Friday 14 June 2024

Sufra's activities reviewed and the need for a fair and humane asylum system

I have just received Sufra Food Bank's latest Newsletter and am sharing the extracts below:

 

The UK has long been stuck in a ‘doom loop’ of poverty, with one in five households with children now going without meals and 11 million people experiencing food insecurity. An utterly shameful situation in one of the world’s richest counties.  


Charities like Sufra can’t take the state’s place in providing basic economic security for local people – especially those experiencing hunger and deprivation. But in the absence of adequate statutory support, Sufra – like many other charities – have had little choice but to step in to fill the void. 


We’ve just been crunching the numbers: the last financial year was unprecedented in terms of demand, innovation in our services, and the scale of our work.  


You can read a short blog about all we did last year here, but below are a few key facts and figures to give you a flavour of what’s been happening at Sufra between April 2023 and March 2024:  


  1. We distributed almost 10,000 food parcels at our Food Banks, served around 19,000 people freshly cooked hot meals at our Community Kitchens, and facilitated over 3,000 shopping trips at our Community Shop. 

  2. We expanded our Welfare Advice Team, supported nearly 500 guests with professional advice (including many asylum seekers, refugees and migrants), and applied for OISC accreditation so that we can provide immigration advice (coming soon!).   

  3. We established a successful new Community Wellbeing Project with a community shop, café and comprehensive wrap around support. We even launched a Toolkit to encourage the programme to be replicated in other parts of the UK.  

  4. St. Raphael’s Edible Garden has been in full bloom. We harvested 3/4 of a tonne of fruit, vegetables and nuts – and distributed much of this at our weekly Garden Market, which saw 361 visits throughout the year.  

  5. We recruited 205 inspiring new volunteers who gave up 13,000 hours of their time to support members of their community across all of our services – from Food Aid and the Garden to Advice and even Admin.   


As you can see, we have been focused on establishing holistic programmes that help prevent poverty and reduce demand for emergency food aid.  


But none of this would have been possible without the support of our generous donors, supporters and inspiring volunteers – people like you! So, on behalf of everyone at Sufra, please accept our heartfelt gratitude for helping us achieve all that we did.  

Calling for a Fair and Humane Asylum System

The theme for this year’s Refugee Week (17-23 June) is ‘Our Home’ – a theme that resonates deeply with Sufra’s values and our work.


If you’ve ever visited Sufra, you will know that our advice guests can access a welcoming community space, fresh food, and tailored professional support - which will soon include accredited immigration advice.  


In recent months, Sufra’s Advice Team has been overwhelmed by the huge rise in homelessness among our refugee guests. Across London, refugee homelessness has increased by a shocking 239%.

What’s the issue?

Upon receiving refugee status, asylum seekers are served eviction notices and given just 28 days to find alternative accommodation – many have been given as little as 7 days.  


Given that they have no income, savings or employment at that point, most end up homeless and without any adequate support, which inevitably leads to destitution and distress. 

What can you do?

Please bear this crisis in mind when considering the upcoming election - we all need to hold policymakers to account for policies such as these that directly impact our guests at Sufra.  


You can also support this campaign by the Refugee Council, calling on the UK Government to treat people fairly and with dignity when they arrive in the UK.  


If you would like to support the work of Sufra’s brilliant Advice Team directly, you can contribute to our Emergency Aid Fund here, which we often use to provide emergency accommodation and other essentials for those experiencing homelessness. 

7th Anniversary statement on Grenfell from London Fire Commissioner: There's more important work to do and we will do everything in our power to make improvements

 

From London Fire Brigade

London Fire Commissioner, Andy Roe, said: 

Today marks seven years since the devastating Grenfell Fire, an event that profoundly affected London and forever changed the lives of so many.

Our thoughts remain with the families and loved ones of the 72 people who lost their lives, as well as the survivors, their families and the Grenfell community.

Attending each day of Testimony Week in January this year was yet another moment where we had the opportunity to listen and reflect on the experience of the bereaved, survivors and relatives. Their tireless efforts in pursuit of justice and reform have been inspirational, and their voices continue to be instrumental in driving change and holding us accountable.

