Tuesday, 3 January 2017

GANGS - Brent Council 'It's Time to Talk' event January 17th, Roundwood YC

I have received this from Brent Council. I am not sure what concrete measures, if any, emerged from the previous Time to Talk events but you may wish to attend.

Following on from two successful It’s Time to Talk events earlier this year on Hate Crime and Extremism, Brent Council will play host to another on 17 January 5.30pm at the Roundwood Youth Centre in Harlesden. This time we will be focusing on gangs and what Brent can do as a community to tackle them and prevent them from emerging in the future.

Attending the event will be a number of high-profile speakers including Angela Herbert MBE of the National Offender Management Service, Maria Arpa of the Centre for Peaceful Solutions and DJ Gussy of Roots FM and a former gang member.

The event will take the form of a Question Time style panel discussion, followed by resident workshops. The aim is to develop community-led strategies to empower all people in Brent to unite and create a stronger, safer borough. If you would like to ask a question then please submit it to james.curtis@brent.gov.uk. Please note that depending on the volume of questions, not all may be able to be asked. 

If you would like to have your say on the issues then please come along to this FREE event.

Cllr Zaffar Van Kalwala (Labour, Stonebridge) produced a well received report ‘ A review of gangs in Brent and the development of services for prevention, intervention and exiting’ for the Scrutiny Committee in 2013. LINK

Since then Brent Council has closed youth centres, sacked youth workers and demolished Stonebridge Adventure Playground.

Having taught children from Stonebridge and St Raphaels I know how important the Adventure Playground and other youth facilities were in providing activities for young people who might otherwise get drawn into crime, particularly around drugs, as well as the workers themselves providing alternative role models.

What intervention at that level does is prevent children getting involved in the fringes of gangs and then gradually bcoming full members.  When I studied gangs decades ago in Battersea I found that there was an overlapping age profile.  Children as young as 10 were involved in a fairly benign  ‘junior gang’ but the oldest of that gang would also hang out with more ‘senior’ gangs and perform tasks such as delivering drugs or climbing through windows to steal for them. The overlapping groups formed an age hierachy becoming fully fledged gangs by the time members were in their 20s.

This was very much the pattern I found in Brent with primary age children being used to deliver drugs by bicycle for older gang members.   What was more disturbing was that in discussion Year 6 boys who weren’t yet involved  nonetheless expressed admiration for leading gang members in both terms of status and materially.  They unfavourably compared their teachers with role models who had status in the community and had the ‘bling, the cars and the girls.’  This is a key point where teachers, play workers and youth workers can intervene.

The Kalwala report stated:
When we met with a representative from the Metropolitan Police’s Trident Gangs Command Unit, he told us that offenders of gang-related crime, including knife and gun-enabled offences, tend to be male and between 14-25 years old. Mr Champion also said that along with robbery, burglary theft and assault, drugs supply was major concern and that gangs are now grooming boys as young as 10 years old. We heard that as a young person gets older, the role he plays within the gang also changes. Professor Pitts told us that whilst younger boys are being recruited as young as 10, they may only be acting as a scout or runner (of drugs) whilst teenagers may get involved in street-level drug supply. Older gang members, such as those 18 and older may escalate to more violent offences. These older youths may also become responsible for coordinating the activities of the younger members. Older gang members (21 years old or older) are likely to hold a more senior role within the gang which could include developing links with organised crime groups. Brent police told the task group that beyond 25, they are either in prison, dropped out and settled down or not as visible as they are involved in organised crime.
In coverage of the  ‘Time to Talk’ meeting in the Kilburn Times LINK  Keith Gussy Young (DJ Gussy)  owner of RootsFM  who will be speaking at the event said:
Young people need to be listened to, and there are a lot of young people out there, good people. If we don’t find a solution to really listen to them it will create a vicious cycle.

Most of our youth clubs have been shut down now forcing our children back on the streets. It’s not an easy subject but people at the top have to start listening. They may be building all these new flats but they need to build youth centres as well.

