Tuesday 23 December 2008

Council Email Admits Borough’s Elderly, Sick And Disabled Put “At Risk” By H&F Conservatives New Stealth Tax On Care

The attached council official's email tells how Hammersmith and Fulham’s elderly, sick and disabled residents are "at risk" after H&F Conservatives introduced a brand new £12.40 hourly care charge earlier this year. It seems that, in these tough economic times, many users of the service have decided to cancel it rather than pay the extortionate new stealth tax.

The email was sent three days before Christmas by a senior Social Services manager. It tells H&F Council staff that a number of residents, currently in receipt of essential care, have decided to go without after receiving a letter from the Council demanding payment.

The dilemma for Social Services is that they can’t just stop providing care to someone who may be extremely ill or in need. The consequences could be terrible. Because of this, staff have been told that services “cannot be changed until the user has been reassessed”. The email goes on to say that “the user must be advised that they may be placing themselves at risk” if the service is cancelled. You can read the email in full by clicking onto the attached picture.

The Council's email is an indictment of H&F Conservative’s harsh new policies towards caring for the elderly sick, and disabled. Prior to the 2006 elections care charges were included in the Council Tax payment. At that time, the Conservatives actually wrote into their pre-election manifesto that they definitely would not introduce any charges for care services. Then, within months of winning that election, they went back on their pledge and started consulting on bringing in the £12.40 hourly fee - much to the disbelief of local groups and residents. Now, along with many other new fees and cost, residents are being charged separately for these vital care service.

Monday 15 December 2008

TaxPayers’ Alliance Tells H&F Council to “Hang Their Heads In Shame” On Soaring Propaganda Cost

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, has identified Hammersmith and Fulham’s Conservative run Council on a list of authorities squandering public money on spin and misleading PR. Mr Elliott explained that he thinks "It is incredibly disappointing that, despite the economic downturn” H&F Council has increased spending by an inflation busting 11.3 per cent – one of the largest increases in the UK. This takes the total expenditure on propaganda to £836,000.00. This sum is equal to 1.4 per cent of council tax, it could be used to halt the cuts to our elderly, sick and disabled residents' care services or more than double H&F Council's current spending on police. Mr. Elliott explained that Hammersmith and Fulham Council “should hang their heads in shame. In the middle of a recession, councils need to cut back on propaganda and spin doctors and deliver savings to taxpayers.”

Hammersmith and Fulham is one of the boroughs with the smallest populations and geographical areas to appear on the list, so proportionally H&F is easily amongst the top spending local authorities in the country.

Cllr. Mike Cartwright (Lab), H&F Council’s Vice Chair of the Audit Committee, added “What is sad is that the £836,000.00 is only part of the total spend as the Council has concealed large aspects of its PR budget by allocating it differently. I think there needs to be a full independent inquiry into this highly dubious use of public money. Earlier this month, we again saw how the Council spent residents’ cash to scaremonger and spread disinformation. This can’t be right. This all comes at a time when there are 578 new Tory Stealth Taxes with parking up 12.5%, Meals on Wheels up 40% and the elderly sick and disabled now given a brand new £12.40 hourly charge for their care services. Residents deserve better”.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Congratulations For Brackenbury Residents' Association’s Christmas Carols

There were about three hundred people crowding around the shops at the bottom of Brackenbury Road yesterday evening. It’s nearly Christmas, the tree was lit up brightly and children from Brackenbury Primary School and Godolphin and Latimer School were singing Carols.

Buchanan’s Organic Deli, Stenton Butchers, and Gina’s Cakes all provided hot mince pies, and other assorted refreshments. The Hepsibah Gallery opened its doors as did SISI Hardware & DIY, and the local newsagents . Shoots and Leaves provided the tree, Horton and Garton Estate Agents provided support and the local ward police team were there to help out and do a bit of singing. Santa even arrived and handed out free goody bags to the children. It was all good fun and very festive.

The finalĂ© of the evening was when those of us remaining had sheets of lyrics stuffed into our gloved hands and urged to join the carol singing. We did – although I’m pretty sure the looks I was getting after I started to sing weren’t admiring ones.

It was a great evening and I, for one, would like to thank the Brackenbury Residents' Association and those involved for arranging and supporting it.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Cuts To Front Line Staff's Terms And Conditions Balanced By H&F Tories' Record Salary Hikes

Just before the last local elections a prominent member of staff told me that they didn’t think there would be any difference between a Conservative Administration and Labour when it came to H&F Council’s employees’ terms and conditions. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Since the local elections H&F Conservatives has sought to cut some front line staff wages by up to 50 per cent - while giving themselves 18 per cent and 14 per cent salary rises in the respective last two years. The Council has dogmatically transferred jobs to private contractors, despite it being proven not to be best value in street cleaning, refuse collection and many other essential services. Now this October, H&F Council has issued redundancy notices to 4,283 staff with a view to re-employing them on very different terms and conditions.

H&F Council is now set to cut maternity pay, it hopes to cut dependency leave and is extending working hours to 7.30am - 8.00pm. Staff rightly feel let down. Many of these new initiatives will most harshly affect women. One noticeable consequence to all this has been that morale has dropped and service levels (that have already been cut financially) will now undoubtedly be affected even further.

I have always believed that it is an employer’s responsibility to pay people fairly and manage them professionally. The new deal being offered by H&F Conservatives means that, at the very least, the Council is set to badly fail the first of these criteria.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

H&F Council’s £10,000.00 Misuse Of Public Funds To Scare Residents In ‘Super Sewer' Scam

Hammersmith and Fulham Council has so far spent £10,000.00 of council tax payers’ money to spread scare stories to local residents about the Thames Tideway Tunnel. Nearly everything the Council told local people has now been proved to be completely untrue – as previously reported here. The Council itself has now admitted the scaremongering it published was based on no more than "speculation."

Senior local Tories plotted with council officials to spread a story that “Ravenscourt Park and Furnival Gardens [were] threatened” with “eight years” of works to cut “giant bore holes” for a “Septic", "Stink Pipe” in the two local parks. None of this was true.

