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Sunday, 25 January 2015

South Kilburn District Heating

It looks like Brent Council's Executive on Monday will be asked to approve the start of a procurement process to create a district heating scheme in South Kilburn.  This is the second area where a district heating scheme might come forward (the other being Wembley), and has been a long time in the coming.  It is good to see the prospect of greater environmental benefits. 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Brent Council HR Review Likely to Disappoint

Those hoping that the HR review announced after the Rosemary Clarke employment tribunal verdict would deal with the obvious problems in Brent Council's Human Resources Department are likely to be disappointed.  The review has now been published, and it fails to address any of the issues that I believe are seriously undermining Brent Council.  Until these underlying issues are addressed the problems will continue.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Brent Museum and Archive Strategy Published

I was puzzled by the long delay in producing a Brent Museum and Archives strategy.  It is finally going before the next Brent Council Cabinet meeting on Monday

These sort of heritage services are non-statutory and therefore particularly subject to threat in the financial climate caused by central government cuts.  Brent is doing much better than many Boroughs, in opening its new facility the Willesden Green Cultural Centre.  This reproduces the museum and improves the archives (particularly in document storage).  It is therefore a welcome area where the Council has a good story.  There is also plenty of innovative stuff in the report, for instance relating to digitization and outreach. 

I note that one of the weaknesses of the current museum service is on marketing and communications.  This is an area that could be shared with the library service, which also has long had a need for better marketing.  I wanted to address this as part of the Libraries Transformation Project, but was stymied by lack of funding.  Perhaps a joint approach across Libraries, Arts & Heritage might be better. 

One great unmentioned in the report is the future financing, with just some vague stuff about "options" being considered.  I speculate that this may have been the cause of the delay in publishing, as finance is likely to be a thorny issue in this as so many other areas. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Brent Council's Welfare Assistance Scheme

The next Cabinet papers for Brent Council have a report on Brent's local welfare assistance scheme.  As I have explained before, this is being threatened by further government cutbacks.  The recommendations involve a number of changes.

Some of these are prompted by having seen the scheme in operation for about one and a half years.  When Brent was first forced to design its own scheme, the demographic information made available by the DWP was extremely limited.  There is a case for saying the original scheme design was too strict, as Brent has only spent a small proportion of the budget.  It also appears not to be reached certain parts of the population e.g. pensioners.

Essentially the Council is proposing a holding operation whilst it waits to see if central government will cut funding altogether, which I fear is all too likely.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Brent Bulky Item Collections

Looking again at the Brent Budget proposals, I thought I would return to the proposed charge for bulky item collection.  I can see some logic to this, in that the Council is increasingly seeking to charge service users as close as possible to the cost of the service provided.  The free service can therefore be seen as something of an anomaly.

Nonetheless I have repeatedly argued that the free service is better preserved.  My key argument in this is that the items are likely to be otherwise dumped on the street.  Under the L:iberal Democrats, the introduction of the £25 charge for collecting bulky items led to a huge fall in collections.  I never got a satisfactory answer to where these items went once the Council stopped collecting them for free.

It also illustrates the difficulties behind some of the figures in budget proposals.  The charge never yielded anything like the income expected, because the number of collections had dropped so much.  This is important to bear in mind when thinking about all the officer proposals.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Confusion over Brent Library Privatisation

There appears to be confusion as to the nature of Brent's proposed library privatisation.  The three interviewees quoted in the Kilburn Times piece all have rather odd comments.  The FKRL campaigner is critical of the concept of privatisation, which seems odd for someone who has spent years campaigning in favour of privatisation.  Former councillor Paul Lorber claims that the library service has been "decimated" when in fact it is considerably better than when it had more buildings.  Cllr James Denselow's comment seems ambiguous as to what the proposed arrangements are.  I have posted before that there are various possibilities.  These could range from a technical arrangement, a company where the Council is the sole shareholder in the same way as an ALMO or a commerical provider like Greenwich Leisure Ltd.  Some of the possibilities of Trusts are covered here

It would be helpful if all this could be made clearer.

UPDATE

Responding to the comment below, by "privatisation" I mean the transfer of a public asset to a private organisation and/or continuing public subsidy for the same.  By that definition, which I think most people use, all volunteer libraries are privatised.