A wildflower meadow

Helping Brent become cleaner and greener

In my role as the cabinet lead in Brent for stronger communities, I find myself covering areas like crime and safety, arts and heritage and community cohesion. These are all pretty fertile areas for someone on the left to throw around ideas and implement their vision, along with that of the Labour Party. One minor frustration though is that in roles like this you can never really reach a full expression of what your politics is about.

I’m a convinced environmentalist. I believe that global warming is the major threat our entire species faces. Further, when you consider the impact of global warming on food and habitation, some of the issues of migration and war we have seen for recent years will impact heavily on people in temperate climates. In my opinion, it’s not good being a social democrat or a socialist if you are not also ecologist in your thinking – a rose must grow green if it is to flower red.

But the environment is not all about big stuff. For that reason, developments like the coming together of local pressure group Clean Air for Brent are entirely welcome – around 1300 people per year are dying prematurely in London due to breathing pollution. Our environment matters because of the impact it has on our surroundings and our every day lives. So I thought I would divert slightly to talk a little about what we are doing on the Council to increase biodiversity and promote cleaner air, via the work of the Labour Party and my colleague, Cllr Southwood. Continue reading

A message for Labour Party members

I am running to be reselected as a Labour candidate in Willesden Green. I have seen plenty of Councillors in a number of Boroughs taking their status for granted, and I think that works out terribly for those involved. Below is the statement I will be circulating to members.

 

Tom Miller

I have been honoured to serve as a Councillor since 2014, and Cabinet Member for Stronger Communities since November 2016. I would like to thank members for the support, ideas and inspiration you have given me since I was first selected. Now I hope to win your backing again.
Before becoming a member of the cabinet I worked for the mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness, where my job was to campaign against government cuts and for decent support and services for people with mental health problems. I am a socialist and an active GMB member. I now spend my week on council work, representing Willesden Green, and putting in place policies to make the whole of Brent safer.

If you support me I will fight for the following priorities:

• Against government cuts – I will be a political voice against austerity and inequality and I will fight for policies which give the most protection to our diverse community. I will continue to work with trade unions to get a fair deal for local workers.
• Hard work: I will support a campaigning ward party which involves members and uses their talents, and I will continue to take casework on for residents treated unfairly by the council or other services
• Cleaner, greener, safer: I will continue my fight against illegal dumping, irresponsible landlords, drug dealing and anti-social behaviour. I will work with local people for local regeneration with greener public space, modern public buildings, and a vibrant, high quality high street offering.

But what have I actually done?

Since first being elected in 2014 I have worked hard for members and local residents. I have taken on a number of new casework items every week, fought successfully (as promised) to get the Council resurfacing and not just filling potholes. I have improved our relationship with community groups such as the Town Team. I was part of the campaign to save the Queensbury Pub and appeared at planning to help make the case. Later I was successful in winning a new pub protection policy in our planning rules. I campaigned alongside other Councillors to get new paving in Willesden High Road. I have successfully fended off proposed cuts to children’s mental health. I have authored a scrutiny report setting out over 20 recommendations for working better with housing associations.

As a cabinet member, I have won investment to introduce a complete overhaul of CCTV this year, and have allocated money to bring 12 new Police officers under our control in Brent. I have funded work to reduce violence against women and girls. I have put in place a strategy for working with community libraries, a covenant for our work with faith groups, and will be working on new plans around gang violence and community cohesion later in the year.

I need your support more than ever. I hope that working hard has been enough to persuade you. I am a solid campaigner, and I have put in many hours in order to bring change to our community. Please help me to continue this work.

How to dispose of your Christmas tree (and other Christmas leftovers)

Christmas Tree Recycling
From 9 to 15 January 2017, residents will be able to recycle their real Christmas trees at one of 21 drop off points in parks or open spaces across the borough. A full list of sites can be found here.

Posters will be placed at each location to assist residents in dropping their trees at the correct place and to ensure that other park users are not affected. Veolia will collect all trees from the parks from the 16 January 22 January.

In addition, residents are able to take their Christmas tree to the Reuse and Recycling Centre, Abbey Road, London NW10 7TJ for free, or use their garden waste bin, if they are signed up to the service. Trees must be cut into manageable pieces and placed inside the garden waste bin; not left next to the bin.

