader Muhammed Butt’s late-night tweet on 31 January stating that the police weren’t pursuing the investigation - the first (and last) anyone’s heard of the City Police’s NFIB (National Fraud and Investigation Bureau) initial decision to take no further action? The head of Brent’s Audit and Investigation department was informed of this on 21 January but was taking ‘advice’ on what he was ‘able to disclose’. In the event, he never disclosed anything. Did the council want to ensure vacant possession of the site by landlord All Souls College, Oxford)? It knew the completion of the sale of the building to Andrew Gillick was conditional on vacant possession and that the final date for this was 31 January its lawyers are the only third party to have seen the Binding Agreement to sell the building to this developer. Vacant possession was, of course, achieved by All Souls sending in its heavies at 6am to demolish the pop-up.

Back at the beginning of October, Brent’s legal boss, Fiona Ledden wrote about Brent’s own inquiry into the fraudulent emails that: The [council’s] investigation is continuing and there have been some complications in relation to the work undertaken. It would not be usual to publish findings of any investigation, there may however be some conclusions that we will be able to share’.

At that stage, it seems the council didn’t anticipate police involvement. 

So what changed, and when? Was it the information the council received early in November that a property owned by Andrew Gillick in St Mary’s Terrace, Paddington was sub-let at the time an online-comment using that address appeared in support of the council’s own planning application for the Barham Library Complex? Mr Gillick, the only supporter of that proposed development, was slated to speak at the planning hearing but failed to attend. It was this same address that was previously used twice to support his own change-of-use application for Kensal Rise Library. Any developer is entitled to support her/his own application but if the comments using the developer’s W2 address were submitted in his name when someone else was living there, that surely could give rise to allegations of fraud? 

Information about this, like the theft of Kensal Rise businesswoman Kirsty Slattery’s address which was used to support the developer’s change-of-use application for the 110-year old library building, appears to have been sent to the police only this month.


Brent Queensbury Tory council candidates support alleged 'Butcher of Gujarat'

Gardiner's support makes headlines in India
In  September 2013, Brent North Labour MP, Barry Gardiner, faced the wrath of demonstrators at Brent
Civic Centre LINK, over his controversial invitation to Narendra Modi, to address the House of Commons. Modi has been accused of collusion in the massacre of Muslims in the Gujarat in 2002 when more than 1,500 died and many were made homeless. Modi was Gujarat Chief Minister at the time and Human Rights Watch found evidence of state complicity in the violence. Modi leader, of the nationalist BJP is tipped to win the forthcoming April election with many fearing that it will herald an era of extreme Hindu nationalism and religious intolerance.

Kanta Mistry of the Queensbury Action Team
The September  invitation was issued by both Labour Friends of India and Conservative Friends of India.  An unofficial Lab-Con 'Coalition for Modi' exists in Brent North with members of  the 'Queensbury Conservative Action Team' among those campaigning for Modi. The action team are likely to be the Conservative candidates for Queensbury ward in the May local election.

Their website LINK has the strapline 'Local Issues-Local Action-Local Conservatives' which seems a long way from the politics of India on which they have been campaigning

In the Independent today LINK commentator Sunny Hundal describes their activities in an article which gives valuable background on the BJP's links:
British and American Hindus are an important source of support, canvassing and even postal votes for the BJP in India. More recently, they have helped to normalise Modi's reputation after the fallout from 2002. On Sunday afternoon, about 20 Gujaratis gathered at the back of a small restaurant in north-west London to discuss how they could help Modi spread his message. I had been told about it by a friend and decided simply to turn up and observe.

