Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Tulip Siddiq makes a passionate plea for her EU residents

Cllr Carr raises key questions on Brent's Eastern Europeans report

Guest blog by Dr Helen Carr, Indepedent councillor in Brent, on the report about the Eastern European community in Brent. Publication does not mean that I agree with everything said in the article but I think Cllr Carr raises important issues. The original report is HERE


Feedback, comments, notes & queries re: ‘East European Communities Living in LB of Brent’

1.1.What do you mean by ‘socio economic barriers’? Barriers to what? Who and what is this report for? What is this report intended to do? To describe, compare and contrast who, what and why?
‘Does not include rough sleepers, overcrowding or anti-social behaviour’. Why not? Surely these are all ‘socio economic barriers’ 

1.2 ‘Eastern European’ – which countries exactly? This is a redundant Cold War term, similar to ‘Eastern Bloc’. Does this include the Central Europe (Mittle Europea) Balkans (not all in the E.U.), the Baltics, and South Eastern Europe (Romania and Bulgaria)?
3.1 Romania is in South Eastern Europe. Where is the evidence the Polish community is settled? 

 Which Poles? Why are ‘Poles’ settled and Romanians not? What do you mean by ‘settled’?

By Romanians, do you mean ‘Romanian speakers’, Roma(ny), Romanian speakers from Moldova? Cigany (Gypsy Roma) forms of speech can be heard in and around Mapesbury alone. Speakers can be divided into two groups: Beas (archaic Romanian, similar to Chaucer’s English), Csengo and Lovari (a Magyar Romanian mix found in Banat and Transylvania). How do you know what type of passports / ID people hold? Even if documents can be produced, the black market trade in ID passports, especially for non EU peoples not entitled to work in the UK is thriving. Not all peoples of Romania speak what the Romanian State understands as ‘modern Romanian’. Even in 2001, there was not an agreed official orthography.

Where is the evidence for any of this material? This is a public document. This might not be an academic paper, but this does not mean there should not be intellectual rigor. The majority? How many is the ‘majority’? How was the material collected and by whom? Over what time frame – did anyone attend any of the Romanian Churches/Church groups? In which case, it would be obvious that many women, who are not necessarily publicly and obviously visible (why would they be?), live and work in the hotel and catering industry, or as domestic workers (servants). 

'Men and women are ‘sex workers’. Are ‘East European’ female sex workers subject to ‘abuse and violence’ and ‘health inequalities’ more or less than other sex workers? What about the men? Or are all Eastern European women sex workers?

3.4 Where is the evidence for any of this material? There are sufficiently few numbers to be specific.

Homeless referrals (Start Plus): Not all peoples in Romania are considered ‘white’: is this description or ascription? Cigany/Romany peoples in Hungary especially are described as ‘our black problem’.  

4. Recommendations
4.1 The most obvious issue here is, what for? Is this report intended to ‘get a better understanding’ of...? What languages are required if ‘information and support’ are to be provided? What if the ‘clients’ are not literate in the mother tongue?
4.3 What do you mean by ‘personal and social skills’? Are all ‘East Europeans’ smokers who are anti-social, mentally ill, substance abusers and prostitutes?
4.6 ‘Ethnographic Research: to inform outreach.’  Conducted by whom? To what end? Shouldn’t this have been conducted before this report was produced?
5.0. Where is the money for this ‘research’ coming from? What for? This statement is meaningless. Who decides ‘need’?
6.0 I am afraid there may be legal implications from this report: is the report intended to demonstrate deprivation or discrimination? Of who? By who? Unfortunately, the authors do seem to have demonstrated their own prejudice and discrimination. This report is in the public domain. I refer the authors of this report to the recent publications of the Equalities Commission and Hate Crime.
7.0 As above.
8.0 As above. I am concerned a staff member of Brent with the job title ‘Head of Equality’ has produced this report. There is insufficient material related to the role of the ‘Partnerships and Engagement Manager’ to warrant inclusion.
Why are there no background papers?   

The ‘Situation of the Roma’, as it has become known, has been seen in terms of discrimination and deprivation. In November 1998, I contributed to a report commissioned by the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) in which I first voiced concerns about alleged abuses of Roma in Hungary.[1] In particular, “of cases concerning inhuman and degrading treatment.”[2] The situation of the Roma was and is understood in terms of relative deprivation, or ‘lack’: the lack of decent salary and income, good housing, satisfactory clothing and nutrition, healthy drinking water, education, and the ability to compete with non-Cigany (Kemeny 1992: 157). Public and state discourse has until recently perceived the cause of this ‘lack’ as the Cigany culture itself. Integration has always been seen as a solution (Stewart 1993: 187).

