Monday, 2 May 2016

President Obama's Shout Out To H&F Labour's Councillor Ali Hashem

How time flies: just a couple of days ago President Barack Obama gave his last speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner as you can view here. However, the week before, when he was here in the UK, he addressed people selected to take part in the US Ambassador's young leaders project and took a moment to shout out to H&F Labour's excellent Councillor Ali Hashem as you can view here:

video

Along with fellow Labour Councillors Larry Culhane and Daryl Brown, Ali Hashem was elected to represent the residents and businesses of North End ward on 22nd May 2014. They're a fantastic team and have been doing an excellent job working hard for their constituents ever since.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

New Independent Start-Up: Café De Nata's Pastéis De Nata Brings Some Portuguese Sunshine To Hammersmith

Pastéis de nata - those delicious Portuguese custard tarts - can now be found, freshly baked in the centre of Hammersmith.

Made to head chef Lucio's secret recipe, Café de Nata produce  a perfectly crisp flaky pastry and creamy smooth custard filling that will brighten your day and ruin your diet.

Proprietor Diogo Esteves hopes to make the pastel de nada a popular treat in the UK - just as it is in Portugal and many other parts of the world.

They are really delicious and go well with Café de Nata's excellent coffee. So he appears to have a very good chance of doing that.

Pastéis de nata were first baked at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém, Lisbon. But in 1834 the monastery closed. Three years later, after having purchased the monk's recipe, the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém took over. They've been making them ever since. In 2009, The Guardian was so taken with these delicacies, it urged people to visit Belém in an article titled: The 50 best things to eat in the world and where to eat them. But as the Facebook reviews of Café de Nata say, you can save yourself the journey and enjoy perfectly fresh, warm pastéis de nada straight out of the oven in Hammersmith Broadway.

Café de Nata are based in a small shop at 25B, Hammersmith Broadway Shopping Centre that's a part of the bus and tube station.

You can view their Facebook page here and follow them on Twitter here.

Hammersmith and Fulham is fortunate to have attracted retail entrepreneurs who have brightened the borough's landscape. There's amazing gelato ice creams at Bertotti Pure Italian, stunning French breakfast pastries, cakes chocolates and breads at Patisserie Sainte-Anne, the ever wonderful Brackenbury's Delicatessen and more.

I wish Diogo Esteves and his partners good luck with their new enterprise but going by the reception Café de Nata is getting from their customers, I really don't think they'll need it.

Friday, 25 March 2016

At Half-Mast: Belgian and Union Flags Over Hammersmith And Fulham

Sadly, the Belgian and Union Flags flutter together over Hammersmith Town Hall this week, mourning those murdered in the barbaric attacks on Brussels on Tuesday, and sending a message of support to the Belgian people.

Thirty one people's lives were taken and 300 more were injured. Such attacks are not a reflection of any religion, they are simply indicative of the poisoned minds of the perpetrators.
 
I know the good wishes of everyone in our borough will go to all those suffering loss because of this terrorist atrocity and to the friends and families, sitting by the hospital beds, of the 63 people still in a serious condition. 

Monday, 21 March 2016

H&F Labour's 2016/17 Budget: Tough On Wastefulness; Winning £140 Million From Developers; Putting More Money In Residents' Pockets; Modernising And Improving Services; And Resisting The Government's Attempts To Force Us To Raise Council Tax By 3.75% Each Year For The Next Four Years

Hammersmith & Fulham’s Labour administration is one of only a handful of councils in the country to freeze rather than increase council tax this year. Last year we were the only administration in London to cut it. We’ve managed to do that while also:
  • Cutting 16 of the council charges we inherited 
  • Freezing 178 other council charges this year
  • Cutting, in real terms, 85% of all council charges as measured by the income they raise
  • Cutting meals on wheels prices from £4.50 to £2.00
  • Abolishing the £12 per hour charge for home care for elderly and disabled residents and this year abolished the 15-minute-only visits to give people more time for the care they need
My colleagues and I have added to what we started last year making H&F council take a more business-like approach to stripping out waste from its budget - as we said we would (see page 4) in our manifesto. That means we have:
  • Introduced zero-based budgeting to focus on outcomes important to residents rather than just spending on things because that’s the way it’s always been done
  • Taking a new tough line to negotiating with developers winning a record £140 million for borough residents
  • Selling council services commercially
  • Cutting the numbers of expensive senior management
  • Re-configuring how the council operates and making it start to work more effectively across council departments and with other local agencies to save money and improve outcomes
  • Better debt reduction
The Evening Standard's graph demonstrating how
H&F Labour's sound financial management
is helping to deliver London's greatest
percentage reduction in council tax

for the second year in a row.
I am very grateful to Cllr. Max Schmid, the borough’s cabinet member for finance, and his team of finance officers. Max is an accountant who had previously worked at PwC where he worked to help councils and central government be more efficient. I'm glad he's now leading on that for us.