At their regular "Modi Tea Club" events, they raise funds and recruit volunteers. One group member, who is planning to run as a local councillor, applauded the US decision to meet Modi and said British Gujaratis had played an instrumental part. "The pressure we put [on the government] in the UK makes a difference around the world," he says, to applause. Next month, their idol will speak to them and hundreds of other groups around the world via satellite to energise them before the elections

Last night the Monitoring Group and Awaaz organised a parliamentary briefing entitled 'Narendra Modi and the rise of "Hindu Fascism" '. Their publicity read:
 The “Parliamentary Briefing & Forum” will discuss the politics of Narendra Modi. Modi is the current Chief Minister of Gujarat and is the Prime Ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance coalition for the upcoming 2014 national elections in India. He is also a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organisation that is described as Hindu nationalist, supremacist and fascist by scholars, journalists and human rights commentators.  The meeting will examine his role as the Head of the State Government during the Gujarat 2002 communal violence and pillage against the Muslim minority population that led to over 1500 deaths, hundreds of rapes against women and displacement of over 200,000 of people from their homes. The forum will also analyse the claim the Modi represents a model for ‘”good governance”. His supporter’s have worked hard to brand Gujarat as a state of dynamic development and economic growth and prosperity, using the slogan "Vibrant Gujarat". The facts, however, reveal that Gujarat has a relatively poor record when it comes to human development, poverty alleviation, nutrition and education.
It is not clear where the Conservative Party nationally stands on these activities by some of their local candidates, and indeed what the local party thinks about this controversial politician.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Brent Town Hall begins its transformation into French School

Brent Town Hall earlier today 
Wembley Town Hall during the 1948 Olympics
Hoardings, closed access to the famous steps, roadworks, a shifted bus stop and tree surgery have heralded the beginning of Brent Town Hal's transformation into a French School this week.

The Town Hall never really experienced a proper farewell in contrast to the ceremony that greeted the opening of the Civic Centre, for the record is how things looked earlier today.

Shrubs cut back in King's Drive gardens next to the Town Hall Library
Some of the trees have preservation orders attached
The lawned area at the back of the Town Hall is being cleared of vegetation

Copland IEB opts for 'No Trust' status

 Guest blog from 'Deleted'

Another 25 teachers at Copland have been notified that they are on a new redundancy hit-list for sacking at the end of the summer term. This follows the dozens of staff who have already been sacked since last July when Brent Council sent in an Interim Executive Board (IEB) to run the school (down).

Why is the Copland IEB now being called the Copland  Lie EB? 

In the autumn they said there would be no forced redundancies. Just weeks later they are  ‘consulting’ (telling) 25 staff that in the (new) next stage of ‘staff reorganisation’ (sacking),  14 of their ‘posts will be deleted’ (14 people will be sacked).  You can apply for ‘voluntary’ redundancy  (ie sack yourself and get a bit of compensation) or wait for the school to sack you. Whichever way, it’s forced, it’s compulsory and it’s the sack. 

What do the Lie E.B give as their reasons for the sackings?

They say they’ve got more teachers than they need. Well, they would have really, wouldn’t they? It’s a measure of the Lie E.B’s success in practically closing down the 6th form  and producing an Austerity Curriculum for the rest of the school. Since last July they’ve scrapped  all the 6th form vocational subjects, loads of successful  A level and GCSE subjects, got rid of support teachers and  mentoring staff and the latest statement from them scraps Business Studies, effectively scraps Yr 7,8 and 9 Information Technology  and gets rid of Art.  They turned away good potential 6th Form students last August when they told them at the last minute they’d have to go elsewhere as they’d scrapped their subjects. They’ve narrowed the school’s curriculum offer to make it so unattractive that only 40 parents put Copland down as first choice for Sept 2014 (even less than Michaela ‘Free’ School, and they don’t even have a viable building).
Then add to that the continuing flow of inept and embarrassing decisions (scrapping Sports Days, charity events,  prize-giving evenings, progressive student associations, etc etc) which have produced columns of print in the local and national press, campaigns on social media, and disbelief among current and former  students and staff. So, dismantle the curriculum, halve the intake and, hey presto, you’ve got too many teachers! 

This is called ‘vision’.

