Thursday 7 July 2016

A Chance To Stand Up To Racism And Xenophobia And Celebrate H&F's Diversity

Generations of good, brave people fought to kick racism out of British society. If anyone had looked at the 'Isles of Wonder' we showcased to the world on the 27th July 2012 they'd have believed our war had been won as that day, just four years' ago, was the day this London Olympic opening ceremony put in lump in our throats and made our chests burst with pride.

But racist incidents are on the increase. A small number of people unfortunately feel they have been given permission by recent events to let their inner ignorance speak out.

Last week Hammersmith's Polish Center was daubed with racist graffiti and there has been a 500% increase in the number of reported hate crimes. In recent weeks too many of our friends and neighbours have been confronted by racist and xenophobic incidents: people asked why they're still here; told to go home; told we voted for you to leave and worse.

That's just not the country we are and it certainly is not the country we are going to become.

On Sunday, 17th July the vast majority of us will have a chance to stand up and state that we are proud of all the good people that have made their home in Hammersmith and Fulham: those who came from the other 27 EU countries, and those from everywhere else in the world. H&F's Unity Day will begin with a chance for us to walk together against racism and xenophobia. It will finish with a festival of celebration of the many cultures that make our London borough one of the most wonderful places to live anywhere in the world.

Please come and please tell your friends and neighbours.

Monday 27 June 2016

A Statement On The Polish Center Atttack

Early Sunday morning racist graffiti was found scrawled onto the walls of the Polish cultural center in Hammersmith. Such an attack is both outrageous and an affront to the values that have defined British culture for a very long time.

The Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK), was founded shortly after the Second World War during which Polish forces fought for Britain to defeat Nazism. Since and more recently Polish citizens have become one of the communities that define and add to our modern society.

I am very grateful to have POSK in Hammersmith and Fulham and reaffirm that we in this borough will always stand with the Polish people and people of Polish origin against small-minded ignorance and bigotry whenever it raises its ugly head.

I will shortly visit the Polish center (as I often do) and offer the full practical support of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

Friday 24 June 2016

The EU Referendum Result And A Warm Message Of Friendship To H&F's EU Citizens

The residents of Hammersmith and Fulham voted 70% in favour of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland remaining in the European Union. Thirty per cent voted to leave.

Hammersmith & Fulham’s results reflected other similar views across London, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, as we now know, other parts of our country did not share that position and have voted to leave.

The result is a shock to many and so on this particular day, this administration wants to send a very clear and very warm message of welcome to the thousands of EU citizens that have made our borough their home. We are deeply grateful for: the businesses they’ve started; the hard work they do; and for how our culture has been enriched because they have chosen to live with us in our beautiful corner of West London. We will do everything we can to ensure all H&F's EU residents feel as welcome today, and each day thereafter, as they did yesterday.

What happens next for our country and its relationships with other countries is unclear. The turmoil on the financial markets reflects some of that. But we in H&F will continue to work hard to support local businesses and do everything in our power to fight for the prosperity and well-being of all who live here.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Jo Cox: A statement from Hammersmith and Fulham's Labour councillors

We are devastated by the death of Jo Cox who died from her injuries following an attack on her as she left her constituency surgery. She was a compassionate campaigner and the world is a colder place without her.

Our thoughts, sorrow and love go to her husband Brendan Cox, her children and her family and friends.

This is the statement from Brendan Cox which we wanted to share…

"Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo's friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.

"Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people.

"She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.

"Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full".

Monday 13 June 2016

LGBT Pride Flag, The Stars And Stripes And The Union Flag Over Hammersmith And Fulham

Tonight, over Hammersmith Town Hall, the rainbow coloured LGBT Pride flag flies at half-mast alongside the Stars and Stripes and the Union Flag.

The mass shootings by Omar Mateen, an American citizen, in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was an act of hate. Hate that led Mateen to murder forty-nine people, wound 53 more and devastate the families and loved ones of those he attacked.

