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