It seems from this report, that almost 20 years later, the same prejudices and discrimination are being applied by Brent Council to sections of its own population.

I am concerned about why people are leaving in huge swathes of Europe to seek a life in the UK. As EU citizens they are entitled to work, but not claim asylum (and all the rights and privileges this allows). Yet they too are fleeing poverty, distress, discrimination and deprivation, and also war: the war in the Crimea following Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine has inevitably sent populations fleeing westwards, as has the build-up of Nato troops along the Baltic borders with Russia. I represent all residents in my ward, and the Borough, not just the noisy, rich posh ones. I am particularly concerned those groups such as Roma who are an under/ unrepresented socio-economic demographic in the political process have a voice:  they tend to be excluded and avoid participation precisely because of the sort of discrimination and prejudice exhibited in this report.  

We need to demonstrate our commitment to human rights and protection of minority groups, especially important in the current toxic climate. Reports such as these are at the very least unhelpful. At worst, legitimise prejudice and discrimination because they emanate from the State - a Local Authority (and one with no ethnic majority at that). 

Public Space Protection Order

I wonder if this report is intended to legitimise the further extension of the Public Space Protection Order in Mapesbury? This is a tool originally intended to prevent large crowds gathering and ergo protect the public (and property) from injury and damage. It is not intended to protect house prices or enhance gentrification. I object again to the renewal of this Order in Mapesbury. 

We need to see the police records and statistics if we are to assess the usefulness of this Order: which crimes? How are they linked to the Order? Who commits these crimes and what category of crimes are they? If the police receive complaints about ‘migrant’ workers, from who? Where? What sort of complaints? How many, when, and how many are generated by the same people over what period of time?   

If we exchange the term ‘East European migrant worker’ with ‘Jew’ or ‘black’, would we be comfortable with this report?  

Cllr. Dr Helen Carr, Research Associate, University of Oxford, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography: Elected Fellow Royal Anthropological Institute; UK Delegate and Representative, Congress of the Council of Europe.

[1] United Nations Press Releases. Hungary Presents Report to Committee against Torture. HR/CAT/98/38. November 17, 1998.
[2] United Nations Committee Against Torture. Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee Against Torture - Hungary. United Nations Publications. November 19, 1998.

We need to talk about SYRIA - come along on Monday

From Brent Stop the War

Speaker Dr Anne Alexander
Co-ordinator, Digital Humanities Network, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge.

It is a hundred years since the Sykes-Picot agreement mapped out the extension of French and British control over areas of the Middle East which had, for hundreds of years, been part of the Ottoman Empire. The divisions that followed that agreement have influenced the subsequent history of the region culminating in the current complex situation of a war with multiple protagonists. Anne Alexander will give us an update on the tragic situation and its historical and political context.

Monday 12th December 7.30pm
375 High Rd, Willesden
NW10 2JR

Very close to Willesden Bus Garage, buses 6,52,98,226,260,266,302,460, and just five minutes’ walk from Dollis Hill Jubilee Line station

Details of a play about war and surveillance in the UK by one of our Brent Stop the War supporters: ISIS at Elmwood Theatre Club, Elmwood Lawn Terrace Club, Holland Road, NW10 5AJ : the Brent dates are 15-17 December 7.30pm DETAILS

The issues behind the Green Party's Richmond Park furore as Green Left calls for transparency

Green Left*, the eco-socialist group with the Green Party, has issued the following statement over the controversy over the Richmond Park by-election, which includes allegations over undue pressure on local members to stand aside for the Liberal Democrat candidate in order to defeat Zac Goldsmith and a donation to party funds (eventually refused) to encourage them to do so. LINK
Green Left  welcomes the Green Party Executive's and Green Party  Regional Council’s decisions to consider the serious  issues raised in the so-called ‘Richmond Report’. Transparency and accountability are essential in this process.  We look forward to the Green Party 2017 Conference democratically arriving at a clear policy on the ‘Progressive Alliance’. furore
The 'Progressive Alliance' put forward by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley in their co-leadership campaign is itself controversial within the party, putting aside the specific issues around the Richmond Report.

I have recently summed up the various positions thus:
Following some of the discussion, mainly on FB, it seems that there are several positions from Green Party members on recent moves on the 'Progressive Alliance' (PA) (a Venn diagram may be useful!)