It’s basically the same technique as the Tories have used against the NHS. Regard the institution and its staff as the enemy. Run it down, highlight all its defects. Cut staff, provide worse services to the point where no one will want to bother to fight to save it. Then flog it off to a chain.

But isn’t Copland becoming an Academy in September? Won’t they need teachers?

Of course, and no one believes that an academy chain intends to run a school with no subjects and no decent curriculum offer. After they’ve thrown away all this experience and knowledge  in this year’s sackings they’ll start advertising for new teachers, with all the expense and waste (and risk) that entails. But the new staff will be young and cheap and obedient, advised not to talk to other staff out of their rank and not to join the union. They’ll be on short-term, hire-and-fire contracts and staff turnover will be high. In a few years’ time they’ll all be agency staff and many will probably be on zero-hours contracts. Most will give up teaching in less than 5 years. This is not a prediction; it’s already happening. This is Gove’s  ‘future’ (with the acquiescence of the Copland management, it’s imported  IEB, Brent’s Michael Pavey and Mohammed Butt). And it’s what Copland staff are resisting.

Ok. But the ‘no compulsory redundancies’ promise was only a small untruth and maybe was meant only to refer to the last sacking round, no reason to call the IEB the Lie EB is it?

Yes, because the last sacking round was supposed to be the final sacking round (apart from a Leadership cull which now seems to have been  postponed until next year).  The proposed review of TLRs has not appeared and these new sackings have come out of the blue.

But there’s something else. The sacking letters Copland staff now regularly receive have always  referred  to financial reasons for the sackings and regularly trot out the excuse of  ‘the accumulated budget deficit which is currently in excess of £1.5 million’.         
2 points about this:

The ‘budget deficit’ dates from the time when the recently-convicted –in-the- courts (and earlier-knighted-by- the-Queen) ex-Head Davies ran the show. Brent Council only acted to stop his activities after being embarrassed into intervening  by union action,  have never made any attempt to retrieve the alleged £2.7 million taken from the school and did not even seek costs at his trial. (Why not?  The judge didn’t know either. Choose your own conspiracy theory).

More importantly, this is what Ark Schools, in a written answer,  told Copland staff would happen  to  this deficit when the school becomes an academy in September 2014:
It is normal practice for the deficit to be set to zero by the local authority when a school becomes an academy.
Copland staff should not have to rely on outsiders like Ark Schools  for information affecting their futures  which their own governing body should supply them with.  It would appear that, at the date the current sackings take effect (end of academic year 2013/2014), the deficit will be ‘set to zero by the local authority’.  So in August, yet more  Copland staff will lose their livelihoods in order to  reduce a budget deficit which will not any longer exist. The IEB’s reference to the ‘accumulated budget deficit’ as a justification for  dismantling the school and sacking the majority of its staff  is therefore disingenuous, an obfuscation. 

Or, in plainer English, a lie.

         I  EB?          Or Lie  EB?      Or does it just amount to the same truth-twisting  thing?


A thriving and well organised library lives on in NW2

At a time when many Brent residents are still mourning the loss of their local libraries it was heartening to visit Braintcroft Primary School in Warren Road, NW2, this afternoon and see the well organised and beautifully cared for library being used by the children.

These pictures were taken after school:

In another contribution to literacy in the borough, the school last year became a training centre for Reading Recovery after the closure of the Brent School Improvement Service's facility.

A special room has been set up where Reading Recovery teachers can observe colleague's teaching behind a 'mirror' screen to learn, share and discuss the strategies pioneered by Marie Clay. Reading Recovery is carried out on an intensive 1:1 basis with proven success but is under threat in some areas because it is seen as expensive.

The Governing Body at Braintcroft decided that Reading Recovery was too precious a resource to be lost to the borough and employed the key Reading Recovery trainer and financed the building of the training room. Local schools now buy into the service..

More information on Reading Recovery HERE

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Are the Crest Academies on the EACT transfer list?

