Friday 29 June 2007

Hundreds of Local Residents Turn Up in Mini-Busses to Plead with Council to Keep Community Centres.

Barbara Perry, Maureen Clark and Joyce Farndale have run their residents’ association from the College Park Community Centre for over thirty years. On Wednesday evening they told me that “There’s bingo, the pensioners club, the happy bunnies mother and toddlers group, the youth club, quiz nights and day-time child care… it’s all going to stop if they go ahead with this”. The “they” being referred to was the H&F Council’s Conservative Administration, who agreed sell off their centre in a secret meeting last month.

They weren’t the only community groups to find themselves getting evicted. The Conservatives agreed to kick out the Wormholt Residents’ Association, Shepherds Bush Community Groups and several local charities from premises, across the borough, on the same evening.

Local MP, Andy Slaughter (Lab) was at the Town Hall, with hundreds of local residents, on Wednesday evening to offer his support. Councillors Wesley Harcourt (Lab), Colin Aherne (Lab) and Mercy Umeh (Lab) petitioned the Tories to change their minds in front of the packed council meeting. Some Conservative councillors had the grace to look embarrassed when members of their front bench laughed and joked during preceding. But, they still refused to reverse their decision.

Cllr. Harcourt said “The College Park Community Centre has been a public building for 107 years - under previous Conservative and Labour Council Administrations. This makes the Council’s new slogan of Putting Residents First into a joke. There’s very few facilities in the College Park area. The people who turned up tonight are having the heart and soul ripped out of their communities. They can’t understand why anyone in any position of authority would want to do that to them

Email Andy Slaughter MP if you want to send a message of support to the campaign to save the community centres.

Thursday 28 June 2007

No Guarantees from Tory Crime Chief to Not Cut Police Again

"No!" That was the answer given by Cllr. Greg Smith (Con - see picture) - the man responsible for dealing with crime in Hammersmith and Fulham - after being asked seven times to guarantee that “temporary” Community Support Officers would not be pulled from Hammersmith Broadway ward. The refusal to guarantee the police team happened last night at a public Council meeting when the 25% cut in the local police was debated.

Cllr. Smith had cut the police budget for the ward in February of this year resulting in two PCs and one PCSO being removed from the area to shore up a police experiment in Fulham and Shepherds Bush.

Four Community Support Officers were placed into the ward at the end of April following a public campaign organised by Hammersmith Broadway ward councillors (Lisa Nandy, Mike Cartwright and myself) and backed by hundrends of local residents. However, they were only placed into the ward on a “temporary” basis which was defined as anything between "two weeks to two years" and only after an Evening Standard reporter phoned the police to ask about the 25% cut - having seen one of our leaflets in a local butcher’s shop.

While we have had some success in reversing the Conservatives cuts in police, this is hardly what residents were promised by the Tories prior to the election. Back then, the Tories said they would match Labour’s record which saw crime fall by 10% and which was the most successful of all 33 London Boroughs at the time of the 2006 local elections. The Tories then took over in May 2006 having promised to provide more police – not a quarter less or PCSOs on a “temporary” basis. Hammersmith residents deserve to have their Council Tax spent on what everyone tells us is their number one concern and that is fighting crime. My fellow ward councillors and I will continue to campaign until we get the full compliment of police on a permanent basis.

Local Councillor Wants Public to Carry 50,000 Volt Stun Guns

Our old friend, Cllr. Harry Phibbs (Con) joined the debate on the 25% Hammersmith Broadway police cut last night. Oddly, he chose to spend most of his speech quoting from the autobiography of Ali Dezaie – the borough’s new Chief Superintendent.

He could have talked about his wish to allow people to carry stun guns that deliver a 50,000 volt shock to a person. That’s not a problem he says, in this article here, as he points out that “Nobody has ever been killed by one in the UK”.

Wednesday 27 June 2007

An end of an era

I just watched Tony Blair leave Prime Minister’s Questions having received an unprecedented standing ovation from all sides of the House. The Reverend Ian Paisley gave a moving tribute to the Prime Minister with kind words also coming from David Cameron, Menzies Campbell and Labour MPs. I like Tony Blair. I attended a “goodbye” meeting for him last week along with lots of other London Labour Party members. He got a similar reception.

