Monday 29 October 2018

'The Girl from Station X' - An evening with the author October 30th at Preston Library

From Preston Community Library

The next  in our successful series of literary events at Preston Community Library is this Tuesday coming and we welcome the writer Elisa Segrave with her well reviewed book  'The Girl From Station X' - My Mother's Hidden Life..

When her mother died aged only 42, the author was astounded to discover  12 passports in different names: what could this mean?  

She sets about reading  brilliantly written diaries and letters which reveal that her mother was one of  the first women to enlist in 1939,  was one of the highest ranking women at Bletchley Park,  the secret home of the WW2 Codebreakers, had served in Bomber Command and had been part of the reconstruction team to wartorn Germany. She had also received over 20 proposals of marriage. As the author writes,'my own life seemed dull in comparison'.

As is now realised, all personnel had signed the Official Secrets Act and never spoke about what they did. The book poignantly uncovers the woman behind the mask and paints an unforgettable picture of  young lives caught up in the turbulence of their times.  It is also a searing memoir of a mother Segrave might have loved if things had turned out differently.

Indian Summer dries up many ponds in Fryent Country Park

Completely dried up

It was the warmest and driest autumn that many of us can remember but a walk in Fryent Country Park yesterday revealed its impact on the many ponds in the park.

The ponds are normally full at this time of the year but some have dried out completely. This is likely to affect the number of invertebrates in the ponds and further up the food chain the population of amphibians.

Only damp mud remains at the deepest point of this pond
Just a puddle left in this pond
Completely dried up
Only Repton's artificial pond at the top of Barn Hill has a substantial anount of water although it is far from its normal size. It is the only one of the ponds stocked with fish.

Sunday 28 October 2018

UPDATED: Revised Brent ward changes going to General Purposes Committee on October 31st

Following feedback from councillors Brent Council officers have tabled revisions for the 2 options on new ward boundaries that would reduce the total number of councillors from 63 to 57.  The number of councillors representing each ward varies in the two options. There are some minor changes where particular streets are transferred to a different ward and Wembley Stadium is moved to Wembley park ward, Two further models are also attached which address concerns that Kensal Green ward should mirror the community's identity and the creation of a one member  Barnhill ward.

The Conservative Group gave notice that they were submitting their own proposals to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE).

The General Purposes Committee will be discussing the proposals at their meeting on October 31st 5pm, at Brent Civic Centre. It is the only major item on the agenda.

The two main options

Option 1 (19 wards each with 3 councillors)

Option 2 (20 wards 17 with three members and3 with 2 members)

In Option 2 the wards with only 2 members are Harlesden, Stonebridge and Church End. As can be seen these are not far from the average of electors per councillor although it might be argued that the nature of the wards generates more than average casework.

There is much more detail in the reports including responses to councillors' submissions and detailed maps of the proposed wards and the Barnhill and Kensal Green models. They can be found HERE.

Former Lib Dem councillor and Council Leader Paul Lorber has written to Brent Council CEO Carolyn Downs on the subet of the boundary changes:
 Dear MS Downs

I note that the Council is struggling to prepare an acceptable package for submission to the Boundary Commission.

The Commission has set a number of parameters including reasonable match with average number of voters per Councillors but also sensible ward boundaries matching natural and recognisable areas that local residents can relate to.

Until some 20 years ago Brent had mostly 2 member wards (with only around 3 member wards). At that time Brent was reformed into around 20 x 3 member wards in the unrealised expectations that the then Labour Government would force elections for London Boroughs to be reformed so that Councillors retire in 3rds.

As a result of these changes wards names such as Cricklewood, Brentwater, Kingsbury and others were lost. Local people lost their links with their natural local communities with very much larger wards being created which destroyed those links.

The current requirement to re-ward Brent again is an opportunity for radical change which revives some of those natural communities that local people can relate to. Two member wards should be revived to achieve this. This also has advantage of creating smaller more manageable wards (yet still large enough with around 8,000 electors) that Councillors can get to know much more easier.

