Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Huge Drop -Wages

Wages in London has dropped by 23 per cent between 2008 and 2014 when adjusted for inflation, figures show.
Haringey comes fourth in a list of UK local authority areas ranked by pay decline with a 26.2 per cent drop, while Harrow follows closely with a 25.9 per cent drop.Wages in Barnet dropped by 20.3 per cent, while pay Enfield fell by 16.7 per cent.
Although the average wage in the UK has actually increased slightly, when inflation between 2008 and 2014 is taken into account it drops by 15.1 per cent across the UK.According to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), the mean gross annual income for employees in the UK was £26, 137 in 2008 and £27,271 in 2014. Despite this being an increase, as prices have risen by 19.5 per cent since 2008 employees have been less able to buy as much with their wage.In London, wages have dropped by 3.6 per cent from £37,799 to £36,387. Adjusted for inflation this is a 23.1 per cent drop.
The data, published by Office for National Statistics, was analysed and ranked by the GMB union. 

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Free gym membership for 11-16 year olds

Vale Farm Sports Centre in Watford Road, Sudbury is offering free gym membership for 11-16 year olds at the start of the new year.The gym, which is a partnership between Brent Council and Everyone Active, has an array of facilities and equipment on offer including includes treadmills, cross trainers, exercise bikes, power plate machines, concept II rowing machines, resistance machines and free weights.

Chris Williams, Vale Farm manager said: "We're looking forward to throwing open our doors to mark the centre's first birthday and we're hoping by offering free access we'll encourage more members of the community to come down and enjoy a workout."

Councillor James Denselow, Brent Council's Lead Member for Stronger Communities, added: "We've had a very successful first year partnership with Everyone Active. The centre has state-of-the art facilities and has become 'the' place to go for the local community. The free access is a great way to celebrate the first birthday".

"We hope this great offering can encourage new people to Vale Farm".

The free offer is available every Monday from 10am to noon and 6pm to 9pm, Tuesday from 6pm to 9pm, Wednesday from 10am to noon, Thursday from 6pm to 9pm and Sunday from 10am to noon.
Young people with can visit the facility as many times as they like and for as long as they like but they must be accompanied by an adult.
There is no need to pre-book.

CBI urges Government to focus on cutting the deficit

The CBI has said that cutting the deficit should be the Government’s priority in 2015, whichever party is in charge. John Cridland, the CBI's director general, said: “For business leaders, deficit reduction is a must for the next government.” He said the easiest cuts to public services had already been made and the only way to bring down the gap between government spending and income was to take drastic steps to prevent public services suffering “decline through a thousand cuts”. The CBI suggests integrating health and social care, and a significant increase in services available online.

Care fee cap kicks in late

According to a study by the GMB union, nine out of 10 elderly people will die before they benefit from the £72,000 cap on care home costs. The union said that on current costs it would take four years and nine months to reach the cap, with the average care home stay currently two-and-a-quarter years.   
Daily Mirror,

Mammoth year ahead for UK’s biggest builders

The Times looks at the construction boom currently taking place in London, drawing attention to new residential developments which look to address the shortage of available homes in the capital. Amongst these include Battersea power station’s conversion into 3,992 homes, the transformation of New Covent Garden Market, which will see 3,019 new homes developed, and a number of other high rise schemes that firms will work on in the New Year.

CBI: Scrap GCSEs to boost skills

John Cridland, the director-general of the CBI, has said that the Government must reform the education system by scrapping GCSEs, because they fail to produce the type of people that employers want to hire. Mr Cridland explained that the GCSE exam treadmill does not always serve young people well and in many cases fails to equip them with the right skills. “While the average pupil is gently improving, we see too many left behind and others who could be high achievers not fulfilling their potential,” he said during his annual New Year address, adding: “We need to get the basics right first time in primary school and then provide a personal menu of tailored learning plans for all 14 to 18-year-olds, offering high-quality academic and vocational A levels and encouraging young people to mix and match. This will involve the eventual abolition of GCSEs at 16.”

