Saturday 14 November 2015

Vive la France! Tricolour And Union Flag At Half-Mast Over Hammersmith Town Hall

The Tricolour and Union Flag fly together over 
the Town Hall in solidarity against 
last night's terrorism
It is deeply saddening that for the second time this year the Tricolour and the Union Flag fly together at half-mast over Hammersmith Town Hall following last night's sickening terrorists' attacks on Paris.

We send a message of heart-felt sympathy and solidarity to the family and friends of all those lost or injured and to France.

In Hammersmith and Fulham we are fortunate to have over 5,400 French citizens as part of our diverse local community. I know that people of all nationalities, of all faiths and of no faith stand together in condemning last night's terrorism.

The objective of the terrorists behind the atrocities is clear but where they seek to divide us we will remain united.

Vive la France!

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Bin Service Retained In Full Despite George Osborne's Massive Funding Cuts To H&F's Budget

This tax-payer funded Conservative
propaganda was not only expensive for
residents it was also a blatant lie.
They still haven't learn't their lesson
In February 2013, when H&F Conservatives ran our council, they used tens of thousands of pounds of tax payers' money to put a glossy magazine (see picture) through every letterbox in the borough. On the cover they had blazened the word "SAVED" across a picture of Charing Cross Hospital. By any measure, that was a blatant lie and the public duly punished them for that and much more at the subsequent local elections in May 2014. Far from learning the lesson of this they're still up to their old tricks.

So if you have received an email, a letter or a petition from H&F Conservatives claiming that Hammersmith and Fulham's new Labour administration is planning to reduce the number of bin collections or even contemplating reducing the borough's bin collection then let me be very clear. That is also a blatant lie.

The Council will retain the weekly bin collection service. In fact, the borough's cabinet has not ever considered reducing it. The current bin service will be retained in full for as long as there's a Labour administration in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Refuse collection is a core service so we will keep that and other essential services despite David Cameron (Con), George Osborne (Con) and Greg Hands (Con) introducing the biggest central government funding cuts to this borough in a generation.

Ironically, the last major cut to the borough's environmental services was made to the street cleaning service by Cllr. Greg Smith and his fellow Conservatives on 11 November 2013 - almost six months before the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham removed H&F Conservatives from office. Greg Smith is now the leader of the borough's Conservatives but back then he was the council's cabinet member responsible for the street cleaning service . You can read the official council papers here. They're insightful as you'll note that while H&F Conservatives' half a million pounds cut was agreed in November 2013, they also rather sneakily decided to delay its implementation to June 2014 - a month after the date of the local elections which they had strongly believed they were going to win. There's more details about H&F Conservatives' cut to street cleaning here.

The Conservative government's massive cuts in public spending have forced half of all councils up and down the country to reduce the frequency of refuse and recycling collections but, for as long as there is a Labour administration at our local council, that’s NOT going to happen here in Hammersmith & Fulham  - and that's a guarantee.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Rosemary Pettit To Chair New Independent H&F Air Quality Commission

H&F suffers five of the country's air pollution black-spots
Hammersmith Flyover is the fifth worst air pollution black-spot in the country and the borough suffers four of the UK’s other worst areas for filthy air.

At the end of June I asked Rosemary Pettit to chair The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham’s Air Quality Commission which she kindly agreed to do. That independent commission will examine the problems and recommend a comprehensive series of actions for the council to consider and undertake.

Rosemary is a non-political appointment. Until last month she chaired the Hammersmith Society and prior to that she was the membership secretary of the Brackenbury Residents Association. She will lead a review that engages both experts and residents from across the borough in one of the most important but low profile issues affecting all of us.

Air pollution is a silent killer. It’s linked to lung and heart conditions, breast cancer and diabetes. The health problems air pollution causes is estimated to cost the UK up to £20 billion a year to treat.

Roughly 30,000 Britons are believed to die prematurely each year because of the UK’s dirty air and London’s air is the filthiest with the 50 top worst black-spots in the country.

All of us who live and work in London breathe in unhealthy levels of the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The UK signed up to the European Union’s limit of 40 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre on average per year. The latest figures demonstrate that people living, working or simply passing by Hammersmith Flyover are breathing in air that has 114 micrograms of NO2 in it. Other spots around the Westway were also well over EU safe limits. That can’t be allowed to continue.

You can find out about air quality near your home, work or children’s school by checking this excellent website.

Where we can, we try to work with residents rather than having their council do things to them. There are a number of resident led and independent working parties working with us to develop better policies across a range of areas.