In the case of the area I am familiar the previous changes scrapped Barham Ward which had been created as a memorial tribute to Titus Barham 1st Charter Mayor of Wembley and a major local benefactor. The current proposals recommend moving areas such as Maybank, Rosebank, Fernbank and Greenbank Avenues and other areas close to Sudbury Town into Northwick Park Ward. These areas have absolutely no connection with Northwick Park.

Pursuing my suggestion for 2 member wards will give an opportunity to recreate Barham Ward around Barham Park while creating both Sudbury Ward and Northwick Park Ward of sensible size and to include areas which local people genuinely recognise as either Sudbury or Northwick Park (or even Sudbury Court as Northwick Park used to be called before).

Similar benefits will arise by recreating 2 member wards in other parts of the borough thus recreating wards with represent natural communities.

I note that an item is coming back to the Council’s GP Committee responding to Councillors concern. The risk is that taking this approach simply responds to ‘political considerations. The Council is still fortunate to have in its ranks staff who have been with the authority for 30 years or more. They can assist in contributing to this exercise by reminding those offers doing the number crunching of the natural community areas that existed and still existed in Brent. Their knowledge should be used to help in creating wards which meet this aspect of the Boundary Commission criteria.

I trust that this suggestion will be considered and pursued.

Saturday 27 October 2018

FoI reveals why approval for the Woodfield-Village School Multi-Academy Trust was delayed

Brent NEU sent an FoI request to Martin Post, the Regional School's Commissioner, asking why a letter had been sent to the DfE  suggesting that the controversial MAT proposed for The Village and Woodfield special schools was not approved.  The NEU allege that the school had denied there was any such decision and  had replied to the FoI request in a misleading way.

Post's response indicated  that the Head Teachers' Board (HTB) that approves MAT requests had concerns over governance:
The proposed structure was not felt to be robust:
  • Two proposed members are also Trustees, and these individuals are also the Chairs of the Governing Bodies at each school, which raises issues for accountability.
  • Both the vice chairs of the local governing bodies are also trustees
  • Three of the proposed trustees are also employees
  • All of the trustees are either employees or on the current local governing bodies of the two schools
  • Ex-Head of the school as a member
  • Overall there needs to be some independent individuals on the Board
Has the trust completed a skills audit for the Board of Trustees? Would expect appointments to be made based on skills - would expect the trust to aim for a skills based Board post the transition phase

Both The Village School and Woodfield currently have interim heads of school - what happens when these individuals leave/.what is the future plan for Heads of school?
Governance and particularly the lack of  public and democratic accountability has long been a major issue raised by those of us opposed to academisation and the HTB's comments reinforce those reservations.

Surely these are are issues that should have concerned Brent Council. Why did they not seek information from the RSG or make their own representations over governance. Surely it can't be because the Labour Chief Whip, Cllr Sandra Kabir, is Chair of Governors of one of the schools,  a key champion of academisation and apparently unaware of these problems?

In the absence of an Education Committee on Brent Council it is surely time that the Scrutiny Committee looked into the issue of academisation and its impact in Brent in some detail.

The NEU's local newsletter, with more on this issue and the background. is posted below. Click on the bottom right square for full page version:

Friday 26 October 2018

Confronting the Hostile Environment - Saturday November 3rd Granville Centre

A Labour Party event but open to all on an important topic.
From Hampstead and Kilburn CLP

A Black History Month Event
Saturday 3 November 4-6pm
Granville Centre, Carlton Vale, London, NW6 5HE
Tube:  Kilburn Park (Bakerloo line) Buses:  6, 316
Fully wheel chair accessible. ALL WELCOME!

