Cricklewood walk-in centre

I continue to oppose the closure of Cricklewood walk-in centre, which we as Cllrs were formally notified of by Barnet CCG earlier today. I believe that this decision has been made on the basis of some extremely poor logic, and that appropriate measures are not in place to make sure that patient access to healthcare is maintained – it is in a bad enough state already.

Here is how I have replied to the CCG:

Dear XXXXX,

I am stunned at the logic of this. Rising demand in three access points for services used to argue that one access point is not easing demand on the other two. This is really quite an amazing way to think about things.

In addition, it seems equally absurd that out of hours access does not have a definite plan for mitigation, firstly. Simply extending a couple of GP hubs, which are already badly promoted, is not going to cut the mustard.

Finally, I recently tried to get a GP appointment for a prescription for some medicine for a problem with my nose. I was told at my GP surgery that an appointment would take three weeks, which was obviously useless to me. I then went to Cricklewood to find that it was operating at such heavy capacity that they could take no more patients (in marked contrast to claims of underuse). I was also denied help with my issue in Edgware because the nurse was not entitled to diagnose.

I ended up paying £30 for medication with an online diagnosis. I am lucky that I was able to pay.

How are residents supposed to negotiate situations such as this? How will closing walk in services do anything to remedy the demand crisis we face, and the completely unclear pathways that the public are supposed to know how to negotiate?

Many of my constituents will be worried about all of the issues raised above, and will be shocked by the fallacious logic that lies behind this decision.

I would appreciate a response on these matters, and will publish this email.

Reporting back to Labour members post GE

Below I’ve included a section from my report back to Labour Party members post general election. For members of the public who aren’t Labour members, we are accountable to them as well as to the broader electorate, so we produce these reports on a regular basis. I’ve reposted this one to give a flavour of what’s being said inside the party, and to ask you to become part of that. You can join us by visiting labour.org.uk/join – there will no better time to join us!

– –

Dear Members,

If you have any questions or concerns please do get in touch with us either by email, or by coming to the Willesden Green ward councillors’ surgery (held the first Saturday of the month, 11am- 1pm), or at meetings like Brent Connects (meets at the library).

I am very saddened by the General Election result. Like many members I campaigned in a number of swing seats, with an emphasis on Harrow East, Putney, and Milton Keynes North, where I spent polling day.

Many members will be interested in who we are now backing to replace Jeremy Cornyn and Tom Watson. At this point I remain undecided. I will support either Angela Rayner or our own Dawn Butler for deputy, both of whom would be excellent and inspirational women candidates. For leader I am leaning towards Clive Lewis, who offers a left voice but with less command and control and more member democracy. I have been concerned that since the 1990s we have often fallen short in keeping open minds towards each other, and have been too keen to shut down diversity of opinion.

However I am also enthusiastic about Lisa Nandy, Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer, who all offer a different mix of what Labour needs to change in the right direction – a bridge between community and internationalism. I feel that all of these candidates can cement the best gains of the Corbyn years whilst fixing some of the shortfalls. Both of my votes are up for grabs, and my mind may well change. My main policy red lines are that candidates must be intolerant of nationalism or bigotry of any kind, argue for social ownership and decent welfare rights, and give unqualified support to trade union freedom.

Whatever Labour does, it will be hit yet again by a hostile capitalist media effort. I believe that if we can keep left policies but build a broader coalition of voters around them, and dial down the factionalism which has taken root in all wings of the party, we still stand a chance of winning. First we need to get better not just at listening to the public, but also to each other.

In solidarity,

Tom

Speech to full Council on Brent’s new licensing policy – Nov 2019

Mr Mayor,

We on these benches don’t believe in meekly allowing market forces to shape our lives. We believe in the power of local democracy to provide us with a better quality of life – at work, at home, and in our local communities.

This means pushing for greater community control of our area, and where the private sector exists, directing it towards the public good and greater social harmony, instead of putting profit over people.

The proposals in this licensing policy are groundbreaking ones which have been welcomed by our residents in extensive consultation.

They give Councillors who serve on our licensing committees the tools that they, as elected members, need to make sure our High Streets are diverse places with a high quality offer, instead of Brent being overrun with off licenses where there are already associated problems. In doing so it will boost public health, reduce alcohol related ambulance calls, and tackle alcoholism and ASB by moving drinking towards supervised, on licensee premises. In short, they will make us one of the first Councils to adopt a cumulative impact policy for new off licenses.

