Thursday 22 December 2011

H&F Council's Wins Private Eye's Annual Rotten Borough Award For Second Consecutive Year

The Conservative run Council has again won
Private Eye's annual award
Hammersmith and Fulham Council has made Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs section again - for a fourteenth time. This time for winning one of the 2011 Rotten Borough Annual Awards.

The dubious accolade was given because the Conservative run Council closed a support centre for Afghan refugees without taking any care or thought about where they could go for help. The Administration argued it was okay to do this because the refugees could go to the Southern Afghan Club instead. But that turned out to be a dog fanciers' club for those that particularly admired Afghan hounds. You can read more about that and the other heartless advice they offered by clicking here.

This is the second year in a row that H&F Council has made the Rotten Borough Annual Awards pages. In 2010 it found itself winning under the Retiree of the Year category. That was awarded to Mr. Nick Johnson, one of H&F Council's long standing "full time" "consultants". In 2007 he retired as the Chief Executive of Bexley Council at the tender age of 54 because of ill health - which entitled him to draw his generous pension. But he then popped up in Hammersmith and Fulham fourteen weeks later as a consultant Chief Executive. H&F Council has now paid him an amount of money that is roughly the same sum as equivalent to a 2% council tax cut for every household in the Borough since he started working here in 2008 .

You can read more about Private Eye's Rotten Borough Awards in its Christmas edition (no 1304) which is available at all good newsagents.

Friday 16 December 2011

Town Hall Planning Debacle: GLA Slaps H&F Conservatives In The Face

H&F Conservatives' Town Hall Scheme
stopped - or at least "kicked into the long grass"
H&F Conservatives’ Town Hall office and demolition scheme has been stopped – for now. The Greater London Authority was apparently about to refuse the controversial scheme which was granted planning permission by H&F's Conservative councillors on 30th November. The GLA had reached the conclusion that it breached their regional planning rules - as well as those of this Borough. However, H&F Conservatives pleaded with Mayor Boris Johnson to let them "withdraw" it instead "until further notice." He agreed and so has allowed them the opportunity to bring it back at some future point without the public currently seeing all of the GLA's criticisms. It is still a "live planning application."

So sadly this is not our VE day, it's more like D Day instead. But it is still a battle victory and a humiliating slap in the face for the Conservative Administration, their planning officials and for those Conservative Councillors that block voted it through, without asking a single testing question.

There appears to have been some intriguing goings-on behind the scenes. I understand that Mayor Boris Johnson (Con) was furious at having this issue land on his desk just five months before the Mayoral and GLA elections. Thousands of residents from across south west London have protested about it and were emailing the him in droves. Indeed many, including actress Vanessa Redgrave, were taking part in a vigil outside City Hall only yesterday. A reliable source told me that Mayor Johnson and leading members of H&F's Administration have been engaged in "heated discussions." It has now been "kicked into the long grass."

However, H&F's Conservative Administration needs to rip these plans up, drop their £35m office project and agree to protect the cinema, the park, the skyline and the homes they were going to demolish. They should use this opportunity to start fresh talks with residents about what might work best. That's what I will do should Labour win control of the Council  on 1st May 2014 - assuming H&F Conservatives haven’t been allowed to grant a further planning permission by then.

For now, we must understand exactly what concerns the GLA raised about this project. Those need to be published so Hammersmith and Fulham's Conservative Administration can properly be held to account should they bring this back after the Mayoral election or propose anything similar during the next two and a half years.

There also needs to be an inquiry into the money that's been wasted on this scheme. Senior Conservative councillors and their officials have been working on it since 2006. They have spend millions of tax pounds on consultants, trips abroad to meet property speculators and time putting it all together. On top of that, they were in the process of offering property speculators well over £70m of public land to make this scheme go through.

Anyone that attended the Planning Committee on 30th November would have got a strong whiff of the weakness of the Administration’s case. This is a gargantuan mess. We need to understand how they got it so wrong and how that was allowed to happen consistently during the five years they all worked on it. And when we do, maybe there will be some resignations from the Cabinet Members and senior officials that were behind this project as well as the Planning Committee members that voted this scheme through.

You can read more about this in The Standard, the Shepherds Bush Blog and the local Chronicle.

Monday 12 December 2011

How H&F Labour Will Cut Council Taxes Without The Conservatives' Octopus Tactics

Labour's campaign for cuts in
Council Taxes
Over the last year my fellow Labour councillors and I have resumed our campaign for cuts in council taxes. Times are tough but the council has the money to do it. Today the Council announced that it will cut roughly £30 from the average band ‘D’ council tax bill. That’s a move in the right direction and I'm sure it will win them some easy headlines.

But H&F Conservatives are like an octopus that gives with one arm but rifles through your pockets and takes your money with its seven others. Early on their Administration introduced nearly 600 new or higher inflation busting stealth taxes. The Telegraph have put them on their List of Parking Shame for, until this year, introducing nearly 60% hikes in charges in a single year; elderly and disabled people now pay £12.40 an hour if they need home care; and even introduced new charges this year for people who want to use a personal trainer in our parks. The real mission for H&F Conservatives should be how can they genuinely put more money back into the pockets of hard pressed households up and down the Borough.