Hampstead & Kilburn Labour Party is holding a Black History Month event to mark the 70th anniversary of the Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury Docks (1948). The ship carried over a thousand passengers, mostly from the Caribbean (but also Burma, Mexico and Poland) who had been recruited to leave their homes to rebuild Britain after the war.

While Home Secretary, Theresa May imposed a ‘hostile environment’. She said that British subjects who had uprooted themselves and their families at the invitation of the British government, their children and grandchildren, now had to prove their right to be in the country they helped rebuild and worked hard in, often for the lowest pay. People have been sacked from their jobs, robbed of their homes, benefits, pensions, and denied healthcare. Some were put in detention centres and sent back. Many still live in fear of deportation. Others died from the suffering inflicted by these racist policies. Many are still waiting for recognition of their citizenship and for compensation for the years of injustice and insecurity they suffered.
This event will give a platform to Windrush families and many others affected by racist immigration laws as well as by austerity cuts, which have targeted women and people with disabilities.

Labour’s grassroots membership, spearheaded by BAME women, won a landmark motion at Labour conference to support the Windrush generations. A growing movement is calling for an end to detention, deportation and destitution of any of us.  
Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott have pledged that a Labour government would abolish racist immigration laws and end the requirement for landlords, employers, teachers and health professionals (and even MPs) to act as border guards on behalf of the government.  We’re inviting all our communities – African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American, immigrant and native born, with or without papers, to take part. We want people to know what’s been won and what obstacles we still face. 

Speakers include:
·  Windrush families, asylum seekers, EU nationals
·  Families affected / threatened by Universal Credit & other benefit cuts
·  Council tenants and local residents resisting evictions and “regeneration” 
Refreshments, and time for discussion and informal networking.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Will Spurs' stadium safety woes stop Quintain meeting Euro 2020 deadline for installation of the Wembley Stadium steps?

I understand that doubts are developing over whether Quintain will be able to deliver the Stadium Steps that will replace the Pedway in time for the first Wembley Euro 2020 game scheduled for June 14th 2020. It was also hoped that they would be in place for Brent's Borough of Culture 2020. LINK

It is feared that the already tight timetable will be adversely affected if Tottenham Hotspur's move to their new stadium is further delayed and their use of Wembley Stadium pushes into 2019.

The Independent reported today on the Spurs delays LINK:
Tottenham Hotspur are facing another crunch week in their attempts to move into the new White Hart Lane before Christmas.

Tottenham are currently aiming to move into the new 61,000 seater stadium for their match against Burnley on 15 December, three months after the initial target of the Liverpool game on 15 September. But they will only be able to do so if they can complete crucial work on the stadium’s fire safety systems in time for the two test events they have planned.

Before the Burnley game Tottenham have ‘home’ matches against Chelsea on Saturday 24 November and Southampton on 5 December. Those matches are officially listed as occurring at the new White Hart Lane but Tottenham are expected this week to announce that they will also be switched to Wembley, where Spurs have been playing their ‘home’ games since the start of last season. Tottenham insist that nothing has been decided yet, but that it will be announced as soon as they know.

After the Chelsea and Southampton fixtures are confirmed as moved focus will be on whether the new stadium will be ready for a pre-Christmas opening. Before the stadium can open it must receive its safety certificates, which Haringey Council will only grant after two successful test events. The first test event – pencilled in for late November – would be for a capacity of up to 30,000 people. The second, which Spurs hoped to be in early December, would be for a capacity of up to 48,000.

But those test events cannot take place until the safety systems are ready. Daniel Levy told a meeting of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust earlier this month that the stadium would have been ready for the Liverpool game were it not for the safety issues. The view at Tottenham is that the Liverpool game was a realistic target, but that they have been let down by certain contractors.

Ultimately Tottenham do not have to tell the Football Association whether they will need Wembley for the Burnley game until early next month. But if they do not open the new ground with that match then they may delay the opening until the arrival of Manchester United on 13 January. Spurs are due to host Bournemouth on Boxing Day and Wolverhampton Wanderers on 29 December, although there is a reluctance inside the club to open the new stadium for either of those games because of the logistical concerns associated with that time of year.