I haven't been able to establish yet whether the Crest Boys' and Girls' Academies are included in the 10 E-Act schools that the DfE yesterday ordered to be transferred to other academy chains. Ofsted put the boys' school into special measures last year and judged the girls' school as inadequate as reported here LINK  Under current legislation academies cannot be transferred back to local authority status.

If they are on the list it is possible that they could be added to Ark's Brent empire.

The Anti Academies Alliance reacted to the news with the following statement:

The removal of 10 schools from the EACT academy chain is the most spectacular failure in British post war education history. No Local Authority ever failed so dismally. Even when Islington Council’s education service was deemed beyond repair in the mid 1990’s it only had 3 ‘failing’ secondary schools!

EACT’s catastrophe is a personal humiliation for Sir Bruce Liddington, former Permanent Secretary at the DfE and head of the Academies Division. He was one of the chief architects of the Academies Programme before sliding seamlessly into the private sector to pocket £300,000 pa. salary plus benefits as CEO of EACT. It earned him the dubious title of the ‘fattest, fat cat in education’.

But the catastrophe is much more than this. First and foremost it is a betrayal of the children and families who go these schools. They were sold a lie that the private sector would be better. Blair, Adonis, and Gove have all claimed that there was something in the ‘DNA of private education’ that would improve state schools. Of course some academies have done well, although increasingly the evidence suggests that this is more the result of changing intakes rather than a ‘magic dust’ sprinkled by sponsors.

The EACT catastrophe therefore signals the death of the credibility of the Academies programme. David Cameron’s shoddy claims to localism are also in tatters as the all-powerful Secretary of State, Chairman Gove steps in to micro-manage our schools. After just over a decade of controversy, the Academies Programme experiment has failed. Any governing body currently considering conversion should halt it immediately whilst a full and public enquiry is conducted. And if governors won’t stop conversion, then staff and parents should take matters infat cats at the academies showto their own hands and stop this madness by any means necessary.

But here’s the rub! Due to the reckless behaviour of those who have legislated on education policy over the last decade, the Academies Programme will continue like a zombie. There is no mechanism to halt it, to restore schools to Local Authorities and to ensure that they are properly functioning. Only Gove has the power to decide the future of these schools. The whole system of checks and balances, of accountability and credibility has been smashed up in pursuit of a ‘supply side revolution’.

And, worst still, there is not a single cabinet minister or front bench spokesperson from the Coalition or the Opposition who will stand up and admit ‘we got it wrong’. The unregulated education market was a train wreck waiting to happen. Estelle Morris warned of this ‘direction of travel’ a decade ago. But the zombie politicians still stagger around Westminster singing its praises.

As Sweden picks over the bones of its rotten marketised system, who will have the courage to call a halt to this reckless policy

Monday 24 February 2014

Sabina Khan selected to fight Stonebridge ward

Sabina Khan at the Defend London's NHS demonstration
Sabina Khan, who made a good showing for the Brent Central parliamentary nomination, has been selected by Labour to stand for Stonebridge ward in the forthcoming local elections.

A vacancy arose when one of the women candidates dropped out earlier this year.

Sunday 23 February 2014

South Kilburn regeneration threatened by HS2

An officers' report going before the Full Council Meeting on March 3rd asks members 'if considered expedient' to resolve to oppose the HS2 Bill  and consider 'the passing of further authorise the deposit of a petition against the Bill in either or both Houses of Parliament'.

The report suggests that location of the proposed ventilation shaft and transformer (see CGI above), next to Queen's Park Station, would have an adverse affect 'not only on that site but also on the Council's regeneration plans for the wider South Kilburn area'.

The report states that there are a number of good reasons to offer broad strategic support for HS2 in terms of improved connectivity and job opportunities in areas such as Old Oak Common, but  identifies three negative impacts on the borough.

