Monday, 31 January 2011

Sign the Willesden and Wembley Observer's Library petition

If you want to save ALL six Brent libraries threatened with closure then go to the Willesden and Wembley Observer's Petition:

Save Brent libraries from closure

You can also make a comment when you sign

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Will Teather Topple Tomorrow?

Photo: Pete Firmin (I'm behind the yellow placard)
About 150 Brent Fightback supporters assembled at the Jubilee Clock in Harlesden on Friday to protest against the cuts.  Feeder marches had made their way from Central Middlesex Hospital, the College of North West London and the Mencap Centre in Willesden High Road. 

The strength of the demonstration was reflected in the  number of different causes and trades unions reflected in the banners and speeches. A real unity is building over the cuts as announcement after announcement is made with bewildering speed, often providing a rapid series of blows to the same people each time.

There is clearly no alternative to building a broad-based campaign that will include all the groups campaigning against both government and council cuts and for public services worth defending and investment in a green economy.

The people who went in to lobby Sarah Teather were not very impressed:

"Needless to say, the meeting with Sarah Teather by a deputation was hardly a meeting of minds. Many of the issues brought up at the rally were raised, her reply was essentially to either say we are wrong or to tell us that it would be much worse if she wasn’t in government! Oh, and to blame the Council when it is the government which has cut the Council’s funding."


Hands Off the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre

Welsh Harp Campaigners at the Brent Fightback Lobby
The Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre, around the corner from the Birchen Grove allotments, offers environmental education and water sports for primary and secondary school children in  Brent  and  neighbouring boroughs and has strong ecological credentials. It is now threatened with closure as one of the non-statutory parts of educational provision.  It has been threatened before and just about survived after mass a mass campaign involving hundreds of children marching to the Town Hall. Now it is run by one full-time teacher and a part-time assistant.  It is part-funded by pupil contributions (usually paid by the school). Basically already a shoe-string operation it gets more than 3,500 pupils visiting a year. It is also used for Away Days for Brent institutions and for team-building exercises.  As well as studying the Science National Curriculum children can take part in orienteering on a 25 stage course and basic water sports. The Centre has two very well-equipped classrooms.

Councillor Jim Moher (Labour) is sympathetic to the campaign to keep the Centre open and letters are pouring into the Council from children and school governor.  The threat to the Centre is likely to be discussed at this week's Brent Primary Headteachers' Conference.  The battle is on.
As chair of governors at two primary schools, a Brent Green Party member and as leader of Brent School Without Walls, which provides complementary activities at a more informal level (no classrooms, toilets or adventure course and only accidental water sports!), I believe that the Welsh Harp Centre is an invaluable resource that has enabled countless children to develop a clearer understanding of ecology and a deeper appreciation of the importance of the natural environment.

If the next generation is to fight to preserve the environment and protect the planet such centres are not a luxury but a necessity. It has been threatened before and Brent children have risen up to defend it - they know its value.  The Welsh Harp celebrated 175 years of existence last year and saw off a threat to develop housing in the vicinity after a strong community cross-party campaign. The anniversary was marked by an open day at the Centre with family environmental activities sponsored by the Council - now they are considering closing it. Brent Greens will play our part in a similar campaign to save a special place that is a tremendous asset for the young people of Brent.


Thursday, 27 January 2011

Save Charteris Sports Centre: A valuable community resource

This is a message from the campaign to save Charteris Sports Centre

Charteris provides great value gym membership.  It is the only local sports centre, which allows members to  "pay as your go". Apart from “gym” activities, It hosts team sports (e.g. football, badminton) fitness classes, martial arts and yoga.

Charteris is also a valuable community resource, far more than just a gym, offering, children's parties, holiday activities for children and hosts our local cycling project.  It's our "community centre" and now it's set for closure!

Our aim is to keep Charteris SERVICE run by Brent. Unfortunately Charteris Sports Centre sits on land, which can be sold to a private housing developer; Public asset stripping- Private profit!  

We ask Brent to agree to:

1) STOP the threatened closure on the 1st April 2011.

2) Agree to meet with local residents and centre users to discuss the alternatives to the "destruction" of this irreplaceable public resource.