1. Those who are for a PA & think that the Lucas-Bartley overwhelming leadership mandate and the fact that a PA was their main platform justifies their current position
2. Those who are against a PA BUT think that -ditto-
3. Those who are for PA but think that Lucas - Bartley have usurped the constitutional role of the membership in making policy
4. Those who are against PA AND think that -ditto-
5. Those who think that a PA is necessary to get rid of the Tories perhaps even in this parliament
6. Those who think that a PA is the only way to get PR in 2020 and thus have more Green MPs in 2025 (little mention how many more Ukip or other far right MPs there may be)
7. Those who think that Lib Dems are progressive on social issues, climate change but right-wing on the economy
8. Those who think think that the Lib Dems are beyond the pale because of their previous record in Coalition
9. Those who are for us holding our noses and reaching a deal with ANY party that will support bringing in PR during the 2020-25 parliament.
10. Those who want to add other redlines to any deal with other parties including austerity, climate change
I think ten is enough for now, although there is also the issue of political campaigning with other parties and organisations on common issues outside of any electoral deal.
In the Richmond case the argument about progressing the campaign for the introduction of proportional representation through deals with other parties (though Labour isn't playing ball) was supplemented by the argument that getting the Tories out should be the primary aim and that would be furthered by reducing the narrow Tory majority in Parliament.

That view was countered by the one that suggested the by-election was an ideal opportunity to show-case the Green Party's policy on opposing ALL airport expansions as essential in reducing emissions to help deal with global warming and climate change.

* I am chair of Green Left

Avoiding stereotypes about Romanians living in Brent

I made representations to Brent's Equalities Committee last night about a report on the borough's Eastern European Community. LINK Although the report's recommendations are mainly non-controversial I argued that statements in the report were likely to reinforce stereotypes about the Romanian community. They focused on single men despite the fact that there are many Romanian families settled in the borough and contributing to the community. Reminding the Committee of the Counci's policy on hate crime I warned that in the present climate the report could reinforce prejudice and as it was in the public domain potentially damaging to the council.

The report's opening paragraph states:
This cross-Council group has been established to look at the socio-economic barriers and challenges experienced by the Eastern European communities living in Brent and make recommendations to address these. The scope of the group does not cover rough sleepers, overcrowding and anti-social behaviour because these themes are either within the scope of other forums or will be considered as separate work streams.
But then goes on to give 'anecdotal  evidence':
The two largest Eastern European groups in Brent are Polish and Romanian. The Polish community is on the whole quite well settled and has an established support network in Brent. Unlike the Polish community, the Romanian community does not have access to an established support network. The majority of the Romanians in Brent are single men and/or economic migrants who are financially supporting their families back in Romania. Some of them are coming to Brent to do seasonal casual work, they are not interested in interacting with Council’s and NHS services and often do not have National Insurance numbers. They often sleep rough and/or in overcrowded conditions, their health needs are often unmet. There has also been an increase in female sex workers from Eastern Europe who are often subject to abuse and violence and who also experience health inequalities
The focus on single men ignores the fact that later there is data from nurseries and schools that indicate significant number of Romanian children in Brent schools. 500 children (3%) speak Romanian as a first language and 384 (2%) Polish. In primary schools 1,164 (4%) of children speak Romanian as first language and 1,000 (4%) Polish.

In comparison there were 24 rough sleepers in Brent on 25th November 2016 (compared with 64 last year) and 'Romanian and Polish are the two largest groups of rough sleepers in Brent'.

The focus on barriers perhaps inevitably means a concentration on the negatives so in my presentation I wanted to focus on the positive side for balance.

I spoke about my experience as a governor at a school where 12.5% of the children speak Romanian (compared with 4.5% Polish) where the Romanian children are very much part of the school community with some sitting on the Pupil School Council and involved in the many extra-curricular activities, including music and choir.  They are proud of their country of origin but see themselves as now part of the UK.  Many have been at the school for 5 or 6 years although their sense of security was shaken by the EU Referendum result.

There are no issues regarding attendance etc and a Romanian parent (a teacher at another school) is standing in the current Parent Governor election.

In the local community longer-term settlement is also indicated by the number of Romanian shops opening up in Wembley, Preston and on the borough boundary in Burnt Oak.

A further indicator of settlement is the establishment of Romanian Orthodox churches in the borough. A long lease has been taken out on the Old St Andrews Church in Kingsbury and it has a large congregation that spills over into the churchyard on Sunday mornings.  A London based Romanian language newspaper is distributed and there is a community notice board in addition to the services which are attended by many family groups.