1, The Bill seeks powers for the compulsory acquisition of  'all interests' in land in South Kilburn 'which does not appear to be required to implement the proposed new high speed railway line.  The land includes parts of the South Kilburn Estate including St Mary's School, parts of site 11b, Alpha and Gorefield Houses and the new development on Cambridge Road and Chichester Road. It is also proposed that some land will be possessed on a temporary basis and the Council states that it sees no reason why the sites above should be permanently acquired by HS2 and should petition on this basis if discussions with HS2 fail.

2.  The Council has approved plans for the Queens Park Car Park site (Site 18 in the South Kilburn Regeneration Programme)  which involves demolition of Cullen House, Keniston House, Premier House and the Falcon Pub and the erection of 137 flats (39 of which are affordable), public space, office and commercial shop space.  The HS2 plans for a ventilation shaft and transformer would disrupt these plans with a loss to the Council and also affect the decanting of residents on the South Kilburn Estate during regeneration.

The Council has put forward an alternatiuve plan for the ventilation shaft  to go on the east side of Queen's Park Station but HS2 said although that was technically possible  their preferred site was still the original proposals because of  'changes that would otherwise be required to the alignment of the proposed HS2 tunnel, access issues and a likely increase in temporary impacts during construction on nearby residents and a local school'.

A subsequent  report from Lambert Smith Hampton, commissioned by the Council, concluded that there was a 'clear economic and financial benefit associated with relocating the ventilation shaft and auto transformer from Site 18 to the alternative Canterbury Works site. The Council will challenge the adequacy of the project's  Environment Statement on the basis of:
  • Inadequate consideration of alternative sites for the proposed ventilation shaft and transform
  • No proper justification for the current design and scale of proposals
  • Incorrect baseline assumptions
  • Inaccurate assessment of effects; and
  • Lack of/inadequate mitigations proposed
3. Brent Council  supports the proposals for a new interchange between HS2 and Crossrail at Old Oak Common, including links between the interchange and the West London Line and North London Line. However they also think that additional value could be achieved for a new rail link between Cross Rail an the West Coast Mainline.

The report argues that such a link would enable users of  London Midland Services to transfer onto Crossrail, 'providing improved services straight into central London. It would ease congestion at Euston and  save passenger time. Officers suggest, 'By accommodating the future delivery of this link as part of the HS2 construction plans at Oak Old Common, there would be an opportunity for trains to run to Wembley with a direct link on to Heathrow and services to the West of England.'.

Officers recommend  that the Council considers supporting any petition by TfL for the delivery of enabling works at Old Oak Common to allow for this link.

The report discusses the uncertainties over the amount of compensation the Council might receive from compulsory purchase but goes on to state,  'It is clear that several millions of value are at risk from the HS2 proposals as they currently stand.'

The report sets out the estimated costs of Petitioning the HS2 Bill:

Ventilation Shaft: £150,000
Compulsory Purchase Order £40,000
West Coast Mainline Route £380,000

The report recommends the first two only.

Brent Council's spending cut by £18m in proposed 2014-15 budget

Full Council on March 3rd will vote on the 2014-15 Budget which incorporates £17.8m reduction in service areas as set out below:

The situation is likely to be even worse in 2015-16 with a budget gap expected to be more than £33m.  The report going to the meeting states that the Council since 2010 has made £80m 'savings' at an average impact of £702 per household.'  The Council Tax proposed is £1,357.94 for a benchmark Band D property.

Further details on the impact of the savings/cuts are set out in the document below:

Friday 21 February 2014

Rise up against the Coalition on Climate Change and Fuel Poverty

Left to Right: Sophie Neuborg, Suzanne Jeffery, Martin Francis (Chair) Ruth London, Murad Qureshi
There were stirring calls for action on climate change and energy when Brent residents met together at an urgent meeting on 'Energy Crisis, Climate Crisis - What is the solution?' at Chalkhill Primary School, Wembley.