The “blasted oak”, and other history around Barn Hill

Many thanks to Philip Grant for this fascinating guest blog.
Martin’s recent report on the sad loss of the “Blasted Oak” on Barn Hill LINK  said that the tree ‘had been there for well over 100 years’. I think that it may have been part of the local landscape for well over 200 years, and it gives me the excuse to share a little more local history with you.

The area around Barn Hill today looks a lot different from what it was 100 years ago. This extract from the Ordnance Survey map (reproduced from the 1920 edition of the 6 inch to one mile map of Middlesex, Sheet XI) was surveyed just before the First World War. I have added an arrow to indicate roughly where the “Blasted Oak” would have stood at the time, and you can see that it was part of a belt of trees across the lower slope of Barn Hill, before the open fields of the surrounding farmland began, with the footpath (F.P.) running beside it.

click on image to enlarge
That belt of trees, which then ran south along the boundary between the Urban Districts of Wembley and Kingsbury as far as Wembley Park Station (and had been the boundary between Harrow and Kingsbury parishes since Saxon times), was part of the design by landscape gardener, Humphry Repton, for the Page family’s Wembley Park estate, which was planted out in 1793. Some of the oak trees on and around Barn Hill from that time still survive, and their high branches provide a popular perching place for the hill’s resident parakeets.
As you will see from the map, Barn Hill 100 years ago was the site of a golf course, but there were some other interesting sporting facilities close by. For a time up until the First World War, there was a polo ground where today you will find the houses of Greenhill and Greenhill Way. It is no coincidence that the road built around 1930, across the former fields where the polo ponies were kept, is called The Paddocks.

The fields to the west of Barn Hill are marked as a shooting ground. Uxendon Shooting Club was the venue for the “Clay Bird” (clay pigeon) shooting events at the 1908 London Olympic Games, as this grainy photograph (from a microfilm copy of the “Evening Standard” for 11 July 1908) shows, with another belt of trees on Barn Hill in the distance:

As Uxendon Farm had very poor road access in 1908, the Metropolitan Railway built Preston Road Station so that competitors and spectators could get to the event. The temporary wooden platforms for this “halt” (the trains stopped “by request” only) were used until the current station was built, on the opposite side of Preston Road, as part of a 1930’s suburban development. West Hill, Uxendon Hill and the roads between them were built around the same time on the site of the shooting ground, after the farm was demolished to make way for a railway extension to Stanmore, which opened in 1932 and is now the Jubilee Line.

Uxendon Farm’s history has provided the names for two local primary schools. At the time of our first Queen Elizabeth, it was the main house and farm of Uxendon Manor, the home of the Bellamy family. They were Roman Catholics, and often provided shelter for visiting priests. One who was arrested there around 1590 was Robert Southwell, who at a time of religious intolerance was tortured, charged with treason and horribly executed for the “crime” of being a Jesuit. He was one of forty “English Martyrs” chosen by the Catholic Church in the 20th century, to represent many more who had been killed for their faith in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Half a mile to the east, Hill (or Hillhouse) Farm in Salmon Street was the main manor farm of Kingsbury Parish, from the 1300’s up until 1950. Old St Andrew’s Church has a remarkable record of the Shepard family, the farmers there in Tudor times. A memorial brass to John Shepard, who died in 1520, shows him with his two wives, Anne and Maude. He must have remarried when his first wife died, after bearing him seven sons and three daughters, while his second wife gave him a further five sons and three daughters, all depicted in brass (in their “Sunday best” clothes) on his tombstone.

The trees and fields of Fryent Country Park, and its adjoining areas now built on, have so many stories to tell. I hope you have enjoyed discovering a few of them, as the result of the loss of just one such tree. Happy New Year!

Philip Grant

'Rescue Our Schools' looks forward to a busy 2017 as they stand up for parents, pupils and communities

I have received this update from Rescue Our Schools, a campaign which made a big impact in 2016, and thought it worth sharing.

 Dear All,

What a year 2016 has been for education. We thought it was time for a quick sum up of the key events and what Rescue Our Schools has achieved in our inaugural year, before we look forward to 2017 and steel ourselves for still more battles to rescue our schools from dogma and cuts. So here goes with ….