These scare tactics were similar to those used to generate votes in 2005 by H&F Conservatives . Then, they falsely claimed Charing Cross Hospital was set to close in a move designed to generate false anger at the Labour government prior to the last general election.

Last July, the Conservative Administration even tried (unsuccessfully) to control the Opposition's access to an independent briefing on the 'Super Sewer' from Thames Water. Instead they insisted that the Opposition would only be allowed briefings to come exclusively from H&F Council officials - many of whom had been party to spreading the untruths about the sewer plans in the first place. We met with Thames Water and it immediately became obvious why H&F Council officials had been nervous of what we would find out.

The Opposition is seeking an independent investigation into these goings on. Those involved should face the full consequenses for their roles in this misuse of public funds.

The Council’s currently admits that it spent £7,758.48 of tax payers’ money on letters to residents, leaflets, posters and other cost including laptop hire and bottles of water - all attributed to this ruse. But, this figure doesn’t include all of the full cost, such as officials' time in preparing their misinformation programme.

It’s now clear that the only possible works would involve a two year project to sink the Stamford Brook open sewer at Furnival Gardens (click on attached pic) so that it goes into the Thames Tideway Tunnel instead of the river - and that’s only if the project gets the go-ahead in the next decade.

I’ll let you know how things develop but please email me here if you require further information.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Thumbs Down For H&F Propaganda Sheet

When logging onto their PCs, employees of H&F Council are usually encouraged to answer a rather bizarre weekly survey by the Council’s Press Office. Previous questions have asked council staff about their favourite actor to play James Bond, what they think of the weather and other such fluff.

For example, this week’s Council staff survey asks, “Have you been tempted by the pre-Christmas sales?" It then gives borough employees the option of answering “Yes – I like a bargain I do” or “No - not on your Nellie, I’m waiting for the January sales”.

I think it’s a waste of public money to pay someone to think this stuff up and then arrange it into a questionnaire. However last week, for the first time I can recall, I was interested in the answer. The Press Office asked employees which free newspaper they prefer to read and included their own spin-sheet in the mix of answers. As you can see from the attached graph, taken from the Council intranet, their paper scored a lowly 5% of responses - which was around 40 employees (many of them, I suspect, working in the Press Office). It's apparent that the overwhelming majority prefer not to read the council tax-payer funded paper. That’s probably because they know, more than most, how quite a lot of it is full of misleading scaremongering and distorting propaganda.

Monday 1 December 2008

H&F Council Argues Property Developer’s Profit Hopes Over The Needs Of Local Residents

“We need to consider the needs of the developer to generate a satisfactory profit on this scheme…” Surprisingly, these words were spoken by a H&F Council official who last Tuesday night was advising councillors on the Planning Committee to grant permission to Linden London for their multi-million pound Glenthorne Road project in Hammersmith. You can view the official planning application by clicking here and going to page 128.

My colleagues and I argued that the scheme needed to be postponed by at least a month. We suggested that the Council would lose any leverage to negotiate once permission was given. Not only was there, unusually, a complete lack of clarity on the Section 106 sum which the developer is meant to pay to benefit local residents but, the Council report recommended that the councillors back the property developer's request to radically cut the numbers of affordable homes available for residents to buy or rent. If agreed the amount of affordable housing would be cut from the London minimum of 50% to 21%.

Some of my constituents were attending from the Cambridge Grove and Leamore Street Residents Association. On the 17th September, they had also been to the Full Council Meeting to ask if the Council would use the Section 106 monies from this scheme to remedy the long-standing traffic problems in their area and fix the badly deteriorating railings that date back to 1856. At the time Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con) the Leader of H&F Council, told them “We certainly will make sure that it’s one of our priority projects to sort out.” As these were the only monies identified by the Council, since the Conservatives' £1,633,000.00 cut to the highways budget, residents had become hopeful that many of their problems would be addressed with this new sum.

I reminded the committee of Cllr. Greenhalgh’s commitment and handed out the attached photo of the everyday traffic problems residents have to put up with. I suggested that one point that we could all agree on, despite party political differences, was that we were there to represent local residents and not property developers. The Conservative members of the panel looked uncomfortable. It seems that they didn’t agree. The Chair called for a vote. It split down party lines with the seven Conservatives on the committee voting to grant permission to the property developer without further negotiation and the two Labour members voting against.

My constituents said they were astonished. I thought the Conservatives had made a mistake as last October, my fellow ward Councillors and I worked with residents to force H&F Council to negotiate an extra quarter of a million pounds in Section 106 money from the developer of the Hammersmith Grove Armadillo - just three days prior to the planning meeting. The Council could have used a similar strategy with Linden London. Instead, on page 148 of the report, they simply wrote that “Approximately £100k for highway/environmental improvement works (subject to detailed surveys and estimates for the various works) to improve the sites vehicular and pedestrian accessibility, including crossovers and reinstatement of the footway in vicinity of the site in accordance with the Councils street smart guidance and a contribution to the repair/renewal of the railings in Cambridge Grove”. The officials were unable to explain why there wasn’t an exact sum in the report concerning the Section 106 agreement, what problems would be addressed or what the eventual contribution would be. The Tories clearly didn't care, despite this all being quite unusual.

I’m not sure what Cllr. Greenhalgh’s role has been in this situation. It appears that the Leader of the Council either has little influence on his own officials, that he couldn't be bothered to follow up on his promise or he didn’t mean what he said to residents on September 17th. Either way, the local people who attended weren’t impressed. A classic case of “putting property developers, not residents, first” one later told me.

Saturday 29 November 2008

The Streets Are Filthy - Complaints From Richford Street Residents In Hammersmith

Here’s some photos sent to me by a resident in Richford Street, Hammersmith. As you can see the cleanliness of the streets leaves a lot to be desired.

I wholeheartedly agree with my constituent who tells me that “people are paying a lot in taxes to pay to clean up after others - money which could be invested in essential services. It seems to me that at least a fixed percentage of the cost of cleaning up our streets should be met from fines issued on people dumping fridges etc on the street, dropping litter and gum and allowing dogs to foul the pavement. If this approach were taken more money would be available for essential services and the streets would become cleaner (because a real threat of a fine would begin to change attitudes)”.

