Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Councillor Colin Aherne

I am heartbroken to announce that Councillor Colin Aherne, the Chief Whip of H&F Council’s Labour Group and councillor for Wormholt and White City, died in Hammersmith Hospital yesterday following complications arising from a heart attack. All of us that knew and loved Colin are devastated. This is the link to the condolence book.

The immense shock people feel across the council is in part because Colin remained a bold, vital, and cherished part of our lives right up until the end. He was 77 years old.


Colin would tell how he was, “A proud Welshman, with an Irish name, living in England”. Out of respect, three Flags of Wales futter at half-mast outside the council offices on King Street.


Colin was particularly proud to live in Shepherds Bush and to represent the people of his ward, which he did with care for 35 years. He would often characterise his assiduousness by explaining “I’m a belt and braces man”, something he applied to: his constituents’ case work; his 35 years on the planning committee; his 35 years on the licensing committee; his nearly four decades as a school governor; his time as chair of the adoptions board; and his over 30 years as chair of governors of Wormholt Primary School. He was a diligent elected representative.


This clip of Colin talking about the importance of empowering people and listening to and respecting the needs of young people really captures his approach.


Fierce champion


Colin was a fierce champion of the people he represented. His convictions were borne out of the genuine hardship of his early life. He was born in 1944 in Tredegar into a loving family whose home had no electricity, no gas, and an outside toilet. His mother and father’s struggles to provide food, clothes, coal to heat the home, or pay for a doctor if anyone in the family fell ill was something, that back then, was commonplace for people in that small Welsh community – something that gave Colin a burning life-long passion to fight social injustice.

Faced with working in the local pits, Colin joined the Army instead, having been enticed at 15 years of age by a John Wayne movie he and his friend had seen at the local cinema. He saw action during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation sometimes telling how he spent his eighteenth birthday being shot at in Borneo. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

Colin with his father visiting a doctor
This harsh life could have produced a harsh, bitter man. But Colin was quite the opposite. He was one of the kindest, sweetest, most caring, and optimistic people I have ever met. The tributes pouring in already reflect that. 

“There’s no such thing as the good old days” Colin would say, pointing out how things are now so much better for most people in Britain because good people campaigned and fought to change the world.


A better world


Colin spent his lifetime doing what he could to change the world for the better. He was an active trade unionist much admired across the trade union movement for his integrity and hard work. In the early 1980s, he was arrested and fined for collecting money to send food parcels to striking miners. By 1986, he was elected to Hammersmith & Fulham Council. He became the Chief Whip shortly afterwards – his meticulous approach proudly giving him a reputation as the best barrack-room lawyer anyone had ever come across.


In 2006, Colin was a crucial member of the borough’s opposition leadership, and since 2014 he has been a key force behind some of the administration’s most compassionate programmes which have included:

  • being the only council in England to abolish charges for adult social care
  • providing free breakfast for all local primary school children
  • providing food in and out of term time for children needing support
  • saving the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates
  • funding the law centres so the poorest people have access to legal advice, and
  • introducing an Industrial Strategy linked to the borough’s schools which is bringing local young people some of the best career and business start-up opportunities anywhere in the world.

There is so much Colin achieved. It is impossible to list all of it here. He was a well-read, thoughtful, and insightful person.




Two weeks ago, when Colin was first in hospital, I was with him when he explained to a wonderful nurse how the doctors and nurses had asked him lots of questions - "But there was one thing they didn’t ask" he said. “What was that?” she enquired: “To pay” he answered before going on to tell how he comes from the same town as Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS.


Yesterday after the call came to rush to the hospital, I was ushered into the Intensive Care Unit to find 12 medics standing around Colin. There was a wide variety of beeping sounds and flashing lights as he was rapidly being prepared for emergency surgery. He gave the biggest smile and presented a thumbs up. One of the medics announced to the others how “Colin is part of the team that saved Charing Cross Hospital” at which point they all began to thank him. As he was wheeled past me, he put his hand out for a high five. He was very brave and a fighter to the very end.


Colin was so proud of his nieces and nephew. He loved his family very much. I know he considered the Labour Group and his friends in the party as a part of his wider family – something all of us are proud to be.


And he loved Hammersmith & Fulham. The place he’d made home and where his work over four decades has changed this part of the world so much and for the better.


Colin Aherne was a gentle, considerate man. He was one of the finest, wisest people I've ever known. He was a great friend. He was a rare and good human being. We will always miss him.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Alderman Mike Cartwright

I am very sorry to report that Aldermen Michael Cartwright, former Mayor and Deputy Leader of the Council, died peacefully at 5am this morning after a long illness.

Mike was first elected as a Member of the Council in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham in 1992 following a by-election in Hammersmith Broadway. He held that post and for 26 years being returned by the residents by the Hammersmith Broadway ward as their elected representative at another six elections - only stepping down at the 2018 council elections because of illness.


Throughout, his time as an elected representative. Mike consistently stood out as a diligent public servant.


