Sunday 31 January 2016

Brent Council to share procurement with Harrow and Buckinghamshire

A proposal is being put to Brent Cabinet to share procurement of services with the London Borough of Harrow and Buckinghamshire County Council.

Harrow will be the lead borough and in the first phase Brent staff will transfer to them. The report is pretty opaque but it looks likely there will redundancies in the second phase. Brent argues that the proposals will enable them to cut the procurement budget by £272,000 in 2016-17.

The proposal aims to 'deliver in five key areas':
·      contribute to the Council’s savings target, in particular enabling the delivery of savings to the procurement service;
·      enable the Council to take a strategic view of procurement activity
·      provide new approaches to the delivery of Social Value benefits in Brent contracts
·      enable the potential generation of additional income by selling procurement services, as opportunities to do this currently have been limited due to the size of the current team;
·      ensure that there is resilience built into Procurement activities; and
·      maximise the opportunities for collaboration.

Creating a Procurement Shared Service (PSS) from the three councils will help assuage cuts to budgets and bring together best practice, knowledge, skills and resources. LB Brent has a savings target of £272k in 2016/17 and without a form of transformation LB Brent will only be able to provide a largely transactional procurement service. By joining this initiative LB Brent will be in a good position to deliver the savings target whilst also guaranteeing a level of resilience in its procurement activities. 

By becoming one of the founder organisations LB Brent will avoid having to reduce the current procurement service from a team of 11 to a team of 6, with 5 staff being forced to take redundancy. This reduction would mean that LB Brent’s ability to provide procurement services would be significantly impacted. However by entering into the Shared Service arrangement, the impact of the reductions will be mitigated allowing LB Brent to continue to receive a good level of procurement support
The second paragraph is particular is confusing. After several readings I think it means  that Brent itself won't have to make people redundant but redundancies will happen in the new shared service - but I am open to corrections or alternative explanations.

The proposal has further consequences in terms of Brent residents' ability to lobby over ethical procurement (eg Veolia). Councilsability to make decisions based on ethical standards is already under attack from the Conservative government.  It is also unclear what powers Brent councillors will have in the new situation.

Details HERE

UPDATE: Brent Visitor Parking Debacle - Duffy does it again!

I understand that Cllr John Duffy, who last year claimed he stepped in to stop a flawed policy that would let Veolia pocket large sums in the multi million Public Realm contract, LINK, has now intervened on the Visitor Car Parking  consultation which at the very least would have left Brent Council with egg all over its face.

He was not popular with the Council leadership over the Veolia affair, claiming that they snubbed him for acting on behalf of residents, but this time his colleagues are admitting that he has a point. 

Sources in the Labour Group say  Duffy appealed to Carolyn Downes, Chief Executive, over a report that according to him had flaws that 'are devastating and have damaged our case of proving our competency. The costing variations were all over the place and the report itself quotes the obvious and often contradicts itself.'

The flaws had not been picked up by the Cabinet, other Labour councillors or the Opposition., although Scrutiny Committeee submitted comments. Cllr Duffy told the Labour Group, 'We should be concerned about is how such a bad report was given wings by the Cabinet and was only stopped at the last minute.'

The Cabinet Minutes November 16th 2015 Item 11 can be found HERE
Apparently Cllr Southwood, lead member for the Environment, defended the report up to the last minute before being forced to withdraw it.

Making the best of a bad job she wrote to all Labour Councillors:

Dear Colleagues

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on the proposals in front of Cabinet to increase visitor parking charges to address pressures on parking spaces across the borough. 

As with any proposed increase in charges this has been a contested and hotly debated subject. 
I have listened to many views, spoken to many residents, consulted with officers, looked at best practice elsewhere and of course heard from Labour Group colleagues.

I have been struck by the complexity of the issues and the many differing needs and requirements that we are trying to balance. We are fortunate in having two strategies which are a good foundation for our discussions: the Parking Strategy and the recently agreed Long Term Transport Strategy and aligning our actions with these will help to deliver our vision for a better borough for residents. 

I have come to the view that the visitor parking charges proposal needs to be set in the context of a wider review of our parking offer. Current arrangements have been developed over time in response to circumstances and events and whilst our policies are sound, they are also complex and not easily understood. I believe that we will get a better, and fairer outcome for local people, their visitors and local businesses if we look at the wider parking offer at the same time as the visitor parking permits. 

