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Saturday, 10 October 2015

Solving Flytipping Problems

Brent has seen a surge in flytipping incidents recently.  I spoke to someone yesterday who gave me an example of how the new waste & street cleaning contract can make these things easier to deal with.

Under the former contract, there was a rigid system of zones with required number of cleans per week.  Most of the Borough fell under a "zone 5" (residential streets).  Town Centres fell into a different zone, and had a much more frequent cleaning service to reflect the much higher footfall, and therefore the higher rate of littering.  The disadvantage of this system for areas such as the streets off Ealing Road, Harlesden High Street and Willesden High Road was that those streets were counted as "residential" even though they had much worse littering than most of the Borough.  The intention of the new contract was to allow for a greater flexibility of response than the old.  

The example I was given was of Bertie Road just off Willesden High Road.  I go down this road quite frequently, and the corner of the High Road and Bertie Road has indeed been a problem for a long time.  The Willesden resident I spoke to assured me that it has recently improved which is down to (a) more frequent, responsive cleaning and (b) some of the flats above shops being provided with bins where previously they had none.  This seems to be the kind of incremental and piecemeal improvement which too often gets lost in political debates. 

Friday, 9 October 2015

Brent and Lambeth Libraries

I see Lambeth have been going through a major review of their libraries.  Their overarching strategy seems to be to concentrate resources on a smaller number of improved and more flexible buildings with good transport links.  In other words, very similar to Brent's Libraries Transformation Project.  Since Lambeth is also a densely populated urban authority with good transport links I would expect such an approach to be successful (as it has been in Brent).  Lambeth have the advantage that they can look to how libraries have progressed in Brent over the past four years to see how their approach might work.

Where they currently differ from the Brent approach is in their attitudes toward the sites that will cease to be proper libraries.  This must have been a subject of considerable angst I am sure.

In Brent we considered going down the Big Society route only to decide that it would not have been viable on the proposals put forward.  This was a major part of the legal challenge put against the Council, which the Council comprehensively won.  The issue is given extensive coverage on the very good Brixton Buzz blog site. 

Lambeth Council appear to be considering keeping the buildings to be run by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) as "healthy living" centres.  I can see the logic of that.  It nods to the idea of libraries becoming more joined up with the public health agenda as indeed local government in general is becoming.  It may have benefits in bringing the sport service in Lambeth and libraries closer together.  It ensures the management is done by an established service provider that the Council has a long standing relationship with. It also, which I suspect is the main driver of the policy, keeps the buildings as Council owned assets.

That last point is one I see as wrongheaded.  I don't think that keeping buildings in Council hands should be an end in itself.  Building cost time and money to maintain and manage. If they are not being used for Council services, it would be better to dispose of them, and use the money to make the existing buildings fit for purpose.  Look at our experience in replacing the old Brent Town Hall Library with Wembley Library and watching the number of visits increase sixfold.

The dangers of trying to cling to the old buildings and use them to provide services are:
  • You start to design your services around protecting buildings rather than actually meeting community needs.
  • You may get into a procurement middle as in Lincolnshire and be subject to legal challenge.
  • You may give an unwarranted soft deal to one provider.  Brixton Buzz suggests that GLL is getting those buildings on a 25 year lease at a peppercorn rent.  If true that does not sound to me like a good use of a public asset.  I suggested in another case that such deals may not even be lawful for the Councils concerned to enter into. 
  • Anecdotally, I have been told that where inexperienced volunteers have taken over libraries, they often expect advice and support from the Council library service which under pressure Council services struggle to provide.  This can easily turn into a negative relationship where the staffed service feel that they are constantly having their energies draining away into supporting volunteers and that the Council's own services suffer as a result.  Conversely, the volunteers often feel that the level of support given is inadequate, leaving neither side happy.

This will be a potential danger in the recent decision to awarda contract to the organisation led by former Lib Dem councillor Paul Lorber in the Barham Park complex, although disposal of that building was never an option in that case.

One final point of interest is the proposal to adopt the Merton model of volunteers.  This retains Council buildings and some Council staff, but with a much wider role for volunteers.  Given the fashionability of volunteering in the library sector, I am surprised that it does not get more coverage as it seems more viable than the "Big Society" stand alone model.  

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Barham Saga

The final part of the Barham building complex is apparently to be leased this afternoon.  Reading the report, it sounds like the process has been excessively convoluted, which is very much in line with the whole saga

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Early Success for The Library at Willesden

The immediate success of Willesden Library in its new form is obvious from the early visit and loan figures.

Willesden Library Visits, July to September 2015 % Change
July                                                                          21,143 3.9%         
August                                                                          31,003 60.7%         
September                                                                          38,496 95.4%

The percentage change is compared to the same month last year.  The loan figures also show a big jump.

Willesden Library Loans, July to September 2015 % Change
July                                                                          10,972 21.0%
August                                                                          17,181 110.6%
September                                                                          18,219 110.6%

Altogether, encouraging early success.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Brent and Lewisham Libraries

Brent and Lewisham were the first two London Boroughs to seriously tackle their library strategy as the Tory/Lib Dem cuts began to bite.  The two took very different approaches, with Lewisham going for a volunteer or community based model.  I suggested before that Lewisham seemed not to have had the success that they may have hoped.  Nonetheless, they seem to be extending the volunteer model to more branches.  This is a fairly controversial route

Brent's more old fashioned approach of maintaining staffed, extended libraries at fewer locations seems to have resulted in higher user satisfaction and better performance in terms of key metrics

Monday, 5 October 2015

Brent Library Loans and Visits Up Yet Again

The latest half year figures for Brent libraries are now out.  Once again both loans and visits are up.  Loans for the half year ending 30 September 2015 were 532,951 (3.2% increase) and visits were 1,199,815 (12.4% increase).  They therefore follow the upward trajectory one might expect from the full year figures