Listening to the Grenfell community has been fundamental to our ability to learn from this tragedy, and we will continue to do so. This year, London Fire Brigade completed every recommendation directed specifically to us in the Phase 1 report. We have now introduced important new policies, new equipment, implemented improved training and better ways of working, particularly in how we respond to fires in high-rise buildings. But it is clear there is a lot more important work still to do and we will do everything in our power to make changes to improve our service.

Democracy in Brent – are Cabinet Meeting minutes a work of fiction?

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity

 

Minutes of the 28 May Cabinet meeting, published with the agenda for the 17 June meeting.

 

In March 2022, Martin published a guest blog from me entitled “Democracy in Brent – are Cabinet Meetings a Charade?”. This is a sequel, based on my own experience from the Cabinet meeting on 28 May 2024, including the incident reported by Martin in a blog later that day.

 

I am not suggesting that Brent Cabinet meetings are fictitious. They happen every month, usually with a similar 40 to 45 minute ritual, presided over by the Council Leader. Nor am I implying that everything in the minutes of those meetings is false. But the minutes of those meetings are meant to be a true and correct record, checked (and, if necessary, corrected) before they are signed by the Chair as the official record of what took place, a summary of what was said and what was decided.

 

“Minutes of the Previous Meeting”, from the minutes of the 28 May Cabinet meeting.

 

This is the official record of the checking and approval of the minutes of the previous meeting at Cabinet on 28 May. What actually happened was that Cllr. Butt said: ‘Can we just go through them for accuracy. Page 1, page 2 ….’ Ten turned pages in as many seconds, then onto the next item with no resolution or agreement that they were a correct record.

 

A similar thing will probably happen at the next Cabinet meeting on 17 June. But the published minutes of the meeting on 28 May are NOT a correct record, and I will explain why.

 

The countdown clock for my petition presentation to Cabinet! (That’s me in the corner)

 

I have no quarrel with the minutes for item 5 on the agenda. That was my presentation of the tile murals petition to the Cabinet meeting. The Governance Officer asked me to let him have a copy of the text for my presentation, which I sent him, so that it is an accurate reflection of what I said, and very similar to the version which Martin published the day before the meeting.

 

Where the minutes do not reflect the reality of what happened is at item 7, when the meeting dealt with the award of the Bobby Moore Bridge advertising lease. This is the first part of that section of the minutes:

 


The Report which Cllr. Butt introduced did clearly state, at the start, that there were two potential options as a basis for awarding the contract. But the Council Leader did not refer to the option which would have restricted the advertising to the parapets of the bridge. The petition, and my presentation on it, did refer to both options and made a strong case for that option, ending with: ‘I commend Option A to you, and ask you to vote for it.’

 

I have highlighted the wording which states that Cllr Butt “responded” to the points I had raised. He did not. He only made the slightest reference to my presentation, in part of a sentence, ‘how the contribution that Mr Philip Grant spoke about benefits the borough’. He spoke mainly about the benefits of working with developers, the CIL money this brought in, and the £210m in government funding taken away from the borough over the past 14 years. He wanted to assure residents that his Cabinet was on the side of residents, and that it would continue to provide those services that every resident needs and depends upon.

 

This second part of the minutes gets even worse, as far as accuracy is concerned:

 


‘The Cabinet thanked…’? Cllr. Butt said that he would open the item up for comments from Cabinet members. He glanced around for one second, but no Cabinet member had indicated that they wanted to speak before he moved on to ‘the Recommendation’!

 

There was no evidence that the Cabinet had ‘noted the comments made during the presentation of the petition’. Even if they had “noted” them, they had not discussed or considered those points. It was as if the Cabinet members had decided, or been instructed, that they should not interfere with how the Leader wanted to deal with this matter.

 

It was very soon clear how he wanted to deal with it. The minutes again refer to the two options, and set out what they were. They give the false impression that the “Resolution”, or decision, was made how it SHOULD have been made, along the lines which I set out in an open email to Cllr. Butt on 20 May.

 

In order that the decision between the two options was not only fair, but could be seen to be fair by members of the public interested in the Bobby Moore Bridge tile murals, I had written:

 

‘From my previous experience of watching Cabinet meetings, you would usually ask members whether they agree with the recommendation(s) made by Officers in their Report. 