Bob Geldof says of Mr. Blair's achievements in today’s Sun, “The building of the economy, the re-establishment of Britain’s place in influencing the rest of Europe, 700,000 British children lifted from poverty, an improved NHS and, finally for me, the magnificent triumph of Northern Ireland and the civil and political leadership of Britain as the voice for the poor of Africa in the developed world.”

He has been a giant figure on the UK and World stage. There will be many commentators of all persuasions putting forward their views on his record but I, for one, believe that he goes from his job leaving the Country a kinder place and in a much better state than he found it. That’s a fine legacy for any Prime Minister.

Tune in and take part

The New York Times is leading on a story that young Americans are are now rediscovering an interest in politics. They're also more likely than most of the US public to support a left-leaning government. No surprises there, readers may say, as hasn’t it always been the case that the young are more left-wing? Actually, the most recent feature of young people’s voting habits across western democracies has been that they don’t. They’ve turned off and tuned out in relatively large numbers.

The New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll showed that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the two presidential candidates that the 17 to 29 age group know and are most likely to vote for – also giving President Bush an extremely low 28 per cent approval rating.

It would be interesting to see a similar poll in the UK. Groups most likely to vote here tend to be 30 plus. Decisions on knife crime, youth facilities, policing, education, sport, employment, foreign policy, the environment, the economy, women's rights, the minimum wage, etc; all affect the young as much as they do the rest of us. It would be good to have more of them (whatever their views) using their considerable electoral weight to choose which politicians get to make those decisions at a local and national level.

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Moderate Tory MP backs Brown and joins Labour

David Cameron’s in-tray had an unwelcome surprise for him this afternoon. Quentin Davies (see picture) a leading moderate Conservative MP of twenty years handed in his resignation letter as he crossed the floor to join the Labour benches. Writing to Mr. Cameron, Mr Davies said that the Conservative Party "appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything or to stand for anything". See here for the full story.

It’s a blow for David Cameron. His tactic has been to ape Labour’s language and copy the style of early new Labour – which he had been doing with some success. But political strategies are more than rhetorical style. Parties are made up of people who share a series of values. When Gordon Brown talks of social justice, opportunity for all and a fairer Britain; he is believable because he expresses values that have been Labour’s for over 100 years. Looking at the actions of our local Conservative Council (who have just pushed through £34million of cuts to local services) it’s hard to conclude that Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives share any of those values or anything like them. Quentin Davies says something similar in his letter to Mr Cameron.

Locally, we’ve had four new people join Labour in my ward (Hammersmith Broadway) during the last three weeks alone. Change is in the air, the Tories have upset many residents with their cuts in services and these local people felt motivated to join Labour and to get involved. Click here if you’d like to join too. You’ll be very welcome as I am sure Quentin Davies is happily discovering for himself.

Traffic calming from "the horse’s mouth"

I disagree with H&F Conservative Council’s aim to remove traffic calming as readers of this blog will know. My reasons are simple. It’s because there is currently no alternative that cuts accident rates.

Speed cameras are still only just being piloted for residential areas and all evidence overwhelmingly proves that traffic calming works.

However, many readers have written to me to ask why the Conservatives are even considering doing this. It’s best to let them speak for themselves. However, when you read the letter below it is worth noting that Hammersmith and Fulham has speed cushions that are ambulance friendly and does not use speed humps.

The letter is written by Cllr. Harry Phibbs (Con) who is the person pictured below. It was first published in the Hammersmith Gazette. Cllr. Phibbs is a councillor for Ravenscourt Park ward and is H&F Conservatives’ Press Spokesperson. I hope it sheds some light on their views:

“Dear Sir


Road humps are a daily source of irritation to motorists, but they also have far more serious consequences; they are a serious menace to the emergency services.

The London Ambulance Service (LAS) estimates they cause more than 500 deaths a year in London.

Dean John, of the London Fire Brigade, says: “They affect our attendance times. Each ramp delays our attendance by 10 seconds. In fires, minutes can cost lives.”

