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My priorities: 3. Strengthening our community

In my last blog post, I talked about the things the council is doing to help residents find jobs and support the local economy. 

This is crucial to improving the lives of everyone in Brent, but isn't enough on its own. We also need a strong and thriving local community, united together with a single common identity.

I believe that people who know each other, look out for one another and help each other out are happier, healthier and wealthier as a result. I've always been proud of the fact that Brent is one of the most diverse communities in the UK, and that we have a clear idea of who we are, and are united in being Brent residents. 

But the speed of modern life and the stress of day-to-day living in the current economic climate are leaving more and more people isolated, and are breaking down some of  the bonds that tie us together. 

Preventing this from happening is one of my top priorities, and at the council, we have been working hard to develop a range of measures that will help strengthen our community long into the future. 

For instance, next month the council will be giving over £1 million in grants to local voluntary sector organisations to support their work in the borough and help them to develop the strong foundations needed for financial autonomy and providing excellent services to, and within, our community. 

As a result of Government cuts, we have had to shift the focus away from giving charities money, towards supporting them to build sustainable long term financial independence.

That is why we are putting so much effort into strengthening and building the capacity of CVS Brent, the umbrella organisation that helps local charities bid for external funding and build strong and sustainable business models. 

We're tackling our school places crisis head on, so that our children are not deprived of the world class education they are entitled to. We're investing £92 million over the next ten years to ensure there are enough school places for our growing young population. 

We're investigating the new powers granted to communities by the Localism Act 2011 such as the Community Right to Buy, the Community Right to Challenge and the council's power to list buildings as 'community assets', so that we can give residents with a real passion for the local area the best tools available to help bring their communities together. 

Ahead of the welfare cuts, we're also working with local credit unions to encourage residents to set up savings accounts that will offer them a safer, more sustainable alternative to borrowing from loan sharks, and are providing residents with more budgeting advice, which will be essential  when benefits are cut later this year. 

The next few years will be extremely tough and, just like our residents, the council will have to make difficult decisions. But we'll always be strongest when we work together.  

That's why we are also looking to give Brent residents the choice over how the council spends your money from next year. I hope to be able to write more soon about our plans for a 'community budget' for 2014.

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