Wednesday 19 February 2014

A Residents' Manifesto For Hammersmith and Fulham

Me summing up at last night's 'A Residents' Manifesto
for Hammersmith and Fulham' public meeting
I believe that local politics can be done differently and think it is critical that residents have an opportunity to influence what their council does right from the start and irrespective of their usual party political preference. So last night, around eighty members of the public attended an open manifesto meeting which took place at Holy Innocents Church, Hammersmith.

Lord Andrew Adonis kindly chaired the meeting and residents were given the opportunity to tell us what they want to happen or ask about how we might get things done. It was a very good meeting. Residents were there with views from across the political spectrum and they gave us suggestions on a wide range of subjects. Those included: how to re-structure the Council to ensure that all future administration's have to listen; saving local hospitals from the Tories’ planned bulldozers; a wide range of housing suggestions; stopping local parks from being sold off; halting the cosy hospitality and planning culture the current administration has with property developers; delivering excellent schools; efficiency and tax and much more. My colleagues and I took extensive notes.

I support some of the things the current Conservative administration has done. We will keep the things that work and halt those that don’t.

If you have a policy proposal or suggestion on what you would like to see our council do over the next four years then please email me here.

All proposals will go forward to the policy groups which are chaired by members of the Borough’s shadow cabinet. They will submit their conclusions to H&F Labour’s costs-benefits team who will reconsider everything and make sure every policy that makes it into the final manifesto is fully costed and fits within the Council’s current budget limits. We will publish our manifesto at the beginning of the local election campaign.

Andy Slaughter MP (Lab) kindly attended and ran through why he was opposed to a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

It was great to have the support of Lord Andrew Adonis. Lord Adonis is respected from all sides of the political divide as one of the leading public policy thinkers in the country. He headed up the Number 10 Policy Unit under Prime Minister Tony Blair and went on to be minister of state for education and transport.

As well as talking about academies and free schools, HS2 and other important initiatives, Lord Adonis ran through Hammersmith and Fulham Labour's five early pledges. Those are:

Save our hospitals.The Conservative council plans to demolish Charing Cross Hospital to build flats for overseas investors. Labour will block this and defend our hospitals.
Cut Council Tax. Conservative councillors are wasting millions on propaganda, overpaid officials and new Town Hall offices while introducing nearly 600 stealth taxes. Labour will cut waste, cut Council Tax and put more money back in people’s pockets.
Homes for residents, not overseas investors. Conservative councillors approve more new homes for overseas investors than local people. Labour will reverse this and ensure homes are built that residents can afford and support social and private tenants
Defend neighbourhood policing. Since the last election the Conservatives have cut police by 32 and slashed the safer neighbourhood teams. Labour will put police back on the beat.
Put residents first, not property speculators. The Conservative Council puts property speculators first and ignores residents. Labour will give residents a real say with new powers.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

The Fight Goes On To Save Sulivan Primary School.

Last night's special cabinet meeting
Last night, and rather predictably, the Conservative Councillors that form Hammersmith and Fulham's Borough Cabinet agreed again to close down Sulivan Primary School and hand the beautiful £20m site over to people behind the Fulham Boys School bid - some of whom key cabinet members coincidentally enjoy close associations with.

The Cabinet had been forced to meet and reconsider their actions after the Borough's Education and Children Services Select Committee overturned their decision in an unprecedented vote of no-confidence. So last night's meeting was more than a little tense for all those in attendance.

Under the Council's constitution, the leader of the council, is allowed to set the agenda and to choose who to allow to speak and who not to. Cllr. Nick Botterill (Con) decided on an approach that was reminiscent of this meeting.

There were four good deputations defending the school and one ill-advised and ill-informed deputation from New Kings School - which I am told New Kings undertook after a request from the Conservative Administration.

The absolute lack of questions from the cabinet to those that had taken their time to prepare thoughtful deputations was a further insight into the lack of interests any of them really had in finding a better way forward. Cllr. Botterill took the unusual step of banning the Borough's Opposition from asking any questions to the delegations - what he was afraid of, we can only guess?