Consider that roughly £600,000 is equivalent to a 1% council tax cut in this Borough, It’s therefore easy to understand the scope for further cuts if you look at what our money has been wasted on in recent years. Here’s a list:
  • Wasted £35million on the unwanted Hammersmith Town Hall office scheme by handing over expensive council owned land and paying for much of the work undertaken by officials and professionals
  • Wasted up to £12million on employing unnecessary consultants that the council admitted were paid despite many no longer doing any necessary work for the council.
  • Wasted £5million a year on what a leading Tory MP said was political propaganda on the rates
  • Giving senior bureaucrats 16% salary rises and, at an average of £220,000 a year and therefore employing the highest paid senior council bureaucrats in the UK
  • They even admitted wasting £250,000.00 because they failed to turn the lights off in the Town Hall extension
H&F Council have now paid this consultant almost the same as a 2% council tax cut for every Borough household. And the culture around respecting public money is wrong when they argue it’s OK to spent £7,000 on a booze up that started on a Monday afternoon. There is more and it can be stopped.

Labour will cut Council Taxes should we win the election in 2014. We will use zero based budgeting to access all H&F Council’s expenditure and will strip out waste such as that listed above.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Town Hall Scheme On Boris Johnson's Desk After H&F Conservatives' Predictable "Yes" Vote

Residents queueing to get into the planning meeting just
before the 7.00pm start. Dozens were barred because
H&F Council booked too small a room
to accommodate everyone
Well over 400 Hammersmith residents turned out to a special session of the Planning Applications Committee (PAC) last week. They had come to hear the arguments the Conservative Administration would use to justify their office and tower block scheme. But, as one leading resident later wrote: council “officers offered no real analysis or justification for their recommendations” adding we have “rarely heard such a display of double-speak and flummery.” Needless to say, none of that stopped all seven Conservative councillors on PAC from somewhat predictably block voting their own Administration’s plan through. Labour’s three PAC members voted against. Now the decision goes to Mayor Boris Johnson (Con).

The Mayor has to review this scheme, not least because the Council has a clear conflict of interests. Boris Johnson has the power to instruct H&F Council to refuse permission. If he looks at the evidence objectively then it’s hard to see him doing anything other than that. But many residents fear that Boris Johnson’s close relationship with H&F Conservatives could be an obstacle. The Mayor and H&F Conservatives work closely on policy together, H&F Council hosted Boris Johnson’s campaign day, the Council Leader worked on the Mayor’s Audit panel and is said to be chairing his re-election committee.

The scheme could also be called in by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. But many residents are equally wary of that, noting that this post is currently held by Mr. Eric Pickles MP (Con). He has described H&F Council as the apple in his eye and even made the Council Leader the Chair of his Innovation Unit.

None of that should affect the process but I understand why residents are concerned. H&F Council’s PAC meeting looked like a stitch-up from beginning to end and has left many with little more than contempt for the way the Administration and Conservative PAC members have acted. I cannot recall witnessing such a thoroughly disingenuous approach to any planning application – and that’s really saying something. I therefore think there should be an independent investigation of what has gone on.

Over 1,300 residents, local community groups and English Heritage had written in to offer their criticisms of the project. English Heritage had taken the unusual step of detailing why this scheme will cause “considerable harm” to the environment. But none of that appeared to matter. The meeting was characterised by Conservative PAC members lining up to ask planted questions and planning officers then nervously responding with their often rehearsed answers. Nobody in the audience had any confidence that any of their concerns were being properly dealt with.

The scheme is the end result of four years’ of negotiations which had been led by Cllr. Mark Loveday, H&F Conservatives’ Chief Whip and Cabinet Member for Strategy and Nigel Pallace, the Director of the Council’s Environment and Planning Department. Driving it all was the Administration’s desire for £35m of new offices for Town Hall bureaucrats. To get those, the Conservative Administration had traded £70m land, will agree to CPO and demolish homes, shops and the cinema; it had agreed to build on a quarter of the riverside park; and for its chosen developer to build tower bocks reaching up to 15 storeys high into the Hammersmith skyline. It is a ridiculous deal and it’s hard to find anyone that supports it other than the Conservative Administration or the developer.

I asked Nigel Pallace how the process had worked, what minutes had been kept of the many private meetings with the developer and who had been involved? Notably, I wanted to know what had come first, the deal or the changes to the Local Development Framework (LDF) and justifications for the scheme his officials are using to recommend “approval”? His response was long and didn’t answer my questions. I asked him another four times. But each time he gave a similar answer. He talked about an earlier scheme that he had worked on with some of my colleagues in a previous Labour Administration - the subtext of all that appeared to be to try and link the current Labour Opposition into this current scheme. A young Conservative councillor pounced on that and tried to articulate an accusation. But Mr. Pallace knew all too well that this was irrelevant; that those people behind the 2002 scheme had listened and dropped it; and that it was me, Cllr. Mike Cartwright (Lab) and former Cllr. Chris Allen (Lab) who ensured that scheme was killed as soon as we found out about it. Labour's last Borough manifesto confirmed that this scheme would be dead forever - had we won the elections last year.

By the time Mr. Pallace had finished his remarks I think many in the audience were of the view that officials had changed the LDF and written their justifications with the sole aim of recommending approval for the Administration’s scheme - not that he said any of that.