Monday, 29 December 2014

Mervyn King says there was shared intellectual responsibility across political parties for failing to foresee problems

Mervyn King
The former Bank of England governor Mervyn King has denied that the previous Labour government was responsible for the financial crash, saying there was a shared intellectual responsibility across the political parties and financial institutions for failing to foresee the problems.
Saying his view on the cause of the crisis had evolved, he said he doubted any single one country could have found their way through the crisis.
His remarks on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, which he was guest-editing, will please the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, as he prepares to battle a Conservative claim at the next election that Labour mismanagement of City regulation and excessive public spending were jointly responsible for the crash from which the UK economy is still recovering.
In the past King has hinted at select committee sessions that Labour allowed public spending to rise too fast but his latest remarks are one of his clearest exonerations of Labour for the financial crash.
Asked how culpable Labour was, he replied: “I am not going to talk about individual parties’ culpability because I think the real problem was a shared intellectual view right across the entire political spectrum and shared across the financial markets that things were going pretty well.
“There were imbalances – we knew things were unsustainable – but it was not entirely obvious where it would come unstuck – and I think that is something everyone shared, and the right thing is to make it better for the future.”
He added: “I don’t think it is easy to go back and say any one country on its own around the world could have found their way through it. We did talk in the Bank of England about whether we should have had much higher interest rates before the crisis.
“If we had done that we undoubtedly would have had a downturn, probably a recession even, unemployment and inflation well below the target. But we as one country could not have stopped the financial crisis occurring so I think we should have been shooting ourselves in the foot; even if you could argue that if every country had done that it may be we would not have been in such a difficult position.”
He said he did not think the cause of the crisis lay in the regulation itself but “a complete change in psychology and fear in the financial markets about the credit-worthiness of banks”.
“Looking back the leverage of banks was absurdly high and should have been lower. I don’t think there is any point blaming them for it. It came as an enormous surprise to everyone that banks were not creditworthy.”
However, he said he was not sure that policymakers had “yet got to the heart of what went wrong”, and said he was not yet sure the banking system was safe enough.

Calls for increased tax on vacant properties

The IPPR think-tank has suggested that councils be handed increased powers to tax empty properties to help deal with the UK’s housing shortage. The group estimates that there are 635,000 empty houses in England, with around 216,000 lying vacant for over six months. Under the IPPR’s proposals, councils would have the ability to impose their own council tax premiums on properties which remain empty for an extended period of time, which the council itself would be allowed to set.
Sunday Express, 

Childcare costs leave one in 10 families working for nothing

A biannual report into family finances by Aviva has found that one in 10 working families with young children has an earner who brings home nothing after commuting, childcare and other work-associated expenses. The study also shows that one in four families includes one parent who brings home less than £100 a month after costs, while 4% of women surveyed said they were actually paying to work because their costs were greater than their income.
The Guardian,

New law to tackle fly-tippers

A new law to come into force next spring will give councils the power to seize vehicles used by those suspected of fly-tipping without a warrant and keep them for up to 30 days while an investigation is carried out. Those found guilty could be imprisoned for up to five years in addition to losing their vehicle and fined up to £50,000.
The Mail on Sunday,

Happy New Year Everybody 2015

Happy New Year to Everybody

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Outsourced and unaccountable: Why Brent should avoid this! must read

'Whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband get in will make little odds for town halls.'

‘Whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband get in will make little odds for local services.’ Illustration: Bill Bragg
Picture of Aditya Chakrabortty

