Sunday 30 November 2014

Cross party letter on council cuts a beginning but we must challenge austerity

Following my posts on this blog about the budget crisis faced by local councils, including Brent and Brighton, it is good to see this cross-party letter in the Observer today signed by leaders of many local councils as well as the Chair of the Local Government Association LINK

Of course a letter on its own won't solve the problem and it is not just a matter of more control of funding but also the total amount. Austerity, which led to the cuts, is supported by the main political parties represented in this letter.

Local anti cuts campaigns, trades councils and trade unions, tenants associations and other citizen groups need to step up their campaigning against what amounts to the destruction of local services under the cover of austerity.

The Observer Letter 
Funding for services provided by councils has borne the brunt of austerity while demand continues to rise. When the chancellor delivers his autumn statement this Wednesday, “more of the same” cannot be an option.

After a 40% reduction in funding during this parliament, our efficiency savings are coming to an end. Further reductions without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life and will lead to vital services being scaled back or lost altogether. Services such as libraries, leisure centres and road maintenance continue to buckle under the strain of cuts and the ever-rising cost of caring for our growing elderly population. Failure to address this will not only jeopardise other services, but will pass costs on to the NHS, which will have to pick up the pieces if we cannot protect adult social care or provide the services that keep people healthy.

Last week, the Smith commission set out a better deal for Scotland, granting more control over funding and recognising the importance of devolving power down beyond Holyrood. It’s England’s turn now.

There is compelling evidence that taking decisions closer to the people affected achieves better results and saves money. It is vital that the autumn statement sets out a new settlement for England, which puts powers beyond Westminster, and shares out tax and spending across the UK on a fair basis. The people we represent, who look north of the border with envy at the greater control Scots are to get over their everyday lives, will expect nothing less.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Guide Auction Price of £1,150,000 For Kensal Rise Library

Further news is coming in regarding the sale of Kensal Rise Library by Andrew Gillick. The building has appeared on Zoopla LINK for auction on December 17th. It has a guide price of £1,150,000.

This gives very little time for Friends of Kensal Rise Library or any other community interest group to make up their minds and enter a bid.  As there is supposed to be a six week initial moratorium before sale to allow an organisation to signal their intention to bid for an Asset of Community Value the question arises as to when Brent Council were first informed by Gillick of his intention to sell.

Will the Pavey review of HR win the confidence of staff?

In this week's Kilburn Times,  Brent Green  Party candidates for the forthcoming general election reiterate the Party's call for an independent inquiry into Brent Council, This would not only cover the human resources issues, including working conditions,  but also the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive and  the restructing of the senior managment team. We felt that an independent investigation was the only way to gain the confidemnce of staff and wanted to involve residents, associations,  voluntary organisations, teneants; groups and trade unions.

Philip Grant in this Guest Blog gives his personal assessment of the  more limited internal review being conducted by Michael Pavey:

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Councillor Pavey’s Review of Brent’s HR and Equalities practices and procedures


Anyone who has been following the story of the Rosemarie Clarke Employment Tribunal case will be aware that when Brent Council announced on 26 September that they would be appealing against the judgement, they also said there would be a review. The Council said that its Deputy Leader, Cllr. Michael Pavey, would ‘take stock of our [Employment] policies and practice’, ‘to ensure that we learn lessons from this case’. 

I did wonder at the time whether this was just a PR smokescreen, to draw attention away from Brent’s unfair and unreasonable decision to appeal. However, I have recently exchanged some emails with Cllr. Pavey which leave me a little more optimistic, and (with his permission) I would like to share some of the correspondence with you.

Andrew Gillick to 'dispose of' Kensal Rise Library building

The Friends of Kensal Rise Library have announced on their website that they have been informed that the owner  of Kensal Rise Library (Andrew Gillick) has notified Brent Council that he intends to dispose of the building LINK

The FKRL assure supporters that the D1 space, set aside for community use, is protected in any disposal by the owner because All Souls College retains control and disposal includes the 'encumbrance' of the Planning Committee's decision. Any new owner who wanted to change that decision would have to submit a new planning application.

Butt suggests combined West London Authority as 40% central staffing cuts sought in Brent budget

The  Report for the First Reading Debate on the Council Budget LINK was up on the Council website by 23.45 last night. It includes a section on the Borough Plan Consultation which is fast work as the consultation only closed at 5pm yesterday.

Full Council was changed from November 17th to December 8th ostensibly to enable a report on the Borough Plan to be made.

The report states (4.3)
Between 16 September and 28 November the council, with its partners undertook a major consultation exercise to gather information on local people's views of:
  • The area where they live
  • Their aspirations for the future of the borough
  • Their spending priorities, including those services they felt should be protected and areas where they felt we could do less
  • What more they, the community group, or others could do to help build strong communities in Brent in the context of shrinking public resources 

Friday 28 November 2014

An apology

Following complaints about a previous post I made on this blog, I would like to apologise to anyone who felt it was inappropriate, or contained inappropriate elements. It was not my intention to cause anyone discomfort, distress, or offence, which is why I have, after considered reflection, decided to remove it and the post which followed it.