 

In this particular case, I am requesting that you invite individual votes for “those in favour of Option A” and for “those in favour of Option B”. In the event of an equal number of members voting for each option, you would, of course, have the casting vote as Council Leader and Chair of the meeting.’

 

Straight after his very brief invitation for comments from Cabinet members, Cllr. Butt moved on to the recommendation in the Officer Report, saying that this was for Option B, ‘advertising on the parapet walls of the bridge, plus the underpass walls excluding the mural with plaque.’ He then asked, ‘Can I take this in agreement from Cabinet members?’ With hardly a glance, and in virtually the same breath he said ‘Agreed. Thank you very much.’

 

I was watching, as was Martin, and a fellow Wembley History Society colleague of mine who had signed the petition and come to support it. We are all agreed that no Cabinet member raised a hand, or spoke, to show their agreement!




The final part of the published minutes deals with what happened next:

 


I am pleased that the minutes do mention my point of order, but I did not only “seek” to raise it, I DID raise it. Immediately after what I saw as a procedural irregularity over the “agreement”, I went to the public speaker microphone and said “Point of Order”, an action which should have led to the Chair of the meeting asking me to state what my point of order was.

 

But even as I was approaching the microphone, Cllr. Butt put his hand up and said “No!” He continued to speak over me as I made clear what my point was: ‘‘Point of Order. You said it was agreed, but not a single member of the Cabinet put their hand up to agree.’

 

“No!” Cllr. Butt trying to stop me from speaking. (from the webcast recording of the Cabinet meeting)

 

The minutes say that Cllr. Butt ‘advised he was not minded to accept’ my point of order. That is untrue. He did not even acknowledge that I was raising a point of order. The minutes do not include what my point of order was. If they had included it, and if Cllr. Butt had listened to it, then the “reason” given in the minutes (that I’d already had the opportunity to speak, when presenting the petition) is shown to be nonsense. My point was that the “decision” he had just declared as “agreed” had not been agreed by the Cabinet at the meeting. 

 

What Cllr. Butt actually said, speaking over me, was: ‘Mr Grant. Thank you very much. Mr Grant. Thank you for your contribution. There is no further …’ I continued to explain that I was raising a point of order, and what it was. Cllr. Butt then tried to humiliate me, saying: ‘‘Why are you embarrassing yourself like this?’ At this point, Cllr. Nerva tried to intervene:

 

“Chair. On a point of order …’ (From the Council’s webcast recording at 16:00)

 

Cllr. Nerva appeared to be trying to explain to the Council Leader how he should deal with a point of order which had been raised. However, Cllr. Butt ignored him, and continued to direct his words at me: ‘I’m truly disappointed in yourself. It just shows….’ As I had stopped trying to speak, he finished with: ‘Thank you very much. We will move on. Cabinet has agreed the recommendation for Option B. We will move on.’

 

The reality of what happened is very different from the record in the published minutes!

 

Brent’s Chief Executive, who was sitting next to the Council Leader at the meeting, but kept quiet throughout this, clearly realised that I had raised a point of order, what it was, and that Cllr. Butt had failed to deal with it properly. She wrote to me the following day, with what appears to be the response she thought Cllr. Butt should have made (and not the one included in the minutes!).

 

She wrote (and I have underlined the last part, for emphasis): 

 

‘I noted that you spoke again at the Cabinet meeting at the conclusion of the item that you had spoken to at the beginning of the meeting, in relation to there not being a show of hands in relation to the decision. For clarification, Members were not required to vote in this way, …. The Leader asked for confirmation that the other Members were in agreement with the recommendations and the agreement was unanimous through a verbal process, rather than a show of hands.’

 

My reply to her was:

 

‘There was definitely no show of hands, but a 'verbal process' suggests that Cabinet members spoke their agreement. 

 

There was silence. There was no vote. There was no evidence of agreement at the meeting, other than Cllr. Butt claiming that the recommendation had been agreed.’

 

Silence when Cabinet members were invited to discuss the (heavily biased) Report, and my petition presentation which put forward an alternative view to balance that. Silence when Cabinet members were asked for their agreement to the Officers’ recommendation. Paul Simon summed it up in a 1960s song:

 

Sounds of Silence. (Album cover image and lyrics extract from the internet)

 

Although I have shown that parts of the minutes for item 7 of the Cabinet meeting on 28 May are “a work of fiction” (you can confirm this from the webcast recording on the Council’s website, from 11:50 to 16:23), I don’t wish to blame the Council Officers whose task it is to prepare those minutes. They may have been following instructions. They may have prepared correct draft minutes, but been forced to make changes, after the Council Leader or a Senior Officer went ‘through them for accuracy’. I don’t know. All I do know is that these minutes are not a true and correct record!

