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Friday, 15 December 2017

More on the Biggest Libraries

Looking again  at CIFPA's list of the UK's five biggest libraries, I note that at least four of them appear to be (in some way quite new). 

The one I know best is of course Wembley Library, now the third most visited in the country with almost 1.4 million visits.  That is a stark contrast to the old Brent Town Hall library it replaced, which had about 200k visits at the time it closed.  Wembley Library was of course newly opened as a custom built facility in 2013. 

Birmingham Central Library was opened at vast expense in 2013.  Manchester underwent a major refurbishment prior to reopening in 2014.  Woolwich Library opened I am not sure when, but I think it was quite recently.  I believe they all attracted a lot of negative publicity until they actually opened. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

CILIP Calling for Greater Library Transparency

CILIP and the Labour Party are quite rightly calling for more transparency on library figures, alongside a more timely rate of publication.  As the libraries sector is becoming ever more dependent on the use of volunteers, it would also be a good idea if someone would actually make some attempt to monitor whether "community managed libraries" actually work.

At present, the only evidence is anecdotal, and (in my view) unreliable.  I think this is for a number of reasons:

a) Many volunteers don't really understand the scale or scope of what public libraries do, so they tend to overestimate what "their" library does in comparison.
b) Volunteers are normally trying desperately to fund raise and you raise funds by selling what a good job you can/are doing, not by a candid assessment of what is going well and what isn't.
c) Politicians and Councils don't want to get into fights with residents so they aren't completely candid in explaining that the volunteer run services are functioning at a much lower level than the previous Council services. 
d) Some of the costs of community run libraries can be quite hidden compared to local government figures.  For example, there can be ongoing managerial support from the Council, "grace and favour" arrangements for the use of buildings, use of Council IT systems with less than transparent charges and so on.
e) Some of the outcomes of community managed libraries can also be untested.  For instance, I don't think most such libraries formally measure loans and visits in the way CIPFA expects or have any equivalent to the PLUS surveys.  If they have monitoring systems, I suspect they are probably quite specific to each institution and therefore it is hard to draw comparisons.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Usual Street Gritting Suspects

Picking up on the street gritting stories in the Kilburn Times, I see a lot of complaints.  This tends to happen every time there is even a limited amount of snow, so I would have thought by now all councillors would know that gritting most of the roads in Brent is a Borough responsibility not a TfL one.  Indeed, in the past it has been a source of controversy  as Brent has not bought enough street grit in the past.  Monday's weather seem to me to be handled quite well, with more major roads done first.  It really is unrealistic for people to expect all 480km of Brent roads simply to be covered in street grit as soon as snow starts falling.

I have gone through some of the practical obstacles to winter readiness before.  I was interested to read that only 840 tons of rock salt is in store, which is lower than in the past.  Possibly more is on order, although rock salt tends to be mined all year round, so you can't generally just hold of it when the weather is bad.  It has to be ordered well in advance.  It is also possible that since I wrote that piece in 2011, technology has improved so that more efficient use of forecasting reduces the need for gritting.  These days weather forecasts can be so exact that the different ground surface temperatures (GST) of different parts of London can be tracked.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Brent and UK Libraries

CIPFA have published new figures on public library provision, and on the whole they are pretty grim.  The Guardian tells us: "Visits [are] down  by 3% year on year, and by 14% over the last five years. The decline, according to the CIPFA figures, is almost across the board: book issues fell by 6.3% in the last year, and by 25.1% in the last five years. Book stock held is also down by 2.6%.

The Brent experience, in contrast, is shown here:

And the Brent experience on loans (NB the high base line) is here:

The improved performance in both visits and loans is attributable to seven day opening, the refurbishment of Kilburn Library (Pictures are available here), a new library at Willesden and a new library at Wembley.  These all formed part of the Brent Libraries Transformation Project

So just to repeat, over a period when national library visits declined by 14%, Brent's went up by 61%.  In the same period, loans went down 25.1% nationally, but rose by 8% in Brent.  

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Affordable Housing in Wembley Reduced to Almost Nothing

My eye was caught by an extremely high tower block proposal coming up at the next Planning Committee.  The "East of Wembley Stadium" application provides for only 7% affordable housing on the pretext that the housing will be kept at a genuinely affordable rent level.  It is recommended to be granted

I have argued before that there are genuine trade offs around affordability, unit size and so on, but this becoming ridiculous.

Firstly the proportion is so tiny that almost nothing is being demanded of the developers at all.  7% does not even begin to meet the needs of Wembley, as the GLA has pointed out.  Secondly I don't see any reason to believe that the developer can be kept to the promised reduced rate.  It would not surprise me in the least if the properties are sold off as straight forward commercial units in future.  Thirdly, the blocking of views to the Stadium has a woeful impact on the Stadium's place as the centrepiece of Wembley's regeneration.

I doubt however, that the Committee will do more than rubberstamp what is put in front of them.  If it does it will be another sign that the Planning system in Brent has been thoroughly broken and (for whatever reason) councillors and officers are simply waiving through applications with simply no effort to scrutinise them properly. 

The report, and the subsequent report for more car parking, both seem to indicate that the GLA is becoming concerned at the ways in which the London Plan is being ignored, so that it is possible that Sadiq Khan will intervene, but why aren't Brent Councillors and officers doing a better job to stick up for the interests of Brent and Tokyngton?

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Questions and Yet more Questions

It seems that Brent Council has another of its semi-scandals brewing.  A fuller discussion can be found here.  A number of the answers given appear to be contradictory.  Giving false answer on the register of gifts and hospitality and/or in in relation to FoI requests is itself a serious matter.  The murk becomes thicker following the attempt by the CEO to "clarify" the situation here