Ravenscourt Park ward Councillor Lucy Ivimy (Con) added further clarification. She told the PAC that “the report is deeply defective. It contains basic errors of fact; it appears to accept without criticism arguments and evidence put forward by the applicants, and contains arguments that bear all the hallmarks of being disingenuous. I note that those responsible for producing it, report to that same executive which has been the main moving force for the council behind these proposals, and I wonder what influence that executive has had on the professional judgement of officers.”

Last May, Cllr. Ivimy was sacked from her job in that Executive as the Administration’s Cabinet Member for Housing. Her time in that role made her evidence all the more insightful and powerful. She gave an excellent speech but it really is a shame that she didn’t express similar sentiments when she was Chair of the PAC. Then she ruthlessly forced through a wide variety of awful schemes against hundreds of residents wishes including this one here. Later as a voting member of the PAC, Cllr. Ivimy he didn't express any concerns or even support her own constituents when she voted through these terrible schemes here and here.

Councillor Mark Loveday, the Conservative Chief Whip and the lead Administration councillor for the scheme, was stood at the back of the room eyeing the proceedings at the front. He would have been an anonymous figure for all but the councillors and a few residents.

I wondered what pressure the Conservative PAC members must feel given the importance of this scheme to senior members of their Administration.

The vote took place just before midnight. It had been a long night and it was impressive to see hundreds of people wait so long to see the outcome. Indeed, dozens had been barred from entering the smaller hall the Council had booked at Latymer Upper School. But the outcome was thoroughly predictable. So much so that as we left members of Save Our Skyline (SOS) were stood by the door handing out a press release printed prior to the meeting but criticising the vote that had just happened.

Residents can ask Mayor Boris Johnson to refuse this scheme by emailing Mr. Giles Dolphin here. I think it’s worth copying in Boris Johnson at this email address too. As well as that, residents should write to The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. You can email him by clicking here. If you want to consider what others are saying the main objections are you can see those here on SOS’ website.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

“A Disaster:” “Britain’s Experiment In Austerity”

Professor Krugman's analysis from across the Atlantic
offers an alternative view of how Britain should
rise to its economic challenges
Professor Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, has again reported on the British economy - his first analysis since the Autumn Statement. He’s not a fan of the Conservative/Lib Dem government’s austerity experiment which he says “will depress the economy even further in the short run, leading to further depression of long-run potential.” You can read his article by clicking here.

Writing in the New York Times Professor Krugman notes that things are unlikely to change because “the truly awful thing is that Cameron and Osborne are so deeply identified with the austerity doctrine that they can’t change course without effectively destroying themselves politically.” Professor Krugman has also spotted that the government is well aware of the effects its policies are having and has effectively admitted that in the latest report from the Office of Budget Responsibility. If so it makes our current economic predicament even more depressing.  

It is admirable that Professor Krugman resisted all attempts to crow that he told us so. But he offered his first warning about the government’s austerity programme less than six months after the last election saying it “will lead to a renewed economic slump” and has charted what's actually happening since.

The Conservative/LibDem government had effectively gambled that Britain could get away with running an austerity budget, not least, because they expected our major trading partners would have sufficient growth to pull us along in their slip stream. But our biggest partners are the European Union and the United States and they are hardly in a position to do that. We therefore need another economic plan, but as Professor Krugman pointed out, that’s unlikely to come from Mr. Cameron and Mr. Osborne.

Labour’s Ed Ball argues that there is a better way. It is without doubt in our national interests that we have a thorough public debate on how that might work and what we do next.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

H&F Conservatives Say £7,000 Tax Payer Funded Booze-Up Was Er... "Good For Morale"

Hard to earn but easy to waste. Over £7,000 of tax payers'
cash squandered on H&F Council knees up. But H&F
Conservatives say they'll do it all again
There has been quite a lot of squirming from the Borough’s ruling Conservative councillors over the last few days. That's all a consequence of this story about how they squandered £7,104 of tax payers’ money on a leaving party that started at 4.00pm on a Monday afternoon. 

The Shepherds Bush Blog and HFConWatch also featured the story and I expect other media to pick it up too.

Just for the record, I want residents and senior officers of Hammersmith and Fulham Council to know that should Labour win control of the Council on 1st May 2014, I will stop all tax payers’ money being spent on parties, socials, leaving functions and other such frivolous waste. I’m more than happy for people to have leaving get-togethers which are paid for privately with their own money and happen after work hours. But that’s it.

I’m actually surprised that H&F Conservatives think this is OK. The Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle contacted three people in the Conservative Administration and is reporting Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con), the Leader of the Council saying “I am never going to stop spending some money” on such celebrations.

Cllr. Peter Graham (Con)
Cllr. Harry Phibbs (Con), the Cabinet Member for Community Engagement was recently calling for even more cuts but on this occasion he advised the Chronicle that this £7,000 bash was “good for morale” and says the public will “understand it was the right thing to do.”

Going by the Twitter exchanges between the recently elected Cllr. Peter Graham (Con) and the Chronicle, he appeared to have a touch more apprehension of what the public would really think. That was presumably why that paper had to ask for his view an incredible ten times while he tried to obfuscate and duck out of directly answering whether he supported this £7k splurge or not. Others joined in and he eventually came clean and said that he “doesn’t have a problem with it” because the Council is making cuts elsewhere. 