It’s important that H&F Council take a different approach to improving our air pollution and also encourages the GLA and the government to find greener solutions too. I am grateful to Rosemary and the other people that will join her on this critically important piece of work.

Sunday 12 July 2015

Please Vote Yes For A 20 MPH Hammersmith And Fulham

I’m in favour of speed limits being lowered to 20mph. It saves lives and significantly cuts the chances of people being seriously hurt in traffic accidents. That’s particularly important for children but also for other pedestrians and cyclists too.

You can help make H&F 20mph by taking part in the consultation here.

Lowering speeds to 20mph has some interesting side effects. Studies demonstrate how it changed the tone of the neighbourhoods where it happened - even apparently statistically increasing the chances of people knowing their neighbours.

If residents vote to lower speed limits in Hammersmith and Fulham the bill for the changes will be picked up by Transport for London (TfL) which is chaired by the London Mayor.

Shortly after I was first elected in 1998 my fellow Labour ward councillor and I led a residents’ working party to consider cutting speeds in an area of Hammersmith north of Glenthorne Road and bounded by Goldhawk and Dalling Roads and the Hammersmith and City tube line. I recall that 624 people took part in that consultation with over 75% voting to say yes to 20mph and the introduction of the Grove Home Zone.

Walk around what’s now become known as Brackenbury Village and it’s a peaceful place. Less cars use the area as a cut through and far less cars, motorbikes and vans shoot past at 30mph and above which has made it a much safer area. If you haven’t seen this wonderful neighbourhood for yourself, I advise a visit - especially if you want to know how the area you live in might change for the better if the speed limits of vehicles are lowered.

You have a chance to make that happen because H&F Council is consulting residents on the proposals to cut speed limits to 20mph for all residents. My fellow Labour councillors said we’d do that before the election and wrote that pledge into our manifesto for one clear reason: it saves lives and reduces injuries.

It takes two minutes to take part via the freepost consultation packs arriving in homes across the borough and you can fill in the consultation form online at:

Over the seventeen years I’ve been an elected representative I have met many constituents. The most harrowing meetings was with the mother of a child who had tragically been killed in a local traffic accident. That still happens to too many families.

The data clearly demonstrates how lower speeds equate to lower accident rates. So please take a moment to ensure we have safer streets across Hammersmith and Fulham and vote yes to 20mph.

Saturday 11 July 2015

Raising Commercial Revenue For H&F Will Be Crucial As David Cameron's Government Has Introduced The Most Draconian Cuts To Local Government In Modern Times

Cllr. Ben Coleman
taking on responsibility for
generating commercial revenue
for H&F Council
Shortly before Christmas the government announced that it would deliver another consecutive year of funding cuts to Hammersmith & Fulham Council – this year that amounts to a real terms reduction in our budget of over ten percent.

On taking office last year my fellow Labour councillors and I cut our special responsibility allowances (our pay) by 10% and cancelled hundreds of thousands of pounds being wasted on council produced magazines and lamp post vanity banners - which often portrayed leading Conservative councillors. By the time of our first full budget in February we had made £24 million of the £71 million of spending reductions we need to make to balance the books over this four year term.

But we need to raise money too. That's why we will shortly be interviewing for a new commercial director. We have also hired a new cabinet member for commercial revenue and resident satisfaction as we want to do everything possible to minimise costs, to residents, protect vital services and put more money back into residents' pockets.

We have rejected the blanket stealth tax approach of the last Conservative administration. We had inherited proposals to: introduce an immediate 14.7% hike in parking charges; to increase over 500 council charges by much more than inflation; and to freeze council tax. We binned all of those.

Instead, we used the savings we had made in our first year's budget to freeze parking charges, abolish home care charges for disabled and elderly residents and cut meals on wheels prices by 33%. We have frozen the vast majority of council charges and are the only council in London to cut council tax this year.

We need to modernise much of the way the council works making it more innovative, more business-like and more responsive to residents.

Zero-based service reviews are one new initiative we had in our manifesto which we're now introducing. That seeks to reinvent established services. We’re already finding more efficient ways different departments and different organisations can work together to save money and in many cases improve results.

But we need to find innovative ways of raising money too. So we will work with residents to help the Council become more business-like in its approach and raise commercial revenue - the proceeds of which will be used to benefit residents across the borough. 

Sunset Over Hammersmith Bridge

I took this photo of Hammersmith Bridge a couple of weeks back.

The photo captures some of the beauty of that evening (Sunday 28th June) but it was much more stunning than my phone was able to capture.

I've always found walking along Hammersmith and Fulham's share of the river bank to be an uplifting experience but that sunset was really something.

