Saturday 25 September 2010

H&F Conservatives Block Crucial Vote Until After Homeless Charity Is Forced To Shut

I can’t recall the last time I saw so many members of the public give up their evening to witness a Full Council Meeting. Most were charity workers and their homeless clients but others made up the sixty strong crowd too. It was a mixed group: A young woman sat with her baby in a pram; a man in his twenties who served in the army, a woman in her thirties who said she had been a victim of domestic violence. There were many. All waited anxiously to hear the Conservative Administration’s explanation for closing down the homeless charity that had helped many of them get back onto their feet. They were hoping the Tories would have a change of heart by putting an end this vindictive scam and vote to reinstate Council funding.

But the Conservatives had decided on a darkly cynical path. They announced that they didn’t even want to discuss the matter - let alone vote on it. Instead, they called for it to be moved from the agenda that night on 16th September to the 27th October. Almost certainly, they knew that by that date it would be too late. The charity will have run out of funding and been forced to shut down.

The Mayor could have intervened. Indeed, it is customary to allow debate on matters that have engaged such public interests. This did not happen. Instead, and at the insistence of Mark Loveday, the Tory Chief Whip, the Mayor called for a vote to move the debate. It wasn’t hard to guess what would happen.  It was won by the extremely large majority of the Conservative Group of councillors - of which the Mayor is also a member.

The meeting erupted as members of the public and Opposition councillors realised what the Tories had done. It was the worst Council Meeting I have ever been to.

This was, in fact, the first time ever that any Administration had abused its powers in this way and stopped all Opposition motions. It’s hard to really understand why Cllr. Loveday and his fellow Conservative councillors believed this was a clever thing to do. They can’t have had somewhere else more important to go as by 8.30pm that night; nearly all of them were drinking in a local pub and had been doing so within minutes of that meeting finishing.

Consider, for a moment, some of the other occasions when members of the public have turned up to Hammersmith Town Hall. There have been planning meetings when hundreds of local residents have made the effort to attend only to be yelled at and threatened with “expulsion” by the Conservative Committee Chair - who then used the massive Tory majority to vote against each and every one of their concerns. Even children and their parents have been flabbergasted after arguing their case in late night Town Hall meetings only to watch in amazement as a unanimous line of Tory councillors’ hands rose into the air signalling the closure of their cherished local school. But even on all those occasions, Opposition Councillors have been able to argue their constituents’ case. This is the very least our democratic system allows.

That didn’t happen on September 16th. Afterwards, the director of Threshold Housing Advice was dejected. She told me she had lost all hope of keeping the local homeless service alive. “What will happen to those hundreds and hundreds of homeless people who come to us for help?” she asked. She knew the bitter answer. I looked back struggling to think of something positive to tell her.

H&F Conservatives have a dire record on homelessness. Threshold Housing Advice has been a vital counter-weight to H&F Council’s actions. They need about £175,000 to maintain their vital service. If you want to help (no matter how large or small the sum), please donate using this web link.

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