As Deputy Leader of the Council from 2014, Mike helped steer the direction of our Borough at a critical time and took bold measures to improve things for residents such as leading the Administration to introduce the largest number of council funded police in the Borough’s history. 


While chair of the Association of London Government’s (now London Councils) Transport and Environment Committee, Mike was key to saving and expanding the London Freedom Pass. 


Mike was also a local magistrate for 13 years becoming Chair of the Bench. He was instrumental in a series of measures that improved how the court supported women dealing with the nightmare and trauma of domestic violence.


Mike was a governor of two schools in the Borough from 1992 - Sacred Heart School, and Larmenier and Sacred Heart Primary School. He chaired the Mortlake Crematorium Board for 9 years. He served on the Western Riverside Waste Authority. Prior to his time in our borough, he was a councillor in Ipswich and Suffolk - first elected when he was just 23 years old. 


Mike served on the Planning Committee nearly all his time as councillor. As a chartered surveyor he was an expert. That combined with his experience to make him a formidable force for good on that committee.


Mike finished his time on Hammersmith & Fulham Council as the Mayor – a role he took to with grace.


Mike Cartwright was a giant in the public life of our borough for three decades. He deployed his considerable skills for the betterment of other people’s lives throughout his life and made a huge contribution to our borough. 


Mike dedicated his life to public service.


Such was his stature, in 2019 Mike was given the extraordinary honour of Freedom of the Borough and was made an Alderman following a unanimous vote of thanks by all the Borough’s councillors – something which I know meant a lot to him.


Mike was a dear friend. As Deputy Leader of the Borough’s Opposition for eight years, he was the rock we relied upon, the foundation of everything we all went on to build together. I will miss Mike’s good humour, his story telling, his wit, his wisdom, his kindnesses and his friendship. He was a lovely human being.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Let us renew our vow that all of us to make the world fairer, safer and better for women

This week began with International Women’s Day and will end with many of us celebrating Mothering Sunday.


It was prescient last year of the United Nations to report how “globally, women make up the majority of workers in the health and social sector”. In the UK, women are 70% of the healthcare workforce as well forming the backbone of third sector organisations and volunteering operations, such as running food banks and checking in on neighbours.


That’s as true in H&F as it is nationally. The Smile Brigade, run by Monique Newton, is just one of so many volunteer-led initiatives in the borough that have literally helped save lives. When the pandemic hit, the Smile Brigade had 20 volunteers running food kitchens for 70 clients. That swelled to 1,100 clients and 457 volunteers, delivering hot food and care packages directly to the homes of those who needed them.


This week the Office for National Statistics confirmed what many of us know, that women have borne a disproportionate burden of the pandemic and lockdown. They have spent more time on unpaid childcare and housework than men, they’ve done the lion’s share of home schooling and rates of violence towards women have rocketed, as the appalling events of this week remind us. And, as in every economic crisis, women over the past year have been at greater risk of losing their jobs or of having their wages cut or frozen.


To put this in a wider context, last year’s Marmot Report on health inequalities revealed that life expectancy for women living in our poorest communities has declined over the past decade, for the first time in a century. As Professor Marmot said: "If health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving."


The International Monetary Fund has pointed out why society as a whole gains if we make the world fairer for women. It published research underlining how adding one more woman to a company’s management structure is associated with a boost in returns of up to 13%. Picking up on this theme, to mark International Women’s Day three years ago, Christine Lagarde, the first woman president of the IMF, said: “It’s just a no-brainer that economies would grow, productivity would improve, and we would have more stability.”


So this Sunday, as we thank our mothers, grandmothers, and aunts, following a year when so many women have led the fight against the pandemic - publicly and in the home - let’s also renew our vow to make the world a fairer, safer, better place for all women – the type of world fit for our daughters to inherit.


Happy Mother’s Day

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Brendan Bird

I am very sorry to report that ex-Councillor Brendan Bird sadly died this morning following a long illness. He was extremely proud of and loved his family very much. My thoughts are with them.

The flags are flying at half-mast over Hammersmith & Fulham Town Hall to honour the positive contribution Brendan made to people's lives in our borough and across London. 

I first met Brendan in the 1990s and came to know him as a social housing expert, a much-loved Labour councillor for Sands End between 1994 to 2006, a campaigner and a very kind and decent man. 

After losing his seat in 2006, Brendan continued to work for his local community often phoning me to brief me on what was happening and what he thought I should do both as the borough’s leader of the opposition and later as leader of the council. His advice was always considered, insightful and wise.

In opposition, he fought against the Conservative run council to save Peterborough Primary School, their sell-off of the Castle Club Youth Centre and their closing of other Sands End youth facilities, and he successfully fought against their closure of Hurlingham and Chelsea Secondary School.

Brendan played a critical part in the Save Sands End Community Centre campaign in 2009 and in the Save Sulivan campaign in 2013 and 2014.

He was a governor of Holy Cross Primary School and an avid Fulham Football Club fan, table tennis player, and lover of R&B.

He ran as Labour's candidate for Sands End in the 2008 bi-election and in the 2010 and 2014 local government elections but sadly was not returned to office.