Our parking offer was already planned for review. I am now proposing to accelerate this work so that we can take a more holistic decision and have a really meaningful dialogue with residents about the best solutions. I will therefore delay the consultation on visitor permit parking charges until this wider work has been completed and intend to bring a report to March's cabinet.  

I'm sure you will agree that it is important that we get the strategy and policies right. I will, of course, arrange a session for Labour Group members to shape the proposals and I hope that you will be able to participate.

Thank you to everyone who has shared their views so far. Your continued support and involvement will ensure we get the right outcomes for residents, visitors and businesses.
I am, of course, very happy to meet with any of you to discuss this further.
 It is to be hoped that the 'wider work' will be thoroughly researched and costed and that this time it won't be left to Cllr Duffy to blow the whistle. Meanwhile perhaps he is owed some dulia by his colleagues.

Since publication I have been sent this comment  (Feb 4th)  which was  longer than the word limit in the usual comment box.

"All credit to Cllr John Duffy for his part in causing a rethink on the planned increase in visitor parking charges and to Cllr Ellie Southwood for being big enough to respond to reasoned concerns from affected residents. However Queen's Park Area Residents Association also held a session with Cllr Southwood and officials on these proposals and on 24 January wrote:

Dear Councillors and Officers,

QPARA discussed the Cabinet report on proposed increase in visitor parking charges at its January meeting, and this prompted a wider review of local parking congestion. The association would like following perspectives to be considered before final consultation on increased charges.

QPARA supports a general policy direction of increasing reliance on public transport, cycling and walking rather than on private cars, for environmental and public health reasons. Nevertheless there needs to be a balance between this and the very large proposed increases in daily charges for visitor parking. While there may be a case for a modest increase QPARA is concerned at the scale of this from £1.50 to £4.50. Charges are almost invariably paid by residents not visitors and the percentage increase is well beyond inflation. As an example a resident with 30 daily visitors a year will in future pay £135 for visitors rather than the current £45. This will be a particular pressure on residents on lower incomes.

The Council's case for the increase centres on high demand for parking in Controlled Parking Zones which leads to overcrowding, and that 'evidence also suggests that some households are using daily visitor permits to book parking on behalf of commuters'. However, we note that there is no general study of why parking overcrowding occurs in particular zones, and no attempt is made in the Cabinet report to form proposals for a wider range of solutions which could address this, nor its more general environmental impact. In the absence of this the Council identifies only one solution which will have at best a modest impact on overcrowding and is associated with an assumed increase in income of £795,000 in 2016/17 (para 6.1 of the report). It is hard to avoid a conclusion that this increase is driven more by the Council's need to increase income substantially rather than resolve overall parking congestion issues.

Accordingly QPARA proposes that Brent conducts a wider study of the impact of a range of factors leading to overcrowding within the ward before proceeding with such large increases. This study should include parking related to schools, business parking permits, under-used car club bays, bays used for builders' materials, and patchy parking enforcement (better enforcement alone could increase the Council's income substantially). For example the teacher permit regime is full of anomalies, with permits given to schools as a prize for having gold travel plans, without regard to pressure points in the overall parking system nor the impact on residents. Notwithstanding, if permits are awarded, these could at least be restricted to a nominated street only, such as by the Park away from streets which are 'parking congested.' Members have also commented that even small businesses can have three permits, and it would be straightforward to limit these to perhaps one to help address overcrowding, yet the Report does not explore this.

In a summary document the Council advises that 'for many visitors who need to park for only a short time, the availability of pay and display bays may better meet their needs than pre-booking a visitor permit' and refers to charges of £1 for 30 minutes or £2 for up to an hour when booked by mobile phone. This suggestion does not take account of the lack of availability of pay and display bays in large parts of QPARA's area, which is mainly residential, so this is not a solution for many (or most) residents. Moreover, where such bays do exist near to busy shopping areas they are often fully occupied and cannot be relied on. So while a partial solution may lie in creating more P & D or mixed use bays, and could be pursued, this is clearly only possible in streets where there is spare capacity.

