Category Archives: Brent Council

Speech on the launch of Brent Faith Covenant

It is a momentous time. This year we mark the anniversary of the October revolution, which sparked on of the greatest repressions of religion and faith in history. But let us remember the inspiration for this comes from a profound misunderstanding or religion’s role within society and the words of Comrade Marx. He is famous for invoking religion as the opiate of the people, but to take this in isolation means the opposite of the point made. Religion offers us an escape route from the relentless ethos of consumerism and profit, the hard edge of soulless types of logic at the expense of spiritual and material wellbeing. This has been a frequent theme of Pope Francis, but it is present in the logic of the reformation, in the epics of Hinduism, in the Exodus story of Judaism and in the logic of the protestant reformation as it brought religion closer to the people it was always there to serve.

It is a means of community resistance in the face of the things which divide men and women from our brothers and sisters. The famous line about being the opiate is preceded by the words “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.” In this sense, faith is a respite and a guiding point; even as a secular humanist myself, it is very plain it is important for us as humans to have something to live for and something to live by.

This time is also momentous because of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. The EU is intricately bound up with the ECHR, and has therefore stood as a barrier between religion and the state in a way which is positive for faith.

Article 9 ECHR – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

We might be losing our relationship with the EU, but this ethos is one which we will preserve in Brent at all costs. All people have a right to their faith and we will protect that.

And the final part of what we celebrate today is not the rights that accompany faith, but its obligations. The golden rule that we treat others as we would wish to be treated is the foundation of the ethics, laws and spirit of faith – the beating heart of faith itself. Regardless of our own relationships with god or morality, we find ourselves bound to it, and compelled by the spirit of these ideas to carry out good works – something also represented in the Jewish term tikkun olam – the idea that we must act to heal the world. It compels us to work together and to respect each other.

I often look to the Christian socialist concept of the brotherhood of man – a notion from faith which expands beyond any individual creed. Locally in Brent and in the world more widely, we look to people of faith to provide leadership in creating a world which is just, sustainable, and better for the soul. We look to you to help us build a place where relations between faiths and ethnicities are tolerant and rich. The people of Brent expect this from leaders of faith, and in the spirit of the faith covenant, together we must make the shared commitment that they will not be let down. Thank you all for coming.

Advertisements

Housing update

Residents often ask what we can do about the housing crisis. It keeps young people sharing for years on end, and makes sure a big chunk of our tax money goes towards keeping homeless people in often far from ideal temporary accommodation.

National government needs to let local councils borrow and encourage social building in particular. We need a mayor in London who is committed to a sensible definition of affordability and to getting us building.

I will also soon be bringing together a group of local Councillors to scrutinise the local work of Housing Associations including how government policy and their strategies will affect residents over the next five years.

But the most important thing we can do is build. Labour in Brent are pleased to be able to report some good progress against our manifesto for 2014-14:

1693 new homes were completed over the 2014/15 year, including 773 new affordable homes (46%). Amongst the 773 new affordable homes, 499 were social and affordable rented homes and 274 intermediate homes, that is a ratio of 65:35, broadly in line with Brent planning policy.

This is great news. Continue reading

The library opens at Willesden Green

I have written on this issue at some length on the blog, and I’m very happy that the new library has opened its doors. We had a very busy first day, and there is very obviously considerable enthusiasm. 

The superiority of the new building is quite striking, and again I am proud that we have managed to find a way of financing this other than levying extra charges and taxes on residents. By working in partnership with business and being smart about what we do locally, we can still help our residents get access to high quality services, even in the face of huge Tory austerity cuts to our local budgets. We must fight the cuts politically as a Labour Party and alongside unions and campaign groups – but if we are to act responsibly we must also provide whatever innovations and efficiencies we possibly can. I wish  more people would accept the need to do both.

You can find out all the detail about what is in the new building here.

A response to Liz Kendall

 Like other Labour members, I yesterday received an email from Liz Kendall. The leadership contest has been uninspiring for me as someone on the ‘realist left’ of the party, and I have not decided my full running order. But at present I won’t be voting for Liz, and even though it probably won’t be read, I thought I owed their team an explanation as to why. Twitter does not bode well, but maybe those of us ideologically closer to the centre of the party will get a listen eventually. Who knows.

I’ve reproduced my response below, in the hope that someone listens, even if it is not her.

Dear Liz Kendall team,

Thus far, your campaign comes across as only caring about one of several groups of people Labour needs to win back. How will you respond to the SNP, who have cost Labour so many seats by attacking us from the left and adding working class voters to the nationalist core vote?

More directly, what do your campaign and your views mean for my residents if we win?