Hmmm. These are really very tough times for many local people but even if they weren't, I would still have a problem with this. That £7,104 was not the Council's money, they were simply custodians of it - it was the public's money. The politicians and officials that decided to squander it in this manner showed no respect for that or indeed any appreciation of how hard many people work just to pay bills, such as their council tax. I hope H&F Conservatives get that message before we uncover more such senseless waste.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Guardian's Interview Gives More Insight Into Mr. Cameron's Character

See the Guardian's interview
There is a good interview with Prime Minister David Cameron (Con) in today's Guardian. They have innovatively had fifty five famous people, from all walks of life, each ask him a single question. It's well worth a read. All the Prime Minister's answers are interesting but he inadvertently demonstrates that Flashmanesque bullying characteristic, that's been commented on before, in one or two of his answers. Look at Mr. Cameron's response to Polly Toynbee's question about child poverty:

Polly Toynbee, Guardian columnist
"On the basis of your government's present policies, the
IFS predicts child poverty will rise steeply, after nine years of falling. What emergency measures will you now take to correct this trajectory and fulfil your pledge to cut the numbers of children living below the OECD recognised poverty line?"

Prime Minister David Cameron, "I note that she doesn't refer to that fact that we've had a series of budgets that have not added to child poverty and the reason is we took steps to increase child tax credits, to demonstrate that while we were making cuts, we were doing so in a way that was fair… There are many things I can do in life, but making Polly happy is not one of them, I'm afraid." 

Polly Toynbee is a committed campaigner on child poverty. I've seen her ask equally tough questions about progress on that subject to Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. But Mr Cameron not only refused to answer Ms. Toynbee's question he had a couple of digs at her too. It was an odd subject for him to judge such a petulant response would be reasonable.

I am sure Mr. Cameron's advisers must tell him to keep that aspect of his personality under wraps. But I suspect he just can't help himself. I recall a similar response on 5th January 2010 when he did a public meeting in Hammersmith. Maxine Bayliss, one of my constituents, asked him about the safety of her home on the Queen Caroline Estate, which H&F's Conservative run Council has listed for demolition in their Local Development Framework. Mr. Cameron became visibly irritated by her question, turned his back on her and while walking away snapped, "If you don't like them stand for election?" 

expect we will see more of this unbecoming characteristic next year as the Prime Minister’s economic policies begin to cut further into the fabric of our national life. There will be much greater scrutiny given to the Cameron government’s role in failing economic growth, rising unemployment, rising child poverty and plenty of other areas the Prime Minister would no doubt prefer not to be asked about.

Friday 25 November 2011

Residents Associations' Call To Arms: 30th Nov Meeting Is "Last Chance" To Say "No" To Hammersmith Skyline Blight

Click to expand and view. Feel free to print SOS'
poster and put it in your window
H&F Conservatives’ much criticised proposals for the Town Hall tower blocks will go to a “special meeting” of the Council's Planning Applications Committee (PAC) this Wednesday. It will begin at 7.00pm and will be held in Latymer Upper School and NOT in Hammersmith Town Hall. Unsurprisingly, its planning officers have recommended approval.”

But many residents tell me they want to know if there is a conflict of interest? This is not an independent planning application such as any resident may put in to extend their home; nor is it a situation where a developer has approached the council with a scheme. This project is the brainchild of the Council’s Conservative Leadership and senior council officers.

Conservative Councillors actually went looking for firms to deliver this scheme and even flew to the French Riviera to court developers. Nigel Pallace, the Borough’s Director of Environment and Planning has led on this project since the outset. So residents understandably question how can H&F’s PAC make an independent decision that isn’t unduly influenced in some way by senior members of the Administration?

It’s an interesting question. A lawyer would advise that it would be unlawful for members of PAC to be Whipped on which way to vote. But they would also caution that people with any concerns about any particular members of PAC will have prove with evidence that there is undue influence. If they can't do that then the good name of those councillors should be left in tact.

Save Our Skyline and other residents’ groups are calling on people to attend and protest. I will be there and I will be arguing against this disgraceful scheme. I may see you on Wednesday night…

Is That Really A Spending Priority?!? H&F Conservatives Waste £7,000 Of Tax Payers’ Money On A Booze-Up

Mr. Geoff Alltimes, Council's former CEO. H&F Conservatives
spent over £7000 on his goodbye party. It is also
estimated that he received a £270,000 tax free
 lump sum pay-off and will receive a
£104,000 annual pension.
This year, the Borough’s residents will hand over between £747.74 to £2,243.20 to Hammersmith and Fulham Council in Council Tax – depending on the banding of their home. They may have to add extra payments for parking, parking fines, meals on wheels and even for using fitness trainers in our local parks. H&F Conservatives has consistently added record hikes to these stealth taxes. All of us know these are difficult times of austerity. Or so we thought…

Yesterday, the Council reported that the Borough’s ruling Conservative Councillors spent an incredible £7,184.00 (excluding VAT) of tax payers’ money on a booze-up. The party began at 4.00pm in the afternoon on Monday, October 31st and it took place in the Assembly Hall in Hammersmith Town Hall.