The summary document refers also to the option of purchasing an annual visitor household permit for £110 (to increase to £165 during 2016). It does not make clear that the Council's Cabinet decided in 2012 to withdraw these permits, and while this is on hold because the Adult Social Care department has yet to find capacity to determine a resident's eligibility for a proposed 'cared-for' permit, it remains policy. While this annual permit may be an option for the present it does not provide a solution in the longer term.

Considering the range of proposed daily visitor charges from £3 to £4.50, many residents have commented that there needs to be a lower charge than £3 for shorter stays than 3 hours (a frequent requirement). Where meters are available (and if unoccupied) then these provide some solution, but as above these simply do not exist in large parts of QPARA's area. We propose therefore that a charge of £1.50 for visitor parking in residents' bays be retained for short stays of up to an hour, to provide equity for QPARA residents with parts of the borough where meters are more generally available.

Make no mistake, HOUSING is THE issue in London elections

Friday 29 January 2016

'Prudent' Brent budget still has some risks of under delivery including Public Health and Youth Service

The Chief Finance Officer's Assessment of Brent Council's proposed budget asserts that it contains the right mixture of risk and prudence. However he highlights some areas where the risk of under-delivery is more signifcant.

The full list of cuts and savings can be found HERE

In the extract below in italics is the Chief Finance Officer's statement and below an extract from the savings document,  I was particularly concerned about the proposals on Public Health (PH3) following the removal of the ring-fence, especially after the report to the Cabinet at their last meeting LINK  We need to know exactly what is being cut and what the impact is as well as what needs should be met that may not have been met hithertoo. Brent Council only took on responsibility for the Public Health of Under 5s a few months ago.

There were warnings last year about the deliverability of the changes in the Youth Service and this remains an issue.

Soem of the other proposals seem vague at best.

I am sorry about the problems with the formatting. There are often problems transferring text from PDFs on to this blog.

a.     Proposal CYP3, which requires savings of £0.9m from a complex reorganisation of youth services

Reduce management and infrastructure costs in 2015/16, and establish a new delivery model by 2016. Savings of £100k include in 2015/16.

b.     Proposal R&G1,which requires a further reduction in TA costs of £0.5m in 2016/17 and a further £0.5m in 2017/18. This reflects the complex demographic and legislative pressures in this area

Savings of £1.3m were included for 2015/16 based on underspending in 2013/14 and reflecting the expectation that service demand would be less than anticipated in the original model . A  further £1.0m saving was included for 2016/17 and 2017/18
c.      R&G25f, which requires a surplus, over time, of £0.35m p.a. from the Lettings Agency, although none of this is budgeted for in 2016/17

BHP will be establishing a lettings agency in 2014. The business plan projects completed additional surpluses of £350k per annum bein generated from year five (2018/19). The saving represents increased income from the provision property and tenancy management services to private sector properties

d.     ACE2, which plans to reduce the council’s contribution to the London Boroughs Grant Committee by £0.34m in 2017/18, which cannot be achieved without securing a two-thirds majority in London Councils

Review of grant funding to London Councils
The Council cannot withdraw from, or unilaterally reduce its funding to, the Grants Programme. On the contrary, s.48(7) Local Government Act 1985 provides that a grants scheme such as this one, once agreed by the majority of the London borough councils, may be binding upon a dissenting London Borough council in the absence of its agreement. We have explored the legislative scope for this. Section 48 of the Local Government Act 1985, which established the London Councils grant scheme, stipulates that councils can only vary their contribution to the grant scheme with the agreement of at least two thirds of London Boroughs. The time available to implement any agreed change would significantly limit the level of savings achieved in 2015/2016. The Council could start conversations now with leaders of other councils with a view to introducing a reduction in funding to London Councils at the end of this cycle of projects i.e. April 2017.

e.     HR1 & L&P1, which collectively require further savings of £1.6m in the council’s legal services and human resources department.

HR1It is proposed to carry out a major reconfiguration of the HR service in 2015/16 saving £1.4m by 2016/17. This will result in the merging of some areas in order to reduce the number of managers required in the new structure. It is the intention to devolve responsibility for some existing activities undertaken by the Learning and Development team to HR Managers. Other activities will be accommodated by a new performance team with a broader remit which will include resourcing, workforce development, policy and projects. In addition it is proposed to cap the existing trade union facilties time allocation awarded to GMB and Unison to a maximium of 1 x PO1 post per trade union, to move the occupational health service inhouse saving £60k and reduce the learning and development budget by £67k. In year 2016/17 further reductions in staffing can be potentially achieved through shared service arrangements within payroll, pensions, HR management information and recruitment. Savings of £696k included in 2015/16.