 

Philip Grant.

Thursday 13 June 2024

Football match tickets galore and a trip to India feature in latest Brent councillor gifts

 

The Quarter 4 Gifts and Hospital Return tabled for yesterday's  Audits and Standards Advisory Committee revealed the Brent Council leader had received match tickest to the total value of £720 from the Football Association.

He is topped by Cllr Bhagwanji Chohan with an £800 value gift to attend a Gujarati diaspora event. LINK  The entry states:

8.2.2024 to 11.2.2024 - Paid trip to Ahmedavad, India for Pravasi Gujarati Parv 2024 second edition - Guest speaker. Air Travel & hotel approximate value £800. Gift from Pravasi Gujerati Parv.

The event was sponsored by the controversial Adani company. SEE LINK

 


 Cllr Chohan (Chauhan) was one of many speakers, including the Mayor of Harrow.

Publicity for the event included a message from Indian Prime Minister Nahendra Modi


The controversy over Adani included questions about its alleged close relationship with Modi. LINK




Wednesday 12 June 2024

Byron Court strikes against forced academisation continue on Friday and subsequent weeks

 From Brent National Education Union

 

NEU members at Byron Court Primary School are striking again in a fight to save their local community school which is threatened with a forced privatisation by the huge Harris Federation chain of academies. PICKET LINE OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL FRIDAY 14th JUNE 7.30-9.30am! [Subsequent dates: 18th/19th June, 25th/27th June and 2nd, 3rd and 4th July]

 

Staff at Byron Court Primary School in Wembley continue to strike to save their local community school from a forced “academy order” following an intimidating Ofsted inspection. They are striking  following their protest, alongside parents and the NASUWT outside the DfE last week in which a petition of over 2000 signatures was handed over, supported by Barry Gardiner, the constituency Labour Candidate.

 

THE NEU HAVE YESTERDAY LAUNCHED A “GO YELLOW” CAMPAIGN ACROSS ALL BRENT SCHOOLS in which staff are asked to wear yellow or black as an act of solidarity with striking members at Byron Court. Yellow and black are the current Byron Court uniform colours and the campaign is launched on the day that Harris Federation are forcing their way into the school to “consult” pupils on a new uniform.

 

Staff have today heard that the proposed TUPE consultation will not conclude until AFTER the general election, bringing real hope that the incoming Secretary of State will pause this forced academisation process.

 

Jenny Cooper of the NEU national executive has stated:

 

Forced academisation is a process opposed by most education unions and flies in the face of democracy; this should not happen in a civilised society. We call on all political parties to reverse this policy if elected and to start by intervening to save Byron Court

Tuesday 11 June 2024

Tirzah House, Kingsbury and King Edward VII Park Pavilion developments both approved at Brent Planning Committee


The planning application for demolition of the existing pavilion building in King Edward VII park and its replacement by a building with a much larger footprint comprising facilities for Stonebridge Boxing Club was approved unanimously at tonight's Brent Planning Committee. Issues such as lighting in the park are still to be resolved as the Parks Department has no budget available to install lights.

The application for a much larger replacement building for 2 storey family house,  Tirzah Mansion, at 26 Salmon Street, Kingsbury, NW9 (on the corner of Queens Walk) was approved with two votes against. Cllr Saqib Butt opposed as there was a policy shortfall and the proposed building's bulk and massing. Cllr Robert Johnson was concerned that it had no affordabel housing and the developer's contribution of £41,000 towards affordable housing elsewhere was 'miniscule'. He also felt that the plans amounted to over-development.

 

Tweets from the Planning Committee as it progressed can be found @WembleyMatters 

 


 

LETTER: Wembley Stadium is a money grabbing monster sucking the life out of our community

 Dear Editor,

Our family has lived near Wembley Stadium since the late 1950s and it's now unbearable compared to how it used to be!!!

