Sunday, 29 March 2015

Ten Months Since Labour Won Control Of "Cameron's Favourite Council" And Here's Some Of The Things We've Done

H&F Council's former Conservative administration designed the
borough's logo in the official colours of the Conservative Party: dark
blue and green. We've kept the logo but coloured it a patriotic
red, white and blue instead.
It's ten months since my fellow Labour councillors and I were hired by the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham to deliver this manifesto. Since then, we've been working to do what we said we'd do. Here's an update on some of what's happened so far.

The first thing we did was to announce an immediate review of the closure of the award winning Sulivan Primary School which was featured on BBC News here. We later saved the school and part of that story was featured in the Daily Mirror here.

My fellow Labour councillors and I then CUT our special responsibility allowances (our pay) by 10% - which is in direct contrast to what our Conservative predecessors did. We wanted to set the right tone when approaching the Council's £71 million budget gap we inherited.

Here's some of the other things we're doing or have already done:
  • Defending Charing Cross Hospital. We changed the Council's position from one of supporting the hospital's demolition and supporting the closure of its A&E under the Conservatives to one of vehemently opposing that. There are many things we are doing to expose how weak the government's hospital closure plans are and we have set up this public enquiry chaired by the formidable Michael Mansfield QC. Last year we asked people to stand with us to defend our hospital - that's exactly what we're doing.
  • Won over £50 million by renegotiated inherited property deals. By the middle of the summer a small team of my fellow Labour councillors and I had renegotiated £16.2 million in extra funds for our borough from deals Conservative councillors had already concluded and closed the book on. That figure is now over £50 million as the BBC's Sunday Politics programme featured here. We are working to win more. 
  • Put the largest ever number of council funded police onto H&F's streets. Using some of the money from the renegotiated property deals we've funded 44 police officers. It's not usually the council's job to do that but we believe it is important to support police numbers when the London Mayor is cutting them - we also promised we'd do that before last year's council elections.
  • Abolished charges for home care for disabled and elderly residents. This leaked memo in 2008 underlined the risk many elderly and disabled residents faced when the Conservative administration introduced charges for vital home care. We have cancelled the £12 per hour charge. We paid for that by shutting down council magazines, lamp post vanity banners and council propaganda posters as was featured in BBC Radio 4's You And Yours programme.
  • Put residents first not property developers. Unlike our predecessors, Labour councillors do not take any hospitality from people wanting to do business with the council. Despite a small number of some of the worst type of developers camping out in Mayor Boris Johnson's offices in an attempt to undercut residents and undercut the public purse, we have taken a responsibly firm line with property developers. We have also introduced new policies so: we publicly record who we meet on the council's website; we invite residents to take part in some of the meetings; and have given residents speaking rights at planning meetings.
  • Homes for residents not overseas investors. We have so far negotiated for 231 new affordable homes to be built and are working to get more. We halted council house sales to property speculators and cut rents from the Conservatives' proposed 4.58% increase to a 2.89% increase. We've also set up this independent housing commission so council house residents themselves can decide what happens to their homes in future.
  • New support for food banks, the homeless and the voluntary sector. The charity and voluntary sector plays an important role in our community so we have increased their budget by 25% which, when you add the cuts the Conservatives had planned, is 40% more funding than they would have had. We have started a new policy of supporting our local food banks and are also funding measures to reduce the causes of food poverty.
  • Budgets and efficiencies. The Lord Adonis review is helping deliver savings. We've also renegotiated contracts with suppliers, are paying down historic debt, cutting the numbers of expensive senior managers and are introducing zero based service reviews. There's much else we're doing too as you can read here. That means this year we have made £24 million in savings. These are tough times and we're determined to protect residents and do everything possible to make savings fairly.
  • Cuts in council charges and we're the only council in London to cut council tax. Meals and wheels prices rose by £700 a year under the Conservatives and they used some harsh tactics to deter usage. We've immediately cut meals on wheels prices by 33%. In June H&F's former CEO told me that the Conservatives had been planning to raise parking charges by 14.7%. We halted that and froze parking charges instead. We have in fact cut 16 council charges, frozen 139 other council charges and 90% of all council charges, as measured by the income they raise, will be cut in real terms. The council's former Conservative administration used fees and charges as stealth taxes. They had some of the highest and some of the maddest in the country. We halted their charges for residents using a fitness trainer in local parks this year and forced a re-think on this disgraceful new charge for grieving parents last year. We will continue to approach this area fairly. We've also cut council tax too - just as we promised - and are the only council in London to have done so.
  • Supporting local businesses. We're doing everything we can to be a business friendly administration and want Hammersmith and Fulham's economy to be stronger. We're supporting independent retailers and arranged a Festive Market which had 10,000 shoppers pack North End Road in just one day demonstrating how by working with local businesses we might be able to regenerate deteriorating shopping areas in the future. We have already begun to switch the council's purchasing power to support local businesses and are undertaking many other pro-business initiatives.