We're also keen to see how we can encourage more local services which adds to what the council does and improves life for residents so we're exploring new things like The Casserole Club and looking at how we can better work with the voluntary sector to get things done.

This new results-focussed approach to council finances has allowed us to do the following:
You can read more of about the changes we've chosen in the official H&F Council 2016/17 Annual Report.

We've done this against a backdrop of punitive measures to our finances undertaken by the Conservative government. These include:
  • Cutting the government grant to Hammersmith and Fulham Council by 66% since 2010.
  • Removing the additional annual government grant specifically given to councils to subsidise council tax cuts or freezes
  • Giving councils a number of costly new responsibilities but neglecting to provide any new funds to pay for them. For example, new schemes like Staying Put are good ideas but that programme will alone cost H&F roughly £500,000.00.
  • Basing future government grants to councils on the assumption that all councils will have increased council tax by 3.75% each year over the next 4 years. In Hammersmith and Fulham that means the government will subtract £2 million a year from all future annual grants in the expectation we will raise that sum by putting council tax up by 3.75% each year.
Hammersmith & Fulham's Conservative councillors had little to say about any of this. They haven't been around much since losing the local elections in 2014 but the borough's opposition leader did argue against H&F Labour having reduced meals-on-wheels charges, implying we should continue with their aggressive approach. He also claimed that the government's dramatic cuts to council funding were part of a strategy he supported that would free up councils to do their own thing on finances which is, er... an interesting take on things.
H&F's Labour administration will not raise council tax. We will continue to take a tough, cost-cutting approach to wastefulness so we genuinely put more money back into residents' pockets while modernising and improving council services.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

What's The Rationale For Reducing Speed Limits? What Did The Consultation Conclude? What Will Happen Next?

Reducing traffic speeds saves lives. It’s also the significant factor in reducing the severity of any traffic injury. That’s particularly important for children and even more so for very young children as this powerful account by a motorist tells.

That’s why cities around the world, such as New York with its Vision Zero scheme, and councils across the UK are doing their best to reduce traffic speeds and provide safer zones in residential and high accident rate areas.

There are many groups campaigning for much lower urban speed limits too. Those include the Child Accident Prevention Trust20's Plenty, Living Streets and The London Cycling Campaign who are calling on councils to cut speeds to 20 mph.

On 9 June 2015 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced his target to halve the number of people killed or seriously injured on London's roads by 2020 – which would mean a reduction of more than 14,000 Londoners’ unnecessary deaths or serious injuries by 2020.

And just over a year earlier and after having carried out borough-wide manifesto consultation meetings with residents from all political persuasions, my fellow Labour councillors and I were elected with a manifesto commitment (see page 12) to extend the number of 20 mph safer zones in Hammersmith and Fulham.

So last year, also on 9 June, Hammersmith and Fulham Council began a formal 9-week consultation with local residents about extending the 20 mph safer zones to more of the Borough’s streets. The results that came back can be summarised as:
  • 45% Yes to all the roads H&F Council is responsible for
  • 26% Yes but not on main roads listed by each respondent
  • 29% No, not on any more of the Borough’s roads 
The formal consultation produced a 71% majority to introduce some form of increase in the number of 20 mph roads. There have also been two public Policy and Accountability (PAC) meetings were residents attended and took part in the discussions. Since then officials have been studying the details of the roads highlighted by the 26%. They will shortly be bringing proposals forward.

But not everyone is happy with that. H&F Conservatives have long been against 20 mph safer zones as you can read here and here. They argue 20 mph safer zones are anti-motorist. Indeed, one local Conservative recently confided that thinks it is the fault of parents if their children are killed or seriously injured in a traffic accident because they had clearly failed to properly teach them road safety rules. I disagree.

Rather than argue that point publicly, H&F’s Conservative councillors claim the council's consultation responses show a 55% majority against any form of extension in the number of 20 mph safer zones. They're also falsely telling residents that this administration will ignore the results of the consultation and is planning to introduce a blanket borough-wide 20 mph scheme on all roads. H&F Conservatives are either using the same numeracy skills as those that led them to unnecessarily gift hundreds of millions of pounds to property developers or they are deliberately seeking to mislead people - as seems to be their default mode of operation. Others are peddling the Conservatives’ line too.