Humps are detrimental to the disabled, elderly frail people, and those with serious back or neck problems.

Disabled people may have to travel in a wheelchair strapped into a vehicle. Jolts from speed humps may cause such persons severe pain and even permanent injury.

The Transport Research Laboratory in the United Kingdom conducted emissions tests on roads with a 75-metre hump spacing and found CO2 emissions increased by 70-80 per cent, hydro-carbons by 70-100 per cent and CO2 by 50-60 per cent. They also increase noise, prompting the Noise Abatement Society to take up the issue.

The argument that humps reduce road accidents is discredited. They serve as a distraction and an irritant to motorists. Barnet Council removed its speed humps and accidents there reduced by 14.9 per cent.

Conservative, Ravenscourt Park Ward”

I believe these views are unpopular and the resulting public outcry will be enough for us to to stop the Conservative Administration from implementing this rater silly policy.

Monday 25 June 2007

When the going gets tough it’s best not to get nasty

“Let’s have a big round of applause for the out-going Labour Administration!” So said Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of H&F Council, last year at its Annual General Meeting on 24th May. It was a generous act, made only weeks after his victory in the local elections. This year’s AGM was very different in substance and tone. “We’ve made mistakes!” he exclaimed when talking about his administration’s education policies.

He was right about that. But they’ve made mistakes across plenty of other areas too. On crime, the Council has cut police numbers in the wards with the highest crime rates; they’ve been forced by the police to water down their “Zero Tolerance” plans to little more than a few laminated signs and they’ve failed to guarantee any funding for local police after April 2009. On housing; the Tories propaganda promises home ownership for all, yet they’ll deliver far less than Labour had, offering a mere 125 homes to buy while cutting affordable homes to rent by as much as 500 units. On the environment; the Council’s plans to rip out traffic calming have backfired and they’re now cutting investment into street cleaning and refuse collection by £1.5million. The worst mistakes the Administration has made have been reserved for the most vulnerable in our community; putting voluntary sector organisations out of business by removing funding and reducing help to children, the elderly, the homeless and the sick.

It must have been a difficult year. At this year’s Council AGM, Cllr. Greenhalgh’s approach was very different indeed. His speech focussed on attacking the previous Administration. Many of his comments were highly personal and against people who were not there to defend themselves. One local Tory Grandee sought me out to apologise saying of Cllr. Greenhalgh “he’s let us all down by quite a bit tonight”.

The next Council meeting will take place at 7.00pm this Wednesday, 27th June. The Opposition has called an Extraordinary Council Meeting to review many of the issues I listed above and this will follow the Council Meeting. Any members of the public can attend. I hope that they do. It is my experience that the public have a positive effect, forcing all to raise the quality of debate.

Brown Steps Ahead as Cameron Wobbles

The latest Ipsos MORI poll puts Labour three points ahead of the Tories with support for the Liberal Democrats falling from 18 to 15 per cent. More importantly, the poll published in the Observer shows that 40 per cent of voters believe Gordon Brown would make the more capable Prime Minister, compared with just 22 per cent for David Cameron. Okay, so it’s just one poll. But it’s significant as Gordon Brown is still days off from becoming the Prime Minister, he hasn't yet unvailed his policies or announced his new team.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cameron’s initially confident leadership style has wobbled after a backlash from Conservative Party members over his education policy; with political commentators now openly questioning whether he has any substance to his political platform.

It proves to be an interesting period in UK politics but one thing is certain. The British public will judge their politicians specifically on what they offer to them. They will want to see well thought out policies on the economy, crime, health, education, housing and all the other areas that contributes to their long term security and quality of life. On that criteria, Gordon Brown has already been ahead for a very long time.

Saturday 23 June 2007

All Politics is Local

Neighbours in Cambridge Grove met to have the inaugural meeting of their new residents’ association last Saturday, 16th June. They had invited all residents of the street to attend; they have a written constitution and they held open and fair elections for the committee positions. The Cambridge Grove Residents’ Association now joins a vibrant community of residents’ and tenants’ associations across the country.

