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. 

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