Wembley residents are now treated like second class citizens!!!

We can't get home from work on event days because trains are packed and buses are diverted or don't run at all or are stuck in endless traffic jams - how do the elderly, the disabled or those visiting relatives in local hospitals cope???

We can't have visitors on event days because the trains are packed, buses are diverted or don't run at all or are stuck in endless traffic jams and local pubs and restaurants are full or charging more for limited option event day menus. Some of the pubs near the stadium now even charge you £20 entry fee on event days.

We can't even sit in our gardens in the summer because we have helicopters circling overhead for HOURS on event days!!!

Also we volunteer with lots of local groups and you can't plan vital fund raising events, many of which need major advance organisation and publicity, because of late notice of event days and the parking restrictions and bus diversions.

The current cap on the number of major Wembley Stadium events should not be increased!!!

We used to be proud to live near 'Wembley Stadium' but this new Wembley Stadium is just a money grabbing monster sucking the life out of our community here in Wembley.

Anon.

 

Note: This letter was first submitted as a comment on the previous article about the proposal and is reproduced as a letter with the permission of the author. As with all letters publication does not indicate agreement with its content but for discussion of the issues raised.

Monday 10 June 2024

Tirzah Mansion, Salmon Street, 13 flats to replace family house - Brent Planning Committee tomorrow

 

Tirzah Mansion, 26 Salmon Street now (Krisha Court far left)


 Proposed flats

Tomorrow's Brent Council Planning Committee will consider a significant application for conversion of a large family home into flats LINK. The site is at the junction of Queens Walk and Salmon Street. Across Queens Walk is Krishna Court, a block of 9 flats that also replaced a family house. Thirteen flats are proposed for the Tirzah Mansion site.

The value of redevelopment into 13 flats is shown by the current valuation of the existing house.

Source

There are 27 individual objections to the plans based mainly on the size of the building and not fitting into the suburban landscape of Queens Walk. Objectors include St Nicholas Prep school on Salmon Street.


Queens Walk

 

However, the officers' report suggests its fits in well with the existing frontages along that side of Salmon Street.

No affordable housing is provided but as the viability assessment suggests a surplus, a contribution to affordable housing elsewhere is required subject to a late viability review.

Some changes have been made to the original plans with no habitable room windows overlooking 43 Queens Walk and moving the car park closer to Queens Walk.

Objectors point to the case of Krishna Court which was pitched to Planning Committee as increasing Brent's housing while in fact it has been operating as a short stay luxury apartments hotel LINK. Officers say this could not happen as a hotel would require specific planning permission. However, they have failed to take action over Krisha Court. See LINK

This passage in the officers' report is particularly significant (and not only for the fact that they got the name of Salom Street wrong!). See the last sentence:

As noted above, the application site is not located within a priority location for additional housing. In this regard, Policy BH4 requires greater weight to be placed upon the existing character of the area when determining the density of development appropriate. The area surrounding the property mainly comprises of traditional two storey detached and semi-detached properties with mid to large sized garden areas. A number of these properties benefit from loft conversions, with visible extensions to the roof such as dormer windows. Krishna Court to the opposite street corner on Queens Walk comprises three storeys, whilst Cherrylands Close to the north also comprises a taller development, with accommodation in the heightened roofspace (second floor level). The site is also located approximately 80m from the Salmon Lane Intensification Corridor to the south, whereby Policy BD2 identifies that up to 5 storeys could be acceptable. The policy accepts that the character of these streets will change and that heights of proposals do not necessarily have to reflect existing adjacent properties. The anticipation is that over time, if the policy is successful, those buildings are also likely to be replaced with more intense development.

 

The officer's conclude:

The proposal is considered to accord with the development plan, and, having regard to all material planning considerations, should be approved subject to conditions and obligations secured through a Section 106 Agreement. The proposal would result in the provision of 13 new homes, including 4 family sized homes, and would meet an identified need in the borough. The scheme would comply with affordable housing policy despite the absence of affordable housing on site as the relatively low surplus identified means that an off-site contribution would be appropriate.
The proposed development is slightly larger than the surrounding buildings both in terms of height and massing. As discussed, the Officer view is that the design responds well to its the context and is well composed. No harm is considered to result to the setting of the St. Andrew's Conservation Area. However, if one did conclude that a degree of harm resulted, the Officer's view is that the level of harm this would be "less than substantial" and significantly outweighed by the benefits of the scheme,

 



 

Full General Election candidate list for Queen's Park and Maida Vale consituency

This new constituency includes the Brent wards of Kilburn, Queen's Park and Harlesden and Kensal Green.