Suzanne Jeffery, from One Million Climate Jobs, said that the Coalition Government had been exposed by the recent floods. The recognition of the connection between extreme weather events and climate change revealed Cameron's dismissal of 'green crap' as particularly ill-timed. In fact the government had locked the country into rising emissions that accelerated climate change through the 'dash for gas' and fracking, and Osborn's collusion with the oil and energy industries in his budget statement. Deregulation of planning regulations and cuts to the Environment Agency had worsened the impact of the highest ever rainfall last month.

With scientists predicting devastating consequences of a failure to act, campaigners had to use this period of heightened awareness to press home the message that there is still, just, time to act. There needed to be investment in renewable energy and a massive programme of insulation and other green measures through the creation of one million climate change jobs. As well as contributing to reducing energy usage and thus carbon emissions, they would also boost the economy.

Ruth London, from Fuel Poverty Action, said that 'climate change is poverty' as people unable to heat their homes or cook their food because of the high costs of energy were impacted by cold and damp and resulting ill-health and strain on relationships. Education was affected when children did not have a comfortable place to do their homework.  Fossil energy is subsidised and renewables are actually cheaper. The London Pensioners' Association had recognised this when they had passed a resolution calling for safe, clean energy.

Government policy meant that Housing Associations were scrapping insulation schemes and that some attempts at market solutions to the problem had been abandoned.  She said that the probloems was built into the nature of the market where the primary purpose was acculumation. The market was the opposite of caring:: 'what's good for thje market has nothing to do with what's good for people'.

Sophie Neuborg of Friends of the Earth said that there was a major crisis with 7 million people paying over 10% of their income to keep their houses warm and this would be 9m by 2016. FoE believed that energy saving measures should be supported from general taxation rather than levies on fuel bills. More incentives were needed to persuade landlords to make their properties energy efficient and hypothecated carbon taxes needed. She called for a revolution in the way energy was produced through community production of renewable energy.

Link to FoE actions including petition on fracking HERE

Murad Qureshi, London Assembly Member and chair of its Environment Committee, spoke about the highest rainfall levelo for 250 years, record river flows and rising ground water levels. The Thames Barrier, which had saved London from major flooding, and built by the GLC, would not have been built in current times.

He called for work envisaged for the future on flood defences to be brought forward. The Thames should be seen as an extension of the sea into London to bring home the issue. River restoration was needed in terms of London's hidden culverted rivers to protect the 24,000 London homes at high risk of flooding and there needed to be a stop to the concreting over of gardens that had removed the equivalent of 18 Hyde Parks from the capital.* We have to learn with live with water through adaptation and mitigations. Surveys had shown that 80% of the population were concerned not with housing or transport but with the high costs of gas, electricity and water. 68% had reduced their energy consumption because of the cost and half a million were depednent on food backs.

Boris Johnson had failed to take on the energy companies with EDF failing to deliver on their Olympic promises. The Mayor's retrofitting scheme had failed to meet its target with only 99,000 properties tackled amongst the millions in London.

In the discussion that followed there were calls for mass demonstrations on climate change, re-nationalisation of the energy and water companies on a more participative and response model that previously, action against British Gas in particular, campaigns against pre-payment meters and how they make the poor pay more - including Can't Pay-Won't Pay, pickets of the BBC over their insistence on 'balancing' discussion over climate change giving equal time to the sceptics, demand new housing incorporates solar ppwer roof tiles, and the need to reach out to faith groups about the issue.

Videos of the event can be found here:

Introduction and Suzanne Jefferies
Questions and discussion 1
Questions and discussion 2

* I am disappointed that so much of the Quintain development around the Civic Centre and Wembley Stadium is hard landscaping with potted shrubs. We were promised new parks which I imagined would include grassed areas and flower beds - as well as children's play faciltities.. A question of maintenance costs?

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Where does Barry Gardiner stand on fracking?

I was approached recently by some neighbours, concerned about the environment and the future of their young children, and therefore interested in  their MP's position on fracking.  They knew that the Green Party  POLICY LINK was opposed to fracking anywhere in the UK but were not sure about Labour's position. Labour Brent Council had opposed fracking in Brent but not elsewhere.

