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Ealing and Northfield

Northfield tonight

Tonight’s Northfield library consultation meeting was packed. Something like 75 seats were laid out. All were filled. Add in the number standing and the total number was about 140 after the last 10 or so had crammed in after council leader Julian Bell’s speech.

Last night I suggested Cllr Bell’s “I didn’t come in to politics to do this” speech lasted 20 minutes. Tonight I timed it at 8.5 minutes. Clearly it only felt like 20 minutes last night. Rather like last night a number of Labour councillors turned up to defend the indefensible and offer moral support to their beleagured cabinet colleagues. Cllr Manro from Greenford North, Cllr Wall from Hobbayne in Hanwell and Cllr Dheer from Dormers Wells in Southall.

Walpole residents and local blow hards, Judy and Arthur Breens, spoke loudly and insistently for their genius idea of allocating the total funds of both Northfield and Walpole ward forums in perpetuity to funding the library. Apart from the technical issue that this money is largely capital and not revenue, it would mean that nothing would be available for local parks, transport and environment projects ever again.

The new administration got a huge amount of flack for the Southall car park with one questioner again asking whether Labour couldn’t “put your car park on hold?” in order to save the libraries. Leader Bell proceeded to get a bit emotional at this point and suggest that the previous administration had “taken £13.5 million out of Southall”. This is nonsense. The council sold a row of shops that it owned. A corporate asset not a public one. There was some bitterness from the shop keepers that the council did not give them premises at a silly price but the rest of the borough was well served by this transaction. This is Labour’s “asset stripping” which they use to justify building a £5.5 million car park in Southall, a project that will increase Southall’s congestion rather than fix it.

Cllr Dheer got the chance to defend to the Southall car park from the floor without declaring himself as a Southall Labour councillor. When Northfield councillor Mark Reen spoke following the anonymous Dheer he was mildly rebuked by Labour’s Cllr Johnson for having the temerity to speak as a councillor.

Much of the meeting was devoted to the administration pleading with the audience to volunteer as individuals or organisations. One lady suggested her organisation might be interested. On the whole the mood of the meeting was skeptical. Cllr Bell suggested that “Northfield is an area that would want to volunteer to support its library”. Apparently he is not making this suggestion in Labour heartlands of Acton, Greenford and Southall. He did say though that the Labour chief whip had suggested making volunteering in libraries compulsory for Labour councillors. I am not sure that Labour gets volunteering!

I managed to pop up and suggest that the council might like to look at staffing and work practices across the whole library service which is the only fair and sensible way to trim the library service. Libraries such as Central (26 FTE), Acton (12.3 FTE), Southall (12.6 FTE) and Greenford (10.8 FTE) are no more productive than the smaller libraries in spite of automation. We should also look at staff terms and conditions as you can’t really run a retail operation on 35 hour work weeks. Another idea would be single-handed working for smaller libraries. Cllr Bell was at pains to confirm that this will be done as a part of a whole service review. I suspect that he has been badly advised by a service which is more interested in doing things the same old way than serving its users.

One idiot got very worked up over the banks and politicians in general and managed to throw the radio mike at the council staff trying to run the meeting. Apart from that it was a reasonably polite meeting that allowed Northfield to show the administration that it will not be short changed.

5 replies on “Northfield tonight”

It is interesting that Councillor Bell, our esteemed Council leder, is calling for volunteers to help run the library when until recently a sign at Ealing’s Central Library about volunteering emphatically stated that volunteers were not allowed to issue books or to put them on the shelves.
Phil, it might be worthwhile looking at where this comes from: is Councillor Bell doing someting nasty here like deliberately stirring up a hornets nest (Unison, Unite, and other trade unions) to provoke a confrontation that would make keeping the libraries open with volunteer help untenable. Do you you now what the union mandats on this issue are as far as Ealing concerned? Is it possible to use volunteers in the library without having a “general strike” in the Borough of Ealing?

As a an afterthougt: keep on blogging. The only way that I find out what is going on in Ealing is trough this blog. The Ealing Gazette managed a piece on its online edition about the Tuesday (Hobbayne) library protest today (Thursday). What on earth do you suppose the Ealing Gazette journalists do? Was there one at yesterday’s meeting (Wednesday) and why is there nothing on the on-line website at 14:35 on Thursday? If I was an Ealing Gazette advertiser I would feel very annoyed.

Mags.

I have had a look at the Council’s declared published expenditure and they are very interesting (the over £500 stuff). I can see a few places where money could be saved. I am not going to say where as I do not think that the Labour Council would use them to save the libraries or restore the facilities for the mentally ill and the disabled. The information is published in the form of a spreadsheet which needs a spreadsheet package to read it, and what is more it is published using the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet pacage. For those citizens of Ealing that do not have Microsoft Excel and do not want to buy this expensive computer program I would like to point them to a free spreadsheet package (and word processor package) called Open Office. This can be downloaded free-of-charge from http://www.openoffice.org. There are versions that will run on older (32-bit) and newer (64-bit) PCs running both Microsoft Windows and Linux/Unix. Open Office will let you look at, and work with both the Excel spreadsheets and the Microsoft Word documents found on the Ealing Council website.
I assure you that these declarations make fascinating reading (although it requires the mindset of crossword puzzle enthusiast or sudoku guru to connect the figures in the spreadsheets to real life council activities, people and departments.
All I can hope for I think is that Ealing Conservatives (or someone else) works out some way of legally stalling the library closures until the Conservatives are back in power.
With the way that things are going, especially with the Southall Car Park project I think that it is a slam dunk that the Conservatives will be back in power in Ealing in the next local election.
I think that it is scandalous that frontline services are being cut the way that they are while pratically all the high-salaried staff of Ealing Council (I would like to call them the Ealing Teflon 100) appear untouchable as far as the Labour Party in Ealing is concerned.

H. Weeks.

Honey,
Time for conspiracy theories I am afraid to say on this theme. What Bell and is cohorts want to do is to avoid any legal callenge on PROCEDURE, PROCESS, or TECHNICALITY. This whole process of consultation is a con because what they are probably trying to avoid is a challenge via the Local Government Ombudsman on the basis that the library cuts were not implemented in a democratic process or without appropriate consultation. So Bell&cohorts will probably spend £100K going through all the hoops to bullet-proof their case regardless of what the majority of the electorate thinks. Democracy (NOT).

The only answer to such crude, corrupt, and unjust tactics I fear is an equally brutal and politically-incorrect method: the trusted “half a brick” as epitomised in the those famous local fantasy books: “The Brentford Chronicles”.

Plus, Honey, don’t forget that the Council’s lawyers (all sixty of them) will be chanling at the bit to make this strategy work for Bell&cohorts because it will protect their jobs!

Mags.

This Car Park the Council want to build in Southall is so obviously a Labour ‘flag waving’ project in an area that always votes Labour. It will benefit relatively few people – in the low hundreds – whereas the Libraries threatened with closure were visited by over 157,000 people last year.

The gentleman seated to the left of Councillor Bell said it was unwise to pit one area of the Borough against another and that the Car Park was needed. I would suggest that it is the Council that is responsible for ‘pitting one area of the Borough against another’ by insisting on having the Car Park built at this time.

Normally the issue of whether Southall should have a Car Park or not would not bother, or be of interest to, hardly anyone. But when five Libraries are threatened with closure across the Borough and it comes out that by NOT building the Car Park the Libraries could be saved and remain open, then of course people get annoyed about it.

Something that may benefit a few hundred people should not take Priority over something which benefits over 157,000 people, however much the Labour Council may want to ‘flag wave’ about it.

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