'New Windows on Willesden'

'New Windows on Willesden' is a short term Brent Council initiative to help regenerate Willesden High Road with the aim of stimulating the local economy, reducing unemployment and attracting new visitors. It is being funded by the Mayor's Outer London Fund and delivered by the Architecture Foundation. Further information can be found at:




Recycling mattresses

Visited the reuse and recycling centre this week to deposit some of my own recycling. Discovered that it is even possible to recycling mattresses and that the centre has a skip for mattress deposits. Apparently they are stripped down primarily for the metal springs.  Bed bases and mattresses seem to be the main item for dumping in front gardens and on pavements, when a call to the council for a free collection (020 8937 5050) would mean the mattress could be recycled, when mattresses left dumped on a pavement would probably be rejected as contaminated.


Safety Award

Brent Council has been given the National Transport Award as best authority for road safety, traffic management & enforcement.  This is a tribute to the huge reduction in traffic accidents in the Borough over the past few years. It demonstrates how seriously we take road safety.

Willesden Sports Centre's 5th 'birthday'

Good to visit the Willesden Sports Centre on it's birthday. Was very involved in its planning when lead member for the environment.  Lots of worries along the way mostly to do with funding. I remember being involved in the 'topping our' ceremony. It was suggested at the beginning of the planning process that it should be built alongside the existing centre and to return the original site to park land when completed. Local residents were against this so the centre was closed and out of action for around 2 years. Pity, as it would have worked. Centre now provides a valuable facility for local people and well worth the efforts made at the time.

Refurbished play area for Unity Close

The planning application for the refurbishing of the playground in Unity Close has been posted. Thus is a long overdue refurbishment welcomed by residents. The application is submitted by Stadium Housing, one of the housing associations managing the estate. The proposal is to install a multi-use games area (MUGA) with 3m high boundary fence, a new play area and alterations and proposed new path, seating and planting area to form an attractive seating area for older residents. Willesden councillors will make a contribution to the cost from the Willesden Ward Working scheme.


Brent: Lowest for complaints 2010-2011

Brent Council has achieved the lowest rate of London boroughs for complaints upheld by the Ombudsman.  Just 6% of complaints about the Council considered were upheld, compared with a London average of 21% and a national average of 27%. In addition, the total number of complaints received by the Council dropped 36% compared with 2009-2010, and stage 2 and 3 complaints also fell. Revenue and Benefits achieved the largest reduction with complaints falling 70%.


Burney Surgery saved!

As earlier posts show (search this blog for Burnley posts), I have been very active in persuading Brent PCT to abandon their proposal to close this surgery and relocate patients to other doctors. I was in regular touch with patients in both Willesden Green and Dudden Hill Wards who were very upset by the proposed closure. Following representations from all Willesden and Dudden Hill councillors, the PCT had second thoughts and undertook to commission a new management arrangement. Now NHS Brent has completed an open tender procurement process for the Practice, with the successful bidder being 'social enterprise' company, Innovision Healthcare Ltd based in North London, working extensively with Enfield, Haringey and Camden PCTs. Innovision will also be managing the local enhanced service for homelessness for Brent. The contract has a start date of 1st November 2011, with the same members of staff and the Willesden Health Centre location. I also understand that other GP practices could be relocated to the Willesden Centre and that a better location within the Health Centre would be sought.  Patient power can still work in these troubled times for the NHS!


Green Charter

Brent has just adopted a “Green Charter” which is intended to help us protect our environment.  Areas covered include reducing carbon emissions, reducing waste and increasing recycling, sustainable development and transportation, sustainable land use and the protection of wildlife.   A pleasing feature is that Brent has done enough to apply to be a Fair Trade borough – a valuable contribution to achieving the sustainable food and purchasing commitment.

Community Infrastructure Levy

The use of Planning Obligations (S106 agreements) were legal agreements between the council and developers negotiated through the planning application system.  The purpose was to mitigate the negative impact of developments to provide new infrastructure such as new roads or new schools. Brent standardised much of the S106 system so that what a developer paid related to the number of homes developed.  With the new Community Infrastructure Levy, (CIL) the government requires councils to go further with this idea and to levy a straight per square metre charge on all development over a given size.  Also, with CIL, there will have to be a more local determination as to how the funds are allocated and will involve ward councillors and residents in decisions.


