Category Archives: Brent Council
An open letter to the powers that be from the trustees of Mark Twain House, Connecticut (US):
Dear Secretary Hunt, Minister Vaizey and Brent Council Members,
I would like to grab a moment of your time and some brief attention as you hurriedly prepare for the arrival of the Olympians this Summer. Stateside, we are all very excited to see how you celebrate this monumental event!
There is great anticipation for the Olympics as it is a wonderful opportunity for the world to come together in the spirit of competition and excellence.It is, of course, also an opportunity for you to showcase the assets of your great city.
One of the assets of any city, any culture or any society great is its repository of knowledge. Mark Twain, the man we honor here at his home in Hartford, CT, USA, knew this when he said:
“A public library is the most enduring of memorials, the trustiest monument for the preservation of an event or a name or an affection; for it, and it only, is respected by wars and revolutions, and survives them.”
The one thing Twain might not have anticipated a library having to survive is our current economy. Another of his wonderful quotes:
“The lack of money is the root of all evil.”
This week, many Brent residents recieved an email that began like this:
Dear Library Member,
We haven’t seen you for a while! Did you know that when you borrow books you can earn rewards through our loyalty card scheme?
Here’s a few reasons why it might be worth visiting us again soon.
With a massive drop in library users, Brent Council are begging for people to return. Supermarket-style loyalty cards and free DVD giveaways are being used to try to tempt people back. Indeed, the Library Transformation Project is looking very much like the Library Destruction Project.
Here’s a couple of responses Brent have been receiving:
I cannot believe you had the gall to send me this.
The main reason you haven’t seen me for a while is because YOU CLOSED MY LOCAL LIBRARY.
Did you forget that you have taken away easy access to libraries from thousands of Brent residents?
My family will start using the Brent Library service as soon as you reopen Preston Road Library which is walking distance away for us
Please can you confirm when this will be as my daugthers are keen to use their local library on Preston Road as soon as possible
Want to have your say? Email firstname.lastname@example.org now.
The financial mismanagement of Brent Council continues unabated. The cost of refurbishing Kilburn library has gone up from £117,000 to £650,000 – an extra £half million has been found to upgrade one of the least-used libraries in Brent.
The original figure formed part of the Library Transformation Plan that new leader Mo Butt is determined to see through. That figure was therefore approved by the executive when they voted for closure last year.
In just 18 months, the figure has increased five-fold. No justification for the increase has been put forward by Brent Council.
Ina stunning act of bad faith, Mohammed Butt’s council snuck into Kensal Rise library in the dead of night and stripped it bare. It was the last of the six to get the “Brent Treatment”, and the building will now be handed back to All Souls College, Oxford, probably to be sold.
Having met KR campaigners last week, we understand Cllr. Butt went down there again today to answer angry questions.
Having begun his reign with the news that Kilburn Library’s refurbishment has gone from £117,000 to over £650,000, it seems increasingly apparent that the change at the top has been cosmetic. With Ann John gone, perhaps Brent Labour hopes you will vote for them, even if nothing has really changed.
BRENT COUNCIL CONCEALS DEVASTATING EFFECTS OF LIBRARY CLOSURES
Brent SOS Libraries today reveals the true extent of the damage caused by the library closures in the London borough of Brent.
On Monday night, a “progress” report presented misleading and incorrect information on the so-called “Libraries Transformation Project” to the new Labour executive. Brent SOS Libraries responded with its May 2012 Brent SOS Libraries Report, which shows:
- There have been 167,004 fewer library visits since half of the borough’s libraries were closed in October compared with the same period year on year.
- 158,809 fewer books have been issued.
- Library visits and lending have fallen 20% will continue to fall with the imminent closure of Kilburn and demolition of Willesden Green libraries.
- This has been a net loss of 191 opening hours per week.
Most of the users of the closed libraries ARE NOT USING the remaining libraries, as the council claims. The report that went before the council on Monday failed to mention these key indicators and misrepresented a failing, wasteful service as a success.
Very interesting article in tonight’s Kilburn Times.
Tonight the new leader Cllr. Muhammed Butt will be sworn in. On the same day, workers arrived to clear Kensal Rise library of books.
Thankfully a protest prevented it from happening. Coincidence?