Those readers that have already received our latest newsletter through your door will see that we’re still campaigning to make the Conservative Administration reverse their cuts and to fully take up this approach. I’ll let you know how we get on but meanwhile, please feel free to email me pictures of how your street looks by clicking here, and I will put them to good effect as part of our campaign.

Thursday 27 November 2008

H&F Conservative's 578 Stealth Taxes

The last Labour administration delivered real-terms cuts in council tax, and kept charges for council services low. Now, H&F Conservatives have increased or introduced a staggering 578 new stealth taxes, with some charges rising by hundreds of percentage points above inflation.

Residents’ parking charges have increased by 12.5 per cent, and children’s out-of-hours play service charges have risen by a astonishing 121 per cent. The minimum increase across all council charges is 5 per cent. Many of the stealth taxes hit the most vulnerable local residents, with Meals on Wheels prices rising by an incredible 40 per cent - adding £365 to annual food bills for the elderly.

The Tories also went back on an election pledge not to introduce home care charges for the elderly, sick and disabled, telling them that if they don’t pay the brand new £12.40 per hour charge, they won’t receive these crucial services.

Included in the new stealth taxes is the controversial new charge for the garden waste disposal service, which now costs £7.25 - even though there didn't seem to be much of a service for those that signed up to it. That and many other of these charges used to be included in residents’ council tax payments. Now, residents have to pay these extra cost on top of their council tax.

Will H&F Tories Shut Another Sands End Youth Club?

When shutting down the Castle Youth Club last November the Conservatives explained that it didn’t matter as there is always the Townmead Youth Club, a few miles away. Now, it seems that this facility may also be closed down unless the Tory run Council releases £20,000 of funding needed to meet its running cost.

Readers will recall that the Castle Youth Club was sold to a property developer for £5million. Maybe the Administration could take the money out of that cash bonanza.

Residents of Sands End have been in for a tough time during the last couple of years. As well as selling off the Castle Youth Club, H&F Conservatives attempted to close Hurlingham and Chelsea Secondary School and successfully shut Peterborough Primary School. They have had to put up with cuts to police, and £36million of further cuts to front-line services. Then, this autumn it was announced that Hurlingham Park will be closed to the public for a large part of the year so that H&F Conservatives can rent it out to their friends in the international polo-set.

The Townmead Youth Club has been in operation since 1967. I hope local residents are able to make H&F Council see sense and maintain this important local asset.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Fences Go Up, Public Excluded, As H&F Conservatives Give Local Park Over To Polo Set

The London Olympics are three and a half years away. Children and young people across the country are being urged to take part and get involved in sport, and politicians are being called upon to take a fresh look at local facilities so that our young have a productive use for their energies. So, what is the answer here in Hammersmith and Fulham? Well, as far as H&F Council’s Conservative Administration are concerned it’s er… polo.

That’s right, it’s polo… and it's not for H&F's residents or indeed our young either. Instead, Hurlingham Park in Fulham has been given over to World Polo Ltd who intend to put on the traditional sport of the super-rich as an exclusive spectator event. Fences have already been erected around the public park and the mechanical diggers have gone in. Grounds that once saw schools’ sports days, families relaxing at weekends and kids playing ball games during balmy summer evenings will next year be the select reserve of the champagne-swilling international jet-set.

The scheme is the brain child of Cllr. Paul Bristow (Con) who gained notoriety this time last year when he proposed to rent out Ravenscourt Park and Furnival Gardens for such events as wrestling, film showings and raves. Opposition Labour councillors worked with local residents to restrict those activities but the people of Sands End, Fulham haven’t been so lucky. Their local Tory Councillors have supported this ruse and in doing so have denied them access to one of the few green spaces in in their area. You can click here to view the BBC News coverage of this story.

Saturday 22 November 2008

H&F Council’s ‘Super Sewer’ Shenanigans, Part Two – The Facts From The Public Meeting

About six weeks before the 2005 general election H&F Conservatives put out a story that the Government was going to close Charing Cross Hospital. The public were taken in and it won the Tories around 3000 extra local votes in that election. At the time, when I asked the Conservatives about their “Save Charing Cross” propaganda, one prominent member admitted to me that they knew it wasn’t true, and advised me to “look at the small print on the back of their leaflet”. The fact that Charing Cross hasn’t closed and that instead, the hospital is just about to receive record new investment and a much wider range of facilities has gone without mention from our local Conservatives. Their interest was always just about the votes.

So, when I read H&F Conservatives stories about the ‘Super Sewer’ I was more than a little sceptical. Our local Tories and Council have spent tens of thousands of pounds of council tax payers' money telling residents how “giant craters” will be driven into Furnival Gardens and Ravenscourt Park to build a huge “Stink Pipe” causing “at least eight years of chaos”. It’s now clear that much of this is plainly not true.

On Monday night, a publiic meeting took place concerning the ‘Super Sewer’ – which is officially known as the Thames Tideway Tunnel. The meeting was opened by a Conservative councillor who told residents that he, his colleagues and the Council are yet to form a view on the scheme and hoped this meeting would help that process. This was a slightly peculiar thing for him to say as he has recently published comments saying his administration “is bitterly opposing the super-sewer project on the basis that the cost, chaos from eight years of construction, and loss of open space outweighs any benefits.”

Thames Water’s Richard Aylard then got on to the points which of were of greatest concern to residents. Mr. Aylard confirmed that Ravenscourt Park was never considered for any Thames Tideway Tunnel works (as previously reported here) and explained that Furnival Gardens also fails any criteria for an access tunnel into the sewer - as it’s not big enough.

David Wardle of the Environment Agency spoke for the scheme next. He told us that 32 million tonnes of untreated sewage is slushed into the River Thames each year. He graphically explained what is contained in this material and how, due to tidal conditions, this pollution then sloshes up and down the length of the river for up to two years before it is eventually flushed out into the North Sea. The Stamford Brook sewer (near the Dove pub) is one of the entrance spots where this material flows into the river.