We've Negotiated 510 New Affordable Homes In Our First Year And Won £52.15 Million More For Residents On Deals H&F's Former Conservative Administration Had Already Done But The Government Needs To Act To Help Tackle The London Housing Crisis

Tackling the London housing crisis needs to be a key priority for all parts of government. My fellow Labour councillors and I argued for that in our manifesto last year and since being given the opportunity to lead Hammersmith and Fulham Council we have so far negotiated with developers and housing associations to ensure that 510 new affordable homes will be built. And we're in negotiations to deliver more.

Changing the nature of H&F Council's relationship with developers away from what it had been under H&F Conservatives was critical to this. Unlike our predecessors: we do not take hospitality from property developers; we publish meetings with developers on the Council's website; and on occasion we invite residents to attend and take part.

Where we could, we re-opened property deals Conservative councillors had already agreed with developers and we renegotiated them. By last summer we had won £16.2 million in extra funds. Now that figure stands at £52.15 million.

That extra money paid the largest ever number of council funded police officers to be put on Hammersmith and Fulham's streets in the Borough's history. And the rest is being used to build 231 new affordable homes and to buy and to rent.

Our first new deal with a developer went to the planning committee some weeks ago. We negotiated just short of £100 million for the Borough. That will be used to build another 279 new affordable homes to buy and rent. That’s a better deal than any other deal done in this borough in recent years.

Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the government used to provide millions of pounds in grants specifically to build new affordable homes. That was abolished by the last Conservative/Lib Dem government.

So now, negotiating a fair deal with developers is essential to ensuring we have any funds to build new affordable homes. The London Mayor's London Plan says that forty percent of new developments should be set aside for "affordable housing".

But there are too many property firms who play the system. They wrongly claim their schemes will not sustain anything but a little and sometimes no affordable new homes. Viability reports are at the heart of this scam. So it’s not uncommon during some of our tougher negotiations for me to take a developer’s viability report and drop it into the bin. The BBC's Sunday Politics programme featured our approach in this video and the Guardian refers to it in this informative feature.

Apart from removing funding, it is evident that the government does not understand what is happening to the London property market. Government inspectors often get it wrong accepting developers' viability assessments at face value thus robbing the public purse of millions of pounds that should have gone to pay for vital infrastructure and services. And the government have made disastrous changes to the planning system that are simply not appropriate for London. That includes changes to Permitted Development Rights, Local Development Orders on Brown Field Land and Vacant Building Credit all of which reduce the ability of borough councils to secure important funding and affordable housing.

Meanwhile, the West London property market continues to resemble an international gold rush with developers and speculators from around the globe reaping returns that often exceed what could be earned in hedge funds and other high return investments. With Hammersmith and Fulham at times seeing the fasting rising land prices in the country developers are literally scouring the borough looking for sites that might allow them a share of this bonanza.

And even the term "affordable" has been twisted when used as the government's definition for housing as that definition includes too many homes that are simply unaffordable for the vast majority of Londoners.

All this makes finding a good home in London difficult. At one end people in their twenties and thirties struggle to get onto the property ladder and (as Shelter says) face spending a lifetime living in expensive and often unsuitable private rented accommodation.  At the other end of the problem there are record numbers of people undergoing the personal calamity of finding themselves homeless. Surely we as a country can do better that that...

I understand and support the need for businesses to make a return on their investment but developers need to do their bit and help deliver the necessary homes Londoners can afford and need.

My fellow Labour councillors and I tell every property developer who seeks to negotiate with us, that this new administration serves at the pleasure of the record 22,163 borough residents who hired us to represent them. We have a very clear job specification to build "homes for residents, not overseas investors" and to "put residents first, not property speculators".

Good developers recognise that we needs homes for some residents at social social rent, we need other types of genuinely affordable housing and we need genuinely affordable homes that residents can buy to get themselves a foot on the property ladder. We now need the government to do the same and work with us to face down the challenges and do everything we can to help tackle the London Housing Crisis.

Monday 29 June 2015

Volunteers Sought To Help Create A Vision For The Future Of Hammersmith Town Centre

An aeriel view of Hammersmith
I've also believed that politicians are custodians of the area the they have been elected to serve. That is particularly so on a decades long project to redevelop a town centre and that's what's possibly on offer for Hammersmith. So my fellow Labour councillors and I  are setting up a Hammersmith Residents’ Working Party to consider all the issues and work with us and successive administrations on what happens next. Lots of people will want to take part on the Hammersmith Residents' Working Party so there is selection criteria and an application form. If you'd like to apply to take part, please click this link.