L&P1 Different options of service delivery – outsourcing – private legal firm / buying from local authority that sells legal services and also London Wide work of setting up a shared service. Proposal to enter a shared service for legal. Savings of £400k have been brought forward from future years to 2016/17. Savings of £458k included in 2015/16.
f.      PH3, where savings of £1m against the public health grant are required
Agreed that efficiencies would be made within public health once the grant ceased to be ring fenced and further opportunities sought to use grant to deliver across Council functions

g.     R&G32,where  savings of £1.5m are required through implementation of 
the customer access strategy. 

Implementation of new customer access strategy with a specific aim to reduce the current costs of contact handling by migrating custome contact on line, improve the efficiencies of telephone handling arrangements and optimising use of shared data to reduce the nee for customers to have to contact multiple services with the same
information. There is a £1.5m of savings which will be achieved across the Council and held as a central saving in 2016/17

No Council Tax Benefit review this year as 3.99% Council Tax rise set to be approved by Cabinet

This statement has just been released by Brent Council. It confirms the 3.99% Council Tax rise and Muhammed Butt states the Council's  intention to continue  protect those least able to pay Council Tax.  However, there is no proposal to review the scheme to protect them from this rise as Scrutiny Committee recommended.

Chancellor George Osborne is passing on the burden to raise council tax to local authorities if they want to protect adult social care services.

In his Budget, Mr Osborne admitted that, after years of cuts and with growing numbers of older people needing care, many local authorities could not cover the cost of adult social care services from existing budgets. Such services include care for elderly residents in their own home and support for adults with disabilities or mental health needs.

But instead of providing Government support, the Chancellor has left councils to shoulder the burden by providing the option of raising council tax by an additional 2 per cent.

Leader of Brent Council, Councillor Muhammed Butt said: 
"The indicators are that councils across the political board - Conservative and Labour - will be raising council tax to protect the most vulnerable.

"We in Brent have worked hard to keep council tax frozen for the last six years. We know how hard our residents have to work to pay all their bills.

"But it looks like we agree with the Chancellor that the services for some of our most vulnerable are now at breaking point. It is a shame that, instead of restoring some of the support the Government has withdrawn, he is hitting our residents again by saying the only way out is through a council tax rise."

Following a six-year freeze, and in line with Government expectations, Cabinet papers reveal today (Friday 29 January) that the council's share for the bill could rise by 3.99 per cent while the Olympic levy has fallen, meaning overall an average 'Band D' household would pay an extra 45p per week.

The change is being proposed among a number of cost-saving options as the council wrestles with having to find savings of more than £60million by 2019 due to central Government cuts. Since 2010, the council has delivered savings of £117million as the Government slashes its funding to the authority in half.

The council estimates the move could bring in an extra £4million a year to help bridge part of the gap left by the Government's relentless squeeze on local government spending.

The proposal was a difficult choice which, if approved, would allow the council to protect more services than it would otherwise be able to.

"A combination of dramatic reductions in Government funding over several years and increasing demand for our services, such as adult social care, leaves us between a rock and a hard place," says Cllr Butt.

"These are very tough times and we will continue to take a business-like approach in planning our finances and rigorously explore the most cost effective ways to deliver services to our residents. The bleak financial outlook will inevitably lead to some difficult choices but our aim throughout this process has been to maximise efficiency savings wherever possible. However, the council is so much leaner and efficient than before and we can only shift services online, or sell a building, or merge support services once.

"In addition, unlike previous years, the Government is no longer providing a grant to freeze council tax.

"The vast majority of the savings proposals are either increased efficiency measures, service innovations or a more enterprising approach to income generation, but this is no longer enough if we want to protect the services that residents rely on.

"We're still listening carefully to what local people are saying so if you haven't responded to the consultation yet I would encourage you to do so as soon as possible. Whatever is decided, we will continue to protect the council tax support scheme for those residents on modest incomes to ensure that those less able to pay council tax continue to be supported."

