Saturday 28 February 2015

Brent Labour slams down the shutters over Council Tax debate

My grandad, brought up in the Victorian era, had a rich collection of' 'naughty' sayings and rhymes.   Apparently innocuous when said slowly, they were rude when spoken quickly. He delighted in encouraging his grandchildren to utter them at speed and would then gleefully accuse us of swearing.

One was 'I chased a bug around the room, I'll have his blood, he knows I will.'

Another, which came to mind today after I heard about last night's meeting of the Brent Labour Group, was:
'She shuts the shutters and sits in the shop.'
Well the shutters have come down on last night's meeting as the hunt for the leakers intensifies and I expect some councillors have been accused of s*itting in the shop!

The meeting was called at short notice to discuss the controversial issue of the possibility of a Council Tax increase before Monday's Full Meeting of the Council.

Cllr John Duffy had challenged the decision of Michael Pavey and Muhammed Butt to ignore the Group's vote in favour of a council tax increase  at the previous group meeting and wrote a letter of complaint to  the Constitutional Officer of the Labour Party at this affront to democracy.

Whether the short notice group meeting was a result of a ruling by the Labour Party authorities or the Cabinet trying to head off a public revolt is not clear.

There was clearly a possibility that there would be a split when it came to voting on the Council tax rise and even the potential for an amendment to raise the tax. Elsewhere on this blog I have listed some of the services that could be saved even with the comparative small sum of £1.4m over two years. This could include Energy Solutions, School Crossing Patrols,  Stonebridge Adventure Playground and the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre.

Anyway, with a little bit of what used to be called Kremlinology in the old days of the Soviet Empire (when I worked at Reuters, TASS the Soviet Union's news agency was in the same building so I am used to interpreting nudges and cryptic silences about totalitarian regimes) I guess that a formal vote on a Council Tax rise was taken and that it reversed the previous vote in favour of a rise.

I would conjecture that this was the result of pressure from the leadership and a bigger turnout from the 56 strong group than the 30 or so who had attended the previous meeting. I also assume that the leadership offered no crumbs in return.

I could be wrong and that really the meeting was about whether to support the Lib Dem amendment to reduce Council Tax for cat owners and aroma therapists,  or the Brondesbury Park Conservative's motion to reduce  Council Tax by 2.5% to be paid for by closing the Civic Centre's Melting Pot restaurant and replacing it with a Super Casino.

All will be revealed on Monday - or, more likely - all will be concealed on Monday.

You can watch the live streaming of the meeting on Monday from 7pm HERE










Friday 27 February 2015

Another Brent battle against forced academisation of a primary school

The impact of Coalition policies on education continues to be a major issue and I hope it will become more prominent as the General Election approaches. Fragmentation, incoherence and a lack of democratic accountability are major concerns.

The opportunistic  forced academisation of schools that get poor Ofsted reports continues depsite a lack of evidence that such a move actually helps schools improve.

In Brent this is now happening at St Andrew and St Francis Primary School.  The Teachers Panel of Brent, comprising the three main teacher unions, has issued this statement:
Teachers Panel Response to the consultation on whether St Andrew and St Francis Primary school should become an academy 

The teacher unions are against any school becoming an academy. We say it is part of the Government's plan to privatise state education just like they want to privatise the NHS. There is no evidence that turning a school into an academy improves the education of the children. The Education Parliamentary Select Committee has just published the findings of their year-long enquiry. Its Chairman, Conservative MP Graham Stuart, said, "Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children". He added that there are, “huge disparities within the academy sector and compared to other mainstream schools". This is a damning report on academies. There are also lots of issues over the financial management of academies and free schools as they are not overseen by the Local Authority. 

St Andrew and St Francis school is being forced to become an academy when there is no evidence that it will benefit the children's education. The school is already making very good progress with its action plan when it is not an academy, both the IEB and Brent Council sources have told us. The staff were given a promise that if they worked hard and improved the situation at the school then the school would not become an academy. For a Christian school to go directly against such a promise to the staff and unions find shocking. 