We send our love and deep sorrow to all those suffering the loss of someone they cared about and in flying the LGBT flag, we send a message that we stand in proud solidarity with all who are LGBT.

Keeping Great Britain's Seat At The EU Negotiating Table Versus Years Of Damaging Uncertainty And Hardship For British Households? I'm Voting To Remain

The vote on 23 June, that will decide whether or not the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will remain in the European Union, will be the most important vote I ever cast.

The consequences will: affect our country; they will affect the borough I have the privilege to lead and care about; and they will affect my family for generations to come.

There are many positive reasons for staying in Europe as I set out below, but at the time of writing this, the FTSE 100 has fallen by £100 billion in just four days - which isn't scaremongering, it's actually something that has already happened based on no more than the fear of Brexit. It is also worth noting that this article in The Washington Post, titled "Britain flirts with economic insanity" was written to inform an American audience - not to influence a British one.

So, I strongly believe that remaining in the European Union is the right thing to do. Here are some of my personal reasons:

Board rooms rather than battle fields: this is a much better way of doing business than what we had before
When I was a small child in the 1960s the majority of countries in Europe were governed by either fascist or communist dictatorships. War had been the way change came to Europe throughout our long history but that post Second World War generation chose a different way and set up the beginnings of what later became the European Union.

Now democracy spreads across our continent, in large part, because each country wanting to belong to the EU has to pass our criteria of being a fully functioning democracy and demonstrating how they respect the rights and freedoms of each of their citizens.

Nobody knows what the world will be like in 100 years time but we do know that 100 years ago Europe was in the middle of the first horrific world war that saw millions of its citizens killed. The EU's track record of  bringing peace to our continent is now both decades long and unprecedented. It can continue to do that for future generations if we keep it and continue to influence it.

I believe if any of the brave women and men who fought and died (in their millions) to liberate Europe in either of the 20th century's two great wars could know that this is how we now bring change and hammer out our differences, they would think the EU to be a wonderful thing. I don't think it's right or sensible that Britain steps away from that.

A seat at the EU negotiating table - now and for generations to come
But Europe isn't perfect. There is a lot that needs radical reform. So how do we in Britain make that happen? Leaving the room where the negotiations occur is just not the answer.

Far from 'taking control', as the leave campaign slogan somewhat disingenuously suggests, Britain will lose a large amount of our influence if we leave. That would be bad now but with each passing decade it will continue to weaken our ability to protect our national interests and get things done. 

Hard facts need to be at the heart of any decision of this magnitude. Yet there are many inaccuracies on everything from immigration to trade. This is a good website to fact check.

Speaking from a partisan perspective, I believe Britain is at its best in the EU when there is a Labour government. The EU helped the 1997 Labour government secure better working conditions and improvements for the average British citizen. It's helped bring peace to Northern Ireland and it's helped increase the standards of living for hard working British families.

No matter who is in charge, Britain is a vocal and powerful member of the EU. We are on the winning side of all EU votes 95% of the time. For the past 43 years we have shaped much of how the current EU is and how it operates.

The EU is our biggest trading partner and it is the biggest investor in the UK economy. If we leave, no matter what arrangement we come up with, we will still have to abide by its laws in one form or another. For example, one option preferred by many in the Brexit camp, (although likely to be blocked by EU member states) is after we leave the EU we become a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). That would mean Britain would still have to pay into the system and still have to accept all EU laws on the free movement of goods, people, services, capital and more. But we will simply no longer have a role in deciding what those laws are.

Playing an active role in the EU and with an ambitious agenda that continues to influence what the EU does is the best way of protecting Britain's sovereign national interests.

Leaving creates years of damaging uncertainty
But what is the alternative? Exactly what is the Brexit campaign arguing for? Well, as yet there isn’t anything that even resembles another proposal, let alone a plan which the Brexit campaigners agree on.

I appreciate that the future is by its very nature unpredictable but the Brexit campaign cannot even tell us what they think will happen later this summer if we leave - as this video shows. 