Whatever the Cabinet recommends, following its meeting on Monday 8 February, will be considered by the Full Council meeting later in the month, as setting the budget and the council tax rates is the job of all elected councillors.

Have your say at or visit one of the remaining consultation meetings next week on:

  • Monday 1 February, 7-10pm, at The Library at Willesden Green, 95 High Road
  • Tuesday 2 February, 7-10pm, The Roundwood Youth Centre, Longstone Avenue, Harlesden
  • Wednesday 3 February, 7-10pm, Main Hall, Kingsbury High School, Princes Avenue, Kingsbury.

'Can we survive climate change without changing ourselves?'

Special showing of Pride followed by discussion Preston Park Feb 6th

Tickets can be purchased at the door or bought on line HERE 

Thursday 28 January 2016

Plans for Cargiant's Old Oak Park site

Old Oak Park site today
The 'vision'
Old Oak Park, owned by Cargiant, at 46 acres is the largest privately owned section of the Old Oak Regeneration area that borders on Brent.

Below you will find a presentation on plans for the site.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Ofsted finds much to praise but concerned about disharmony at Sudbury Primary School Academy

The Ofsted Report on Sudbury Primary Academy has now been published and is Good in all categories except Leadership and Management. There is clearly much to celebrate as you can see from the summary above.

The headteacher of the school was suspended by the then Chair of Governors last year to enable an investigation into allegations against her to take place.

The full report is HERE

Ofsted said:

The governance of the academy

There is disharmony both within the governing body and in relationships between governors and some members of the leadership team and staff. Governors disagree with one another about whether decisions on teachers’ pay have been determined effectively. Governors act promptly to fulfil their duties when responding to complex staff management and safeguarding matters. However, they are less resolute and consistent in their actions in following up these issues. As a result, some staff say they have lost confidence in governors’ ability to fulfil their duties.

In order to improve the academy must: 

Improve the effectiveness of leadership and management by ensuring that any recommendations of an urgent, independent review of the work of the governing body are promptly acted on. This review should be completed and the outcomes obtained no later than the first half of the spring term 2016.

'We are not responsible for Brent Council', HS2 Select Committee

Pete Firmin,  a South Kilburn estate resident and Arantxa Arranz, a parent from St Mary's Catholic Primary School spoke to the HS2 Select Committee yesterday about the impact of the sinking of the 40m deep shaft at Canterbury Works, next to the school, on children, parents and the local community.

At one point when the lack of consultation from Brent Council about the vent proposal and their failure to enforce 'Considerate constructor' standards with the company regenerating South Kilburn were raised, Chair of the Committee said that they were not responsible for Brent Council.

Arantxa  told the Committee that the school and parents had opposed the building of the shaft, supported by the interim headteacher in May, and then returned after the half-term holiday to find that the interim headteacher had been replaced by an Executive Headteacher and an Interim Executive Board imposed to replace the governing body. After that the school's opposition was ended and communication with parents about their concerns was minimal.

She asked, in some bewilderment, why the change of vent site from one next to Queen's Park station (on a car park) with easy road access and no homes, to one next to a primary school, accessible only by narrow roads and close to housing?  HS2 had initially wanted to build the vent next to the station and had admitted the unsuitability of the Canterbury Works site next to the school.
Peter Bottomley, a Committee member, said that this was because Brent Council had asked the promoters (HS2) for the change and added, 'the detail is not for us'.

The promoters said they had offered up to £500,000 to the school to mitigate the impact of the works but Ms Arranz said that this would not compensate for the impact on the children's learning, possible respiratory problems caused by the works and the anger of accidents outside the school.

HS2 said that the period of 'intense construction' would only last for 6 months with 50 workers on site and 50 truck movement into the site and 50 out during that period.  Over the following 2-1/2 years the workforce would be 25 and most of that work would be internal fitting out of the shaft.

The House of Commons video (View from 11.15 am) can be found HERE

The Pell Frischmann report on the impact of works at the two sites can be found HERE 

Continuing the climate change struggle after Paris - a red-green perspective

This article was first published on the London Green Left blog LINK 

Socialist Resistance organised a forum to talk about the recent Paris Climate Agreement in Kings Cross, London.