Back in 1999 I worked with residents and businesses to introduce the 20 mph Grove Home Zone in Hammersmith. By 2005, rat-running through the area had reduced by 27%, speeds had dropped by over 10% and, along with other 20 mph safer zones, it contributed to accident rates falling across Hammersmith and Fulham by 72%.

The Council's highways's officials will soon bring proposals forward that match the results of the formal consultation. That means there will not be a blanket borough-wide 20 mph scheme but the council will add many more 20 mph safer zones. Those will paid for by Transport for London who are rightly determined to reach the Mayor's accident reduction figures and in the process it will save the lives of, and reduce the seriousness of injuries of, people living in, working in and visiting our borough.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Vive la France! Tricolour And Union Flag At Half-Mast Over Hammersmith Town Hall

The Tricolour and Union Flag fly together over 
the Town Hall in solidarity against 
last night's terrorism
It is deeply saddening that for the second time this year the Tricolour and the Union Flag fly together at half-mast over Hammersmith Town Hall following last night's sickening terrorists' attacks on Paris.

We send a message of heart-felt sympathy and solidarity to the family and friends of all those lost or injured and to France.

In Hammersmith and Fulham we are fortunate to have over 5,400 French citizens as part of our diverse local community. I know that people of all nationalities, of all faiths and of no faith stand together in condemning last night's terrorism.

The objective of the terrorists behind the atrocities is clear but where they seek to divide us we will remain united.

Vive la France!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Bin Service Retained In Full Despite George Osborne's Massive Funding Cuts To H&F's Budget

This tax-payer funded Conservative
propaganda was not only expensive for
residents it was also a blatant lie.
They still haven't learn't their lesson
In February 2013, when H&F Conservatives ran our council, they used tens of thousands of pounds of tax payers' money to put a glossy magazine (see picture) through every letterbox in the borough. On the cover they had blazened the word "SAVED" across a picture of Charing Cross Hospital. By any measure, that was a blatant lie and the public duly punished them for that and much more at the subsequent local elections in May 2014. Far from learning the lesson of this they're still up to their old tricks.

So if you have received an email, a letter or a petition from H&F Conservatives claiming that Hammersmith and Fulham's new Labour administration is planning to reduce the number of bin collections or even contemplating reducing the borough's bin collection then let me be very clear. That is also a blatant lie.

The Council will retain the weekly bin collection service. In fact, the borough's cabinet has not ever considered reducing it. The current bin service will be retained in full for as long as there's a Labour administration in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Refuse collection is a core service so we will keep that and other essential services despite David Cameron (Con), George Osborne (Con) and Greg Hands (Con) introducing the biggest central government funding cuts to this borough in a generation.

Ironically, the last major cut to the borough's environmental services was made to the street cleaning service by Cllr. Greg Smith and his fellow Conservatives on 11 November 2013 - almost six months before the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham removed H&F Conservatives from office. Greg Smith is now the leader of the borough's Conservatives but back then he was the council's cabinet member responsible for the street cleaning service . You can read the official council papers here. They're insightful as you'll note that while H&F Conservatives' half a million pounds cut was agreed in November 2013, they also rather sneakily decided to delay its implementation to June 2014 - a month after the date of the local elections which they had strongly believed they were going to win. There's more details about H&F Conservatives' cut to street cleaning here.

The Conservative government's massive cuts in public spending have forced half of all councils up and down the country to reduce the frequency of refuse and recycling collections but, for as long as there is a Labour administration at our local council, that’s NOT going to happen here in Hammersmith & Fulham  - and that's a guarantee.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Rosemary Pettit To Chair New Independent H&F Air Quality Commission

H&F suffers five of the country's air pollution black-spots
Hammersmith Flyover is the fifth worst air pollution black-spot in the country and the borough suffers four of the UK’s other worst areas for filthy air.

At the end of June I asked Rosemary Pettit to chair The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham’s Air Quality Commission which she kindly agreed to do. That independent commission will examine the problems and recommend a comprehensive series of actions for the council to consider and undertake.

Rosemary is a non-political appointment. Until last month she chaired the Hammersmith Society and prior to that she was the membership secretary of the Brackenbury Residents Association. She will lead a review that engages both experts and residents from across the borough in one of the most important but low profile issues affecting all of us.

Air pollution is a silent killer. It’s linked to lung and heart conditions, breast cancer and diabetes. The health problems air pollution causes is estimated to cost the UK up to £20 billion a year to treat.

Roughly 30,000 Britons are believed to die prematurely each year because of the UK’s dirty air and London’s air is the filthiest with the 50 top worst black-spots in the country.