At the official meeting with staff and unions it became clear that the London Diocesan Board of Schools (LDBS) Academies Trust who is the proposed sponsor would continue to offer all the support they do now if the school was not an academy. Nothing basically would change if they became the sponsor except they would have financial control. So there is no benefit to the school becoming an academy. Though the staff and unions asked what the benefits were no answers could be given. It became clear that it is purely to follow what the DfE is dictating rather than for the good of the school. Even one of the members of the Interim Executive Board (IEB)  made it clear that her school had looked at whether they should become an academy and decided that they would not gain by doing so – it wasn't right for them. It is only the Government and DfE saying it is right for the school. 
Also at this meeting the IEB were informed of the increasing number of Headteachers and Governing bodies who are not allowing the DfE to dictate to their school and have managed to prevent their school becoming an academy even when they have been put in special measures. Turning a school into an academy should be decided democratically by a vote of parents as it was when schools went grant maintained not through force. The staff and unions believe that a new head should be appointed and then given a time-scale to show continued improvement before the question of whether to become an academy or not is considered. 

It became quite clear that the parents are also strongly against the school becoming an academy when Hank Roberts attended the parents meeting. The unions and staff had been banned from this meeting but the parents had asked him to come in. We would again ask why, but it is now clear that it is because there are no proper answers to the arguments being made against an academy. 

The IEB say they support parental choice so they should take account of the views of the parents at that meeting. Staff are totally against this move. Parents and staff should have a secret independently overseen ballot to properly seek their views, after they have heard arguments for and against. The unions have offered to pay for this. In this way the IEB would have the clear views of the staff and parents. If the IEB believe in democracy then they would act on this result.
A public meeting about the forced academisation will be held at St Andrew's Church, Willesden High Road on March 4th at 6.30pm
 

Thursday 26 February 2015

Disbelief as Brent Council choose Cara Davani to head up its Equalities Team!

There was disbelief today when the Kilburn Times LINK reported that Cara Davani, Head of Brent's Human resources and found by Watford Employment Tribunal to have racially discriminated against, victimised and constructively dismissed a black council worker will - wait for it - head up Brent Council's Equalities Team!

This is an insult to  Cara Davani's victim, Brent Council workers and Brent residents.

How on earth can anyone have any faith in our Council in the face of such an incredible decision?

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Another Deputation that Brent Council will not hear - important questions for Cllr Butt on senior officers and the Employment Tribunal case


Guest Blog by Philip Gran
Three weeks ago “Wembley Matters” carried a guest blog from me about the lack of action taken by Brent Council against Cara Davani and Christine Gilbert for their parts in the victimisation, racial discrimination and constructive dismissal of Rosemarie Clarke. LINK  This included a letter which asked the Leader of Brent Council, Cllr. Muhammed Butt, two important questions. The “Brent & Kilburn Times” published the same letter, in a slightly edited form, on 12 February.

On 19 February our local newspaper carried a letter from Cllr. Butt, saying that ‘Brent Council is deeply committed to equality, diversity and fairness.’ It may even have been written for him by Cara Davani, as it is very similar in tone to her reports on Equality to this week’s General Purposes Committee, or Michael Pavey’s report on his HR policies and practice review. It makes a point of saying ‘We already have Investor in People Silver standard and are working out way to Gold’, without mentioning that it was Rosemarie Clarke, when she was Brent’s Head of Learning and Development, who actually achieved that IIP Silver Standard for the Council. It is perhaps ironic that Brent might already have reached the IIP Gold standard if Ms Clarke had not been constructively dismissed. However, Cllr. Butt’s letter did not answer the two questions I had asked him.
My disappointment that Cllr. Butt had side-stepped the real issue was eased when I saw that the “Democracy in Brent” webpage for speaking at Council meetings said that:
 
‘The programme of council meetings for the remainder of 2014/15 at which deputations are permitted’ included the Full Council meeting on Monday 2 March 2015. As the deadline shown for giving written notice of a deputation for that meeting was midday on Friday 20 February, I sent off my written notice to Brent’s Chief Legal Officer, Fiona Alderman, (and not to Fiona Ledden, whose defunct email address is still shown on Brent’s website as the place to send notices!) with an hour to spare. I heard nothing back from her, and wrote to query this when I saw on Tuesday that the agenda for the meeting on 2 March did not include an item for “Deputations”.


Ms Alderman has replied to me, saying:

The Council meeting in March is the budget setting meeting.  Standing Order 34 explains at (b) that certain items on the council agenda do not form part of the agenda items when the budget setting is considered. Deputations (Standing Order 37 (i)) are excluded items. Therefore, no deputations will form part of council business on 2nd March.’

I have checked, and she is correct. It was the details on the Council website which were “in error”, and this is not another case of senior officers (or members?) wrongly preventing a Deputation from being presented to councillors. So, I am setting out here the Deputation which I would have made to Full Council next Monday, if I had been given the opportunity to do so. I will send copies of it to Cllr. Butt, and to all the other Brent councillors. Perhaps we will eventually get a full reply!

