Sunday 13 March 2016

Brent Momentum debuts with frank open debate & a little political torsion

Interestingly it was not criticism of his attitude to cuts that made Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt fly into a rage at yesterday's Brent Momentum meeting but a challenge on the implementation of the Prevent Strategy in the borough.

Butt had been asked to make a public statement on Prevent to the people of Brent by Humera Khan of the long-established An Nisa Society.  Butt stood up and visibly shaking, shouted over Humera and jabbed his fingers at her yelling, 'You always do this..'   Eventually, when he had been forced to stop and calm down by the chair of the session, Faduma Hassan, Humera was able to complete her question. She recognised that there were statutory constraints on the Council about their duty to implement the Strategy but wanted a clear statement from Butt about its shortcomings. In particular she wanted the Council to commit to tackling Islamophobia and inequalities that impacted on the Muslim community.

Cllr Butt said that he had been critical of Prevent in a Channel 4 programme but that the Council was taking a different approach to the Strategy by working with communities and placing it in a broader safeguarding context which would not stigmatise the Muslim community. He would be speaking in Cambridge about his criticisms of the Strategy. He confirmed  'I don't like Prevent' and thought the current strategy was 'pernicious'.

Humera said that she wanted a statement made to the community in Brent - not in Cambridge or on Channel 4. The question of which community groups Brent Council was engaging with and how they had been selected remained in the air.

On the issue of cuts Michael Calderbank called on Cllr Butt to show more political  leadership, 'all we hear from you is managerialism.' Asked to join with other councils in funding an attempt to get a Judicial Review of the 'Shaping a Healthier Future' proposals on local health services, based on the findings of the Mansfield Report, Butt would make no commitment pending legal advice.

The day had begun with an emollient address by Cllr Michael Pavey where he admitted that the Council had made mistakes in the way they engaged with people and presented cuts. The library closures and Stonebridge Adventure Playground were such cases. He claimed that having a Labour Council had lessened the impact of austerity on local people.  He wanted to move away from a 'stale debate' with the left over not implementing cuts, needs budgets etc and work with them in challenging austerity and  government cuts to local authority funding.  He cited 'Red Lines' LINK where Labour councillors were standing up to defend Londoners.  He wanted to work with council trade unions on these issues.

In earlier commentary I had raised the issue of inviting Butt and Pavey to a 'Brent Uncut' event when they had implemented cuts in Brent but organisers justified on the basis that it would open the dialogue between the community and Labour councils that Jeremy Corbyn had advocated. This was bound to result in some friction but there was much constructive work, especially in the workshops on issues such as health, education, welfare, environment and housing where I hope some of the proposals will be published by Brent Momentum. Framed as helping to build a 'Better Brent' (an old slogan) they could produce a unity beyond the normal activists.

Kilburn Labour Party member and Brent TUC Secretary Pete Firmin said in his introduction that we all know what the government is doing but the question for the day was how to oppose these measures and in some cases, work from against them from within. It was no use just shouting at councillors for implementing cuts but adopting alternative policies, learning from other councils, (such as Islington on housing) and admitting that the council had failed to win the hearts and minds of local people.

A number of themes emerged from the workshops which didn't always avoid reiterating the awful things that are going on rather than suggesting ways to oppose and transform:
  • councillors managing cuts rather than adopting a political response
  • privatisation in health, education and council services
  • council's attitude to free schools & academies when they are not allowed to build new schools
  • protecting paid jobs  but at the same time need volunteers to keep services going
  • need to train volunteers in order to recognise that jobs can't be done by just anyone
  • unpicking language around benefits so as not to reinforce stereotypes
  • address the issue of digital inclusion by improving Council and CCG websites and catering for those without access
  • use Goverment Accessible Information Standard  in publications and communications
  • in council reports include the impact of policies on the 30,000 people with disabilities alongside that on other groups
  • the need for some form of Basic Income
  • proactive measures council could take on environment including insulation, microgeneration, climate jobs 
  • school funding changes impact on local authority education services including school improvement and special educational needs
  • need for key worker housing if we are to stem loss of teachers, nurses and other public service workers
  • challenge developers on amount of affordable social  housing in regeneration schemes
  • support community unionism on the model of the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group
  • develop a culture of passion to help service users in council  officers when they are bound by an inflexible scripted response
  • linked with that build links between councillors, activists and the community for a united response to government policies
About 40 people attended the conference including in addition to Cllrs Butt and Pavey, Cllr Perrin and Southwood. Cllr Margaret McLennan, lead member for Housing and Development, was due to take part in the housing workshop but did not turn up.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. Butt has never been any good at hiding his reactions when someone hits a nerve.

Martin Francis said...

From a reader:

The standard mentioned is the Accessible Information Standard. Anyone who is receiving health or social care should be asked if they have any communication need, if they do it should be noted and included in any forward referral. The organisation then needs to meet the persons communication needs eg make letters accessible, make reasonable adjustments to appointment times and ensure they keep communicating in an accessible way. Both Brent CCG and Brent Councils are supposed to have an action plan related to how they will implement the standard and they must be implementing it from July 1st. So far we have seen no evidence of any plans. The standard also covers any organisation providing health and social care services under contract from the CCG, Council or other public bodies. You can see the standard here