Brendan was passionate about Labour being electable and being in power and was a trusted member of the Executive Committee of the Chelsea & Fulham Labour Party contributing to our landslide local election victories in 2014 and 2018.

He was a Labour man as people used to say, but was friendly towards his political opponents, working across party lines to get things done for his community.

I’ll miss Brendan Bird. He was a good friend, I learnt a lot from him and came to admire him. He was always on the side of the angels something I know he'll be remembered for and which his family and friends are all so rightly proud of.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Responding to Coronavirus (COVID-19) together

Coronavirus is a huge challenge for everyone in our community. People are understandably worried about their health, the health of their friends, neighbours and loved ones, and how they will cope. So I want to reassure everyone that Hammersmith & Fulham Council has been doing everything we can to prepare for this and is on your side. 

We have adopted a people first approach which means we’re taking all the necessary actions and are providing all the necessary resources to help keep people safe and able to cope with this crisis. 

We’re working with the NHS, the government and partner agencies alongside the private and third sectors to build up our borough’s resilience. 

There are many people in our borough who are extremely vulnerable: from people needing daily home care, families in food poverty, to homeless people rough sleeping on our streets. We have an extensive plan to help them. We will always do everything we can to support our most vulnerable residents. 

If you'd like to donate, the Council has partnered with the charity UNITED in Hammersmith & Fulham. You can contribute on this link.

Please check this link for regular updates and you can sign up for email updates here

Here are some of the things we’re doing.

Focus on Coronavirus
Last week I authorised the following measures:
  1. The appointment of a Director of COVID-19 Response to manage the engine room of our operation and coordinate how we work with all our partners and residents. We're building up our borough’s capacity and the capabilities needed to best respond to all the issues that will arise. 
  2. The establishment of a Borough Emergency Control Centre (BECC), to increase our ability to act effectively and with speed. 
  3. Cancellation of all council meetings so we can re-skill and re-allocate our staff because we’re determined our organisation maximises its focus towards supporting people in our community and maintaining our ability to provide essential services.

Hammersmith & Fulham Community Aid Network – H&F CAN
We’re lucky to have so many kind people living and working in our borough and are keen to capture all the goodwill and potential for volunteers. We need to do that in a way that is safe for the volunteers and safe for our residents whom they will be helping. 

There’s already an extensive network of people and organisations who volunteer. People who run foodbanks, homeless shelters, youth clubs, community centres, residents’ groups and much more. We’re working with them to set up H&F CAN – a resilience network which will:
  • Co-ordinate a borough-wide volunteer operation
  • Provide an easy way to donate money that will be used to support vulnerable people 

You can find out more about how it will work and how you can register on this link.

people first approach 
We are prioritising people’s health and safety over all other considerations but recognise that many people face financial hardship because of coronavirus.

I have spoken to many people running local businesses and community institutions and understand how anxious they are about staying afloat. Other people on zero-hours contracts, or working as freelancers, or who are losing their jobs are worried about paying their rent, bills, loans and simply getting by.

The government has announced a Hardship Fund, Business Rate Relief and other constructive measures which we will implement as soon as we’re given details. 

We’re also looking at emergency grants to voluntary organisations and considering the different ways our community can come together to help.

The scale of the economic problems we now face is unlike anything we’ve seen in the post war period. I believe we need a suite of emergency measures bigger than Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. That should include: a trial universal basic income for the next twelve months; action on rents, loans and mortgages; and support for businesses and others facing bankruptcy. The government has moved quickly on some of these measures, but more is needed so all of us can get through this together.

Thank you
So many people are doing everything they can to protect their fellow citizens and keep services running - sometimes putting themselves at risk: doctors, nurses and health workers; social workers, care workers, police, and teachers; people who clean our streets and buildings and collect our refuse; people who run our food banks and homeless shelters; those who care for friends and neighbours who are elderly or Disabled. There are too many to mention.

H&F Council’s chief executive Kim Smith and her team of officers are rising to this challenge. I’ve lost count of all the exhausted, sleep-deprived people who tell me they’re working all hours to get us ready. I know our residents and businesses will join me in thanking all of them for what they’re doing for all of us.

These are surreal times. All of us are making changes to our lives we never imagined we’d be doing. But this is real, and we can get through it. 

Staying at home will save lives. Please keep washing your hands and take actions to be physically fit and mentally occupied. Nobody is alone in facing this crisis, we’ll find new ways of rising to this challenge as we move forward and we’ll do that together.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Much done, much more to do - and an awful lot to lose.

I know I speak for all of us
when I promise we won’t let you down
It hard to believe that this BBC News report was filmed four years ago. But it was. I know that, like me, my fellow Labour councillors and our candidates, remain as determined now to make our residents proud as we were that election night, when local people across our borough hired us to do their bidding - and when I gave that interview.

These are challenging times but there’s much we’ve done: we’ve hired the best lawyers and health advisers in the country to join our fight to save Charing Cross Hospital. We’ve put the largest ever amount of council-funded police onto our streets in the borough’s history and we are the only administration in London to cut council tax over the last four years.