Two important questions for the Leader of the Council to answer.



I am speaking as an individual, but I know that the points I am raising are of concern to many local residents, Council employees and a number of elected councillors as well.



In September 2014 an Employment Tribunal gave a judgement against Brent Council and its HR Director, Cara Davani, finding that its former Head of Learning and Development, Rosemarie Clarke, had suffered racial discrimination, victimisation and had been constructively dismissed. [Paragraphs 1-6 and 313 of the judgement]



In respect of Ms Clarke’s suspension in February 2013, for alleged gross misconduct, the judgement says:



‘The tribunal find it to have been unreasonable of the respondents [Brent and Ms Davani] to suspend the claimant [Ms Clarke] when they did, which suspension this tribunal finds was sufficient to breach the implied term of trust and confidence; the factual matrix not supporting the allegations, which factual matrix Ms Davani had been fully aware of.’ [Para. 271]   and:



'The tribunal is satisfied that the action of Ms Davani in seeking the claimant's suspension when she did, was a direct consequence of the claimant having raised a grievance against her. The tribunal finds that the claimant was thereby victimised.' [Para. 302]



In respect of Ms Davani stopping Ms Clarke's sick pay in June 2013, the judgement says:



'… the tribunal finds no procedural basis for Ms Davani taking the action of stopping the claimant’s sick pay when she did,' [Para.310]   and: 



'In the absence of Ms Davani being able to give an explanation for taking such action when she did, the tribunal on a balance of probabilities finds that this course of action was taken by Ms Davani as a direct result of the antipathy the tribunal finds she had then had against the claimant, following the claimant having done the protected act [the grievance complaint], which this tribunal finds Ms Davani to have been incensed by.' [Para. 311]



The grievance which Rosemarie Clarke raised in December 2012 was against Cara Davani, her line manager, alleging bullying and harassment. Brent’s HR policies say that ‘bullying and harassment will not be tolerated’. Because she felt that her case was not being dealt with fairly, Ms Clarke made a formal grievance complaint to Brent’s interim Chief Executive in February 2013. The following extracts relate to how Brent dealt with this.



After setting out details from Brent’s HR procedures of what an employee should have been entitled to expect in such a case, the Tribunal found that:


 ‘The claimant was not afforded any of these.’ [Para. 175]  and:



'The tribunal finds that, from the correspondence from Ms Gilbert on 21 February, addressing the claimant's grievance of 18 February, so as to conclude and dispense with the grievance, this was not in accordance with the first respondent's procedure and a breach of contract.' [Para. 176]



Ms Clarke appealed by email against this summary dismissal of her grievance, and the Tribunal found:

‘The claimant chased up this email on 27 February, enquiring as to whether it had been received, Ms Gilbert responding stating that, it would be responded to as soon as possible.’ [Para. 196]   and:



‘The respondent has not responded further to the claimant’s correspondence. They maintain however, that a response had been drafted but not sent out, by mistake. The tribunal has not seen this correspondence.’ [Para. 197]



The Employment Tribunal judgement gives clear findings of fact, supported by detailed evidence, to show that Cara Davani victimised Ms Clarke over a number of months, and that Christine Gilbert, when the problem was brought to her attention, totally ignored Brent’s proper HR procedures. As a result of their actions, Brent will have to pay out a very large amount in compensation, damages and costs. Rosemarie Clarke had the courage to stand up to their bullying and indifference, and has been proved right to have done so.



The press release last September which announced the Council’s decision to appeal against this judgement says: ‘Brent Council takes all allegations of racial discrimination, victimisation, harassment or bullying extremely seriously.’ But the Council has done the complete opposite in this case, even after its appeal was thrown out last December because there were no reasonable grounds to support it. 

No action appears to have been taken against Brent’s Director of HR, or its interim Chief Executive, for their actions in this case, despite them being senior officers who are required to show high standards of conduct, promoting these ‘by leadership, and by example’, and by acting ‘in a way that secures or preserves public confidence.’

In a letter sent to Cllr. Muhammed Butt on 5 February, which was also published on a local blog site, and in a slightly edited form in the “Brent & Kilburn Times” on 12 February, I asked him two important questions. He has not yet answered them, so I ask him again:

1.  How can staff have confidence in the Council’s latest round of job cuts, when it is being presided over by two senior officers responsible for victimisation, racial discrimination and failing to follow the Council’s HR procedures?



