Sunday, 23 July 2017

Murky figures at HS2 as public money goes down the drain

The figures associated with the HS2 project are so vast that they are hard to grasp. The world's most expensive railways at £400,000,000 with experts predicting a doubling of total cost to £104bn suggest the project is a high speed white elephant, particularly as the government has quietly ditched plans to improve current rail routes.

At the same time Carillion, one of the main contractors appointed by the government, is facing its own financial crisis and has lost its Chief Executive in the process. LINK

Fears about the reliability of HS2's figures have not been helped by the National Audit Office's recent findings about unauthorised payments by the company.  They spent £2.76m on pay-offs in 2016 of which only £1m was authorised.  The redundancy payments were prompted by a head office move and reorganisation and were made above the civil service cap of £95,000 despite advice from the Department of Transport.

The Guardian LINK reports that HS2 circumvented the cap by placing highly paid staff on gardening leave and continuing to pay them for several months despite the fact that they were no longer working and adding the maximum payout.  67 staff were made compulsorily redundant at a total costs of up to £916.000 when statutory compensation would have totalled between £55,000-£115,00. A further 27 staff were given voluntary redundancy packages worth £1.84m with 8 people on a salary of more than £150,000 receiving up to £200,000  each.

This is of course public money.

The HS2 Director of Financial Operations is Clive Heaphy, former Director of Finance and Corporate Services at Brent Council. Previously he was Interim Director of Finance at Ofsted under Christine Gilbert, later CEO of Brent Council.

Heaphy left Brent Council after negotiating an exit payout of £145,508. LINK

Friday, 21 July 2017

The demise of one of Wembley's wonderful willows

Trees are too often an undervalued part of our local heritage and personal histories. The willow above, in the Marriage Garden at Brent (formerly Wembley) Town Hall, probably appears in thousands of wedding albums across generations.

According to the Lycee security officer I spoke to the tree came down in the recent storm.

After the Town Hall was sold-off by Brent Council to the Lycee International des Londres Winston Churchill it became part of the children's playground and doubtless figured large in their creative play and exploration.

The storm occurred after the school broke up for the summer holiday so children will return to find a large gap in their playground. This was the scene today.

Wembley is well endowed with mature willows with local doctors' surgeries and playcentres named after them.

There is a magnificent specimen, in need of a trim, just behind the Lycee in Greenhill Way:

If you would like one of your pictures of the Marriage Garden willow published please send in jpeg or png format to me at

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Saturday July 22nd Heart of Wembley Fesival, Wembley High Road

From 'Wembley Futures'

On Saturday, 22 July 2017 Wembley Futures will be hosting the second annual Heart of Wembley Festival. This exciting community event will take place from 1pm-6pm on Wembley High Road, from the Park Lane junction with the High Road towards the Wembley Triangle.

The Festival is one of the activities by Wembley Futures, one of 150 recipient groups across the UK to be awarded funding by The Big Local. A long-term innovative programme that aims to achieve lasting change, The Big Local provides a mixture of funding, finance and support. The Big Local is an opportunity for residents in Wembley Central to make a massive and lasting positive difference to their area. In addition to celebrating the Big Local success, the Festival aims to enthuse residents, businesses and partner organisations about the possibilities that Wembley Futures and Wembley Central present.

The Heart of Wembley Festival will celebrate the communities in Wembley Central through a mix of both local and professional music and dance. Among the musicians playing onstage will be Dhol2Dhol, outstanding performers and instructors of the vibrant Dhol drum, who have played major events such as the closing of the 2012 Paralympic Games and the London Marathon 2017; The London Belles, a chic vintage music trio playing favourites from the 1940s and beyond; rock band Harripaul, and singer-songwriter Doriane Woo. Move and sway to the headline act, Marta and Emiliano jazz band with a Latin American feel. The stage will also showcase the DJ talents of MC Nino, sounds of Ebony steel band, and a spoken word performance by festival MC, Bries. Dance groups representing the art form from across the world include street dancers from Elan Arts, South Asian Kathak dancers from the Encee Academy, Nepalese dancers from the British Gurka Nepalese Association, and Salsa dance from Wembley-based, Mambo City.

Shaun Wallace, one of the ‘chasers’ on the ITV quiz show The Chase, will be attending the Heart of Wembley Festival as the celebrity guest. The quiz show pits four contestants against the Chaser, a ruthless quiz genius determined to stop them winning the cash prize. Wallace, who won Mastermind in 2004, is a barrister and also known by the names ‘The Legal Eagle’ and ‘The Dark Destroyer’.

The Heart of Wembley Festival is a free event and will be a family-friendly environment, with children’s rides, a fascinating bubble show from bubbleologist Graham Maxwell, street theatre, community and information stalls, and stalls offering tantalising world food, fashion, gifts and jewellery.

Francis Henry, Chair of Wembley Futures, said: “I hope to see both new and familiar faces at the Festival in July. We are building on the success of last year’s Festival and look forward to a great day out with friends and neighbours, making the most of our local community.”

For more information please contact Osita Udenson on 07875 588 107 or

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

More light thrown on potential primary school place surplus

Most primary schools in Brent will have broken up by the time that the Cabinet disucuss a report on future school places on Monday. However, the report will have implications for future stability and potential surplus of places in some schools over the next few years.   The report signals the end of the recent expansion of Brent primary schools.

I have questioned the need for a new 630 pupil Ark primary school at York House in an earlier article LINK and plans may now be affectd by the government's decisions on education spending where monies may be taken from the free school budget to supplement school budgets.

Brent policy is to have 5% surplus spaces in primary schools to aid parent choice. It is currently about 4% but likely to rise - it will not be uniform across a complex borough and some schools will experience higher surplus capacity which has budget implications as funding is per pupil.