People sometimes think politicians are all the same. I understand why. But since our residents elected us into office in 2014 my colleagues and I have been striving to prove we’re different - by our deeds, not words.

In a few weeks time, on May 3, there is a real and stark choice on what happens to our community over the next 4 years. For many decades now our borough has only ever elected Labour or Conservative councillors. 

Whatever the rights and wrongs of our voting system, no other political party stands even a close chance of getting any of their candidates elected. A vote for any of them will help let the Conservatives back in.

The Conservatives are hoping you’ll forget what they did last time, so they can do it all again. So just a quick reminder of some of the things Conservative councillors did when they ran Hammersmith & Fulham just 4 years ago: 
We know that if we lose our hospital, our parks and our genuinely affordable homes, we will never get them back.

Some of the change we've brought
From the start, we sought to be ruthlessly efficient with taxpayers’ money. 

We took a tough approach to negotiating with property developers and won an initial £52.15 million for our residents by re-negotiating deals the Conservatives had already closed. Now, at this point, our hard-nosed stance towards developers has won our borough a record £310 million. 

We have cut £70 million of wasteful council spending. And we have built partnerships with residents, businesses and local institutions so we can get more things done together. So:
My colleagues and I are seeking to run a different kind of council, one that listens more and works with our residents to find smarter, more creative ways to take us forward. The Conservatives will just take us back.

The outcome of your vote on 3 May will have a huge impact on our borough and this neighbourhood for the next four years. There is so much to lose.

So on May 3rd,  please vote for all our Labour candidates. I know I speak for all of us when I promise we won’t let you down.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

SPECIAL FEATURE: Government's Charing Cross Hospital Demolition Shenanigans Exposed

At 3.44 p.m. on Friday 16 June 2017 the Guardian published this exposé: Most of Central London Hospital to be Sold Off, Plans Reveal. What ensued goes to the very heart of the dishonest approach the Conservative government has taken concerning its plan to demolish Charing Cross Hospital and replace it with a small clinic, and close its A&E and replace that with an Urgent Care Clinic - which it admits it proposes to do after 2021.

Within an hour of the story going online, the Department of Health had got onto the Guardian to tell them the they'd got it wrong. They encouraged the story to be pulled from the next day's newspaper and insisted that The Guardian added this paragraph to their online article:

“The proposals in question are exactly that - proposals – and no final decisions have been made. As with all such cases across the NHS, decisions will be made after a public consultation and must have the full support of local doctors in order to secure the best outcomes for patients.”

However, that statement from the Department of Health was not true. By Monday 19 June, they came clean and admitted that.

Indeed, they even asked for the paragraph they'd wanted inserted 3 days earlier to be removed from the on-line story. The Guardian did as they asked but added a new paragraph stating that the Department of Health has now "confirmed that these plans [correctly reported in their original story] were consulted on and agreed in 2012/13, so the reconfiguration of those services is underway".

That episode is typical of the consistently underhand approach the Conservative government has taken in its determination to stop the public having a full understanding of what they actually plan to do to Charing Cross Hospital.

The government's "reconfiguration of those services" is the ironically titled Shaping a Healthier Future plan for North West London. That was signed off by Jeremy Hunt MP (Con), the Secretary of State for Health, in 2013 and details how they will:
  • Demolish the current Charing Cross Hospital
  • Sell off most the Charing Cross Hospital site 
  • Replace the current hospital with a series of clinics on a site no more than 13% the size of the current hospital
  • Re-brand the clinics as a “local hospital” 
  • Replace the current A&E with an Urgent Care Clinic
  • Re-brand the Urgent Care Clinic a "Class 3 A&E
  • Lose more than 300 and possibly all the acute care beds 
Anyone viewing the government's Shaping a Healthier Future website will find it hard to see any of this detail. Instead, the language is rich in disingenuous double-speak.

For example, that website explains the closure of four hospitals in North West London by saying “the existing nine hospitals will be transformed into five major acute hospitals”. In the case of Charing Cross Hospital, their use of the word “transformed” means demolished.

In that same spirit on 27 March 2017, two government heath bureaucrats wrote to me and asserted "there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross Hospital".  The complaint was from Dr Tracey Batten, the highly paid Chief Executive of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Clare Parker, the Chief Officer for North West London Collaboration of Clinical Commissioning Groups.

I wrote back to them pointing out that they are "playing fast and loose with the English language". For example, when they wrote “there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross Hospital” their case "appears to rely on the fact that they are planning to name the new clinic, that [they’re] planning to open, a 'local hospital'”. You can read my letter in full here.

We viewed Tracey Batten and Claire Parker's letter as a deliberate attempt to gag Hammersmith & Fulham Council from informing our residents about what is proposed for Charing Cross Hospital.

They followed their letter up with a statement controversially given to PR Week during the recent general and council by-elections which included an intimidating threat that they will "take it to the next level".