The above list is a summary of just some of the things my colleagues and I have done or are doing. There's much we're having to fix too. For example, in November 2013 Conservative councillors cut £465,000 from the street cleaning budget but arranged the cut in services to come in in June 2014 - just days after the local elections. They also extended their street cleaning contract with Serco to 2021. You can read more about that here.

I remain deeply grateful to all of the 22,163 residents who voted to give us the opportunity to do this job. My fellow Labour councillors and I are trying to do things differently for all residents - doing more things with local people rather than to them. You can find out more about that and what H&F Council is now doing in this booklet – the influence of our manifesto is evident. As you'll see, there's still much more to do.

Meanwhile, if you're keen to support a new local independent retailer, my top tip for those who like beautiful French cakes, pastries, chocolate and breads, is pop into the new Patisserie Sainte-Anne. It moved from Paris to King Street, Hammersmith last year and is a wonderful addition to our borough. 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

What's Happening To Council Housing In Hammersmith and Fulham?

Residents chatting with the Rt Hon Keith Hill
H&F Conservatives have put two individually addressed mail shot letters out to council housing residents saying that council homes are about to be privatised by H&F's new Labour administration. That is patently untrue.

Last year my fellow Labour councillors and I promised in our manifesto (page 7) that we would "take immediate measures to protect council homes now and in the future" from unwanted demolition. We promised to "work with council housing residents to give them ownership of the land their homes are on" and said "each year the Conservatives have hiked rents and service charges up by significantly more than inflation. Labour will take action to keep rents and service charges low" - that is precisely what's happening. People now have the opportunity, with the new Residents' Housing Commission and the ballot of council housing residents, to decide what they want to happen next.

The reason H&F Conservatives are putting out such nonsense is simple. They are horrified that if residents gain control of the land their homes are on, a future Conservative run council would not be able to continue to sell it all off to property developers - just as they did before voters removed them from office last May.

During the eight years H&F Conservatives ran Hammersmith and Fulham Council it became one of the most controversial housing authorities in the UK. The Conservatives social cleansing activities made them infamous in the national press with for example, this video made by The Guardian in 2009 and this article in The Independent in 2010 telling people exactly what they were doing.

H&F Conservatives are the same people who tried to hoodwink local people into believing they had "saved" Charing Cross Hospital. Now they are spreading this new and completely cynical lie as a deliberate attempt to confuse council housing residents during this review.

What will the Residents' Housing Commission do?
The independent residents-led housing commission will review all the options available for the future of council housing in the borough. The Residents' Housing Commission is chaired by the Rt Hon Keith Hill and will consider with residents all the best possible options for giving them more responsibility and control of their homes, stopping unwanted demolition and keeping rents and service charges low. The Residents' Housing Commission will then make recommendations which will be voted on by council housing residents.
This new Labour administration's ethos is to try and do things with people - not to them. We want to give local people more power about what happens in their neighbourhoods and that includes people living in properties where the council owns the freehold and the lease.

What did H&F Conservatives do?
When running Hammersmith and Fulham council, Conservative councillors described council residents as “locked in a dependency and expectancy culture” and called council housing “subsidised housing”. That type of ignorant snobbery is one of the reasons why they reduced the numbers of council homes and want residents who usually live in social housing moved out.