Green Party by-election candidates offers a REAL choice

Alan Mathison
Brent Green Party has selected Alan Mathison to fight the Kenton by-election.  Alan, now retired, has spent most of his working life in universities and housing management. He has been a governor of three schools.  He stood for the Greens in Kenton in last year's local election and received substantial support.

Alan said:

"The Green Party is the only party nationally who are questioning the whole strategy of deficit reduction through cuts. Locally the Labour Party are implementing the cuts imposed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition and failing to protect the most vulnerable in the process. We are opposed to these cuts and are actively supporting Brent Fightback's efforts at coordinating opposition across sectors and involving both trades unions and users of public services.

Nationally we favour increased taxation of the very rich and heavy taxes on bank profits and bonuses.  We want investment in the creation of socially useful green jobs through the provision of training opportunities and projects that would provide insulation for all homes,  low-cost sustainable housing and public transport, and renewable energy production.  Translated into local action this would help provide jobs at a time of rapidly rising unemployment."

Alan is scathing about his opponents in the by-election:

"The Labour Party's assurance that it would protect the most vulnerable from cuts has proved hollow. The Brent Conservatives and  Liberal Democrats have the colossal cheek to start campaigning against the cuts locally when it is their government that has demanded them.

All three parties voted for the £100m over the top Civic Centre vanity project which is a slap in the face for local people when they see their services being slashed and charges raised. If we want all our libraries kept open and this means not building the Civic Centre, well so be it. Let's not build it!"

Reflecting on Kenton, where he moved eleven years ago, Alan said:

"I enjoy living in Kenton, it is a great place to live, but looking around you can see that it has been neglected by Brent Council. If elected  my priorities would be to tackle Kenton's flooding problems, find ways of relocating  the John Billam children's playground to a safer and more accessible site, seek to end the traffic chaos on Drayton Avenue and put an end to the dangerous speeding on Woodcock Hill.  Kenton would be a much safer and pleasanter place to live if these issues were tackled." 

Anyone willing to help with Alan's campaign should contact me.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Is Brent's Waste Strategy Rubbish or just Low Grade?

Last year Brent Council spent £9 million on landfill tax.  In a bid to save money, increase recycling and reduce landfill, the Council is introducing a new waste strategy.
  Contaminated materials will go to landfill
Residents should be confident that waste which they take the time to separate will actually be recycled and not end up in landfill. Brent Friends of the Earth’s main concern about the strategy is that dry recyclables will no longer be collected from households via green boxes sorted at the kerbside, but using new large wheelie bins in “co-mmingled” collections.  This involves crushing the material, which is later sorted at a processing plant.  A new report by the Institution of Civil Engineers has confirmed our fears about this method that, because of higher levels of contamination, produces low-grade recyclable material, some of which ends up in landfill.  
 Children to pick over our waste?
In particular, paper is contaminated by broken glass, reducing its value and use.  We discovered that Aylesford Newsprint, who currently buy Brent's paper are unlikely to want it under the new scheme, making export more likely.  The UK recycling industry is now struggling because of such poor grade materials.  Do we really want our waste exported, and sorted by child labour in developing countries?  This is something Brent has not ruled out, despite recommendations by a recent Scrutiny committee.
£1.7m for new bins while libraries are closed
 The Council is spending £1.7 million on new wheelie bins to replace the boxes, when the only new materials being collected for recycling are mixed plastics and tetra packs.  This follows £400,000 spent on the free collection of bulky items.  We believe Brent has underestimated the landfill costs from the extra contamination of waste by changing to a “commingled” system.  In view of ruthless closures of libraries and day centres, and cuts to street sweeping, is this really money well spent?  Or are these ill-conceived plans just rubbish?
 
Viv Stein and Elaine Henderson
Brent Friends of the Earth
References:
1.Targets to boost recycling may backfire say engineers - BBC news item http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12172766

Friday, 21 January 2011

Kenton By-election candidates named

Brent Council today announced the list of candidates contesting the Kenton by-election. It marks the return of Robert Dunwell, spotted at the Wembley Area Consultative Forum earlier this week, to local politics. Dunwell a  Conservative councillor until he and Atiq Malik fell out with Bob Blackman and formed the Democratic Conservative Group, will be standing as an Independent.  They did not contest the local election in 2010.