Our local Conservative councillors have long been at the front of all these attempts to mislead the public on the future of Charing Cross Hospital. In 2013, when they ran the council they left the cross-party campaign to save the hospital and then spent public money to falsely claim they had already "saved" Charing Cross and "retained" its A&E after they and government health chiefs came up with the ruse to re-brand the new small clinic a "local hospital".

wrongly claiming
Charing Cross
They're still doing that now. On 5 April 2017, I received an email from David Morton just after he had been selected as one of the three Labour council candidates for Avonmore & Brook Green. He wrote that "at 7:30 pm last night I received an unexpected visit to my home from Cllr Joe Carlebach. [Con]" and reported that Joe Carlebach had told him "he was prompting the NHS to take legal action against us for claiming that there was an intention to close Charing X hospital."

wrongly claiming
A&E 'retained'
Cllr Joe Carlebach is the borough's current leader of the Conservative opposition but at the time he was the chair of the Hammersmith Conservative Association with responsibility for all election material they put out during the recent general and local elections.

Hammersmith Conservatives printed and delivered a variety of election material claiming that those reporting that Charing Cross Hospital and its A&E are under threat are lying. They even re-printed Tracey Batten and Clare Parker's letter and delivered it across Hammersmith repeating the line that “there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross Hospital”.

Meanwhile, in the south of the borough, Greg Hands (Con) the MP for Chelsea & Fulham also repeated the nonsense that Charing Cross Hospital and its A&E are not under threat while accusing both the Council and Labour candidates of "falsehoods" for pointing out all of the details listed in the government's Shaping a Healthier Future plan.

As recently as last Wednesday night's Full Council Meeting, Conservative councillors were dismissively yelling out that the closure of Charing Cross Hospital is a lie. Their deputy leader joining in such heckling just moments after he and his colleagues had indicated they may want to change their public position following the recent election results - having realised Hammersmith & Fulham's residents had not been taken in by their shenanigans and were punishing them at the ballot box.

Carlebach and Hands both fully understand what the government's Shaping a Healthier Future plan will mean for the current Charing Cross Hospital. They have simply been sticking to the Conservatives' long-standing line. The same line that on 7 September 2014 had The Mail on Sunday attack David Cameron in this article. They reported how "days before council elections in May, the Prime Minister visited Hammersmith in London and stated that Charing Cross Hospital in nearby Fulham ‘will retain its A&E and services’... But the organisation that runs the hospital intends to close the department and replace it with an ‘urgent care centre’, NHS papers show".

I have been formally reviewing the issues around the closure of Charing Cross Hospital since they first began to unfold around 2011 as I was a member of the borough’s Housing, Health and Adult Social Care Select Committee between 2010 and 2014.

That committee had a statutory duty to scrutinise all matters to do with public health in our borough. If any reader puts "Charing Cross Hospital" into the search bar of this website they can read the many reports I've made as this issue has unfolded.

After being elected as the Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council in 2014, I believed it was important to cut through all the misleading information being put into the public realm by the government, health bureaucrats and local Conservative councillors. I asked the eminent Michael Mansfield QC to chair a public inquiry into the the Shaping a Healthier Future plan.

Along with Ealing, Hounslow, Brent and Harrow councils, we funded the Independent Healthcare Commission for North West London.

The commissioners were Michael Mansfield QC (Chair), Dr Stephen Hirst, and Dr John Lister. It was advised by health experts Roger Steer and Seán Boyle. The Mansfield Commission (as it also became known) was run like a court and was supported by Katy Rensten (counsel to the Commission), and Marcia Willis Stewart (Birnberg Peirce, solicitors to the Commission). It carried out extensive public hearings across North West London. Its key findings were:
  • There is no completed, up-to-date business plan in place that sets out the case for delivering the Shaping a Healthier Future (SaHF) programme, demonstrating that the programme is affordable and deliverable. 
  • There was limited and inadequate public consultation on the SaHF proposals and those proposals themselves did not provide an accurate view of the costs and risks to the people affected. 
  • The escalating cost of the programme does not represent value for money and is a waste of precious public resources. 
  • NHS facilities, delivering important public healthcare services, have been closed without adequate alternative provision being put in place. 
  • The original business case seriously underestimated the increasing size of the population in North West London and fails to address the increasing need for services.
You can read the Independent Healthcare Commission for North West London report in full by clicking here. Its main recommendations remain:
  1. The Shaping a Healthier Future programme needs to be halted. 
  2. Local authorities should consider seeking a judicial review of the decision to implement the programme if it is not halted.
The Independent Healthcare Commission for North West London indicated that the government would find it impossible to stick to its original schedule for closing Charing Cross Hospital. Indeed, the people charged with closing the hospital have not even met any of the half dozen or so deadlines they had set themselves for publishing their business plan. So now they have delayed the closure of Charing Cross Hospital until after 2021 and are scrambling to meet the demand they failed to predict - just as lots of people told them they would.

Hammersmith & Fulham and Ealing councils resisted the attempt to sucker us into helping them plan their NHS cuts by refusing to sign up to the government's new Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) - which was little more than a re-packaging of their failing Shaping a Healthier Future plan. That was despite the (what turned out to be a completely false) threat that they'd damage our adult social care budget if we didn't.

