Thursday 27 January 2011

H&F Conservatives' Dishonourable Approach To The Irish Community

Last night there was another large public protest at Hammersmith Town Hall after H&F Conservatives went back on their word and began plans to sell off the Irish Cultural Centre in Blacks Road, Hammersmith. The charity that runs the Irish Cultural Centre have asked for time to raise funds so they can purchase the freehold but the Conservative Administration has quoted a price of £2.3 million which is nearly 50% more than its value at the top of the market in 2006 and they are insisting that they will vote the sell off through at the Cabinet Meeting scheduled for 7th Feb 2011.

The Leader of the Council had previously given his word that the Irish Cultural Centre could keep their current lease until 2017 and the Council went as far as drawing up a contract which was agreed at a cabinet meeting. But the Conservative Administration then changed their minds, refused to sign the contract and instead brought new proposals forward to sell the centre to property speculators.

Contrast the local Conservatives’ approach to the Irish Cultural Centre with their approach to the buildings needed for a new Free School. They have bent over backwards to help Toby Young (who is a journalist on the Daily Telegraph and Spectator magazine) take on two Council buildings for his scheme. We still do not know what price Mr. Young will be charged for these Council building but do, however, know that the Irish Cultural Centre has not received anything like the Council support he has. It appears that there is one rule for some and another rule for others. I hope the Conservative Administration will come clean on all its dealings with community groups and explain the disparities.

Cllr. Daryl Brown was amongst those Labour Councillors at the meeting who spoke in support of giving the Irish Cultural Centre time to raise the funds to buy it. She has kindly sent me her speech from last night which is published below and says it all:

“I want to speak of the importance of the Irish Centre, not just, for the people of Hammersmith and Fulham but also as a major cultural beacon for Anglo-Irish friendship and cultural relations.

I know that this Administration had struck a deal with the Irish Centre and the central bone of contention is that deal was broken. I ask you to think again. Surely as men and women of honour your word is an important thing?

The Irish Centre needs to be seen in the wider context. It was built in 1995. A period when the troubled relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom was still troubled.

The aim was to build on the positive - providing a platform for Irish culture in the centre of London. Not just for those many Britons of Irish heritage but for all Britons here in the centre of the most multi-cultural city on earth.

Yes it was a Labour Council that built it but this new Irish Centre was bigger than politics. It signified that there might… just might… be reason for optimism about how these two communities mixed on our two small islands off the west coast of Europe.

The Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998 and endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum just a month later. And as Ireland and the UK work together building a shared European future there is a strong mutual respect amongst these two close allies and little doubt of the deep and blossoming friendship.

There is no more important Irish cultural centre in Britain than the one here in Hammersmith…. So why put that centre at risk of closing down?

I know the Leader of this Council must have some appreciation of the centre’s importance because on the 30th June, he phoned the Irish Ambassador to tell him of his plans. Now, I appreciate that there are diplomatic niceties but I would guess that must have been a difficult conversation. The Ambassador would surely have known that the Leader of the Council was breaking his word.

Now Cllr. Greenhalgh may want to comment on that but let me tell you my understanding first:
  • In April 2007 the Council agreed the Charity would have a 5-year lease between April 2007 to March 2012;
  • It waived the market rent;
  • And in March 2008 the Leader of this Council agreed to extend the 5-year lease by a further 5 years; 
  • In January 2009, the Cabinet formally agreed this which would take the rent period up until 2017;
  • Indeed, the Council provided a draft lease in April 2009 and full terms were agreed between the Irish Centre and the Council in December 2009;
  • The Charity signed the agreed lease in January 2010;
  • The Council never signed…
Now where is the honour in that?..

Currently, this Administration is saying that the Irish Centre will have to buy the building or pay a full market rent or vacate in March 2012. And to add salt into the wounds they have come up with a trumped up purchase price of £2.3 million – nearly 50% more than its value at the top of the market in 2006.

I believe this Council has to do the honourable thing. Cllr. Greenhalgh has to stick to his word and that means that the Council must honour their agreement to extend the lease to 2017. Failing that, the Council should extend the lease in order to provide sufficient time for the Centre to raise funds to purchase the freehold itself.

I don’t believe I am alone in believing a person’s word matters. So, Cllr. Greenhalgh, for the sake of your reputation, for this Council’s honour and the future of the Irish Centre… please stick to what you agreed.”

