Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Local Gov Minister Comes To See H&F Conservatives' Council Service Cuts & Stealth Taxes For Himself

In the spring of 2006, the Rt Hon John Healey MP visited Hammersmith to see how the Labour Administration’s extra investment into policing had produced the biggest falls in crime in London.

That May, the Conservatives took control of H&F Council following the local elections. Then - having promised residents “zero tolerance” on crime during the campaign – the Conservatives promptly reversed their position, removed all police funding from the Hammersmith team and cut police numbers in neighbourhoods with the highest crime. Now our borough’s crime figures languish behind Lambeth, Waltham Forest and a host of other London boroughs with crime up significantly in some wards. That's one reason why H&F Labour pledge that, if we form the next Administration in 2010, we will increase police numbers and give the five wards with the highest crime 24/7 police Task Squads.

John Healey is now the Minister for Local Government. I took him around the borough to see the harm the reductions in services and new stealth taxes are causing local people. John saw the boarded up Castle Youth Club (see pic left). This had provided a wide range of facilities to local young people but the Conservatives closed it down and sold it off. It is now set to become luxury flats. He saw Hurlingham Park which is currently still fenced off and - where children once played - there are mechanical diggers preparing for an exclusive polo tournament after the Tories hired out the local green space to an event organiser. I told John how the Tories are using new stealth taxes to put cost up to local residents. There are 578 of these which include the new garden waste charge introduced after the elections and set to be hiked up to £25 this summer.

We also popped in on Michael Templar’s birthday party at Wentworth Court Sheltered Housing scheme. Michael is one of the tenants’ forum reps and around forty residents of pensionable age turned out to take part in the celebrations. John took time to chat with all of the elderly residents. Many took the opportunity to tell him of their fears over the Council’s plans to remove the vital sheltered housing wardens.

Oddly, H&F Council instructed a member of their press office to go to the birthday party and insisted that he was actually allowed into the room were the celebrations were happening. He sat there and studiously took notes of everything everyone said. When I asked him what he was doing there he said he was “only following orders”. I'm told that the orders came directly from the Tory Leader of the Council. I cannot ever recall anything like this happening before and conclude that this is another instance of H&F Council’s PRAVDA style approach to their press operation.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Slaughter Resigns From Government To Campaign Against Heathrow Plans

Andrew Slaughter MP, Labour's parliamentary spokesperson for the new Hammersmith constituency, today resigned from his Government position as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Malloch-Brown over his opposition to the expansion of Heathrow Airport.

Earlier this month Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon announced that BAA would be permitted to build a third runway at Heathrow with work planned to begin in 2017. Andy Slaughter has been a prominent opponent of the new runway and felt he was unable to support the Government on the issue. Last November Mr. Slaughter led a deputation of Labour MPs to meet the Prime Minister and subsequently spoke in the Commons debate on Heathrow. Read more here:

Friday, 23 January 2009

Cameron Turns A Blind Eye As H&F Conservatives Add £547 To Meals On Wheels Bills – The Cruellest Stealth Tax Of All

Interviewed in this week’s Gazette, Dawn Stephenson, director of Age Concern Hammersmith and Fulham, tells how H&F Conservatives’ £547 hike in meals on wheels charges is likely to have devastating consequences. She told Rebecca Kent “You hear about elderly people who die in their homes, but no-one visits them for weeks. That daily contact is really, really critical and if the service is reduced or cut altogether that would be just tragic”.

This is the third year in a row that prices for meals on wheels have risen – bringing the total increases to 60 per cent during that period.

On 20th March 2007, I actually wrote to David Cameron MP, the Leader of the Conservative Party, to alert him to the controversy of our local Tory Administration targeting this vulnerable group of people. In my letter, I explained “As you know, meals-on-wheels are provided to some of the poorest elderly and disabled people in our community. Many people believe that it is wrong to ask these people to pay so much more to eat.” Cameron didn’t even bother to reply.

But that was year one. In this year's 2009/10 budget our Conservatives have added another £182 to meals on wheels to bills bringing the total hikes to £547 since 2007. It therefore seems that, at the very least, Mr. Cameron has been content to look the other way while this attack on Hammersmith and Fulham’s elderly, sick and disabled residents is allowed to continue.

