Thursday 28 March 2013

What Happened To Make H&F's Conservative Councillors Capitulate In Negotiations To Save Our Hospitals?

How government health chiefs now view H&F
since they have started
backing their hospitals 
cuts plan
Ask anyone who has studied negotiation: is it a good idea to back down from a strong position; take away all pressure from your opponent; and shake hands on a deal months or even years before any deadline requires you to do so? You will get a very clear answer - No! So why did our Borough’s Conservative councillors lead the Council to do precisely that when they stopped their support of the cross-party, residents-led campaign to save local hospitals?

This matter was considered at an emergency Full Council Meeting called last week by my fellow Labour councillors and I. It was a chance for Conservative councillors to explain themselves, in public and on-record. Hundreds of people turned out to listen. Some angry, some distraught and some just keen to understand what had happened. But no good answers came.

One resident perceptively pointed out how the ashamed body language of the Conservatives’ more thoughtful elected representatives became increasingly more squirmish as their own side tried to explain what had happened. In short, their argument is that this was the best possible deal they thought they could get.

But this was the first deal the government offered them and they immediately snapped it up. The Conservative/Lib Dem government also offered Ealing Council and Lewisham Council similar initial deals at the same time and those elected representatives (of all parties) turned them down and said their residents deserved much more. So what was the real reason our Conservative councillors capitulated?

It turned out that there has been a considerable amount of disquiet amongst local Conservatives about attacking their own government’s policy of hospital cuts. Many had never wanted to join the residents-led campaign in the first place. When the government offered them a cop out they took it and figured they could use council funds to blanket the Borough with propaganda spinning what they had done.

They have so far spent over £20,000.00 of tax payers’ money telling residents that they have “Saved Charing Cross Hospital.” Nobody who has studied the facts or heard their explanations believes that’s true. In fact, in the panic of trying to explain themselves last week, one Conservative councillor admitted nothing had been finalised and nothing yet agreed - underlining how the Conservatives have undermined their negotiating position. 

If this is such a "great deal" and an "amazing triumph" why did Conservative councillors sneak off behind the backs of the residents, they had pledged to work with, and agree all this in secret? Why did they only tell their former partners in the residents campaign about their "brilliant success" the day before they announced it on a glossy council leaflet posted out to all Borough residents? And why did they not call for any type of independent clinical assessment of this deal before they agreed it and before they announced it?

By the end of the meeting our Conservative councillors' had demonstrated that their position is no more than a bad-judgement call, a political mistake, an inept negotiation and a betrayal of residents who expected our council to put their health needs first.

So, at last week’s meeting my Labour colleagues and I called three separate votes. All the Borough's councillors were required to vote for or against the following:
  1. A commission that will carry out an independent clinical assessment of these proposals
  2. For the Council to ask the Secretary of State for Health to hold a public inquiry into how these proposals will affect local residents
  3. For the Council to re-open negotiations with Government health chiefs to get a better health deal for Hammersmith and Fulham's residents.
All of our Borough’s Conservative elected representatives voted against those proposals. They were therefore blocked from happening.

So now residents face a situation where our council has agreed that the A&E at Hammersmith Hospital will close and the A&E at Charing Cross Hospital will close leaving no accident and emergency services in the Borough. Nearly all other acute health facilities at Charing Cross will close. Charing Cross Hospital will be reduced to 13% of its current size; and 60% of the Charing Cross ground site will be turned over to the Conservatives' property speculator friends. And all of this while London’s population is set to expand by the equivalent of a city the size of Leeds over the next 12 years.

My Labour colleagues and I will continue to stand with local residents and will keep campaigning against these hospital closures.

It’s not too late for Conservative councillors to realise their mistakes. I for one would welcome it if they re-joined the Save Our Hospitals campaign. I know how difficult it is to oppose those in your own party. My local Labour colleagues and I opposed the last Labour London Mayor on the western extension of the congestion zone and the last Labour government on the third runway at Heathrow. But there is no more important issue facing the Borough than saving our hospitals for current and future generations of residents. Once those critical health services have gone they will not be coming back. 

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Labour Calls A Vote For Independent Assessment Of Conservatives' Hospital Cuts Plan At Next Week's "Extraordinary Council Meeting"

The Labour Opposition on Hammersmith and Fulham Council have called an emergency council meeting to discuss the private deal Conservative Councillors struck with government health chiefs at the end of last year - as reported here. The Mayor has scheduled the Extraordinary Council Meeting for next Tuesday, 19th March. It will begin at 7.00pm in Hammersmith Town Hall. You can view the agenda by clicking here.