Garden waste renewal
From the 3rd January, residents will be able to sign up and renew their garden waste service for the 2017/18 collection year which starts on the 1st April 2017. The cost of the service for 2017/18 remains at £40. The easiest way to sign up is to visit www.brent.gov.uk/gardenwaste and reminder e-mails will also be sent to existing subscribers from January.

Recycling and Waste Collections
There is very little change to the collection of recycling and waste collections over Christmas and the New Year. There will be no collections on Monday 26th December; however collections will take place one day later for all residents for that week. If a collection is due on Monday 26th, it will take place instead on Tuesday 27th. If a collection is due on Friday 30th, it will take place on Saturday 31st. Collections revert to their correct day from the 2nd January. Residents who do not have a copy of their collection calendar are able to find their collection day by using the ‘Find Your Collection Day’ search facility at www.brent.gov.uk/recycling.

Food waste
There isnt much changed about this, the one reminder for residents is that it’s a bad idea to tip fat down the drain! This can cause expensive damage to pipes, and could leave you with a pretty unpleasant cleaning job. It’s best to let fats harden and remove them as normal food waste.

Recyclopedia App
And finally, if residents are unsure about what items they can recycle or which bin to use for their food waste over the festive period, they can use the Recycleopedia search facility; available at: www.brent.gov.uk/recycleopedia.

We also have a guidance video on how to use the app on www.brent.gov.uk/recycling.

Happy recycling, and for those of you celebrating it – Merry Christmas.

Casework success

Reflecting on last week. There was one particularly happy moment which moved me almost to tears – working hard with Council officers we’ve managed to sort some accommodation for a man who has been sleeping rough for months.

“You don’t realise how much your body stretches out when you sleep on an actual bed. The day I moved in here I had the longest sleep of my life! And now my whole body feels different. Thank you for not giving up”.

He’s now able to comply with a family court order which compels him to look after his son for at least a day a week. I had to work on this for two months, but it’s been a reminder of how rewarding casework can be if you achieve a win. It’s also a reminder that local authority staff can salvage some humanity for these struggling bureaucracies by going the extra mile and keeping some faith that things can be made better.

The sense of personal reward you get as a Councillor when something like this actually comes off is immense. But of course there can be no room for complacency. This has been a positive outcome. But now I’ll be turning my mind back towards all the people out there in similar situations. And there are a lot of them.

The welfare system is letting rough sleepers down. Some things never change.

I am dealing with a really horrible homelessness case at the moment affecting a single man and his 13 year old child. It is harrowing, in fact. I can only imagine what going through this is like for the actual people involved.

It strikes me how well the welfare system is designed – if the intention of the system is to keep people sleeping rough, and to destroy families and individuals.

Bearing in mind that we have nowhere near enough social housing:

1) it is absolutely imperative that we ban ‘no DSS’ landlord advertising and contractual arrangements. Homes come before work, not the other way around. Landlords need to cover risk, but they should not do so at pain of discriminating against tenants.

2) we should tackle the genuine financial risk that housing benefit claimants do have to landlords by a) removing sanctions from the system b) if we have to have sanctions, providing a ‘strikes’ system c) disassociating HB from JSA generally, and especially in terms of sanctions.

3) Councils should strike a national deal with Royal Mail to provide PO Box type addresses to rough sleepers.

4) each rough sleeper within a local authority area should have a single caseworker contact, spanning housing, social work, mental health and addiction, etc. We have to stop people getting lost in bureaucracy and disengaging.

5) Councils could finance it, so we must must must build some bloody council houses.

If you care about your country, you should want it to be a place where people look after each other.

Brent tenants move into new Council houses for the first time in 30 years

One of my chief frustrations with both New Labour and the current Tory government is the failure of both when it comes to housing supply – particularly at the social and affordable end of the spectrum.

Private developers typically ask for a 20% profit forecast before they plan new builds, so it is quite clear to me that building Council houses is very important. This is however very difficult to finance because the Thatcher government cynically banned Councils from boring against rent because they feared that tenants would vote Labour. This is a ban which is ludicrously still in force, stopping us from building housing which can fund itself from rent income if this is properly ringfenced. No Council can build and manage properties in large amounts for this reason. In Brent we share additional problems with developers and Housing Associations: the low availability of local land.

But I am proud of Brent Council today. My Labour colleagues Cllr McLellan and Cllr Farah have seen the council start to directly build new housing on former garage sites. Only seven units have been completed so far, but it is a very good start and movement in the right direction.

Cllr Farah and Council Officers seeing the first families in