Tuesday 30 December 2014

Latest Update On Gibbs Green And West Kensington Estates

I sent this letter (click on each attachment to enlarge) to residents of the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates yesterday. Unfortunately, there are limits to what can be disclosed at this point and I understand how its contents will initially be disheartening for those that have campaigned against this scheme for such a long time. But I believe residents have a right to understand the reality of the situation that the borough's former Conservative councillors left us with.

Earlier this year, my fellow Labour councillors and I stood on a manifesto (page 23) that was clear in our approach to this scheme. I appreciate how, in this age when people are particularly disbelieving of anything politicians say, that it might be hard for some to believe we are still sincere in wanting to do want we said we'd do. But we are.

We are doing what we promised on many fronts and there's no reason we wouldn't stick to our word and do our best on this one. For example: we have already saved Sulivan Primary School; have cancelled H&F Conservatives' policy of selling council homes to property spectulators; we are abolishing home care charges for the elderly and disabled; have negotiated millions of pounds worth of extra affordable homes to rent and buy; are about to deliver new funding and support for local food banks and are putting the greatest ever number of extra council-funded police on our streets. We are also vigorously campaigning to save Charing Cross Hospital from the Conservative/Lib Dem government's demolition plans and have already delivered on a long list of the carefully considered promises we made in our manifesto.

The former Conservative run council's scheme for the sale and demolition of the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates was signed off by the Conservative/Lib Dem government on 18th April 2013. This allowed the two estates to then be effectively sold which was actioned on 14th November 2013.

After 22nd May 2014, when my fellow Labour councillors and I were elected to run H&F Council, we began discussions with CapCo about possible better ways forward.

It was my Labour colleagues and I that discovered what H&F Conservatives were up to with peoples' homes in our borough back in 2007. News on their plans for the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates was exposed in 2008. We have consistently campaigned against all H&F Conservatives' housing sale and demolitions, making what was happening to social housing here in Hammersmith and Fulham into a national issue. We are not about to change our minds now.

The situation we inherited on the Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates isn't easy but we're making some progress and CapCo have consistently given me their word that they want to do the right thing by all the residents on the two estates. I hope we will have some positive news on possible ways forward early on in the new year and that we will be able to properly engage residents on all the possible options and what they want us to do on their behalves.

Sunday 14 December 2014

H&F Conservatives' 14.7% Parking Charges Hike Blocked! But What Does It Tell Us About How They Did Business?

In the wee small hours of election night last May I found myself being led by council officials to a Town Hall room in a small party that included Cllr. Nicholas Botterill (Con), H&F’s former council leader. We were being taken to sign the book accepting each of our positions as elected H&F councillors. We traipsed quietly from the noise of the count and just as we were about to go through a corridor door Botterill turned to me: “You’re going to be a very unpopular administration very soon” he stated. “Er, thanks” I replied. “I’m not being funny...” he added, “It’s just that the things you’re going to have to do will make you a very unpopular administration very quickly”. He was understandably shocked and upset by the huge loss H&F Conservatives suffered that night. I thanked him again for offering his view and made a note of what he said.

The next week a senior H&F Council official shuffled into my office and asked me to enact a policy that H&F Conservatives had planned for immediately after the election: “The former administration may or may not…” He advised while trying to muster what looked like a wink “…have been about to introduce a 14.7% increase in parking charges. If you do it now, it will raise three quarters of a million pounds for the rest of this year and one and a half million more pounds for each year thereafter” he concluded. “Are you trying to turn me into Nick Clegg?” I asked. The official went on to explain that my Labour colleagues and I had promised in our manifesto that we would stick within H&F Conservatives’ planned spending forecasts and that this hike would raise vital sums that would allow us to do that. We did not take the official's advice despite being lobbied to do so by him and others over the following days. Instead, we went and found over £4 million pounds of wasted spend, such as on PR and propaganda, which we cut in a mini-budget we held in June.

My fellow Labour councillors and I also propose to freeze parking charges when we vote to agree the borough's finances at February's budget council meeting. When you take inflation into account that is a real terms cut. My colleagues and I made a commitment to put money back into people’s pockets and, in these tough times, that along with other measures we propose to take, will help to do that.

Having now had six months to examine what we have inherited I think Botterill's election night comments reflect more on how H&F's Conservative administration chose to do business on Charing Cross Hospital, offering council homes for demolition and salehospitality from developers, planning, Sulivan Primary School and all of this. It is true that H&F Conservatives bequeathed us a variety of situations that aren't good and we don't like but I believe that if we're straight with people (and open when legally possible) and keep working to do what we said we'd do in our manifesto then reasonable local people will still recognise that we're on their side and are working hard for them.

Meanwhile, back to parking and it's right to reflect on H&F Conservatives' horribly bad record: back in 2007 they successfully argued for a 50% increase in parking fines; in 2009 they introduced new parking rules to catch people out over Christmas and in the same year they introduced a 55% increase in parking charges and made the Daily Telegraph's list of parking shame. We will review how to improve the borough's parking and just like everything else we're working on we will do it with residents.

Sunday 7 December 2014

North End Road Festive Market Inspires Hope That We Can Regenerate This Great Fulham Land Mark

Shoppers packing North End Road yesterday morning
Yesterday’s North End Road Festive Market was a huge success. Over 10,000 shoppers visited. It was encouraging to see lines form at cash points and money being spent supporting local shops, regular stall holders and many, in some cases newly aspiring, local entrepreneurs. It was a wonderful way to celebrate Small Business Saturday but more importantly showed how Fulham’s North End Road could be great once again with just a little imagination and some smartly applied council support.

The plan had originated just weeks ago out of one of the Borough’s new Policy and Accountability Committees (PAC). On 17th September over a hundred local residents, shop keepers and market traders attended the Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts PAC to consider how to regenerate North End Road. Under the excellent stewardship of Cllr. Ben Coleman (Lab) they agreed to establish an action group comprising of businesses, stallholders and residents. I am extremely impressed that Ben Coleman and the rest of the action team were able to get yesterday’s event up and running so smoothly and within such a short space of time. They and the H&F Council officers (who went well beyond the extra mile to deliver it) have my thanks and respect for pulling this off.

North End Road yesterday evening
My colleagues and I promised in our manifesto - The Change We Need - that we would try to improve our shopping streets and have long called for support for small independent retailers.

This time last year and before they were elected Fulham Broadway's Councillors Ben Coleman, Alan De'Ath and Sharon Holder were actively encouraging a "buy local" campaign to support more of Hammersmith and Fulham's independent shops.

Here’s the text of what we argued needed to change from our manifesto published prior to last May's local elections:

"Improving our high streets
Our high streets are significant employers, particularly of young people. They should be vibrant places to shop and eat. Sadly, the [Conservative run] council is overseeing the decline of some of our most important high streets and parades. In a 500-metre stretch of North End Road alone, there are 20 empty shops and 17 betting and loan shops."

We now hope to build on yesterday’s success. Ben Coleman has arranged a public meeting to review how it went and what needs to happen next. If you’d like to attend that meeting it will take place at 7.00pm this Wednesday 10th December at St John's Church, North End Road, Fulham, London SW6 1PB. Alternatively you can email Ben Coleman here and let him know what you think.

'Tax On Disability' Scrapped

Possibly the worst email leaked to me during the years our borough was run by the H&F Conservatives was this one which detailed how elderly and disabled residents had been put "at risk" after H&F Conservatives introduced a new hourly charge for vital home care services. I was therefore delighted to announce on Wednesday 3rd December, which was the United Nation’s International Day of Disabled People, that this "tax on disability" will now be abolished in the London Borough of  Hammersmith and Fulham.

This was a H&F Labour manifesto pledge and my colleagues and I found the necessary £324,000 a year to do this by halting a horribly wasteful £400,000 worth of council publications and lamp post vanity banners that H&F's former Conservative administration was so fond of. Since then we have also cut the council's PR department.

This stealth tax was also expensive to administer so we will save even more but worryingly despite that, we've been advised that this had still been seen as worthwhile by H&F's former Conservative administration because it deterred other people from asking for help.

There needs to be a sea change in how we as a society look at the essential services disabled people need just to carry out basic tasks and do everyday things. I hope that by abolishing what has widely become known as a "disability tax" we can contribute to that argument.

Saturday 22 November 2014

H&F's New Labour Administration Funds More Police Than Ever Before

Me with the excellent Cllr. Sue Fennimore (Lab), H&F's cabinet member
for social inclusion, and the borough police commander
Chief Superintendent Gideon Springer
In the run up to the last local council elections my fellow Labour candidates and I made an early pledge to "defend neighbourhood policing" and "put police back on the beat". So I am delighted that today H&F's new Labour administration announced there will soon be more H&F funded police officers protecting local residents than ever before.

We found the funds to make this investment by re-negotiating property deals H&F's former Conservative administration had previously already agreed and closed the book on. We have won millions of extra pounds and have used a proportion of that money to fund the 20% increase in police numbers taking the total number of locally funded police officers up to forty four.

I meet many residents who have been victims of crime and many more concerned about the government and London Mayor's cuts in police numbers. But most importantly, my colleagues and I promised we would deliver extra policing and I am glad that we have been able to negotiate these extra funds to deliver on that promise within our first six months in office.

Monday 27 October 2014

Review On The Tri-Borough Shared Services Scheme Out Today

Lord Andrew Adonis published the Critical Friends Board
review today
The review of the council  shared services scheme that has become known as "tri-borough" was published today. You can read the executive summary here, the full report here and the press release put out by the Critical Friends Board here.

My colleagues and I have been broadly supportive of the idea behind this scheme from its inception and wrote about that in our manifesto. However we also had concerns about how it was put together back in 2010 and we raised those here when we were in Opposition. 

H&F's residents gave my fellow Labour councillors and I control of H&F Council in the local elections last May. We viewed it as vitally important that an independent review, devoid of vested interests, was immediately carried out. That has now concluded.

It is the most thorough and comprehensive analysis yet undertaken of the "tri-borough" initiative.  Indeed, it is the only independent review the three councils' shared services have undergone. I would like to thank Lord Andrew Adonis, Prof. Tony Travers and Deborah Lincoln for their enormous hard work and insights.

The shared services initiative has brought benefits to Hammersmith and Fulham although it is striking that the millions of pounds of savings so far achieved across the three councils are roughly equivalent to those delivered by Hackney and Lambeth and Camden on their own without undertaking such a sharing scheme. Those councils each delivered savings by stripping out layers of management instead of sharing them.

The three borough's shared services scheme will deliver a combined saving of £46.5million by 2015/16 which is well short of the £100million that the Rt Hon Eric Pickles (Con), the communities secretary, and his colleagues predicted here when the project was launched in 2010. 

The financial tsunami facing local government -  H&F is being required to make £71 million of cuts by 2017/18 - now requires a bigger and bolder approach to shared services while protecting local decision-making. I have acted immediately in implementing one of the major recommendations to appoint an exclusive chief executive for H&F. This brings about an immediate saving but also recognises the importance to each borough in having their own 'champion' directly accountable to elected representatives and therefore to borough residents. 

I have appointed Nigel Pallace as the interim chief executive to replace Nicholas Holgate who returns to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Nigel will take on the CEO's duties alongside his other role as H&F's Executive Director of Transport and Technical Services. I am grateful to Nicholas Holgate for all he has done for our borough. 

Further savings will be made from a review of senior management costs.  I am also waiting on Deloitte, which were appointed to support the review, to report back next week on an additional £1million of savings that has not already been identified by H&F's officers.

This landmark report lays the foundations for the future of shared services, not just at H&F but for all local authorities who are all facing tough financial circumstances. It recommends that shared services should not be about the creation of exclusive entities, which threaten local decision-making and accountability. It should be about sharing with as many boroughs as possible to deliver greater savings while retaining the ability for local councillors to set their own specification and standards.  That goes to the heart of each borough being able to fulfil its own democratic mandate.

I am grateful to each of the London Boroughs of Camden, Hackney and Lambeth and to our partners in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Council for sharing important information and co-operating with this review.

I look forward to working with the leaders of our two partner councils as we hope to build on their successes and the recommendations of the Critical Friends Board.

Sunday 19 October 2014

MIPIM, Boris Johnson And H&F's New Commitment To Tackle London's Housing Crisis

MIPIM, the international property development conference came to Olympia, London last week. It’s usually held in Cannes on the French Riviera. We inherited a £9,000 stand which Conservative councillors had booked before the local elections so we took the opportunity to deck it out with the manifesto and pledge card commitments that gained a public mandate last May.
“Putting residents first” and therefore not allowing oversized developments that blight neighbourhoods, “homes for residents, not overseas investors” and “tackling London’s housing crisis” all have broad backing from H&F residents.

Responsible developers and their advisers get that. They're keen to work with H&F's cabinet member for economic development and regeneration (who is also a professor of economic geography) to help regenerate the borough, support small businesses and provide homes Londoners want and can afford. We’ve already been able to renegotiate millions of pounds in extra payments to the Borough on schemes that were said to have been done and dusted by the former Conservative Administration. That vital money will be allocated to more policing and building more low cost homes to buy and more homes at social rent.
But there are others who just see Hammersmith and Fulham with the UK’s third highest and fastest rising land values as some sort of gold rush bonanza. These speculators turn up at the planning department’s door claiming that they and their gravy-stained lobbyists have already been given the nod from Mayor Boris Johnson (Con), and the Conservative/Lib Dem government, and so their oversized schemes with pitiful amounts of genuinely affordable homes will sail through the appeals process should Hammersmith and Fulham Council even try to stick to the London Plan.
I don’t know if Boris Johnson and his team realise his name is bandied around by such people and with such carelessness. I can’t imagine any politician aspiring to lead their party could do so if there was ever any truth in these whispered allegations that the Mayor is effectively working with property speculators in such a way as to botch negotiations for more genuinely affordable homes for Londoners and crucial extra cash in this time of “the graph of doom” austerity cuts.
True to form, on the BBC last week, Boris Johnson sought to sweet-talk the opposite of what his policies were actually achieving - indicating he and his team are all too aware of where voters' hearts and minds have settled when it comes to Britain's housing crisis. That BBC News piece also featured the new H&F Council's position. London Live TV ran the story too.
Our stance is popular as well as being the right way forward. But not everyone likes it: many of our current and former Conservative councillors are furious. They had flown to MIPIM when it was on the French Riviera with the £12,000 annual tab picked up by the Borough’s tax payers. They had enjoyed lavish hospitality from developers and their eager lobbyists with free lunches and dinners, free trips to cricket games, free trips to premier league football matches, free trips to tennis tournaments and even free tickets to the Proms. And they had held private meetings with developers with no published agenda and no minutes. We have put an end to all of that, just as we said we would: it is perhaps not surprising that for the Conservatives the way we set out our messages on the MIPIM stand they'd contracted was the final insult.
Peter Bingle
Many of the former Conservative councillors are themselves now full time lobbyists for property developers and speculators - so they have a vested interest in attacking H&F's new approach. Others are unhappy too: for example, there's a lobbyist called Peter Bingle who has taken to Twitter to offer his ignorant insults about Hammersmith and Fulham’s newly assertive position, knowing that this administration's interest in his platitudes are zilch.
Things have changed. That’s what happens in democracies when the voters hire someone else to do their bidding. The message to those property firms who present ridiculous viability assessments for schemes that damage neighbourhoods and blight our borough's landscape is simple: think again or look somewhere else.

Monday 13 October 2014

Statement on West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates and the Earls Court Development

In the wake of the decision around the Earls Court waste removal plan, there have been all sorts of comments flying around about this new administration's approach to the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates and the Earls Court development. There are legal limits to what I can say but I wanted to set out where we are.

I know there is a lot of anxiousness about this development and I appreciate that it's difficult for some to trust any politician to do what they said they'd do - especially now that many believe all politicians are just like Nick Clegg.

But we remain determined to achieve what we said we’d do when we wrote into our manifesto (see page 23) that we “oppose the schemes for West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates” and “aim to re-negotiate” them. We are making some progress with what are difficult and very complicated negotiations.
The demolition of Earls Court was put together by the Conservatives and is supported by London's Conservative Mayor and the Conservative/Lib Dem government. It already had planning permission and indeed, much of the land was sold and is now owned by the developer. We opposed the demolition of Earls Court at the time and still do but it is now too late for this new administration to do anything to stop that aspect of this scheme. The Earls Court demolition waste removal decision was largely a matter for Kensington and Chelsea Council and it certainly did not give us an opportunity to turn the clock back or halt the scheme.

We will make a more substantive announcement as soon as we can.

Thursday 25 September 2014

New Business: A Taste Of Paris In The Heart Of Hammersmith

Alain Marache with his daughter Agnes
outside Patisserie Saint-Anne
You don’t have to catch the Eurostar to enjoy the produce of a Parisian patisserie and boulangerie. Earlier this year on 11 August Patisserie Saint-Anne relocated from the French capital and opened in sunny Hammersmith, London.
It’s a beautiful place. All their products are home made on the premises. Their croissant and French breakfast pastries are lovely, their cakes are as eye-catching as they're delicious, their chocolates are delicate, and their breads and sandwiches are classically French.
Patisserie Sainte-Anne is owned and run by Alain and Keiko Marache. They moved to Hammersmith having first met here in 1985 and so always felt an affinity for our borough. They were married a year later in 1986 and opened their first patisserie, boulangerie in 1995 in Paris. They now run Patisserie Saint-Anne with their daughter Agnes and son Martin who are the fifth generation of Alain’s family to go into the baking and patisserie business.
They cater for parties both office and home. They’re situated at 204 King street, Hammersmith, London W6 0RA. You can email them by clicking here or phone them on 020 8563 2046 or find them on Facebook here.
Patisserie Saint-Anne is a lovely addition to Hammersmith. As well as enjoying their wonderful produce you can also be pleased that you’re supporting another local, independent, H&F small business start-up.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Is Watermeadow Court Suitable For Fulham Boys School?

Following this decision taken by the government on 1st July the search for Fulham Boys School to find a permanent local site has been the key issue.

In the last ten days I have twice met with the head teacher and vice chair of governors, proposed a new permanent site to the DfE, which I am advised by borough officials is “not unrealistic”,  and met with the MP for Chelsea and Fulham, the DfE’s director of Free Schools and the vice chair and head teacher of FBS again. I will report more on this later.

On Wednesday afternoon, I went with the chair of governors, the local MP and H&F Council officials to the DfE to lobby Lord Nash for a reconsideration of his decision.

The attached joint letter (click on the picture to read) formed part of a press release as well as an open, public letter which was emailed to me on Friday. It is from the Rt Hon Greg Hands MP (Con) for Chelsea and Fulham and Cllr. Greg Smith (Con), H&F Council's leader of the opposition. In it they make their suggestion for saving Fulham Boys School (FBS). The background and means of this approach raises serious questions about their seriousness and sincerity which I raise with them in the email below.

Despite that, I immediately checked out the viability of Watermeadow Court with the borough's Executive Director of Housing and Regeneration. He said he believed it had already been transferred to an ill-advised joint venture company which the former Conservative administration had set up in partnership with a developer. It has a variety of legal agreements including how to split the profits from the flats they expected to sell. I called Greg Hands and told him that on Friday lunch time but said I was waiting for more details. Later that day, the executive director wrote and said "The Conditional Land Sale Agreement was duly completed on 28th March 2014 and as such the council is no longer free to dispose of the site for an alternative purpose."

Time is of the essence for the Fulham Boys School. So at the same time as checking about the ownership of the site I also asked the borough's education officials to check out whether this site would be viable from the Department of Education's (DfE) point of view. On Friday afternoon an education official wrote to me to say that the DfE had "just confirmed with me that Watermeadow Court is not a viable option".

The borough's education official also told me "The Mayor is meeting the Secretary of State about GLA site options on Tuesday, so I will find out more after that meeting." I hope that is productive.

I've worked with politicians from other parties on many business issues on many occasions. Every other time there has been an understood etiquette that involves putting aside party politics and focussing on the business at hand. If you have an idea you pick up the phone. You certainly don't go to the media or look for fabricated opportunities to blame the other in public. In this case, that is exactly the etiquette the parents and governors behind the Fulham Boys School are relying on all of us observing.

Looking at today's Twitter it appears that there has been a tremendous amount of guff generated about Watermeadow Court over the weekend - a lot of it from people who should know better. It appears to have come almost exclusively from those that see all of this as some sort of political game and taking advantage of an atmosphere where parents, children and FBS school governors are all in an understandable state of anxiety and stress about the future of FBS and where children will go to school in September.

I will discuss FBS with officials tomorrow morning when they return to work. Meanwhile, this is the email I sent to Messrs Smith and Hands on Friday afternoon:
From: Cllr Cowan Stephen
Sent: 11 July 2014 16:12
To: 'HANDS, Greg'
Cc: Lord Nash; Cllr Smith Greg; Cllr Macmillan Sue; Cllr Cartwright Michael; [others]
Subject: RE: Proposed possible new site for the Fulham Boys School

Dear Greg and Greg

Thank you for this proposal. I found out about it on my way into the Town Hall when a journalist called me. I have since also been asked for a TV interview about it by the BBC and I'm told that many of your friends and colleagues have got themselves into a very excitable state about this on Twitter. I am a bit perplexed why you thought this was a serious way to carry out such important business with me? Greg Hands texted me at 12.55 and I called him back as soon as I saw his message at 13.44. It would have been wiser to call me about this first thing this morning or earlier. Surely you must have written the attached letter and your press release yesterday?

As I mentioned to Greg Hands, I raised this matter with the Borough's Executive Director of Housing and Regeneration who told me that the Watermeadow Court site was sold in the dying days of the former Conservative administration. I had recalled objecting to this and urging a re-think when this item came to the relevant Select Committee. Cllr. Greg Smith was the deputy leader of that administration so I find it hard to believe that he was not aware of this or could not have checked any of this before your press release.

I am troubled that by putting this proposal out in the media before checking out these basic facts you have both caused unnecessary stress and confusion to the parents and founders behind FBS.

The Executive Director of Housing and Regeneration has now written to me to confirm that the former Conservative administration took this matter to the borough's cabinet on 3rd February 2014 where its members approved this recommendation: "That approval be given to the freehold or virtual freehold (999 year leasehold) disposal of Watermeadow Court and Edith Summerskill House to the Joint Venture or respective Special Purpose Vehicle in accordance with the terms of the Conditional Land Sale Agreement (Appendix 6)...". I note from the minutes that Cllr. Smith was in attendance.

I am sorry to also confirm that the Conditional Land Sale Agreement for Watermeadow Court was duly completed by the former Conservative administration on 28th March 2014 and as such the Council is no longer free to dispose of the site for an alternative purpose.

I also asked LBHF's education team to check out this site who have just emailed me to say the EFA has also confirmed that Watermeadow Court is not a viable option for FBS.

I am happy to work with you both on this and many  other issues in the coming years but I think any reasonable by-stander viewing today's events might doubt the sincerity or seriousness of your approach.

Best wishes

Cllr. Stephen Cowan
Labour Councillor for Hammersmith Broadway ward
Leader, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham
The Town Hall
King Street
W6 9JU

Saturday 12 July 2014

The Grove Neighbourhood Centre Summer Fête: Saturday 19th July

The Grove Neighbourhood Centre is hosting a July summer fête next Saturday 19th July. The stalls and attractions include:
  • The raffle
  • Men's, women's and children fashion stall
  • Home baked goods
  • Jewellery stall
  • Bric-a-brac stall
  • Tombola
  • Spin-n-win
  • Hook-a-duck for the kids
  • Hot and cold food
  • And much more...
There is even a rumour of a Pimm's Tent.
Please pop along to the Grove Neighbourhood Centre, 7 Bradmore Park Road, Hammersmith London W6 0DT. It begins at 1.00pm and finished at 3.00pm.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Fulham Boys School

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP (Con)
Secretary of State for Education
On Tuesday, 1st July the government wrote to Fulham Boys free school to say they intended to block its opening which until then had been scheduled for this September. This is an extremely disappointing decision and one which leaves 92 boys, some 55 of which are Hammersmith and Fulham residents, in a very difficult position. The head teacher sets out his view here. It’s one I agree with.

I have asked H&F Council officers to do everything possible to support those children and their families and I hope that the government will change its mind and allow Fulham Boys School to open on its temporary site in Gibbs Green.

Cllr. Sue Macmillan (Lab), the council's cabinet member for children and education, and I met with Fulham Boys School's deputy chair of governors and head teacher for just over an hour and a half on Friday afternoon to see what we can do to help.

I should stress that free schools are totally free of their local council – the clue is in the name. To that end this decision is nothing to do with H&F Council. It was made by the
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP (Con), the Secretary of State for Education. It is and has been Mr Gove’s responsibility, via the Education Funding Agency, to ensure that the school can be properly housed and funded. The government wrote to H&F Council on Wednesday, 2nd July (a day after they informed the school) to formally tell us of their decision although by then we had already heard the news.

Fulham Boys School had been given a temporary site in Gibbs Green for 2 years. On Tuesday, after the government had made its decision, a rumour emerged that the government could immediately reverse the decision if the lease on the temporary site on Gibbs Green can be extended from 2 to 3 or even 4 years. The government has since contradicted this and told us that the length of the temporary lease will make no difference to their decision. But I guess it is plausible that different people in government could be giving out different messages.

Sue Macmillian has been trying to get this rumour substantiated since Tuesday as it potentially offers a glimmer of hope that there might still be a chance to get the government to re-think. On Friday evening we were given the name of the Conservative MP who this rumour is alleged to have originated from. I have written to him seeking clarification of whether this is true and asked for an urgent response. At the time of publishing this I am yet to get any reply. I will report back when I have a satisfactory answer.

H&F Council does not own the Gibbs Green site that would have temporarily housed Fulham Boys School. That site was sold off by Hammersmith and Fulham’s former Conservative administration to Capital and Counties Properties Plc (CapCo). The borough’s new Labour administration has been given a clear mandate by local voters to negotiate a number of
important issues with CapCo and I would happily add this issue to that list if the extended use of a temporary site did in fact turn out to be a critical factor in saving Fulham Boys School.

There has been much nonsense put around about this saga mostly by former and current Conservative councillors. So for the record I am happy to clarify that this administration is determined to support all good schools and sees the need for more of them – particularly secondary schools. That includes free schools which are for all intents and purposes the same as academies – an idea developed by the last Labour government. I supported academies/free schools then and still do now. Looking for and choosing good secondary schools is difficult and I’d hope to do everything possible to make that easier during our term of office. Although this free school decision is nothing to do with H&F Council my colleagues and I are happy to do all we can to help.

I appreciate that it may take some time for local Conservatives to come to terms with their resentment that 22,163 local people voted them out of office. They have said some quite frankly crazy things in the weeks since the election most of which has had little effect on anything but in this case I do think it would be much better for all if they put aside their ill-advised mischief making and instead work with us to support the children and families affected and get the government to reverse this decision.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

The Sulivan Primary School Statement

Yesterday at Sulivan Primary School
Here's the BBC London News report and here is the official council statement below about the future of Sulivan Primary School:

"Hammersmith & Fulham Council has announced its intention to review the decisions, taken in February, to close Sulivan by effectively merging it with a newly-expanded New King's School. It now intends to publish proposals to revoke those decisions.

This follows the new Administration’s intended change to its housing policy that could see demand for primary school places rise in the local area.

The change in housing policy, signalled in the new Administration’s manifesto, places a greater emphasis on the need for new affordable homes to rent which could have a particular impact on the South Fulham Riverside development where 1,000 extra homes are being built.

A decision to merge the two schools was taken in January in order to reduce the number of surplus places across the two schools by 15 per year group. A significant change in housing policy could mean those places are now needed.

Council officers will be reassessing the likely future demand for school places and a decision paper on whether to publish proposals for the two schools to stay open is likely to be presented to the next Cabinet meeting on June 23.

If proposals are published, all affected parties and the wider community will have the opportunity to make comments in response".

Sunday 1 June 2014

Thank You - Now The Work Begins

Charing Cross Hospital opened on the 22nd May 1973.
Exactly forty one years later people voted to send the
Prime Minister a very clear message that it needs to
stay open. The government now needs to listen.
Having had very little sleep and a maelstrom of activity during the last week it is beginning to dawn on me that it’s true – the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham really did elect my colleagues and me into office on Thursday, 22nd May.

It may be a cliché but it is genuinely humbling to find myself in this position. Thank you.

In the run up to Election Day I lost count of the numbers of people who told me they usually vote Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green or even don't usually vote but this time were all intending to vote Labour - many for the first time in their lives. I recognise that along with the thousands of Labour voters who always support my party there is an alliance of local people who have come together and hired us to deliver The Change We Need to see in this borough.

My colleagues and I will officially assume office at the council’s annual general meeting on 16th June.

Top of our list of priorities is defending Charing Cross Hospital. On 15th May David Cameron came to Hammersmith and Fulham to urge voters to back the Conservatives’ awful and dishonest hospitals plan. I understand Mr. Cameron was also telephone canvassing local residents pleading with them to vote to re-elect his favourite council on both the Election Day and the night before. They did the opposite. In fact, over 60% of the residents that voted rejected the Prime Minister’s appeals and with 22,163 votes Labour beat the Conservatives in the borough's popular vote for the first time since the 1990s. The people have spoken and if Mr. Cameron is a democrat he needs to back away from these life threatening hospital plans and listen to what the voters have said. If he refuses, I believe the consequences for his reputation, his government and the bureaucrats serving it will be dire.

Shortly after the results were announced on Friday morning I formally sent the Council’s Chief Executive our manifesto and instructed him to have his officials start work on its implementation. The due process of its delivery will form the council’s programme over the next four years. I will detail more as and when we deliver on our promises.

But we have already set much in play over the last week. That includes establishing a new council Hospital Unit to defend Charing Cross and its A&E, closing down hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of unnecessary council magazines and glossy propaganda that had been planned by the former Conservative administration and banning councillors from taking hospitality from those seeking benefit from their elected positions.

We want this new Labour administration to be one that works with residents so we have set about re-structuring the council’s processes to make them more open and democratic.

Prior to the election we carried out an extensive manifesto consultation. Hundreds of people read our manifesto which was emailed out to voters across the borough. That was the only manifesto produced by any political party that had a chance of winning the Hammersmith and Fulham council elections. The Conservatives told me they hadn't produced one because "people know what they'll get" – it turned out they were absolutely right.
We live in a time when politics is a dirty word for too many and too many people use voting just to protest - having given up on voting to change anything. My colleagues and I really hope we might be able to do things differently here in Hammersmith and Fulham. We will work with residents from all political persuasions and do our very best to make this the better borough we all want it to be.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Did David Cameron Mess Up Or Was He Deliberately Trying To Mislead Residents About H&F’s NHS?

Mr. David Cameron looking uncomfortable
in H&F as he talks about the new
new clinic that he wants to replace
Charing Cross Hospital. He kindly
pledged we could call his proposed clinic
"hospital" - although it isn't,
it's a small clinic.
A leading Conservative politician in his fifties recently told me he thought David Cameron was the most “policy-light” Prime Minister of his life time. Mr Cameron’s blasé approach was again on show last week when he made a last minute, change-of-schedule and rather panicky election visit to Hammersmith and Fulham – commonly known as “Cameron’s favourite council”.
It has apparently come as a surprise to Mr. Cameron that the public have seen through the Conservative/Lib-Dem government’s plan to demolish Charing Cross Hospital and replace it with a GP-led clinic just 13% the size of the former hospital. Rather cunningly the government and our local Conservative run council have agreed to call this new clinic a “hospital” - which I guess they must have thought would do the job and get them through this controversial hospital closure. It hasn’t and residents are rightly furious.
This is the deal Hammersmith and Fulham’s Conservative councillors signed up to.
They know what they’re doing is wrong. They put the attached letter (click to view) out on the 8th October 2012 criticising the government’s proposals which have barely changed. Back then Conservative councillors rightly wrote:
  • “Charing Cross Hospital’s A&E department would close, as would the hyper-acute stroke unit, intensive care, all surgery, and all major functions.
  • The nearest A&Es would be at Chelsea & Westminster and St Mary’s, Paddington.
  • Only the Urgent Care Centre and some local functions would stay at Charing Cross.
  • It is likely that the entire site would be rebuilt, with three-quarters of the land sold off and redeveloped as blocks of flats.”
This is what Conservative
councillors were telling residents
before they switched sides
That letter went out two months prior to a journalist telling me how they had briefed him that they planned to leave the residents-led, cross-party Save Our Hospitals campaign.

H&F’s Conservative councillors formally switched sides two months later on 7th February 2013 and became the only council in London to actively support the hospital closures. 

As you can see here, they then set about bombarding local people with tens of thousands of pounds of tax payer funded propaganda falsely claiming the Charing Cross Hospital has been “saved” and that our A&E has been “retained”. Mr Cameron’s emergency trip to our borough was no more that the latest chapter in this long line of subterfuge.

It’s not the first time David Cameron has taken this unusual approach for a British prime minister. In 2010 he said that H&F Labour’s exposé on the Conservatives' plans for social housing were “appalling lies”. I wrote and challenged him – he didn’t respond but within a year the Conservative/Lib Dem government he leads had introduced everything we said it would and our local council had confirmed proposals to demolish hundreds of council homes - which is what David Cameron had wrongly claimed we were lying about.
On the last occasion I took the view that David Cameron hadn’t been on top of the subject and didn’t know what he was talking about. This time, it really is very hard to give such a generous assessment of the reasons Mr. Cameron blatantly tried to misinform the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham.

H&F Labour's Candidates For Addison

Here are some details about H&F Labour's candidates for Addison. You can find your polling station by putting your post code into this link.

Adam Connell
Adam was born in London and moved to Addison after graduating from the London School of Economics. He became involved locally by campaigning against the sell-off of the Milson Road Health Centre - raising a petition against its redevelopment into an oversized property development. Adam determined to stand for election when similar proposals to demolish Charing Cross Hospital were backed by his three local Conservative councillors.
Adam is a human resources manager for a leading supermarket group. He is keen to use this experience to make the local council more efficient and take a better approach to customer service.
Sue Fennimore
Sue has lived in H&F for over 30 years. She is a governor of two local schools and was elected by all the parent governors in the borough to represent them on the Council's Education Select Committee. For the past twelve years, Sue has volunteered for the Youth Offending Service, working on restorative justice with young people who have become involved in the judicial system.
Sue also volunteers for the Hammersmith Winter Night Shelter for the homeless, which has seen a dramatic increase in use over the last two years. She has two children and lives in Shepherds Bush.
Khafi Kareem
Born and raised in Hammersmith and Fulham, Khafi serves as a special police constable and a school governor. Khafi has lived, worked and volunteered in France, Italy, China and America and speaks five languages (French, Italian, Yoruba and British Sign Language as well as her native English). She is a Multilingualism Ambassador for the British Council.
Khafi believes there should be opportunities for everyone to achieve their ambitions to build a better life. She is keen to reform local housing policies so new homes to buy or rent are available for residents rather than investors.