Cllr. Caroline Needham (Lab) the Opposition's Shadow Cabinet Member for Education and Children's Services was the only person called forward from that committee to explain why Labour and independent co-opted members of the committee had rejected the Conservative Administration's plan. Nick Botterill gave a blunt "No!" when it was suggested that the committee might benefit having other committee members available to question too. Caroline gave a excellent performance - one deserving of the standing ovation she received.

Next, Cllr. Botterill wheeled out what he and his colleagues all clearly thought would be their pièce de résistance in persuading the viewing audience that Caroline Needham's position wasn't as good as their plan to close the school. Step forward one Cllr. Mark Loveday (Con) - the Administration's man for secret property talks in Cannes - on the French Riviera. I'm not sure if Mark imagined he was auditioning for the part of an overly aggressive, misogynist hack lawyer in a daytime television drama but if he was, he gave a masterful performance. The audience were genuinely taken aback.

In short this was, as is nearly always the case with this Administration, a done deal. The fight goes on and the determination to Save Our Sulivan is as strong as ever.

I do want to put on record and reiterate what Caroline Needham said in her speech about how much admiration I and everyone associated with this campaign have for Headteacher Wendy Aldridge and her team at Sulivan Primary School. Wendy has demonstrated dignity, humility and strength of character throughout while enduring the Administration's humiliating, dishonest, underhand and hurtful attacks. Her first response after the Conservatives reaffirmed their intention to close down her school was to comfort the distraught teachers and parents - many of whom were shattered by this latest knockback and in tears. The last thing Wendy said to me last night before shooting off home was very similar to the first thing she said when I first met her at the start of this campaign: "I just want to get back to the school now and make sure all the children are okay. I need to ensure they feel some sense of normality. They and their education are my priority."

Successive governments have striven for decades to discover the magic ingredient to a school's success. The answer isn't too far away. Sulivan Primary School's SATS results place it as 233rd out of 16,884 primaries in England. Boris Johnson (Con), The Mayor of London awarded Sulivan Primary the Gold Club distinction “recognising good work for disadvantaged pupils”. If anyone's looking for magic ingredients look at the courageous, compassionate leadership of Wendy Aldridge and her team. If you could bottle it, you could sell it for a fortune. That's just one of several reasons why this closure needs to be stopped and why my Labour colleagues and I intend to do everything possible to do that in the coming months.

Here's the text of the deputation Rosie Wait the Chair of Governors at Sulivan Primary School had intended to say but was cut off and halted from reading out in full:

"I expect that this is the last time that I will be addressing the Cabinet. It is important that I explain why we disagree with what you hope to do and why this process has been so deeply flawed–from start to finish. At the beginning the outcome had always been pre-determined by the Cabinet.

I still find it hard to believe that there isn’t a part of each of you that isn’t ashamed of how this has been handled. And when I say each of you, I mean the officials, Cllr. Cooney (Con), Cllr Binmore (Con) and I mean you Cllr, Nick Botterill (Con) and Mr Christie and Mr Heggs.

As a consequence of this consultation I and many others are totally disillusioned with the Council and its undemocratic practices.  I have been stunned by your practice of making inaccurate statements on public record that the likes of us cannot correct, on public record. The unprecedented recommendations of the Education and Children’s Services Select Committee however give you a way out of this shameful process. So vote for those proposals and Save Sulivan Primary School…

Last Wednesday, the Select Committee was presented with new evidence; key factors presented that this local authority was meant to have taken into account. Unbelievably, the line agreed by officials and the two cabinet members was that we had not presented any new evidence. You all dismissed it as out of hand.

We have taken the opportunity to circulate that same report, highlighting all the new information so that there can be no misunderstanding and confusion. There is lots of new evidence as you will see. Your Administration’s immediate response demonstrated once again your intent to close Sulivan School. Despite the declarations we have heard and will hear tonight we all know why. Because you, Michael Gove MP the Secretary of State for Education and the Fulham Boys School have all agreed that you want and will have our site.

Consider how this might look to any genuinely independent review:

The 4th July last year was the first indication we had that things were afoot when Ian Heggs emailed Wendy Aldridge requesting a meeting. By the time we met Mr. Heggs on the 9th July, Wendy had already spoken with the Head at New Kings who told her that Mr Heggs had insisted he didn’t tell her what the meeting was about.