Ignore the economists quibbling whether public spending is returning to the era of George Orwell. If you want to see the future of your local public services, it’s already here: in the north London suburb of Barnet. I visited last week – and it’s not pretty.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the area. I’ve known Barnet forever; it has provided me with countless walks, and the odd Saturday job. It remains the home of Jewish grandmothers holding forth on both Keynesianism and why you haven’t finished your supper, and second-hand record shops run by greying Don Quixotes.
But what’s fast changing in Barnet is how residents access their local services – everything from parking tickets to paying council tax to how their corpses are disposed of. In the past few years, the Tory-run council has taken almost every public service it can lay its hands on – and outsourced it.
Between January 2012 and October 2013, Barnet farmed out its care for people with disabilities, legal services, cemeteries and crematoriums, IT, finance, HR, planning and regeneration, trading standards and licensing, management of council housing, environmental health, procurement, parking, and the highways department.
This evening, a full council meeting will vote on whether to consider cuts and “alternative delivery models” for another tranche of services, including libraries, rubbish collection, street gritters and children’s speech therapy, among others. Should they go the way of the rest and be outsourced, the local Unison branch calculates that Barnet council will shrink from having 3,200 staff in September 2012 to just 332.
That is one hell of a municipal disappearing act. Residents now find it easier to list what their council doesn’t directly provide than what it does. Which means that if you want to see what the next five years of cuts hold for your local services – whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband get in will make little odds for town halls – you’d best pay close attention to what Barnet is doing.
And a tour of the neighbourhood teaches you that when cuts reach a certain magnitude, it’s not just services you lose; it’s an entire democratic institution. Residents can show you lots of missing services: the borough is right now consulting on plans to squeeze the vast majority of libraries to around 540 sq ft, or the size of a Hampstead Garden Suburb living room.
But the really big change is that the new-model commissioning council is no longer a local arm of government but an agglomeration of mostly privately provided services. And the two biggest contracts, worth around £500m and lasting 10 years apiece, have gone to Capita. The £7bn FTSE 100 giant now handles everything from council tax collection to new roads.
For those who live and work in Barnet, their local affairs are now handled remotely by people hundreds of miles away, who know nothing about them or the area. Payroll for what remains of council staff is done in Belfast, while for schools it’s Carlisle. Pension queries go to Darlington. Benefits end up in Blackburn. Parking notices come from Croydon. Calls to the local library are first directed to Coventry. Even births, deaths and marriages are managed in Brent.
Got a complaint? Then you have speak to someone you’ll never see – that is, if you can speak to them at all. Capita has admitted previously “capping” phone calls: throwing callers off the line when things get too busy. So rather than rely on their local institutions, residents increasingly depend on their councillors to intercede.
A Labour councillor, Paul Edwards, has just finished a case for a woman who wanted to pay for a bench to be installed on a local hill in her parents’ name: what should have been an easy bequest ran aground on the confusion of a call centre employee who knew nothing about either the hill or how to handle such gifts. Edwards also recalls the sick woman whose council tax arrears had been overestimated by thousands – but whose outsourced case worker wasn’t interested in discussing the issue. It went to court, and the woman won, at a huge cost both to her own mental health and the council.
This is what happens when you lose locally accountable public servants. It’s also the cost of losing local expertise. Take the legal department, now run out of Harrow. The result was that in early summer, Barnet councillors were given the wrong reports to vote on. The resulting mockery led to the commissioning of an independent report that stated on its first page: “There is no one who understands local government law in depth at Barnet. Barnet employs no lawyers.”
Yet, however broken their new structures, Barnet residents are stuck with them. Those two Capita deals, for instance, will carry on for at least the next decade, with many of their details shrouded in “commercial sensitivity”. Whoever locals vote for in the next two council elections, they will get Capita. And given that the local authority is now shedding its own staff, winding down its own IT systems and moving out of its offices, it’s hard to see how any new administration could take back control even if it wanted to.
The rationale for all this outsourcing is to save money – a million pounds a month, claims council leader Richard Cornelius. He rightly points out that lots of other authorities are now following Barnet’s lead: just last month, Tory-run Northamptonshire declared it would outsource 95% of its work and go down to a skeleton staff.
So, a case of cutting coats according to cloth? Two snags with that argument. First, the outsourcing proposals were first floated by local Tories even before Lehman Brothers collapsed and Britain’s crisis began. Second, these deals are always touted as saving money, and they rarely do.
Dexter Whitfield, an economist, points to Sefton, in Merseyside, which launched an outsourcing deal with Capita in 2008. It was meant to deliver £70m savings and 100 new jobs. When neither unicorn materialised, the contract was transferred back to the council last year.
Meanwhile, the costs of the outsourcing are already being felt by the likes of Tony and Janet Solomons. Their son, Benjy, has severe learning disabilities and can neither walk nor talk. He attends a local day centre, where he gets close personal attention from “excellent, remarkable” staff. But the service was outsourced a couple of years ago, with some fantasy business model.
When it promptly collapsed, careworkers were hit with a near-10% pay cut. Employees I spoke to reported “morale on the floor”; one former care assistant admitted to taking on two more jobs to make up the shortfall. As the Solomons point out, such cuts in service, and employees under stress, are bound to affect Benjy’s level of care.
“How will a new agency worker understand his routines, or when he wants to go to the toilet?” asks Janet. Yet Benjy can’t report back, and his parents will never know for sure what’s happened. Unknowable, unaccountable and potentially costly: a stark metaphor for Barnet’s outsourcing regime.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Brighton to end Right to Buy