Comments are closed on this post.

Cafe in the Park is Pie in the Sky - Let us have a library instead

Guest blog from Friends of Barham Library

A while back Sudbury Town Residents Association persuaded a Cafe owner to rename his business in Sudbury Town "Sudbury Tea Rooms". He spent money on new signage and promotion and invited locals for a free sampling.

They came for a freebie but rarely again. The place closed down soon after.

Amazingly someone else opened a new Cafe in the Parade in East Lane near Watford Road. Within weeks the business was under new management.

Those of us in the know were certain that the venture had no chance of success. Passing today I note the windows covered up and presumably the Cafe closed down.

A while back a girl started a cafe in Sudbury Town Station. She happens to be a relative of Merle Amory a Labour Leader of Brent Council briefly in the 1980s. She is no longer open every day as business is slack.

All of this sends a simple message - it is tough to make a success of running a Cafe in the Sudbury area - yet Brent Council officers still persist with their pie in the sky notion of a Cafe in Barham Park - even though they have done nothing about it for 13 months since the Barham Park Trustees were persuade to endorse this.

Key question is - are Brent Council Officers and Councillors so determined to stop local residents to open a Volunteer Library in Barham Park that they will pursue any delaying tactic possible or will they at long last stop wasting time and money and convert platitudes into some decisive action and let Friends of Barham Library get access to the empty Card Room in Barham Park? The Volunteers have even offered to provide refreshments besides the many other services local people need.

Paul Lorber for Friends of Barham Library


Brighton and Hove Council grapples with 'immoral' impact of Coalition cuts on the city

It is becoming clear that the continuing cuts in local government funding means that many councils will be unable to maintain basic services in the years ahead and some may face severe financial problems if not bankruptcy. Cuts in funding for adult social care to be announced by central government make the situation worse.

Against that background Brighton and Hove Council, a minority Green administration, released the statement below today. It is sure to spark a debate within the Green Party and the wider left about what a council should do in such circumstances:

Laying out the background to the budget, Councillor Ollie Sykes, Green lead member for finance, said: "The bulk of the council's general fund money each year comes from central government and over the past four years the coalition government has cut its funding to us by a frightening 32% in cash terms. After taking into account inflation and increasing demand, this means we have £70m less this year, for services, than when we came into office.

"And with council tax held down below inflation - which means it has fallen by 12% in real terms - the rest of the council's income cannot even begin to make up the shortfall.

"Other councils have also been cut, though historically Brighton & Hove has been cut hardest in the south east. And other councils are not coping: many have closed essential services, from libraries to welfare services, and the National Audit Office last week reported that more than half of councils in England are at of risk financial failure within the next five years. This week, Newcastle has warned of 'impossible cuts leading to social unrest'."

Councillor Sykes continued:

"Until now, Brighton & Hove has escaped what other cities are suffering. This Green administration has ensured that only a very small fraction of those cuts have so far been passed on to the front line of council services.

"We've done it by getting the basics right, managing resources, rooting out inefficiency, greening the council's building stock, and with great support and hard work from council staff. We've kept all libraries and children's centres open, imposed no compulsory redundancies on council employees, continued a fair proportion of financial support for the third sector and even increased spending for the city's most vulnerable. We've also brought in unprecedented external funding to for city improvements, such as The Level and Seven Dials.

"This year is different. The government cuts are so huge and there's nothing left to squeeze. It means that business will no longer be as usual. Unlike the past, some council services will have to shrink or go. There will be redundancies and there will be protests against those redundancies.

This is what coalition government cuts are now about to do to our city."

Turning to the Greens' response, Councillor Sykes says:

"This is not a budget we're proud to see before us. But we can't print money or ask officers to spend what we don't have. Despite everything, though, we are doing what we can as a minority administration.

"Over the coming weeks, we will be calling on the government to reinstate our full grant and examining all possible ways to put the pressure on. We hope our Labour and Conservative colleagues will join us, for the sake of the city. What the coalition is doing to our most vulnerable residents and our communities is frankly immoral.

"We are asking the city to approve our proposals for a general 5.9% rise in council tax. This will not solve the problem but it will raise more than £4m to help maintain crucial services and avoid the imposition of a much sharper tax rise for the most hard-up people in the city.

"And we are making a series of pledges to keep open such core council services as libraries, children's centres and public toilets, to protect the city's most vulnerable from the worst of the cuts and not to introduce anything that will contribute to the further transfer of wealth from the least well off to the wealthiest in this country."