For the record, I’d love to see the A4 gone and Hammersmith’s link to the river restored. It would be amazing to build a new, environmentally sustainable town centre, fit for the twenty second century, with thousands of new homes for Londoners, a new park and new businesses bringing jobs and opportunity for all our residents. But is that what​'​s on offer with the initial proposals to sink the Hammersmith Flyover and a part of the A4 road?

On Thursday 20th June, I turned up at the newly refurbished Lyric Theatre and took part in a panel meeting that was about the “flyunder”. It was chaired by John Humphrys, the ever-excellent journalist and BBC presenter.

John Humphrys began by asking the large audience if they were for or against. Only one person raised his hand to oppose. Almost everyone else showed animated approval.

But what is actually being envisaged?

Speaking on his AskBoris radio show in March 2014, The Mayor said “We’re going to tunnelise the flyover, the timescale will be three or four years...”

It’s good to have The Mayor's support but since then not much has happened.

Meanwhile, City Hall tell us that they and the Treasury want this scheme to be completely self-financing which will mean high end office and residential developments.

And there’s something else too, City Hall say TfL “needs” to demolish and rebuild the Hammersmith Broadway bus and tube station and that scheme must be self-financing as well.

As the audience realised how at its worst, residents could suffer up to twenty years of large scale, high-density development in the centre of Hammersmith, the high enthusiasm from the start of the meeting evolved into a cool-headed pragmatism focussed on what would actually be involved and what would we all end up with? That’s where I am too.

Once the Hammersmith Resdents' Working Party has been established, all of us together will consider how and even if we might opt to move forward on any of these schemes.

Sunday 28 June 2015

Thames Water Told: Work With Us Or We'll Fight To Stop You Blighting Our Neighbourhoods

Click here to view
a high resolution map
Many residents have contacted me about their deep anxieties around Thames Water’s plans for a series of sewer construction sites in the borough. Last Monday my fellow Labour councillors and I called Thames Water’s senior managers into Hammersmith Town Hall to make it very clear that we will fight them all the way if they don’t review their plans.

Addison ward Councillor Sue Fennimore asked Thames Water why they hadn’t sought to work with the council to find better sites from the start. Using the examples of the proposed Sulgrave Road and Edward Woods estate sites, Sue told them how the disruption this would cause to people in the immediate neighbourhood did not appear to be taken into account when compared to other sites which would be better for residents. Hammersmith Broadway’s Councillor PJ Murphy made similar points about the proposed Verulam House and Astrop Terrace sites, just off Hammersmith Grove.

Thames Water had sent out a consultation document to residents in May. That identified 12 potential sites for the works needed to build the Counters Creek storm relief sewer.

The council isn’t objecting to the need for these works. I have dealt with enough people suffering the horror of sewage flooding their home to know that we need to stop that ever happening again. But it’s not right that Thames Water should blight other people’s lives to fix this.

Earlier this month, Councillor Hannah Barlow, who represents residents in Avonmore and Brook Green ward, contacted me to say that she believed there was serious flaws in Thames Water’s consultation as they appeared to be giving contradictory messages to her constituents. Councillor Larry Culhane said his North End ward constituents told him Thames Water did not appear to be listening to them and the consultation did not look genuine.

I put all this to Thames Water. I explained that we would take every possible means available to the council to block any proposals that blighted neighbourhoods. I suggested that instead, Thames Water should work with the council’s officials and look at everything again.

Thames Water agreed. I guess it was hard for them not to but they did seek to say why some of their proposed sites were essential. I reiterated the council’s position and hope that we can find a way forward that suits everyone

Sunday 29 March 2015

Ten Months Since Labour Won Control Of "Cameron's Favourite Council" And Here's Some Of The Things We've Done

H&F Council's former Conservative administration designed the
borough's logo in the official colours of the Conservative Party: dark
blue and green. We've kept the logo but coloured it a patriotic
red, white and blue instead.
It's ten months since my fellow Labour councillors and I were hired by the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham to deliver this manifesto. Since then, we've been working to do what we said we'd do. Here's an update on some of what's happened so far.

The first thing we did was to announce an immediate review of the closure of the award winning Sulivan Primary School which was featured on BBC News here. We later saved the school and part of that story was featured in the Daily Mirror here.

My fellow Labour councillors and I then CUT our special responsibility allowances (our pay) by 10% - which is in direct contrast to what our Conservative predecessors did. We wanted to set the right tone when approaching the Council's £71 million budget gap we inherited.

