Monday, 1 June 2015

Complacency at Cabinet as controversy swept under the carpet

Preston Community Library representatives spoke at Cabinet tonight on the issue of Brent Council's new Property and Asset Strategy.   They were concerned that the community library they now have up and running in the building, which provides many services to the local community apart from lending books,  should not be affected by the strategy which states:
Fundamentally the strategy moves away from a presumption to dispose outright of property towards one of retaining and acquiring assets with a view to maximising revenue potential.
Muhammed Butt, leader of the council said that the  council also recognised the importance of social value of property, rather than just monetary value.

Several Cabinet members praised the campaign which had been promised the Preston library building at a peppercorn rent.  However Cllr Moher indicated that discussions were taking place on the use of part of the building to provide additional school places.

Clearly there will be some difficult decisions when weighing up any conflict between monetary and social values in a period of budgetary cuts.

Ex councillor James Powney wrote on his blog:
The new strategy has two apparently contradictory aims.  One is to maximise value through renting property.  The second is maximise "social value" through renting below market rates to worthy causes.  Of course this all takes place in an environment where the Council's income from fees & charges, Council Tax and government grant will all be in decline.  Inevitably, this locks Brent Council into cutting public services to the maximum extent possible, which I suspect is not a policy that the majority of those who voted in May 2014 would support (although it is very much what the newly elected Tory government supports).
There are likely to be a number of Community Asset Transfers with voluntary organisations running services from former Brent buildings. 

Cabinet approved the Strategy Report's recommendations which Cllr Pavey claimed marked a 'massive' change in Council policy - but he does tend to suffer from superlative inflation.

They went on to approve authority to tender for a Direct Payments Service contract for adult and children's social care. Cllr Hirani argued that this would enable better working conditions and wages as it would do away with the profit requirement of agency providers.

The Council is expecting an increase of 400 people on Direct Payments over the next three years, a total of 1,127.

Cabinet approved the award of the Local HealthWatch Service contract to CommUNITY Barnet, Cllr Pavey remarked that the current HealthWatch has been well-intentioned but ineffective. It had not been successful in getting community engagement and representing patients.

There were similar remarks about the youth service when the Cabinet discussed the £1m cut it is making which will result in further demands on the voluntary and faith sectors.  In answer to Cllr Mashari who asked if this represented a move away from a universal youth service, Cllr Ruth Moher said she doubted if Brent had such a service at present and that the present service was not coherent, it had developed rather than was planned.  She remarked that that there was no point in providing a service if what it provided was not what young people wanted, so they would be consulted. She went on to say that the Coucil had never done a proper mapping of the services that were already offered acxross the borough by the council, voluntary organisations and faith groups.

Cllr Moher referred to the paragraph about the dangers for the Roundwood Centre if the strategy was not successful. Cllr Mashari said that there were many groups just waiting to get into the centre and she looked forward to it being better used and more dynamic.

There seemed little recognition of what could be read between the lines of the report and was pixcked up by the Kilburn Times - this could mark the end of youth provision in Brent.

I was shocked that there was no delegation at the council from the youth service or its users,  or the Youth Parliament which is, after all, supposed to represent young people.  Cabinet were told that their had been a question from the former chair of Brent Youth Parliament asking what a youth worker attached to the BYP would actually do - the answer was value to say the least.  However, the BYP, kept on at a cost of £60,000 may have to watch out as Cllr Moher said that they would be looking at 'different ways' of delivering that service.

Ruth Moher also presented the report on the Expansion of Stonebridge School and was equally complacent saying that most of the respondents to the consultation had been concerned about the future of Stonebridge Adventure Playground, swallowed up by the school expansion and accompanying regeneration. Referring to the 700 letters  received against the proposal she said that these had all been the same so didn't mean much and went on to say, about a 1,000 plus petition calling for the saving of the adventure playground, 'as we know you can get anyone to sign a petition.

Dear reader, I was moved to protest at this disparagement from a councillor who had never once visited the playground!

Cllr Pavey then jumped in to tell us all how big schools were great (he is chair of governors at the BIG Wembley Primary), the bigger the better ('massive' 'bigger the better' - is there a theme emerging here?) and suggested that Quintain with its BIG profits could be persuaded to add another form of entry or two at its proposed primary school.

Cllr Butt followed this with his usual statement. The provision of school places was a statutory responsibility and the Council owes it to residents and children to provide places: 'We will not shy away from making difficult decisions'.

So, we have to admire Brent Council for making the 'difficult' decision to close a children's playground, even though it, as well as the school,  served families and children in one of the poorest parts of London. Campaigners were never persuaded that the Council had considered the possibility of an alternative design for the  expansion of the school that kept the playground or had even tried to find it an alternative site.

And wasn't Stonebridge Adventure Playground a community asset?

The meeting concluded with a refreshingly eloquent presentation by Cllr Eleanor Southwood, the new lead member for the environment. It was not about her portfolio but a report from a Scrutiny Committee task group that she led on the pupil premium and how it is used in Brent schools.

Cllr Southwood  said that the group had looked at case studies and talked to pupils not just about the impact on attainment but on enjoyment of school and the broadening of horizons.

The good practice described in the report will be shared with the Brent Schools Partnership.


Anonymous said...

Ruth Moher - absolute disgrace that she rubbishes residents who participate in democracy in this way.

Brent styles itself as the "listening council", yet their response to a thousand-strong petition is "anyone can sign a petition". Well, yeah, duh, it's called democracratic engagement.


Anonymous said...

Consultation Consultation Consultation.

Anonymous said...

'as we know you can get anyone to sign a petition'
Exactly the same could be said for voting Labour in an election. The difference is that signing a petition expresses a considered opinion on a specific issue. Voting for Brent Labour expresses a general desire that the collection of hopes and aspirations embodied in the Labour Party, built up by generations of politicians, supporters and activists and resulting in the Labour 'brand', should direct, or at least sometimes influence, the actions of Brent Council.
If only. The likes of Cllr Moher have achieved some degree of community and social advancement by hitching themselves to a historical political movement whose values and principles they consistently betray and which they appear to hold in contempt, giving them 'mouth-honour' only at election-time.

People signed that petition because they believed in the good that the Playground achieved. People voted for you, Cllrs Moher, Pavey and Butt, hoping that you might understand that belief, but more likely because they thought that, electorally, they had nowhere else to go. Being 'not-the-Tories' is some kind of achievement I suppose, but don't flatter yourselves that the votes you stack up as a result simply of wearing the Labour shirt count for more than the support achieved for a petition in which people choose to make a specific point in the only way that Brent Labour leaves open to them.

Mike Hine

Anonymous said...

Mike Hine, marry me

Anonymous said...

Polygamy may be an option in some cultures, Cllr Butt, but not unfortunately in mine.
Mike x

Anonymous said...

Hear hear.

Anonymous said...

How contemptuous of Cllr Moher to make such comments regarding petitions. She clearly has no respect for the democratic process or for residents and the wider community. What the Councillors want, they get regardless of the strength of feeling of the community. What hope is there for the people?