Leaving people with no political choice but further massive cuts would be a big problem for many of the people I represent, meaning that there is no possibility of making a change to the biggest challenge many in the country face. Growth in the real economy is stagnant, and as a country we are currently pulling apart a welfare state that would otherwise provide both a safety net and a ladder up. If we can only win without challenging this, who will?

A stricter immigration system (which I believe you have at least hinted at) would also be very bad news for many of their family lives; indeed I have recently been approached by one resident who has not seen his own wife for over a year because she is already too poor to be allowed to love with him in this, the country of his birth. So many of my residents in Willesden Green were not born as UK nationals. Do they not staff our hospitals, local shops, universities?

This is not just moaning. To me it means something. To hold these points of view may seem like self-indulgence on my part (perhaps a response this long actually is), but I have a duty to represent these people even if their lack of media clout makes them unpopular people – and I am proud to do so.

Finally, I am tired of the leadership debate being carried out in code. If you want to cut more services or capital spending, please please tell us what that means in practice, and give us the chance of a fair choice.

In conclusion, when you are able to explain what your brand of politics offers for aspiring people as well as those who have already made it to comfortability, I promise I will reconsider. 

But for now, I cannot in good conscience give you my support – I am sure you will understand.

Warm regards,

Cllr Miller

Willesden Green Ward

Brent to discuss sixth Council Tax freeze in a row

COUNCIL tax looks set to be frozen for a sixth successive year in Brent, as town hall chiefs finalise plans for a two-year budget which will go before a full council vote next month.

If the council tax freeze for 2015/16 is agreed, as recommended in a report going before the council’s cabinet on Feb 23, it will mean the average bill will be 15 per cent lower in real terms compared to 2010.

However, cuts in central government funding to local authorities have also left the council with the huge task of finding nearly £54million worth of savings by 2017. These savings are in addition to the £89million already delivered since 2010. In total, the council’s main source of central government funding will be around one third the current level by 2018.

In that context and following widespread local consultation, the council will need to decide which services should be protected and where savings are to be made.

Despite the financial challenges, under-threat services for young and vulnerable people, including Brent’s Children’s Centres, Youth Services and the New Millennium Day Centre, are all recommended to be spared from closure in the report. Rough sleeping services and the borough’s CCTV network are also recommended for a reprieve, as is the Brent Connexions careers advice service for young people.

A proposed 20 per cent reduction in social care staff should be halved to ten per cent, with these savings coming from reduced use of agency staff, according to the report and the proposal to limit home care visits to 15 minutes is also set to be shelved.

The report outlines how there should be no cuts in funding for respite care services, day care, or in the free swimming programme for young children and pensioners. If approved by the Cabinet on Feb 23, the budget plans will be put to a final vote of the Full Council on March, 2.

Councillor Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council, said “Many people we spoke to are still feeling the effects of stagnant wages and high costs so I hope that a sixth council tax freeze in a row will go some way in alleviating these pressures. Just 18% of the local people who responded to our survey wanted to pay more council tax.

“However, given that our net budget is being cut by between a third and a half this has left us with some very tough choices on which services to protect. Most people will understand how difficult it would be if your personal income fell by a half. You simply would not be able to spend money in the same way on the same things. You would need to tighten your belt somehow and find different ways of functioning.

“We have undertaken one of the most comprehensive listening exercises ever in Brent and, as a result, I am confident that we are spending our dwindling resources on those services that residents have told us matter the most. We are working hard to make sure every pound spent delivers maximum value and we are also finding better, more efficient ways of working and looking to maximise the use of new technology wherever we can.

“Not everybody will be happy with the decisions we need to take given the dire budget situation but by working together and pulling in the same direction I wholeheartedly believe our wonderful, diverse borough can still look forward to an even brighter, more prosperous future.”

Savings that are recommended to be taken in the report include: reducing the size of the senior management team to save £1.4m a year; increasing visitor parking charges; negotiating with contractors to get a better deal on adult social care and sharing some services such as registrars and regulatory services.

For more information on the council budget visit www.brent.gov.uk/budget

Willesden library is on the way

I had a really good look around Willesden Library’s new building yesterday (I hope we go with ‘cultural centre’ as a name).

IMG_0206

Despite the otherwise justifiable feelings of unfairness around the accommodation at the back, this has meant we can find a really improved public building that is a lot greener and generally better designed than the old centre, which had had it’s day, in my view. This is one of very few cases where a development lacking on affordability made sense, because we get some great gains for the wider community in return in a better building that will last for decades.

It is one of those projects where better engagement and involvement with the community from the Council would have gone a long way – so our councillors will be pushing for local people to be at the heart of running this going forward. Continue reading