Well, the embattled library -snatcher Cllr Powney (who almost lost his post last week) claims the new leader “has been part of the executive that has backed the library closures all the way”.
Butt himself claims he knew nothing about it.
Barham Library campaigner, Cllr. Paul Lorber believes this was actually a move to finally close down Kensal (the only one to have held onto its books) by the outgoing head, Cllr. Ann ‘Prince’ John.
We have requested a meeting with Cllr. Butt to discuss our library. But he has already said the way libraries were closed down “was not an issue” in the leadership change. Hmm.
Wembley Matters has a thoughtful piece on the demise of Ann John. Well worth a read:
As the dust settles on the Brent Council leadership changes it is worth reflecting on the reasons behind the ousting of Ann John and what it means for the future.
The libraries issue, both the closures and the redevelopment of the Willesden Green Centre, has been the most contentious aspect of Council policy. The presentation as ‘transformation’ rather than closure; the labelling of opponents as self-interested, unrepresentative and middle class; the ignoring of petitions; the suggestion that cheap books were readily available at Tesco; all riled local citizens and the energetic and resourceful campaigners kept the issue in the local press and crucially on the national media agenda.
Read the rest here: WEMBLEY MATTERS: What did for Ann John?.
Martin Francis of the brilliant Wembley Matters blog reports…
The report of the investigation into allegations that Ann John illegally intervened in a planning application, which exonerated her has now been published and is available below.
Apart from the findings the report gives insight into the relationships within the Labour group, concern over the the way the Planning Committee operates and the conduct of the chair, and includes walk-on parts from Navin Shah AM and Barry Gardiner MP. (Read from para 4.40)
It is possible to conclude that although she was cleared of wrong-doing the report’s contents did not help Ann John in her bid to retain the leadership of Brent Council.
Read the report and more here:
In a surprising move, it appears that the leader of Brent Council, Ann John has been ousted by her Deputy, Mohammed Butt. Martin Francis of Wembley Matters blog broke the news last night, and has been confirmed by Cllr James Denselow ahead of any official announcement.
Whether ridding Brent of the architect of swinging cuts to libraries, nurseries and services for the elderly and disabled, will actually change anything remains to be seen.Cllr. Butt says he wishes to mend community relations. We hope so too.
James Powney, the executive member responsible for the library closures, apparently survived an ousting himself.
Gareth Daniel, the man lambasted by Lord Laming for his role in the failure to protect murdered 8 year old Victoria Climbie (see 5.5, The Victoria Climbie Inquiry) earns £60,000 more than David Cameron.
The Brent Chief Executive takes home £203,342 each year, plus £28,793 in pensions from the council that has one of highest pension deficits in the country.
Meanwhile, 24 council workers take home more than £100,000 per year according to the Taxpayers Alliance.
Wembley Matters blog reports on the latest stupidity from General Ann John and the Brent Labour troopers:
Outrage as Brent Council plan to charge citizens for free speech
I thought a speaker at the Willesden Area Consultative Forum might have been rather exaggerating when she likened living under Brent Council rule to living in the Soviet Union but then we read of Brent’s plans to include community groups in plans to licence (and charge) distributors of free literature. I wrote in my blog breaking news of the plans that the definition of ‘political purposes’ would be open to interpretation.
Campaigns around cuts and libraries etc are ‘political’ but not representing a political party. It now appears that Brent’s interpretation is that exempt activities are those of political parties campaigning at election time.
Read rest here.
A full 10 months after meeting Brent Council, the DCMS finally met with Brent SOS Libraries campaign yesterday to hear our evidence against the mass closure programme of 2011.
This meeting was vital as we have not had the chance to challenge Brent’s use of misleading and inaccurate information throughout the process. With library use plummetting, we are asking for an inquiry under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.
Brent SOS Libraries are seriously concerned that Brent Council is not fulfilling its statutory duty under section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. There has been a dramatic fall in library visits and issues since the closure of half of the borough’s libraries.
The refusal to engage with community groups, even when those groups offer to run library services at no cost to the council, should also be a cause for concern.
Brent Council has provided misleading and inaccurate information to the Secretary of State, such that the Secretary of State cannot take material provided by Brent Council at face value. In the circumstances an inquiry should be ordered.