In a borough like Hammersmith and Fulham the Conservatives could at some point in the future win an election. If they did, people on council estates would again find themselves treated like second class citizens and thousands of council homes would again be under threat. Here's what the Conservatives were doing until they lost control of H&F council last May:
  • H&F's Conservative councillors secretly offered over a third of all council homes to property developers for sale and demolition and only admitted it after being caught out by residents on video as you can view here.
  • Despite initially denying they were even in talks to sell people's homes on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, H&F Conservative councillors went on to sell those people's homes and gave planning permission for them to be demolished - all against the wishes of the 800 households who voted 4 to 1 against the plans.
  • H&F's Conservative councillors sold individual council homes off to property developers almost whenever they became available even featuring on this episode of the BBC's Homes Under The Hammer.
  • Having cut the amount of social rented housing, H&F Conservatives would only offer housing in expensive private sector landlord (PSL) properties which locked residents into the welfare trap and was expensive for the public purse.
  • H&F's Conservative councillors successfully lobbied the Conservative/Lib Dem government (with this policy document) to hike all new rents up to 80% of market rates instead of 25% or 40%.
  • H&F's Conservative councillors hiked up rents and service charges for Hammersmith and Fulham's established residents by far more than inflation - with rents rising by as much as 7% in one year.
  • H&F Conservatives fixed the planning process to stop any new socially rented homes being built.
  • H&F Conservatives granted permission for more new homes for overseas investors than they did for UK residents.
These are just some of the things H&F Conservatives did to residents living in or needing social and council housing. Any study of their record gives an informed insight to the antipathy they have for our fellow residents living in council homes. Despite all of this, H&F Conservatives are bizarrely making out in their literature that they're now allied to Defend Council Housing and other left-wing groups.

What have H&F Labour done on social housing since winning last May's council election?
A lot has happened since the 22nd May 2014 when voters gave Labour control of H&F Council. We're working to do a lot more. Here's what we've done so far:
  • We’ve halted council homes sales to property developers.
  • We’ve re-negotiated H&F Conservatives' property deals and won 231 new affordable homes and we're in talks to deliver many more.
  • We have REDUCED the proposed rise in average council rent and service charges from 4.58% to 2.89% for council tenants.
  • We have FROZEN council management fees on service charges for council leaseholders.
  • We prioritise homes for residents, not overseas investors.
  • We are defending residents whose homes have already been sold.
  • We have set up a Residents’ Housing Commission to: give residents greater control and responsibilities; help them protect council homes against unwanted demolition and redevelopment; and keep rents and service charges low.
Who is the Rt Hon Keith Hill?
Keith Hill is the chair of H&F's new residents-led housing commission. He is a former housing minister with one of his most notable achievements being ensuring billions of pounds worth of investment into improving council and housing association homes through the Decent Homes programme.

Keith has an expert knowledge of housing and will work for H&F council housing residents to ensure they get the information and the independent support and advice they need when working through all the possible options for the future of their homes.

Keith is also famously one of the nicest people in public life. You can read more about Keith and the commission here.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

H&F Labour Negotiates Extra Funds For Extra Police

Cllr Sue Fennimore (Lab): why more police
not less is H&F Labour's approach
Shortly after the local elections officials presented a series of deals with property developers that the former Conservative administration had agreed and closed the book on. My fellow Labour councillors and I re-opened those negotiations and have as a consequence secured millions of pounds in extra funds for the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham.

That means that at a time when the Conservative/Lib Dem government and Conservative Mayor of London are cutting police numbers for our borough, H&F's new Labour administration has agreed to step in and provide a 22% increase in the number of council-funded police officers able to protect our residents. That is the largest amount of council funded police officers in the borough's history.

This was debated last night. I guess I felt sorry for most of the Conservative councillors who looked sick to their stomachs that we had done as we promised we'd do, throughout our time in opposition and in our manifesto and achieved more than they ever did on policing and all within just six months of taking office.

One Conservative councillor, who should probably remain nameless, became so ridiculously full of rage during Councillor Sue Fennimore's speech that he could not stop himself yelling out abuse in anger.

Sue spoke eloquently about the extra police so I thought I'd highlight what she said here:

"Thank you Madam Mayor. I want to start by paying tribute to all those that work to fight to reduce crime: Police officers; PCSOs; this council’s own community safety teams; and many, many others. They rightly deserve our thanks and our support.

There is much talk of crime figures but as we all know, statistics can never tell the personal stories of those that have suffered crime:

The elderly woman too afraid to go sleep in her own bed after her home was ransacked by burglars; the young person violently attacked; a community intimidated by drug dealers; the woman beaten in front of her children by a boyfriend who had become all too confident of getting away with it. We all have a duty to cut crime.