Other candidates are:
Chunilai Hirani (Liberal Democrat)
Suresh Kansagra (Conservative)
Alan Mathison (Green)
Eleanor Southwood (Labour)

The by-election will be held on 17th February.

Civic Centre - No Comment! No Copying...

Brent Council has uploaded a 'Virtual Tour' of the new Civic Centre to YouTube.  Unusually both the 'Comment'  button and the 'Copy Embed Code' facility have been disabled by them.  This means that I cannot put a copy on this blog and that nobody can comment on it.

I wonder why?

Anyway, in the belief that we citizens of Brent, and farther afield, should be able to comment on this £100m project at a time when Brent is cutting basic services, please follow this LINK to see the video and return to Wembley Matters to make a comment below.


Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Libraries, Civic Centre, Wembley Youth Club, Waste, Allotments, Rats - all discussed but anything gained?

The Wembley Area Consultation Forum was considerably enlivened last night when 20 or so members of the Wembley Youth Club turned up.  They had heard rumours that their club may be closed as a result of cuts and wanted the council to know how important it was to them, and what a positive contribution it made to the lives of youth in the area. They told the audience about the sports available at the club and how taking part enabled them to focus and achieve, with those attitudes transferring into other aspects of their lives.

Cllr Ann John, leader of Brent Council, said that indeed there was a review of the youth service under way and she could give no promises. During the interval Youth Centre supporters crowded round councillors making their case, exchanging contact details and arranging further meetings.  Another battle is on its way!

Their presence was a refreshing change from the usual fairly stodgy (but often valuable) meetings with a cast of regular speakers, mainly of my generation or older. It was good to see a 13 year old stand up and speak his mind directly to councillors and the public.

A member of the Brent Youth Parliament later spoke about the increased  importance of libraries as a place for young people to congregate, borrow books and study,  now that the Education Maintenance Allowance is due to be abolished.

Cllr Ann John made a presentation on the difficulties that the Council had in implementing the 28% expenditure reduction required by the Government. This amounted to £100m over four years, front-loaded so that £37m of that must be cut in the first year. This was on top of the £85m capital grant lost from the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future programme. Since the election other grants amounting to £6 had been lost.  She said that 350 council posts, mainly in management, had already been cut through voluntary redundancies, non-filling of vacant posts and retirement. A further 350 posts would now have to go and the process of compulsory redundancy had begun. Further savings would be made by making procurement more efficient but all these measures only amounted to £21m. This left £16m still to be found and the council was looking at reducing some services and stopping others: "There is nothing we are not looking at."

With income streams from Central Government reduced and the Council Tax frozen the Council  had to look at cuts in services and increased fees and charges for services in order to balance the budget.

In the question and answer session my suggestion that the Labour Council was finding itself in the unpleasant role of bailiffs, for the Coalition rogue landlords, wasn't well received by the platform. I noted the coincidence of £100m cuts needed and the £100m cost of the new Civic Centre. I recognised building had already started on the Centre but suggested that it had been designed in better times and should now be scaled back. My suggestion that it resembled Brent's own version of Stalin's Palace of Culture also was even less well received.

In response Ann John said that the Civic Centre had been agreed by all parties on the Council, that it would make savings in the long term and that the People of Wembley deserved something back for the inconvenience of  the regeneration of the Wembley Stadium area (if they has asked us we might have asked for something else!) She said that the cost would be recovered over a 25 year period by disposal of other buildings, reduced outgoings and increased efficiency. She claimed that projected revenue savings had increased to an estimate of £4m annually. She emphasised the green credentials of the building.

On the 127% increased allotment fees and the introduced of a £95 fee for rat infestation treatment she said that allotment fees had been very low and were still affordable. She claimed that the previously free rat infestation service had been misused with residents calling that service for other infestations (which they would have paid for) because the rat service was free. The new charges had been introduced as a result of comparison with other 'benchmark' boroughs and private providers. There was support from the audience for my claim that this would worsen the borough's rat problems particularly for multi-occupied houses and flats above shops. One resident called for reduce charges for pensioners who may otherwise be reluctant to call pest control.

Other residents suggested that the new waste strategy was an area where savings could be made - particularly on the cost of new bins. There was also claims that the salaries paid to the top executives of the Council were excessive in the present climate. Cllr John denied that they were out of line with other public sector salaries.

