Monday 31 March 2008

Thirteen Police Warnings Sent To Sands End Youths After H&F Conservatives Close Youth Club

Latest figures show that in the last month, Fulham Police have sent thirteen warning letters to young people in Sands End. All have all been alleged to be involved in anti-social behaviour.

Readers will recall that back in January, many Sands End residents contacted me to complain that large numbers of young people were now roaming the streets following the £5million sell-off of the Castle Club play and youth centre by H&F's Conservative run council. The property is now being converted into a luxury private house.

Referring to the high number of police warnings, local resident Brendan Bird said “I’m not surprised. There is now a noticeable increase in the number of kids hanging around on the streets since the closure of the Castle Club. There has not been any appropriate replacement of facilities. Instead, H&F Conservatives sold the Castle Club off as a luxury private house despite it being bequeathed “for the care of the children of Fulham” by Laurence Sulivan in 1855. The Castle Club was an after-school play centre for kids aged between 5 to 11 and in the evenings it was a youth club that specialised in IT and photography for young people aged up to 16. Clearly anti-social behaviour needs to be dealt with but I also believe that Sands End desperately needs facilities that will be both attractive to young people and use up their energies in a constructive way”.

Brendan Bird and his fellow Sands End residents are campaigning to have the youth and play facilities replaced. Please email his campaign here to find out more.

Sunday 30 March 2008

Murad Qureshi AM Says H&F Youth Groups Should Bid For Ken's £5million

Murad Qureshi AM (Lab) is urging local voluntary and community groups working with young people to bid for a share of £5million of new funding for young Londoners announced by Mayor Livingstone.

Seventy three million pounds has already been pledged to the London boroughs to support projects offering young people positive activities and alternatives to getting involved in gang culture. However, the Mayor has set £5million aside, called the ‘Young Londoners’ Fund’, which is ring fenced specifically for voluntary and community groups who work with young people.

Murad said "This new money recognises the vital role local groups provide to our young people, providing activities, sport and education alongside those provided by statutory agencies . I hope that as many groups as possible will apply for funding to enable them to carry on their excellent work". Tenders need to be in by Friday, 2nd May 2008. Please click here if you would like to find out how to apply.

Saturday 29 March 2008

Mayor Livingstone Pledges More Cops And 6% A Year Reductions In Crime

Mayor Livingstone yesterday pledged 6% a year reductions in crime for each of the next four years , when launching his manifesto for a safer London - ‘Policing London in the 21st Century'.

He highlighted the investment his administration has put into Capital's policing which has produced record levels of police numbers and crime down for five years in a row. This contrasts with reductions in London's police under the Conservative Government that preceded him. The Mayor promised Londoners that he would continue to prioritise the extra funding necessary to fight crime.

Mr. Livingstone announced he will deploy extra resources on five key areas - building up London's defences against terrorist attacks, dealing with the issue of murders of young people, continuing the progress made in crimes against women including rape and domestic violence, dealing with drug crime and continuing progress to make sure that the make up of the Met reflects London.

Mayor Livingstone told the audience: 'The central pledge in this manifesto is to continue to reduce crime in London by 6 per cent a year over the next four years. This pledge can be made entirely realistically on the basis of the policies which have already resulted in crime in London falling for five years in a row. The rate of decline is accelerating with crime falling by 1.9 per cent in 2004, 4.4 per cent in 2005, 5.9 per cent in 2006, and 6.1 per cent in 2007. The average annual decline in crime for the last three years is 5.5 per cent. With the drop accelerating, the pledge to reduce crime by six per cent a year is entirely realistic both on the basis of existing policies and of the extra ones announced in this manifesto".

The Mayor pioneered the introduction of Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams in London - a model now being copied round the UK and says that having extra police on the Capital's streets is a central plank of his strategy to further cut crime adding "It was my decision to finance an increase in the number of police officers by 6,000, and to add more than 4,000 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), meaning an increase by 10,000 in uniformed officers. That has led to the reduction in crime in London. I will continue this by adding a further 1,000 officers this year. The increase in police numbers has made possible the introduction of local neighbourhood police teams in every part of London. We now have more police in London than at other time in history, dedicated teams of officers in every neighbourhood and 21 new Safer Transport Teams working to make public transport safer in London's outer boroughs" He said "The reduction in the number of police in London to only 25,000 before I came to office in 2000, because of policies of the Tory governments of that time, unleashed a serious crime wave in London, for example murders increased by 70 per cent and rapes by 72 per cent".