This time last year my fellow Labour councillors and I promised to: “put police back on the beat.” I am therefore extremely pleased this new Labour administration is delivering on that promise and has prioritised extra funding for extra police. We will in fact be providing 22% more police - the largest number of council funded police officers in Hammersmith and Fulham’s history.

A big step to tackling crime, and a step taken less than six months since our new Labour administration assumed office on 16th June.

We want these Hammersmith and Fulham police officers to cut serious crime. I was not impressed to discover that just over two years ago we had a police officer stationed on the forecourt of the BP petrol station. There had been a spate of people driving off and not paying for petrol and that forced crime figures to shoot up. Stealing petrol is a criminal offence and should be confronted but a police officer pulled off the front-line and stationed on a petrol station forecourt is hardly the smartest use of limited public resources. So we expect all the police officers Hammersmith and Fulham Council funds to concentrate on reducing serious crimes.

As we know, crime figures can be disputed. In 2008 Boris Johnson said “We need to stop kidding ourselves. We all know that we are suffering from an epidemic of unreported crime”.

Strong words…

In fact, Boris Johnson pledged to take “take personal responsibility” and to tackle “the target-driven culture”. It’s a shame that he broke that promise. The situation now is that Mayor of London and this Conservative/Lib Dem government is cutting police numbers. And despite a promising start, this Borough’s former Conservative administration lost their way on policing.

On the 17th July 2008 Conservative councillors announced they had agreed a cut, yes a cut in police sergeants from 16 to 12. The quote given by the Conservatives was telling: “To be only losing four Safer Neighbourhoods Sergeants at a time when other boroughs are losing more is good news."

“Good news!?”… Really?

By 2014 Conservative councillors had become little more than apologists for a Mayor and a government that had reduced the borough’s police by 32 and planned to cut more. 

Residents voted for a different way…

So let us be clear: All - and I stress ALL - the money for the extra police this Labour administration is putting onto the streets has come about after we re-negotiated property deals Conservative councillors had already agreed and closed the book on.

That is staggering! No soft touch for property firms. No soft touch for criminals. This new Labour administration is:

Tough on crime

Tough on the causes of crime

And taking a tough, hard-nosed approach to winning extra funds to deliver extra police – and all just when the Conservatives have gone soft.

Thank you.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Nous sommes Charlie, Vive la France!

The Tricolour and Union Jack fly together at half-mast over Hammersmith Town Hall sending a message of solidarity to the family and friends of those lost during last week's terrorism, to surviving victims and French citizens everywhere following the atrocious attacks in Paris.
There are 5,400 French citizens living in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham who are are an important part of our local community. In fact, after  English, French is the second most widely spoken language in the borough.
Residents from all faiths, no faith and all nationalities have been touched by these terrible events and I am proud that our council stands shoulder to shoulder with our friends across the Channel stating Nous sommes Charlie, Vive la France!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

H&F Labour's 2015/16 Budget: Council Tax Cut; Hundreds Of Council Charges To Be Frozen; Cut, Abolished Or Kept To An Inflation Rise; And The Largest Ever Increase In Council Funded H&F Police Officers

H&F Labour's election pledge cards
At next month’s budget meeting my fellow H&F Labour councillors and I propose to cut council tax by 1%, to abolish home care charges for disabled and elderly people, to cut meals on wheels charges by 33% and cut 14 other council charges. We are likely to be one of the few, and maybe the only borough in the country, to cut council tax and we will be one of only two to abolish home care charges. All of this is exactly what we promised we would do on pledge cards (see attached) and in our manifesto prior to the local elections.

We inherited budget proposals from H&F’s former Conservative administration to freeze council tax. Meanwhile, many residents have been surprised to learn that, H&F's Conservative councillors also planned an immediate 14.7% hike in parking charges and to increase school meals and hundreds of other charges by much more than inflation. We have frozen parking charges and propose to freeze school meals and 137 other council charges – which is a real terms cut in costs. All bar a few of the remaining council charges will only be increased by inflation.
The budget contains much. For example, regular readers will recall that we are also about to put the largest ever amount of council funded police officers onto the streets of Hammersmith and Fulham in the borough's history with ALL of the money for the extra police coming from property deals we re-opened and re-negotiated after the former Conservative administration had agreed them and incompetently closed the book on them. We have also negotiated millions of pounds in extra new affordable homes to buy and to rent. We're about to provide new support to local food banks, along with new initiatives on homelessness, cycling and the environment. Most importantly, we are undertaking a range of measures to defend Charing Cross Hospital including putting together The West London Independent Health Commission chaired by the brilliant Michael Mansfield QC.