Below is Camden Green Party and Green Left supporter Dee Searle's presentation at the forum, where she reflects on what was achieved and where the climate movement goes here, and more broadly on red green matters.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Heathrow 13 Judge's record on 'good character' - a question of integrity

Heathrow 13 outside the Court

District Judge Deborah Wright during the trial of the Plane Stupid activists known as the Heathrow 13 admitted that they were 'people of integrity concerned about climate change' but told them they should expect a custodial sentence despite their previous good character.

Judge Wright has been involved in other cases where she has referred to the  good character of the accused.

Sentencing former Conservative Mayor of Barnet and ex-GLA member Brian Coleman in May 2013 Judge Wright said the “well-known politician” was a man of “previous good character” who had made significant contributions to society.

Coleman had attacked a cafe owner who was filming him parking illegally.  LINK

In 2006 sentencing a policeman who beata man up while on duty and  assaulted another when off duty she said he would have been jailed had it not been for an "exemplary character reference" from his former employers. LINK

Neither case involved  selfless action seeking a safe environment for future generations.

After the trial verdict Plane Stupid said:

Today’s judgment demonstrates that the legal system does not yet recognise that climate defence is not an offence. We took action because we saw that it was sorely needed. When the democratic, legislative and processes have failed, it takes the actions of ordinary people to change them.
Judge Wright will sentence the Heathrow 13 on February 24th at Willesden Magistrates Court and are likely to have many supporters outside expressing solidarity.

Monday 25 January 2016

NUT: Our Prevent concerns are raised to ensure the best possible system to protect children

The National Union of Teachers has issued the following statement from Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary, after the Daily Telegraph accused the union of 'colluding in undermining the Prevent Strategy' LINK
Keeping children safe is a central concern of teachers and the NUT. The union opposes any attempt by any organisation to exploit children and young people. We do however have some concerns about the operation and training for the Prevent strategy which could undermine its aims. In particular there is a worry that some children may feel unable to speak in class discussions.
Our concerns, alongside many other organisations, are raised in order to ensure  that the best possible system is in place to protect young people and society.  To stop rational debate about Prevent is in the interest of no one. It is only through discussion with the profession that we will get this right in our schools.

Green Party 'Proudly stand alongside' Plane Stupid activists found guilty today

Sian Berry, Green Party candidate for London Mayor reacts to the news
 The Green Party of England and Wales has issued a statement in support of a group of environmental activists called the Heathrow 13 who were found guilty today of “aggravated trespass” and told to expect prison sentences.

Green Party deputy leader, Shahrar Ali, who attended a demonstration in solidarity with the Heathrow 13 outside the court on the trial’s first day, said:
I am deeply disappointed by the irony of this judgement. The Judge finds the Heathrow 13 guilty of Aggravated Trespass and their actions in need of punishment. Yet alongside the support shown for them beyond the courtroom her acknowledgement that the campaigners are ‘principled’ demonstrates the legitimacy of their cause.

Bigger airports make no climate sense. The UK cannot make its contribution to cutting carbon emissions while expanding airports and increasing emissions from aviation. Greens applaud the determination of the Heathrow 13 for standing up for increased numbers of residents who will suffer enormously from increasing noise and air pollution if expansion gets the go-ahead at any London airport.

We proudly stand alongside these activists who had the courage and foresight to stand up for the well-being of not just today's citizens but tomorrow's, too.
The Green Party 2015 Autumn Conference passed the following resolution:
Plane Stupid activists occupied Heathrow Airport on 13 July 2015, less than two weeks after the Airports Commission recommended a new runway at Heathrow. Heathrow Airport is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The science confirms that greenhouse gases must be dramatically reduced from present levels to tackle climate change. In addition, Heathrow Airport is a major cause of illegal and deadly levels of air pollution in London. Local residents also suffer serious health impacts as a result of noise pollution and sleep disturbance.

Conference instructs GPEX to include and publicise an item on the Green Party website supporting the 13 Plane Stupid climate activists who on 13 July 2015 took non violent direct action at Heathrow Airport. Their trial is from 18 - 29 January 2016 at Willesden Magistrates Court.

Plane Stupid Heathrow demonstrators found guilty and told to expect custodial sentences

From Get West London LINK

A group of 13 Plane Stupid campaigners who caused 25 flight cancellations after breaking in to Heathrow Airport 's north runway have been found guilty today of aggravated trespass and entering a security restricted area.