There are three aspects to the Tories’ cuts to the meals on wheels service:
  1. The new and highly dubious practice of telephoning elderly residents up and interviewing them to see if they still qualify for the service. Readers will recall the anxiety of one family when the Council cancelled the service for a 79 year old lady who suffers from dementia following such an interview, as reported here.
  2. Hiking prices up in the hope that this tax will encourage the numbers of users to drop off and stop using the service.
  3. Force people to switch to microwave food deliveries instead.

Back in 2007, I asked a senior finance official what rationale lay behind this new approach. She said that “the Administration wants to make more money from this service”. The Council has a £185m budget and this cut will save £100k. I wrote to H&F Conservatives and suggested that I’d be happy to advise them where else they could make this saving instead. They wrote back to say they were “happy with the increases”.

H&F Council’s Tory Administration spends millions of pounds on propaganda and other wasteful follies. I think most reasonable people will think that it would be better to cut back the press operation, or shut down H&F Council’s PRAVDA styled spin-sheet instead of hiking up these charges.

If you or anyone you know is affected by this cut, please email me here and I will do all I can to help.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Local Labour Round-up

Camden’s Cllr. Theo Blackwell has had the excellent idea of setting up a local Labour blog round-up. Different people, active in their communities, will take turns to summarise some of the issues going on with other councils and so give readers an opportunity to see what’s happening elsewhere. It's my turn this month.

This all coincides with Ken Livingstone’s launch of Progressive London. That initiative has attracted a breadth of political support and Progressive London will be holding it’s first Conference this Saturday.

I think it's right that we should start with Theo as this was all his idea. Here he demonstrates that those residents who believed they were all alone, in their frustrating dealings with their local council, are not - as Camden offers these unusual benchmarks. And, it seems that H&F Council isn't the only one handing out handing out inflation busting amounts of tax payers' cash to political cronies. Camden has been similarly generous too.

Islington Councillors Catherine West and Richard Watts are proposing to introduce free school meals for all children under the age of 11. A welcome bonus in these tough economic times. They plan to do it by raising the extra funds by cutting waste - such as spending on glossy PR. This is something H&F’s residents may want to ponder when viewing their Council's PRAVDA styled propaganda sheet.

Putney’s Stuart King suggests that Wandsworth Tories’ 27 per cent increase for parking permit charges is indicative of the stealth tax approach any future government led by David Cameron would take.

Over in Hackney, Cllr. Luke Akehurst tells how his borough has managed to invest in new front line services and deliver real terms reductions in Council Tax without the fantastic cuts in essential services or the 578 stealth taxes introduced into our borough by H&F Conservatives.

John Gray raises concerns about Boris' probity saying that he ceases to be funny when - putting aside the rights or wrongs of Damien Green’s arrest - he seems to have used information gleaned because of his Mayoral position to tip off his Tory colleagues of an impending police investigation.

And finally, Cllr. Kerron Cross gives an insight, that all involved in politics will recognize, when he takes an amusing slant on his recent invite to spend Valentine’s Day showing his "love for the good people of Poplar" by campaigning for Jim Fitzpatrick MP - the first rate Member of Parliament for Poplar and Canning Town.

If you're active in your community and have a local story from anywhere around the country that fits this brief then please email us by clicking here.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Hope

As the Chicago Tribune reports: "On the day before the Inauguration, President Obama observed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, by participating in a day of service during which he painted a wall at a temporary shelter in Washington D.C. for the homeless and runaway youth".

Here are some pictures which capture just a few of the moments leading up to this historic Presidency:











Monday, 19 January 2009

International Visitors Discuss H&F’s Affordable Homes

Walk south along the river bank from Hammersmith Bridge and you’ll come across low rise affordable houses dotted along the side of your path. Once past Putney Bridge, you’ll be able to look over the river and contrast that with the high rise, glass fronted super-developments of luxury flats that have been build in the London Borough of Wandsworth over the last thirty years. Nothing symbolises more the different approaches council administrations can take to developing land in their borough.

All of the properties you’ll pass on your riverside walk through our borough were build by the last Labour Administration. Up until 2006 that Administration build more affordable homes to buy or rent than the rest of London put together.