H&F Conservatives'
lamp post
vanity banners:
Last month the Conservative/Lib Dem government announced that it will again cut funding to Hammersmith & Fulham Council. This time the cut is officially 4.7% but that increases to a cut of over 10% if ring-fenced budgets and new statutory obligations are added into the list of the council’s financial commitments.

We are now five years into the government’s economically illiterate austerity programme. Local government has taken the brunt of the public sector cuts with even the Conservative flagship Barnet Council producing what they call the Graph of Doom to describe the government’s approach to council finances. So how have we balanced the books?

Well, for all their propaganda and spin H&F’s Conservatives were pretty weak when it came to negotiating contracts, they also employed too many senior managers, they wasted vast amounts of public money on irrelevances and even messed up many aspects of their 'tri-borough' initiative causing unnecessary costs and high profile service failures.

The first thing my fellow Labour councillors and I cut was £400,000 worth of lamp post vanity banners (the attached featuring the current Conservative leader of the opposition) and council magazines. Since we have begun to make a wide range of savings including cutting the number of senior managers; cutting the costs of the office space; making the 'tri-borough' more efficient and negotiating more effectively with suppliers and property developers.

At the last council elections H&F Conservatives put leaflets out falsely telling the public that my fellow Labour councillors and I would put council tax up by 7.7%. Now, that we've done as we said we'd do and cut council tax and many other charges they're all awash.

We said we’d put money back into people’s pockets and improve services. I’m glad that we are able to do exactly what we promised and do precisely that.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Latest Update On Gibbs Green And West Kensington Estates

I sent this letter (click on each attachment to enlarge) to residents of the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates yesterday. Unfortunately, there are limits to what can be disclosed at this point and I understand how its contents will initially be disheartening for those that have campaigned against this scheme for such a long time. But I believe residents have a right to understand the reality of the situation that the borough's former Conservative councillors left us with.

Earlier this year, my fellow Labour councillors and I stood on a manifesto (page 23) that was clear in our approach to this scheme. I appreciate how, in this age when people are particularly disbelieving of anything politicians say, that it might be hard for some to believe we are still sincere in wanting to do want we said we'd do. But we are.

We are doing what we promised on many fronts and there's no reason we wouldn't stick to our word and do our best on this one. For example: we have already saved Sulivan Primary School; have cancelled H&F Conservatives' policy of selling council homes to property spectulators; we are abolishing home care charges for the elderly and disabled; have negotiated millions of pounds worth of extra affordable homes to rent and buy; are about to deliver new funding and support for local food banks and are putting the greatest ever number of extra council-funded police on our streets. We are also vigorously campaigning to save Charing Cross Hospital from the Conservative/Lib Dem government's demolition plans and have already delivered on a long list of the carefully considered promises we made in our manifesto.

The former Conservative run council's scheme for the sale and demolition of the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates was signed off by the Conservative/Lib Dem government on 18th April 2013. This allowed the two estates to then be effectively sold which was actioned on 14th November 2013.

After 22nd May 2014, when my fellow Labour councillors and I were elected to run H&F Council, we began discussions with CapCo about possible better ways forward.

It was my Labour colleagues and I that discovered what H&F Conservatives were up to with peoples' homes in our borough back in 2007. News on their plans for the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates was exposed in 2008. We have consistently campaigned against all H&F Conservatives' housing sale and demolitions, making what was happening to social housing here in Hammersmith and Fulham into a national issue. We are not about to change our minds now.

The situation we inherited on the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates isn't easy but we're making some progress and CapCo have consistently given me their word that they want to do the right thing by all the residents on the two estates. I hope we will have some positive news on possible ways forward early on in the new year and that we will be able to properly engage residents on all the possible options and what they want us to do on their behalves.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

H&F Conservatives' 14.7% Parking Charges Hike Blocked! But What Does It Tell Us About How They Did Business?

