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.