In response to a question from the floor Ann John pledged to continue to fund the Freedom Pass.

Cllr Powney's session on the Libraries Transformation Project was a slow simmer, boiling up at the end in comparison with the roasting he had at the Town Hall. Members of the audience stood up with a Save Our Library banner and there was close questioning of the figures behind the closure plans as well as declarations of the importance of libraries as centres for the community to mingle, as well as for reading, learning and other activities including classes, courses and homework clubs.Speakers emphasised the importance of having a library within walking distance for children, young mothers and the elderly. Cllr Powney got into a spat challenging one young mother who spoke about the difficulties of transporting several children on a bus, including a very young one. He said that loads of people used buses everyday to go to shopping centres as well as libraries and that wasn't a problem - he did it with children himself. Cllr John intervened to say that people who had a library near them should count themselves lucky and very few people had that luck. She said books were much cheaper now than previously and available at more outlets including supermarkets like ASDA.

More hackles rose when James Powney said that there was evidence that many people preferred to go to a bigger library with a 'better offer' and ignored their small local libraries. He rejected suggestions that the proposed Civic Centre mega-library could be scaled down to make money available for local libraries.  He also dismissed suggestions that all libraries could have reduced hours. He said this would mean more librarian redundancies and wouldn't release capital to invest in the service, and having a library open only two days a week wouldn't really amount to keeping it open in most people's eyes.

Asked about what would happen with closed buildings he said that two would revert to their Oxford Colleges; Barham would revert to the Barham Trust, Neasden could be leased to new users, which left Tokyngton and Preston to be sold. He said that without the revenue from the sales money would not be available to invest in an 'improved offer', including e-books. That got a response from a publisher in the audience who said that book sales were on the increase and that traditional books were not on their way out. Other residents questioned whether the service should get into the e-book business at all.

Cllr John, sounding rather more like David Cameron, expressed interest in groups and organisations of volunteers, particularly in trust and covenanted buildings, running the libraries themselves. She said she wanted to hear from them and meet to discuss options.

Sometimes the bailiff's find themselves in such a difficult position that they begin to sound like the landlords. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Brent's Cuts and Library Closures Face Public Scrutiny Tonight

Cllr Ann John, leader of Brent Council, will face an audience of residents tonight to answer questions on the Council's cuts strategy which includes the loss of another 300 jobs, closure of day centres for people with learning disabilities and for those with mental health problems as well as increased charges for allotments and pest control.


Cllr James Powney, AKA Flakman, will again present the 'Library Transformation Project' which will close six libraries. This includes three libraries in the Wembley area: Preston, Barham and Tokyngton.


The meeting begins at 7pm at the Patidar Centre, London Road, Wembley (off Wembley High Road), just round the corner from Wembley Central Station. 


Residents who want to speak in a 'soapbox' to air local issues that they are concerned about should arrive a little early to complete a 'Soapbox' form which should be handed to an officer. Soapboxes are held at the beginning of the meeting. Ann John's session will run from 7.15pm until 8pm and the library presentation will be from 8.15pm until 9pm.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Teather on Library Closures - Wembley Consultation Tomorrow

Sarah Teather spoke on Radio 4's Any Questions? about Brent library closures LINK. Her views don't  seem to quite chime with those of Brent Council  Lib Dem Group. Thanks to More than Books for this link.

Brent residents can make their voices heard about the cuts, closures and increased charges at the Wembley Area Consultation Forum tomorrow, 7pm Tuesday January 18th. It will be held at Patidar House, 22 London Road, Wembley Central (just around the corner from the station).

'Soap boxes'  (individual 3 minute slots for residents to raise concerns) are held at the beginning of the meeting. Get there early to fill in a slip and hand it to an officer at the start of the meeting. You will need to give your name, telephone number, address and the topic you would like to speak about.

The leader of the Council, Ann John, will speak about Brent's budget and the impact of central government cuts from 7.15pm to 8pm. She will answer questions about the cuts. From 815pm until 9pm there will be a consultation on the Libraries Transformation Project/Closure Programme.

Does Ed support Brent Library closures?

From today's Independent:
The Labour leader Ed Miliband said yesterday his party would back campaigns to save libraries as "a place where community is built, as families get to know each other and form friendships".