The 2016 Schools Report: Department for Education
A Shocking White Paper unleashes a wave of Parent Activism
March 2016: The government unveils its White Paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere” and so-called Fair Funding Formula for schools. The plan is to force all schools to become academies and to get rid of the role of an elected parent governor. Within weeks we form Rescue Our Schools, juggling it with parental duties during the Easter holidays. Parent group Let Our Kids be Kids forms at the same time, and within weeks thousands of families support the May children’s strike against the test-driven curriculum in primary schools, driving out creativity and ushering in stress and anxiety for young children in its wake. It’s time to get not party political, but parent political. This was Rescue Our School’s rallying cry as we spoke publicly for the first time in front of 20,000 people in Trafalgar Square, at the People’s Assembly Rally. Wow! We are out there! Next stop the Parents Defending Education conference, where star turn Fiona Forrest speaks alongside Michael Rosen against the prison routine in her daughter’s school. The Guardian covers the story and within days there is regime change at the South London secondary.
Morgan gets her alphabet muddled, and presents an S bend as a U turn
…because it was never really a U turn re forced academisation. The announcement in June that this policy was to be abandoned came alongside a continued commitment to force schools in predominantly academy-run areas to join the club. Likewise, if they were deemed to be failing, they would be forced to become academies. Anyone who cared to read the small print could see the government was still ideologically driven to remove local authorities from education. It goes without saying that there was still no evidence that becoming an academy improved education… That said, we like to think that Rescue Our Schools helped usher in this concession of sorts. Forced academisation was one of the key reasons why we set RoS up. We also contribute detailed evidence to the Commons Select Committee on Education on our deep reservations about multi academy trusts.
Back to the Future with Grammars…
July 2016: Nicky Morgan is sacked as education secretary as Theresa May becomes prime minister. Justine Greening takes over at the Department for Education. Despite being the first comprehensive-educated education secretary, within weeks it’s announced that the government wants to bring back grammar schools.  Another campaign group, the Fair Education Alliance, is set up to fight grammars amid a near consensus that selection will worsen social mobility and damage education for the majority of students.  Discontent among Conservatives is widely reported on at the party conference in October.
 Autumn Brings a Hint of Backtracking..
The March White Paper is quietly dropped.  The government is no longer proposing to drop the role of elected parent governors. This is another victory for Rescue Our Schools: we fought strongly against getting rid of parental involvement. However the government is still pushing hard for multi academy trusts, and their governing structures often give parents little opportunity to be actively involved as governors. RoS founding members are all too aware of this from personal experience. Meanwhile, Justine Greening announces small concessions on SATS and a government-led consultation. Parents and professionals remain unconvinced and set up More than A Score with Rescue Our Schools as a key coalition partner.  The aim of the alliance is to phase out SATS and other standardised tests and bring back a more creative approach in the primary curriculum. Meanwhile, we submit a detailed response to the government consultation on grammars, pointing out that the government’s priority should be funding  and the teacher recruitment crisis, not more piecemeal meddling in school structures. We also speak at the World Transformed festival in Liverpool, alongside the Labour party conference, and at anti-cuts events in both Parliament Square and outside the Department for Education in London.
But the Battle Lines are drawn against Cuts..
Finally, in December the government unveils its proposals to redistribute schools funding. Some areas that have traditionally been underfunded are due to get more money (but by no means all of these areas). Meanwhile, London in particular is due for a 3 per cent hit.  It has achieved better results through greater funding and increased collaboration between schools: both these approaches are under attack from this government. Local campaign groups spring up to fight for investment in our children’s education. At Rescue Our Schools we will support the effort in whatever way we can.
Some wise words for the New Year
Our children are, as ever, our future. Under this government they are being scandalously shortchanged. But there are 14 million households in England with dependent children. That is a lot of voters – and a lot of increasingly disgruntled voters. So, politicians, it’s time to wake up and realise that the more you damage our children’s education, the more we as parents and teachers will damage you at the ballot box. You have been warned…
For all our lovely Rescue Our Schools supporters…
We hope you have had a wonderful Christmas - and thank you for supporting us and believing in us in our launch year. RoS is up and running, engaging parents across the country, and is a partner in key campaigns. All up we have spoken at demos across England and at numerous local campaign meetings against unwanted free schools, multi academy trusts and other ideological intrusions into communities. We expect 2017 to be an equally busy year.