Along with Julian Bell, the leader of Ealing Council, we commissioned Roger Steer, Dr John Lister and Seán Boyle to do a further review which was titled Health and Social Care in North West London which you can read here

The Shaping a Healthier Future plan has also proposed that Ealing Hospital will close. It is being valiantly defended by Ealing Council - with Conservative councillors taking a similarly cynical approach there as they do in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Since winning control of Hammersmith & Fulham Council my fellow Labour councillors and I have re-engineered services and are cutting and re-assigning £63 million of wasteful council spending. So we're all for modernising services and saving money in any public institution. 

My fellow Labour councillors and I agree that there needs to be much greater coordination between councils delivering adult social care and hospitals discharging people back into their homes. That's one of the reasons why Hammersmith & Fulham Labour are the only council administration in the country to abolish charges to our residents for adult social care. But what the government are doing to our local hospital is ill-conceived and wrong. I have been consistently setting out that case such as here in this video:

Hammersmith & Fulham Council is the body responsible for public health in the borough. My fellow Labour councillors and I, along with our officials and advisers, have consistently sought assurances from the people behind the Shaping a Healthier Future plan to work with us to change it in light of the considerable amount of evidence we have presented that says they should. But they have repeatedly refused to do that.

Instead they hired a Conservative government spin doctor and a high profile advertising agency to re-engineer the English language so it misleads the public about what exactly it is they propose to do to our local NHS services.

The Conservative government's approach to the NHS that underlies Shaping a Healthier Future is thoroughly ideological. 

Hammersmith & Fulham's Labour administration will continue to defend Charing Cross Hospital and work with others to protect our NHS. We have hired some of the best advisers and lawyers to help us do exactly that.

The Shaping a Healthier Future plan is deeply flawed. We cannot see how the government can move forward with it without putting lives at risk.

When the people charged with delivering this for the government recognise the very real need for Charing Cross and Ealing Hospitals and change their approach, they will find the door is still open for them to work with us to help them make that change.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Tackling Air Pollution With H&F's New Electric Car Club And More Electric Car Charging Points Than Anywhere Else In The UK

Bluecity car club launched at H&F's Eco Fair
Over the last eighteen months, my fellow Labour councillors and I have introduced 100 Source London electric vehicle (EV) charging points in Hammersmith & Fulham. That is the most in the country and many times more than any other council. We aim to have 250 by the end of the year.

We’ve also introduced the Bluecity electric car club and negotiated a deal that allows our residents to try the club for free.

The electricity provided by Source London and used by Bluecity is SSE Green which is 100% clean, coming with a zero emission rating - mostly generated from wind and hydro-electric sources.

Driving one of the Bluecity EV cars has the pleasant effect of putting a smile on your face but that isn’t our primary motivation. We believe we need to make a determined push to clean our air.

I was pleased to join Source London's Cédric Bolloré and Christophe Arnaud to speak at City Hall on 21st June about the urgent need to improve air quality and how their excellent schemes will help us to do that. Here is a snippet of my remarks:

Air pollution is linked to chronic lung problems, asthma, heart conditions, breast cancer, dementia and even diabetes. London’s air is the most dirty in the country.

The south side of the Hammersmith Broadway gyratory is the fifth worst polluted black-spot in the country. Our borough has 4 of the UK’s other locations for Britain's worst polluted air.

Back in 2015 we set up one of London's first Air Quality Commissions which undertook an extensive public inquiry producing this report last year.

We have also been taking a number of actions to improve air quality since local residents gave us control of the borough in 2014. Those include introducing new safe cycle routes, planting plants that absorb pollutants, deterring lorries and rat-running cars from entering residential areas and lobbying the government and London’s Mayor to replace the Hammersmith Flyover with a flyunder. But, the Source London network and the Bluecity car club has the potential to make a generational shift and change how all of us live and travel as EVs and the EV car club catches on in London and other parts of the country. 

We aim to increase the number of EV charging points and to keep building the network and encouraging demand to increase.

The scheme is run by the Bolloré Group, a French company, who have invested £3 million into our borough. Their electric cars are made in the European Union bringing new jobs and economic growth with this new life style choice.

I say new… Actually electric cars were popular from the 1880s until the early twentieth century. But as the internal combustion engine was refined and gasoline became cheap and plentiful they lost out and the twentieth century took a different path. It’s not hard to see how different modern history might have been without our reliance on oil.

So how should we plot the course for the next 140 years? What will future generations say about us if we don’t urgently clean our air and find new ways of getting around and living in a way that sustains our environment?

We have to act and in Hammersmith & Fulham, I am determined H&F Labour remain in the vanguard in doing so.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Grenfell Tower Fire Tragedy

A sign in a Rest Centre this afternoon
Twelve people have now been confirmed dead, 75 people are being treated in six hospitals and 20 people are in a critical condition following the fire in Grenfell Tower in Kensington. My thoughts go to all those people who have lost loved ones and who have been frantically trying to find out what has happened to their loved ones. They have lost their homes and everything they own. You can make a donation here.