Caroline Lucas MP for Brighton Pavilion has tabled an Early Day Motion on the cuts to try and initiate a debate in the House of Commons in December:
  • This House believes, under the guise of austerity, central government is slowly but surely putting an end to local government as we know it;
  • Notes that from 2010/11 to 2015/16, core central government funding to local authorities has been slashed by 40%, whilst local government responsibilities increase; further notes demand for council services is growing and people are suffering under Government policies harming the poorest and most disadvantaged such as the bedroom tax, cuts to tax credits and benefits and the increase in VAT;
  • Further notes the National Audit Office report criticising the Government for failing to properly assess the effects of further cuts to funding of councils by central government and the cross-party Local Government Association warning over plans to stop funding Local Welfare Assistance Schemes that “If the government pulls the plug on funding, many local authorities will be unable to afford to make up the difference at a time when we are tackling the biggest cuts to council funding in living memory” which will cause three-quarters of councils to scale back or scrap their schemes;
  • Therefore calls for the cuts to local Government funding to be reversed and for local government to be protected from further cuts to enable local authorities to provide cherished community services as well as vital social services such as support for looked-after children, care-leavers, users of adult social care, older people, homeless people, low-income families in crisis, disabled people, those with special educational needs and emergency help to survivors of domestic violence. 
Notes
Brighton and Hove singled-out for cuts: LINK
Laying out the background to the budget, Councillor Ollie Sykes, Green lead member for finance, said: "The bulk of the council's general fund money each year comes from central government and over the past four years the coalition government has cut its funding to us by a frightening 32% in cash terms. After taking into account inflation and increasing demand, this means we have £70m less this year, for services, than when we came into office.

"And with council tax held down below inflation - which means it has fallen by 12% in real terms - the rest of the council's income cannot even begin to make up the shortfall.

"Other councils have also been cut, though historically Brighton & Hove has been cut hardest in the south east. And other councils are not coping: many have closed essential services, from libraries to welfare services, and the National Audit Office last week reported that more than half of councils in England are at of risk financial failure within the next five years. This week, Newcastle has warned of 'impossible cuts leading to social unrest'."

Councillor Sykes continued:
"Until now, Brighton & Hove has escaped what other cities are suffering. This Green administration has ensured that only a very small fraction of those cuts have so far been passed on to the front line of council services.

"We've done it by getting the basics right, managing resources, rooting out inefficiency, greening the council's building stock, and with great support and hard work from council staff. We've kept all libraries and children's centres open, imposed no compulsory redundancies on council employees, continued a fair proportion of financial support for the third sector and even increased spending for the city's most vulnerable. We've also brought in unprecedented external funding to for city improvements, such as The Level and Seven Dials.

"This year is different. The government cuts are so huge and there's nothing left to squeeze. It means that business will no longer be as usual. Unlike the past, some council services will have to shrink or go. There will be redundancies and there will be protests against those redundancies.

This is what coalition government cuts are now about to do to our city."

Turning to the Greens' response, Councillor Sykes says:

"This is not a budget we're proud to see before us. But we can't print money or ask officers to spend what we don't have. Despite everything, though, we are doing what we can as a minority administration.

"Over the coming weeks, we will be calling on the government to reinstate our full grant and examining all possible ways to put the pressure on. We hope our Labour and Conservative colleagues will join us, for the sake of the city. What the coalition is doing to our most vulnerable residents and our communities is frankly immoral.

"We are asking the city to approve our proposals for a general 5.9% rise in council tax. This will not solve the problem but it will raise more than £4m to help maintain crucial services and avoid the imposition of a much sharper tax rise for the most hard-up people in the city.

"And we are making a series of pledges to keep open such core council services as libraries, children's centres and public toilets, to protect the city's most vulnerable from the worst of the cuts and not to introduce anything that will contribute to the further transfer of wealth from the least well off to the wealthiest in this country."

Caroline Lucas MP for Brighton Pavilion has tabled an Early Day Motion on the cuts to try and initiate a debate in the House of Commons in December:
  • This House believes, under the guise of austerity, central government is slowly but surely putting an end to local government as we know it;
  • Notes that from 2010/11 to 2015/16, core central government funding to local authorities has been slashed by 40%, whilst local government responsibilities increase; further notes demand for council services is growing and people are suffering under Government policies harming the poorest and most disadvantaged such as the bedroom tax, cuts to tax credits and benefits and the increase in VAT;
  • Further notes the National Audit Office report criticising the Government for failing to properly assess the effects of further cuts to funding of councils by central government and the cross-party Local Government Association warning over plans to stop funding Local Welfare Assistance Schemes that “If the government pulls the plug on funding, many local authorities will be unable to afford to make up the difference at a time when we are tackling the biggest cuts to council funding in living memory” which will cause three-quarters of councils to scale back or scrap their schemes;
  • Therefore calls for the cuts to local Government funding to be reversed and for local government to be protected from further cuts to enable local authorities to provide cherished community services as well as vital social services such as support for looked-after children, care-leavers, users of adult social care, older people, homeless people, low-income families in crisis, disabled people, those with special educational needs and emergency help to survivors of domestic violence. 
Notes
Brighton and Hove singled-out for cuts: LINK
Leader of Newcastle council decries impossible cuts and warns of social unrest: LINK

Brent gears up to register more voters

Daily Mirror NOVOTENOVOICE Campaign 2010
Cllr Neal Nerva presented the report of the Task Group on Electoral Engagement at the Scrutiny Committee this week. LINK The report deals both with the repercussions of Individual Electoral Registration which replaces registration by head of household and the wider issues of lack of  engagement by different communities in the democratic process of registering and voting.