The proposals will make Brent a leading borough in licensing terms by introducing minimum pricing as an optional tool where committees have found licensees to be in violation by selling to underage customers, drunk people, or persistent street drinkers, shaping the market for alcohol in favour of responsible license holders who respect the public good in their local areas.

They introduce guidance to Councillors to favour diverse provision from off licenses, using the power of local democracy to examine and favour the quality offer of new premises as they pop up.

They put in place the encouragement necessary to support the development of Brent’s varied night time economy, in line with the efforts of the Mayor of London, and to boost the role of many new High Street businesses in supporting Brent as the 2020 Borough of Culture, in fitting with the rest of Labour’s platform in this borough.

I commend the statement to the floor and call on members to support our proposal – a rebalancing of power towards local communities and towards the compliant businesses who contribute the most to the area, its people, their culture and their wellbeing. The statement is fresh, radical, and rooted in local concerns, a practical and local demonstration of how we can use democracy to bring about real change.

The policy can be viewed in full at item 18 here.

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Where do they stand? Budget speech to Full Council February 2019

This is now my third budget as a Councillor in Brent, and the toughest I’ve seen. This time the weight of government cuts forces us to cut down to the bone. In community safety we have seen the impact of Tory austerity at a national level, with the withdrawal of the current offer for Met Patrol plus as a result of cuts to the Mayor’s policing grant. We are working on long term alternatives to fill the gap and will be coming forward in the spring. My colleagues have similar experiences themselves.

Whilst we can tell positive stories about the opportunities in reshaping things, or what we can defend, the truth is that there are very few things contained in this budget that myself, colleagues and residents would have preferred not to cut. We will prevent damage to service users as best we can, but let’s be clear – the real responsibility for stopping cuts to the local services people need so desperately lies with central government, with Mrs May in Westminster. It’s a responsibility that her political party locally have completely failed to even acknowledge. Where do they stand?

As I’ve said it’s my third budget. I now know exactly what to expect from the opposition benches. Though the alternative budgets of the other Tory faction from the last term have gone, with their innumeracy and over-reliance of punctuation, the same themes remain.

Our Tory opponents will now recommend a series of small savings to money that was spent on a one off basis, as if this offers some sort of solution to costs in services which run day to day, year to year, and depend on continued revenue.

They will try to coax us into spending the reserves, so that if, god forbid, this council is stuck by an emergency, there will be nothing left in the chest to help our residents.

They will attempt to blame Gordon Brown for the global financial crash, or to convince us that despite all of the evidence of the last nine years, that austerity offers some sort of answer to the problems we face as a county or to the system failures themselves.

They will have nothing to say about the fact that their party has shifted so much of the weight of cuts onto Councils in a cynical attempt to turn Labour and trade union activists against their own representatives and allow the Tories to escape the blame. They will ignore what they’ve done to Councils who dare to stand for the poor and the working class, even though their own ministers are currently scheming a further 15% cut to London and its deprived boroughs in order to fund financially incompetent Councils in the Tory shires. As if this can simply be ignored. As if it isn’t real.

But councils face by far the biggest cuts…

…and it’s people like us taking the brunt of it.

Our absent friends in the Lib Dems will have nothing to say. Where do they stand?

The former colleagues of both parties here today who are now in the independent group will be there to make excuses for the coalition’s record on these issues to, under the pretence that in this age of division and inequality it will all get better if we all just come together and pretend that austerity has not deepened at of the country’s divides in class, attainment, health, education, or wages. The independent group think that George Osborne, and I quote here from Anna Soubry, ‘did a wonderful job’. These people live on a different planet to the people of Brent.

The Labour Party has its own problems at the moment. But it is the only party which seems to admit that austerity even has any effect at either a local or a natural level. From the Tories to the Lib Dems to TIG, there is an unspoken conspiracy to mislead, and when that doesn’t work, a conspiracy of silence. Where do they stand?

Silent is something that we in the Labour Party will never be, and if you are one of the many residents who agrees with this, you should join us and get involved. We need to re-route the British economy. We are not just the only party who proposes this, but the only one who will even admit that for years when we have needed to re-route, the driver has been taking us down completely the wrong track.

Stronger together – building cohesion in Brent

In my role as Cabinet Lead for Community Safety, people often concentrate on the ‘hard edged’ aspects of what I am up to. Police. Enforcement officers. Violence. Victims.