I find it genuinely hard to fathom why the Conservative Administration spent that amount of money on a shin-dig. This year the Conservative/Lib Dem government has slashed funding to Hammersmith and Fulham Council by a record amount. Our local Conservative councillors called for even more cuts and to show the way, added an extra £1 cut to every £3 cut by their government. That meant that £33million was slashed from front line services or added as stealth taxes. Sure Start nurseries are a pertinent example as many up and down the Borough found that their budgets were dropped from over £450,000 a year to just £19,000 a year. Think what an extra £7,000 could do for any of those facilities. Indeed, think what an extra £7000 could do to significantly improve any of the many reduced services. Consider that an average Band D council taxpayer will pay £1,121.60 then almost six and a half Borough households have had their payment for this year thoroughly wasted paying for a get-together.

The reason given for such extravagance is that it was a retirement party for Mr. Geoff Alltimes, the Borough’s former Chief Executive. I have nothing against people putting their hands in the own pockets and having a retirement party after work hours. I am sure that is what will have happened often during the last two years for many of the 296 H&F Council staff that have left because of redundancy or retirement. But Mr. Alltimes has already been treated extremely generously by this Administration. He was remunerated almost £300,000 a year; his annual pension is estimated to be £104,000 a year and he is also estimated to have received a tax free, lump sum payment of £270,000 as part of his leaving package.

I think we should get the money for Mr. Alltimes' leaving bash back. I can picture some Sure Start nurseries that would happily welcome it.

H&F Conservatives Place Borough's Vital Mental Health Service Under Threat

For many years now, the Ellerslie Centre has offered some truly excellent day services that have proved critical to supporting people with enduring mental health needs. H&F Conservatives are looking to curtail these services and move in other community groups which they intend to evict from other council buildings they are planning to sell off. The users of Ellerslie Road are devastated and upset.

This process has reached the “consultation” stage which I encourage people to take part in by clicking here. Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative Administration have built a reputation of never doing a consultation unless they have already decided what they want the outcome to be. So at the last Select Committee (click on link and see page 84) meeting on 5th November many users of these services expressed an understandable cynicism about the consultation process.

I must say I didn’t find the evidence presented by the council officials leading on this to be in any way convincing. “This isn’t being driven by building sales” was offered up early on as a particularly hard to believe assurance about these service changes. Instead, we were told that the numbers of users had mysteriously dropped off despite their best efforts to encourage people to attend.

So I asked the officials if it was true they had stopped referring people to the centre last year? “Er, yes… that did happen” came the answer. I enquired how long that was for “I’m not sure” came the nervous response concluding with “I think it was about three months.” I thought it was peculiar that the officials hadn’t mentioned that in their presentation.

You put the lunch prices up as well didn’t you? I asked. “Yes we did” came the response. They went up from £1 to nearly £4 a lunch or from £7 a week to nearly £24 a week. "Would that deter people from attending?" I asked? The forty or so users of the centre in the audience shouted "Yes!"

One in four of us will suffer some type of mental health issue during our life times. If that happens our eating, hygiene and day-to-day communication habits may all deteriorate. And so when people are on the way back up it’s places like the Ellerslie Centre that are there to help with the lifting providing an affordable hot meal, laundry and washing facilities and expertly trained staff.

It appeared to me that the Council has been purposefully been running a policy of trying to cut the numbers of users attending this service. That in itself then allows them to justify the cut, then move in other groups and sell off the other buildings.

At the Select Committee, Cllr. Joe Carlebach (Con), H&F's Cabinet Member for Community Care, asked us all to believe that this is just a consultation. I asked him what would he do if the answer came back saying, "No thanks." He prevaricated but despite that, I suggest we take him at his word his word, print it out and send back our views. We’ll see what he does with that at the next Select Committee meeting on 18th January 2012.

Thursday 17 November 2011

H&F Homes Under The Hammer For Property Speculators But Conservatives Block H&F Residents Chances To Buy

There are currently 10,000 people on the waiting list for social housing in our Borough. There are thousands more trying to get a foothold onto the property ladder. In fact the latest figures show that on average, someone currently in their 20s aspiring to purchase a home will be in their 50s before they achieve their goal. There is therefore little doubt that we are seeing the beginnings of a housing crisis that could last a generation if councils, the London Mayor and the government fails to act. So what is H&F Council doing to improve this?

The simple answer is they're doing nothing whatsoever and if you take a look at this episode of the BBC’s Homes Under The Hammer (13.54 minutes in) then it is easy to add this to all the things they are doing to make it much worse.

The presenter tells how a council flat in Coningham Road, Shepherds Bush is being sold at auction by Hammersmith and Fulham Council but advises “However, there is one small technical hitch… a legal clause imposed by the vendor, in this case the local Council, meant that this flat could only be sold to someone who was not intending to use it as their main residence. So basically they had to be an investor who bought this to either do up to let or to sell on.” The Council can get more money this way but the fact is this home would previously have been allocated to people in need of social housing.

On page 200 of this Cabinet Report H&F Council’s own legal team advised “Sales and lettings of stock (as envisaged by this report) must be motivated purely by bona fide housing objectives. In particular they must not be tainted by any considerations of potential electoral advantage (any member or officer pursuing, or wilfully blind to, such motives would act unlawfully and not be protected by any legal advice).” The Council lawyers go on to advise that “scarce properties for which there is a pressing need should normally not be sold.”

Since coming to power in 2006, H&F’s Conservative Administration hasn’t granted planning permission for a single affordable social home to rent, they have cut all sales of genuinely affordable homes to buy and are hoping to demolish a third of all of the Borough’s current Council homes. There is little doubt that H&F Conservatives' housing policies are more for the benefit of their large corporate property speculator friends than local residents but it's now also hard to see how they are even on the right side of their own legal advice.