In the wee small hours of election night last May I found myself being led by council officials to a Town Hall room in a small party that included Cllr. Nicholas Botterill (Con), H&F’s former council leader. We were being taken to sign the book accepting each of our positions as elected H&F councillors. We traipsed quietly from the noise of the count and just as we were about to go through a corridor door Botterill turned to me: “You’re going to be a very unpopular administration very soon” he stated. “Er, thanks” I replied. “I’m not being funny...” he added, “It’s just that the things you’re going to have to do will make you a very unpopular administration very quickly”. He was understandably shocked and upset by the huge loss H&F Conservatives suffered that night. I thanked him again for offering his view and made a note of what he said.

The next week a senior H&F Council official shuffled into my office and asked me to enact a policy that H&F Conservatives had planned for immediately after the election: “The former administration may or may not…” He advised while trying to muster what looked like a wink “…have been about to introduce a 14.7% increase in parking charges. If you do it now, it will raise three quarters of a million pounds for the rest of this year and one and a half million more pounds for each year thereafter” he concluded. “Are you trying to turn me into Nick Clegg?” I asked. The official went on to explain that my Labour colleagues and I had promised in our manifesto that we would stick within H&F Conservatives’ planned spending forecasts and that this hike would raise vital sums that would allow us to do that. We did not take the official's advice despite being lobbied to do so by him and others over the following days. Instead, we went and found over £4 million pounds of wasted spend, such as on PR and propaganda, which we cut in a mini-budget we held in June.

My fellow Labour councillors and I also propose to freeze parking charges when we vote to agree the borough's finances at February's budget council meeting. When you take inflation into account that is a real terms cut. My colleagues and I made a commitment to put money back into people’s pockets and, in these tough times, that along with other measures we propose to take, will help to do that.

Having now had six months to examine what we have inherited I think Botterill's election night comments reflect more on how H&F's Conservative administration chose to do business on Charing Cross Hospital, offering council homes for demolition and salehospitality from developers, planning, Sulivan Primary School and all of this. It is true that H&F Conservatives bequeathed us a variety of situations that aren't good and we don't like but I believe that if we're straight with people (and open when legally possible) and keep working to do what we said we'd do in our manifesto then reasonable local people will still recognise that we're on their side and are working hard for them.

Meanwhile, back to parking and it's right to reflect on H&F Conservatives' horribly bad record: back in 2007 they successfully argued for a 50% increase in parking fines; in 2009 they introduced new parking rules to catch people out over Christmas and in the same year they introduced a 55% increase in parking charges and made the Daily Telegraph's list of parking shame. We will review how to improve the borough's parking and just like everything else we're working on we will do it with residents.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

North End Road Festive Market Inspires Hope That We Can Regenerate This Great Fulham Land Mark

Shoppers packing North End Road yesterday morning
Yesterday’s North End Road Festive Market was a huge success. Over 10,000 shoppers visited. It was encouraging to see lines form at cash points and money being spent supporting local shops, regular stall holders and many, in some cases newly aspiring, local entrepreneurs. It was a wonderful way to celebrate Small Business Saturday but more importantly showed how Fulham’s North End Road could be great once again with just a little imagination and some smartly applied council support.

The plan had originated just weeks ago out of one of the Borough’s new Policy and Accountability Committees (PAC). On 17th September over a hundred local residents, shop keepers and market traders attended the Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts PAC to consider how to regenerate North End Road. Under the excellent stewardship of Cllr. Ben Coleman (Lab) they agreed to establish an action group comprising of businesses, stallholders and residents. I am extremely impressed that Ben Coleman and the rest of the action team were able to get yesterday’s event up and running so smoothly and within such a short space of time. They and the H&F Council officers (who went well beyond the extra mile to deliver it) have my thanks and respect for pulling this off.

North End Road yesterday evening
My colleagues and I promised in our manifesto - The Change We Need - that we would try to improve our shopping streets and have long called for support for small independent retailers.

This time last year and before they were elected Fulham Broadway's Councillors Ben Coleman, Alan De'Ath and Sharon Holder were actively encouraging a "buy local" campaign to support more of Hammersmith and Fulham's independent shops.

Here’s the text of what we argued needed to change from our manifesto published prior to last May's local elections:

"Improving our high streets
Our high streets are significant employers, particularly of young people. They should be vibrant places to shop and eat. Sadly, the [Conservative run] council is overseeing the decline of some of our most important high streets and parades. In a 500-metre stretch of North End Road alone, there are 20 empty shops and 17 betting and loan shops."