Brighton and Hove Council will ask the government for permission to end Right to Buy in the area to stop publicly owned homes falling into the hands of private landlords. Members voted through a Green motion to apply for the exemption, which would be the first of its kind granted to a local authority in the country. Bill Randall, the housing committee chairman who tabled the motion, said 6,000 council homes in the city had been sold under the scheme, with more than 1,000 of those now being used for private rental. He said: "We want to give housing hope to people in the city who have none at the moment. If we lose the house, we lose the land, and land is so valuable in this city and restricts any possibility to redevelop in the future."
The Daily Telegraph, 

This policy makes sense 

Rochdale pioneers 80% cut in business rates for shops

The Daily Telegraph explores how officials at Rochdale Council are considering introducing radical measures to help its boost its town centre such as cutting business rates for businesses that move into empty properties by 80%. "Like a lot of industrial northern towns, our town centre has been hit hard over the past 20 years. We've got to do something. It's not good enough for policymakers and councils to sit there and watch the gradual decline of the town centre. It will cost us a lot – we've got major budget problems already – but we have dug deep into our pockets to fund this," Richard Farnell, the leader of Rochdale Council, comments.
The Daily Telegraph, 

One councillor per ward

A letter in the FT makes the case for having one-full time councillor per ward rather the current 18,000 spare time councillors. “Making the role of ward councillor a full-time job would immediately upgrade it and make it attractive to a much wider range of people, including women and younger people,” the letter argues.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Mega-basement restrictions

Islington Council is to impose tough controls on "iceberg home" mega-basements. A consultation on proposed restrictions has been launched by the local authority after it saw a surge in the number of major subterranean developments. The move comes days after Kensington and Chelsea Council won its battle with developers and specialist contractors to introduce a ban on multi-storey basements in the borough.
Evening Standard
 Brent needs to watch and listen.

Evictions increase number of homeless

The number of homeless people in England is rising as private landlords increasingly evict more tenants. More people are now living in government-funded temporary accommodation than at any time since 2009. Figures from the DCLG revealed that 13,900 households were accepted as homeless between July and September, a 4% rise on the same period last year.
The Independent, 

Miliband rules out deficit cut details

Ed Miliband has stated that Labour will not reveal the level of cuts it intends to make to balance the current deficit until after the election. In a speech to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Labour leader promised his party would not make any spending commitments that are paid for through borrowing, adding that the deficit in day-to-day spending would be cut every year until it was brought in to balance. He did however confirm that the wealthy would be asked to pay more, through the restoration of the 50p rate of income tax, a new "mansion tax" on expensive homes, a bankers' bonus tax and the reversal of a planned cut in corporation tax.

Revenue from parking charges reaches £667m

The amount of profit being raised by local councils from parking charges rose by more than 12% last year. A survey by the RAC Foundation found that in 2013/14, councils in England made a combined "profit" of £667m from their on and off-street parking operations. The previous year they made £594m from fines, permits and tickets. Around £293m of the total raised in 2013/14, or 44%, was generated by councils in London, the study found. The RAC said that very few councils were losing money on parking operations, with just 16% of the 353 parking authorities in England reporting negative numbers for 2013/14. The figures were calculated by adding up the amount each council earned from parking charges and penalty notices, then deducting running costs. The foundation said that, while some of the increase in profits was down to a rise in the amount the councils were able to recoup, there was also evidence that many councils were cutting operating costs sharply. The authority with the largest surplus in 2013/14 was previous table-topper Westminster with £51m.

Monday, 8 December 2014

500,000 families would struggle if interest rates reached 2.5%

The Bank of England will warn today that a sharp increase in interest rates would penalise the young and favour the old. The Bank will state that an extra 300,000 families would struggle to pay their mortgage if rates rose from 0.5% to 2.5% overnight, bringing the total at risk of falling into arrears to half a million. Typically those aged between 25 and 44 would be hit hardest, since they are more likely to be borrowers. In contrast, older people would likely benefit from an interest rate rise, as they are more likely to be savers.

Report urges ministers to tackle “hungry Britain”

A church-funded report by an all-party group of MPs has urged all political parties to confront “the simple but devastating fact that hunger stalks this country”. The report, which is backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, calls for a range of initiatives to tackle "hungry Britain", including a national network of state-backed food banks, the adoption of a fairer, speedier and less punitive benefits system, the introduction of a national living wage, and a clampdown on "rip-off" phone, energy and personal credit charges. According to the report’s authors, many families are being driven to food banks because of failures in the welfare system.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Help for homeowners

Home owners are to be offered up to £5,600 each to install new boilers, insulation or double glazing, under the latest Government cash giveaway for energy efficiency work. Up to £30m will be made available from Wednesday through the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund.
 The Observer,

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Christmas parking arrangements in Brent

Parking arrangements have now been confirmed for the Christmas period across the borough. These are as follows:

25 December: Controlled Parking Zones will not be enforced, although motorists should take care to park safely and avoid blocking residential driveways.

