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Friday, 3 July 2015

Kilburn Calling

Cllr John Duffy has started a blog on Kilburn and Brent Council matters.  I imagine it will be interesting as he develops it.  He makes one accusation which is quite worrying.

He suggests that some one at Brent Council is snooping on Councillor emails.  He doesn't actually prove this in his blogpost.  As I read it, Council officers could have become aware of his correspondence once residents contacted him, but if he is correct, Council officers are operating unethically and possibly illegally.

This is because, as a councillor, John almost certainly has to deal with confidential information belonging to his constituents.  For example, pursuing a housing case might well involve medical or financial details that the constituent can expect to keep private.  It would be reasonable for Cllr Duffy to quote such information to housing officers dealing with the case, but if a member of Brent's IT department were accessing it that strikes me as a breach of confidentiality, and therefore of data protection laws.  I am not sure what the Law says more generally about snooping, but I suspect that John would have a case that his emails can't just be randomly trawled through.

The former, and for all I know, current policy of Brent Council on such matters is that electronic communications can only be monitored if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are being misused in this way.  I recall this from discussing it with the Borough Solicitor, who was the senior officer responsible at the time. 

Nor is this an abstract issue.  It came up when former Cllr Dhiraj Kataria made false allegations against a colleague, that had to be examined in a lengthy report by a solicitor.  Part of that case (dealt with 3.17 of the Brent Council covering report) referred to an email sent on 23 December to Cllr Paul Lorber.  Cllr Kataria denied sending it and cast aspersions on various colleagues, but these was discovered to be untrue once a technical investigation was ordered.  However, this was only done on 28 March 2012, after Cllr Paul Lorber had failed to answer the question about who had sent the email to him.  The passage in the Solicitor's report dealing with this issue (4.147-4.152) mentions Human Rights protection in a gfeneral way, without going into detail.

I think that if John really believes that his emails are or have been intercepted, he should ask Brent's new Chief Executive to order an investigation, and whoever has been intercepting the communications should be subject to disciplinary action. 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Brent Musuem in Willesden Opening Soon

When the Brent Museum re-opens in Willesden this Summer, we are promised an exhibition on Britain's relationship with Gujarat.  This is partly funded by Arts Council England, and follows on from other successful exhibitions in Brent in the past.  Having the Museum co-located with the new library helps attract visitors to both.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Brent Libraries Under Ambitious?

I have been looking at Brent's Corporate Plan for 2015 to 2016.  My general experience of such documents is that they are not massively useful unless the people writing them really think it through.  However the library targets are worth commenting on.  They are:

"an increase in library visits to 2,205,179 visits a year" 


"an increase in issues to 1,124,383 a year."

The first surprise is the precision of those figures, which I assume have been generated by some mechanistic formula. 

The second is the low ambition, compared to the most recent completed year figures.   2,205,179 visits is scarcely up form the 2014/15 figure of 2,112,149.  Unless the new Willesden Library is a disaster (which I am sure it will not be) that is amazingly modest growth.  The issue figures also seem low, although given difficulties with increasing issues in the past, that caution is more understandable.

Is something going to happen in Brent Libraries to overturn the success of the last few years?


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Air Quality Action Plan?

I notice that Brent Council's corporate plan has an aim of agreeing a successor Air Quality Management Plan by June 2015.  I wonder when it is going to happen, and what will be in it?

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

School Places in Wembley

I see that the next Brent Cabinet, is making emergency provision to have temporary school places at Elsley Primary School in Wembley.  Of course, the rise in school places is a problem afflicting most London authorities.  However, it does seem odd that Brent Council have recently emptied temporary classes in the former Preston Library, also in the Wembley area, whilst rushing through an expensive conversion of school premises fairly close by. 

Why not just use the classrooms that were already kitted out for primary school children in a building that the Council owns?

Monday, 22 June 2015

Gordon Brown Outdoor Education Centre

I see that the next Brent Cabinet is considering investing in refurbishing part of the Gordon Brown Outdoor Education Centre.  The situation for Brent Youth services is not quite as bleak as it appeared at one time, but they are still likely to be cut back dramatically.  The report points out the benefit that children gain from using the centre in outdoor activities and improving environmental awareness.  It occurs to me that very similar arguments could be made for the Welsh Harp Environemental Education Centre, which has now been put out to tender.