Individual regestration will not impact on the 2015 General Election but will do so at subsequent elections.

The Task Group assessed the extent of registration by matching information from the Department of Work and Pensions with data on the Electoral Register. The highest match was Kenton ward  at 79% and the lowest 56% in Mapesbury and Willesden Green.

The Task Group also looked at the characteristic of each ward which yielded some interesting results:


Cllr Nerva said that there was a particular challenge in the population of 20-30 year olds who were renting privately and perhaps only living in the area for one or two years. There was a need to communicate with these residents and make the case for the wider advantages of registration such as enabling people to get credit ratings and sign up to mobile phone contracts as well as  accessing a range of other 21st century trappings.

He also made the point that if a person was registered it made deciding NOT to vote an 'active' choice.

The context of different wards meant that different stratagies are necessary in each and the report outlines some of the possibilities and different  voluntary groups and organisations that could be involved. LINK

Citing the 97% registration rate in Scotland before the Referendum, Nerva suggested that the percentage of the population registered to vote should be a key council performance indicator.

One suggestion by Nerva that may prove controversial was that elected members should be involved in voter registration through what he called 'supplementary door knocking' and stalls in public places encouraging registration.

He said this would not be party political and there would be no rosettes except perhaps Brent identification. 

In a contribution to the Committee I suggested that in addition to the strategies outlined officers should go into primary schools to address Parent Forums, which often have high attendance,  about registration and suggested this was a good way of spreading the word as those parents would then speak to family and friends.

This is a solid report and well worth looking at in detail. It will be going to Cabinet in January 2015.

Thursday 27 November 2014

High approval rate for Green Party education policy on Leaders Live debate

Natalie Bennett was the first party leader to appear on the Leaders Live YouTube/Social Media debates last night. Here is an extract beginning with Education Policy which achieved 88% of respondents agreeing with Green Party policy:


Scrutiny Committe unconvinced by assurances on Northwick Park A&E

Yesterday the BBC reported that ambulance crews would have to call ahead to the control room before taking patients to A&E at Northwick Park Hospital because of the pressures on the hospital. Local GPs are being asked to refer patients to other hospitals. It also reported that in September 179 patients had to wait for more than 30 minutes for an ambulance and 30 patients have to wait for more than an hour.

Yesterday at Scrutiny Committee councillors put the NW London NHS Trust under pressure regarding these issues.  In often emollient replies to tough questioning councillors were assured that there was no danger to patients.

Problems were ascribed to an increase in acuity of patients arriving at the hospital with a sustained rise in medical emergency admissions. In other words more Brent people are becoming sicker.

Although the planned increased bed capacity at Northwick Park would not take place until Autumn 2015 the Trust were taking steps to increase 'in year' capacity at Northwick Park by 32 beds and 20 at Ealing Hospital. Ealing had not shown a marked rise in admissions but there had been an increased length of stay for patients.

Measures to cope with the problem included quicker discharge and less DTOC (delayed termination of care).

In a rather chilling statement an NHS officer said that there was no evidence  that the problems were having an  impact on mortality rates. 'Yet...' was what I said to myself.

Summing up the Committee's view, last night's Chair, Cllr Reg Colwill,  said they were concerned about the timescale of the implementation of improvements to Northwick Park and the danger this posed to Brent residents.

The discussion of the repercussions of the closure of Ealing Hospital Maternity ward also centred on capacity.

Councillors were told that the facility was no longer viable and an earlier closure than the two years initially planned was necessary to maintain safe services. Northwick Park and Imperial had the capacity to expand maternity provision without infrastructure work and a maternity booking service would be introduced.  41% of Brent mothers already attend Imperial which includes Queen Charlotte's in Hammersmith. Ealing staff would be transferred to other facilities over a transitional period.

Officers said that current activity in the hospitals was less than the previous maximum and the expected rise in numbers would be within that maximum. there was an expectation that 95% of women would get their first choice of maternity care. The only cap was at Queen Charlotte's Hospital.

Cllr Mary Daly challenged this in the light of the area's rising birthrate. In summing up Cllr Colwill said that the Committee was not convinced that the rise in birthrate had been sufficiently taken into account and remained  concerned about whether alternative provision would be in place in time.

The main discussion on the future use of the Central Middlesex Hospital site following the closure of the A&E, was the transfer of rehabilitation beds from the Willesden Centre to Central Middlesex.  This raises the question of the future use of the vacated space at Willesden.

The plans for moving Park Royal mental health facilities to Central Middlesex are not going ahead. This was because the costs arising from the 'enhancements for mental health service would not be economically appropriate'.




Wednesday 26 November 2014

Cllr Kalwala attends Scrutiny Committee

Cllr Zaffar Van Kalwala attended the Scrutiny Committee tonight at Brent Civic Centre. This means he has now satisfied attendance regulations and is not in danger of being disqualified under the 6 months rule.

Natalie Bennett Bites the Ballot LIVE Tonight 6.30pm



Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, is appearing in the first of @BitetheBallot's #LeadersLive events tonight.

Natalie will be discussing Health, Education, Environment and Jobs from 6.30pm.