Our provision of affordable homes was one of the issues discussed when a delegation of South Australia’s politicians visited Hammersmith Town Hall on Friday afternoon. The Hon Jennifer Rankine MP - South Australia's Minister for Housing - led the delegation that included the Hon John Gazzola - Member of the Legislative Council and Matt Clemow - Adviser to the Minister for Housing. They were greeted by Cllr. Lisa Nandy (Lab), the Shadow Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, Cllr. Jean Campbell (Lab) Housing Scrutiny Committee Member, Cllr. Mike Cartwright (Lab) the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and me.

Given the stark differences between west London and South Australia it was interesting to consider our shared objectives to provide more affordable homes to buy and rent, tackle homelessness and regenerate our regions.

Calling All Parents! Are You Entitled To Up To £1,040 In Unclaimed Children’s Tax Allowance for 2002/3?

There are many parents eligible for a non-means tested tax credit but they've failed to claim their money due to a lack of publicity from the Inland Revenue.

The Children’s Tax Allowance means that parents could be in for a tax rebate of between £520.00 to £1,040 if they have a child born between 6th April 1986 and 5th April 2003 and have not already claimed it. However, the claim form must in before the 31st January 2009 deadline and parents do not qualify for this if they're in the higher rate tax band.

It’s easy to claim. Click this link for more information or simply call your tax office and ask them to check whether you have already received this allowance or not. You will need your National Insurance Number.

People are eligible to claim an allowance of £520 if:

  • You have a child born between 6th April 1986 and 5th April 2003 AND

  • The child lived with you for all or part of that year AND

  • You worked and paid tax for all or part of that year AND

  • You or your partner earned over £6,000 in the 2002/03 Tax Year.
You are eligible for an allowance of £1,040 if;
  • You can answer yes to the four questions above, and

  • One of your children was born between 6th April 2002 and 5th April 2003

Here is the link to the HMRC Form which you can fill in and send to your local Tax Office before the deadline at the end of this month.

The BBC have reported that thousands of parents are needlessly paying claims management firms to reclaim this tax-allowance, even though they easily could do it themselves.

I hope this information is useful.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Progressive London Conference Next Week

Ken Livingstone’s Progressive London has organised its first conference which will take place next Saturday, 24th January.

Progressive London has attracted a breadth of cross-party support since it’s launch. It aims to engaged all people interested in social progress in London. Next week’s conference seeks to tackle some of the most pressing questions facing Londoners.

The line up of speakers includes Government ministers; journalists, pollsters, campaigners, trade unionists, charities and NGOs, academics and politicians.

You can read more about the details of the conference including how to register online by clicking here:

Friday, 9 January 2009

H&F Council Decides Not To Pass On VAT Cut To Local Residents

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Conservative Administration has decided not to pass on the Government’s VAT cut for its sporting, youth and hospital parking facilities, making it one of only three Councils in the UK not to do so.

This is arguably the most underhand of all H&F Conservatives new stealth taxes. It’s also highly questionable whether a local government body should act in this way when - agree with it or not - the VAT cut was designed to put a bit more money into people’s pockets at a time of a global economic slowdown.

Rebecca Kent of the Hammersmith Gazette scooped the story which you can read by clicking onto the attached photo. The Gazette is an out today and available for the next week from local newsagents.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Sunday Times Attacks H&F Council For “Splurging” Tax Payers’ Cash On Tory Councillor's French Riviera Stay

A resident sent me this story, covered last weekend in the Sunday Times. It exposes the £12,000 tax-payer funded Cannes jaunt by Hammersmith and Fulham Councillor Mark Loveday (Con) - first covered here last June.

Regular readers will recall the official H&F Council explanation given for this unusual council tax expenditure was that Cllr. Loveday and two officials were meeting property developers to “unlock contentious development sites” in our borough. Having spent last night at a public meeting to consider the highly “contentious” Goldhawk Industrial development site, with around two hundred local residents, I don’t think any of them would think Cllr. Loveday’s trip was a good use of their tax funds.