Richard Aylard said that if the Thames Tideway Tunnel goes ahead, then the Stamford Brook sewer would be required to be sunk so that the sewage pours into the new tunnel and not the river. He added that this would take up to two years to complete and that the works wouldn't begin until the middle of the next decade.

Andrew Whetnall was then called to set out the case against the Thames Tideway Tunnel. I was told that he is an amateur enthusiast representing a consumer group. He said that he thought there were “minimal health benefits” to cleaning the river and that they would largely only aid a small number of rowers. Mr. Raj Bhatia, the Chair of the Stamford Brook Residents Association in the north of the borough, also explained his concerns.

We moved onto questions. A gently spoken man was the first person called. He politely told Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of the Council, that he had found the meeting to be very informative but asked him why he and the Council had put out so much information that had “evidently been widely misleading?” Audience members later told me that they thought this was the moment Greenhalgh lost the confidence of the room. His body language indicated he thought he'd been found out. Greenhalgh shuffled and looked around, like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar, eventually telling the gentleman that he “wasn’t there to talk but wanted to listen”. Cllr. Greenhalgh then tried to walk away from the podium but someone in the audience shouted out “answer the question!” Greenhalgh returned looking flustered but didn’t respond to the demand and simply repeated his keenness to hear the views of the public and slipped back to his seat.

Two thirds of “the public” who were called to ask questions by the Tory Chair were in fact Tory party members, councillors or candidates. The Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate for Hammersmith was called early on. He told Thames Water’s Head of Civil Engineering that he too "is an engineer as he has a degree in the subject" (although his website says that he passed his degree in Computer Aided Technology) and asked whether the Thames Tunnel wasn’t simply an opportunity for “boys to play with big toys?”. Other questions followed, some very good, but many in a similar vein and the Chair brought the meeting to a close with two further speeches; one from Cllr. Greenhalgh and one from another Tory Councillor.

All in all, most of the audience I spoke with afterwards told me that they thought it was useful to be able hear and then question Thames Water about their plans. Nearly everyone I spoke with expressed concern that their Council had seemingly tried to hoodwink them over this issue. You can view the local journalist, Rebecca Kent’s take on things in an article in this week’s Gazette newspaper – which I have attached and you can click on to read.

Thames Water confirmed early on that there will not be any works in Ravenscourt Park. I am relieved that there has also turned out to be no truth in what H&F Council told us about major works in Furnival Gardens either but concerned to find out what Thames Water will still need to do to realigned Stamford Brook. I have therefore written to them to seek further information on this and what this would mean to my constituents. I will report back when I have that information but please email me here if you want to raise any matters with me about this and I will do all I can to help.

Monday 17 November 2008

H&F Council’s ‘Super Sewer’ Shenanigans, Part One – Ravenscourt Park

My fellow ward councillors, and I met with Thames Water recently to question them about the ‘Super Sewer’. Prior to that though, H&F Council’s Conservative Administration had done its best to stop the Opposition from getting a direct and independent briefing from the company itself – as you can see by clicking onto the attached email to an officer in the Opposition office.

It’s worth asking what could possibly be the reason that H&F’s Conservatives wanted to manage the information that Opposition councillors had access to? Well, it seems H&F Council’s propaganda machine and the local Tories have indulged in a considerable amount of scaremongering. For example, Ravenscourt Park fails most of the criteria for the much talked about bore hole or indeed any ‘Super Sewer’ works whatsoever but the Tories, who will have known this, still set that story running causing concern to many local residents.

I will write a detailed report on what the situation is and how we’re campaigning to stop even the possibility of works in any of our riverside green spaces, after the public meeting on the matter tonight. However, for now it is worth noting that:
  • no H&F Council officer had been allowed to brief the elected Opposition councillors for the area on the 'Super Sewer' before printing a hyped-up story about it in the Council’s propaganda sheet
  • the first the Opposition heard about the alleged boring in Furnival Gardens was when it was published in the Council's newspaper
  • when we asked H&F Council officials what the ‘Super Sewer’ story had been based on we were told that it had been "speculation"
I believe most local residents would expect politicians of all parties to unite to fight against any plans to dig up any of Hammersmith and Fulham’s local parks. But, given the above points and the tone of H&F Council’s propaganda on this it looks like our local Conservatives are more interested in using council tax payers’ money to run a closely coordinated and dishonest political campaign off the back of this issue, rather than defending residents’ interests.

Prior to the last local elections I led the cross-party negotiating team against Thames Water representing all of London’s thirty three boroughs. We secured millions of pounds from Thames Water to compensate for cuts in water pressure. Our success was because we put party politics to one side and got on with the job of representing Londoners against Thames Water’s commercial interest. That is what should happen in this instance.

If you want to attend the public meeting about the 'Super Sewer' then please come along tonight (Monday, 17th November) to Hammersmith Town Hall for 7.00pm.

Please feel free to email me here to let me know your views on this issue. I will report more later on this week.

Friday 14 November 2008

H&F Council Fails Primary School Inspection And So Misses Out On £1.75 Billion Refurbishment Programme

The BBC is reporting that H&F Council has failed a competence test and missed out on a multi-million pound refurbishment programme for local primary schools. The Beeb explained that H&F “did not satisfy the DCSF with their building and refurbishment plans and will not receive their allocation of the £1.75bn immediately".

H&F Council’s Conservative Administration had already been telling local parents that the money was on its way and so this news will dash local parents hopes. As usual, H&F Council’s press office fails to make any mention of this bad news or the reasons why the Council failed local children and parents by not being up to competency standards. But, you can read the BBC article here.

