Thursday 14 July 2011

Defiant Tories Re-Launch Controversial Media

There was much public distain about that particular newspaper. Brave independently minded commentators attacked it, residents didn't like paying for it and eventually even the Conservative-led government turned against it. Then, to everyone’s surprise the publisher suddenly closed it down.

It is just over two months since the Council’s H&F News disappeared from our Borough. Some said it was the most controversial government self-promotion outside of North Korea. For too long H&F’s Conservative Administration refused to even countenance that but in the end, even they agreed it had to go. Political propaganda on the rates was supposedly dead.

However, next came the alarming deal with the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle. Now, there’s three, all-new, expensively produced, glossy council magazines dropping through our mail boxes and paid for by our taxes.

Many of the same staff work on these new titles and they are packed with pictures of Conservative councillors doing "good works" around our community. Kim Jong-il would be proud and if Rupert Murdoch is watching these three phoenixes rise from H&F News’ ashes, he may conclude he could learn a thing or two from the sly goings at Hammersmith and Fulham's Conservative run Council.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Next Step For H&F Conservatives' Controversial Housing Demolitions Scheme Announced

H&F's Labour councillors first exposed the
Conservatives plans with this leaflet in 2007. Now
the Tories don't even try to hide what they're doing
The very best explanation for David Cameron’s use of the words “appalling lies” is that he had absolutely no understanding of the Conservative Party housing policies he was talking about. Indeed, even H&F Conservatives have changed their tune and dropped their accusations of “scaremongering.”

Now, it is plain for all to see that this council administration does in fact intend to demolish thousands of local council homes and leave many people will little choice but to move out of the Borough.

My fellow Labour councillors and I first uncovered these plans in 2007. But it is only since the elections last year that H&F Conservatives have become more brazen about what they’re doing. The latest instalment of this saga can be considered on page 203 of the next set of H&F Council’s cabinet papers. Those say:

“This report recommends that an exclusivity agreement be entered into with Capital and Counties in order to continue negotiations towards a potential Land Sale Agreement for the inclusion of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in a comprehensive regeneration scheme.”

H&F Conservatives now argue that this is a “regeneration scheme” that will be much better for the current residents. If that is in any way true we should expect to see them carry out a vote of the residents whose homes are to be demolished. But I’m willing to bet that won’t happen. Even our Conservatives don’t yet appear to have started believing their own propaganda.

Take a look elsewhere in the same council papers. On page 348 you’ll see that the Conservatives propose to introduce a “Right to Move Pilot” – probably more aptly put as a Right to Clear-Off-Out-Of-Here. That tells us that our council hopes “To agree to a joint pilot of a Right to Move scheme for Council’s tenants to move to properties outside the Borough. The pilot to run in conjunction with Notting Hill Housing Group.”

Meanwhile, on 18th April the Conservative cabinet gave its unanimous support to selling off many council homes instead of re-letting them to people on the housing waiting list which is detailed in this report.

If you’re trying to square the circle and work out where all our council house residents will go then the obvious answer is these policies mean many won't all be able to stay in this Borough. Indeed, now that rents have been hiked up to "near market levels", large numbers of residents of social housing will have no option but to leave Hammersmith and Fulham for cheaper shelter elsewhere. Combine that exodus with those leaving because of a similarly harsh approach taken to Local Housing Allowances and our Borough begins to have a very different population is a relatively short space of time.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Town Hall Development Debacle Phase Two

There’s a quiet panic rippling around Hammersmith Town Hall. The Conservative Administration had planned to demolish the cinema, demolish the Pocklington Trust homes for the blind, demolish the Friends Meeting House and then build a supermarket (probably a Tesco), two fourteen storey blocks of flats, an ugly bridge into Furnivall Gardens and luxury offices for bureaucrats. But Hammersmith’s residents don’t like it.

Now as far as this administration is concerned there is a problem with residents – they’re also known as voters. So, under vast amounts of pressure the Conservative Administration buckled and has supposedly beaten a reluctant retreat. But have they retreated enough?

I don’t think so. Indications from around the Town Hall are that they are strongly considering dropping the bridge altogether and expect to remove no more than five floors from each of the skyscrapers. That done, they will then tell the public that they have listened and crack on with their still unhappy plans over the next six months.

But most of the rest of the development still stands. So here’s what really needs to happen to genuinely improve the scheme.

Firstly, lose the offices. We don’t need them!.. And the cost being paid by our Council to plan, design, build and deck them out is around £35 million. Lose them and we can have a smaller scheme that regenerates that part of Hammersmith without blighting the skyline for generations.

Secondly, a new plan is needed that has the input and support of Hammersmith’s residents. That should see the demolition of the current ugly extension (also built by a Conservative Administration). It must also seek to adapt the front of the Town Hall using retail and community recreation space to draw people in. There is no need or desire to demolish people’s homes in Pocklington Trust or to demolish the cinema so the new proposals should protect these local assets.