Brent SOS Libraries’ written submission to DCMS…
Brent Labour have long insisted, bizarrely, that halving the number of libraries would somehow double their use. Now we have evidence that this is not true, thanks to Phil Bromberg’s timely Freedom of Information request.
The number of visits to the borough’s libraries have plummeted by thousands since Brent Council axed half of its branches.
Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveal that in the five months after the libraries closed, there were nearly 104,000 fewer visits compared with the previous year.
In the same period, 129,449 fewer books were issued.
Library campaigner Philip Bromberg, 52, of Grendon Gardens, Wembley, who submitted the FOI, said: “The figures speak for themselves.
“When you look at the bigger picture, the true scale of the catastrophe becomes apparent. In February 2012 the number of both visits and issues fell more than 20 per cent compared with the year before.
“These figures are really important because it leads to the question – is Brent Council legally providing a comprehensive and efficient library service?”
The council announced plans to close six out of Brent’s 12 libraries to save £1million in 2010. Despite 82 per cent of respondents to consultation saying they were against the closures, the council closed Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Preston and Tokyngton.
Brent Council have made much of the ability to book library computers…from the comfort of your home computer. Neither the courts nor the politicians seem to see the absurdity of this. It gets better, one user reports:
Strangely enough, I do want to book a computer in a Brent library, from my laptop at home, so I can print something. They made a lot of their online booking facility, but when you go on their website, it suggests you use the ‘booking terminal’ at the library or ring them up!
For posterity, here is the website, noting the very recent date it was updated (27/02/2012):
Try it yourself on the Brent Council website. It’s part of a game I call: “I lost my library and nothing is replacing it.”
Like last year, not-quite-World Book Day events won’t be coming to Preston. And we’re not even sure it’s coming to Wembley full stop.
The loss-making Brent Magazine this month proclaims Ealing Road Library to be the top venue for the events on March 1. Yet on the previous page we have just been told it will be closed for improvements between 27 Feb and 26 March.
So will Ealing Road be open or closed on March 1? Should you traipse across town to another closed library? Brent has a habit of closing libraries on a whim.
What is especially galling is:
1. Brent Magazine runs at a loss of £1000+ every month. Further, the advertising that supposedly pays for it, comes from Brent COuncil departments. And many people don’t even receive it.
2. Ealing Road may be being improved, but its not being extended, nor parking added. So it is just as overcrowded and inaccessible as ever.
3. Preston will never get library events. We pay for them though. We have to have our own events
It appears between our Con-Dem government and Labour council, our library has suffered its terrible fate.
Boyd Tonkin of the Independent sums it up:
…the myopic idiocy of these false economies cuts straight across party lines. In spite of ferocious competition, from Cumbria to Dorset, I would argue that no local authority has behaved with quite such pig-headed arrogance in pursuit of the destruction of much-loved branches as Labour Brent.
Which makes it dismaying, if predictable, that the libraries initiative now launched by shadow arts minister Dan Jarvis contents itself with kneejerk Tory-bashing and fails to examine the mess on Labour’s own municipal shelves.
No wonder so many public-spirited people run a mile from party politics when they see that participation will mean having to check in both mind and heart at the committee-room door”
Willesden Green may well be the 7th library to close this year. Brent has long been planning to close it for 2 years to rebuild it. It’s a curious story, made curiouser by Labour councillors falling asleep and losing during an important vote on the issue.
Last year, when trying to justify closing 6 libraries, Willesden Green was cited as the successful library, against which ours was a failure:
Councillor James Powney (Kensal Green, Labour), said: “Willesden Green is our most successful library
Ann John reiterated this just a few months ago:
The truth about the closure of the six libraries is that they were the least popular and least visited libraries in the borough…In contrast, the most popular – Willesden Green library centre – had 508,599 visitors.
Now the line is:
The council says Willesden Green Library has struggled to fulfil potential and is poorly designed.
So which is it? For Brent, it’s both. For everyone else, it is the latter. WG is a failure. It not only costs more than all 6 libraries put together, it also fails to attract more users than all 6 put together.
And this is after those user figures have been artificially inflated by situating non-library services and staff offices inside the library, and then counting everyone together.