2.  Why is Cllr. Butt still “protecting” these two senior officers, when he has known about their misconduct in the Rosemarie Clarke case since at least September 2014?


I hope that the Leader of the Council will now give the Council, its staff and Brent residents his full answers to these questions.


Philip Grant.

Vulnerable children in need of care not cuts, a review of the impact of Council decisions since 2011

Guest blog by Anon.
 

During the Kenton by-election in February 2011, Muhammed Butt rang my doorbell and asked me if I was going to vote for the Labour candidate. I responded by saying I wasn't sure, that it was unlikely, and he asked why.  I said was very disappointed with the Council, particularly the Labour group, who appeared to be supporting severe cuts to frontline services, which, in my opinion, would affect the most vulnerable in our community. 



Mo asked me for an example and I told him that I heard the Council were proposing to close 24 Crawford Avenue (a large 6 bedroom house that had a 1/3rd of an acre of play space and is situated in the heart of Wembley).  Incidentally, the house was bequeathed to Barnardos specifically for the use of children in need. It was leased to Brent Council for decades at a reasonable annual rent. 



The Council leased the property for decades from Barnardos without any major issues. The unit was registered to provide overnight short breaks for up to 6 children, in addition to providing valuable day care during the school holidays and at weekends for another 6 children. It also accepted lockouts and emergency child protection cases.  Those who benefited from the service were children aged between 5-18 years, who although mobile, suffered from moderate to severe disabilities, including learning difficulties and some with challenging behaviours. In addition to giving children greater opportunities to develop and socialise and through play it also gave families much needed short breaks.



 However, whilst standing in my doorway, touting for my vote, Mo Butt responded absentmindedly. He said, "Oh yes, Crawford Avenue is going to close. Ironically, this was before any official community consultations had begun.  When I raised further concerns about how disappointed I was, he proudly informed me that he was the Deputy Leader of the Council and that I should put my concerns in writing to him.




Months later, the so-called public consultations eventually began and many people put their concerns in writing. Service users took a legal challenge to the high court.  The Council continued to argue that they knew best. That they were building a 'state of the art' unit, which eventually became known as the Ade Adepitan Centre, situated adjacent to the new Villlage School in Grove Park.  Whilst the new build was being built, the Council officially closed Crawford Avenue and merged it with Clement Close, a very small respite unit for children of families who had Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) and other disabilities, designed for wheelchair users. 



 This effectively meant that the service provision was more than halved for both groups of children, as it wasn't safe for the young people to be booked in together. In addition to this, despite some basic refurbishment, the building was not fit for purpose and many families from Crawford declined to send their children to Clement.  Crawford Avenue was eventually closed in January 2012. Interestingly, months later, a pre-change of use planning application was submitted by someone, who recognised the enormous potential of this property. This was in December 2012.   For further details on this matter see LINK



Sadly, Crawford Avenue (a potential jewel in the crown of Wembley) was eventually sold by Barnardos for about £875,000 and the buyer succeeded in their application to the Council for cessation in lease for the  continued use of building as a children's home.



 Meantime, much community unhappiness developed at Clement Close as staff and service users tried to adapt to many changes in a building that was not fit for purpose.  It also appeared that more serious incidents occurred, including assaults on staff by children and in September 2012 an unhappy vulnerable child absconded.



Such incidents are of concern when you hear councillors and managers say that, 'The impact on the child must be our primary concern'.  From January 2012 to February 2013 staff, children and families endured many changes. In March 2013 Neil Macdonald (Interim Head of Service Children’s Commissioning) delivered reported to the Council on short breaks provision for Children with Disabilities. He confirmed that new Village short breaks centre was now open and had received its first children for respite care on 8 February 2013. 



 He said, "The centre was registered to provide short breaks for up to 8 children, double the capacity of Clement Close. The council was currently exploring how best to use this additional capacity" because of the low occupancy. Something, I understand, they still struggle with, possibly due to the institutional feel and poor design that cannot always accommodate the two different client groups safely.



 As for day care and after school care, I understand this has yet to be provided, despite misleading reports from Mr MacDonald to the Executive Committee.  



Further, Sara Williams (Acting Director of Children & Families) and her team, also reported to the Executive Committee in November 2013, less than a year after the closure of Crawford Avenue, that, 'The lack of appropriate children's residential care homes also hampers the council in its duty to take reasonable practicable steps to secure sufficient accommodation for looked after children where it's their best interest to be accommodated locally.