What will the tri-borough police merger mean for residents?

The Borough Commander took part in a Q&A session on the amalgamation of Barnet, Brent and Harrow police forces. Here are his responses to questions from the public:

The questions below were sent in via our @MPSBarnet, @MPSBrent and @MPSHarrow Twitter accounts.
The session was conducted on Tuesday 9th October 2018 at 6pm.
The video responses by Simon Rose were uploaded to Twitter and have been recorded below.

1.     “What do you see as the main challenges of this merger?”

“I think there are two main challenges of this merger. The first one is logistics, we are moving quite a few people from one location to another but basically that’s the deck chairs being moved on a ship. A far more fundamental challenge is we are moving over to a model where most officers will investigate and follow through with the enquiries they start. This is something we only did 20 years ago in the Met and it’s a model being used elsewhere around the country. What’s good about this? It means that for a victim of crime, when an officer reports this crime, they meet the investigating officer there and then and there is continuity but fundamentally the challenges are our officers getting used to this MI Investigation process because it hasn’t been done this way in the Met for some time and the logistics of moving around large numbers of people”.

2.     “How will the merger help increase security in areas such as Harlesden?”

“The merger doesn’t mean a reduction in the number of officers to the Borough. It’s a reorganisation of what we’ve got. The benefit of it is that areas such as Harlesden, Wealdstone High Street, South Harrow and the Grahame Park Estate we have a much bigger pool of officers in one big team in order to make them available to deploy at the times of peak times and those high demand areas. It’s actually a more efficient way of working with what we’ve got, to where we are putting it and where we need it the most”.

3.     “Does that mean one fast response vehicle for all of North London?”

“No, we certainly haven’t got one vehicle for the whole of North London. So the minimum strengths on an early turn, early shift, is 77, on a late shift its 86 and a night duty is 82. That’s quite a lot of officers but it’s a big bit of land. There’s 3 large area cars, 43 emergency response vehicles, IRV’s we call them and 6 station vans. So there is 50 plus vehicles available for deployment. They aren’t all going to be driving around at the same time, some will be in custody, some will be on enquiries but it is a very large pool of vehicles and officers available to deploy to demand.

4.     “Will the merger result in any changes in the overall number of active Police officers across the three Borough’s or the distribution of officers across different parts of the Borough?”

“So we are still going to have the same number of officers we had before. We will have in February, the serious sexual offences and child abuse team will also be based locally but at that time their work will come with them.  So fundamentally the number of officers we’ve got aren’t going to change. In relation to the distribution, because Harrow custody suite closes and we go to an East and West patrol site based out of Colindale and Wembley, the emergency response officers will patrol from two sites rather than three. So the patrol base changes but the number of officers we had before and afterwards stays the same”.

5.     “In the context of recent firearms incidents in Harrow, how can residents be assured they will receive a sustained (or improved) level of Policing following the merger?”

“I think the recent firearms incidents in Harrow is actually quite good proof that this can demonstrate an improvement in service, because as a result of being one BCU, I as the Borough Commander have access to the proactive assets of all 3 Borough’s and following the incidents in Harrow, we flexed officers from Barnet and Brent into Wealdstone and South Harrow and other Harrow as necessary to resource the demand there. So if you're actually looking for a case to prove that larger teams demonstrate more resilient processes and enable to deploy to the needs of Harrow as and when they rise, on that basis this is very good proof that it works”.

6.     What is the impact on Police response times as a result of Harrow Station closing?

“Currently Harrow has one of the best emergency 999 response times in London. Approximately 92 – 94% of all 999 calls, we arrive within 15 minutes. After we have merged the emergency response times at Harrow will still be within target.  The target is 90% of emergency response calls will be answered within 15 minutes. The officers will be parading from Wembley rather than Harrow, if you look at an AA route planner, its 9 minutes’ drive, obviously it's far less if you’re using blue lights and sirens and the cars will be deployed across the whole of the East and the West of the Borough or the BCU accordingly. So after the merger, we will still be meeting our response times”.

