Sunday, 21 May 2017

Brent to abandon Community Asset Transfer in favour of commercial marketing of its property (our property?)

The Bowls Pavilion, KIng Edward VII Park
The Brent Cabinet on Monday will consider an 'Urgent' supplementary item LINK which will end the Community Asset Transfer scheme in 10 days time on May 31st - giving the public and councillors very little time to comment.

The Council claims that the scheme has been unsuccessful in meeting its objectives and although it mentions some of its own policy and practices as getting in the way of Third Sector Organisations (TSOs) making bids for Council property it claims it is the quality of the property that is the main problem:
The most important factor, however, is the lack of high quality assets available for CAT in Brent. The Strategic Property Plan currently lists just three properties available: Chalkhill Police Office, Welford Centre (Units 1-3) and the Millennium Day Centre. Moreover, those that are made available are of low quality, meaning that local TSOs - which are best-placed to realise the community benefits of CAT - are left with poorer accommodation, or else are less likely to apply because they are unable to commit the investment required to bring assets up to standard.
These are the CATs considered so far.


The Officers' Report states:
Four properties have been approved by Cabinet for marketing as CATs: Gladstone Park Pavilion (Kilburn Cosmos clubhouse); Tenterden Pavilion; Northwick Park Pavilion and Butler’s Green toilets. However, authority to market Northwick Park Pavilion was subsequently withdrawn by Cabinet in January 2017 owing to its inclusion in the One Public Estate programme. A fifth property, Barham Park Card Room, was approved for marketing under the council’s CAT policy by the Barham Park Trust Committee in July 2015.
Four properties have been identified as unsuitable for CAT: Kingsbury Resource Centre, Wembley Youth and Community Centre, Church Lane Recreation Ground and King Edward VII Park buildings. This has been on the basis they had already been marketed through regular property channels at the time of the CAT submission. The Old Refectory in Central Middlesex Hospital property is ineligible as it is not council-owned. 
In addition to this, one property - Welsh Harp Environment Education Centre - was identified for CAT as part of a council initiated service review and leased to Thames 21 in January 2016
The change of policy means in effect that earlier commitment to considering the social benefit of bids as well as the commercial return on property has been ditched.  The financial return, the highest bid, will now be the main factor.
 It is worth readers looking at what the report says about the processes involved in voluntary organisations seeking a community asset transfer from the Council to the organisation and considering whether the Council could have taken action to make things less difficult. (Highlighting mine)
From the consultation with Brent TSOs, partners and officers in March 2016, the evidence indicates the CAT policy does not meet the intended goals of enabling better management of assets, enabling more effective delivery of Borough Plan outcomes by TSOs, and empowering local communities. Some of the issues identified concern the supporting processes and tools, which can make applying for CATs more difficult for TSOs. These include the accessibility of information on assets eligible for CAT, and communication between TSOs and the council in relation to CATs. These could be resolved with relatively straightforward operational changes.  
However, other factors also discourage some TSOs from CATs. These include choices that the council has made about policy and its underpinning principles, such as criteria for applicants, open marketing of CAT opportunities, and the length of leases offered.
They also include lack of capacity in smaller TSOs, limiting their ability to successfully engage in a CAT. Overall, contrary to empowering local organisations, these factors have served to exclude them and discourage them from taking up potential opportunities to engage with the council. The original ethos that a straightforward Expression of Interest is sufficient to kick start the CAT process has been lost, with applicants expend considerable time and resources in developing a full property bid from the outset.
 The report concludes:
The report finds that the CAT policy is not meeting its objectives, and recommends that the council discontinues the existing CAT process in favour of marketing all council assets in the usual way

Where to hear your candidates debate GE2017

Brent Central Public Political Debates: 

Education Question Time
Friday May 26th 2017 at 18:£0
Queens Park Community School, 
More info HERE

Brent North Political Debates

Brent Carers
Carers and Social Care Hustings
Wednesday 31st May 2017 6:30 - 8:30pm
Church End & Roundwood Unity Centre
103 Church End London, NW10 9EG
Buses 260 & 266

Hampstead & Kilburn Political Debates

West Hampstead Life Hustings
THIS TUESDAY May 23, 2017
@ 7.30 pm – 9.15 pm
WHERE:
Sherriff Centre
Sherriff Rd
London NW6

We would love to see you attending, but if not they have promised to live stream this event.
https://www.facebook.com/WestHampsteadLife

To make the evening flow smoothly, they are encouraging you to send questions in advance – the candidates will not see these beforehand. They will then ask some of the popular submitted questions before handing over to the floor.
To send a question, simply drop Jonathan Turton an email before midday on Tuesday. There will also be a question box in St James’ Church over the next few days.
Format:
Each candidate will get a 4-minute slot to pitch themselves, and then we will structure the evening in three parts. First, questions on Brexit, then questions on other national issues (incl. foreign policy), and then questions on local issues. If there is time then there’ll be time for free questions at the end.
Doors open at 7pm and will start at 7.30pm. They will aim to finish around 9.15pm. The Sherriff Centre café/bar will be open.