This news comes after two and a half years in which H&F’s Conservative Administration has publicly lost the confidence of local parents and been criticised by its own advisers. The Conservative run council set up a schools commission, chaired by a Tory Peer, as a face-saving exercise after it failed in its bid to close a high performing secondary school and sell off the land. However, the Commission lambasted the Administration setting out its failing and explaining why it had “lost the confidence of head teachers and parents”. Around that time, it looked like the Conservatives had realised that they were damaging local children’s chances when, on 27th June 2007, Cllr, Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of H&F Council admitted that his Administration “had made mistakes”. But, he and his colleagues then carried on with their plans to close more local schools, selling off the land to private establishments and being accused by local parents of undermining their children’s secondary education. Then, earlier this year a leading head teacher took the unprecedented step of publicly criticising the Administration telling the press that “politics has overridden the value of education” in Hammersmith and Fulham.

It will be interesting to see how H&F Council responds to this latest debacle. If the Administration follows its previous form then it will simply use its propaganda machine to deny there is any problem whatsoever. Nobody will be sacked and nobody will resign. I will report more on this as we continue to push the Council to act in the interest of all of the borough's children.

Sunday 19 October 2008

H&F Council Targets Small Businesses In Money Making Scam

There seems to be an attempt by H&F Council to ramp up the cash it generates from small and medium sized businesses. The Trojan Horse for this is commercial waste legislation that was introduced in the early 1990s.

Over the last year I have been contacted by many small businesses who all tell a similar tale. First, they get a letter from H&F Council demanding to see their Waste Transfer Papers for the last six months. Then, when the small business owner contacts the Council to ask what this is all about, they are handed a £180 fine. I've been a councillor for eleven years and I've never come across this before.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of people disposing of their waste responsibly and acting within the law. But, even those businesses that are getting rid of their waste properly are still fined because the Council says they must have their papers. Given the fact that most small businesses usually don’t have access to advice on these matters then I would have thought the onus was on the Council to let people know of their requirements.

H&F Council has failed to sufficiently alert business owners of the need for these papers. I suspect the reason for this is that some Council official decided that it is easier to follow this path to extra cash than to deliver genuine efficiencies in their department. The Conservative Administration isn’t known for their attention to detail but as they have been copied in my emails on this and refrained from action, I can only conclude that they are just pleased to see the incoming revenue.

Considering the current global economic uncertainty then this is all highly irresponsible but add in that last year both the Council’s political parties voted to agree what is written below, then it makes the Conservative Administration look like incompetent hypocrites at best:

"This Council notes the publication of an independent Commission on Retail Conservation set up by Kensington & Chelsea Council and the recent submission to the Council by the Fulham Society of "Renaissance in Fulham". As a result of increasing concern at the disappearance of independent retailers, this Council resolves to study these two reports and further consider ways in which to support shops and the local economy in Hammersmith & Fulham.”

Friday 17 October 2008

Westfield Seemingly Unconcerned After Years Of Blighting Neighbours' Lives

Westfield plans to open its Shepherds Bush shopping mall at the end of this month. But, what has it done to protect and make amends to residents who have had to live next to the hellish building works throughout the years of construction? On Monday, I met with three Westfield executives to discuss the wide array of problems residents of Wood Lane had suffered - much of it going on through the night.

Theresa Boyd, who is a local resident, also attended. She told me she wanted a chance to tell Westfield what they had put her through. Theresa told them how the dust that was pumped into her home covered everything and caused electrical equipment to fail. We showed Westfield photos of clouds of dust blowing from their site to where Theresa lives and they admitted that the dust could and should have been dampened down and stopped. Theresa explained how huge spotlights glare through her windows into the small hours, how heavy plant is delivered at all hours and how very loud machines and works run late on into the night. Listening to Theresa I was concerned to learn many of these examples had occurred as recently as last Saturday and Sunday nights. Oddly, the Westfield execs hardly brimmed with empathy and it was my impression that they actually found listening to Theresa’s complaints to be really quite tiresome.

I asked Westfield if H&F Council had sanctioned the late night works – which would be highly irregular. Westfield told me the Council's position was that they "hadn't said they couldn't do this" and went on to tell me that the Council was aware that Westfield planned to open the new shopping centre in two week’s time and so were "supportive of the need for these late night works".

I wrote to a senior council officer to find out whether H&F Council is indeed turning a blind eye to these problems experienced by residents. I received a response saying there will be an “urgent officer inspection” to stop late night works and “to correct Westfield's apparent comment, the position is that we have told them that they must not allow any work outside normal hours which gives rise to noise disturbing residential neighbours. We have indicated that we will tolerate quiet out-of-hours work but will react swiftly to any complaints about noise which is harmful to residents, as we always would.”

Westfield is a multi-billion pound business. It’s owned by the second wealthiest person in Australia. It will spend vast sums on opening parties, public relations, advertising and promoting its image. Given all this, I think they should make amends to those who have been immediately affected by the building works – which has been the biggest in London. It would be the act of a good neighbour but, as yet, it doesn’t seem to be one of their priorities.

Thursday 9 October 2008

More Tax Payers' Cash Spent On Tories' Inflation-Busting Salary Hikes

Many H&F residents will not know that the bloke in the photo is Mr. Kit Malthouse AM (Con), our recently elected representative in the London Assembly. More will be surprised to find out that he is taking a lead from our very own Conservative Council Leader here in Hammersmith and Fulham and has received an inflation-busting salary hike from the public purse.

The Tory Troll is reporting that Mr. Malthouse will now take a £55,000 allowance from the Metropolitan Police Authority. This is a political position that was given to him by Mayor Boris Johnson, who seems happy for him to also be rewarded with a jaw-dropping 44% increase in the renumeration that goes with the role. Mr. Malthouse's MPA pay is on top of his £53,543 joint Deputy Mayor and Assembly Member salary - all of the money coming from our pockets as both roles are completely funded out of our taxes. You can read the full story by clicking here.

Readers will recall that H&F's Tory councillors gave themselves an 18% salary rise in their very first budget after winning the 2006 local elections. They then made the pages of Private Eye's Rotten Borough's section for giving one of their Conservative councillors the equivalent of a 75% salary rise. Then, the Tory Leader of H&F Council secretly gave himself a 14% salary hike in a rather peculiar and underhand way.