Here's some of the other things we're doing or have already done:
  • Defending Charing Cross Hospital. We changed the Council's position from one of supporting the hospital's demolition and supporting the closure of its A&E under the Conservatives to one of vehemently opposing that. There are many things we are doing to expose how weak the government's hospital closure plans are and we have set up this public enquiry chaired by the formidable Michael Mansfield QC. Last year we asked people to stand with us to defend our hospital - that's exactly what we're doing.
  • Won over £50 million by renegotiating inherited property deals. By the middle of the summer a small team of my fellow Labour councillors and I had renegotiated £16.2 million in extra funds for our borough from deals Conservative councillors had already concluded and closed the book on. That figure is now over £50 million as the BBC's Sunday Politics programme featured here. We are working to win more. 
  • Put the largest ever number of council funded police onto H&F's streets. Using some of the money from the renegotiated property deals we've funded 44 police officers. It's not usually the council's job to do that but we believe it is important to support police numbers when the London Mayor is cutting them - we also promised we'd do that before last year's council elections.
  • Abolished charges for home care for disabled and elderly residents. This leaked memo in 2008 underlined the risk many elderly and disabled residents faced when the Conservative administration introduced charges for vital home care. We have cancelled the £12 per hour charge. We paid for that by shutting down council magazines, lamp post vanity banners and council propaganda posters as was featured in BBC Radio 4's You And Yours programme.
  • Put residents first not property developers. Unlike our predecessors, Labour councillors do not take any hospitality from people wanting to do business with the council. Despite a small number of some of the worst type of developers camping out in Mayor Boris Johnson's offices in an attempt to undercut residents and undercut the public purse, we have taken a responsibly firm line with property developers. We have also introduced new policies so: we publicly record who we meet on the council's website; we invite residents to take part in some of the meetings; and have given residents speaking rights at planning meetings.
  • Homes for residents not overseas investors. We have so far negotiated for 231 new affordable homes to be built and are working to get more. We halted council house sales to property speculators and cut rents from the Conservatives' proposed 4.58% increase to a 2.89% increase. We've also set up this independent housing commission so council house residents themselves can decide what happens to their homes in future.
  • New support for food banks, the homeless and the voluntary sector. The charity and voluntary sector plays an important role in our community so we have increased their budget by 25% which, when you add the cuts the Conservatives had planned, is 40% more funding than they would have had. We have started a new policy of supporting our local food banks and are also funding measures to reduce the causes of food poverty.
  • Budgets and efficiencies. The Lord Adonis review is helping deliver savings. We've also renegotiated contracts with suppliers, are paying down historic debt, cutting the numbers of expensive senior managers and are introducing zero based service reviews. There's much else we're doing too as you can read here. That means this year we have made £24 million in savings. These are tough times and we're determined to protect residents and do everything possible to make savings fairly.
  • Cuts in council charges and we're the only council in London to cut council tax. Meals and wheels prices rose by £700 a year under the Conservatives and they used some harsh tactics to deter usage. We've immediately cut meals on wheels prices by 33%. In June H&F's former CEO told me that the Conservatives had been planning to raise parking charges by 14.7%. We halted that and froze parking charges instead. We have in fact cut 16 council charges, frozen 139 other council charges and 90% of all council charges, as measured by the income they raise, will be cut in real terms. The council's former Conservative administration used fees and charges as stealth taxes. They had some of the highest and some of the maddest in the country. We halted their charges for residents using a fitness trainer in local parks this year and forced a re-think on this disgraceful new charge for grieving parents last year. We will continue to approach this area fairly. We've also cut council tax too - just as we promised - and are the only council in London to have done so.
  • Supporting local businesses. We're doing everything we can to be a business friendly administration and want Hammersmith and Fulham's economy to be stronger. We're supporting independent retailers and arranged a Festive Market which had 10,000 shoppers pack North End Road in just one day demonstrating how by working with local businesses we might be able to regenerate deteriorating shopping areas in the future. We have already begun to switch the council's purchasing power to support local businesses and are undertaking many other pro-business initiatives.

The above list is a summary of just some of the things my colleagues and I have done or are doing. There's much we're having to fix too. For example, in November 2013 Conservative councillors cut £465,000 from the street cleaning budget but arranged the cut in services to come in in June 2014 - just days after the local elections. They also extended their street cleaning contract with Serco to 2021. You can read more about that here.

I remain deeply grateful to all of the 22,163 residents who voted to give us the opportunity to do this job. My fellow Labour councillors and I are trying to do things differently for all residents - doing more things with local people rather than to them. You can find out more about that and what H&F Council is now doing in this booklet – the influence of our manifesto is evident. As you'll see, there's still much more to do.