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Freedom Of The Borough For Royal Yeomanry

Tonight there will be an Extraordinary Council Meeting to award the Freedom of the Borough on the Royal Yeomanry. This is a cross-party award voted for by councillors from the Labour and Conservative parties. I am pleased that we are able to honour the Royal Yeomanry in this way. Here is the citation.

"The Royal Yeomanry is the UK’s Reserve Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) reconnaissance regiment. Soldiers serving in the Royal Yeomanry come from all walks of life. The Royal Yeomanry has a prestigious history and has served in every major campaign dating back to the Boer War in a variety of roles. The regiment is the oldest and most senior Territorial Army Cavalry regiment.

The Headquarters (Westminster Dragoons) Squadron, based in Fulham, is one of five squadrons which together with the regimental headquarters and band of highly trained military musicians, make up the Royal Yeomanry with an establishment of over 500 personnel. The soldiers train in their spare time for operational service within the British Army. Their specialist role puts them at the very forefront of modern warfare, using some of the British Army’s latest equipment.

As part of the honour, discussions are ongoing with the Regiment regarding details for a Freedom Parade to be held later in the year.

The conferring of the title Freedom of the Borough is the highest civic distinction that can be bestowed upon individuals or collective bodies in recognition of outstanding service or particular civic association. The overriding principle is that these awards should be made on merit. Merit for awards is defined as:
  • Achievement
  • Exceptional Service
The Royal Yeomanry supported the first deployment to Iraq in 2003, Op TELIC 1, by mobilising two squadrons (nearly 120 people) for overseas service. It was the first mobilisation of a Territorial Army unit for combat operations since the Suez crisis in 1956. In recognition of its service in Iraq in 2003, the Royal Yeomanry is the only Territorial Army unit to be honoured by HM The Queen with the award of the “IRAQ” battle honour. Since Op TELIC 1, members of the Royal Yeomanry have served on almost every tour of Iraq and have recently been supporting the Op HERRICK tours in Afghanistan. To date over 50 members of the regiment have served with the Royal Armoured Corps regiments as well as the Royal Artillery in Afghanistan.

Between November 2010 and January 2011, a further 45 members of the Royal Yeomanry have been mobilised to serve in Afghanistan on Op HERRICK 14. The regiment will also support the subsequent Op HERRICKs in Afghanistan in smaller numbers, perhaps up to 10 people per tour, with another surge for Op HERRICK 18 in 2013 for which a further 40-50 officers and soldiers could be mobilised. Despite training as the UK’s reserve Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear reconnaissance regiment, officers and soldiers of the Royal Yeomanry have operated alongside their regular counterparts in armoured, infantry and surveillance roles.

In recognition of their distinguished military service, it is recommended that the Regiment be bestowed the honour – Freedom of the Borough."

Wednesday 12 January 2011

The 2010 Rotten Borough's Annual Award Marks Hammersmith And Fulham's Sixth Appearence In Private Eye

Hammersmith and Fulham Council has been given one of this year's annual Rotten Borough Awards. You can read about it in the current edition of Private Eye magazine. The award goes to Mr. Nick Johnson who is the Chief Executive of the Council's 100% owned housing management company and also the Borough's interim director of housing and regeneration. This is the sixth appearance for the Conservative run authority in four years.

Mr. Johnson's situation has been widely reported, with the Mail on Sunday scooping this story and Private Eye adding to it with this award. I have also put together a full review of the situation - which you can read by clicking  here.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Why Have The Coalition Government Run Out Of Flu Vaccine?

I went to my GP today and asked for an appointment to get a flu jab. They told me that they are not taking any appointments as they have run out of both the regular and the swine flu vaccines and they don't envisage having any more for at least two weeks.

As a sufferer of asthma I usually get a flu jab each year but I can't recall that ever happening before. I asked if they had enough vaccine for the elderly, seriously ill and young children? "No... nothing. Please call again in two weeks" said the receptionist.

Regular readers will recall that last September Dr. Tony Grewal told Hammersmith and Fulham's Heath Select Committee that "there are going to be failures of delivery". I am genuinely surprised that this has come to pass so quickly. Please email me by clicking here if you have experienced similar problems and I will take this matter up.