It really does beggar belief that our leaders can be so short sighted. Where will the  cuts end and what impact will they really have on our community in years to come?  


ANON  




Mega primary proposals for Byron Court sparks education debate

Proposals to expand Byron Court Primary School from 3 forms of entry to 5  (the current 90 children per year group  going up to 150  per year group, making a total of 1,050 children from 4-11 years old) with an additional nursery, have caused concern amongst parents.

341 parents have signed a petition against the proposal and 760 residents have submitted their own petition.  Signatures have been collected on a stall outside the school gates.  The TV documentary about Gascoigne Primary School,  'Britian's Biggest Primary School' , on Channel Five seems to have increased fears rather than allayed them.

Parents feel that an emphasis on crowd control, rotas for lunchtime and play times, children not being known personally by the headteacher, high pupil mobility associated with children from a long way outside the catchment taking up places and then eventually moving to a closer local school, are all issues that could impact on the quality of education offered by the school, and more importantly for some, children's happiness.

"I would rather my child was happy, felt he was safe and that he belonged, and known to all the staff than the school had all these glossy new facilities," was how one parent put it to me.

The parents have challenged Brent Council on whether there is actually an increased demand in the area of the school, and point to the fact that a satellite class at Ashley Gardens is not full. They also say that the new 4 form of entry (120 pupils per year group) primary school at Wembley High will provide any new places needed in the locality.

Parents acknowledge the need for a new school building but suggest that they are being bribed by the Council who say that a new building cannot be provided unless the school expands.

The Executive Headteacher of the school is said to be keen on the expansion and new build because it could include facilities for specialist subjects such as sport and drama, with its own theatre and a hall that could seat 1,200. A radio station is also mentioned as have rooftop playgrounds.

It would enhance a school which was deemed 'Outstanding' by Ofsted some time ago and which is part of the Teaching School Alliance.

Residents in turn suggest that a 'jumbo sized' school in a quiet area with narrow roads will simply be out of place. They see problems with access for builders and particular the cranes required for the installation of the modular buildings that are proposed. There is also a longer term issue over increased parent car parking  due to the higher pupil numbers. It is already a major problem which no intervention has succeeded in tackling.

The proposal has two  prongs: the decision for expansion in principle following consultation goes to Cabinet on March 16th and if approved the planning application will go to the Planning Committee in April.




Insight into the business of Gladstone Free School: Are they doing it right?

Guest blog by Anonymous
 

It all started innocently enough. Jim Gatten and Maria Evans, a mum and dad from Barnet, decided to set up a new parent-led secondary school which they hoped the community would embrace. They applied to become a free school, a school independent of the local authority and accountable only to and funded directly by the Department for Education (DfE). They advertised for other parents and members of the community to join them in gathering enough signatures to show the DfE that it would be full for the first 2 years after opening, a box ticking exercise the DfE puts hopeful free school founders through. Off they went with their clipboards to various primary school gates gathering signatures. They got the required minimum of 250 signatures necessary for their free school application but there was never a groundswell of local support. Many parents who signed simply thought that a new school sounds like a good idea, after all, these are parents setting up a school and just need a simple no-obligation signature. No explanation was given as to the implications a free school has on the local communities and it was 2013, before the flurry of headlines of failing and undersubscribed free schools had hit the press.



The London Welsh School's official status and questions that remain over Brent Council policy

This Guest Blog by Denise Cheong looks at issues about the exact status of the London Welsh School, the loss of trees in King Edward VII Park, and some key questions that remain to be answered.

For the avoidance of doubt these screenshots and web link show the Registered Business and Fee Paying Status of the London Welsh School:

This web article on www.Wales.gov.uk titled:"Funding for Ysgol Gymraeg Llundain" further proves their actual status: LINK

What kind of whipping will Brent councillors have on Monday?

Following the internal row over Brent Council Labour Group's vote in favour of a Council Tax rise of 1.99% in order to save a number of important services, which was then dismissed by the Labour leadership as a straw poll which they did not have to take account of, there appears to be some shifting of position  ahead of Monday's Full Council Meeting.

Cllr John Duffy has complained to the Constitutional Officer of the Labour Party about the vote disregard LINK and I understand there is anger among backbenchers about the situation.

Now Cllr Sandra Kabir, Labour's Chief Whip, has made a statement to the Kilburn Times LINK which is not exactly a model of clarity but may indicate tolerance of a possible 'rebellion':

The Times reports:
The full council will vote on the cuts next Monday but councillors are under no obligation to vote.
Cllr Sandra Kabir, Brent Council’s chief whip, told the Times: “Nobody can be forced to vote against the budget they don’t want. But the budget was made starting from August, over the summer, over many, many sessions with the councillors, so everyone is very aware of what’s in the budget.”