Granville Community Kitchen and South Kilburn Trust Hustings
Wednesday 31st of May  Time: 7-9pm
At Granville Plus Centre
Carlton Vale, NW6 5HE.

Questions to: granvillecommunitykitchen@gmail.com

South Kilburn GE2017 Hustings on Wednesday May 31st

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Voters urged to ask GE2017 candidates to pledge opposition to school cuts



Fill in the above to find the cuts faced by your local school and to see which candidates have signed the pledge to oppose the cuts

From Brent NUT

At the last General Election, the Conservatives promised to protect the money ‘following your child into school’. This promise was broken and we are now seeing the worst cuts to school budgets in a generation, with schools facing cuts of up to £3 billion a year by 2020.

Brent faces larger than average cuts. The table below shows how the cuts affect local constituencies:


The NUT, ATL and NAHT have updated the Schools Cuts website – www.schoolcuts.org.uk – so voters can email each Parliamentary candidate asking them to oppose funding cuts. By putting a postcode into the website, candidates in your area will appear and you can send an email to each one, asking them to oppose the real terms funding cuts for schools.

Lesley Gouldbourne, Brent Secretary said:
Already head teachers are saying that they cannot cope with the current levels of funding. This is a situation that will only get worse if the previous Government’s National Funding Formula is implemented.

It is vital that all candidates standing in the General Election for Brent promise to increase school funding. Failure to do so will see our schools continue to be desperately under resourced, teacher posts cut and drastic measures, such as closing schools earlier, may be considered.

Parents and children in Brent deserve better and our politicians should be standing with us in demanding investment in our schools.
You can see the funding reduction in each school by following these links: (you will need to open the file in Excel)

Brent Central

Brent North

Hampstead and Kilburn

Additional comment by Martin Francis:

It has emerged that in addition to these cuts Brent schools will also be hit by increases in employer contributions to the Brent Council Pension Fund over the next 3 years. This is to ensure the Fund is solvent and raises questions about the management of the Fund compared with other local authorities. Schools will need to find the money to pay increased contributions for support staff including teaching assistants and adminstrative staff. Source LINK


Greens to tackle the big issues for young people: housing, work and education

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The Green Party will launch its youth manifesto today, promising to crack down on unpaid internships, protect renters and cancel student debt. Co-leader Jonathan Bartley, the Young Greens and the party’s young candidates will outline a series of pledges at an event in London.

The Green Party’s youth policies will include:

  • Interns and trainees entitled to the national living wage
  • Introduce a living rent for all through rent controls and more secure tenancies for private renters
  • Abolish tuition fees and cancel all student debt 

Jonathan Bartley, Green Party co-leader, is expected to say:

The Conservative Government has launched a war on young people, taking public debt and hanging it around the necks of the next generation - cutting their housing benefit, increasing tuition fees and scrapping education grants. 

Young people matter and a political party that fails to work with and listen to young people, that ignores them in favour of older voters, that thinks of the future only in terms of their tenure in office not the lifetime of today’s youth, is not a political party at all but a closed-off clique.

The Green Party wants to make schools and universities a springboard for life. We’re offering young people a better future, whether it’s a quality education, secure job, or a warm, safe home.

The Green Party will build a raft for young people negotiating the Brexit storm. Young people have the most to lose from an uncertain future outside the EU, and we’re promising a referendum on the final Brexit deal, with the chance to stay in the EU if voters don’t like the Government’s deal.

Friday, 19 May 2017

No room for critics in Butt's key committee appointments

The Annual Meeting of Brent Council allocated committee places.  Those who follow the machinations of Brent Labour may be interested in the fate of those councillors who have challenged or fallen out with the leadership as well as the allocation of places to the two Conservative groups:


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Now a 26 storey block in Ealing Road to match the Wembley 'twin towers' !

Click on image to enlarge
The next Planning Committee will consider an application for a development at Minavil House (opposite the bus garage in Ealing Road) ranging in height from 10 to 26 storeys. In 2009 Brent Council Planning Committee refused an application for a 1-8 storey building on the site as being of an 'unacceptable scale and design'. However in 2012 it approved a 1-11 storey application.  The latest is the same height as the larger of the 'twin towers' on the site of Chesterfield House currently being built at the corner of Park Lane and Wembley High Road despite vociferous opposition from local residents.There is an application in for 28 storey blog at Apex House, Fulton Road, near Wembley Stadium.