The seven men and six women cut a hole in a fence and chained themselves to railings on the north runway, beginning at around 3.30am on July 13 2015.

As the verdict was read out, one defendant shouted: "This is a farce!", as other gasped in disbelief.
District Judge Wright has told defendants they can expect jail sentences for their actions.

During their three-day trial at Willesden Magistrates' Court, defendants told of how they carried out the pre-planned action in order to 'save lives', using the defence of necessity.

The protesters claimed their actions were necessary and reasonable in order to reduce carbon emissions and halt climate change.

The court previously heard how Graham Edward James Thompson, 42, of Durlston Road, Hackney and a press officer for Greenpeace, explained that he was “compelled by his conscience” to take action that day.

Mr McGhee, prosecuting, said: “Why do you feel that your conscience entitles you to break the law?”
To which Mr Thompson replied: “In the context of this situation, breaking the law was not the most serious issue at hand.”

The 13 defendants all pleaded not guilty at Uxbridge Magistrates Court on August 19 2015.

'Traditionally Submissive' Muslim Women Hit Back at David Cameron

When is a decision not a decision? Smoke and mirrors at Brent Council

Early days of the campaign to Save the Queensbury

 Guest blog by Ian Elliott
A property developer bought The Queensbury pub in Willesden Green almost four years ago and lodged a plan to build a 10 storey tower block in its place. Save The Queensbury was formed and we convinced Brent Council's planning department to reject the plans. We then represented ourselves at a five day public inquiry when the developer appealed, unsuccessfully and the Inspector spoke highly of the merits of the existing building.

From the start we believed that the building, in a conservation area, should have been protected by being added to Brent's "local list" of buildings. The problem is, we have been left completely confused as to who takes a decision as to what buildings are on the list and have now been stonewalled by decision-makers at Brent Council.

Back in 2012 we were told that there were no plans to review Brent's list, which contains buildings as diverse as the State Ballroom in Kilburn to the bandstand in Queens Park.

In June 2014 a mysterious report appear on Brent's website, rightly adding Kensal Rise library to the list but claiming that The Queensbury had been reviewed but would not be added. Naturally this was a blow so we asked for the assessment to be made public. Brent refused to publish the assessment so we complained to Brent's Chief Executive and asked for this to be looked at by a senior officer, away from those close to the decision. 

Instead we had a reply giving Brent a clean bill of health - from a manager in the same department who we wanted to be investigated as failing to consult with residents. (Bear in mind also that officers in planning have twice recommended that the pub be demolished, in spite of local opposition). Weird, eh?

Fast forward to summer 2015 and Brent consulted on a review of the local list and we, along with dozens of residents, asked for The Queensbury to be listed. Cllr Margaret McLennan, Brent Council’s lead member for housing and development, said: “This consultation is a chance for residents to have their say on the pieces of Brent’s fantastic heritage that are most important to them. I would encourage people to go online and nominate their favourite site of historical interest to be considered for inclusion on the Local List.” So we did.

We thought we were making progress when a report emerged, adding The Queensbury to the local list, later 2015. A decision was promised, in December 2015, but an email from Brent Council reveals that a decision not to proceed was apparently taken by Brent's Cabinet.

We asked for the minutes of that decision, given that it was on a Cabinet agenda for December. No response. No agenda. No minutes. Hang on.... this is getting weirder. Where's the transparency?

The Chair of planning then tells us that a "Policy Coordination Group" would a review the Cabinet decision but that's left us mystified. Of all the 30+ groups and committees listed on Brent's Democracy site, the PCG is not one. So we asked again, only to hear that the Lead Councillor (i.e. the one inviting us to participate in this democracy) will no longer comment or email us on this matter.

At the turn of 2015 we put in a Freedom of Information request to try and clear the smoke around Brent's mysterious PCG and hopefully find out precisely who took a decision not to add The Queensbury (again) and on what basis. 

In law, Brent have to respond to an FoI request, by the first week of February.

We will wait and see if we get transparency and minutes from the mystery PCG. Or at least an explanation as to why The Queensbury was not added, again. Without this, the popular and viable pub in a beautiful conservation area remains vulnerable to demolition.