7.     “Where will members of the Public be able to find a physical Police response in Harrow without calling 999/101?”

So this is one of the things that doesn’t actually change at all. Harrow front counter will still be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. Harrow Police Station will still have Police officer’s working out of it. That will not change. The building is actually getting refurbished next year. So every single way you have to contact Police in Harrow prior to the merger is still the same afterwards. It doesn’t change”.

8.     “What impact will the merger have on Police availability for non-emergency activities, such as partnership working across the Borough?”

“The relationship we will have with partners will change after the merger. We are going to a model where we will have one partnership team, a larger partnership team, servicing the needs of three Boroughs rather than one. So it will be centralised, a lot of that partnership work is being delivered from South Harrow Police Station but the number of officers in that role doesn’t change. Their location does change but one of the biggest change, significant change is that it is slimming down the management structure. So it is fair to say that our attendance at meetings or senior officers presence at the more discretionary meetings will be less because the best way to protect the front line is to slim down the management. That is one of the things that has happened and you will certainly see one Borough Commander for three Boroughs rather than previously three for three.

9.     “How will resources be managed across crime hotspots on the 3 Boroughs?”

“The process we will use to manage Police resources across the three Boroughs is the same as it was before but rather than having three coordination and tasking meetings, we will have one that will look at the risk across the three Boroughs.  The available pool of assets will be much larger and it will be allocated according to threat, harm and risk.  So for us at the moment across the BCU it is Harlesden, Wealdstone High Street and to some degree the Grahame Park Estate”.

10.  “How will resources be evenly split and prioritised to the needs to the respective areas?”

“The resources are going to be allocated with the use of the TTCG (Tasking and Tactical Coordination Meeting). That will allocate resources to threat, harm and risk.  The Borough or the BCU will also have an East and West patrol site and the line has been divided so that demand is about 59% and 41%. The officers in the East will responding to all of Barnet and the South East corner of Brent demands and the officers in the West, will be responding to the rest of Brent and all of Harrow’s demands. That is about 50:50 but the extra asset will be targeted at the central coordination and planning meetings”.

11.  “How can you reassure residents that the tri-borough merger won’t lead to more street crime? What are you doing to persuade the Government to release urgent funds to Sadiq Khan to keep our communities safe?”

“Clearly it’s not my role to lobby the mayor to bring extra funds or officers into policing but in relation to the tri-borough merger and how it’s going to affect the deployment of the resources, I think, well I know as I have been party to the decisions and have made the decisions, when we had the significant crime incidents at Harrow we flexed, or I flexed extra officers from Barnet and Brent into Harrow to respond to that, so that’s actually a benefit to the tri-borough merger. We have a bigger pool of officers that can deploy according to the peaks and spikes in demand, which Harrow has benefited from”.

12.  “Where are the Police on the streets?”

“So the question, where are the Police on the street? Unfortunately if when you look out your front room you don’t actually see an officer walking past or driving past at the actual time they walk and driving past, you will never know they’ve gone past. So for example we have a minimum strength of 77 officers on an early shift and 86 officer on a late shift and 72 officers on a night shift. We have a total of 53 marked and a couple of unmarked vehicles deployed every day and these are the vehicles and officers who are on patrol on the three Boroughs. The fact you don’t see them, does just mean that you don’t notice them when they walk or drive past or you don’t happen to look out of your window when they go past your address but they are there, honestly!”

13.  “What is the cost of this restructure cost the public purse?”

“The restructure is actually being done to save money and to protect the frontline. So a lot of the amalgamation of Boroughs into BCU’s or the closing of Police station, it saves money. The whole amalgamation process actually saves 73 million, which equates to 1583 frontline officers. So a big driver for this is making better of use of what we’ve got. It’s actually about saving money, not wasting money”.