New developments for Willesden?

Hoping some news will do good things for Willesden!  Firstly, will a developer be interested in rebuilding the library centre at no cost to the council in return for some housing and/or retail land.  The centre is expensive to maintain and has empty space which could be better used to provide a council "hub" where residents in the south of the borough could access more services. The centre as it is an expensive space to maintain. We should know sometime in November how finding an interested developer has progressed.  Secondly, Willesden has the half a million to revitalise the town centre from the London Mayor's High Road project fund. An additional bid is being prepared. More details of how these funds will be spent should be known at the end of October. Will be updating the news as soon as known.


Black History Month

I am doing something a little bit different as part of black history month. A while ago my family had some of my short essays published. These reflected on expatriate life in Nigeria in the1960s, just after Independence. The collection is called "Oyinbo" - a Yoruba word for white people. I am to do a short session of reading and answering questions at Harlesden Library on 12th October, 7 pm. Looking forward to it.

Shocking fire in Brent

The appalling fire and loss of life in Sonia Gardens has shocked everyone. Our thoughts must be with the two badly hurt survivors and that they overcome their injuries and their loss. I read that the house was rented to the family. I often visit residents in privately rented properties. There are a great number in Willesden and some are generally in poor condition and suffer overcrowding. Private landlords clearly have a duty of care but I suspect a number do the bare minimum to ensure their tenants' safety. I am now committed to add checking fire alarms and safety features when making visits.


Willesden's first woman MP

Have just discovered that Willesden had a woman MP from 1931 to 1935. Her name was Mavis Tate and she was MP for West Willesden. She was born Maybird Constance Hogg but changed her first name to Mavis by deed poll and her second name on marriage to Captain Henry Burton Tate. She was said to be an active feminist and chaired committees dealing with women's rights and equal pay. She died in 1947. This fascinating information from a new book, "London Borough of Brent in old photographs", by R. King and M. Barres Baker (Brent Archives £12.99). 

Youth unemployment

Some research by Barnardo's finds that the number of jobseeker's allowance claimants aged 18 to 24 increased by 40,000 to over 408,000 between November 2010 and February 2011. Around 30% of all claimants are now in this age group across all UK regions (Daily Telegraph 26/8/2011).  The government ought to be very concerned about youth unemployment but appears not to be. The problem is bound to get worse now allowances for further education (EMA) and university fees and the shortage of places will mean even more young people in career limbo at a time when older workers will be expected to work until around 68 years thus blocking employment chances for young people even more. 


Disorder in London: Local response

Resident members of Brent's safer Neighbourhoods police panels were called to a meeting with Taff Thomas on Saturday (13th August). This was to update residents about local events during recent troubles and to explain plans in hand should trouble erupt again. The meeting was well attended by residents although I was the only councillor present. I left feeling some confidence in how our local teams had operated and how they had prepared for potential trouble. Learnt two things of interest. The first was about the reporting of a man arrested at Northwick Park Station for carrying a knife and who then collapsed and was taken to hospital very ill. When I first heard this I was anxious about a possible local reaction. However, the incident had been reported wrongly. The man was arrested by transport police not local met officers and had swallowed drugs which made him ill. He has since fully recovered. Errors in reporting could have led to further incidents. The other point of interest was the police officers' praise for the close and effective working with Brent Council. Outside the station were a fleet of Brent Transportation Service buses on standby should a team of officers be needed to get to a trouble location quickly.


Disorder in London

Willesden residents are naturally concerned about the current wave of rioting and disorder in London. In comparison to dreadful events in other parts of London, incidents in Brent have been comparatively minor, although we can all condemn the injuries caused by a car driving at police officers. Below is a message from the Chief Inspector of the Brent Safer Neighbourhood Team, Taff Thomas. Taff aims to reassure us that the police, the council and other agencies are working together to maintain order: 

"You will all be acutely aware of the recent dreadful events across London, I want to let you know that Brent police and partner agencies are working extremely hard to keep you safe. If you have any concerns or issues arising or just want to chat, please be so kind as to talk to your local safer neighbour hoods team.  Many thanks for the many good wishes we have received from a large number of you, I know our officers appreciate these sentiments."