Helen Baxter, Liberal Democrat

Angela Carter-Begbie, Reform UK

Abdulla Dharami, Independent

Georgia Gould, Labour

Samia Hersi, Conservative Party candidate

Vivien Lichtenstein, Green Party

Irakli Menabde, Workers Party

Stonebridge Box Club application for new building in King Edward VII Park, Wembley, at Planning Committee tomorrow

 

The replacement building on the site of the King Edward VII Park pavilion goes to Brent Planning Committee tomorrow. The application has been covered previously on Wembley Matters HERE.

There have been 23 objections and 66 supporters, the latter often from further afield as supporters of the Stonebridge Boxing Club and its activities. There is one neutral comment that supports the use but is critical of the proposed building.

The building occupies a larger footprint that the current building or the initial proposal resulting in the loss of some green space and trees.


Unusually the planning consent relates solely to its use by Stonebridge Boxing Club that also has a building earmarked at the Stonebridge Station development LINK.

Many practical issues to do with the use of the facility are left to negotiations with the Parks Department,

Planners argue that the benefits of the club facility, toilets, cafe etc outweigh the loss and will enhance the open space LINK:

 

The proposed development would replace a currently vacant, unused building with a modern, purpose-built facility. Whilst the proposed footprint of the building would be larger than the existing by 318.8sqm, it is considered that the proposal would bring animation, activity and natural surveillance to the park, contributing to its amenity value and providing community benefits including supporting the operation of Stonebridge Boxing Club which provides a number of benefits for the local community.

 

With regard to Policy G4, the proposed footprint of the building would be 576.8sqm, an increase of 318.8sqm over the existing footprint of 285sqm. The surrounding hardstanding would also be increased.

 

While the café use would serve the open space, indoor sports and fitness are not typically seen to be open space uses and the proposal is therefore seen to be the loss of protected open space. This space in question would not be suitable for use as sports pitches, as there is a significant fall in ground levels within it and it is in close proximity to a number of mature trees. The total area of open space within the park is approximately 10.5 hectares and the amount of open space lost would equate to circa 0.5% of the total park space. It is considered that the harm caused by the relatively minor increase in the loss of open space in this instance would be very limited and this harm must be weighed against the benefits of the proposal.

 

To summarise, the proposed development would result in the provision of indoor sports and fitness which is not considered to be an open space use and therefore would be seen to result in the loss of protected open space. However, it would also result in benefits, including the provision of the café and toilet and the fitness and community benefits associated with Stonebridge Boxing Club. The benefits associated with the development are considered to outweigh the limited amount of harm associated with the loss of the open space. Given that the harm is being weighed against benefits associated in part with the work that is done by Stonebridge Boxing Club, it is considered necessary to secure the consent as relating solely to use by Stonebridge Boxing Club . It should be noted that the building in itself would be acceptable had it been proposed solely for uses to support the park.

 

Those interested can attend the meeting at Brent Civic Centre tomorrow at 6pm or follow the live feed HERE

Committee members are briefed beforehand at 12 noon.

Community skips skipped due to General Election

 

We are all familiar with the publicity shots of Brent councillors with 'community skips' and smiling, albeit slightly embarrassed Veolia staff, but a ruling that purdah rules means that they cannot take place during a General Election suggests that these have always been a party political event rather than a council service. Community skips were in the Labour Party council election manifesto.

The rules state:

 Local authorities in Great Britain have a statutory responsibility not to publish any material which appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party. The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity is issued under section 4 of the Local Government Act 1986, as amended, and local authorities must have regard to it. Publicity is “any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public." This guidance applies at all times but during the pre-election period greater care is generally taken and goes beyond just publicity. Use of council facilities and resources should not be used for party political campaigning.


The fact that the guidance 'applies at all times' does raise the issue of previous publicity put out by the Council's public relations department on the council's official twitter feed. 

 

If councillor presence was just for party publicity could the skips have continued quietly without them?