In other words, Willesden Green is much more expensive and far less efficient than Preston, yet it was our library that was closed. Permanently.
The team who closed your library won not one but two awards in December. While the cash-strapped council wasted another £15,000 in celebrating Sue McKenzie (below, centre) and her team’s noble achievement in destroying Preston, Private Eye came up with a rather more accurate award:
ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS 2011
WHO’S been bullying the electors; who’s been pocketing the brown envelopes; and who doesn’t know the difference between “astronomy” and “astrology”? Find out if your local authority is guilty of crimes against the council taxpayer and picked up a gong in the Rotten Borough Awards 2011…
Congratulations to Brent council’s “team of the year”. Yes, it’s the Library Transformation Team, whose successful 2011 has seen the closure of six of the London borough’s 12 libraries in the face of community outrage.
Yesterday, contractors pulled down the Brent ‘Wall of Shame’ hiding Preston Library. This follows a sneaky move to empty it of books and equipment last week, before any injunction to stop it could be issued.
The Wall, with its popular support from local artists and schoolchildren, has become a major embarrassment to the Council over the last few weeks and they have finally decided that perhaps it was not such a good idea after all
It would be interesting to learn exactly how much this futile exercise of paying contractors to erect the Wall – and then take it down again – has actually cost Council Tax payers.
Unfortunately for Brent Council, the Wall is unlikely to be forgotten – we have photos galore.
Police side with council as it empties the library.Brent takes advantage of the holiday shutdown to pre-empt any intervention from the Supreme Court, where an appeal was lodged two weeks ago.
Campaigners expect the council to rush through the sale of the library in the coming months, depriving the area of its last local service.
Brent Council spent £15,000 on an awards ceremony in which the team behind the closure of six libraries was honoured, the Times can reveal.
The council gave out 139 awards to staff at the lavish end-of-year bash at Brent Town Hall earlier this month.
The night cost taxpayers around £50 for every person who attended, the council said. The Libraries Transformation Team, which was behind the project which closed half of the borough’s libraries, was named Team of the Year.
Since October 13 2011, Brent has had 6 libraries. We were all promised a better service.
Implemented for 8 weeks, planned for over a year, this is what the new, improved, ’21st century’ Brent library service looks like:
Apparently not. It costs about £400,000 to keep 6 local libraries open. But Brent has convinced the establishment it can’t afford this. Probably because it is busy wasting £hundreds of millions of taxpayer money (below).
Justice Pill said today:
Given the scale of the spending reductions the council was required to make … a decision that the library service should bear a share of the reduction was not, in my judgment, unlawful.
Perhaps he should have a chat with Gareth Daniel, Chief Executive of Brent Council:
the reality is that these inevitably controversial initiatives represent just a very small part of our total £42 million savings requirement for the 2011/12 financial year.
Such a small saving has not stopped Brent from spending enormous amounts of (paid) time and money defending the policy.
Brent can’t afford our libraries, but it can afford:
£550,000 for Willesden Green library – about to be bulldozed due to it being a failure. It costs more than 6 libraries put together.
£3 million on a single mega-library no one asked for.
£17.3 million after failing to collect unpaid debt.
£2.5 million on the salaries of just 19 council officers – putting Brent in the Top 10 Town Hall Rich List 2011.
£205,000 salary for Chief Executive Gareth Daniel – more than the Prime Minister.
£1-2 million per month on consultants.
£800,000 Ward working (half spent on admin alone, and the rest on flowerbeds and graffiti workshops)
£500,000 on Christmas decorations for Willesden Green High Street.
£180,000 a year on the Brent Mayor.
That totals around £140 million (give or take) that could be BETTER SPENT on libraries, nurseries and centres for the disabled. It dwarfs the £42million Brent says it needs to save. Priorities eh?
Preston Library Campaign will bring seasonal cheer and goodwill to all this weekend to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah with carol singing for the community this evening and a Christmas Party at the Windermere Pub on Saturday night.
Brent Council has this year REFUSED to provide a Christmas tree or Hanukah lights, despite spending £HALF A MILLION of taxpayers’ money on Christmas promotions on Willesden High Street and activities at Willesden Library. Tonight our merry band of singers took celebrations into their own hands, walking from the Green up to Preston Road station to entertain commuters, shoppers and local shopkeepers.