I think it's all very odd how the Conservative's plans to use tax payers' money to give themselves salary rises, increased by percentages that most people can only dream about, aren't openly published for all to see in their pre-election literature. It leaves me to wonder if they thought this was all something they had to hide?

Saturday 4 October 2008

Channel 4 Looks At Cameron's Money Men

David Cameron won't have been pleased by the latest broadcast of Channel 4's Dispatches. It examines where he's getting his money from with some worrying conclusions. If you missed it, you can view the episode by clicking here.

Monday 29 September 2008

Letter To The Daily Telegraph

Here's my letter to the Daily Telegraph after a rather misleading article appeared in it written by Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of H&F Council:

"Dear Editor

What would the press say about a national politician who tried to persuade the public that their tax had been cut by £350 when the annual bill had only really only been cut by £20.74 in the last year? I suspect their reputation for honesty or knowing what they are talking about would take a bashing. So why is local government different?

On 28th September, Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council made exactly that claim about Council tax in your newspaper. But, any study of H&F Council’s budget papers will show that it is blatantly not true - as you can see here on page 37. In fact, in 2006 Cllr. Greenhalgh inherited a budget from the last Labour Administration that would have seen some of the biggest Council tax reductions in the country - with real terms cuts in council tax each and every year up until 2009.

Greenhalgh’s boast about the Tory’s record on crime fighting barely stands up to scrutiny. In 2006 the Conservative’s took over from an Administration that had delivered the biggest fall in crime in London. But, Metropolitan Police figures for the last municipal year now show that H&F languishes behind Lambeth, Waltham Forest, Islington, Richmond and others after cutting Council funding to the ward with the highest rates of crime.

Residents don’t agree that services have improved either. Complaints are up about street cleaning and dog fouling. The Tories introduced a new £7.25 charge for removing garden waste – a service they themselves admitted was “chaotic” after a public outcry. In fact, the Conservatives have introduced over 570 inflation-busting charges on a range of Council services, with parking charges up 12.5%; meals on wheels charges are up 40%, there is a completely new £12.40 per hour fee for home care for local elderly, sick and disabled residents and children’s out-of-hours play services charges increase by a staggering 121%.

Youth centres, schools and homeless hostels have all been sold off as part of a new asset reduction strategy. Affordable housing is cut back on each new development and front line services such as highways maintenance, libraries, youth services and educational grants have all been slashed.

Greenhalgh’s self-proclaimed mission to create the "Borough of Opportunity" rings hollow when you consider all of the above. In fact, after awarding himself a 14% salary rise at the last budget meeting and admitting that his senior colleague had flown to the south of France to meet property developers so they could release “contentious development sites”, then it’s fair to ask who exactly is his “borough of opportunity” for?

I urge the national press to take a long hard look at local government. With Mr. Cameron making Stephen Greenhalgh head of his local government Innovation Unit it seems that Cameron may well take Greenhalgh’s advice and see Hammersmith and Fulham as a model for a possible future Tory Government. If this is the case, then it is hard to see how Cameron’s claims that the Tories have changed really stacks up.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Stephen Cowan
Leader of the Opposition
The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham"

Friday 12 September 2008

Across The Pond And, Once More, "It's The Economy, Stupid"

On the 28th October 1980, Ronald Reagan struck a nerve when, during the only presidential debate of that election, he asked Americans: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" The US had gone through a recession and so the answer for many was a heartfelt “no”. It helped propel Reagan to victory.

Now, after nearly eight years of the Republican's woefully incompetent handling of the US economy, Barack Obama is essentially asking America that same question. The facts speak for themselves: the average, typical American family is actually $2000 worse off than they were eight years earlier; petrol prices have trebled; healthcare charges are up; the banking system is in crisis; homes are being repossessed across the country; the national debt has spiralled; over 5.5million Americans have been driven into poverty; unemployment is at its highest rate in five years and America has experienced the biggest increase in income inequality since the 1920s.

The voting public are concerned. Polls show that the economy is, by far, the number one issue for voters in this election with national security coming a distant second. In particular the economy is a worry for target 'blue collar', 'middle class' voters – key in so many swing states.

McCain’s economic policies mirror Bush and barely stand up to scrutiny. His proposed measures to alleviate the current burdens on American households fall well short of public hopes. For example, McCain promises to double existing child exemption to $7,000 but only a small proportion of Americans would qualify for that scheme. McCain says he will provide a credit to buy health insurance but those workers who already have employer provided health insurance will find the benefits of that scheme offset by a proposed new tax on their employer funded health programme.

Barack Obama has gone much further than his Republican rival. The Democrats would prioritise the provision of new jobs – many in the green energy sector and pledge to get the economy back on track. They promise to improve life for “ordinary Americans” committing to a $500 tax cut for the average worker; senior citizens earning less than $50,000 will cease to pay income tax and there will be lower health insurance cost for all Americans - with a subsidy for those who don’t currently have coverage. An Obama Administration will introduce a $4,000 collage tuition subsidy for students who agree to undertake community service; it will provide mortgage interest credit (valued at $500 for home owners who don’t itemise their tax deduction) and introduce a child tax credit (that could save $1,100 for a single parent of two dependant children who earns $40,000 or less).

So, can McCain prevail without offering more to those being hurt by America’s current economic woes? For the moment, his campaign thinks it can. McCain’s record as a war hero is being used to make a direct pitch to blue collar swing voters on national security issues and the Republicans are urging the US public to believe that both McCain and Palin are "mavericks" that will “change" Washington. Meanwhile, by claiming Barack Obama is an inexperienced "tax and spend liberal" they hope to scare voters into thinking that he’s not in tune with America’s traditional cultural values – a customary claim Republicans make about Democrats. In fact, this week, in fourteen key states (five of them states that voted Democrat in the 2004 presidential election) the Republicans launched an ad with the slogan “ready to tax, ready to spend, but not ready to lead.”.

Following the two conventions, polls show that the race for the White House is currently tied. Yesterday’s Rasmussen daily Presidential Tracking Poll puts Barack Obama and John McCain each on 46% of the vote. When 'leaners' are included, it’s Barack Obama 48% and John McCain 48%.

