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.