Any information can be passed to police anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

Outer London funding - for Willesden

Willesden is to benefit from the allocation of £500,000 from the Mayor of London's Outer London fund. He has allocated nearly £10m from the Fund to boost the attractiveness and competitiveness of local high streets across London. This is a three-year £50m initiative to improve economic activity and encourage employment in parts of London that will benefit less directly from Crossrail and the 2012 Games. A second round of funding (£40m) is open for boroughs to bid for until 14 October and Brent officers are preparing a second bid. The Willesden funding is expected to:

- physically transform Willesden Green High Road to make it a more attractive place
- improve the employment and skills levels of local people and increase levels of self employment
- create a place to showcase and foster local creative talent and promote cultural vibrancy
- continue the programme by delivery through local organisations and replicate in other relevant localities.


A safer way in to Sainsbury's

Richmond Avenue
Delighted to report that one side of parking bays in Richmond Avenue have been replaced by double yellow lines. This means no parking on this side at any time, making the entry to Sainsbury's supermarket from the High Road much easier and should stop traffic backing up the High Road while cars attempt to pass each other. I have been urging this action for over two years so pleased that there should now be safer entry and exit for customers.  The increased enforcement should deal more effectively with the suspected misuse of disabled blue badges in the area. 


Children enjoying the Learie Constantine open space

Members of the school council of St Andrew and St Francis CE Primary School were involved in visiting playgrounds and suggesting play equipment for the Learie Constantine open space. Now it is open, they can see the results of their efforts and were able to have a fun time themselves. 

Our MP's concerns?

Have not heard much lately about our MP, Childrens' Minister, Sarah Teather.  She does not always turn up to local events when expected. However, she has been making some interesting comments which indicate a concern for some of her her coalition government colleagues' policies.  For example, "Inside Housing" (13.7.2011), she is said to have voiced concern about the impact the coalition government’s housing benefit caps will have on thousands of families. She revealed her concerns during a question and answer session at an event hosted by the Family and Parenting Institute.  She supported the principle behind the government’s benefit reforms including the introduction of a universal credit, of removing benefit claimants’ disincentives. but she said this should not come at the expense of the estimated 50,000 families who will be negatively affected by a £500-a-week cap on all benefits. To quote Sarah Teather:

"If you are asking me if I am worried about the level that the cap is set at, yes, I am extremely worried."
And so she should be, as the impact on housing and families in Brent Central will be massive.


Learie Constantine open space

The Learie Constantine open space is open at last and is looking good! All the safety issues have been dealt with. There are some other issues to take up with officers but it is good that children will have access to all the interesting play equipment at last. This is my first picture of a mum and child enjoying the bucket swing.  Looking back at records, I first raised the problem of the site in 2005 when I asked for the site to be boarded up to stop the vandalism and anti-social behaviour that was troubling neighbours. From then on, there were continual requests to Parks to refurbish the site for play and recreation. It was only when the Labour government provided "Playbuilder" funds in 2009 that it was possible to go ahead. So a very long haul, but worth it!


LIbraries in Oxfordshire

Libraries in Oxfordshire could be saved after a cash windfall from the Government. 
The county council will receive up to £3.7million in grants which it could divert to meet the savings required of the library service. The council leader said: “It is highly unusual for government to continue to give councils grants long after they have set their budgets. I believe things have happened this way this year because the Government’s own budget-setting process has been complicated.” 
An unusual windfall? Government budgets complicated?  A coincidence that Prime Minister David Cameron has his constituency in Oxfordshire?


Proceeds of Crime Act

Attended the Brent and Harrow Trading Standards (TS) Advisory Board meeting last night. Delighted to hear that the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) is supporting joint work between Trading Standards and Planning Services. TS is currently conducting a number of financial investigations on behalf of other council departments including some related to planning. This involves recovering income from landlords in relation to residential properties that have been illegally - without planning permission - converted into flats or HMO's then rented out.  This is good news for the campaign I've encouraged in Willesden, where some properties without planning permission could end up being taken to court to recoup ill-gotten rental profits.