All of us who live and work in London breathe in unhealthy levels of the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The UK signed up to the European Union’s limit of 40 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre on average per year. The latest figures demonstrate that people living, working or simply passing by Hammersmith Flyover are breathing in air that has 114 micrograms of NO2 in it. Other spots around the Westway were also well over EU safe limits. That can’t be allowed to continue.

You can find out about air quality near your home, work or children’s school by checking this excellent website.

Where we can, we try to work with residents rather than having their council do things to them. There are a number of resident led and independent working parties working with us to develop better policies across a range of areas.

It’s important that H&F Council take a different approach to improving our air pollution and also encourages the GLA and the government to find greener solutions too. I am grateful to Rosemary and the other people that will join her on this critically important piece of work.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Please Vote Yes For A 20 MPH Hammersmith And Fulham

I’m in favour of speed limits being lowered to 20mph. It saves lives and significantly cuts the chances of people being seriously hurt in traffic accidents. That’s particularly important for children but also for other pedestrians and cyclists too.

You can help make H&F 20mph by taking part in the consultation here.

Lowering speeds to 20mph has some interesting side effects. Studies demonstrate how it changed the tone of the neighbourhoods where it happened - even apparently statistically increasing the chances of people knowing their neighbours.

If residents vote to lower speed limits in Hammersmith and Fulham the bill for the changes will be picked up by Transport for London (TfL) which is chaired by the London Mayor.

Shortly after I was first elected in 1998 my fellow Labour ward councillor and I led a residents’ working party to consider cutting speeds in an area of Hammersmith north of Glenthorne Road and bounded by Goldhawk and Dalling Roads and the Hammersmith and City tube line. I recall that 624 people took part in that consultation with over 75% voting to say yes to 20mph and the introduction of the Grove Home Zone.

Walk around what’s now become known as Brackenbury Village and it’s a peaceful place. Less cars use the area as a cut through and far less cars, motorbikes and vans shoot past at 30mph and above which has made it a much safer area. If you haven’t seen this wonderful neighbourhood for yourself, I advise a visit - especially if you want to know how the area you live in might change for the better if the speed limits of vehicles are lowered.

You have a chance to make that happen because H&F Council is consulting residents on the proposals to cut speed limits to 20mph for all residents. My fellow Labour councillors said we’d do that before the election and wrote that pledge into our manifesto for one clear reason: it saves lives and reduces injuries.

It takes two minutes to take part via the freepost consultation packs arriving in homes across the borough and you can fill in the consultation form online at:

www.lbhf.gov.uk/20mph.

Over the seventeen years I’ve been an elected representative I have met many constituents. The most harrowing meetings was with the mother of a child who had tragically been killed in a local traffic accident. That still happens to too many families.

The data clearly demonstrates how lower speeds equate to lower accident rates. So please take a moment to ensure we have safer streets across Hammersmith and Fulham and vote yes to 20mph.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Raising Commercial Revenue For H&F Will Be Crucial As David Cameron's Government Has Introduced The Most Draconian Cuts To Local Government In Modern Times

Cllr. Ben Coleman
taking on responsibility for
generating commercial revenue
for H&F Council
Shortly before Christmas the government announced that it would deliver another consecutive year of funding cuts to Hammersmith & Fulham Council – this year that amounts to a real terms reduction in our budget of over ten percent.

On taking office last year my fellow Labour councillors and I cut our special responsibility allowances (our pay) by 10% and cancelled hundreds of thousands of pounds being wasted on council produced magazines and lamp post vanity banners - which often portrayed leading Conservative councillors. By the time of our first full budget in February we had made £24 million of the £71 million of spending reductions we need to make to balance the books over this four year term.

But we need to raise money too. That's why we will shortly be interviewing for a new commercial director. We have also hired a new cabinet member for commercial revenue and resident satisfaction as we want to do everything possible to minimise costs, to residents, protect vital services and put more money back into residents' pockets.

We have rejected the blanket stealth tax approach of the last Conservative administration. We had inherited proposals to: introduce an immediate 14.7% hike in parking charges; to increase over 500 council charges by much more than inflation; and to freeze council tax. We binned all of those.

Instead, we used the savings we had made in our first year's budget to freeze parking charges, abolish home care charges for disabled and elderly residents and cut meals on wheels prices by 33%. We have frozen the vast majority of council charges and are the only council in London to cut council tax this year.

We need to modernise much of the way the council works making it more innovative, more business-like and more responsive to residents.