We now hope to build on yesterday’s success. Ben Coleman has arranged a public meeting to review how it went and what needs to happen next. If you’d like to attend that meeting it will take place at 7.00pm this Wednesday 10th December at St John's Church, North End Road, Fulham, London SW6 1PB. Alternatively you can email Ben Coleman here and let him know what you think.

'Tax On Disability' Scrapped

Possibly the worst email leaked to me during the years our borough was run by the H&F Conservatives was this one which detailed how elderly and disabled residents had been put "at risk" after H&F Conservatives introduced a new hourly charge for vital home care services. I was therefore delighted to announce on Wednesday 3rd December, which was the United Nation’s International Day of Disabled People, that this "tax on disability" will now be abolished in the London Borough of  Hammersmith and Fulham.

This was a H&F Labour manifesto pledge and my colleagues and I found the necessary £324,000 a year to do this by halting a horribly wasteful £400,000 worth of council publications and lamp post vanity banners that H&F's former Conservative administration was so fond of. Since then we have also cut the council's PR department.

This stealth tax was also expensive to administer so we will save even more but worryingly despite that, we've been advised that this had still been seen as worthwhile by H&F's former Conservative administration because it deterred other people from asking for help.

There needs to be a sea change in how we as a society look at the essential services disabled people need just to carry out basic tasks and do everyday things. I hope that by abolishing what has widely become known as a "disability tax" we can contribute to that argument.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

H&F's New Labour Administration Funds More Police Than Ever Before

Me with the excellent Cllr. Sue Fennimore (Lab), H&F's cabinet member
for social inclusion, and the borough police commander
Chief Superintendent Gideon Springer
In the run up to the last local council elections my fellow Labour candidates and I made an early pledge to "defend neighbourhood policing" and "put police back on the beat". So I am delighted that today H&F's new Labour administration announced there will soon be more H&F funded police officers protecting local residents than ever before.

We found the funds to make this investment by re-negotiating property deals H&F's former Conservative administration had previously already agreed and closed the book on. We have won millions of extra pounds and have used a proportion of that money to fund the 20% increase in police numbers taking the total number of locally funded police officers up to forty four.

I meet many residents who have been victims of crime and many more concerned about the government and London Mayor's cuts in police numbers. But most importantly, my colleagues and I promised we would deliver extra policing and I am glad that we have been able to negotiate these extra funds to deliver on that promise within our first six months in office.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Review On The Tri-Borough Shared Services Scheme Out Today

Lord Andrew Adonis published the Critical Friends Board
review today
The review of the council  shared services scheme that has become known as "tri-borough" was published today. You can read the executive summary here, the full report here and the press release put out by the Critical Friends Board here.

My colleagues and I have been broadly supportive of the idea behind this scheme from its inception and wrote about that in our manifesto. However we also had concerns about how it was put together back in 2010 and we raised those here when we were in Opposition. 

H&F's residents gave my fellow Labour councillors and I control of H&F Council in the local elections last May. We viewed it as vitally important that an independent review, devoid of vested interests, was immediately carried out. That has now concluded.

It is the most thorough and comprehensive analysis yet undertaken of the "tri-borough" initiative.  Indeed, it is the only independent review the three councils' shared services have undergone. I would like to thank Lord Andrew Adonis, Prof. Tony Travers and Deborah Lincoln for their enormous hard work and insights.

The shared services initiative has brought benefits to Hammersmith and Fulham although it is striking that the millions of pounds of savings so far achieved across the three councils are roughly equivalent to those delivered by Hackney and Lambeth and Camden on their own without undertaking such a sharing scheme. Those councils each delivered savings by stripping out layers of management instead of sharing them.

The three borough's shared services scheme will deliver a combined saving of £46.5million by 2015/16 which is well short of the £100million that the Rt Hon Eric Pickles (Con), the communities secretary, and his colleagues predicted here when the project was launched in 2010. 

The financial tsunami facing local government -  H&F is being required to make £71 million of cuts by 2017/18 - now requires a bigger and bolder approach to shared services while protecting local decision-making. I have acted immediately in implementing one of the major recommendations to appoint an exclusive chief executive for H&F. This brings about an immediate saving but also recognises the importance to each borough in having their own 'champion' directly accountable to elected representatives and therefore to borough residents. 

I have appointed Nigel Pallace as the interim chief executive to replace Nicholas Holgate who returns to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Nigel will take on the CEO's duties alongside his other role as H&F's Executive Director of Transport and Technical Services. I am grateful to Nicholas Holgate for all he has done for our borough. 