You can read more about this on the Shepherds Bush Blog by clicking here.

Fares Choice Central To London Mayoral Election With Ken's £800 Saving Promise

Early next year, the Conservative Mayor of London will add an extra 7% to London’s travel fares. That will be the fourth fare rise in a row that Mayor Boris Johnson (Con) has introduced. Consider that since 2008, Mayor Johnson has already increased the cost of a single bus fare, using Oyster, by 56%; that he has put the price of a Zone 1 to 6 Travelcard up by 22% and a weekly bus and tram pass has gone up by 47%. A household using all of these services will find they're a staggering £1086.00 worse off each year since Mayor Johnson took office. So what to do? 

Labour's Ken Livingstone is promising to stop this and deliver the average Londoner a saving of about £800 during the period of the Mayor's four year term. Watch this video to find out more:

Mayor Johnson is currently sitting on a Transport for London operating surplus of £728million but he has also indicated he will maintain these vast inflation busting fares rises for Londoners up until 2017 - if he's re-elected.

Hammersmith and Fulham's Conservative Administration supports these fare increases. At the Council Meeting on 19th October 2011 (see page 15) they deployed their large block vote to stop the Opposition's request that they lobby Mayor Johnson on this matter and voted against a motion that said, "This Council recognises that stealth taxes such as these have a dampening effect on the London economy and hits people hard during this particularly difficult economic situation." H&F Conservatives enjoy a very close relationship with London's Conservative Mayor and are playing a major role on his re-election committee. So if they won't even try to get Mayor Johnson to change his mind who will?

Well the simple answer is that Londoners can if they want to. Ken Livingstone is offering voters a straight democratic choice on what they want to happen to fares. The Mayoral election will be held on 3rd May 2012. What happens to this part of our household budget afterwards is up to us.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Ken Comes To H&F Pledging More Police, Lower Fares And More Affordable Housing

Ken Livingstone and Todd Foreman considering the Save Our
Skyline (SOS) poster outside Digby Mansions, Hammersmith
Ken Livingstone was given a warm reception when he came to Hammersmith and Fulham last Monday. He was accompanied by Val Shawcross AM and Todd Foreman, Labour’s GLA candidate for West Central. All were here for what turned out to be a busy and enjoyable “Tell Ken” day - which he is running for each London Borough up until the election.

It is just six months until that election which will decide who runs London’s regional government for the next four years. Ken is running on a ticket that includes: 
  • Reversing the Conservatives’ police cuts
  • Lower transport fares
  • More affordable housing to buy and to rent.  
The London Mayor’s powers are limited compared to the Mayor of New York or other world cities. However, the critical areas of policing, transport and affordable housing all fall within its remit. Ken Livingstone had a genuinely excellent record in all three areas last time he was London's Mayor. One that starkly contrasts with the current Conservative incumbent’s police cuts, record fare hikes and risible numbers of affordable homes.

Me with Val Shawcross AM, Ken Livingstone and Todd Foreman
 on the Queen Caroline Estate, Hammersmith - an estate
described by H&F Conservatives as
"not a decent neighbourhood."
Ken listened to people tell him of their hopes and worries. I showed him around the site of H&F Conservatives’ awful Town Hall scheme. Then walked along the river to the Queen Caroline Estate. There he met residents and heard about their fears for their future now that H&F Conservatives have admitted they want to demolish their homes and refuse to guarantee that they’ll be able to return to any new development on that site. Residents told Ken how H&F Conservatives have identified up to a third of all the Borough’s council housing for demolition and have described the Queen Caroline Estate as not being a “decent neighbourhood.”

Ken met representatives of Save Our Riverfront. They told him how they had lost all confidence in H&F Council’s approach to planning, having witnessed the goings-on over the recent Fulham Reach development. One resident told how there is a need for family sized housing in our Borough but the Council had granted permission for “Japanese style micro-flats” which were likely to be bought by wealthy overseas investors looking for a temporary London pad.

After that we visited a local collage. A loud cheer went up from the two hundred or so young men and women who waited in the auditorium to ask questions. All of them would have been too young to vote last time but they asked Ken about everything from the government's cut to their Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to their fears for their security and wishes for safer streets.

Later we walked down the North End Road market. Traders and shoppers stopped to shake Ken's hand and chat. I think he was genuinely shocked to learn that H&F Conservatives also plan to move the market from its historic site – with many fearing it would be much smaller or even lost altogether.

The day finished with an open public meeting in St. Augustine’s Church. Ken talked passionately about how he world put extra police onto London’s streets. He told how he had met an investment banker on a salary of £70,000 a year but even she couldn’t get an affordable home. He said he believed there was a housing crisis and one he wanted to begin to fix. He told how he would cut fares and try to make a difference so that the vast majority of Londoners saw an improvement in their quality of life.

I think Ken was right to be shocked and appalled at the antics of H&F Conservatives. He heard from many of those at the sharp end of their policies and genuinely felt for their plight. I see what H&F’s Conservative Administration gets up to on a daily basis. It is numbing to stand by and be out voted by a large Conservative majority that does whatever their leadership proposes without even a single question or murmur of concern. Consider just some of their actions here: 
Ken highlighted the similarities between Shirley Porter’s disgraced Conservative Administration in Westminster to the approach taken by the Conservatives running Hammersmith and Fulham. Those young Tories feigning offence would be wise to check out those similarities for themselves before giving unquestioning support to their Administration's truly atrocious policies.