Cuts in care services

A survey conducted for the Independent newspaper (2/6/11) finds that care services for the elderly and disabled people are likely to be reduced during 2011/12 as authorities implement cuts averaging 6% to social care budgets to save a total of one billion. Councils planning service cuts include Bradford, which will close a centre for disabled people and increase meals on wheels charges, Stoke-on-Trent where two residential homes will close, and Liverpool which is altering qualification criteria and proposing to close nine day care centres. In Brent, we are doing our best to safeguard such essential services.


Saving the Burnley Practice

I have been in regular contact with aggrieved Willesden and Dudden Hill patients registered with the Burnley GP Practice as we had heard that there were plans to close this surgery and to distribute patients to other practices – few of which are within easy access for older or mobility impaired residents. Residents did not know why the practice was threatened, especially as a “post code” lottery existed, with the Willesden area (NW2, NW10) having fewer GP’s per 100,000 population than other areas of the borough. Following complaints to the Primary Care Trust by myself and other councillors, meetings were held so patients could express their concerns. Thanks to the campaign, the Burnley Practice is not under threat and efforts are being made to secure its position and larger accommodation in or near the Willesden Centre for Health and Care.


Local government finance

A BBC survey of planned expenditure by 76% of England's local authorities published on 12 May, shows that, in 2011/12, planned adult social care expenditure is expected to fall by an estimated 4.7% in the North and rise by 2.7% in the South; and cultural spending (including libraries) is expected to drop by about 10.2%, education spending by about 11.4% and environmental spending by 3.7% ("Council Spending: Making It Clear").  


Sale of allotments?

Saw this in the Independent:
"The century-old right of people to demand an allotment from their council may be abolished by the Government under plans to scale back red tape, it emerged yesterday. Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, is examining plans to free local authorities from a 103-year-old obligation to provide plots of public land for cultivation by gardeners. The proposals could see local authorities, many of them strapped for cash under government-imposed cuts, selling off allotment land for social housing or even for profit to major companies. The move has triggered a wave of protest from allotment society members and gardeners, who have lobbied Mr Pickles to rethink the plans."

An idea as daft as selling forests - and probably another similar U-turn before too long.


Willesden street parties

Residents in two roads went ahead with parties to celebrate the royal marriage.  Kings Road got the whole road closed and had stalls for food and bric a brac and face painting for the children. Churchill Road residents used a small section for a "Street Meet" where they could gather and enjoy the music and food contributions.


Impact of government austerity programme

The Coalition Government's austerity programme is set to last for another four years, but the cuts will severely impact upon many vulnerable local people. The Tory-Lib Dem government have already overseen:

the scrapping of Child Trust Funds.
-   - the rise in VAT costing an average household an extra £275 each year.
-   - entitlement to child benefit for people earning over £44,000 being removed costing families £1,055 each year for the eldest child and £749 for younger children. 
-   - a freeze in the value of child benefit, causing families with children to lose over £100 per annum
-   - the Health in Pregnancy grant being abolished costing new mums £190.
-   - the Winter Fuel Allowance for pensioners being cut this winter by £50 for pensioners under 80 and by £100 for pensioners over 80
-   - financial support to employers to take on young unemployed people being cancelled after the Future Jobs Fund was axed (even though youth unemployment is at a record high).

Jubilee Line closures

There was a time when I felt lucky to have a Jubilee line tube station a few minutes from where I live. But for the past two years, the line has been closed most weekends for engineering work which was supposed to be completed last summer. Replacement buses - some really old looking bone-shakers - trundled down my road to cover the part of the line closed. I mean to ask Mayor Boris how much the replacement bus service has cost and what do Jubilee line drivers do when the line is closed - do they have "gardening leave?" Recently, some unlucky passengers were stuck in hot carriages for up to two hours when there was a fault on the line. I regularly ask when the upgrades will be finished. The latest news indicated this Bank Holiday weekend will be a key test for the signalling system on the J5 section, hence the closure of this section of the line on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  It should provide a good indication of progress towards final completion, now indicated to be the end of June. Here's hoping!