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Save ALL Brent Libraries

X marks the wards where libraries are due to be closed
Despite the Council cuts being caused by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition policies, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors are getting behind campaigns to save local libraries. Kenton Conservatives have a local petition going to save Preston library with an eye on the forthcoming by-election on February 17th and the Lib Dems are also petitioning.  At the same time some Labour councillors are unhappy with the proposals and some Brent Labour Party members are campaigning to keep all libraries open.

At the recent Brent Fightback Meeting on 'Are the Cuts Necessary' a pledge  to occupy Cricklewood Library was enthusiastically applauded as was a call for a borough-wide campaign to save all Brent libraries.

The Kensal Rise campaign has a Facebook page LINK and one has also just been set up for Preston library LINK  There are campaigns for all the threatened libraries except Tokyngton (as far as I know).

This week there are Area Consultation Forums in Wembley and Willesden where the closure proposals (officially 'Transformation Project") will be discussed and where council leaders will answer questions on the cuts in general:

Wembley ACF, Patidar House, London Road, Wembley - Tuesday 18th January 7pm
Willesden ACF, College of North West London, Denzil Road, Willesden - Wednesday 19th January 7pm

The 'Additional Paper' outlining the options considered by the Council and the financial implications is available HERE

Carline Lucas Backs EMA Campaign



Parliament will be voting on the Education Maintenance Allowance on Wednesday. This is an allowance that is absolutely essential to give secondary pupils from low income homes a chance to continue their education.

More on the Save EMA WEBSITE

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

STRENGTHEN THE FIGHTBACK - come to Thursday's meeting

Join the Great Debate on  Thursday January 13th  7.00 pm Willesden Green Library Centre 95, High Rd Willesden NW10 2SF. John McDonnell MP will be debating with a leading Lib Dem ARE THE CUTS REALLY NECESSARY?  

There will be plenty of opportunity for contributions from the floor. This debate has been organised by the Brent Fightback Campaign on a date that was suggested by Sarah Teather the Lib Dem MP for Brent Central who is a minister in the Con Dem government.  However she has withdrawn from the debate as she has ministerial business elsewhere in the country. 

As she withdrew from a previous meeting also on a date that she had suggested, the debate will go ahead in her absence with another Lib Dem speaker.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Brent Library Closures Get National Coverage

Brent's library closures continue to get coverage in the national media. Today's Guardian has four letters following up the weekend coverage LINK

The following letter was particularly to the point:
Cuts should be administered intelligently as if by a surgeon, not willy-nilly on some economic chopping board. Libraries, more than ever, are needed by all ages, especially the young who must prepare for an overcast future. Closing libraries to save money is like cutting off the blood supply to the brain as a labour-saving device for the heart.
Leon Arden
London
 Meanwhile campaigns across the country are beginning to think about occupying the buildings if all else fails. A guide to library occupations is available HERE

Ironically Brent Library Service has a Facebook page entitled We Love Brent Libraries  It includes the following:

We Love Brent Libraries. 
We love meeting authors.
We love reading groups.
We love the information experts.
We love the free events.
We love kids stuff.
We love e-books.

We love learning.

Exactly! Councillors take note.

I couldn't help noticing that Brent's advertising hoarding on the Civic Centre site extolling the virtues of the '21st century library'  doesn't mention books for borrowing - or for pleasure!

Brent Council's New £100m Civic Centre versus Cuts to Vital Services


With Skanksa breaking the ground at the new Civic Centre opposite the Wembley Arena time is running out if the project is to be stopped. This video contrasts Brent Council's boasting about the project with the cuts they are making.

ASDA trolleys stage mass breakout!

Summers Close, Wembley


King's Drive, Wembley

King's Drive, Wembley

ASDA store, Wembley

Well Spring Crescent, Wembley

Well Spring Crescent, Wembley


I reported a dozen or so trolleys that had been abandoned around local streets to the Wembley ASDA Customer Services desk last week and they duly noted down the dumping sites. The trolleys were still  there several days later so I tried to telephone the store but all lines were busy. There was no store e-mail address on the website so I e-mailed ASDA national customer services with all the details.

One of the Service Team replied:
I'm concerned to hear about this as it hadn't been removed by our colleagues from the store. We do employ porters to stop customers taking trolleys. We're also rolling out an industry leading system called Cartronics. When a customer tries to push a trolley out of our car park, the brakes will stop it from moving. These measures help us to limit the number of trolleys removed from our stores.