Watch HERE

Christine Gilbert's Adventures in Haringey




In addition to her main job with Brent Council, Christine Gilbert also runs her own company, Christine Gilbert Associates which is still listed as 'active' although the company website is currently unavailable. In August 2013 the company had a networth of £75,421. In addition Christine Gilbert is Executive Chair of the Trustees of Future First an organisation that seeks to set up an alumni system for state schools and colleges in which former students can donate to their institutions as happens with public schools and universities.

In June last year, Claire Kober,  the leader of Haringey Council announced the appointment of Gilbert as 'Schools Champion' for Haringey LINK.

The Haringey Independent LINK yesterday reported that Claire Kober was personally involved in seeking action against NUT representative Julie Davies whose suspension has led to strike action in the borough.

The Kilburn Times reported that Christine Gilbert's post would be paid but that Haringey Council would not disclose the amount LINK 

It now appears that Gilbert is not being paid for this work  (at this point, anyway) but as you will see below it is occupying some of her time. I wonder if Brent Council will claim back any monies she is being paid while carrying out work for Haringey.  

Alan Stanton, in a Guest Blog takes up the story:

I thought Wembley Matters readers may be interested in a reply I received (25 November 2014) to a Freedom of Information Act request to Haringey Council about Christine Gilbert's work as "Education Champion" for Cllr Claire Kober, our Dear Leader.

You can find my request on the WhatDoTheyKnow website LINK.

On 11 June 2013 The Dear Leader (Claire Kober) announced that Ms Christine Gilbert (CBE) had been appointed as Haringey’s "first ever Schools' Champion", saying that as a former Head of Ofsted, Ms Gilbert would "help drive improvements in school performance and pupil attainment across the borough".

As a Haringey resident and a former councillor and school governor I was interested to know more about this appointment. Including the terms of the agreement between Claire and Christine; the work Ms Gilbert was doing; and how much (I wrongly assumed) Haringey was paying.

I'm now told that Ms Gilbert has made some visits (number unknown) to schools (unnamed). She has "provided a range of ideas" (unspecified). In addition Ms Gilbert has had a number(unknown) of conversations with senior officers on a number of occasions (unspecified). Unfortunately, they say that: "It is not possible to document the precise outcomes of that work, which has supported schools general improvement activity".

However, further light may soon be shed on these known unknowns. Haringey adds that: "We are expecting a report from Christine at the end of this year".

For known knowns we have their reply on the agreement and the cash. "There is no formal agreement in place between Ms Gilbert and the Council, nor has any payment been made and no council expenses have been incurred".

Which I found a little surprising. Not even coffee and a sandwich at the end of Christine's long bus-rides on the North Circular? I hope that, at the very least, we offered her an Oyster card.

While the exciting job of "Champion" is a new and evolving development in Haringey, in my imagination, I envisaged something slightly more businesslike. Maybe an exchange of letters or emails between Ms Gilbert and our Dear Leader. So that it was clear to both of them - and to the headteachers and senior staff in the Children's Service - when Ms Gilbert was dropping-in and why.

Of course, friendly inter-borough co-operation and contact is always helpful. But we can hardly have local government running on an informal basis, can we?

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Do Brent Council websites and Twitter accounts have minds of their own?


Philip Grant, an occasional contributor to this blog, posted a comment on the Brent and Kilburn Times website about the above story. As, for some reason yet to be explained, it has not been published I print it below.


This is not the first time that Cllr. Butt has had difficulties because of ‘website blunders’ by Brent Council, which expose that he can say one thing publicly, but mean something else in practice.

When changes were made to Brent’s Constitution last June, he told the Brent & Kilburn Times what a good idea the new “Deputations” were (on page 2 of the 12 June 2014 edition):


'Cllr Butt said, "New proposals allow the public to speak in council meetings for the first time ever is aimed at bettering how the community engages with the council and allows residents to hold us to account." '



In advance of the next Full Council meeting on 8 September, Brent Council “tweeted” an invitation to more than 8,000 “followers” on 29 August, saying (see image):


'Speak out to the whole council. Ask for a five-min slot (a deputation) @ full council. For 8 Sept. email committee@brent.gov.uk by noon Mon.'


At least one person, Martin Francis (a Brent resident and an active member of its community), did respond to this invitation, and sent a request on Monday morning, 1 September, to speak on the subject of the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive. However, he was told by Brent’s Legal Director that his request had been made after the “five day” time limit, which she calculated meant by midday on Friday 29 August, and that the “tweeted” invitation had been issued in error.

I do not know what Mr Francis intended to say in his five minute Deputation, but as Christine Gilbert was appointed as interim Chief Executive in the autumn of 2012, initially for six months, there was a valid point of concern. Her interim appointment was only extended until the May 2014 local elections because, it was claimed, she had to oversee the Council’s move into the new Civic Centre in 2013, and act as Returning Officer for those elections. Surely it was time for a permanent Chief Executive to be appointed, under the Council’s proper recruitment procedures?