14.  “Can you confirm that the three Boroughs will be safely policed under the new BCU structure?”

“Well that’s what I am going to be held accountable for by the safer neighbourhood boards, by the Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Mark Simmons, who is my boss and the Commissioner.  That is what I am charged with being responsible for delivering. I believe yes it will”.

15.  “Police are struggling to cope with rising crime will there be investment in police cars, CCTV?”

“So there is going to be no extra investment in Police cars and CCTV. What we are actually investing in is mobile technology so that officers with these tablets can take a report at the scene and give a victim of crime, the crime reference number at the scene and then go on to the next job. If you look at how policing is being delivered since 1829, there’s this yo-yo process - You’d go out in 1829, you came back and wrote it up with a quill and bit of parchment probably. The ins and outs have fundamentally been the same until very recently. Only now that the officers have got tablets, they go out and take details on the street, enter the crime report on to the database and give the victim the details then. They don’t need to go back to the Police Stations and that efficiency - that is the investment in technology is helping to make a difference”.

16.  “Which units will create the new NW unit?”

“So very simply, what’s being merger to create this North West BCU are the Boroughs of Barnet, Brent and Harrow. There is a slight extra to that, if you like and a quite positive extra. The Sapphire, which is the sexual offences, the rape, indecent assault investigations and the child abuse investigations are also coming back to the Borough with the investigating officers. So with the good news around that is previously if you had a victim of domestic abuse rape, domestic abuse assault and there were child abuse allegations, there would be three separate teams dealing with that. Now there will be one team dealing with whole thing at the same Police Station. You will get more efficiency, better victim service, continuity and a more integrated Police response”.

Sufra Foodbank issues urgent van appeal - please help & join in One Tonne Fundraising Walk

From Sufra NW London

I have some tragic news.

After 5 years of loyal service, collecting and distributing the equivalent of over half a million meals, our lonf-suffering van has suffered a fatal electric failure. The cost of repair does not make it a viable investment. It is now destined for the scrap heap.

Our work is dependent on the van. It runs 7 days/week, 365/days of the year. Though it operates mainly within a 3 miles radius, it has travelled over 10,000 miles in the last year. Without it, the Food Bank might just as well close its doors.

Today, we are launching an urgent Van Appeal to raise £20,000 in the next 6 weeks. We must purchase a replacement in time for Christmas - our busiest time of the year. We simply have no choice.

So, I turn to you, to beg for your support. Please make a donation to our Van Appeal here.

The ONE Tonne Walk 

On Saturday 10 November 2018, we have a major food collection at Asda Wembley Park. How will we get 1 tonne of donated food to the Food Bank?

We will carry it by hand. 

To support the Van Appeal we are launching the most outlandish fundraising walk in history on Saturday 10 November 2018 from 1pm to 4pm. The ONE Tonne Walk will see volunteers carrying crates and dragging yellow bins full of food from Asda Wembley Park, past Brent Civic Centre and Wembley Stadium, down Harrow Road to Sufra NW London.

Along the way we will distribute Van Appeal flyers, protest against food poverty (with banners and placards!) and make a shocking racket with drums and trumpets.

Because we will #FightFoodPoverty.

We need YOU to take part in The ONE Tonne Walk on Saturday 10 November 2018. Please register here.

If you can't carry a heavy crate, you can carry a donation box. If you can't drag a yellow bin of food, you can hold a placard.

Or you can just walk in solidarity with us.

You may want to fundraise. You may just want to protest against food poverty. But together we will raise £20,000 to purchase a new van and enable the Food Bank to deliver over 100,000 meals every year - for many years to come.

Make a donation here.

Sign up for The ONE Tonne Walk here.

Together we can do this. Don't let the team down. 

 Mohammed S Mamdani