Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Brent council urged to "Bin Veolia!"

OUTSIDE Brent's new Civic Centre, campaigners gather to make their point. But will councillors listen?

WHO takes decisions in the local council? If it is the elected councillors, why would they be shy about talking with the public on some issues, and leave it to full-time officers?

Brent's Labour-led council, in North-West London, has taken some unpopular decisions in the past couple of years, such as closing six local libraries, as it tried like others to conform to the government's austerity drive. The case of the Counihan-Sanchez family, made homeless by the callous interpretation of council rules above human duty, is only the tip of the iceberg of housing failure.

To be fair, unlike his predecessor, council leader Mohammed Butt has been prepared to talk to local trades unionists, and listen to what they had to say, and he was persuaded to add his voice to concern over NHS cuts in the area. But whether this has meant any real change in council policy is another matter. Long gone are the days when Brent and its Labour Party were associated with outspokenly left-wing policies.

Indeed, on some issues the councillors don't seem to be very outspoken at all, preferring to leave it to full-time officers employed by the council to lay down the law.

Yesterday evening a group of protestors gathered outside the new Brent Civic Centre, overlooked by Wembley stadium, to back a delegation presenting a petition signed by hundreds of local residents, calling on the council to exclude the French-based company Veolia from the Public Realm contract procurement process. The contract worth up to £250m over 16 years will be awarded by the Brent Executive at their October 14th meeting. Already strongly criticised over its performance in previous council contracts, Veolia wants to expand its reach from waste disposal to parks and open spaces, and other amenities. It has been short listed along with Enterprise and Serco.

Veolia has been the subject of an international campaign because of its operations in occupied Palestine, including the use of controversial landfill sites as well as the Jerusalem Light Railway (JLR) and 'bus services linking illegal Jewish settlements. Palestinians say the continued expansion of these settlements is an obstacle to peace. The bloc around Arab East Jerusalem separating it from its hinterland reinforces Israel's unilateral annexation, which British and other governments have not recognised, and accompanies the ethnic cleansing of the capital.

Addressing Brent council's planning executive last night, Liz Lindsay from the 'Bin Veolia' campaign and Brent and Harrow Palestine Solidarity, said "Just as pension funds are concerned about ethical investment we believe the council should be concerned about ethical procurement".

Outlining the company's involvement in the West Bank, Liz cited the Jerusalem Light railway, bus routes using the "Apartheid road" 443 lining settlements, and the Tovlan landfill site. "Veolia therefore profits by actively supporting Israel’s continued violation of international humanitarian law", she said.

"Under Public Contracts Regulations, a public body may exclude a bidder or reject a bid where it is found the organisation has ‘committed grave misconduct in the course of their business’
In 2009, the UN General Assembly called on Israel to cease the dumping of waste  in occupied Palestinian land.

"In 2010, UK was one of countries that voted in support of the UNHR Council resolution that stated JLR operated by Veolia is in clear violation of International Law and relevant UN resolutions.
In 2012, Richard Falk UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the OPT concludes that
– Veolia’s grave breaches of the UN Global Compact make it an inappropriate partner for any public institution, especially as a provider of public services. Also, Veolia was forced to withdraw JLR recruitment advertisements because they discriminated against Palestinians.

"Locally,  West London Waste Authority, Ealing, Harrow, Richmond did not select Veolia as the preferred bidder and all had been involved in discussions with anti-Veolia campaigners. Veolia withdrew after 2 years from the final stages of the £4.5bn North London Waste Authority  procurement when they were one of only two bidders left.

"As Veolia has become the target of worldwide campaigns, Veolia  has tried to waive responsibility, claiming in 2011 for example that it had sold Tovlan. However,  on the 17th Jan 2013, the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection –in response to FOI by a Women's Peace Group in Tel Aviv confirmed that Veolia is the sole owner and operator of Tovlan. We informed Brent Council of this on the 14th March but Veolia repeated its claim on 21st May 2013. The Council does not appear to have challenged this misrepresentation.

"In June 2013, an Israeli Court fined Veolia 1.5 million shekels for burying mixed waste to avoid higher fees and for keeping inconsistent records. Brent Council should seriously question any information that Veolia provides in its defence in its bid to win the contract".

Rejecting claims that Veolia UK and Veolia in Israel were separate companies, Liz Lindsay reminded Brent Council of its pride in representing a very diverse population, and stated commitment to equality and opposing racism. The council had shown this by its stand against the Home Office's racist poster van touring the borough, and UK Border Agency raids at some local stations.

"Human rights issues are at the core of the Council's values.

"Our campaign has been supported by members from many religions and non-religious residents, by members of the Labour, Lib Dem and Green parties, by Brent TUC, trade unions,  GCs of Brent Central,  and Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Parties and local members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

"We call on the Executive to take a principled stand on the issue of Veolia's collusion in the abuse of the human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories and to take action by excluding Veolia from the £260m Public Realm contract."

After this appeal, which was warmly applauded from the public gallery, the chair announced that the executive would be referring the petition to Fiona Ledden, head of procurement, for consideration, and she would then reply to the campaigners. With this assurance, the Bin Veolia delegation left.

According to the official handbook,
Fiona Ledden is the Director of Legal and Procurement and also the Borough Solicitor.
She joined Brent in March 2010.Fiona has the overall responsibility for the procurement strategy and policy across the council. The procurement team ensures that the council achieves the best possible service at the best possible cost from the suppliers that it works with across all services within the council.

Nothing there about the political and moral questions that might be involved, nor even conditions of staff. But then Ms.Ledden, however well qualified and efficient, is not an elected councillor, but a professional there to give expert advice, rather than take decisions.  Is that not so, councillors? 
VEOLIA campaign has wide support in a very diverse borough.

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