I was one of several people who expressed concern over what appeared to be an unreasonable attempt to stop Mr Francis from speaking to the Full Council under a process which was meant to help residents to “hold the council to account”. I wrote to the Mayor, who as “Chair” of Council meetings has powers over how they are handled, asking him to allow Mr Francis to speak, as he had requested to do so in line with the Council’s own published invitation. He replied that he had to leave the matter in the hands of the Legal Director. At the meeting itself he simply told the councillors that ‘there are no deputations’, even though Mr Francis was there, ready to speak, and there was up to twenty minutes set aside on the agenda for hearing deputations.

I had copied my emails to Cllr. Butt, the Council Leader, and on the day after the Full Council meeting, 9 September, I sent him an email setting out details of what had happened, and saying:

‘I am writing to ask you to explain why you, either individually or in concert with the Council's Director of Legal and Procurement, did not allow Martin Francis to present his Deputation on the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive to the Full Council meeting on 8 September.’

Despite several reminders, I have not received a reply. It seems that he, or Brent’s over-staffed Public Relations team, will reply when they can put a positive “spin” on a story, but when events show that they have acted wrongly, they will either keep quiet or seek to excuse what has happened as an ‘error’, as if websites or tweets have minds of their own.




Monday 24 November 2014

Is there a star support worker in your school? Nominate them now

From Unison in Schools

https://www.facebook.com/UNISONinSchools

Is there a star in your school?

On Friday 28 November, we are celebrating school support staff, and the work they do, in schools up and down our country.

Enter our special 'Stars in our schools' competition, and you could win a box of chocolates for yourself AND for a support worker in your school, or your children's school!

Just nominate someone who you think makes a real difference to the school, and especially to the children in the school. You must like this post  AND add a comment telling us why they are amazing - so we can contact you, if you win.

The school worker you nominate doesn't have to be on Facebook, but if they are, please feel free to tag them in.

We're giving away a box of chocolates to TEN school support staff AND the person who nominates them. You can nominate more than once.

We'll let winners know by Thursday 4 December. But please make sure you join in us in celebrating the support staff in our schools on Friday 28 November.


http://www.starsinourschools.uk/


No More Deaths from Fuel Poverty: Energy Rights Now!

A message from Fuel Poverty Action


On Friday November 28th,  the day the government reveals how many people died last year from the effects of fuel poverty, join Fuel Poverty Action and Reclaim the Power to demand 'No More Deaths from Fuel Poverty: Energy Rights Now!’

We'll be meeting outside the Institute of Directors, 116  Pall Mall at 11.30am before marching to Energy UK - the body who represent and defend the Big Six profiteers, for an inclusive and creative action.


The day will end with a tutorial on knowing your energy rights and how protecting yourself and your community from energy companies.

In 2012/2013 10,000 people died from fuel poverty, including thousands of people in London, and we are likely to learn that thousands more died last winter.

At the same time the Big Six energy companies made £3.7bn in profit – this is equal to £370,000 profit for every person who died.

Join us to express sadness, anger and solidarity with those who have suffered; and to point the finger at those responsible. We will end the day by empowering one another to fight for energy rights and energy justice.

We need affordable, sustainable and publicly and community owned energy. We don't need greedy profiteers represented by Energy UK.

If you have mobility needs, would like a buddy for the day or would like to enquire about us possibly subsidizing your travel fare for the day, please get in touch by email: fuelpovertyaction@gmail.com


FACEBOOK 

PETITION TO RE-NATIONALISE ELECTRICITYY AND GAS

Brent By-election possibility lessens but...

Cllr Zaffar Van Kalwala at Stonebride Boxing Club
 The potential for the postponement of the next Full Council Meeting to catch three Labour councillors in the six month attendance rule and thus force them to resign appears to have subsided.

Cllr Ahmad Shahzad is reporting to have attendeded a Pensions Committee and Cllr John Duffy an Alcohol and Entertainment Licensing Sub-Committee.

This leaves Zaffar Van Kalwala who is on the Audit Committee which meets at 7.30pm tonight and Scrutiny which meets at 7pm on Wednesday.

That is of course as long as the meetings go ahead and are not abandoned, as Cllr Janice Long seemed to hint at Labour Group on Monday, by the Civic Centre fire alarm being set off.

If for some reason Kalwala does  not attend a by-election will be triggered in Stonebridge ward.

Cllr Zaffar Van Kalwala has been active in support of the campaign to Save Stonebridge Adventure Playground which has also been backed by Dawn Butler, Labour's General Election candidate for Brent Central.

Greens back NHS workers striking for fair pay

Caroline Lucas on the picket line in Brighton
Strking midwives outside Central middlesex Hospital today Phot: Sarah Cox)
The Green Party is supporting NHS workers on strike today alongside other activists and trade unionists.

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion was one of many Greens who joined the picket lines this morning.

The Green Party Trade Union Group issued a solidarity message:
The Green Party Trade Union Group sends its support to NHS workers from all the unions who will be on strike today. The severe pay freezes imposed by the government are unjust and part of the unjust neo-liberal policies that punish the poor, the sick,  the vulnerable and also those who provide health care.