Meanwhile, if you're keen to support a new local independent retailer, my top tip for those who like beautiful French cakes, pastries, chocolate and breads, is pop into the new Patisserie Sainte-Anne. It moved from Paris to King Street, Hammersmith last year and is a wonderful addition to our borough. 

Sunday 8 March 2015

What's Happening To Council Housing In Hammersmith and Fulham?

Residents chatting with the Rt Hon Keith Hill
H&F Conservatives have put two individually addressed mail shot letters out to council housing residents saying that council homes are about to be privatised by H&F's new Labour administration. That is patently untrue.

Last year my fellow Labour councillors and I promised in our manifesto (page 7) that we would "take immediate measures to protect council homes now and in the future" from unwanted demolition. We promised to "work with council housing residents to give them ownership of the land their homes are on" and said "each year the Conservatives have hiked rents and service charges up by significantly more than inflation. Labour will take action to keep rents and service charges low" - that is precisely what's happening. People now have the opportunity, with the new Residents' Housing Commission and the ballot of council housing residents, to decide what they want to happen next.

The reason H&F Conservatives are putting out such nonsense is simple. They are horrified that if residents gain control of the land their homes are on, a future Conservative run council would not be able to continue to sell it all off to property developers - just as they did before voters removed them from office last May.

During the eight years H&F Conservatives ran Hammersmith and Fulham Council it became one of the most controversial housing authorities in the UK. The Conservatives social cleansing activities made them infamous in the national press with for example, this video made by The Guardian in 2009 and this article in The Independent in 2010 telling people exactly what they were doing.

H&F Conservatives are the same people who tried to hoodwink local people into believing they had "saved" Charing Cross Hospital. Now they are spreading this new and completely cynical lie as a deliberate attempt to confuse council housing residents during this review.

What will the Residents' Housing Commission do?
The independent residents-led housing commission will review all the options available for the future of council housing in the borough. The Residents' Housing Commission is chaired by the Rt Hon Keith Hill and will consider with residents all the best possible options for giving them more responsibility and control of their homes, stopping unwanted demolition and keeping rents and service charges low. The Residents' Housing Commission will then make recommendations which will be voted on by council housing residents.
This new Labour administration's ethos is to try and do things with people - not to them. We want to give local people more power about what happens in their neighbourhoods and that includes people living in properties where the council owns the freehold and the lease.

What did H&F Conservatives do?
When running Hammersmith and Fulham council, Conservative councillors described council residents as “locked in a dependency and expectancy culture” and called council housing “subsidised housing”. That type of ignorant snobbery is one of the reasons why they reduced the numbers of council homes and want residents who usually live in social housing moved out.

In a borough like Hammersmith and Fulham the Conservatives could at some point in the future win an election. If they did, people on council estates would again find themselves treated like second class citizens and thousands of council homes would again be under threat. Here's what the Conservatives were doing until they lost control of H&F council last May:
  • H&F's Conservative councillors secretly offered over a third of all council homes to property developers for sale and demolition and only admitted it after being caught out by residents on video as you can view here.
  • Despite initially denying they were even in talks to sell people's homes on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, H&F Conservative councillors went on to sell those people's homes and gave planning permission for them to be demolished - all against the wishes of the 800 households who voted 4 to 1 against the plans.
  • H&F's Conservative councillors sold individual council homes off to property developers almost whenever they became available even featuring on this episode of the BBC's Homes Under The Hammer.
  • Having cut the amount of social rented housing, H&F Conservatives would only offer housing in expensive private sector landlord (PSL) properties which locked residents into the welfare trap and was expensive for the public purse.
  • H&F's Conservative councillors successfully lobbied the Conservative/Lib Dem government (with this policy document) to hike all new rents up to 80% of market rates instead of 25% or 40%.
  • H&F's Conservative councillors hiked up rents and service charges for Hammersmith and Fulham's established residents by far more than inflation - with rents rising by as much as 7% in one year.
  • H&F Conservatives fixed the planning process to stop any new socially rented homes being built.
  • H&F Conservatives granted permission for more new homes for overseas investors than they did for UK residents.
These are just some of the things H&F Conservatives did to residents living in or needing social and council housing. Any study of their record gives an informed insight to the antipathy they have for our fellow residents living in council homes. Despite all of this, H&F Conservatives are bizarrely making out in their literature that they're now allied to Defend Council Housing and other left-wing groups.