I’ve never been a big supporter of Tony Blair, at least when it comes to doing it inside the Labour Party. But one thing I feel that he was absolutely right on was The framing of crime – ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’ is a wonderful piece of political rhetoric. It perfectly sums up the protection aspect that the state plays for people as they go about their lives, and sums up how the public feel about that role – grateful but expectant. But it also gets to the bottom of something profound, a socialist insight, that crime and disorder are not just caused by the morality of individuals, but by their circumstances and experiences – community, society, and the economy.

For that reason, it would be no good for me to be a ‘hard edged’ community safety type politician without understanding that we can only prevent crime by giving people support, chances in life, and the ability to interact with each other. By using the natural urge people have as active citizens, in charities, faith and community groups. By looking to the things we already have, our assets. Strength. Mutuality. Cohesion.

Jo Cox MP – she had a talent for clearly describing the values that matter.

There are many other reasons why people coming together across barriers and understanding each other can make a difference. Consider how easy it can be to be blind to culture-specific problems like FGM, or how norms can differ between people from different backgrounds over mental health, for example. For a moment, let’s think about whether we also consider people equally when some people’s need is greater – can we really say we don’t have a problem with educational attainment for black British-Caribbean boys? Are we honestly able to say that two people are as likely to develop well at work when on grows up on a modest income in a council estate, but another on a house in a private road? How are we treating our recent arrivals, particularly whilst Brexit is going on?

So today we have launched our Stronger Communities Strategy, aimed at getting to the bottom of the toughest issues in our communities, bringing people together around the values we all hold in common, and making sure that all of us come first. You can find out more about it here.

We are far more united and have more in common than that which divides us.

Brent should protect the Good Ship

…or indeed what follows it.

When I was in post as Cabinet Lead for Stronger Communities I felt (and rather regretted) that I had no choice other than to be dragged into a public dispute with the then owner of the Good Ship in Kilburn, which as it happens is one of my favourite bars in Brent and a place I have spent many early mornings in.

It’s difficult when you are a councillor and especially a cabinet member, as you will generally be considered the more powerful party in a disagreement with any member of the public.

This generally means that neutral spectators will find it harder to trust you than the member of the public if you have different opinions or different versions of events.

Perhaps the most regrettable aspect of the Good Ship dispute for me was the impression given that the Council wants to use its licensing function to close late night venues, when nothing could be further from the truth. Brent has a direct financial and reputational interest in a thriving night time economy, on the one condition that customers and passers by are safe and businesses are legally compliant.

For me and for licensing officers at the council, the goal is actually to do whatever we can to keep establishments open and commercially healthy – on the condition of safety.

So I suppose what I am trying to say is that I always wanted the Good Ship to stay open, which is why I pointed out that they would probably have done well to review their licensing conditions. Given that they seemed to blame us for them shutting down, their keenness to sell up and move on was something which sat uneasily for me, not least because we know they felt this way before there were new licensing conditions.

Given that they now appear to have sold up, as I see it the priority for Brent should be making sure that the functions offered by the Good Ship are not simply lost. This is not all about licensing – it also relies heavily on planning. I’m personally committed to protecting cultural assets and the night time economy as best possible, so I have lodged a planning objection as a private citizen, which I have reproduced below. I am not hugely versed in planning rules, so the points I have made are general and related to process – the aim being to maintain the site as a music and comedy venue for Kilburn High Road.

I am not sure whether my short comments here should be considered an objection, but I am writing to remind officers and members about the CAMRA approved “pub protection policy” included in the Brent DMP and the likelihood of its applicability here.

I am not local to the building, but I am objecting as the member who previously held responsility both for licensing and culture within the Borough.

The commercial viability of the ground floor as a bar and music venue should be rigorously investigated. Given the fact that licensing conditions had been successful in achieving their stated aims in guaranteeing greater safety for patrons, I do not accept that the conditions could not have been altered, and as such I don’t think these are a substantial grounds for any lack of commercial viability. In any event I do not believe that the test for commercial viability should be purely anecdotal, but should be set against a benchmark for similar venues.

On the building itself I shall leave questions about the size, placing and appearance to the ward councillors, even though I am not presently a member of Brent Council, and to local residents. As such the objection that I have is essentially one of process, in the sense that I am keen that it is made sure appropriate policies are followed, in part to ensure the wider effectiveness of the pub protection measure which I personally campaigned throughout 2014-15 to have put in place.

Suffice it to say that I think the good ship as a venue for music and comedy has been of cultural importance to the local area, and the loss of another music and comedy venue presents obstacles to wider council policy as the 2020 Borough of Culture, and as the Council works towards a night time economy strategy. Brent needs more venues like the Good Ship, not fewer.