As if that were not enough, NHS workers are sometimes doing their utmost to keep an adequate health service running ins pite of misguided marketisation and cut backs.



We all need the work that these workers do and they need a decent wage!

Sunday 23 November 2014

Private Eye on Brent Council’s Case Again ?


Guest Blog by Audrey N. Stables
After the national expose of the Brent Council racism, discrimination and workplace bullying scandal in Private Eye’s last edition, Davani, Gilbert, Ledden, Potts and others named and shamed may well have thought they deserved a rest from the limelight.
However, it seems that Rotten Boroughs (Private Eye’s regular dodgy-local-authority section) is not the only page that  the Civic Centre chums will now want to flick straight to as they check their cuttings each fortnight. The cartoon below appears in the current edition of the Eye and, though it principally relates to similar scummy practice by some NHS managers, will surely resonate with Davani and Gilbert and Fiona Ledden (and, even more so, with some of their more honest, and therefore no-longer-employed, ex-colleagues). 

So what have cats got to do with politics? Ask the Young Greens...


Brent hospital proposals must come under intense scrutiny on Thursday

Days after NHS England announced an inquiry into why waiting times at Ealing Hospital and Northwick Park A&Es have the longest waiting times in the country, LINK, Brent's Scrutiny Committee on Thursday will be examining several important aspects of local health care.

Representatives of the North west London NHS Hospital Trust will be questioned about progress on the recommendations of the Care Quality Commission's (CQC) critical  report on Northwick Park Hospital.

The report LINK sets out the issues to be examined clearly:
CQC made specific recommendations for improvement at Northwick Park Hospital concerning A&E and related services. These are set out below:-

• Ensure that there are appropriate numbers of staff to meet the needs of patients in the A&E department, surgical areas and critical care.
• Ensure that there are systems in place to assess and monitor the quality of services provided in A&E, critical care, surgery and maternity to ensure that services are safe and benchmarked against national standards.
•Review the coping strategies within A&E during periods of excessive demand for services.
•Empower senior staff to make changes to ensure that patients are safe in A&E in maternity.
•Review discharge arrangements in A&E and critical care to avoid re-admission to these areas.

Given the significant number of areas requiring improvement in the current A&E provision at Northwick Park Hospital reassurance is sought from the senior management concerning implementation of actions and the safety of the A&E services available to Brent residents.
Another area to be examined is the proposals from Shaping a Healthier Future and Brent NHS to close maternity and other associated services at Ealing Hospital. 

The committee is recommended to question representatives of the Brent Clinical Commissioning Group on:-

•the robustness of their modelling assumptions and assurance plan;

•the timescale for their implementation; and
•what contingency plans are in place in case any of the proposals turn out not to be possible or feasible
A puzzling aspect of the report LINK is the timing. This meeting is on November 26th and it looks as if key decisions on this issue are actually to be made by the CCGs on the same day:
The next stage of reconfiguration is the changes to maternity services and the inter dependent services at Ealing Hospital. Brent Clinical Commissioning Group is due to make a decision on delegating the decision on timing to Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group, along with the other CCGs across North West London, on 26thNovember 2014. Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group is due to make a decision on the timings of changes to maternity services, and the interdependent services at Ealing Hospital on 26th November 2014.
One can only wonder if what the Scrutiny Committee thinks will have any impact given this timetable.

The report's authors reach a soothing conclusion:
The impact on Brent residents and NHS services of changes to maternity and inter-dependent services at Ealing Hospital is not expected to be significant. Local services have the capacity to receive additional activity from Ealing without causing a negative impact on accessibility for Brent residents
The final health report to be considered is on the future use of the Central Middlesex Hospital site LINK. Current proposals are:
An elective orthopaedic centre.
Mental Health inpatient facility relocated from the site at Park Royal.
A GP and primary care ‘hub’.
A Genetics laboratory relocated from Northwick Park Hospital.
Relocation of rehabilitation beds currently at Willesden.
This is a crowded agenda with lots of 'suits' from Brent NHS Health, the Clinical Commissioning Group abd Shaping a Healthier Future attending.  At previous meetings the chair has seemed irritated by the searching questions posed by Cllr Mary Daly and tried to hurry through proceedings with so many of the scrutinised wanting to speak.

In fact Daly's interventions seemed based on the fact that, unusually, she is a councillor who has done her homework as well as being someone passionately committed to the health of local residents.

I hope that at this meeting, however inconvenient, she gets a fair hearing. I also hope, for the sake of the public, microphones are installed to get over the acoustic problem in the committee rooms as well as the suits' mumbling.

If all that Health material is not another there is a major and very interesting report  LINK by a Task Group on the Agenda.The Task Group, chaired by Cllr Neil Nerva, looked at promoting electoral engagement following the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration and is packed with information and ideas. The most innovative of which is the involvement of the campaign group Hope Not Hate.

Once again such a crowded and complex agenda raises the issue of the wisdom of reducing Brent Council's scrutiny committee to just one. This was a hasty decision made at the beginning of the administration with no prior consultation which took many Labour councillors by surprise.