That was the meeting where Mr. Heggs told us “We’re going to close your school.” Seven days later, on 16 July 2013, the formal consultation began.

Fulham Boys School took an active part in the consultation putting huge resources into getting people to submit that they wanted the Fulham Boys School .

But there are many more reasons why the Fulham Boys School  bid is central to this situation tonight; your refusal to remove the 970 responses from the Fulham Boys School supporters which bear no relation to this consultation, well if you did so you would be left with less than 300 responses supporting the closure of Sulivan and that would clearly not suit your determination to close Sulivan.

Eighteen and a half months earlier on 31st January 2012, Greg Hands MP posted a picture on his blog which I think was actually taken in 2011. It features Mr. Hands standing next to the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, the Secretary of State; Alex Wade of Fulham Boys School and his wife; two other founders and Councillor Helen Binmore.

In the accompanying article Greg says he “is calling on residents to get behind plans for a new Fulham Boys School.”

Twenty two months after that picture was taken Greg met with a school governor and representative on 20th November 2013. He stated and I quote “it had been extremely difficult to find sites for new schools within the Borough. I am aware that Fulham Boys School has looked at many sites over the last two years. I have personally tried to help Fulham Boys School  to find a site controlled by local or central government including the MOD site in Rylston Road, All Saints vicarage, All Saints School and The Moat School – none of which has proved suitable for FBS.” 

Greg Hands also co-incidentally sent out during the consultation period, weekly updates to his electorate supporting the Fulham Boys School and sewing doubt in the minds of local residents as to the actual numbers on Sulivan’s School roll.

So, we know that there was powerful support for Fulham Boys School going to the Secretary of State in the highest levels of government; we know that Cllr. Helen Binmore was there from the start and we know that Greg Hands in his own words “personally had tried to help FBS to find a site controlled by local or central government.” And we know you found it difficult finding a site.

On 24th January, four days after the Borough's Cabinet voted to close Sulivan, Michael Gove's wrote "The current Sulivan site will be improved and used by the Fulham Boys School". He was unseemingly quick off the mark because he didn’t wait for the statutory call-in process to take its course.

This is compelling evidence that the future of Fulham Boys School has always been central and directly connected to this process.  This leaves the rather farcical situation, where you the Council asserts Fulham Boys School is nothing to do with the present issue; that no decision on Fulham Boys School has been taken; and yet the Minister of State has announced that Fulham Boys School will improve and take over the site.


Here’s a better question: Exactly when from the time Fulham Boys School was first mooted in late 2011 early 2012 to when Ian Heggs first wrote to Wendy Aldridge on 4th July 2013 did all these important people settle on Sulivan Primary School for the Fulham Boys School site?

The conclusion any reasonable onlooker reaches on consideration of all of this is you all decided to close our school long before the beginning of the statutory processes and that’s why every shoddy aspect of this has been so determinedly focused on doing that...
  • The early briefings to the head at New Kings;
  • agreement to allow Fulham Boys School’s involvement in the Sulivan consultation;
  • refusing to take evidence into account that didn’t suit your outcome;
  • and using random unsuitable evidence from around the world that you imagined did.
The consultation was fixed!

And after the call-in you even tried to fix the select committee by ONLY asking Conservative members if they could attend, you did not even ask the Deputy Chair. You actually forbade officials from contacting independent co-opted and opposition select committee members to see if they could attend and you booked the first ever select committee to meet at 10.00am in the morning – in the hope that only your people would attend and you would have fixed the vote.

You tried to dismiss our 14 page document as containing nothing new despite it containing rafts of new information such as detailed analysis from Mayor Boris Johnson’s School’s Atlas that demonstrates how the polling districts immediately surrounding Sulivan are predicting between 21-30% increases in primary school age population. And you have provided no detailed financial response to the analysis that takes your financial case apart… I refer to your Revenue savings model which does not even refer to which year the identified savings will be realised.

Despite constant assurances to our teachers that they will all have jobs you propose:
  • Cutting the combined teaching budget of £1.3m by £403,563
  • Cutting the combined teaching support staff budget of £612k by £168k
  • Cutting the Administration staff combined budget of £89k by £61k
So where does this all fit in with your claims to re-invest the savings into additional specialist teaching staff and new interventions?

The combined building maintenance budget is going to see a massive increase from £127k to £264k - what happened to your claim that there would be economies of scale by combining both schools on the same site?

Throughout this process there has been no reference to redundancy costs.  However, we see a combined increase in agency staff from £114k to £178k – are you expecting trouble?

At last week’s Council meeting we had to sit through Cllr. Donald Johnson’s (Con) lecture on how Council business is run very similarly to business.  Has he ever worked in the private sector?  If he had he would know there is no sense drawing comparison – he would know there would be some form of a triggering mechanism which would stop the Council from giving the Sulivan site which is conservatively valued at £20mill to the untried Fulham Boys School, a private company on a 125 year lease, with a peppercorn rental.

I could go on and highlight further concerns.  The figures as shown in Appendix J of the Council’s latest report supporting the closure of Sulivan are so unprofessional and so lacking in supporting documentation that it is hard to understand how the Council has repeatedly claimed that these savings, will be realised and as consequence are pivotal to the closure of Sulivan.

I speak as someone who has years of experience managing large moves and changes projects in the City.  I am staggered by the Council’s predictions that all the changes and the rebuilding can be achieved in one year.  I would suggest that this will take conservatively two years and as a consequence would have massive cost implications. 

Why is the 1st of August such a critical date– can you please explain this to us?

As I have stated earlier, this consultation is full of incompetence and conjecture.  You don’t have to continue in this direction.

You can find an alternative site for Fulham Boys School and the Borough can benefit from both schools -you can do the right thing and stop this now.

I urge you to listen to the Select Committee and take their advice and instruct your officials to implement their recommendations with immediate effect.

Right before the consultation started its formal process, I asked Nick Botterill to do the right thing, postpone the consultation and get all the relevant education people around the table to plan collectively the education provision in the south of the borough.  He refused.  He asked me to accept his word that he would make sure that the public consultation was a fair process with the opportunity for everyone to put forward their requirements and to debate them openly...

I suggest to Nick Botterill that he show us all here tonight that his word is worth having.

Thank you."
Rosie Wait
Chair of Governors
Sulivan Primary School: 233rd best SATS in England measured out of 16,884 primaries. Winner of The Mayor of London's Gold Club awarded for “recognising good work for disadvantaged pupils”.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Is There Such A Thing As A Free Lunch? H&F Conservatives Vote To Block Controls On The Generous Hospitalities They Enjoy From Hammersmith And Fulham's Most Active Property Developers

At the Full Council meeting on Wednesday 29th Jan, H&F Conservatives voted unanimously to block new rules that would “tighten protocols” and “halt councillors from accepting personal gifts and personal hospitality from businesses hoping to profit from decisions they might make or the influence they may be able to bring to bear on decision makers.” They also voted to block proposals that added the requirement “agenda and minutes need to be made of all meetings its [the Borough’s] councillors, officials and representatives have with businesses, their agents or their lobbyist when discussing issues pertinent to the Borough and those businesses. Those records will be made available for public scrutiny.”

My fellow Labour councillors and I called this vote after it emerged that many of Hammersmith and Fulham’s senior Conservative councillors had been wined and dined by many of the Borough’s most active property developers who are behind some of the most controversial local schemes.

No notes, minutes or records are kept of the conversations or agreements made during these and many other private meetings that take place many months and sometimes years before a planning application is even made available for public consultation.
Ask any local resident who has tried to engage with H&F Council on any major planning application how they feel? Ask them after they have spent weeks, working with their neighbours, giving up their free time and resources in the hope that the process might be genuine and they will actually be listened to. You get remarkably similar answers. I can't think of any such instance where people haven't come away angry, frustrated and with a very clear view that "it was always a done deal" which they had no chance of really changing.
So it hardly does much to restore faith in public life to discover that H&F's Conservative councillors have enjoyed lavish free lunches and free dinners, free trips to the Proms, free trips to polo events, free trips to watch cricket at Lords, free trips to tennis tournaments and more - all at the expense of developers or their lobbyists behind many of the most contentious schemes.

And these property schemes share more than just the disappointment of residents who feel their neighbourhoods have been blighted. Planning guidelines are sidestepped, a dubious planning mechanism is always used to ensure obligations to build affordable housing "Londoners can afford" are dropped and developers are allowed to go for maximum profits: H&F Conservatives have now approved more homes for overseas investors than they have for local residents.
Recently H&F Council officially acknowledged that it has lost the trust of the public over how it makes planning decisions when it interviewed for a senior planning official's role. I still have the presentations from those on the panel who were given the brief: "How they would rebuild the planning department’s reputation?" So it begs the question why H&F Conservatives voted to preserve all this unnecessary and distasteful hospitality?

While what H&F Conservatives are doing is likely to be lawful it is, at the very least, extremely poor judgement.

You can follow the link starting here for the “gifts and hospitality register” for each of the 46 Borough local elected representatives for this and previous years. You will need to click on the councillor you want to find out about and then click on their "gifts and hospitality" link.
Speaking in the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle Cllr. Mark Loveday (Con) explained how he thinks it's "scurrilous" that the Borough's Labour Opposition has even raised this as it is simply a "smear campaign". Er... No it's not.

The only reason this is still a news story is because Cllr. Loveday and his colleagues voted down our call to put a halt to this "hospitality" and the secret meetings. If the Borough's 31 Conservative councillors didn't like our wording they could have changed it by voting through an agreed amendment that we all could have signed up to - as has happened on different issues many times in the past. But they didn't do that.
Cannes at night. This exclusive resort on the French
Riviera was one of the first locations H&F Conservatives
chose for their private rendevouz with what became
some of the Borough's most active property developers
Cllr. Loveday will recall this incident which first demonstrated the vast number of secret meetings enjoyed by an active property developer before a controversial scheme even began the formal planning process. It has become indicative of how almost every large scheme has been dealt with by H&F Council since. Indeed, around that time Cllr. Loveday famously flew to Cannes on the French Riviera with the sole purpose of having secret meetings with many property developers about what H&F Council admitted was the Borough's most "contentious sites".
My Labour colleagues and I sometimes meet with property developers but those recorded meetings are always on behalf of our constituents to raises concerns about developments our constituents have asked us to raise often with our constituents also attending and only ever after the planning process has started. That's what we're meant to do and it's nothing like what the Conservative Administration are doing.

None of H&F Labour's 2014 councillor candidates have accepted any such hospitality and neither will they. The current approach to planning needs to change. Who believes there is such a thing as a free lunch - let alone a free slap-up dinner at a glamorous event?

All this free hospitality needs to stop. Records of all the Administration's meetings need to be made and then published and the planning process needs to be cleaned up with the public given access to much greater levels of information and new powers to call-in developments once discussions have started with the council. That's pretty much a summary of the pledge we will detail in our Borough manifesto and what I will ensure the new Administration does should I find myself leader of H&F Council after the May 22nd elections.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Select Committee Overturns Tories' Sulivan School Closure Plan And Sends It Back For Borough's Cabinet To Explain Serious Discrepancies

The Special Education and Children’s Services Select Committee met this morning to reconsider the Conservative cabinet’s decision to close Sulivan Primary SchoolThe committee overturned the decision by majority of 7 to 6. It was the first time in Hammersmith and Fulham Council's history a Select Committee has ever done that.

The Borough's Conservative Cabinet will now meet at a hastily arranged Special Cabinet Meeting on 10th February where they are obliged to review the following recommendation and the papers submitted with it: 

"The Cabinet recognises the valuable contribution that Sulivan Primary School makes within its community and, in light of the various responses to the borough consultation, recommends:
  1. that Sulivan school remains open and is supported by the local authority until the school becomes self-governing
  2. that the Local Authority continues to support New Kings School on its journey to academy status
  3. that the Local Authority offers its support to Fulham Boys School in finding a suitable alternative site for their school
  4. that the Local Authority notes the significant flaws in the evidence used to make its original decision and in the decision making process as set out in this document.
  5. that the Local Authority notes and takes account of the further evidence submitted in this document"
This is a small victory for the children, parents and teachers battling to save their wonderful Sulivan Primary School. The Conservative Administration now needs to come clean and explain why it is being so underhand in its determination to shut this school.

Consider that today's meeting was arranged after Conservative councillors privately consulted with each other to make sure they could all make this quickly arranged date and highly unusual 10.00am start - a time when no Select Committee has ever met before. And they actually instructed officials not to consult any independent co-opted or Opposition committee members to see if they might be able to attend. It is evident that the Conservatives were trying to fix the vote on this meeting in a way that, apart from being shoddy, stretches the legal boundaries of how a local authority is meant to operate. Unsurprisingly all the Conservative committee members were there.

But as the meeting started cabinet members Councillors Georgie Cooney (Con) and Helen Binmore (Con) and committee chair Cllr. Donald Johnson (Con) were all visibly stressed to see all the independent co-opted committee members and Labour's three committee members sitting there waiting to take a full part in the proceedings. Everyone supporting the school was therefore deeply grateful to Eleanor Allen, Michele Barrett, Sue Fennimore, Nadia Taylor, Philippa O'Driscoll, Cllr Caroline Needham, (Lab), Cllr Elaine Chumnery (Lab) and Cllr Mercy Umeh (Lab) who managed to change their schedules, take days off work and be there with the least possible notice.

Residents will now be able to make a deputation to next week's cabinet meeting. To do that they must fill in this paper which should be emailed here by 12.00pm Friday 7th February 2014 and not a minute afterwards.

H&F Conservatives Forced To Back Down On Sickening New Stealth Taxes For Baby And Child Burials

On Monday night, H&F Conservatives had been planning to vote through a brand new charge of up to £1,692.00 targetted at grieving parents who wanted to bury their deceased child.

But a combination of the ever-diligent work of Cllr. PJ Murphy (Lab) and the excellent journalism of Camilla Horrox of the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle caused them to suffer 24 hours of panic before they decided to back down and drop the sickening new stealth tax just before the newspaper went to press.

Here’s what happened:

The Borough's leading Conservative councillors signed off their new charge plan which is how it got included in the budget plan. They then instructed officials to include the new charges in the 3rd February Borough cabinet report which was published two weeks ago. In the report they recommend that these “fees and charges are approved”. So it was all set to be voted through on the nod - just like all the other reccomendations the Borough's Conservative leadership has signed off over the last eight years.

There was in fact, no mention of this or any of the other new stealth taxes in the many budget briefings my colleagues and I have been given in recent weeks. These horrible new fees were tucked away in an obscure appendix amongst hundreds of other stealth taxes that the council now raises much of its funds from. But Cllr. PJ Murphy, the Opposition’s audit chief, immediately spotted them in Appendix F, Item 4 in the section titled “INTERMENTS - PRIVATE GRAVES.” These are the details you find there:
  • NEW CHARGE Still-born babies and babies up to 30 days old: Resident £186.00. Non-resident £372.00
  • NEW CHARGE Babies from 31 days old to children aged 12 years old: Resident £846.00. Non-resident £1,692.00
H&F Conservatives initially tried to pass this insensitive new stealth tax off as bringing Hammersmith and Fulham Council in line with what some “other councils do.” But it quickly became evident that this was going to be a front page local news story which was also likely to picked up by regional and national media and last week H&F Conservatives performed a panicked u-turn desperately trying to limit the damage to their reputations spinning that this was all a terrible “mistake” - a line that is evidently not true.

I am glad that we managed to stop this awful new charge before it was formally enacted. Once or twice in the past, when the only harm would be to local Conservative councillors’ reputations, we have let them go ahead and mess up - as they did when they voted to give themselves 18% salary rises. Similarly, back then, they had tried to say that was about bringing them in line with other councils but after three months drubbing in the press they dropped their new pay hikes and tried to tell an unbelieving public that it too was a “clerical mistake”.

There is something deeply troubling about the judgement and values of anyone who thought they could make a few quid out of what is easily any parent’s worst nightmare.

Apart from the tastlessness of trying to profit from grief there is the other question as to why anyone thought this was necessary? The Conservative administration waste vast amounts of money: such as giving away hundreds of millions of pounds in public land at knock down prices to property developers; or spending a staggering £5m a year on propaganda with vanity-banners, featuring pictures of Conservative councillors, hanging from the Borough's lamp posts.

You can read the Chronicle's take on this story here