Asked if councillors would be disciplined if they voted against the cuts she said: “Not necessarily no.”

Monday 23 February 2015

'Lollipop' men and women - a benefit to children and the community


I am publishing the speech made by Michelle Goldsmith at Brent Cabinet,  presenting a petition about the cuts in school crosssing patrols, as a Guest Blog as it raises many pertinent issues.
 
Another petition where children lose out.

This petition is asking the Council to review their intention to sack all School Crossing Patrols in Brent.  I appreciate that these are difficult times with huge cuts in funding, but cutting road safety services too far will mean more people being killed or injured. Apart from the human cost, it just doesn’t make financial sense – road accidents can cost millions of pounds so preventing them saves millions of pounds.

A 'mumble for Mo' as assault on children and young people is approved by Brent Cabinet

It is customary in government, when spending priorities are being decided,  for each departmental minister to make the case for his or her department to the Treasury and to the Cabinet. Their effectiveness can be gauged by their success,

Transferring that to Brent Council level it was clear at tonight's Cabinet meeting that Ruth Moher, lead member for children and families appeared to have been particularly ineffective. Putting aside Children's Centres, which are Michael Pavey's passion, the main losers were children and young people.


Brent Council likely to to pay the Big Lottery to close Stonebridge Adventure Playground!

Brent Council is at present wanting to turn  number of its services over to voluntary groups and charities, even to the extent in its Equalities Policy of asking council staff to volunteer.  So staff will be expected to volunteer, in their spare time, to run services where their colleagues were made redundant.

However, at the same time its treatment of voluntary organisations, such as Brent Play Association, and facilities bequeathed by local philanthropists such as Titus Barham, and agreements reached with organisations such as Fields in Trust, has been cavalier to say the least Now in the 21st century it is the Big Lottery that Brent is disrespecting.

The Big Lottery financed Stonebridge Adventure Playground, through Brent Play Association, which itself raised funds for many other businesses. Ironically the fact that it was  part-funded by an annual Council grant, limited how much the BPA could raise for itself.

Now, the Coucil is adamant that it will cut playground funding at the end of the financial year, and apprently, even while the BPA is finalising redundancy terms for its employees, has had the gall to ask if it would be possible for workers to carry on as volunteers, to cover the Easter and Summer holidays.

The closure is going to be expensive for the BPA but may also be so for Brent Council as they will be breaking an agreement made with the Big Lottery - that is if the Big Lottery decide to play ball with the Council.  My reading is that this may cost the Council up to £250,000 which they appear willing to pay.



Potential penalties are set out below:


Meanwhile Philip Grant has pointed out that:

-->
At item 9 on tonight's Cabinet agenda is a report from Andy Donald, Brent's Regeneration Director on how he proposes to spend S.106 (planning) funds for 2015/16 (the Development Funds Programme). One of the items is: 
Title: King Edward VII park landscaping bowling green. Purpose: Landscape the disused bowling green to increase informal recreation area. Ward: Wembley Central Details: There are no legal impediments to using this funding for this project. Given the importance of King Edward VII park to providing amenity space for the future occupants of the borough's largest growth area, this park is considered a priority. Proposed spending for 2015/16: £152,044.
Is it coincidence that the bowling green is adjacent to the proposed London Welsh School to be housed in the Bowling Green Pavilion, with an additional classroom to be built on the site?  The possible use of the bowling green as a play area for the 30 or so children at the school was mentioned at the beginning of the planning process but did not form part of the planning application. It was subsequently denied that it would be used as a regular part of the school's amenities. However, there seems to be little reason for it not to be used by the school as parks are public spaces.

As Jaine Lunn  has pointed out LINK this land is subject to a trust agreement between the Council and Fields in  Trust. This raises a question over 'no legal impediment' above as the Trust told Jaine re the Welsh School development:
I can confirm that Brent Council did submit a formal request to Fields in Trust with regards to granting a lease on the disused bowls pavilion area to the London Welsh Language primary school on a 15 year term, and in addition to erect a single storey classroom block and convert the paved hard landscape area to an all weather playground.   We were advised that the bowling green and Pavilion are unused and the area fenced off, furthermore there was no bowls interest. 