I said that Labour appeared to be ambivalent but undertook to write to our Brent North MP, Barry Gardiner, a shadow minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for an authoritative statement:

This is what he said:
I know there has been real concern about the potential environmental dangers of fracking and I agree that this process should only go ahead if it is safe and environmentally sound. Indeed, it is only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about fracking through robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring, that people will have confidence that the extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK's energy mix.

Shale gas does potentially offer an opportunity for the UK to improve our security of energy supply, to replace depleted North Sea gas reserves and to displace some of the gas we currently import. Shale has should not, therefore, be dismissed and I believe it is right that any communities that do host nationally significant energy infrastructure are able to share its rewards.

However, the Government also need to get their priorities right and I do not believe that fracking is the silver bullet for all our energy needs that the Government seem to suggest. Indeed, it is unlikely that it will be possible to extract shale gas in large volumes in the immediate future in the UK or that it will make a significant difference to consumer bills.

Given this and the legitimate safety and environmental concerns that have been expressed, I believe there should be a cautious and proportionate approach to shale gas exploration.

It is also unhelpful for the Government to have established a false opposition between shale gas extraction and investment in renewable energy. Gas will, of course, continue to play a part in our short and medium term energy mix but here is not reason why this should preclude heavy investment in renewable generation, which represents the long-term future of our energy sector.

I know that some environmental groups have also expressed concern about the Government's approach to encouraging shale gas production and I hope the Government will now listen to these concerns and adopt a more cautious and proportionate approach that address key safety and environmental concerns.
Protests continue against fracking in Barton Moss, Salford. Report HERE

How to opt out of the NHS care data scheme

At a meeting last night I couldn't find anyone who had received their letter about the sharing of individual's medical data so it is good news that implementation has been delayed for six months.

There are concerns about the security of the system and its possible misuse. This was discussed in the Guardian 18 months ago: LINK

If you decide you want to opt out of the system, which is your right, Fax Your GP Com LINK have set uo an easy facility. This is what they say:

We’re a very small group of volunteers who think it should be very easy for people to opt out of the new NHS centralised database of medical records.

Unless you opt out now, will soon store the medical records of everyone in England, yours included, in one giant database.

Our confidential health information will then be shared with companies and other public bodies.

Some people we respect think is, on balance, a good thing.
Some people we respect think is, on balance, a bad thing.

What we know for certain is that the NHS hasn’t made it easy for you to exercise your right to opt out. We think this really isn’t wise.

The NHS leaflet explaining says you should ‘let your GP know’ if you want to opt out.
But GP surgeries are busy. If you ring up wanting to opt out they’ll ask you to write to them instead. That’s fair enough – their priority is treating the sick.

It’s 2014. The NHS really should have made it easy to opt out via the web.
So we thought we’d help out.

First, we found the fax numbers for every GP practice (sadly, very few let you email them). After you’ve entered your details, our clever computers automatically fax your letter asking to opt-out of the database straight to your GP practice.

It’s free. It’s secure. And we don’t store any of your personal data once your opt-out fax has been received by your GP. So we won’t email trying to sign you up for other campaigns.

Sadly we can’t make any 100% watertight promises that this site will always work. Your GP’s fax number might be listed incorrectly on the NHS website, for example.

So if you want total reassurance, it might be best to print out an opt out letter and pop it round to your GP yourself.

However, we have done this sort of thing before, and so know it works well. Back in 1999/2000 some of us built, to make it easy for people to contact their MP, since in those days most MPs didn’t publish their email addresses. A bit like GPs, today, in fact.

We didn’t expect to have to resurrect a similar service nearly 15 years later. Frankly, we shouldn’t have had to, but needs must.

— Stef Magdalinski and friends.

The Keep Our NHS Public leaflet downloadable below contains an opt-out letter you can take to your GP: