Friday 19 April 2013

H&F Conservatives' Gloss On Mental Health Cuts Is No Laughing Matter

Mental health is still a subject many people struggle to discuss openly. Last year, users of the Ellerslie Centre lobbied and educated councillors (of all parties) about their respective conditions and fears of how the imminent cuts to their centre would curtail critical support.

The Conservative Administration went ahead with the £290,000 budget cut. It restricted the users to the top floor instead of the whole building they had previously enjoyed, it closed the canteen and laid off their support workers. Last week, at the Borough’s Housing Health and Adult Social Care Select Committee, we examined what the Administration says has been the consequences of all this. You can take a look at the Administration’s report on page 51.

Rather predictably it says it has been a “success.” Echoing David Cameron’s Big Society we were informed how “the service has changed in that it no longer provides meals but encourages service users to cook for themselves.” Officials detailed how a higher than average “eight service users have been admitted to hospital since the service has changed” but they had investigated this and they knew for certain that there was “no clear evidence that [the] change in day services impacted on or caused these hospital episodes.” And just in case anyone wanted to ask what lay underneath this gloss, there was no detail of any reliable source. All of this made for a pretty grim meeting - although not for two Conservative councillors representing Fulham Reach ward who laughed and giggled throughout a significant part of the official's evidence.

Last year the users of the Ellerslie Centre told how people suffering from a mental health issue can find the essential day-to-day aspects of life too difficult. Things such as eating, or eating properly, washing and doing laundry can all seem too hard to contemplate. I visited the Ellerslie Centre on a couple of occasions. Hot food was on offer, laundry was done but most importantly there was a powerful sense of caring and friendship amongst the users and the staff. That’s not something that would show in any set of accounts but was a real asset all the same.

I understand the need to maximise the Council’s budget. But this Conservative Administration has been exposed for wasting millions of pounds. It’s spending nearly £1m defending its plans to demolish Shepherds Bush market, it’s gifting £70m worth of land to get unnecessary new offices for Town Hall bureaucrats, and it’s given Conservative councillors record salary rises and even paid for them to make luxury trips to the French Riviera. I find it hard to believe that this £290,000 cut to these particular mental health services were such a key priority when there is so much disgraceful waste that should have been prioritised for the axe.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

H&F Labour's War On Waste Will Keep This Inept Conservative Run Council On The Back Foot

Incompetence and waste: Hammersmith and Fulham Council
eventually handed itself over to HMRC while admitting it had been
operating outside UK tax laws because of the Conservative
Administration's self-confessed "carelessness" with public money
Fourteen months ago, at last year’s budget meeting, the public nearly got their first glimpse of Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives’ 2014 election narrative. The visual was a large black solid circle photocopied onto A4 paper. All the Borough’s Conservative councillors filed into the chamber clasping their copies which they quickly stashed out of sight under their desk. Their plan was to orchestrate a synchronised raising of their sheets at a signalled point during the evening. Some clearly imagined it would be hilarious - unable to curtail their sniggering and offering up sneak previews of their papers across the council chamber. But the call never came and this silly stunt was never activated.

The problem the Conservatives had was that my Labour colleagues and I spent that evening underlining how we would root out waste, cut council taxes and only make funding pledges that were properly costed and rigorously tested. The Conservatives' mood slumped even further when we listed some of the incompetence and waste of millions of pounds of public money which had gained them notoriety in the national media and been investigated by the UK tax authorities. We called for a war on waste. By the end of the evening, a glumness had settled over the Conservative group. Their “Labour’s black hole” argument had been proved to be really rather daft.

Fifteen months have passed and as the election approaches H&F Conservatives will undoubtedly try and wheel out that nonsense again. It won’t work and not just because it isn’t true. It will fail because my Labour colleagues and I will set out a thoroughly costed plan that will deliver on our tax cutting and manifesto commitments and we do that against a back-drop of Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives’ increasing reputation for financial incompetence.

Consider that in the last eighteen months Bob Neill MP (Con) (one of their own local government ministers) accused our Tory councillors of “slackness” after it emerged they had wasted vast amounts of tax payers' money. Or, that in the last six months the Borough’s Conservative Administration wrote to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs service to plead that they had been “careless” with tax payers’ money which is the best excuse they could agree on after being caught out operating outside UK tax laws. Regular readers will recall how this Conservative Administration has been exposed in countless national media for wasting millions of pounds on unorthodox uses of consultants – many of whom are retired local government officers wrongly working as “consultants” so as to not forfeit their generous pension payments. And how our council has the accolade of having both too many and having the highest paid senior bureaucrats in the UK. There is much more and it is insightful to their attitude that they okayed a £7,000.00 Monday afternoon booze-up for a favoured local government employee and did that in these austere times.

There needs to be a change and cutting council waste needs to be central to the changes this Borough needs.