Budget "reserves"

The Communities Minister, Eric Pickles, and Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, continue to berate some councils for having large budget reserves while drastically cutting services.  Reserves are needed so that we can manage risks during the year, so if it snows for weeks in winter we can top up our gritting salt, or if there is an unexpected demand for social services for children or the elderly, we can dip into reserves to avoid an overspend. Brent reserves have rarely been above £10 million, which means the borough has the lowest percentage of reserves at 4.4% of any London council and is tiny when compared to Conservative Kensington and Chelsea's 54.7%.  The opposition groups in Brent want to use reserves to avoid hard decisions about cuts. But the Finance Director advises that such proposals would expose us to "unacceptable risks”.


CAB success

Visited the CAB office in Willesden High Road today. The Mayor had been invited to collect a token “cheque” indicating that CAB advisers had raised £1.8 million in tax credits for Brent residents over the last four years. That means for every £1 they received this year to fund the service, they raised £35 for Brent residents.  Without the CAB, this money may not have been claimed. Sadly, this is the last year they were funded to do this work by HMRC. Brent residents have made an incredible 23,000 visits to the bureau on the High Road this year and raised a staggering £4.23 million over the last two years for Brent families visiting outreach projects at Children's Centres and raised £263,000 over the last fifteen months for Brent patients at Park Royal Mental Health Centre. It is very regrettable that the CAB will not be able to keep up this level of work having experienced cuts of a third of all its funding (£240,000).

Final days of Dollis Hill House

Brent has at last heard from the Communities and Local Government Department that permission has been given to Brent to demolish the fire damaged shell that was Dollis Hill House. English Heritage had raised no objection. There has been a long campaign over many years to find an organisation to take the site over and to rebuild the house. Some organisations and uses were proposed but did not materialise.  It has taken Eric Pickles, MP, Communities Minister, some months to agree the demolition leaving Brent with daily costs for securing the site. This wasted scarce council resources which could be better spent on the demolition and the return of the land to Gladstone Park. Odd, considering how much the minister regularly berates local government for 'wasting' money! One idea for the site was for a cafe within a walled garden area. Not sure if Brent can spare the funds to do this at the moment but its an aspiration for the future.  Meanwhile, no date set for the demolition.


Last minute cuts to school budgets

This is a real blow to our schools. Schools across London will be hit by a £28.3 million government funding cut, London Councils has warned. The Department for Education has cancelled the April payment of the School Standards fund weeks after London boroughs have signed off their budgets for 2011/12. This Fund provides core funding to London schools to help pay for things such as school dinners and one-to-one tuition. The cut means that school funding per pupil is not being maintained at ‘flat cash’ as the Government promised in the Spending Review. Because some of the funding is targeted towards deprived pupils the cut is likely to have a greater impact on more deprived local authorities, thereby diluting the impact of the coalition's much vaunted "pupil premium".


Farewell, Alleygates

My Labour group can be very proud of the alleygating scheme we initiated in our previous administration, 2002-2006.  The scheme identified problem alleys at the rear of shops and houses, clearing any dumping then sealing off the alleyways with strong gates with residents given keys.  Over 100 sites and over 30,000 homes protected. Brent Lib Dems acknowledge that the scheme has proved an effective way of clamping down on anti-social behaviour, but claim the credit was theirs as they “introduced” the scheme. The Fib Dems tend to be strangers to the truth and will generally blame the Labour administration for virtually everything.  Cuts from the Con Dem coalition have forced us to cut or discontinue really effective services like alleygating but they lay the blame solely on Brent Labour group.  There is even a striking fib about how one ward intended to use some of its Ward Working funds to gate more alleys, but it was a “disgrace” that the proposals were “blocked” by the Labour administration. Definitely not true! Ward Working records show the ward was able to spend over £10,000 to implement new alleygating schemes during the last financial year. In fact, the ward in question - Alperton - has had the most schemes implemented over recent years (16).  Regrettably, there will be no more for some time. The picture shows the little alley in Dean Road, Willesden before it was “alleygated”.