Zero-based service reviews are one new initiative we had in our manifesto which we're now introducing. That seeks to reinvent established services. We’re already finding more efficient ways different departments and different organisations can work together to save money and in many cases improve results.

But we need to find innovative ways of raising money too. So we will work with residents to help the Council become more business-like in its approach and raise commercial revenue - the proceeds of which will be used to benefit residents across the borough. 

Sunset Over Hammersmith Bridge

I took this photo of Hammersmith Bridge a couple of weeks back.

The photo captures some of the beauty of that evening (Sunday 28th June) but it was much more stunning than my phone was able to capture.

I've always found walking along Hammersmith and Fulham's share of the river bank to be an uplifting experience but that sunset was really something.

We've Negotiated 510 New Affordable Homes In Our First Year And Won £52.15 Million More For Residents On Deals H&F's Former Conservative Administration Had Already Done But The Government Needs To Act To Help Tackle The London Housing Crisis

Tackling the London housing crisis needs to be a key priority for all parts of government. My fellow Labour councillors and I argued for that in our manifesto last year and since being given the opportunity to lead Hammersmith and Fulham Council we have so far negotiated with developers and housing associations to ensure that 510 new affordable homes will be built. And we're in negotiations to deliver more.

Changing the nature of H&F Council's relationship with developers away from what it had been under H&F Conservatives was critical to this. Unlike our predecessors: we do not take hospitality from property developers; we publish meetings with developers on the Council's website; and on occasion we invite residents to attend and take part.

Where we could, we re-opened property deals Conservative councillors had already agreed with developers and we renegotiated them. By last summer we had won £16.2 million in extra funds. Now that figure stands at £52.15 million.

That extra money paid the largest ever number of council funded police officers to be put on Hammersmith and Fulham's streets in the Borough's history. And the rest is being used to build 231 new affordable homes and to buy and to rent.

Our first new deal with a developer went to the planning committee some weeks ago. We negotiated just short of £100 million for the Borough. That will be used to build another 279 new affordable homes to buy and rent. That’s a better deal than any other deal done in this borough in recent years.

Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the government used to provide millions of pounds in grants specifically to build new affordable homes. That was abolished by the last Conservative/Lib Dem government.

So now, negotiating a fair deal with developers is essential to ensuring we have any funds to build new affordable homes. The London Mayor's London Plan says that forty percent of new developments should be set aside for "affordable housing".

But there are too many property firms who play the system. They wrongly claim their schemes will not sustain anything but a little and sometimes no affordable new homes. Viability reports are at the heart of this scam. So it’s not uncommon during some of our tougher negotiations for me to take a developer’s viability report and drop it into the bin. The BBC's Sunday Politics programme featured our approach in this video and the Guardian refers to it in this informative feature.

Apart from removing funding, it is evident that the government does not understand what is happening to the London property market. Government inspectors often get it wrong accepting developers' viability assessments at face value thus robbing the public purse of millions of pounds that should have gone to pay for vital infrastructure and services. And the government have made disastrous changes to the planning system that are simply not appropriate for London. That includes changes to Permitted Development Rights, Local Development Orders on Brown Field Land and Vacant Building Credit all of which reduce the ability of borough councils to secure important funding and affordable housing.

Meanwhile, the West London property market continues to resemble an international gold rush with developers and speculators from around the globe reaping returns that often exceed what could be earned in hedge funds and other high return investments. With Hammersmith and Fulham at times seeing the fasting rising land prices in the country developers are literally scouring the borough looking for sites that might allow them a share of this bonanza.

And even the term "affordable" has been twisted when used as the government's definition for housing as that definition includes too many homes that are simply unaffordable for the vast majority of Londoners.

All this makes finding a good home in London difficult. At one end people in their twenties and thirties struggle to get onto the property ladder and (as Shelter says) face spending a lifetime living in expensive and often unsuitable private rented accommodation.  At the other end of the problem there are record numbers of people undergoing the personal calamity of finding themselves homeless. Surely we as a country can do better that that...

I understand and support the need for businesses to make a return on their investment but developers need to do their bit and help deliver the necessary homes Londoners can afford and need.

My fellow Labour councillors and I tell every property developer who seeks to negotiate with us, that this new administration serves at the pleasure of the record 22,163 borough residents who hired us to represent them. We have a very clear job specification to build "homes for residents, not overseas investors" and to "put residents first, not property speculators".

Good developers recognise that we needs homes for some residents at social social rent, we need other types of genuinely affordable housing and we need genuinely affordable homes that residents can buy to get themselves a foot on the property ladder. We now need the government to do the same and work with us to face down the challenges and do everything we can to help tackle the London Housing Crisis.