Read the rest of this entry
A letter from a local person to Kingsbury Library Plus:
Dear Ms —- ,
Thank you for your e-letter in response to the comments I made about Preston Library. I have just returned from holiday to find the library completely boarded up following the High Court’s decision.
I have books in my possession and I cannot get to the Town Hall or Kingsbury Libraries so easily. The Town Hall library is a 48 minute return walk. This figure does not include time in the library. I could use a bus which will cost me £2.60 return on an Oyster Card. I also have a back problem which limits the amount I can carry. The same journey time, carriage problems and transport costs apply to Kingsbury Plus Library.
Now that we are Preston Library Minus, can you please advise me about returning my books and how your closures have improved the library service for me.
Read the rest of this entry
Just half of this could save all 6 local libraries, which more than 83% of the borough want kept open. Half of this Fund is actually spent on just admin, leaving around £20,000 per ward to be spent on essentials like flowerbeds and noticeboards.
So who spends this sizeable chunk of taxpayers money? Your councillors. Without consultation.
With Willesden Green library centre costing MORE than all 6 closed libraries put together, we all know where Ann John’s priorities lie. On top of the £550,000+ it spends on Willesden Green each year (which they will continue to spend even when it closes for redevelopment next spring), it turns out that Willesden Green alone will benefit from a £500,000 award from Boris Johnson’s Outer London Fund. As we lose libraries, nurseries and essential day centres for the disabled, Brent will spend this on an art installation in Willesden Green before christmas.
After the recking ball that is this Labour council’s policies – it won’t be long before Preston is in need of ‘regeneration’ too….
Ann John remains silent over her clearly false claim we all live near a library. That was before, Ann, not now.
It gets worse, having privately apologised to Cllr. Lorber after he challenged the claim, anonymous spokespeople are now telling us that we do live near a library, even if it belongs to Harrow!
The Brent Council spokeswoman said it was “nonsense” that the council has been misleading anyone.
She said: “It is true that everyone living in the borough is no more than a mile and a half from a library, either in Brent or a neighbouring borough, and many residents choose to use a library in another borough. This was clearly explained in the proposals.’’
Brent has a legal responsibility to provide a library service for people who live and work in borough. Closing down libraries, and then telling us to go elsewhere is unacceptable and unlawful.
The wonderful Tara Brady of the Times group has a bit more detail on this key indirect discrimination point argues by our QC, Dinah Rose on Thursday and Friday…
“Asian and non-Asian residents all contribute to the local authority’s budget by payment of the council tax. But it is potentially discriminatory for the local authority to target cuts for services which are disproportionately heavily used by Asians.”
Thanks to Wembley Matters blog for the account of today’s Walk to Save Preston Library. Locals from children to octagenarians walked en masse to their “next nearest library” in Kingsbury from South Kenton. With no direct public transport, the walk highlights how the new library system in miles out.
The march took about an hour, excluding a short refreshment stop. As one of the slower ones said, “By the time we get there are books will be gone!”
So, it turns out that Ann John’s claims about us all living within 1.5 miles of a library, aren’t true.
It’s not just to residents that Brent has been lying to. Ann John and James Powney have been blithely telling the national press the same thing for weeks – in the Guardian, Independent and Telegraph no less.
The retraction was only made after a direct challenge. In private. Don’t expect Brent to be nearly as public with the truth. It’s not their way.
According to the “apology”, it seems we used to be within 1.5 miles from a library when we had them, but not anymore. King John used to tell us that most people don’t live within walking distance of a library (when we had 12 local libraries). Now that she’s closed half, suddenly we do.
We should be used to it. Whether it’s telling us our library was poorly located and low usage (it was neither), or that they are forced to make budget cuts, or that we are getting a better service… its always the same. But then, as we take our Appeal to the High Court next week, there is – sadly – no law against politicians lying.
Willesden Green Library, whose virtues were extolled ad nauseum by Ann John is to be knocked down next year. And that is one of the saved libraries. So that’s leaves 5 libraries, none of which have enough capacity for the extra users they are supposed to now be serving.