If any of our customers ever feel the need to complain we certainly want to put things right as soon as possible. I've spoken to the duty manager at our Wembley store and asked him/her to arrange for the trolley to be collected and returned to the store as soon as possible.
When the trolleys were still not collected (these pictures were taken today)  I e-mailed again and was told that it would take 72 hours to remove them! In that time of course children may well have played with them and changed their location. Many will be filled up with rubbish.

Of course customers who remove the trolleys are at fault but surely ASDA have a responsibility to make sure trolleys are not taken out of the store site and to have a quick and effective collection system when they are.

I understand that supermarkets can be fined if they allow trolleys to be taken away and abandoned.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Now Lib Dems Call for Civic Centre Library to be Scaled Down to Save Other Libraries

The new state of the art £100m Civic Centre was agreed by all three political parties during the last administration amidst claims that it was 'cost neutral' in the long term, environmentally friendly and would enhance the status of the borough. Brent Green Party was the only political party to question the project and its cost.

Labour had second thoughts during the election campaign and promised to review the project but once elected decided to go ahead. On December 16th, Reg Colwill deputy leader of the Conservative Group wrote to the local press and said, 'We don't need a new sparkling civic centre at the detriment of people's jobs and front-line services'. Kenton Conservatives launched a campaign to save Preston library. 

Work has already started on the Civic Centre site opposite Wembley Arena. Skanska the builders appointed by Brent Council have outlined their December work programme in a Newsletter. LINK TO NEWSLETTER


video

Now the Liberal Democrats are suggesting that  the new library at the Civic Centre should be scaled down. They argue that the proposed library is three times the size of the one at the Town Hall and would cost £3m of the total Civic Centre costs.They argue that the money saved by scaling it down could be used to safeguard the future of the six libraries threatened with closure. 


As contracts have been signed and  work has already started it is unclear whether the Conservative bid to abandon the project or the Liberal Democrat's proposal to modify it could be implemented without penalties. I think I can hear the stable door slamming shut after the horse has flown!

It is also uncertain that scale down would release 'real money' (actual cash this year) that could be used to save the threatened libraries.


With the Brent cuts now a national issue the debate will heat up over the next few weeks as the cuts and library closures are discussed at the local consultation forums.

Libraries for Life for Londoners have posted a story on the .library cuts in Brent and made the link with the Civic Centre project. LINK

Library demolition not redecoration

One correspondent said that she had talked to people in one of the libraries and they had seen the discreet 'Transforming Our Libraries' notice but didn't realise it was about closures. She says it sounds more like redecorating than demolition!

There's a serious point here that the title of the consultation conceals the real issue and people will be unaware that they are about to lose their library.  That is why we need maximum publicity. It is rather like the furore over  Brent's waste management strategy questionnaire when they were accused of not mentioning  that residual household waste will only be collected fortnightly in future.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Government minister hits out at Brent charges increase

The political blame game over cuts and increased charges in Brent has taken a new turn with local government minister Grant Shapps criticising Brent's increased fees introduced on January 1st - including the 127% increase in allotment fees which put the price of a small allotment up from £33 to £75. Shapps said councils "should not be using residents as cash cows."

Full story on the BBC website 
More on Brent charges on this blog HERE

Curious Consultations

When Cllr James Powney stated from the platform at the recent Town Hall meeting that 'There is no alternative' to the library closures, someone heckled, "Then why are you consulting us?" Other speakers were equally disenchanted with consultation suggesting that major questions were already decided ahead of consultation outcomes.

A little cynical you may think...

However there was a statutory consultation before the holiday on the proposed expansion of Preston Manor High School so that it will also provide primary education in the future. A report on the consultation outcomes will go to the council Executive on February 11th 2011 and they will decide whether to approve the expansion. Obviously they will approach the issue with open minds and take note of the submissions?

However this month the Council is consulting on a planning application for a new 2 form entry primary school on the Preston Manor High School site - to be decided no earlier than January 20th 2011. (An earlier date had been given but residents protested that consultation letters arrived late because of the Christmas post.)