But, the fact remains that McCain cannot shy away from voters’ concerns on the economy; or that his economic platform broadly shadows that of the deeply unpopular Bush Administration; or that he seems out of touch with voters concerns (commenting recently that he thinks the US economy is “fundamentally strong”); or, indeed, that 84% of Americans think their country is "going in the wrong direction" and that, during the last eight years, McCain has voted for Bush to take the US in its current direction over 90% of the time.

So, as the sign said in Bill Clinton’s War Room during the 1992 election, “It’s the Economy Stupid”. In this election, it’s the solutions Barack Obama proposes that are set to dominate that issue.

Saturday 6 September 2008

Proposed New Development For Glenthorne Road, Hammersmith

Linden London have submitted a planning application for 63-75 Glenthorne Road, W6. They hope to build 67 one, two and three beds apartments on the central Hammersmith site. The proposals also include provision for fifteen new car parking spaces. You can click onto the attached revised plans and the Architect's mocked up photos to enlarge them.

The Cambridge Grove and Leamore Street Residents Association have raised a number of concerns about the proposals and are keen that Linden London develops the site in such a way as to not cause extra traffic or noise nuisance to the already congested area. They’ve been supported by the Brackenbury Residents Association, the Hammersmith Society, and the Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group. My fellow ward councillors and I have been working with them on this matter and met with the developer earlier this year to hear of their plans.

I will write more when I know what date this application will to go to the Planning Committee. Meanwhile, please let me know your views on this development and email me by clicking here if you would like me to send you a PDF copy of Linden London’s brochure for the site.

Thursday 4 September 2008

Boris Johnson Unvails Above Inflation Travel Fare Hikes

The Tory Troll is reporting that Boris Johnson will today announce above inflation hikes on bus and tube fares. You can read the full story here.

Figures released to the GLA’s Budget and Performance Committee show that the cancellation of the Venezuelan 'oil deal' and the scrapping the higher Congestion Charge has left over a £100million hole in the budget. Boris is hoping to make up the difference by passing the charge onto Londoners.

News of these increases are contrary to Boris' pre-election pledge not to raise fares which will come as a blow to commuters across the capital.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Hammersmith Grove Armadillo Halted – For Now?

Work on the notorious Hammersmith Grove “Armadillo” has ground to a halt because the developer has allegedly been unable to obtain bank financing for the scheme.

Building magazine told how Development Securities had unsuccessfully been attempting to refinance the project at a time when they reported a £14.4m loss for the past six months. Development Securities released a statement saying that while it had assembled long-term equity partners willing to finance the transaction, the “lack of any currently available bank finance for the development stage left our original equity co-investors unable to proceed with the project as originally planned”.

The Armadillo became a highly controversial local issue when residents raised concerns that their needs were being put behind those of the developer. H&F’s ruling Conservative Administration then put out a statement denying that they had met Development Securities to negotiate around its plans only to then have this proved untrue by evidence provided following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. On the 18th September 2007, Cllr. Mark Loveday (Con) wrote on a local website that “Like anyone else, they [Development Securities] don't have to consult with the Council or the public before submitting a planning application, and they didn't. The Council was presented with their proposals without any real advance notice. Perhaps had they spoken to us first, we would have told them what would and would not work.” However, the FOI evidence actually showed that Conservative councillors and council officials had met secretly with Development Securities on over 17 separate occasions, which is almost twice a month, to discuss their proposals for the Hammersmith Grove Armadillo. The first meeting took place on 15th November 2006 some ten months prior to Cllr. Loveday’s written statement. This led many local people to believe that the development was a "done deal" and over one hundred and seventy residents raised a wide variety of their concerns with H&F council officials and the developer at a public meeting on 25th October 2007. Unconvinced by what they heard, a further two hundred an fifty residents then turned out on 30th October 2007 to protest against the scheme when it was being considered by the Planning Applications Committee . Following that meeting, many residents told me that they were bitterly disappointed when H&F’s Conservative Councillors used their majority to grant planning permission. The planning committee was chaired by Ravenscourt Park Councillor Lucy Ivimy (Con).

It now seems that the construction of the Armadillo has been slowed down rather than stopped. Development Securities said in their statement that “Constructive discussions are now taking place in order that the development can proceed without the need for banking finance”. You can read Building magazine’s full story by clicking here.

Monday 25 August 2008

H&F Conservatives Make Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs Section AGAIN

The Rotten Boroughs section in the current issue of Private Eye (no 1217) has set aside seven paragraphs to expose how H&F’s Conservative Councillors have cut back the affordable housing element of another property scheme.

This is not the first time that our local Tory Councillors have appeared in Rotten Boroughs. This time last year Private Eye told how H&F Tories voted themselves an 18% pay hike and gave a fellow Conservative Councillor, on the adoptions panel, the equivalent of a 75% pay rise and all at the same time that they also voted over £30million of "savage cuts" to crime fighting, local schools, the elderly, the disabled, youth facilities, street cleaning, refuse collection, the garden waste scheme and the borough's environmental services.

The sad thing about the details uncovered in the current Private Eye story is that there are 9200 local families on the housing waiting list in Hammersmith and Fulham and many more residents looking to get an affordable home to rent or buy. All will be bitterly disappointed at this cut back in available affordable homes. However, with H&F Conservatives halting the affordable housing aspect of all major developments; looking to demolish affordable homes across the borough and flying to the south of France to meet major firms to try and sell off “contentious property developments”; then the Private Eye story is just the thin end of the wedge.

Monday 11 August 2008

What Are H&F Conservatives Plans To Demolish 800 West Ken Homes?

Lisa Nandy (Lab), H&F Council's Shadow Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, is calling on local Conservatives to come clean and tell the public what they're up to after Saffron Pineger of the Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle scooped a story exposing that the they are in secret negotiations to demolish over 800 homes in West Kensington. The Administration wants to replace them with “hotels, offices and luxury housing”.