If you can spare a few hours a week to our campaign please get in touch at info@rescueourschools.co.uk.

Remember: We're not party political but we want you to get PARENT POLITICAL!

From the Rescue Our Schools team

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Brent Council Tax rise of 4.99% in each of the next 2 years and no raid on reserves, recommended by Scrutiny Panel

Two main measures come up every year in the budget discussions in Brent when trying to mitigate the impact of lower government funding of local government.  One is the raising of Council Tax and the other is using some of the Council's reserves.

The Budget Scrutiny Panel has come out in favour of raising Council Tax and against using reserves to help fund services.


The government has give local authorties the power to bring forward the permitted Council Tax rise for social care so that the total amount is spent over the next two years (3% for 2 years then none in the third year) rather than 3 years. In addition there is the permitted, without a referendum, increase of 1.99% for other services.

The table above shows that this creates the need for almost £14m cuts in 2019-20. The next local elections are in 2018 so the incoming adminstration will have to administer those cuts.

The Panel argue:

Increasing Brent’s Council Tax by 4.99 per cent in the next couple of years could have a significant impact on the Council’s ability to continue to deliver these services as clearly demonstrated in the table above.
Of course, the Budget Scrutiny Panel was also acutely aware that it would be the ordinary residents of Brent who would have to pick up this tab.
The median income for residents of Brent is £33,482, significantly lower than both the outer London (£37,366) and inner London (£41,428) medians. We therefore have a special responsibility to ensure that the level of our Council Tax is not punitive.
Fortunately, it seems that Brent has so far met this obligation as our Council Tax is at the lower end of the spectrum in comparison to other London boroughs.
We recommend that over the long-term Brent keeps a close watch on its position in this table to ensure that our Council Tax level does not rise out of kilter with the rest of London.
However, in the short term we believe that a Council tax rise would be affordable for most of our local residents, particularly with Council Tax Support which ensures those on eligible benefits only pay 20 per cent of the tax.
To put into context:
·      A typical Band D property will currently be charged £1101.24 a year in 2016/17 (this is the Brent charge and excludes the GLA precept)
A rise of 4.99 per cent would add £55.07 to this bill
This would cost the tax pay a little over a pound per week
This appears to presume no change in the Council Tax Support  Scheme.


The Panel argue:
The Council currently has unallocated reserves of around £12m. The Panel are comfortable with this level and do not propose taking money out of reserves to make up for losses in the Council’s grant.
The Council still faces many financial risks, from global factors in an uncertain political world, to local issues such as the increasing demand generated by the ageing population of Brent and the potential increase in demand for social care.
Should all of these risks to come to fruition the Council would only have reserves to cover the attendant costs for a couple of years. This is of course unlikely but reserves exist to cover the unlikely and we believe it would be imprudent to reduce them.
The Panel make a series of recommendations that will be discussed at Resources and Public Realm Sccutiny on Tuesday 10th January 7pm Civic Centre.  There is much more background discussion in the Full Report which can be found HERE


This report has presented the Budget Scrutiny Panel’s views on a wide range of topic attending to the budget. The report should be read as a whole with suggestions and ideas to be pulled out of almost every section. However, the key recommendations for reform which we would like to highlight are as follows:
1.     In future, any further proposals to reduce spending in Council budgets should be thoroughly evidence-based, with research into the likely impact on service users from any such change. The Council will need to be flexible and open-minded in looking at the most effective ways to deliver better services to Brent residents for the lowest possible cost. 

2.     The current demand-led review of Brent’s CPZ should be expanded with the aim of delivering a settlement for the whole of Brent which will be sustainable over the next twenty years to give further financial certainty to the authority. As part of this, the idea of day time visitor windows should be particularly investigated. 