I can confirm that the Council’s request was rejected by our Trustees in January 2015 because the site is protected for recreational purposes and the proposed new use would be outside the objects of the Deed of Dedication.  In order for the matter to even be reconsidered by our Trustees the Council would need to offer up for protection a replacement site of at least the size of the land being lost or provide a payment which is to be made available for investment in the facilities within the remainder of the site.  To date we have not received a revised application, which I believe would only be forthcoming should planning consent be granted.
Neither the Fields in Trust Agreement, nor Regeneration's proposal feature in the Welsh School Planning application, although surely both are relevant to the application.

So the Council will pay money to get rid of the Stonebridge Adventure Playground and will spend money on landscaping a bowling green in Wembley. They help the Welsh School displaced from Stonebridge through the same school expansion process which requires building on the adventure playground, but cut the playground's funding and pay compensation to the Big Lottery.

Who said politics is about priorities?


Cara Davani presenting Brent's Equalities Strategy on Wednesday

Regular readers will perhaps find it ironic that Wednesday's General Purposes Committee will be considering reports from Cara Davani, Director of Human Resources at Brent Council, on Equalities Strategy and Equalities Policy.

Brent Council has taken no action regarding Cara Davani's role in the Employment Tribunal's finding that Brent Council discriminated against an employee on grounds of race and was responsible for victimisation and constructive dismissal.  They again failed to take action a second time when the Tribunal found no grounds for the Appeal that Brent Council launched.

The last General Purposes Committee heard a report from Cllr Michael Pavey on his inquiry into the role each person had in Brent Council 'to make it the best possible place to work' - not an inquiry into the Human Resources department as such. LINK

The latest argument I have heard regarding the lack of action is that this is not a matter for councillors but for Christine Gilbert, Acting Chief Executive Officer.

The General Purposes Committee consists of the Cabinet minus Cllr Mashari, plus Cllr Kansagra, leader of the official Conservative opposition. Consideration of thr Equalities issue would perhaps carry more weight and be more robust if some Cabinet members stepped aside in favour of substitutes who are members of the BAME community.

 The Agenda blurb on the Equalities Strategy says:
The new Equality Strategy 2015 – 2019 sets out a refreshed vision and approach underpinned by the values of fairness, respect for people, valuing diversity and excellence in all our services. The strategy sets out Brent’s determination to be an exemplar of good practice in equality, diversity and human rights by achieving an ‘excellent’ assessment in the Equality Framework for Local Government in 2015 
The Action Plan includes the following outcomes:
·      All council employees receive equal pay for work of equal value

·      Progress towards a living wage for all who live and work in Brent

·      Equality is integral to all employment processes and practices

·      The council workforce is representative of the local community at all levels

·      Increased proportion of BAME senior managers

·      Our employees feel engaged in the development and work of the council

·      Positive outcomes from staff surveys




Sunday 22 February 2015

CNWL lecturers to strike over casualisation proposals.

Lecturers at the College of North West London will be striking on February 23rd and 25th over the college management's replacement of permanent contracts by hourly paid contracts.

The college UCU branch said:
Following the strike on the 8 December 2014 and subsequent negotiations we have not been able to persuade our employer college (College of North West London, Dudden Hill Lane) to either abandon its policy of achieving greater casualisation (replacing permanent contract with zero hours contract) through compulsory redundancies and nor persuade the College to reinstate one of our members Michael Starrs, plumbing lecturer, who became a victim of this policy. 
Therefore our members are having to take further strike action on the 23rd February and 25th  February following the half term break. A reputable law firm, employed by our union is handling his case at the Tribunal as it considers he has a reasonable prospect of Success.  
The vast majority of Michael's plumbing students have signed a petition supporting his reinstatement. He was also voted as the most popular teacher by students in 2012/2013. Members who voted unanimously to take two days a strike action believed that more strike action maybe needed to resolve this dispute.  

We are planning a public meeting very soon over this issue nearer the election as we did for our " Save Kilburn College Campaign" on the eve of the 2010 general election, where a number of MPs' and prospective candidates came for a debate.
The Green Party Trade Union Group  has issued a statement of support:
The Green Party Trade Union group supports CNWL strikers, casualisation and victimisation of education workers is not just an attack on workers and their conditions of employment, but it's also an attack on education. We need Further Education to train and educate those who can help to create the low-carbon economy that is so urgently needed and need FE managements that value their staff and treat them properly.
The college management blame the proposal to move 30% of staff on to hourly paid contracts on sharply reduced funding for the current academic year.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Brent Fightback Final Demand to Coalition: Give us Back Our Money

Outside Sarah Teather's Office in Willesden Green
Outside the Brent North Conservative Office in Preston Road, Wembley
Brent Fightback supporters today presented Brent Liberal Democrats and Conservatives with a 'Final Demand' for the £142,900,000 that the Coalition  will have cut from Brent Council's budget over the current period.