These are decisions about vital issues, at the extreme perhaps a matter of life or death, and must have proper scrutiny.




December 15th Brent Cabinet likely to produce a gloomy Christmas

The December 15th Cabinet meeting is shaping up to be the most controversial of the year and unfortunately is likely to produce some bad news just ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Among the items on the agenda LINK will be the restructuring of the council's senior management which will see some lose their jobs while other jobs will be created. This is currently tabled as 'open' so the public should get sight of the proposals a week before the meeting.


More importantly in the long run are two budget items.

One is the two year budget for 2015-2017 which will set out draft 'savings' to produce a reduction in expenditure of more than 30%.

Cllr Michael Pavey is the Lead Member for both these items.

The other is the schools budget for 2015-2016. Cllr Ruth Moher is the lead member for this item. Although reductions are unlikely to be headline grabbing there may well be changes in charges for services to schools which will affect their overall budgets.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Speaking Up For Libraries today

I filled in at the last minute as a Green Party speaker at the Speak Up for Libraries Conference in Bloomsbury today. It was inspiring to see so many people passionately committed to the survival of libraries in the teeth of local council cuts, privatisation and volunteer solutions. Barnet library campaigners were there who have a particularly hard job on their hands. LINK

I made the link between developments in libraries, education and health - all public assets being handed over to the private sector for profit.

I quoted the Green Party core value that should be the basis of  our libraries policy as well as our other polices:
The success of a society cannot be measured by narrow economic indicators, but should take account of factors affecting the quality of life for all people: personal freedom, social equity, health, happiness and human fulfilment.
I went on to  support locally accessible, professionally staffed, adequately funded, democratically accountable local libraries.

I stressed their importance as shared public spaces contributing to social cohesion in addition to their primary role.

The other people on the panel were  Helen Goodman MP (Labour, Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport) and Justin Tomlinson MP (Conservative). Liberal Democrats were invited but did not send a speaker. Author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons chaired the panel.

There was a discussion about the need for clearer national standards for library provision but delegates pointed out that these were not being enforced by the current Secretary of State despite Lincolnshire campaigners win in the High Court LINK.

I said that I had no faith in Ed Vaizey intervening in the Barnet case as that council was the Tory flagship after Hammersmith went Labour at the local elections.  He would hardly interfere with a council that was the pathbreaker for other Tory councils wanting to shed services. I suggested that there was no substitute for a mass national campaign in defence of libraries.

Non-intervention reflected underlying assumptions about the library service and contrasts with Michael Gove's many interventions in education.

On national standards I agreed that broad standards were important but how they were implemented was a matter for local decision making. However, they would mean nothing if there was not adequate funding for local government and at present there were indications that many council may fail financially and be unable to deliver even core services.

This is how Speak Up for Libraries told the story of the panel on Storify:
(first slide should be 'professionally staffed')


Miss Ledden takes over from Miss Marple as she investigates Lorber's leak

Fiona Ledden, currently under pressure from Christine Gilbert and Cara Davani as they take action on the senior management restructuring in the run up to the Christmas break, has in turn, attempted (or been instructed)  to put the heat on ex Liberal Democrat Council Leader, Paul Lorber.

Ledden has written to him about an investigation she is undertaking into information 'of a sensitive nature' which appeared in a letter from Paul Lorber published in the Brent and Kilburn Times on November 8th.

The letter was about the senior management restructuring which did not go to General Purposes Committee until November 5th.

Ledden said:
In the letter...you refer to the disbanding of the Environment department. This was confidential information  and staff in the department were not aware, no consultation documentation could be available until after the meeting of General Purposes Committee.
She went on to say:
I am very concerned that this information was available to you and I an writing formally to ask you who gave you that information.
Ledden went on to offer to have a meeting with Lorber 'if that would assist'.

Ledden does not cite any authority for making such a request of someone who is now a member of the public.

Lorber replied that he was sorry that she had been asked to waste her time on the matter and wrote:
I expect that the Labour Leader must have been furious at the disclosure of his secret hatchet plan. Secret even from his own Councillors and even the newly appointed Lead Member of Environment.
He went on to say that 'in the spirit of Open Government' he would be happy to answer the question:
I worked it out for myself from the headlines of the report. My many years on the Council and my intuition led me to guess which Department was for the chop and which Lead Member was the weakest and therefore least likely to cause a fuss.
Perhaps you would now reciprocate by forwarding a copy of the General Purposes Report so that it can be properly scrutinised and debated.
Ex Executive member Cllr George Crane was appointed successor to Cllr Keith Perrin on October 21st. Perrin had  the previous month resigned for 'personal reasons'. The appointment made by Muhammed Butt and not by ballot of the Labour Group was first announced on the Wembley Observer's  Get West London website.

Wembley Matters published the outline Agenda item for the General Purposes Committee on October 30th LINK and the anonymous officers' report on Saturday November 8th LINK  which identified plans to delete Fiona Ledden's post as Director of Legal and Procurement along with the post of Assistant Chief Executive which has only been created a year or so before.  Some information was still withheld as the Council claimed details about individual staff could be identified.