The Mayor said that he wanted crime to come down much further saying "The number of murders in London has fallen every year for the last five years, from 222 in 2003 to 160 last year. This is a reduction in murder by 28 per cent - even more than the 19 per cent fall in crime in the same period. Rape has fallen by 25 per cent. Gun crime by 22 per cent. Racist crime has been reduced by 55 per cent while I have been in office. The murders of young people are a critical issue we have to bear down upon by a combination of tough policing targeting the possession of knives, in particular, and policies to get young people off the streets by providing them with safe places, like youth facilities, to go outside school hours. These hard core crimes will not be reduced by gimmicks but by building on the methods that have reduced overall crime in London. Growing police numbers, the growing experience of the new officers and the roll out of neighbourhood policing are the most important means that will allow increased targeting of the most serious crime. There is no cheap way to reduce crime."

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Brackenbury Road Mini-Cab Application Blocked

I'm just back from attending the Planning Applications Committee having argued against it granting permission for the old Post office, at 127 Brackenbury Road, to be turned into a 24/7 mini-cab outlet. The application was refused - which will be a relief for most of the local residents my fellow ward councillors and I represent in the area.

I had insisted that this decision was considered by the Planning Committee instead of being made by council officers - under 'delegated powers' - after being contacted by many concerned local residents. H&F's planning officers recommended that the committee granted the applicant’s request for a nominal period of eighteen months. They also suggested conditions to the licence that would forbid the premises being used as a pick-up point for passengers or as a resting point for cars. However, it became clear that that these were standard conditions and that none of the officers serving the committee tonight had any knowledge of them ever being enforced. The Committee was surprised to see that there was a waiting area for passengers on the plans being presented. Cllr. Mike Cartwright (Lab) told the room that he understood that these conditions were routinely ignored by mini-cab business owners. Mike also made the point that H&F Council has previously said that it wanted to protect small retail outlets and allowing the change of use this application required would be contrary to that aim.

I had called several mini-cab offices in the area to research the nature of the business and discovered that they can operate up to fifty cars from any given outlet. One local mini-cab manager told me the 9.00pm to 4.00am shift from Thursday to Saturday nights was “very lively”. The Brackenbury Road/Aldensley Road junction is a relatively peaceful part of our borough – particularly since the introduction of the 20mph Home Zone. If this license had been granted it would have blighted this residential area with increased noise, traffic and anti-social behaviour. I am pleased that the committee members unanimously agreed with these points and turned it down. They'll publish the official explanation of their decision within the next few days.

Hammersmith Broadway Dispersal Zone Renewed

Local police have renewed the Hammersmith Broadway dispersal zone after complaints from residents about increased anti-social behaviour in the area. Dispersal zones were originally introduced in the borough in 2004.

The zone gives police officers powers to disperse groups and ban people that do not live in the area from returning for 24 hours.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Panel Of Local Councillors Set To Decide Mini-Cab Application For Brackenbury Post Office

The application to turn the old Post Office at 127 Brackenbury Road into a mini-cab outlet will be heard by a panel of Councillors tomorrow night. I intend to speak on behalf of the many local people who have contacted me about the problems this will cause in the area if permission is granted. The Planning Officer's recommendation is to grant permission for a limited period of 18 months. Please email me here if there are any points you particularly want me to raise.

Residents are welcome to attend but will only be able to address the Planning Committee if the Chair grants permission. The Planning Committee meeting will begin at 7.00pm on Wednesday, 26th March.

Friday 21 March 2008

Apollo Licence Appeal Date Confirmed

The Hammersmith Apollo’s bid to extend its current licence will be heard at West London Magistrates Court on Wednesday, 28th May. Residents can attend and will be allowed to give evidence if they have previously submitted a written objection. The hearing will begin at 10.00am and is expected to last all day.

The Apollo wants to run events up until 2.00am, for several thousand people, on as many as twenty occasions a year - as reported here. Their bid was initially rejected when it went to the Licensing Committee after Cllr. Lisa Nandy (Lab) spoke against it.

Residents in the vicinity have long standing concerns about the Apollo’s management of its current licence. Those wanting to attend should turn up at Court No. 1, West London Magistrates Courts, 181 Talgarth Road, London, W6 8DN.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

H&F Conservatives Confirms £36million Of Cuts And Increased Charges But Fails To Back Extra Money For Local Police

Wednesday, 27th February was the most important date in the municipal year. At 6.50pm the bell rang out around Hammersmith Town Hall. It was calling the borough’s 46 councillors to attend the Council Chamber to perform one of the central roles we have been elected to undertake. It was the Annual Budget Meeting for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

Moments later and nearly all of the councillors were present; seated around the 1930s constructed, oak panelled, semi-circular chamber. It was our responsibility to consider the Council’s £186million budget and to debate and vote on how we thought the Administration’s plans would affect the 179,900 local residents. At 7.00pm the main doors opened. The procession entered and the call was given to momentarily “All stand for the Mayor!”. We did. The meeting commenced.