My Labour colleagues and I called this vote as we believe that it is important that the Council agrees to have this deal objectively assessed by an independent health expert. All councillors will therefore be given the opportunity to vote on that proposition.

We are also questioning the propriety of the Conservatives’ behaviour because they did not call an emergency meeting of the Borough's Health Select Committee to assess their deal before they privately shook hands on it and they did not inform any of their partners in the residents' led Save Our Hospitals campaign that were even entering talks. Instead, they spent an estimated £20,000.00 of council tax payers' money on hospital leaflets which falsely claim they have "saved Charing Cross Hospital." It's hard not to see how they are doing anything other than playing fast and loose with public health and public money.

Friday 8 March 2013

Schmid Hits The Ground Running With Calls For War On Council Waste And Genuine Tax Cuts

Cllr. Max Schmid (Lab) setting out the case for genuine tax cuts
and rooting out the chronic levels of council waste
Newly elected Councillor Max Schmid gave his maiden speech at the very first opportunity - the Annual Budget Meeting. Here's what he said:

"I would like to start by thanking the voters of Wormholt and White City who elected me to represent them. I also want to thank the police and election officials who ran such a smooth process.

The election, though, came under by the worst possible circumstances - the sad loss of Councillor Jean Campbell.

As we all know, Cllr. Campbell was a strong and much admired representative for her ward. She built up a huge respect in the community. She was a genuine leader whose loss has been felt deeply.

On the doorstep, many residents warned me that she is an impossible act to follow, but I will do all I can to carry on working for the positive changes she wanted to see for Wormholt and White City.

I want to use this speech to discuss two points about this budget:

I will talk about the Council’s range of taxes, fines and charges, and I will then discuss tackling council wastefulness.

In the recent by-election, I stood on a platform that supported the council tax cuts and argued for reductions across many forms of council stealth taxes.

So I understand why the Administration makes much of the Council Tax cut. They have even gone as far as changing their logo. Gone is “Putting residents first.” That has been replaced with “The low tax Borough”. But is that true? Or, is this claim contradicted by the nearly 600 stealth taxes that have been introduced or increased since 2006.

I worry that when you consider all of the costs imposed by the Council on the residents it once claimed to put first, we actually live in a High tax Borough.

Residents don’t distinguish between the different ways the Council takes money from them. They look at what they get from the Council, and what they pay in through not only the official Council Tax, but also the huge range of stealth taxes. More and more, they are not satisfied with the deal they are getting.

Let’s take the example of a 72 year old lady I met last June while canvassing in the Town by-election. She lives in a nice flat, she worked hard all her life and has always paid her taxes. She told me that since 2006 her Council charges for meals-on-wheels, which she depends on, have gone up dramatically above inflation, adding an extra £700 to her annual bill.

She thinks that Hammersmith and Fulham is a high tax Borough for elderly residents.

While canvassing in Fulham Reach ward last weekend I talked to a small business owner who told me that his costs for refuse collection had gone up drastically in the last three years alone. They go up even further in this budget.

He told me that Hammersmith and Fulham is a high tax Borough for small businesses.

During this month’s by-election, I met parents in White City who take their kids to play football in Hammersmith Park. They told me how important it was for them to keep their children active and fit. But they complained that the council has rented out the park to a private contractor that has imposed charges for a pitch to up to 90 pounds an hour.

For them, Hammersmith and Fulham is a high tax Borough for families.

And a few weeks ago the Sunday Times exposed the £3m motorist trap in Fulham that Transport for London said was specifically designed to multiply council earnings instead of properly regulate traffic.

As they sit at home and ponder their exorbitant ticket, these 80 people a day can only conclude that Hammersmith and Fulham is a high tax Borough for motorists.

And all the while lots of council waste that should be tackled isn’t. Perversely, one of the biggest areas of waste is the millions every year the Council spends congratulating itself and trying to convince residents they are getting a good deal. The expensive, glossy leaflets printed and delivered to residents, the acres of high-rate newspaper adverts, the Maoist posters hanging from streetlights and now a ridiculous rebranding exercise.

All of this £5 million of waste on PR could be cut. Instead—only a paltry £10,000 savings is made in this budget on Communications.

With massive cuts everywhere else in this budget, communities facing the sale their homes to overseas developers and our two Hospitals betrayed, the propaganda budget seems to be the only thing this Council is prepared to protect.