School places

All London Councils has warned that their boroughs face a predicted shortfall of around 70,000 school places over the next four years. The forecast shortage is largely concentrated in primary schools, but begins to feed through into secondary schools in the 2014/15 school year. Around 11,000 pupils are already being taught in temporary classrooms in the capital due to insufficient funding. London received £210 million from government in the 2011/12 funding allocations, but needs around £520 million to ensure every London pupil has a permanent school place. Brent officers are working hard to create sufficient places for our primary age children.


Sarah Teather MP - a different view on libraries

According to Sarah Teather MP in 2005, London libraries could be consigned to history books in less than two decades. She revealed new figures in 2005 that showed the number of books being borrowed from libraries in the capital have dropped by more than 28% since 1997, leading to fears that in less than two decades time libraries will be consigned to the history books. The figures, taken from Parliamentary answers show that in 1997/98, there were 55.2million books borrowed from libraries in the capital. By 2003/04, this had plummeted to 39.7million - a drop of 28%. If current trends continue no books would be borrowed by the year 2022. Teather said:
"There is a real danger that in the not too distant future, London's libraries could be consigned to the history books. While there are many people now buying their books from the High Street rather than going to their local library, it is deeply worrying that the decline in borrowing could lead to the closure of London's libraries. The decline in borrowed books will lead to increased pressures to force libraries in London to close their doors."

Libraries: a brief view of the national picutre

Up to 523 libraries are due to close as part of cuts of 30-40% to councils' £1bn library budgets over the next four years. Almost a third of councils plan cuts of 20% or more to leisure facilities.
Redundancies: 4,000-6,000 library staff
Figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy show a drop of almost 1,000 in paid library staff in 2009-10. So far, 50 jobs will go at Wirral council, 40 in Harrow, 12 in Hounslow, 17 in Wiltshire.
According to Cipfa, 45% of councils plan cuts of more than 10% to libraries and arts, museum and heritage services, and 28% plan similar cuts to leisure services. Twenty libraries could go in North Yorkshire, 20 in Leeds and 10 in Gloucestershire.
There are other, less spectacular, cuts. Library opening hours are being slashed to as little as three hours a week as councils look for ways to save money while avoiding unpopular closures. Almost five 500 libraries are currently threatened with the axe, with Hampstead Garden Suburb library in Barnet, north London, the latest confirmed casualty. But experts claim there is also a hidden cuts programme at work in many authorities, which will gut the service from the inside.
Total cuts in spend on libraries given as £350m


The Pontificating of Eric Pickles MP

The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, is continually interfering and criticising local decisions. Most of his criticisms have been reserved for Labour councils, stating for example that they don't need to make cuts to frontline services if only they would cut a few more senior staff.  No one outside his Whitehall department still believes this. Even his own party's councillors are telling him that cuts to frontline services are essential due to his funding decisions.  Most London councils have worked hard to find back office cuts, but still had to make painful cuts to frontline services. There may come a time when back office services have been cut so drastically that there is no one left to run anything.  

In a break from his usual script of claiming councils are responsible for the banking crisis, Eric Pickles recently made another astonishing claim - that Labour councils across the UK were deliberately making bigger and more damaging cuts to front-line services in order to make the Tory government look bad. 

Brent council leader, Cllr Ann John, has hit back at the minister, who she accused of hiding behind a smokescreen of empty talk. She said: “These times are extraordinary also for the behaviour of local government ministers. Ministers who have spent more time attacking councils than helping us deal with the enormous cuts they want to impose. Government ministers who want to hide their programme behind a smokescreen of empty talk about waste, while the Prime Minister acknowledges that councils are the most efficient part of the public sector. In Mr Pickles we have the first Secretary of State ever against local government."