When we queried why the Council was seeking planning permission before the Executive had discussed whether to expand the school, Brent Council told us:
"The Planning Application has been submitted in advance of the Executive approval to ensure that  the statutory proposal can be implemented on time."
I will leave you to decide whether the statutory consultation was genuine or just another exercise in ticking the boxes.

Mental Health Day Service Cuts

The Agenda for the Jan 17th Executive has just been published. It includes Decommissioning of the Mental Health Community Networks Day Care Service.

The introduction  states:
To reflect the shift towards independence and personalisation within Adult Social Care a review of all services is being undertaken to ensure services are appropriate and sustainable. Given the changing environment and the need for efficiency savings by the Council across Mental Health and the wider organisation a plan to decommission the Community Networks Day Care Service has been proposed. Community Networks provides Day Care to approximately 175 mental health clients in the Brent Borough.
The report gives the following risk assessment:

Possible risk implications
• Reduced care package support may lead to bed blockages and delayed discharges
• Limited capacity to move people on from secondary care services to non statutory
local support
• Longer lengths of stay in supported housing due to lack of capacity to move service
users on to independent living
• Fewer staff to steer service users through the SDS process, which will impact on
Council performance targets
• Current support into employment will be reduced and will therefore impact on the
Council’s performance target.
• Possible local opposition to closure of long-established direct day care provision
• Increased pressure on Mental Health Care Coordinators caseloads

Friday, 7 January 2011

'Flakman' under fire on library closures

Cllr Powney certainly lived up to his nickname of Flakman when he appeared at last night's library consultation in front of a passionate, vocal and rebellious audience. This followed his appearances at Area Forums last year when he had a tough time defending the Council's Waste Strategy. Powney took the flak last night from the stage while other Labour councillors sat quietly in the audience.  He made a valiant attempt to defend the indefensible (the closure of half the borough's libraries) but ended up quoting Margaret Thatcher's TINA mantra (There is no alternative).

In fact the audience came up with quite a few alternatives including abandoning the expensive Civic Centre project, getting rid of highly paid council officers, reducing opening hours rather than the number of libraries, and refusing to implement Tory-Lib Dem Coalition cuts.

Contributors emphasised the importance of libraries to the cultural life of local communities and particular emphasis was placed on their importance to young people, the economically disadvantaged and older members of the community. I stressed the importance of children having a library within independent  walking distance of their homes and described the buzz at Neasden library on a Friday evening with a homework club in progress, people working at computers and others borrowing books. Children from Braintcroft Primary School and adult learners using the recently installed ICT resources will be deprived of a vital resources which could change their lives.

After the meeting I spoke to a pensioner who despaired at losing community facilities that had been in place for years and helped many generations of Brentonians. Libraries are particularly valuable to older people because they provide both stimulation through books and valuable social contact. It is also important for them that they are within easy travelling distance.

A borough-wide 'Save Our Libraries' campaign would be one way of resolving some of the differences in approach that were evident  amongst residents at the meeting.  There is a particularly active campaign around Kensal Rise Library (45,755 visit per year at a cost of £4 per visit) and the group seemed ready to form a volunteer force to help save the library. Others were against this idea, wanting a full, properly funded service.  Such volunteer support may not be available in less affluent areas such as Neasden (117,604/£2.30) but where the library is vital to raise the life chances of the local population.  Another area of potential conflict is the '40% proposal' where all  libraries would cut their opening hours by 40% rather than closing some. It was suggested this would safeguard the future of the buildings which would otherwise be disposed of or revert to  trusts such as All Souls College, which originally provided the land. A reduction in opening hours would still impact on accessibility and jobs.

On the issue of volunteers and charities Michael Rosen, the children's poet and former Children's Laureate was absolutely clear in a recent Daily Mirror article:
It is a scandal. What this Government is doing is taking over where Thatcher left off. The library system took 150 years to build up and they are destroying it.

I am completely opposed to this idea of handing libraries over to charities and retailers. It is purely ideological and there is no justification for taking libraries out of public ownership.

Books should be free to all and not reliant on charity donations. However well-meaning, charities end up begging for money. It is another Tory attempt to break the social contract by which we look after each other through taxes
When I suggested that the Labour Council were not fulfilling their commitment to protect the most vulnerable from the Coalition cuts Cllr Powney outlined the dire  condition of the Council's finance (Readers of this blog will know that I have posted articles on this), demanded that we be realistic and said that if the Labour councillors refused to implement the cuts they would be replaced by others who would implement them away  - with the implication that they would do so less sensitively.