So, just as I did in my recent election, I will continue to campaign for a genuinely low tax Borough.

I will work to cut council waste on propaganda, to remove layers of expensive senior bureaucrats and end its exorbitant use of consultants.

But I will also fight for a better deal for local residents.

I want a Council that thinks it is worth fighting to keep Hospitals in the area instead of wasting even more money on a PR campaign pretending the local health service had been saved—a preposterous claim that yesterday even the Conservative Secretary of State seemed unimpressed by.

Hammersmith and Fulham is crying out for a fresh approach. One that genuinely puts money back in people’s pockets, tackles waste and still aspires to put residents first.

Thank you."

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Residents Accuse Conservative Councillors Of Betrayal After Secret Deal To Shut Hospital Services And Turn Most Of Charing Cross Hospital Into Luxury Flats

Last July, at a packed public meeting, residents were aggressively questioning Conservative councillors about whether they could be trusted to protect our local hospitals. The Conservatives sat looking brow-beaten and so I found myself in the unusual position of speaking up for them. I said that Conservative councillors had promised me and residents’ groups that they would work with us to protect our local hospitals and that I believed it was right we should take them at their word. Just over three weeks ago the Conservatives publicly left the campaign to Save Our Hospitals. Now all of us that believed their promise feel more that a little duped. 

In short, both of the Borough’s accident and emergency departments will now close and the Conservatives have already agreed that the majority of the Charing Cross Hospital site will be turned over to property speculators who will use the land to build luxury flats.

Here’s the details of the deal our Conservative run Council has agreed with government heath chiefs:
  • Only 13% of the current Charing Cross Hospital will be used for NHS care
  • That 60% of the Charing Cross Hospital ground-site will be sold to property speculators and turned into luxury flats
  • Both of the Borough’s A&Es at Charing Cross Hospital and Hammersmith Hospital’s will close
  • Shut the stroke unit at Charing Cross Hospital
  • Shut the Intensive Care Unit at Charing Cross Hospital
  • Cut 440 beds at Charing Cross Hospital, leaving just 60 beds
  • End acute care at Charing Cross Hospital
  • The remaining 13% space of the current Charing Cross Hospital site will be turned into a specialist health clinic and adult social care convalescence centre
  • Residents will spend up to 30 crucial minutes travelling by ambulance to A&Es in other boroughs and up to an hour by car
  • The possible demolition of the award-winning Maggie’s Centre with it being rebuilt on a less valuable piece of land.
Once this deal had been put together the Chair of the Borough’s Health Select Committee should have called an emergency meeting to review it. But that position is held by Ravenscourt Park Councillor Lucy Ivimy (Con). She refrained from calling that meeting so there was no objective independent assessment or public scrutiny of this deal before it was agreed. Instead, the day after Conservative councillors announced they were leaving the Save Our Hospitals campaign they instructed the Council to send out a tax-payer funded, glossy leaflet to all residents in the Borough. That falsely told people that they had saved the hospitals. People will judge the truthfulness of that for themselves.

The last scheduled Health Select Committee took place on 20th February. At that meeting Conservative councilors voted down the Labour Opposition’s request to have an independent health expert assess the deal they had agreed. They also admitted that they had been working on their deal since last year and had privately agreed to leave the Save Our Hospitals campaign before Christmas.

The time-line to the Conservative Administration’s change of heart raises further questions. Shortly after Christmas a source close to senior council officials let me know that Conservative councillors had agreed to publicly change their position and support the hospital closures. My source told me there had been a considerable amount of disagreement in the Conservative Group with many feeling uncomfortable attacking their own government’s hospital closure plans. By 30th January 2013, Cllr. Lucy Ivimy and Fulham Reach Councillor Peter Graham (Con) gave speeches at the Full Council Meeting indicating they were actively favouring much of the government’s hospital closure programme. On the 7th February the Conservative administration finally came clean and announced the deal done with government health chiefs before Christmas. The next day their glossy propaganda leaflet flopped onto the doormats of 180,000 Borough residents.

This privately agreed deal is awful. The Conservatives appear to have been, at best, thoroughly incompetent in their negotiations. Their underhand approach will have undermined their negotiating position and can only be seen as an effort to undercut the local residents' campaign they had previously pledged to support. I know that the residents who have worked tirelessly on the Save Our Hospitals campaign feel thoroughly betrayed.

The campaign to Save Our Hospitals carries on. My Labour colleagues and I continue to support it.