3.     A report outlining all large-scale developments in the recent and upcoming years should be brought to the appropriate Scrutiny Committee in three months’ time. This would emphasise how mixed used each development was and allow scrutiny members to take a view on whether the balance is currently correct. 

4.     The Council should be forceful when dealing with TFL and seek to maximise business space in tube stations and use every development of a tube station as a potential to attract a new business to Brent. 

5.     A single “Business Attraction Manager” post, perhaps accompanied by a small team, should be set up in Brent. This would be a none-departmental role with the responsibility of attracting business to the borough and incentivised financially to achieve this without become a new financial burden to the Council. 

6.     Brent should seek to coordinate all local public sector bodies to develop a standard set of pre-qualification tests for procurement opportunities to make it easier for local firms to bid for work. 

7.     We believe that Cabinet should reconsider proceeding with proposal 1718BUD6 which would introduce charges (for) a more rapid collection of bulky waste, due to the reputational risk to Brent. Specifically, officers should model whether better signposting to other local services, including those within the authority, could deliver similar savings.

Budget Scrutiny Panel oppose bulky collection charge

The Budget Scrutiny Panel has asked the Council to think again about introducing payment for bulky waste collections.  The amount to be saved is relatively small at £250,000 and I suspect it may have been put in as one of those token items that the Council can revise after the budget consultation to show that it has 'listened' to residents.  But maybe I just have a suspicious mind.

The original proposal was very vague regarding the actual level of charges so it was hard to see how the sum of £250k had been arrived at. It appeared to be offering a faster premium service if residents were prepared to pay a charge:
The proposal is about introducing a differentiated charging scheme for the removal of bulky items, retaining some level of free service, so that:
·      operating costs are recovered
·      a popular service can be sustained
·      waste disposal volumes are better controlled
·      demand is better regulated
·      waiting times are reduced; and
·      monies received can be re-invested in the service

How would this affect users of this service?

Customers may notice altered operational arrangements and revised service terms and conditions. In some instances, service users would need to pay for the removal of bulky items or make alternative arrangements for disposal.
The Panel Report states:

The Panel had severe concerns about this proposal, primarily focused around the potential reputational damage to “Brand Brent” for what is a relatively small saving.
We understand that this proposal is designed to offer a “gold standard” option for people who wish to dispose of bulky waste items. In essence rather than wait the current standard period of time of around six weeks for a free collection they can pay to have the items removed sooner. However, as the policy is stated on the detailed options paper this is less than clear and could be interpreted as restricting the right of local people to have their bulky waste collected by the Council. This is a sensitive political area and we feel that when speaking about this subject the Council needs to be extra careful to get its messaging right so no misinformation gets into the public arena.
We are not confident that the Council has fully modelled the potential cost of an increased level of illegal rubbish dumping which may occur if people come to believe that they will have to pay new costs to have their bulky waste taken away. This could undermine the overall level of savings. 
Overall, the Panel felt that similar savings may be achievable by better sign posting people to other agencies who collect waste for free, including the growing number of furniture and electrical charity shops, or charities which provide furniture and white goods to people on low incomes.
This will not be a simple task. Council staff will have to be trained to give absolutely accurate information to ensure that residents do not become frustrated or feel they are being misinformed.
An example would be a local person ringing the Council to ask them to take away a sofa. The resident would be informed that they can wait up to 6 weeks for the Council to take it away, or call their local British Heart Foundation store who could take it away more quickly and for free. The Council operative would have to be sure from the call that it was an item of furniture the charity shop would take, and have the correct number for the shop as well as knowing the areas it collects from etc.
Similarly, Council departments would need to work together even more closely to ensure that products offered for collection to the environmental teams are passed to the benefits teams when people are in need of second hand goods for their homes.
We believe that this investment in time and training would be worthwhile as it would not only reduce the number of collections the Council needs to carry out but also reduce the amount of waste going into landfill which incurs a Landfill Tax charge to the Council. It would also have the wider social benefit of promoting re-use and recycling as first options in even more circumstances.