It is customary for the Leader of the Council to present his Administration’s budget to the assembled elected representatives. This year, Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con) began with a game show style activity. It involved him calling out the name of a given London borough. He then instructed his fellow Conservative councillors to cheer or boo, depending on it being a Conservative, Lib Dem or Labour run council. They played along. This game took up the first 22 minutes of proceeding as he worked his way through many of the capital's 33 local authorities. It was the strangest budget meeting I’ve ever been to.

Maybe Cllr. Greenhalgh wanted to avoid debating the details of his budget? I can understand why, as they include £36million of cuts. You can view the full budget papers by clicking here. I’ve outlined below some of the highlights of the cuts to services that were voted through that night by the 33 strong Conservative majority.

H&F Conservatives also refused to back Labour's proposal to give the five wards with the highest crime new 24/7 police task squads, and they stuck to their decision to cut police funding in the ward with the highest crime. Instead, they voted a paltry £750k for community police in just two of the borough’s sixteen wards. I confirmed that Labour will significantly increase the investment in crime-fighting if elected to form the Administration in 2010 and that we would make reducing crime H&F Council's number one priority.

Apart from the cuts to services, one of the most controversial issues that evening concerned the Council’s fees. H&F council charges residents a range of fees for hundreds of its different services. These include charges for parking, planning applications, children’s play services, meals on wheels, etc. All fees were increased by a minimum of 5%, except those that were to rise by a greater amount. Those included meals on wheels charges which increased by a further 16% this year, bringing the total increases for this service in the last two years to a staggering 40%. Pay and display parking charges rises by 12.5%; children’s out-of-hours play services charges increase by 121% and H&F Council introduced a completely new £12.40 hourly fee for home care for local elderly, sick and disabled residents.

H&F Council also has an Asset Reduction Strategy. This largely involves selling off land and buildings currently occupied by schools, youth clubs, community centres and homeless hostels.

Wages have been cut for many front-line staff with some people losing 50% of their pensionable income. The number of low cost homes to buy or rent have been significantly reduced and the Council is planning to make money by introducing a range of new or increased fines.

Not all the budget was bad. For example, the Customer (changed to Residents) First modernisation programme, started by the last Labour Administration, is delivering many of the technology-led efficiencies that officials promised it would in the early part of this decade. But, there are many local residents that will be much, much worse off. Most of those will be the elderly, the disabled, children and residents concerned about crime and the deteriorating state of our local environment.

I'll keep you informed as to how all of the borough's people are affected by the decisions voted through on that February evening.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Local Disability Groups Ask You To Sign Petition Against H&F Conservatives’ Broken Promise Not To Introduce New Charges

Prior to the May 2006 elections H&F Conservatives visited a number of local disability groups to say that they would "not introduce home care charges" for the elderly, sick and disabled residents of Hammersmith and Fulham. These groups were told that their services were safe with the Conservatives - they even put that commitment into their manifesto.

Then, less than a year after getting elected, H&F Conservatives announced that they would renege on that promise. They now plan to introduce new home care charges for local elderly, sick and disabled people sometime this year. Many local groups have banded together to form the Hammersmith & Fulham Coalition Against Community Care Cuts (HAFCAC). They’re keen that fellow residents of the borough show their support for their campaign and have asked me to publicise their petition, which you can sign by clicking here.

Readers will recall that H&F Conservatives ended home care for 550 elderly, sick and disabled residents in a highly controversial public meeting last July. They now plan to charge the remaining elderly, sick and disabled local people, who are still in receipt of home care, a staggering £12.40 an hour for this service.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Hammersmith’s Bushwacker Wholefoods At the Forefront Of A Retail Revolution

Back in 1982, six years before the modern Fair Trade movement was formally established and when the current organic food sector was still a twinkle in an environmentalist’s eye; Chris and Sunita Shipton set up Bushwacker Wholefoods.

Chris tells me that their aim "was always to source high quality food that‘s produced by suppliers committed to looking after their workers, their livestock and their land, and who work with the underlying nature of things”. Chris says that he and Sunita “thought it was important to support the people that produce our food in a sustainable way”. Twenty six years later and they’re still serving the people of Hammersmith with the same ethos.