The next Mayoral elections are about issues: issues that matter and which Ken Livingstone will improve for the better should he win in six months time. I hope he does win. It would make a positive difference to the lives of millions of of people across our great city.

Controversial Town Hall Tower Block and Office Planning Date Set: 30th November 2011

The Conservative Administration set 30th Nov
as their decision day.
At 5.00 pm on Friday night the Conservative Administration announced that its controversial Town Hall scheme is going to the Planning Applications Committee on Wednesday 30th November 2011. The meeting is a “special” session of the PAC and will start at 7.00 pm.

Oddly, despite having had years to arrange this they have chosen a date when they say the Town Hall Assembly Room is booked out. So it will be held at Latymer Upper School – not Hammersmith Town Hall - instead.

The November date is interesting. The Conservative Administration clearly fears that should Ken Livingstone become the Mayor in six months time he will act against these ridiculous plans. So, this date gives the current Conservative Mayor an opportunity to consider them before the election.

Residents wishing to demonstrate their objections can attend. I know many residents groups are arranging for that to happen. I’ll see you at the meeting.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Property Speculator Announces Plans to Demolish And Develop Queens Wharf And Riverside Studios

View of Queens Wharf, then Riverside Studios along
Hammersmith's riverfront
Todays Financial Times is reporting that a “club of investors behind plans to build the City’s tallest skyscraper are set to redevelop the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London.” Arab Investments has been in longstanding talks with the Riverside Studios and Hammersmith and Fulham Council who owns the site. The paper says Arab Investments is “owned mainly by Saudi and Kuwaiti investors” who have teamed up with A2 Dominion and plan to include Queens Wharf as part of the £190m development.

According to the FT the proposals cater for “a block of upmarket apartments, new bars, a restaurant” along with “new studios” which will be “rebuilt across the original site and the adjacent Queens Wharf development.”

There is no mention of any affordable housing which is odd considering that it was only as recently as 8th August this year that H&F Council refused planning permission for A2 Dominion’s last set of bizarre proposals for Queens Wharf because of their “failure to provide a suitable affordable housing provision” 

Click on cutting to expand and view
Likewise, there is no mention of how high this "block of upmarket appartments" will be. We should expect it to be smaller and less dense than A2 Dominion's last proposal because H&F Council said that had “inappropriate height and massing” but who could be confident of that with this Administration's record?

I will report again on this once we find out more. Needless to say, residents are already concerned about the Conservative Administration's all too friendly attitude to property speculators and their propensity to wave through completely inappropriate schemes. If they plan that approach here then all the participants behind this scheme will have a long and ugly fight on their hands.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Why H&F’s Opposition Voted Against Appointing The Council’s New Chief Executive

It’s a straight forward management decision: Does H&F Council need a Chief Executive on £300,000.00 a year as well as a Managing Director on £200.000.00 a year? At the last Full Council Meeting my Labour Opposition colleagues and I voted “against” that unnecessary proposal and said "no we don't".

Before doing that, we had asked the Conservative Administration and its officials for details of all the objective analysis that had been carried out that led them to determine that the tax payers of our Borough needed to pay for both of these almost duplicate positions. Here’s what we found:
  • No good practice models had been followed in determining the need for both the CEO and MD post
  • No independent advice was sought from any possible critical friends in other local authorities, the Local Government Association, the government or academia
  • No cost benefit analysis was carried out on the likely benefits of having both a CEO and MD
  • H&F Council admitted that it hadn’t undertaken any objective analysis and hadn't followed any recognised methodologies when coming up with this highly unusual senior exec job structure. 
These jobs had simply been negotiated amongst officials in private back-room deals and signed off by Conservative councillors in the relevant boroughs. That wouldn't happen in a large organisation genuinely committed to getting value for money - especially in these difficult times.

To be fair, our council will be sharing its new Chief Executive with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. That means we will get that person’s time and energy for about two and a half days a week for a cost of £150,000.00 a year. Consider that Hackney is a much larger London Borough but it pays their Chief Executive £180,000.00 a year. It begs the question couldn’t we have done better?

Local government needs to modernise. It is not acceptable that jobs should be fixed in private deals that side step best practice. Our Council particularly needs to learn from the very best companies in the private sector so it can better manage its staff and its resources.

Should Labour win power in 2014 we will delete the CEO’s post and just have an MD. We will also strip out up to ten per cent of assistant director positions and cut back the senior directors to just four. The money we save will be used to cut taxes and fund front line services such as extra police and better youth facilities.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Gun Crime, Burglary, Robbery And Total Crime Up But H&F Conservatives Vote To Confirm Borough's Police Cuts

Last week at the Full Council Meeting my Opposition colleagues and I voted to have the Council restore the four local sergeants positions that have been cut from Hammersmith and Fulham’s police force this month. The Conservative run Council deployed its block vote and unanimously voted against that proposal. They did admit crime had gone up - with gun crime, burglary and robberies all up from last year but they refused to say why they were voting to stop the Council stepping in and stopping the current round of police cuts.