Further savings will be made from a review of senior management costs.  I am also waiting on Deloitte, which were appointed to support the review, to report back next week on an additional £1million of savings that has not already been identified by H&F's officers.

This landmark report lays the foundations for the future of shared services, not just at H&F but for all local authorities who are all facing tough financial circumstances. It recommends that shared services should not be about the creation of exclusive entities, which threaten local decision-making and accountability. It should be about sharing with as many boroughs as possible to deliver greater savings while retaining the ability for local councillors to set their own specification and standards.  That goes to the heart of each borough being able to fulfil its own democratic mandate.

I am grateful to each of the London Boroughs of Camden, Hackney and Lambeth and to our partners in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Council for sharing important information and co-operating with this review.

I look forward to working with the leaders of our two partner councils as we hope to build on their successes and the recommendations of the Critical Friends Board.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

MIPIM, Boris Johnson And H&F's New Commitment To Tackle London's Housing Crisis

MIPIM, the international property development conference came to Olympia, London last week. It’s usually held in Cannes on the French Riviera. We inherited a £9,000 stand which Conservative councillors had booked before the local elections so we took the opportunity to deck it out with the manifesto and pledge card commitments that gained a public mandate last May.
“Putting residents first” and therefore not allowing oversized developments that blight neighbourhoods, “homes for residents, not overseas investors” and “tackling London’s housing crisis” all have broad backing from H&F residents.

Responsible developers and their advisers get that. They're keen to work with H&F's cabinet member for economic development and regeneration (who is also a professor of economic geography) to help regenerate the borough, support small businesses and provide homes Londoners want and can afford. We’ve already been able to renegotiate millions of pounds in extra payments to the Borough on schemes that were said to have been done and dusted by the former Conservative Administration. That vital money will be allocated to more policing and building more low cost homes to buy and more homes at social rent.
But there are others who just see Hammersmith and Fulham with the UK’s third highest and fastest rising land values as some sort of gold rush bonanza. These speculators turn up at the planning department’s door claiming that they and their gravy-stained lobbyists have already been given the nod from Mayor Boris Johnson (Con), and the Conservative/Lib Dem government, and so their oversized schemes with pitiful amounts of genuinely affordable homes will sail through the appeals process should Hammersmith and Fulham Council even try to stick to the London Plan.
I don’t know if Boris Johnson and his team realise his name is bandied around by such people and with such carelessness. I can’t imagine any politician aspiring to lead their party could do so if there was ever any truth in these whispered allegations that the Mayor is effectively working with property speculators in such a way as to botch negotiations for more genuinely affordable homes for Londoners and crucial extra cash in this time of “the graph of doom” austerity cuts.
True to form, on the BBC last week, Boris Johnson sought to sweet-talk the opposite of what his policies were actually achieving - indicating he and his team are all too aware of where voters' hearts and minds have settled when it comes to Britain's housing crisis. That BBC News piece also featured the new H&F Council's position. London Live TV ran the story too.
Our stance is popular as well as being the right way forward. But not everyone likes it: many of our current and former Conservative councillors are furious. They had flown to MIPIM when it was on the French Riviera with the £12,000 annual tab picked up by the Borough’s tax payers. They had enjoyed lavish hospitality from developers and their eager lobbyists with free lunches and dinners, free trips to cricket games, free trips to premier league football matches, free trips to tennis tournaments and even free tickets to the Proms. And they had held private meetings with developers with no published agenda and no minutes. We have put an end to all of that, just as we said we would: it is perhaps not surprising that for the Conservatives the way we set out our messages on the MIPIM stand they'd contracted was the final insult.
Peter Bingle
Many of the former Conservative councillors are themselves now full time lobbyists for property developers and speculators - so they have a vested interest in attacking H&F's new approach. Others are unhappy too: for example, there's a lobbyist called Peter Bingle who has taken to Twitter to offer his ignorant insults about Hammersmith and Fulham’s newly assertive position, knowing that this administration's interest in his platitudes are zilch.
Things have changed. That’s what happens in democracies when the voters hire someone else to do their bidding. The message to those property firms who present ridiculous viability assessments for schemes that damage neighbourhoods and blight our borough's landscape is simple: think again or look somewhere else.