Latest on Children's Centres

David Cameron has denied that funding for Sure Start has been cut.  This is far from the truth. What the coalition has done is to amalgamate funding for the children’s centres into a new early intervention grant which also includes funding for other schemes such as youth crime. So it is disingenuous of Cameron to suggest that there will is an automatic increase in spending on Sure Start. Labour MP Frank Field (the government’s "poverty tsar") has warned that Sure Start will be "decimated" by the cuts. As Minister of Children and Families, local MP Sarah Teather has overseen cuts in funding to schools and children’s services so should be well aware of the truth. Instead of checking facts, she has complained that Brent’s Labour Council had plans to close or downgrade half of our Sure Start Children's Centres in a “political” decision, choosing to spend the funds elsewhere. The truth is that no existing Children’s Centre will close. Some will be linked to a primary school and the three centres planned as brand new builds will not now go ahead.  Brent will therefore retain 17 Sure Start Children’s Centres.


Involvement as chair of Arts and Libraries from 1998 and then as lead of environmental services until 2006, so memory clear and neither short or selective. Brent Labour group NEVER proposed closing libraries even though recommended to "rationalise" the number of sites in officer briefings and reports.  Cllr Ann John's letter tells it straight.


Sarah Teather MP and library closures

My colleague Cllr James Powney has found this surprising gem of support from MP Sarah Teather. Appearing on Radio 4's Question Time, there was a question on library closures. She said that the closure of libraries was an “enormous cause for regret”, however she is in principle in favour of the direction that Brent Council are taking Library Services in the borough when she says that councils should look for solutions, such as ‘co-location’, whereby a number of departments provide services from a location. Maybe her Lib Dem colleagues will help rather than just criticise essential decisions. Unfortunately, she also rehashes the old story generated by Lib Dems that a former Labour administration had policies to close a number of libraries. They have never been able to back this untruth with evidence because it is just that - an untruth.


In his own backyard ....

Prime Minister David Cameron represents an Oxfordshire constituency. Oxfordshire County Council is planning to cut 20 of its 43 public libraries. Brent is one of hundreds of councils proposing to close libraries to meet huge cuts imposed by central government.  Nearly 400 libraries nationwide are threatened with closure.

Scrapping EMA

Last year, David Cameron said he "had no plans" to axe the Education Maintenance Grant (EMA) given to encourage students in poor homes to stay in education or training with a weekly grant of up to £30.  Today there is a statement in parliament about it being abolished. Aim is to save money, but if a large number of young people leave their courses and cannot find work and claim unemployment, wouldn't this cost more than EMA in the end?


Ward Working 2010/2011

Ward Working is a way councillors can support projects and improvements in their wards. A small fund (£20,000) is available for each ward in Brent. The 3 councillors have to agree to allocate funds to works or projects that are not the council’s responsibility to deal with.  This year, projects have included:

Brent Museum and Archives  – textile craft workshops and workshops to explore support services for people with mental health problems
Kings Hall Community Centre – storage shed and resources for new youth club started by parents
Victory Youth Group – football project
Cricklewood Homeless Concern – Night Shelter
Brent Area Community Watch – burglary prevention project
Willesden Green Library multiplexor
Planting in troughs leading to Sainsbury’s store
SNT Alert box funding for connection charge to link alert boxes within shops along the High Road
CAB – Working with the Tricycle Theatre to deliver financial education to young adults

We are now seeking ideas for the next financial year and would be pleased to hear residents’ suggestions.


Remembering the Grunwick dispute

Sad to hear of the death of Mrs Jayaben Desai last month.  Mrs Desai was instrumental in leading the dispute with the Grunwick company in Chapter Road, Willesden in 1976.  The dispute centred on the predominately female factory employees protesting about working conditions and the refusal of bosses to recognise their APEX union status. 
Mrs Desai was awarded a Citizenship Award from Brent Council several years ago. She has been described as a remarkable and courageous woman, intent on improving the lives of workers. A subsequent enquiry recommended Grunwick should recognise the union and protestors should be reinstated but they failed to do so. The former site of the Grunwick company is now being developed as flats. I made a request to Brent Building Control to name a walkway at the new development to mark the landmark strike by workers at the factory and its influence on industrial relations subsequently. The walkway is to be named “Grunwick Close” and I hope an opening ceremony can be arranged to celebrate the people involved.