This new residents’ association comes at a time when there is genuine political debate about how much power can be delegated down to a truly local level. The Government has said that it wants to allow for the establishment of localised parish councils in London. This would give more opportunities for local residents to influence their immediate neighbourhood on a mix of “liveability” issues. They could have their own devolved budgets and be charged with making decisions on such matters as street cleanliness, green spaces, community safety, traffic calming, play/youth facilities and physical improvements to a locality.

The thirty three London Councils set up a Commission on London Governance, along with the London Assembly, in response to this Government proposal. The Commission decided that there was no convincing case for parish councils in London with the view of the majority of members of the Commission being against the proposal. You can read a detailed report about it here.

Maybe the issue for us in the UK is cultural. In his 1998 polemic; Bring Home the Revolution, Jonathan Freedland describes how power is genuinely localised in the United States with communities making their own decisions on an eclectic range of issues. He argues that Americans accept that it is their right to have local power but that in Britain we still see power as something given to the people by state institutions.

Whatever the reality, it is my view, after nine years in local politics, that power can and should be devolved to a localised level whenever possible. While Councils will always have a strategic role to play, they are all too often slow to respond, distant and overly bureaucratic. Trust the People should be the motto of local government and that means empowering residents to make decisions for themselves.

Many of our fellow citizens feel disenfranchised from politics but remain concerned about the quality of life in their neighbourhoods. "All politics is local", as the late, great American Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O'Neil (see pic) once stated. The new Cambridge Grove Residents' Association signified civic regeneration for that small area. Civic life has long been a cornerstone of our democracy. This is something that should be encouraged by devolving some powers for people to use for the betterment of their local neighbourhood. In doing so we make our democracy stronger at all levels.

Tuesday 19 June 2007

H&F Council Hopes to Remove Traffic Calming From Residential Streets

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Council Administration admitted that it had been surprised by the strength of public feeling after saying it wanted to remove traffic calming and 20mph Homes Zones from the borough's residential streets. Many local residents directly emailed Conservative Administration's councillors to object to their plans following a campaign to save the Home Zones led by my fellow ward councillors and I. Now, Cllr. Nicholas Botterill (Con), the Cabinet Member for the Environment, seems to have backtracked on his policy stating at a recent council meeting that “if people wanted to keep it in some areas then we'd look at that favourably”.

The Tory Administration first raised fears that traffic calming would be removed when a letter titled Making Life Easier for Local Motorists was sent to Hammersmith residents from the H&F Conservative Party on the 9th March 2005. It stated that "Driving through Brackenbury Village has become an ordeal”. Then, having won the 2006 local elections; Cllr. Botterill confirmed that the new Administration would seek to the Home Zone's remove traffic calming at the full Council Meeting in September 2006. The Council then began to review the issue and papers were considered at the meeting of the Cleaner & Greener Scrutiny Committee on 13th June 2007. You can view the papers here.

The scrutiny meeting was chaired by Cllr. Eugenie White (Con). Sadly, the level of scrutiny did not seem adequate for a body setting public policy on such an important issue. With Cllr. Botterill telling the committee that he had two cars. One is a 4X4, which he said “travels over the speed cushions with ease” and the other is a VW Polo which Cllr. Botterill explained “regularly had the plastic on the bottom of the car scraped against local speed cushions”. This brought about several other anecdotal stories of damage experienced or witnessed to cars by traffic calming from Conservative committee members. The Tory councillors did not scrutinise any of the considerable evidence that traffic calming cuts traffic numbers driving through a residential area, slows vehicle speeds and reduces accident rates. The committee agreed with the policy outlined in the report. This means that it is Council policy to remove traffic calming when possible and will stop placing any more traffic calming onto the borough’s roads. However, they still have the residents to face and I'm sure that will cause them to back down each time they encounter resistance.

The 20mph Grove Home Zone was introduced in 1999 after my fellow ward councillors and I campaigned to cut the numbers of children killed or seriously injured through road accidents. We set up a residents' working party that included representatives from the NSPCC, the Brackenbury Residents Association and the Police along with many interested local residents. This culminated in a area referendum with over 75% of the 624 people who took part voting in favour of introducing a new 20mph Home Zone.