This will be far the tallest building in Alperton and will dominate the area but planning officers state:
The proposal is substantial in terms of height, and objections have referred to this. Since submission the building has increased in height, and the assessment has been made based on the revised drawings. It is 26 storeys in total and it needs to be acknowledged that the Alperton Masterplan identifies some buildings of up to 17 storeys being appropriate. This clearly exceeds that, and would be taller than anything else nearby. Despite concerns suggesting that this would set a precedent for tall buildings, there are already tall buildings nearby: the context includes 243 Ealing Road (up to 14 storeys), Peppermints Heights (18 storeys) and Atlip Road (13 storeys). Minavil House is nearer to the station than the others, and the inevitably slightly better access to public transport does imply that this is where the greatest density should occur, which is a function of height. It is not within a town centre, but is near to a district centre.
 As is now 'normal' the amount of affordable housing is significantly less than Brent Council's and the Mayor's policy requires but after a viability study planning officers say:

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 London Plan Policy 3.12 requires boroughs seek the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing 
when negotiating on private and mixed use developments, having regard to a number of factors, including development viability. Policy CP2 of Brent’s Core Strategy sets a strategic target that 50% of 
new homes delivered in the borough should be affordable. Brent’s DMP15 reinforces the 50% target set by policy CP2 and the need to seek the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing. It also notes that 70% of new affordable housing provision should be social/affordable rented housing and 30% should be intermediate housing in order to meet local housing needs in Brent. London Plan Policy 3.11 sets a ratio of 60% social/affordable rented housing and 40% intermediate housing for new affordable housing across London. 

Presuming the proposals are considered acceptable on all other grounds, Officers take the view that the affordable housing proposals on the scheme should be supported. Notwithstanding the failure to comply with local and regional affordable housing tenure policy, the wider context is of delivering a key housing site in the Alperton area which has been allocated for development since 2011. Given the departure from policy and very large number of shared ownership units, it is recommended Genesis Housing Group be a party to the s106 agreement in order to ensure the scheme is deliverable. An appropriate Shared Ownership Nominations Agreement should also require a ring-fenced marketing period for the shared ownership units to local people, and that priority be given for applications from local people after that ring-fenced period expires, in order that the scheme endeavour to best meet local housing needs. 


Affordable rent in this scheme is 60% of market rent

Learn about our Eastern European community and celebrate their contribution to Brent


Welcome initiative from Brent Council:
 
Brent Eastern European Fair - 17th June 2017 

Brent Council is celebrating its first Eastern European Fair on 17 June 2017 from 12:00 – 4:00 p.m. at Sudbury Primary School. 

The FREE event will include cultural entertainment, a traditional food market, along with advice and information sessions. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to meet and engage with members of the Eastern European communities living in Brent and to learn more about the positive contribution they make.

Sudbury Primary School, Watford Road, Wembley,  HA0 3EY View Map

Free - Register on EVENTBRITE

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Welsh Harp Centre provides community activities during half-term

It is good to see the Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre reaching out into the community with half-term activities. The Centre was saved from closure as a result of campaigning by local schools, pupils and residents LINK and is now run by the Thames21 charity.


You can do your bit by taking part in conservation activities at the Welsh Harp Centre:




Toxic air shock for Brent residents

David Wardle and Pam Laurance (Brent Friends of the Earth) at Sustainability Day at Colindale Public Health England
 On 5th May 2017 the government released its plan for improving air quality and is a call for action from Brent Council and the Mayor of London.  
The plan underlines the importance of the work being carried out by Brent FOE which has contributed to the evidence base indicating the illegal and dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air in Brent. 
Brent FOE took measurements of the levels of nitrogen dioxide in February this year at 9* locations in Brent, using Friends of the Earth Air Quality kits (available at foe.co.uk).  The locations included playgrounds, schools, high streets, tube stations, and areas that have a significant footfall.   
Nitrogen dioxide is one of many air pollutants.  It is a smelly gas which contributes to smog and respiratory problems.  Nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lungs, and it can reduce immunity to lung infections. This can cause problems such as wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis.
Increased levels of nitrogen dioxide can have a significant impact on people with asthma, due to the fact that it can cause more frequent and more intense attacks. Children with asthma and older people with heart disease are most at risk.
The EU legal limit for nitrogen dioxide concentrations is 40µg/m3.  The readings at the 9* locations ranged from 64.81µg/m3 to 94.16µg/m3.  The evidence indicates that all locations had nitrogen dioxide concentrations that were above the EU legal limit, and some were more than double that limit.
FOE is demanding the introduction of a Clean Air Act and a generous scrappage system for diesel vehicles that will significantly reduce emissions.  Contact your local General Election candidates (Contact details HERE) and the Mayor of London to ask them for their views.  If you would like to join Brent FOE or find out more about our campaign, please contact info@brentfoe.co.uk.