This is an argument that we are going to hear regularly in the Area Forums in the coming month when Ann John and Muhammed Butt appear to talk about the impact of the cuts on local services and the difficult decisions they will have to make.

Meanwhile, back to Michael Rosen and some reading for adults opposed to the cuts (from the Independent)
So angered is Michael Rosen by the Coalition's plans for welfare cuts, the children's novelist and poet paid the bulk of production costs for a new anthology called Emergency Verse, a compilation of protest poetry featuring work by more than 100 writers, including the Beat poet Michael Horovitz, Jeremy Reed and John O'Donoghue. Rosen says he is "very angry" at the roll-back of "advances" that softened "some of the worst effects of rampant capitalism", adding: "These rampant capitalists, who walk off with the majority of the wealth anyway, now want to steal our services too – people who have no other means of getting health care, education and social care will have it snatched away." The anthology was launched at the Southbank Centre's Poetry Library, and copies can be downloaded for £2.99 from www.therecusant.org.uk.
Prior to the consultation meeting Brent Fightback said:
Brent Fightback supports keeping ALL our libraries open. Once closed, they are gone for ever. We hope that, while pursuing their local campaigns, the libraries campaigners will unite and will become part of our broader campaign to defend jobs, services, pensions, benefits and the environment.
The Kensal Rise campaign can be contacted at kensalriselibraryusers@hotmail.co.uk and they have a blog LINK and a Facebook group 'Save Kensal Rise' library.

Preston library users are getting organised and I will put their details up when I have them.

The Friends of Cricklewood Library can be contacted via eric.pollock@tiscali.co.uk Information

Many authors and individuals including Alan Gibbons  and Michael Rosen have set up Campaign for the Book and Voices for the Library are asking individuals to send them statements on how important libraries are in their lives.

The Guardian has also covered the meeting using Kensal Rise as an example of wider closures  LINK

Great debate on the Cuts January 13th

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Save Our Libraries

Brent Council call it the 'Libraries Transformation Project' - I prefer to call it the Libraries Closure Programme as it involves the closure of 6 out of Brent's 12 public libraries with the remainder becoming 'community hubs' (whatever that means).

The consultation programme begins this evening at Brent Town Hall with a public meeting about the proposals at 6.30pm.  This is followed by an Open Day 10.30am-1pm and 2.30 - 5pm on Wednesday January 12th at Willesden Green Library.

The proposals will also be discussed at the Area Consultation Forums. In addition. according to the local press, the leader of the Council Cllr Ann John and deputy Cllr Muhammed Butt will also attend to talk about council cuts in general.

AREA CONSULTATION FORUM DATES AND VENUES

HARLESDEN Tuesday January 11th 7pm All Souls Church
KILBURN AND KENSAL RISE Wednesday January 12th 7pm Queens Park Community School
WEMBLEY Tuesday January 18th 7pm Patidar House, London Road
WILLESDEN Wednesday January 19th College of North West London, Dudden Hill Lane
KINGSBURY AND KENTON* Wednesday February 9th, Kingsbury High School

I hope the Council will be challenged on how they have arrived at its 'footfall' figures - do libraries have someone standing at the door counting how many people enter? I doubt it and book lending figures don't include visitors who use the library for other purposes than borrowing books.  Another issue that has come up from some campaigners is reducing opening hours across the board rather than library closures. The figures of a 40% cut in opening times producing the required savings has been mentioned. It is argued this would preserve all the library buildings, six of which would otherwise be lost for good, and enable opening hours to be extended again in a more favourable economic climate. Clearly their are  pros and cons to this option but we need to know if its has been considered.  

Finally there is the puzzling proposal, not yet finalised to close Willesden Green Library for 2 years while the site is redeveloped to include revenue producing flats. This would mean the temporary  closure of the flagship 'hub' in the south of the borough as well as the permanent closure of 6 libraries. Strategic thinking?

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Brent Fightback Meeting Tonight

Brent Fightback is meeting tonight at the Trades Hall/Apollo Club 375 High Road, NW10 at 7.30pm to plan forthcoming activities. ALL WELCOME