I read the committee an e-mail from a local Romanian in reaction to the report. She said:
I think the Romanians are worried for the following reasons:

They do not know yet the effects of Brexit for them. eg They may lose their jobs and they will have to leave the UK
There have been malicious newspaper articles in the UK about Roamnians involved in organised crime such as huuman trafficking, beggars, thieves
Loss of benefits for families with low income
Loss of access to the NHS
In response officers argued that the report was the first step in an new approach and was focused on barriers to the progress of Eastern European communities and as it could not cover all of them, looked at the two largest from Poland and Romania.

They said that there had been 'no negativity' at the Round Table meeting on November 30th with 15 or so organisations that serve the Eastern European community and that the recommendations had been welcomed.  They said that there  data behind the report but that only a limited amount was available.   The community was not always aware of support groups but future activity would be based on the community's own assessment of its needs.  The scope of the proposals will be expanded out into the community as a whole and more research would be undertaken. Genevie George, Partnerships and Engagement Manager, who has been in post for 2 months, emphasised that the report was a starting point.

They acknowledged that 'precarious work' was an issue and the need for workers to know about their rights. Brent was working with Work Rights Centre with sessions every Saturday at Wembley Library.

During discussion councillors paid tribute to the contribution of Eastern Europeans to Brent and approved the recommendations.  They thought it important for the council to undertake positive public relations about the Eastern European community and looekd forward to the rpgress of our newest community. In a caveat Cllr Thomas said that the Council had to be careful not to be seen to be doing more for one community than for others in Brent. He suggested that the research and work on this report could have been done by Brent CVS as they had the capacity to undertake it while the Council was shedding staff.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Wembley Stadium due to disappear behind more high rise flats

Brent Planning Committee on December 14th will be recommended by officers to approve plans LINK to replace the present Powerleague pitches adjacent to Wembley Stadium, the Wembley Arena and Brent Civic Centre, with two new buildings comprising 340 100% private rented flats and retail space.

The pictures speak for themselves but officers think the plans are superior to those submitted in 2007 - although a lot has changed in the area since then. Officers say that no affordable housing needs to be provided on this site as it is over-provided on other sites in the overall Quintain development.

Powerleague will be temporarily housed in a 'meanwhile' space at Wembley Retail Park close to the Yellow Pavilion. Incidentally the controversial Powerleague proposals for Kingsbury High School appear to have stalled.

The housing will be 11% studio, 41% one bedroom, 46% 2 bedrooms and 3% 3 bedrooms (yes I know it doesn't equal 100% bu that's what the report says). There will be an artificial grass lawned terrace at first floor level and another terrace on the 10th floor as well as a small public square.

The retail space will allow 'outdoor cafe culture' to spill out into the area.

Wedged between the Stadium and the Arena clearly there will be noise problems but 'acoustic solutions' are planned and potential buyers can't really be aware of the potential problems.

Personally I feel that the loss of the shouts and thumps of footballs from the Powerleague will take away from the atmosphere of the area.  At present there is live football, in a sense, at Wembley Stadium every day. A far better place for the shouts and thumps than at the back of suburban gardens!

The reports says that notices of the application were sent out to nearby owners and occupiers including the the London Designer Outlet, Wembley National Stadium, Hilton Hotel and Raffles House but rather surprisingly at the time of the publication none had responded. There is no record of any representations from Tokyngton ward councillors.

Information blackout on Brent school expansion design and build

Brent Cabinet will be getting an update on the design and build of school expansions in the borough at their next meeting but the public will not be allowed to see any report.

This is because the item has been restricted for 'commercial reasons' under the relevant legislation on the basis that:
Information is exempt to the extent that, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
As this is 'commercial information' about a public resource it is likely to refer to building contracts, architects fees and other costs which may well be higher than the Council expected and thus require some modification of the building specification.  It could also mean a delay in completion of the expansions.

'Wards affected' are Northwick Park, Kenton and Stonebridge so my assumption is that the item refers to Byron Court and Stonebridge Schools.   The closed down Stonebridge Adventure Playground is currently being demolished.

I would argue that an explanation is in the public interest as the general public need to know of any budgetary implications and their impact on services and parents need to know when, or perhaps if, expansion is going ahead.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Brent Cyclists reveal possible cycling bridge over Neasden Underpass

Brent Cyclists have revealed tentative plans to build a new bridge over the North Circular to provide a safe cycling route between North and South Brent, long an impediment to cycling in the borough. They deserve recognition for their tireless campaigning backed by detailed research on behalf of local cyclists.