Tuesday 1 February 2011

Lisa Homan Reports On Last Week’s Full Council Meeting

On Wednesday night I attended a meeting in Parliament and gave a talk to around two hundred politicians, housing professionals, tenants, leaseholders and others about the Conservatives’ housing policies. I had uncovered many of these Tory policies when they were in inception here in Hammersmith and Fulham in 2006 and 2007. Regular readers will have seen this video made by the Guardian Newspaper in 2009 and my unanswered letter to Prime Minister, David Cameron which set out the full scale of how the Conservatives housing policies will impact Hammersmith and Fulham. I wrote this piece for LabourList which details how the Conservatives’ housing and benefits policies will restructure communities across our country. I will report more on all this later.

Cllr. Lisa Homan therefore stepped up and led Labour’s charge against the Conservative Administration at that night’s Council meeting. She has kindly sent me this report:

Cllr. Lisa Homan's Report. Full Council Meeting. Wednesday, 26th January 2011
“Wednesday evening began with both political parties coming together to award the Royal Yeomanry the Freedom of our Borough. I was honoured to be able to speak in support of this and talked about how none of us in civilian life can ever truly understand the scale of the bravery and self-sacrifice our soldiers exhibit when serving in battle for our country. There will be a Freedom Parade for the Royal Yeomanry later in the year.

The mood of the meeting changed when the Irish Cultural Centre presented their petition to stop the Council breaking its word and selling off their building. The issue has been widely covered in the Irish Press (and in this article below) and attracted as large audience of supporters. However, none of us expected to have to listen to some of the disgraceful caricatures Conservative councillors presented about the Irish people when making their arguments for going ahead with the closure. “They’re a resilient people” said one. Going by the looks on the faces of those in the gallery I don’t think ‘resilience’ was the temperament being experienced by those listening to the Conservatives’ insults. This issue will now be decided at the Cabinet Meeting on 7th February.

It was interesting that the Conservatives then withdrew their next motion on 'localism' which they had written and submitted for debate. They had probably recognised that with the closure of the Irish Centre, Sands End Community Centre, Pallingswick House the sell off of Shepherds Bush Village Hall and other civic buildings valued by the community together with their total ignorance to all those apposed the Town Hall redevelopment - it really was not a good time to suggest that they support localism.

The next debate centered on the Conservatives taking direct control over H&F Homes, the Council’s housing management company. This will mean the tenants, leaseholders and independent experts that govern that body will all be sacked when that organisation is wound up in a couple of months time. Imagine the outcry if the Conservatives were getting rid of all the governors in a local school and managing it directly and you’ll understand why this is a contentious matter. Add to this H&F Conservatives’ highly controversial approach to the Borough’s council housing (see Introduction above) and that an overwhelming percentage of Hammersmith and Fulham’s 18,000 council home residents had endorsed the governor led approach in 2003 then my Labour colleagues and I wanted to again question why the Conservatives refused to do another ballot (click on Labour's ballot above left to expand and read text). Instead H&F Council carried out a “consultation” (see below right) where three of the five questions counted as an endorsement of their plans. When my Labour colleagues and I challenged them about this unorthodox approach to democracy the Conservatives said we were “being pernickety”. Labour had very different plans for social housing in our Borough which we published in our manifesto. I spoke to those urging the Administration to give council home residents more control and more choice as to the future of their homes.

Councillors Wesley Harcourt (Lab) and Elaine Chumnery (Lab) then spoke in the next debate which was about the new High Speed and Crossrail station being proposed for Old Oak where they are councillors. They obviously said the right things as there was an island of consensus in the middle of the evening when the Conservatives agreed to support Labour's amendment which meant we all voted together on the amended motion.

The next motion was about the government’s housing benefits (HB) cuts. This issue had been reviewed at a Select Committee in November and following that Cllr. Lucy Ivimy (Con) and Cllr. Stephen Cowan (Lab) attended a meeting with Shelter On Tuesday, 18th January. They had gone to hear about their latest research into the likely consequences of these cuts. This was undertaken by Cambridge University (CU) and the unit involved are considered to be one the UK’s leading authorities. To everyone’s astonishment, Cllr. Ivimy launched an astonishing attack on Shelter and the CU unit that had undertaken the research. Here’s the transcript of what she said “I did go with Councillor Cowan to see Shelter. I have never been as disappointed and unimpressed in my life. I thought Shelter was a reputable organisation.  It presented us with a report based on false assumptions and deeply flawed analysis - coming to alarmist conclusions…” and referring to the Cambridge University research Cllr. Ivimy added “… yes obviously some 26-year-old undergraduate who had no knowledge or understanding of statistics and had no idea what he was doing. That's who obviously did it.”

The Conservative led government is telling housing authorities that “any arrears because of a loss of HB/LHA should be treated as beyond the tenant's control” meaning that any local household facing the loss of their home because of these cuts should be treated as “unintentionally homeless” and therefore applicable to go on the local housing register. Councillors Andrew Jones (Lab), PJ Murphy (Lab) and I asked for a clarification of this point. In response, Cllr. Ivimy said "In answer to that last question, I will say only this, which is as you know or ought to know, that every case has to be considered on its own merits and it will be considered on its own merits”. It will be interesting if H&F Council doesn’t accept the government’s recommendations as I believe they will find themselves at the wrong end of a legal challenge if they don’t.

There is little doubt that the government’s housing benefits cuts will have a tremendous affect on many local households. Cambridge University’s research demonstrates that barely any areas in Hammersmith and Fulham will still be affordable to people in receipt of some form of housing benefits by 2016. You can see that from these graphs (click to expand and view attachments) that we made available and referred to during the debate. If you consider that Shelter says “The vast majority of HB claimants are either pensioners, those with disabilities, people caring for a relative or hardworking people on low incomes, and only one in eight people who receive HB is unemployed”. And then consider that there are thousands of households in our Borough who will be worried sick about being thrown out of their homes then it makes H&F Conservatives’ approach to this hard to respect.

Councillors Andrew Jones (Lab) and Iain Coleman (Lab) then spoke to the motion listed on page 725 about the need to refurbish the all weather pitch in Bloomfontein Road and to Cllr. Greg Smith's (Con) credit he agreed to do something about it.

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