This has meant cuts in valuable Council services that will hit the young, the poor, the vulnerable and the elderly.

Those making the demand included independent local activists and residents and members of the Labour, Green and Socialist Workers parties.


Copies of the Final Demand were posted through the letter boxes of the offices.




Friday 20 February 2015

Is Brent Council in breach of Trust Agreement over King Edward VII Park Welsh School proposal?

 
Collins Lodge

Guest blogger Jaine Lunn raises a vital issue that puts a big qustion mark over the London Welsh School's bid to open a school in King Edward VII Park, Wembley.
 
Collins Lodge in King Edward VII Park has a plaque that reads "Queen Elizabeth II Award Jubilee year 2012 by Fields in Trust LINK for Sport and Recreational use in perpetuity.”



Having contacted this organisation they responded I quote:-

"Brent Council entered into a deed of dedication with Fields in Trust in 2012.  The deed is registered at the Land Registry and states that King Edward VII Park is held as a “public playing field and recreation ground, inclusive of a bowling club and sports pavilion” in perpetuity.   I have attached our guidance document on how we protect recreational land which may be of interest.

If the landowner of a protected site wants to make a change that is outside of the permitted use then they will need to formally seek the consent of Fields in Trust.  We have a process in place for that and I attach that information for your reference.   This guidance outlines what our responsibilities are with regards to assessing such matters.   All decision are taken by our Trustees.

Fields in Trust do not get involved in the local management of sites as this very much stays in local hands.  So any changes to a site which fit within the agreed user clause do not require our consent.   There is some flexibility built into the deed of dedication, for example our Trustees may at their discretion consent to the disposal of land provided that betterment for local communities in terms of outdoor sport, recreation and/or play can be demonstrated. 

I can confirm that Brent Council did submit a formal request to Fields in Trust with regards to granting a lease on the disused bowls pavilion area to the London Welsh Language primary school on a 15 year term, and in addition to erect a single storey classroom block and convert the paved hard landscape area to an all weather playground.   We were advised that the bowling green and Pavilion are unused and the area fenced off, furthermore there was no bowls interest. 

I can confirm that the Council’s request was rejected by our Trustees in January 2015 because the site is protected for recreational purposes and the proposed new use would be outside the objects of the Deed of Dedication.  In order for the matter to even be reconsidered by our Trustees the Council would need to offer up for protection a replacement site of at least the size of the land being lost or provide a payment which is to be made available for investment in the facilities within the remainder of the site.  To date we have not received a revised application, which I believe would only be forthcoming should planning consent be granted."

As we have all seen on the site visit It is not a fair and equitable swap as it neither matches the size of the land proposed to be built on neither is it comparable to be used for sports. In the additional documents that have been submitted in the interim period the idea that residents should be able to sit on this land and be able to access a view comparable to the view from Primrose Hill over Central London is laughable and whoever cited this as acceptable "should have gone to SpecSavers" about covers it, or suggests they are taking some form of  medication to enhance their  very vivid imagination.  


Knowing all of the above, what really baffles me and to which I seek answers to the following questions.


1)  Who originally suggested/proposed the idea to the London Welsh School that this was a suitable location for their school?  

(After all they had investigated 98 other locations, 65 of which was outside of the London Borough of Brent.)

2.  Why did the Brent Planners not reject this immediately knowing that the land was protected?

3.  Having ignored the fact, made an application, which had they thoroughly read and understood the deeds of  dedication they had signed would have realised that it would be rejected?

4.  Why are they still supporting this application to grant permission, knowing that they must make another application to Fields in Trust for approval when the suggested land swap is also unlikely to be approved by the trust.

5.  How are they justifiying a complete and utter waste of time, money and resources of all concerned?



I would appreciate any answers to the above, from anyone!



To Brent Planners I say stop this nonsense and reject now.



This land is public owned Land and should remain so for the people of Wembley to enjoy as was originally decided when bought by the local Council back in 1913 to compensate for loss of Parkland at Wembley Park.  


MF A further question would be to ask why Brent Council have not informed the public about this agreement as part of the documentaion on the planning application. It is clearly a 'material consideration' for the Planning Committeee to take into account.