The store is homely and the shelves are stacked with an impressive variety of high-end produce. Amazing Dijon mustard and beautifully produced chocolates sit alongside their sugar-free breakfast cereals. Bags of exotic dried fruits, rustic breads, and jars of delicious rainforest honey line up next to dairy products and a wide array of teas, coffees, lentils, split peas, fresh fruit and vegetables. Almost everything is organic, Fair Trade or both. It’s one of the few places I know where you can pick up the most obscure cooking ingredients and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Look around London and you’ll quickly realise that there’s fewer and fewer shops like Bushwacker Wholefoods. Large supermarket groups have actively sought to crowd out their smaller competitors. Concern is such that the Evening Standard is running a campaign to protect London’s small retailers and, as reported here, there is concern from Parliamentary Select Committees to influential think tanks about the future of the UK’s independently owned shops.

Chris says that they’re “lucky to have a loyal following of customers” but he recognises that H&F Council’s recent announcement of its plan to build a new supermarket at the top of King Street is “a concern”. He told me that he pays around £17,000.00 in business rates to H&F Council and a further £450.00 to the Hammersmith Business Improvement District but cannot see how either of those bodies have done anything to aid the small retailer. “I think they’re focused on big businesses”. He said. “I hope they prove me wrong”.

You can visit Bushwacker Wholefoods at 132 King Street, Hammersmith, London, W6 0QU. You can also phone them on 020 8748 2061.

Friday 7 March 2008

H&F Council Leader Awards Himself Secret 14% Pay Hike While Cutting Staff Wages Up To 50%

There is a rather curious new payment to a councillor on page 130 of the annual budget papers – which you can read here. A new £5000.00 imbursement appears for the “Lead Member for Recruitment”. This role was previously always a key part of the job of the Leader of the Council and is rewarded in their £35,763.00 annual remuneration (the Council Leader also receives an additional £8,940.00 basic councillor's allowance). So, it’s unusual that there should be so little notice of this change in the cabinet structure. Who is this mysterious new councillor, undertaking this new role and so receiving a stomping extra £5000.00 of council tax payers’ money? The answer; it's none other than Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), who's pictured here and is the er… current Leader of H&F Council.

Now this is all very odd. Why the cloak and daggers around what turns out to be a 14% salary rise for Cllr. Greenhalgh? Maybe there is some embarrassment that this comes at a time when H&F Council is asking caretakers to agree to a 50% cut in their pensionable income, and sheltered housing wardens (who look after the elderly) are losing around 30% of their pensionable income? It could be that he is worried about looking greedy after all the problems H&F Conservatives had last year when they awarded themselves an 18% salary rise (which they were forced to reverse following a public campaign run by the Labour Opposition)? Who knows why Cllr. Greenhalgh had H&F Council dress up his salary hike in this way?

Please email me here if you have any ideas of your own that may help to answer these questions.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

How Gullible Do H&F Conservatives Think The Public Are On Council Tax?

On the 22nd May 2006 - and under the last Labour Administration - H&F Council published official papers announcing that there would be a real terms cut in council tax each and every year up until 2009. This was agreed at the Annual Budget Meeting on 22nd February 2006. Councillors from all parties were present.

However, despite introducing 578 stealth taxes themselves, H&F Conservatives have now started to tell people that Labour would have put Council Tax up by 7.7%. This is demonstrably not true – which is why H&F Council is legally forbidden from repeating such fabrication in any of its publicity.

I do not believe any national politician’s reputation would survive if they set out to deliberately mislead the public in this way. The national media would make mincemeat of them. However, H&F Conservatives clearly think that local politics is different. It doesn’t get the same level of public interest, investigation or the spotlight that the national scene gets for sure. Maybe H&F Conservatives thought they could get away with this hoodwinking exercise with their reputations intact? We shall have to see.

Those people wanting to check out the situation themselves should look at H&F Council’s annual budget papers here. On page 42 you will see that H&F Council is making £36,335,000.00 worth of cuts - which they list as "efficiencies" - and are mostly targeted at essential services (See here for full budget analysis). For that you will see on page 37 that the tax reduction is £20.74 per year. So, if a Conservative leaflet comes through your door proclaiming that you’re “£349.04” better off – which is what they’re saying. You may want to get out your previous Council Tax bills, compare the difference and ask yourself “How gullible do these Tories think I am?”.