Finally, and possibly most crucially, there is a problem with the senior officials and politicians working on the scheme. They are deeply and emotionally committed to much of it. I believe the senior team has lost all perspective and this affects every aspect of their judgement on this matter. I also believe that many of the officials negotiating with the developers are completely out of their depth. The Administration needs to bring in new people who will take a fresh and competent approach that seeks to rise to residents’ hopes rather than remove one or two items they both fear and loathe.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

The Irony: H&F Conservatives Congratulate Schools Whilst Undermining Future Results With Cuts

Cllr. Mercy Umeh
At last week's Full Council Meeting Conservative councillors put down a motion about the successful local school results. There was an irony here because their administration has cut budgets, ended the early years programme and cut schools funding. Cllr. Mercy Umeh explained that to them in this speech:

"I have been on the Education and Children’s Services Select Committee for six years. I have sat through many presentations by head teachers and I’ve listened to school governors and seen how OFSTED judge a school’s successes.

As a parent of children who were educated locally in our nurseries, primary and secondary schools, I know how important it is that we have schools that continually achieve and have a reputation for doing so.

So I welcome the motion put down by the administration and confirm that the Opposition will support it. But let’s be clear. Results like these do not happen over night. Indeed, as I know from all my experience, it can be a long hard battle to improve a school and even harder battle to improve a school’s reputation. There are several reasons why the results mentioned in the Administration’s motion have happened:
  • Governors, sometimes with the support of this education authority, have employed effective head teachers who have demonstrated strong leadership.
  • The quality of teaching and the level of teaching skills has improved and continues to do so.
  • And parents, carers and the students themselves work hard to reach ever higher education standards
But there is more…
  • The Sure Start, early years children's centers provided early years help that has ensured children are better able to be educated. This has had an amazing effect on the results of both primary and secondary schools.
  • Record levels of investment saw children provided with new books, computers and buildings.
  • Class sizes were cut and the children’s accomplishment grew. 
  • We got better as a society at spotting issues like dyslexia and other learning difficulties and support was often provided.
  • Homework clubs gave extra teaching
  • Breakfast clubs ensured kids that often didn’t get a breakfast got one…. And do you know what? That had a positive effect on results too.
All these were Labour initiatives. Many of these have been cut by this Conservative Council or cut by the Conservative led government:
  • Building Schools for the Future – STOPPED!
  • Sure Start – ENDED, here in Hammersmith and Fulham in all but name.
  • And two years ago I was sickened to sit on the Select Committee and hear this Borough’s Director of Education boast that his department had made the biggest cuts out of all the Council’s departments. Do you know what? The Conservative members applauded.
Now we have debated these issues before. So I want to make two points. The first is about Great Britain’s competitiveness in an ever-increasing globalised economy. To compete we need educated, skilled citizens who can win wealth for our society and ensure our long term success. I would hope that even the Conservatives would agree that this is a good thing.

But there are moral reasons too… We on this side believe that, at the very least, it is important to give everyone an equal chance in life. Education is critical for that to happen.

So whilst I support the motion and congratulate everyone involved, I also warn the Conservatives, at all levels, that these successes are the consequence of a wide range of causes that have had ever improving effects over many, many years. Your cuts to Sure Start and BSF; your proposals to increase class sizes and the obvious cuts in investment, so applauded by your party, all will all have a cost. They will damage future education results in this Borough and damage our country’s long term economic success."

Saturday 2 July 2011

Cathor Park Parents Cause H&F Council's High Court Capitulation

Yesterday morning in the High Court, H&F Council grudgingly capitulated. It agreed to re-instate some of the services it has already cut from the Cathnor Park Children's Centre after a local parent instigated a judicial review (JR) of the decision. Mr. Justice Collins indicated that they had an arguable case and told the Conservative run local authority that its actions maybe unlawful. H&F Council then promptly produced a new proposal and the JR was withdrawn. You can read a full report here on the Shepherds Bush Blog.

This is a clear win for the parents that relied on that service and provides encouragement for others across Hammersmith and Fulham. At last February's budget meeting H&F Conservatives cut £3.4 million pounds from the budget of the Borough's sixteen Sure Start children's centers. Then in April at the Cabinet Meeting they agreed the details of where the axe would fall. The point to bear in mind is, at that meeting, H&F's director of children's services admitted that this cut would will mean that around 85% of the households that had relied on the service would not receive it anymore. The Conservatives were unapologetic when my Labour colleagues and I raised this again at last Full Council Meeting on Wednesday night. Somewhat controversially, the Leader of the Council said he didn't believe middle class people should benefit from these children's service and said his administration's budget cut means it will now go only to those deemed to be most in need.

Last February, at a meeting of Cathnor Park Children's Center's parents, grandparents and carers it was heart breaking to hear of the horrible effects that cut in service would have on the children that benefitted from that service. So it absolutely fantastic that they have had this win. Now we have to see if similar blows for fairness can be struck across the Borough.