Does the Borough have the money to fund these roles? Consider that H&F Council made the BBC News last weekend for wasting between £5m to £12m on shoddy consultancy contracts; or that a leading Conservative MP condemned the Conservative Administration for spending £5m of tax payers’ money on "political propaganda"; or that they waste millions of pounds on some of the most expensive and unnecessary senior bureaucrats positions in the UK. Put another way the choice is even more straight forward: people in this Borough could have their four police sergeants back or keep paying for just one of the Council's high paid consultants. So yes - the money is there but only if the political will to make this a priority is there. But it wasn't.

There are 31 Conservative councillors in Hammersmith and Fulham to 15 Labour councillors. Their votes killed the proposal to restore local police numbers.

Police numbers are important. There are lessons from around the world that demonstrates how police numbers make a major difference to cutting crime. Combined with measures that tackle the causes of crime, governments and councils can make real headway into making areas much, much safer.

This is not the time to cut police numbers. The public are rightly concerned about knife crime; about increases in violent crime and about the fact that total crime is up in Hammersmith and Fulham for the first time since Ken Livingstone introduced neighbourhood police teams many years ago. 

My Labour colleagues will increase police numbers should we win control of the Council in 2014. But we need action now. So, along with local residents, we’ll continue to campaign on this issue. Sooner or later the Conservatives will have to listen and restore those important police officers jobs.

Sunday 23 October 2011

H&F Conservatives: “We’re Not Embarrassed!” As £5m to 12m Is Wasted On Shoddy Consultant Contracts

Gone but not forgotten
During the last year, H&F Council eventually agreed to examine the highly unorthodox consultancy contracts it now admits it has wasted millions of pounds on. But that examination was a direct consequence of a two year investigation carried out by H&F’s Labour Opposition. This was featured on today’s Politics Show and BBC London News

Audit Committee reports were successfully pushed for by Councillors PJ Murphy (Lab) and Mike Cartwright (Lab) who are two of that Committee’s members. This began after concerns arose about the Conservative Administration’s curious method of hiring Mr. Nick Johnson, which it claims is a “full-time consultant”.

Conservative councillors initially complained that they didn’t understand why the Audit Committee was “wasting its time” looking into these matters but were then embarrassed to discover that the majority of contractors hired by their Administration: 
  • Had NO valid contract
  • Had NO clear specification of what the council was buying
  • Had NO performance criteria
  • Had NO performance monitoring to check outcomes
  • Had NO checks for value for money
Indeed, the investigation showed that while the Conservatives argued they were cutting the number of staff they employed, they were actually hiring many of them back on inflated private service company contracts which were hidden from public scrutiny. This meant:  
  • Some council bureaucrats were being paid twice from the public purse given that they were former local government employees already on generous final salary pensions (who had often been allowed to retire early) but were then hired back by H&F Council as full time employees for sums ranging up to £1000 per day and more
  • The Conservative-run Council kept no records of how many consultants it employed and initially tried to stop any investigation by the Audit Committee on the basis that it would be “too much work” to compile this information
  • The Conservative Administration got itself into a situation where consultants were hiring other consultants to do work that was unspecified, unmonitored and in many cases unnecessary
  • The Conservative Administration even paid consultants despite the work not being completed and in one case the consultancy company had even ceased to exist.
Indeed, the Opposition estimates that H&F Council has wasted between £5m to £12m by commissioning consultants for work that was thoroughly unnecessary. It is however, still difficult to have much confidence in the way H&F Council is managing these contracts. It was only last month that the Finance Director eventually wrote to me to confirm that as a consequence of the Opposition's investigations, a new “procedure for the selection, appointment and management of consultants and interims was approved by the Executive Management Team (EMT) on 13th July.”

Consider that for every £3 the Conservative led government has cut to H&F Council’s budget, the local Conservative Administration has added an extra £1 cut. That translates into service cuts and local stealth taxes, such as ending the Sure Start children’s education programme in all but name; cutting homeless acceptance criteria;  introducing a 55% parking charge increases in just one year; and a new £12.40 hourly care charge for the elderly, sick and disabled.

To be fair to Cllr. Greg Smith, I think he did quite a good job on today’s Politics Show by putting a positive spin on what is an awful story about his Administration's waste and incompetence. But much of what he said was blatantly not true: he falsely claimed credit for taking "the initiative" and investigating what was going on. He even tried to blame a previous Labour Administration that left office nearly six years ago. All of the incompetence the Council has identified is a direct result of the policies and actions of the current Conservative Administration although Cllr. Smith did tell the BBC that he and his colleagues were "not embarrassed" in the slightest - which is a concern in itself.

Meanwhile, H&F Council is still refusing to say how many more of its full time staff are actually employed by agencies and therefore hidden from public scrutiny. The agencies enjoy a high commission which is paid to them from public funds with every monthly bill. While there are occasions when large organisations may need to employ people like for short periods it is very peculiar for people to be employed by a council as agency workers on a permanent basis. However, the Opposition has already discovered that many of these individuals hold high level council positions and have been employed by H&F Council in exactly this way for years.

Many residents will be asking how much more is there to come out? H&F Council therefore needs to be transparent and publish a full public account of what's gone wrong and why they tried to avoid fixing it. Then the Administration needs to publish a detailed plan of how they are going to ensure this type of waste never happens again. If they don't do that and we discover further problems, then the Opposition will be calling for some high profile resignations.