What have H&F Labour done on social housing since winning last May's council election?
A lot has happened since the 22nd May 2014 when voters gave Labour control of H&F Council. We're working to do a lot more. Here's what we've done so far:
  • We’ve halted council homes sales to property developers.
  • We’ve re-negotiated H&F Conservatives' property deals and won 231 new affordable homes and we're in talks to deliver many more.
  • We have REDUCED the proposed rise in average council rent and service charges from 4.58% to 2.89% for council tenants.
  • We have FROZEN council management fees on service charges for council leaseholders.
  • We prioritise homes for residents, not overseas investors.
  • We are defending residents whose homes have already been sold.
  • We have set up a Residents’ Housing Commission to: give residents greater control and responsibilities; help them protect council homes against unwanted demolition and redevelopment; and keep rents and service charges low.
Who is the Rt Hon Keith Hill?
Keith Hill is the chair of H&F's new residents-led housing commission. He is a former housing minister with one of his most notable achievements being ensuring billions of pounds worth of investment into improving council and housing association homes through the Decent Homes programme.

Keith has an expert knowledge of housing and will work for H&F council housing residents to ensure they get the information and the independent support and advice they need when working through all the possible options for the future of their homes.

Keith is also famously one of the nicest people in public life. You can read more about Keith and the commission here.

Thursday 29 January 2015

H&F Labour Negotiates Extra Funds For Extra Police

Cllr Sue Fennimore (Lab): why more police
not less is H&F Labour's approach
Shortly after the local elections officials presented a series of deals with property developers that the former Conservative administration had agreed and closed the book on. My fellow Labour councillors and I re-opened those negotiations and have as a consequence secured millions of pounds in extra funds for the residents of Hammersmith and Fulham.

That means that at a time when the Conservative/Lib Dem government and Conservative Mayor of London are cutting police numbers for our borough, H&F's new Labour administration has agreed to step in and provide a 22% increase in the number of council-funded police officers able to protect our residents. That is the largest amount of council funded police officers in the borough's history.

This was debated last night. I guess I felt sorry for most of the Conservative councillors who looked sick to their stomachs that we had done as we promised we'd do, throughout our time in opposition and in our manifesto and achieved more than they ever did on policing and all within just six months of taking office.

One Conservative councillor, who should probably remain nameless, became so ridiculously full of rage during Councillor Sue Fennimore's speech that he could not stop himself yelling out abuse in anger.

Sue spoke eloquently about the extra police so I thought I'd highlight what she said here:

"Thank you Madam Mayor. I want to start by paying tribute to all those that work to fight to reduce crime: Police officers; PCSOs; this council’s own community safety teams; and many, many others. They rightly deserve our thanks and our support.

There is much talk of crime figures but as we all know, statistics can never tell the personal stories of those that have suffered crime:

The elderly woman too afraid to go sleep in her own bed after her home was ransacked by burglars; the young person violently attacked; a community intimidated by drug dealers; the woman beaten in front of her children by a boyfriend who had become all too confident of getting away with it. We all have a duty to cut crime.

This time last year my fellow Labour councillors and I promised to: “put police back on the beat.” I am therefore extremely pleased this new Labour administration is delivering on that promise and has prioritised extra funding for extra police. We will in fact be providing 22% more police - the largest number of council funded police officers in Hammersmith and Fulham’s history.

A big step to tackling crime, and a step taken less than six months since our new Labour administration assumed office on 16th June.

We want these Hammersmith and Fulham police officers to cut serious crime. I was not impressed to discover that just over two years ago we had a police officer stationed on the forecourt of the BP petrol station. There had been a spate of people driving off and not paying for petrol and that forced crime figures to shoot up. Stealing petrol is a criminal offence and should be confronted but a police officer pulled off the front-line and stationed on a petrol station forecourt is hardly the smartest use of limited public resources. So we expect all the police officers Hammersmith and Fulham Council funds to concentrate on reducing serious crimes.

As we know, crime figures can be disputed. In 2008 Boris Johnson said “We need to stop kidding ourselves. We all know that we are suffering from an epidemic of unreported crime”.

Strong words…

In fact, Boris Johnson pledged to take “take personal responsibility” and to tackle “the target-driven culture”. It’s a shame that he broke that promise. The situation now is that Mayor of London and this Conservative/Lib Dem government is cutting police numbers. And despite a promising start, this Borough’s former Conservative administration lost their way on policing.

On the 17th July 2008 Conservative councillors announced they had agreed a cut, yes a cut in police sergeants from 16 to 12. The quote given by the Conservatives was telling: “To be only losing four Safer Neighbourhoods Sergeants at a time when other boroughs are losing more is good news."

“Good news!?”… Really?

By 2014 Conservative councillors had become little more than apologists for a Mayor and a government that had reduced the borough’s police by 32 and planned to cut more. 

Residents voted for a different way…

So let us be clear: All - and I stress ALL - the money for the extra police this Labour administration is putting onto the streets has come about after we re-negotiated property deals Conservative councillors had already agreed and closed the book on.

That is staggering! No soft touch for property firms. No soft touch for criminals. This new Labour administration is:

Tough on crime

Tough on the causes of crime

And taking a tough, hard-nosed approach to winning extra funds to deliver extra police – and all just when the Conservatives have gone soft.

Thank you.

Monday 12 January 2015

Nous sommes Charlie, Vive la France!

The Tricolour and Union Jack fly together at half-mast over Hammersmith Town Hall sending a message of solidarity to the family and friends of those lost during last week's terrorism, to surviving victims and French citizens everywhere following the atrocious attacks in Paris.
There are 5,400 French citizens living in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham who are are an important part of our local community. In fact, after  English, French is the second most widely spoken language in the borough.
Residents from all faiths, no faith and all nationalities have been touched by these terrible events and I am proud that our council stands shoulder to shoulder with our friends across the Channel stating Nous sommes Charlie, Vive la France!

Sunday 11 January 2015

H&F Labour's 2015/16 Budget: Council Tax Cut; Hundreds Of Council Charges To Be Frozen; Cut, Abolished Or Kept To An Inflation Rise; And The Largest Ever Increase In Council Funded H&F Police Officers

H&F Labour's election pledge cards
At next month’s budget meeting my fellow H&F Labour councillors and I propose to cut council tax by 1%, to abolish home care charges for disabled and elderly people, to cut meals on wheels charges by 33% and cut 14 other council charges. We are likely to be one of the few, and maybe the only borough in the country, to cut council tax and we will be one of only two to abolish home care charges. All of this is exactly what we promised we would do on pledge cards (see attached) and in our manifesto prior to the local elections.

We inherited budget proposals from H&F’s former Conservative administration to freeze council tax. Meanwhile, many residents have been surprised to learn that, H&F's Conservative councillors also planned an immediate 14.7% hike in parking charges and to increase school meals and hundreds of other charges by much more than inflation. We have frozen parking charges and propose to freeze school meals and 137 other council charges – which is a real terms cut in costs. All bar a few of the remaining council charges will only be increased by inflation.
The budget contains much. For example, regular readers will recall that we are also about to put the largest ever amount of council funded police officers onto the streets of Hammersmith and Fulham in the borough's history with ALL of the money for the extra police coming from property deals we re-opened and re-negotiated after the former Conservative administration had agreed them and incompetently closed the book on them. We have also negotiated millions of pounds in extra new affordable homes to buy and to rent. We're about to provide new support to local food banks, along with new initiatives on homelessness, cycling and the environment. Most importantly, we are undertaking a range of measures to defend Charing Cross Hospital including putting together The West London Independent Health Commission chaired by the brilliant Michael Mansfield QC.

H&F Conservatives'
lamp post
vanity banners:
Last month the Conservative/Lib Dem government announced that it will again cut funding to Hammersmith & Fulham Council. This time the cut is officially 4.7% but that increases to a cut of over 10% if ring-fenced budgets and new statutory obligations are added into the list of the council’s financial commitments.

We are now five years into the government’s economically illiterate austerity programme. Local government has taken the brunt of the public sector cuts with even the Conservative flagship Barnet Council producing what they call the Graph of Doom to describe the government’s approach to council finances. So how have we balanced the books?

Well, for all their propaganda and spin H&F’s Conservatives were pretty weak when it came to negotiating contracts, they also employed too many senior managers, they wasted vast amounts of public money on irrelevances and even messed up many aspects of their 'tri-borough' initiative causing unnecessary costs and high profile service failures.

The first thing my fellow Labour councillors and I cut was £400,000 worth of lamp post vanity banners (the attached featuring the current Conservative leader of the opposition) and council magazines. Since we have begun to make a wide range of savings including cutting the number of senior managers; cutting the costs of the office space; making the 'tri-borough' more efficient and negotiating more effectively with suppliers and property developers.

At the last council elections H&F Conservatives put leaflets out falsely telling the public that my fellow Labour councillors and I would put council tax up by 7.7%. Now, that we've done as we said we'd do and cut council tax and many other charges they're all awash.

We said we’d put money back into people’s pockets and improve services. I’m glad that we are able to do exactly what we promised and do precisely that.