Why? Because it was (whisper it) PERFORMING POORLY. Unlike Preston. And it was supposed to be the place Kensal and Cricklewood users were to go to.
With costs of around £560,000 a year, closing it early would have saved all 6 libraries and then some. Something we proposed in March. Instead the council has decided to keep spending the same amount of money – without the library.
From Wembley Matters blog:
Brent Council’s dismal record of misinformation and disinformation over public libraries, which started of course with the misleadingly named ‘Transformation Project’, has been highlighted again today.
The Brent Magazine, which is still flopping through letter boxes, claimed that all Brent residents were 1.5 miles from a library. Toni McConville, Director of Customer and Community Engagement for Brent Council said:
The information about the 1.5 mile distance that residents would need to travel to a library was provided by the Library Service. An assumption was wrongly made that this meant one of the council’s remaining libraries rather than a library in the vicinity.
I’m sorry for the error and have pointed it out to the communications team so that the mistake is not repeated
The Guardian (among others) writes:
A judge has fast-tracked an urgent hearing of an appeal against Brent council’s closure of six libraries.
Lord Justice Elias granted an appeal against a ruling made last week in the high court that Brent council’s decision was lawful. He ordered that attempts should be made for it to be heard before the court of appeal on two days early next month.
Brent council has agreed, in the meantime, to take no irrevocable steps to prevent the libraries reopening in the event of the appeal being won.
Campaigners have mounted vigils outside two of the threatened libraries, Preston Road, which has already been boarded up by the council, and Kensal Rise, to ensure they are not emptied of books or computers while the legal dispute continues.
The valiant campaigners who have braved the cold outside Preston night and day since Monday can breathe a small sigh of relief. You have made national news and we salute you.
…and we vowed to avenge our library. We must stop the council from removing books and furniture from OUR library.
At time of writing, Kensal Rise library remains ‘open’ as children and adults heroically prevented the council from boarding it up. It has been a 24 hour vigil. For LIVE updates click here.
Meanwhile, dozens Preston library users were aghast to find a huge wall as they came to…er… use the library after school. Clearly the council had prepared the closure in advance of the verdict.
As Brent Council slashes library services in half, telling people to “buy books in Tesco” and “get on a bus”, little do residents realise that of the 6 remaining libraries, only 3 are ‘fit for purpose’. Kilburn “needs major upgrade”, Willesden Green is set to be knocked down and rebuilt and funding is being sought for Kingsbury to be rebuilt/enlarged. That leaves just 3 usable libraries in Brent Council’s vision of a “21st century library service”.
Preston users have been told to go to Kingsbury, but this is clearly not big enough. So where will they go? The new £ 3 million mega-library our cash-strapped council found money for. How convenient. At least for the council. It’s too far for children, the elderly and disabled (who most use the existing library) , there’s no parking and rising public trasport fares make this ‘free’ service, not so free.
Another example of Brent Council wasting our money – read the article in here.
Campaigners have almost reached the target £30,000 to fund the legal action against the closure of 50% of Brent’s libraries. It would cost just £1m to keep them all open, and a reduction of hours across the board would achieve the same savings (according to the council’s own figures) – yet the Council ignored massive opposition from residents and ploughed ahead with the cuts.
First they claimed it was financially necessary, but under fire for spending a whopping £3m on a new mega-library as part of a £100 million Civic Centre project (at a time of deep recession), they switched to arguing that the cuts would improve library services! Nobody seems sure how losing local libraries in communities that clearly value them is an improvement. These are libraries that are far from under-performing: Preston Library is one of the most efficient and highest usage library in the borough.
In today’s Evening Standard, Brent admits it has written off £millions in uncollected debt:
Campaigners today condemned town halls for not doing enough to hunt down “every penny” that bailiffs and debt collectors failed to trace.
An Evening Standard investigation found that in the 2009/10 financial year Tory-run Westminster council wrote off the most at £20.6 million.
This included £19.4 million in unpaid parking fines, which the council said was accumulated over several years and included foreign cars and embassies that refused to pay tickets and fees under diplomatic immunity.
Second highest was Labour-run Brent, which had £17.3 million uncollected, including £9.7 million of council tax. Hackney overpaid £2.58 million in housing benefit which is now lost.