The emergency services have done and are doing an amazing job. Our NHS, fire, police and ambulance services have been outstanding as have council officers, volunteers and community groups - many still working now.

The Edward Wood
Community Centre
this afternoon
Along with many of our residents, Hammersmith & Fulham council quickly offered help and we have been assisting our neighbours in Kensington and Chelsea council who are doing everything they can.

Sue Fennimore and I were in the area this afternoon - at the Community Centre on the Edward Woods Estate and at St Clements Church on Sirdar Road in Kensington which is one of two Rest Centres being run by a Hammersmith & Fulham council officer. 

Faith groups, businesses and lots of compassionate people have been dropping off food, drink, clothing, toiletries, children's toys and books, and other vital supplies.  Their many, many kindness showing London at its best. I am advised that while we have enough supplies at the moment, cash donations are still very welcome.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

London Stands As One

London stands as one at the vigil for the victims of the cowardly attack
on London Bridge and Borough Market
Last night Sue Fennimore, Hammersmith & Fulham’s deputy leader, and I stood alongside London’s leaders and thousands of Londoners at the vigil for the victims of the London Bridge and Borough Market atrocity.

The shock and sorrow that all of us feel is shared by people across the world following the hateful attack by three deluded cowards.

The defenseless victims killed and injured come from many different countries and backgrounds – all peacefully enjoying their Saturday night because London is a city where people live, work and get along together like no other place on earth.

Those that attacked us did so because their poisonous ideology sees that as a threat to how they think the world should be.

We must stand firm against them and we must win. That’s why our Labour administration has put the largest number of council-funded police onto the streets in the history of our borough, is increasing CCTV coverage and taking new measures to keep our residents safe.

But we must beat those that attack us with our ideas and way of life too. We must continue to show our solidarity and love for one another and in doing that we will face down this evil.

Last night, as we walked back from the vigil through the London Bridge area, it was heartening to see Londoners defiantly carrying-on – working, hanging-out with friends and typically refusing to be cowed.

I’d like to invite you, your friends and family to celebrate our diversity and solidarity with our borough’s second ever Unity Day on Sunday 11 June. We will be gather at Shepherds Bush Green at 11am and walk to Ravenscourt Park where there will be music, dance and food from the wide range of cultures that enrich our borough. The event will last until 4.30pm.

Friday, 26 May 2017

We're Working To Deliver The Best Value Council In The Country

Last Monday was the three-year anniversary of the council elections in which local people voted to give the job of running our borough to my fellow H&F Labour councillors and me. This is the BBC News report from that evening.

People voted for us from across a wide variety of political persuasions. My colleagues and I have always remained grateful to all of them and absolutely determined to make our residents proud.

There's much we've done, which I'll report on over the coming weeks. Here's a report on some of the things we're doing with the borough's finances.

Over the last six months or so, the Mail on Sunday, BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, The Standard, The Sunday Times and a host of other media have all reported that Hammersmith & Fulham’s Labour administration runs the only council in the country to abolish charges for Adult Social Care while being one of the only councils in the UK to freeze council tax this year.

The Daily Politics programme reported that we're the only council in the country to offer our residents better value now than we did twenty years ago.

Our Conservative predecessors had enjoyed a generous government Council Tax Freeze Grant but the Conservative government abolished that two years ago and instead urged us to raise council tax by 7.75%. Despite that, my fellow Labour councillors and I are the only administration in London to cut council tax this electoral term.

Our Conservative predecessors had introduced 600 stealth taxes, but we are the only administration of any political colour to cut 85% of all the Council's charges for our residents.

And while our Conservative predecessors put parking charges up by 25.3% and budgeted to put them up 14.7% immediately after the council elections, we've frozen parking charges for each of the 3 years we've been in office.

This year, we're adding an additional £4.4 million of new funding to the Adult Social Care budget - which is £1.1 million more than that department’s officials asked us for.

We've done this and more at a time of punitive government cuts to our budget.

Most council funding has traditionally come from a central government grant - not from council tax. By the end of the next financial year, the Conservative government will have cut H&F's central government grant by 74% since they and their former Liberal Democrat partners came into office in 2010. That will be a reduction of £83 million for our borough.

So how have we been able to do all of this?

We saw the problems we inherited as opportunities to save money and do things better
We came into office with a critical view that local government was a long way off where it needed to be if our residents were to favourably compare their council with the very best organisations in the world. However, we were surprised to find we had inherited an organisation that was simply not fit for purpose across many areas of its responsibilities.

To be fair, some useful improvements happened under the former Conservative administration and there were areas of the council's work which remain impressive but they had bequeathed us a corporate culture that was dated, wasteful, self-satisfied and had too little regard for our residents. Too often, the approach to complex challenges was amateur. When things went wrong, as they inevitably did, the cultural reflex was often one of blame, denial, ducking responsibility and indifference rather than forensic analysis, fixing the problem, learning and moving on.

All this wasted time and money and all of this was exacerbated by the Byzantine structures of a 'tri-borough' arrangement the Conservatives had agreed with two other councils.