26 December: Controlled Parking Zones will be enforced in zones E, T, W, KG, KM, KR only.

To support shoppers and local retailers, some Council car parks will be free to park in on the weekend and Christmas dates below:
  • 6/7 December
  • 13/14 December
  • 20/21 December
  • 25/26 December
Participating car parks include:
  • Elm Road
  • Kingsbury Road
  • Lonsdale Avenue
  • Neasden
  • Preston Road
  • Salusbury Road
  • St Johns Road
  • Wendover Road
  • Barham Park
Yellow signs advising motorists of the free parking arrangements will be displayed shortly. On the evening before each free period, pay and display machines will be covered (so that customers do not make payment in error).

Parking customer services will not be staffed on 25 December, 26 December and 1 January. Very few Controlled Parking Zones will be operational on bank holidays, with none on 25 December. Customers will still be able to access the majority of parking services online, and will also be able to book visitor parking by text message (SMS).

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Black Friday Chaos- ASDA in Wembley

with courtesy of BBC

Black Friday in ASDA Wembley

with courtesy of BBC

Poles largest migration group

 Official figures have revealed that Poles account for the largest migrant group setting up home in Britain, with almost 680,000, followed by migrants from India and Ireland. The OECD said that half of all migrants from Eastern Europe to the UK were from Poland. The figures showed that the number of foreign nationals rose by more than 3% to 4.9m last year, representing 7.9% of the total population. The report added that a record 2.66m foreign nationals were working in Britain, and that more than a third of them are rated as “highly skilled”.

Labour to start championing motorists

Labour has said it will begin championing motorists after declaring its war on drivers as over, according to the Mirror. The new shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher reveals in the paper that the party will focus on a range of issues that affect road users such as potholes, high insurance premiums and lengthy carriageway closures.
Daily Mirror, 

Right to Buy depleting affordable homes

The Government's Right to Buy scheme is eroding Britain's stock of affordable housing - with only one home being built for every four sold off, according to analysis of official figures by the Local Government Association (LGA). Since the scheme was relaunched in 2012, over 20,000 properties have been sold off to their tenants with discounts of up to 70% on market value. However, over the same period local councils have begun building less than 5,000 replacement homes. A spokesman for the LGA said: "The current arrangements for Right to Buy are poor value for the public purse and do not support councils to replace homes sold under the scheme like-for-like."
The Independent,       

London A&E closures with Stephen Lawrence's barrister

Cllr Muhammed Butt
Cllr Muhammed Butt shared a link: "Councils launch inquiry into W London..."
Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing, Hounslow
and Brent Councils are launching an independent
 commission into the effects of Hammersmith and
Central Middlesex A&Es closing in September

Monday, 1 December 2014

Households waiting 12 days for rubbish collection.Mr Benn will bring back weekly collection.

New figures show that households are having to wait an average of 12 days to have their rubbish collected, despite promises from the government to restore weekly bin rounds. FoI requests to every council in the country show that, on average, households have to deal with four different bins and wait 12 days for their black bags to be collected. Hilary Benn, the shadow communities and local government secretary, told the Daily Mail that the findings show the government's promises are just "pompous hot air". Only 17 out of 285 authorities collect all bins weekly, meaning that the other 268 areas, 48.7m people, have to wait longer to get rid of their rubbish. On average, general waste bins are collected once every 12 days and recycling bins and garden waste every 13 days. In the 116 areas which run separate collections for food waste, it is collected on average every nine days. Mr Benn said: "This comprehensive study fatally undermines Eric Pickles’ boast when he was in opposition and in government that he would return Britain to weekly bin collections and keep extra charges down." 
Daily Mirror, 

Government confirms £15bn road plan

The government has confirmed a £15bn plan to upgrade the UK's road network. The funding will involve 100 road improvement schemes and add 1,300 new miles of extra lanes to motorways and A-roads. The projects include the long-expected tunnel under Stonehenge on the A303 and improvements to junctions on the M25. The plans are published in the first ever Road Investment Strategy. They are designed to unlock some of the most notorious trouble spots on the country's roads. Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin called the move the "biggest, boldest and most far-reaching roads programme for decades
The guardian.