Without taking into account the new primary free schools of Ark Somerville (York House) and Floreat (Colindale)  we are looking at a surplus equivalent of more than a two form entry primary in 2018-2022. With the two free schools it is equivalent to a 3 form entry school.

The report states:
Table 4 shows the latest GLA forecasts and available primary places and Table 5 shows forecast demand for Reception places from 2017. The places available includes expanded provision at Byron Court, Elsley, Leopold and Uxendon Manor schools, which became permanent during the 2015/16 or 2016/17 academic years. 

The ESFA proposes to open 2 new primary free schools in Brent. The ESFA is reluctant to open new free schools on temporary sites until a permanent site has been identified. Floreat Colindale Primary, which will provide 420 places (2FE), was due to open in temporary accommodation in 2016 and move to a permanent site from 2018. However, latest plans are for the school to open in 2019 on the school’s permanent site at Oriental City. Ark Somerville Primary School  630 places (3FE) was originally approved to open in 2017 in the Alperton region of Planning Area 3. It is now earmarked for the York House site, Wembley Central which is adjacent to the other growth area in Planning Area 3. The final column of Table 5 indicates the impact these schools would have on Reception capacity if both opened in 2019. 

We are forecasting a reduction in demand for Reception places for September 2017, evidenced by fewer on time applications than at the same point in time in previous years. 

The latest pupil forecasts suggest that Reception cohorts will continue to fall for a further three years before beginning to increase again (in 2020/21). As a result there will be a temporary increase in spare capacity across the borough. Neighbouring authorities are reporting similar patterns.
We are currently working with schools to manage any changes in demand. Brent schools experience a high degree of pupil mobility due to families moving in and out of the Borough and families moving within the Borough. Overall forecasts indicate that year groups are expected fluctuate in size as they move through the system. There is a forecast deficit of primary places in Year 3 in Planning Area 1 and Planning Area 3 for September 2017. We anticipate that spare capacity in other planning areas will be sufficient to meet this need.
The full report including predictions of the need for two new secondary schools in the borough in the near future, can be found HERE

Specialist to visit each Brent tower block between now and September to establish fire safety works needed

Monday's July 24th Cabinet Meeting will set things moving on the £10m extra agreed to enhance fire safety measures in Brent's high rise blocks.

The report states:

Council agreed that the Chief Executive should write to the Government as a matter of urgency to request that the Government provide direct financial support to meet the costs that will be incurred. The letter has been sent to the Government requesting financial support, as well as requesting that the Government urgently consider revocation of the permitted development rights for office to residential conversions; that the Government review the building control laws which allow the use of building control teams from both the private sector and other local authorities to inspect buildings which can mean a total lack of oversight by local authority inspectors of the fire risk level in some privately owned high rise blocks and that the Government address whether licensing laws for landlords in the private sector are stringent enough to ensure that all dwellings are fit for human habitation.
Actions to develop the detailed work programme for enhanced fire measures in High-rise blocks
A specification is in the process of being developed, which will outline the enhanced fire detection equipment that could be installed, over and above the required standard. In order to establish the exact works required, a suitably qualified specialist will carry out a survey of each building, and specify the schedule of works. This will be specific to each block, but may include detection systems localised alarms in communal areas and/or dwellings, fire suppression systems such as sprinklers, or smoke extraction systems.
The appropriate procurement framework will be accessed in order to appoint the relevant specialists required in order to complete this preparatory work.
Surveyors will visit all blocks between now and September in order to carry out these surveys, which will inform the detailed plan which will be brought back for consideration by Cabinet in October 2017.
It will be important to keep residents informed and reassured throughout this process. A letter has been sent to all tenants and leaseholders to advise them of the outcome of the Full Council discussion, attached at Annex 3, and a programme of communication will continue throughout this process.

Saturday Funday on St Raph's - July 22nd

Normal service wil be restored as soon as possible

Regular readerswill have noticed a lack of postings in the last week or so.  This is not because  there are not Brent issues to be publicised and discussed.  I have been unwell for some time culminating in hospitalisation last week.  I am back at home and hope to resume postings but my energy levels are much less than usual.

I am happy to supplement Wembley Matters with any appropriate guest postings that readers may with to submit.

Martin Francis

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Figures put need for new Ark primary academy in doubt

Consultation takes place Thursday morning and evening at Ark Wembley on their plans for a new 630 pupil primary school at the junction of Empire Way and the Royal Route LINK

New light is thrown on the proposal by figures obtained by FoI request for the number of vacancies in Reception for September 2017.

The figures show that some of the recently expanded schools are not filling up. A number of these expansions have involved controversy including Stonebridge (closure of the adventure playground) and Byron Court (vociferous opposition from residents).

The figures in the final waiting list column represent children who will have a school place in Septepmber but not their parents' first choice. Parents will waiting for a vacancy to arise to place them in the school of their choice, perhaps to join siblings or because it is more convenient for transport. Children can be on several waiting lists so the figures are of limited value.

When a school has vacant spaces and no waiting list the parents of children moving into the borough between now and September will be offered places there, which may involve a journey across the borough.

When children settle into a school, albeit not their first choice, make friends and settle into the routine, the parents desire for transfer is sometimes reduced: 'She is doing well, I dont think I want to move her now'

The 'churn' of pupils moving between schools creates instability and affects progress and achievement.  A new school could have a destabilising effect on other esrtablished local schools.

A considerable amount of money has been invested in the expansion of schools. If they are not filling up the additional places then there is a question of value for money.

School places planning and school expansion seems a ripe topic for s Scrutiny Committeee investigation.