*9 locations: Fryent Medical Centre, NW9 9PE; Kingsbury tube station NW9 8XG; 5 Berkeley Rd NW9 9DJ;Roe Green Park, Children’s playground NW9 9DT; 14 Craven Park Road, Housewife Cash+ Carry NW10 4AB; Harlesden Library NW10 8SE; Opposite Greenhill Park Medical Centre NW10 9AR; Harlesden Primary School, Acton Lane NW10 8UT; Shakespeare Avenue Open Space (Nr. A404) NW10 8NG

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Duffy will consider going to the police if no independent inquiry into Kingdom contract

 
Incentive: 'If you work for Kingdom the more you fine, the more yu earn'

Following the BBC Panorama report on the 'litter police' (view the programme HERE) Cllr John Duffy (Labour Kilburn) has called for a public inquiry into Brent Council's awarding of a contract to Kingdom Ltd, the firm featured in the programme. He will consider challenging the accounts and going to the police if there is no independent investigation.

Duffy wrote yesterday afternoon to Brent Council CEO Carolyn Downs:

It is clear the way Kingdom operate is of some concern. I believe the word of mouth contract was let without due process and was pushed through by officers and the Lead member without market testing was a mistake and  has wasted the council over £100k in income. The initial report itself was heavily biased towards the contractor, the fact that the lead member and cabinet  chose to ignore advice from me and preserve without challenging the report, does not legitimise the lack of due process that took place.



I am urging you to have a full independent investigation into the how the contract was let and how it was monitored, I believe there was no meaningful monitoring by our officers. It is clear this contract was a bounty hunting contract and often picked on the most vulnerable residents  and had nothing to do with street cleansing standards and was about securing a profit for the contractor.


Officers and lead member seemed happy to allow that situation as long as they could announce the number of prosecutions and number of litter tickets issue at full council, without any concern about the methods being used by the company. Our legal department did no monitoring on litter tickets issued and only monitored tickets being prepared for prosecution , leaving the contractor to self-monitor the issuing process.



I remain concerned that Kingdom were allowed to bid for other contracts based on recommendations of Brent officers without referral back to either Scrunity or cabinet. I believe we have been negligent and the cabinet were misled in both the letting and monitoring of the contract .



I hope you will reconsider your position not to have an independent investigation in light of the evidence about how Kingdom operate.I f however you chose not to have a independent investigation I intend to challenge the accounts ( I have copied Conrad [Hall, Brent Finance Officer] in so he can advise me of how to challenge the accounts) and will also consider going to the police. I find the loss of the £100k on the contract because of the lack of due process, the lack of documentation to ensure best value and continual word of mouth recommendation is unacceptable.



I do not need an explanation from officers, about what they did or did not do, that should be left to an independent investigator to judge whether the process of letting the contract and subsequent monitoring was adequate. However I do need confirmation that the investigation will take place. 



Clearly at the moment we are in the run -up to the national elections. However I still seek your commitment to a independent  investigation as soon as the  election has taken place.
It will not surprise regular readers to hear that Cllr Duffy was removed from the Scrutiny Committee at the recent Labour Group AGM.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Kingdom 'litter police' under scrutiny on Panorama tonight

Readers who have followed Cllr John Duffy's attempts to get the Kingdom Ltd contract with Brent Council properly scrutinised LINK  LINK will be interested in tonight's Panorama (8.30pm BBC1 and then iplayer) which focuses on the company's operations.

Pre-broadcast publicity from the BBC  LINK states:

A private company acting as the "litter police" for dozens of councils pays officers a bonus for issuing fines, an undercover Panorama report has found.

One officer from Kingdom Services, a leading enforcement company, claimed that his bonus one month was £987.

Other officers were filmed handing out £75 fines for tiny pieces of dropped orange peel and poured-away coffee.

Kingdom told Panorama that its competency allowance was not a paid incentive for officers to issue fines. 

Littering is a crime, but if you pay the fine you can avoid a criminal record.

Councils are increasingly using private companies such as Kingdom, based in Cheshire, to enforce the Environmental Protection Act. 

Kingdom currently has about 28 contracts with local authorities and last year saw its profits jump 30% to £9m. 

The company frequently splits the proceeds of the fines with the councils.