The Grove Home Zone was the largest and one of the first to be introduced in London. Home Zones have now been proven to cut traffic flows into residential areas by an average of 27%. The Grove Home Zone has cut speeds by 12% and Hammersmith and Fulham's child accident rates have been reduced by 72% between 1998 and 2005. Speed cushions were fundamental to that success. It would be ideological madness for H&F Conservatives to remove our Home Zones. So, we have put the Tories on notice that if they again try to do this we will run a high profile campaign that will expose the dangerous stupidity of their plans and galvanise public support against them. I think we have scared them off for now.

Thursday 14 June 2007

Police Cut 25% - Council Sends Begging Letter to Coca-Cola

The Hammersmith Broadway police team was reduced by a quarter after the Council cut funding when their plans hit a financial crisis. The Council has now written to Coca-Cola and other local businesses to seek help with funding the local police teams.

However, the Police and local Council have agreed to “temporarily” place four community support officers into the Hammersmith Broadway Police Team as a response to our campaign over the last few months.

The decision to supply the extra community support officers was only made after an Evening Standard reporter called senior police officers to ask about the police cut having seen one of our leaflets at John Stenton’s butchers in Aldensley Road. We are grateful to John (and the many other local businesses) for handing out the leaflets from his shop. However, we do not believe that temporary community support officers are a sufficient response and we are continuing to press the Conservative Administration to have police numbers permanently restored.

Labour had provided over £1million of extra police funding, ensuring that all sixteen wards in the borough were given local ward police teams by May 2006. This resulted in the borough experiencing the biggest falls in crime in London up until May 2006. We wanted to build on this initial success and have offered to work with the new Conservative Administration to ensure that the five wards with the highest crime are given 24/7 Police Task Squads. This would have seen Hammersmith gain significant numbers of extra police as it has the highest rates of crime in the borough. However, Conservative councillors voted our plans down, going for a much smaller scheme only covering Shepherds Bush Green and Fulham Broadway wards.

With residents’ support we can force the Council to provide the funding for Hammersmith Broadway. We are grateful to all those that have contacted us and we will continue to fight to get the policing people were promised.

Proposed Merger Between St Mary's, Paddington and Hammersmith Hospitals Trust

The consultation on merging the Hammersmith Hospitals Trust with St Mary's, Paddington commenced on 1st May and runs until the end of July. The proposal, if agreed, would involve the two trusts joining up on 1st October. See here for further details.

The two trusts are also discussing amalgamating with Imperial College to form the first Academic Health Science Centre (ASHC) in the UK, which would be a foundation trust. It is planned that the ASHC would be in place sometime in 2009.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council Gains National Prominence

Just over one year after the Conservatives won power in Hammersmith and Fulham and it seems everyone’s talking about them.

Here’s what they’re saying:

The Prime Minister recently told Parliament that: “What is happening in Hammersmith & Fulham is a metaphor for what would happen with a Conservative government. Having said that they would support the maintenance of services, the Tories have instituted some £34 million of cuts in those services.”

The Daily Mirror said “Hammersmith and Fulham, Tory: £14.4million cuts next year to fund three per cent council tax cut for three years. Foster children lose £3.3million. The old, disabled and people in council houses lose £3.7million. Many sick and elderly will be refused home help. Extra police for crime-hit areas refused. Three schools to close. More cuts next year - but Tories voted 18 per cent RISE in councillors' allowances”. See the full article here.

The Guardian added “Rightwing ideologues took over Hammersmith and Fulham a year ago from a well-run Labour group, cutting council tax by 3%, cutting £14.4m from children's services, housing, care for the frail and charity grants and closing a mental health centre.” Read the full article here.

And then The Times commented “The year-old Tory council followed through on its election pledge and shaved 3 per cent off council tax this year, paid for by privatising services and cutting funds to homeless charities and a local law centre. This, says Labour, is proof that Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives are still looking to make savage cuts in public services. Tony Travers, a local government expert at the London School of Economics, said that the tax-cutting instincts are ingrained in many Tories involved in local government.” View the full article here.

So as you can see; we residents of Hammersmith and Fulham are at the centre of the national political devide. I hope to explore what that looks like for all on this blog and so please pass it on to your friends and neighbours.