The Sunday Times tells how Cannes, in the south of France is “The resort best known for hosting Hollywood stars, but last March the high rollers in Cannes were of an altogether different ilk”. It then questions Cllr. Mark Loveday’s trip to the millionaire’s playground wondering why the Hammermith and Fulham party “appeared to book their flights so late that they were charged £2,640 for four return tickets to the south of France by easyJet, the no-frills airline”.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

What Next? Invite To Hear Debate Of The Change President-elect Barack Obama Will Bring

Readers are invited to attend a debate between Bonnie Greer, the Chicago born playwright and critic and Peter Oborne, a contributing editor to The Spectator and columnist on the Daily Mail. The meeting will be chaired by William Barnard – chair of Democrats Abroad (UK) and will be hosted by Emily Thornberry MP (Lab). It should be an interesting evening for those keen to consider how the world will change after the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama at the end of this month.

The event will take place at 7.00pm on Thursday, January 15th, 2009 at The Window, 13 Windsor Street, London N1 8QG.

There is a £35 ticket price with the promise of drinks, and the best canap├ęs in Islington. Proceeds will cover cost and support Emily Thornberry MP's community engagement work. RSVP to Emily Thornberry MP by clicking here.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Another Hammersmith Property Development Raises Residents’ Fears

Property Developers, Londonewcastle, hope to persuade H&F Council to grant planning permission for a multi-million pound scheme in the heart of Brackenbury Village. They propose to build fifty six dwellings and eleven commercial units which will back onto homes in Dalling, Brackenbury and Goldhawk Roads. Residents have a number of concerns and have arranged to discuss them at a public meeting taking place tomorrow night.

Regular readers will recall that the ruling Conservative Administration has used its large majority to grant permission for several controversial major property developments, overruling residents’ considered objections in the process. These include the recent Glenthorne Road scheme, where officers and Tory councillors argued that the property developer’s need to make a profit overrode residents' concerns; the Percy Road scheme, where the Tories voted to allow eight properties to be built a mere three metres away from other residential homes; and the Hammersmith Grove Armadillo, when Ravenscourt Park Councillor Lucy Ivimy (Con) threatened to have residents expelled from the planning meeting for holding up posters. I hope the Conservatives will listen to local people and address the concerns they raise on this current proposal.

It’s worth noting that Londonewcastle have hired the PPS Group, a firm of local government lobbyists professing to be the “UK's first and is its foremost supplier of lobbying, communications and consultation advice to the property industry” PPS are best known to local residents after having acted for the developer on the highly contentious Hammersmith Grove Armadillo.

PPS have now upset local residents about this scheme by refusing to take part in the public meeting planned for tomorrow evening. The Brackenbury Residents Association invited PPS and the developer along to listen to residents’ concerns and answer their questions. However, PPS have been emphatic in their refusal. Instead, they say they will stage an exhibition earlier in the day. All this begs the question what are they frightened of? What’s the worst that could happen other than some possibly pointed questions from residents keen to find out more about plans for their neighbourhood? Surely, if Londonewcastle’s case is worth putting, it should be put to those people most likely to be affected? PPS and Londonewcastle will have almost certainly been in private discussions with H&F Council for many months. So why not have this conversation out in the open and let local people know what is going on?

All this is rather peculiar when you consider that on PPS’ website they tell potential clients that “Active engagement and consultation with the community is what PPS is all about. We’ve been doing it since 1990, and have enormous experience of how to make the provisions of the 2004 Planning Act work for you. Get it right and you can bring the community with you. Get it wrong and you will face heightened local concerns”. Residents tell me that, so far, PPS are getting it very wrong. Maybe they will have a change of heart.

The public meeting has been arranged by the Brackenbury Residents Association and will begin at 7.30pm on Wednesday, 7 January 2009. It will take place in the Main Hall at Brackenbury School, which is situated on the Dalling Road/Brackenbury Road junction in Hammersmith. However, if you can get there for 6.00pm you’ll be able to view the developer’s exhibition as well.

Please click here and here to read H&F Council’s consultation papers and view the plans. Click here to register a comment or objection with the Council. Please ensure you click the correct button to indicate whether you are simply commenting or expressing objections to the scheme.

For further information about tomorrow's meeting please click here to email Rosemary Pettit, Secretary of the Brackenbury Residents Association. To keep updated, Rosemary has also set up a Facebook group which you can join by clicking here.