The story has also been picked up in the property magazine Estates Gazette which reported that H&F Council had approached the owners of the Earl’s Court exhibition centre and offered up large areas of West Kensington, including Dieppe Close and Gibbs Green School as part of plans for a massive commercial development of the neighbouring Earls Court area.

This move provides an insight to the Conservative Administration’s strategy after a senior Tory Councillor flew to Cannes in the South of France to meet international property developers. The official explanation for his trip to the luxury resort was that he had gone to try to “unlock contentious development sites”.

Cllr. Lisa Nandy told me “This is a highly 'contentious development site'. With these plans H&F Conservatives would force over 800 families out of their homes and with no guarantee of getting an affordable, decent place to live at the end of it. They clearly do not care about the disruption, insecurity or anxiety they are causing to residents of West Kensington. I have put a Freedom of Information request to get all the documents relating to the Council’s secret negotiations but given the scope of this scheme I would hope that H&F Council would do the decent thing and tell local families exactly what plans it has for their homes. These proposals would be catastrophic for the area.”

Meanwhile, an official in H&F Council’s Environment Department told me that this is only one of many “contentious development sites” which the H&F Conservatives have identified across the borough. I will report on those as we glean more details.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

H&F Council Raises Suspicions With Secret Thames Water “Super Sewer” Meeting

I had a long conversation with a senior executive at Thames Water yesterday and plan to meet with them in September to discuss their proposal to put a gateway to the "super sewer" in Furnival Gardens, Hammersmith. It is now clear TW have identified Furnival Gardens as a possible site but told me that they are very keen to work with H&F Council to look at other possible sites in the area and is meeting with Council representatives today.

Oddly, the Conservative Administration is refusing to have a cross-party approach to this issue and does not want Labour representatives to be at that meeting. This is highly suspicious and given their history with Furnival Gardens and their dealings with property developers (in particular the Hammersmith Grove Armadillo) I am concerned to find out why the Conservatives don’t want a public spot light into their dealings with Thames Water. I wrote to the Administration to say:

“You will recall that when Labour was in Administration we arranged a meeting with TW and invited Conservative representatives to attend - which they did. Why therefore, is H&F Council now taking a party political approach to this issue, when it is obvious that local people will be better served if H&F Council puts up a united political front in opposing the use of Furnival Gardens as an entry point to the "super sewer"? Having witnessed the Council's dealings around the Hammersmith Grove Armadillo building, this approach leaves me extremely concerned about what deals H&F Council may be doing behind closed doors”.

Please email me here if you want to be kept in touch with this matter. My fellow ward councillors and I will raise you concerns or suggestions when we meet with TW in September. Meanwhile, I have used the Freedom of Information Act to request all documents relating to the H&F Conservative Administration's dealings with Thames Water on this matter. I have also asked for the total amount of Section 106 payment that could be given by Thames Water to H&F Council if it grants planning permission for Furnival Gardens to be used as a gateway to the "Super Sewer".

Saturday 19 July 2008

The Stress Of Living Next To The Westfield Building Site

Theresa Boyd lives opposite one of the biggest building sites in London. Her home is on Wood Lane on the other side of the road to the soon-to-be-opened Westfield shopping centre. Theresa says that the construction process has made the last few years the most stressful of all during the time she’s lived in Shepherds Bush, which is why she contacted her local Councillor Mercy Umeh (Lab) to tell her about what she and other neighbours have had to endure.

Mercy says that people living close to the area have had terrible problems explaining “The construction has generated amazing levels of dirt and noise. The area is continuously dusty, getting into people’s homes, onto their belongings and covering their windows. At one point rats, escaping from a demolition on the site, ran openly down Wood Lane and into the surrounding streets. It’s been pretty miserable for most local residents. I don’t think Westfield has been a good neighbour. I am taking up this matter with them”. Theresa added “Last year Westfield sent us six chocolate truffles which they said was a “gesture”. This year we got nothing so interested to find out what lay behind their thinking I phoned them and asked why. They told me that they’d laid on an ice rink for the public instead. I went down there and it would have cost £5 for my daughter to use it. I really think they have no idea of what they’ve put us through. I thought the least they would do is clean my house. Truffles and ice rinks… It’s nonsense!”.

The Westfiled website boasts “Westfield has approximately £25 billion of assets under management in a portfolio of 119 shopping centres across the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and New Zealand with 22,000 retailers and approximately 10 million sq m of retail space”. The Shepherds Bush centre is due to open this October. I hope they can find some way of making it up to residents for all the stress the construction process has caused them.

Thursday 17 July 2008

£2 Billion Sewer Project For Furnival Gardens?

Thames Water says that it is hoping to construct the entry point for a proposed 18 mile-long “super sewer” in Hammersmith and Fulham. Known as the Thames Tunnel, the scheme was originally intended to begin in Chiswick but, following a recent letter to H&F Council officials, Thames Water said that the tunnel is now “likely to start in Hammersmith & Fulham”. Council officials say they fear that Furnival Gardens riverside park could be the target site which would turn the area into a building site for at least eight years.

Thames Water says they need the Thames Tunnel to stop storm water and raw sewage flooding into the river. The sewer would take foul water from the 57 points along the Thames where 32 million tonnes of raw sewage a year is pumped into the river. It will combine these overflow outlets into a single 7.2 metre diameter tunnel, which will be up to 80 metres below ground in parts. Thames Water would need to dig an access shaft for the giant tunnel boring machine. This, in addition to six other construction sites, will connect sewer outfalls into the new tunnel. The project would start to be built in 2012 and would be one of the biggest engineering projects ever attempted in the capital. The Section 106 payment to H&F could be massive. I have therefore written to H&F Council to see what, if any, Section 106 money would come their way if these works took place in the borough.

I believe that Furnival Gardens is completely inappropriate for such a scheme. H&F Council have to fight this proposal with all the resources at their disposal. I am writing to Thames Water to arrange an urgent meeting but if officials are correct, then my fellow ward councillors and I will publicly campaign against this and expect H&F Council to give us their full backing in opposing it. Please email me here if you want to be kept in touch with this issue and take part in our campaign. I will let you know when we find out more.