We were immediately confronted with the scale of the changes we needed to make during our first summer in office. The first and worst example of this culture being the new tri- borough Special Educational Needs Transport Service for disabled children which had gone live just over a month before the election. It was horrendously bad and it put the children at risk. Parents, teachers and carers were desperately worried. Fixing that service - which we did - was made so much harder by all of the above.

In fact, the Conservatives had procured some astonishingly costly and disastrous contracts. They had employed some of the highest paid officials in the UK and had too many of them too. There was little effective training and development of the council's employees with too many staff carrying out important work which they did not have all the necessary capabilities for.

And the Conservatives sold billions of pounds of public land to property developers at knock-down prices - with no regard for the fact that on some of that land were the council homes of hundreds of local families.

Meanwhile, Conservative councillors had squandered millions of pounds: adorning our streets with vanity banners hanging from lamp post featuring their super-sized photos; a newspaper; and over half a dozen different self-aggrandizing magazines - all promoting their North Korean style political propaganda.

Fixing this is a work in progress, but we are making significant progress
The world has moved on compared to even ten years ago. People socialise differently and buy products and services differently. The most effective organisations use big data to better predict demand and they re-engineer and contentiously improve services to make them better for their customers. But the Hammersmith & Fulham Council we inherited 3 years ago acted, looked and felt like an organisation from 30 years ago. We set about a programme of change and modernisation.

So far we're making £62.6 million year-on-year savings in the council's revenue account. Those are being made by:
  • Closing down council magazines, removing vanity banners and other politically inspired wastefulness
  • Using big data to better predict demand to make earlier and thus less costly interventions
  • Remodeling services taking advantage of new technology and working practices
  • Proactively raising commercial revenue - even selling our big data service to other councils
  • Better procurement, negotiation and management of contracts
  • Paying off the council's debt
  • Rationalising the number of council offices
  • Cutting senior management and restructuring the council, while retaining and recruiting some of the best people in local government and training and up-skilling our staff so they're empowered to do more.
We've also negotiated a record £219 million from property developers which will benefit the capital account as those schemes come forward in future years. Of that sum, we won £52.25 million more by immediately re-negotiating 7 property deals shortly after the 2014 council election - deals which Conservative councillors had already agreed at much lower sums and closed the book on.

The borough's Conservative opposition
They're not an active group of local elected representatives. As this link shows, Hammersmith & Fulham's Conservative councillors don't do many surgeries for their constituents and simply don't turn up to a staggering amount of council meetings.

Greg Smith
when Deputy
Council Leader
on a
lamp post
vanity banner
It's also evident that the Borough's Conservative opposition do not understand rudimentary aspects of public finances.

This first became apparent at our first Annual Budget Meeting on 25 February 2015 when Cllr. Greg Smith, the opposition leader and former deputy leader of the council, set out the Conservatives' view on how the borough should meet the £71 million year-on-year budget gap in the council's revenue account by 2018/19. We had inherited this huge gap from the former Conservative administration just nine months earlier so Conservative councillors had plenty of time to form a considered view. However, with Greg Smith's colleagues cheering him on, H&F Conservatives' official budget response had as its centerpiece this statement:

I find it curious that he [me] boasts of £50 million extra from developers - and we’ll come onto the detail of that later - where he says he’s already saved £24 million and he brought in £50 million: well if he got to find £71 million worth of savings in total, I don’t know what his problem is, he’s already got all the money in!” as you can listen to here.

That statement demonstrated that they had mixed up the difference between the revenue account and the capital account and had no understanding of the fact that this was not a one-off gap to be met in a single year but an accruing year-on-year gap that would need to be reached by 2018/19 and again (plus a greater amount) each year thereafter.

The following year, the main suggestion in H&F Conservatives' budget response was that H&F Council should abolish the meals-on-wheels service which, apart from being cruel, would not save very much money at all. That had them attacked as "clueless" by this website.

On 13 January 2016, the Conservative leader attended the Audit Committee as a representative of Riverside Studios. Under questioning from Councillors PJ Murphy and Ben Coleman he said he did not recognise Section 106 money as public money despite it being agreed by Parliament as such in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. He then spent quite a long time explaining his philosophical view that he didn’t support the term “public money”.

We're working to give our residents and businesses the best
We want Hammersmith & Fulham to be the best council in the country. Actually, we want it to be comparable to some of the best, most effective organisations anywhere.

Getting public finances right is crucial to that but can only be sustainable if we modernise how the council operates.

We know that the best way to make improvements is to do it with the people using the services. For a council that is the local residents and businesses we serve. That's why we've; set up resident and business led policy commissions which has helped us do more, better and quicker; we introduced a new public policy and accountability process to give residents more influence on what the council does; and we try to work with our residents and businesses rather than have the council do things to them.

We think our borough has a chance at being the best place for business, the best place to live and work and the very best council. Delivering that is what motivates my fellow Labour councillors and me. We remain ever grateful to all of the 22,163 people who voted for us three years ago and gave us the opportunity to do this.