Slaughter and May (an international law firm) have done a more thorough independent analysis of our options which you can read here. None of the leave options offer anything but many years of highly damaging uncertainty.

Uncertainty always negatively affects mortgage rates, it affects food prices, it causes unemployment so it will negatively affect the livelihoods of Britons up and down the country.

Most commentators agree that Britain will be seeking to negotiate an alternative European agreement at a time when the remaining EU countries are likely to feel pretty sore with Britain for leaving and so destabilising their economies and national security.

Any of the remaining 27 EU countries could veto a new agreement with Britain for any reason.

Germany's finance minister has already said Germany will block our entry into the single market. The Telegraph offers this insight into how other European countries will react. If you want to know what the New York Times thinks the other EU countries will do if Britain leaves, click here. Even our friends in the United States say that they will not negotiate a special trade deal for Britain.

Meanwhile only 18 months ago, one of the main reasons Scotland voted to remain in the UK was because they were told they would not enjoy automatic membership of the EU if they left.  If the UK leaves the EU it will legitimately reopen the question for the Scots whether they should leave the UK and rejoin the EU.

Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, has suggested that Britain's alternative economic approach will be to accelerate the effects of globalization by getting rid of all tariffs on goods traded with all countries. The effects of globalization is the very thing most people considering voting to leave the EU are against. Farage's plan would decimate British jobs.

What's clear is the Brexit camp have no alternative plan should we exit the EU and even if they did there is absolutely no other country or economic block that is even considering working with us on it. It is not even clear what 'us' will mean. Do the Brexiters believe they would be negotiating on behalf of the UK as it is now or a new smaller country without Scotland?

A long economic recession?
While there is no plan other than uncertainty coming from the Brexit camp, the following highly respected independent organisations have all given their opinions on what will happen if Britain leaves the EU:
The response to these warnings from those wanting Britain to leave is to seek to fudge and confuse people by putting up the odd individual economist (no serious independent organisation has backed Brexit) to say they don't think things will be that bad.

The Brexit camp are prepared to admit that leaving will not make us richer. In reality they know full well it will make most British working families poorer - they just think that's a price worth paying.

I'm NOT with them
Russian President Vladimir Putin is no friend of Great Britain but he wants us to leave. Donald Trump, the US property speculator turned bizarre-Republican presidential candidate says he hopes Britain leaves.

In Britain, the largest majority of politicians lining up to argue for Brexit are right-wing Conservatives and members of UKIP who have never shown any concern for the rights of hard working British families or public services like the NHS.

Iain Duncan-Smith has spent the last five years attacking and undermining some of the poorest people in Britain. Norman Lamont, the former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, was a prominent apologist for the murdering Chilean ex-dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Boris Johnson appears to have flipped his position from remain to exit because he thinks that will help him become the next leader of the Conservative Party. And Nigel Farage said he wanted to close down the NHS and move to an American style insurance system - which leaves millions of people without health cover.

Those people have their own agenda and they're not being straight with us about what it is. I'm absolutely certain it is not an agenda that cares about the average British family because they've never demonstrated any genuine concern before.

I'm voting to remain
The EU will most likely, and hopefully, be an institution that survives and develops for decades to come. If we leave its current boarder would be just 22 miles off our southern coast. I want to make sure my country continues to influence it and that means voting to stay in.

There are many positive reasons for staying: it has brought decades of peace and continues to spread democracy across the European continent; it brings much greater security, helps tackle crime and helps us fight terrorism; it brings cheaper and better holidays; cuts mobile roaming charges; protects and improves our environment; brings better food at better value; supports a stronger UK economy and a better standard of living for the average British household; and undoubtedly brings more and better jobs.

That's why friends of Britain like US President Barack Obama, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and many more want us to stay.

But most important of all, staying in the EU is in the best interests of hard working British families now and in the future and that's why I am voting to remain.

Monday 2 May 2016

President Obama's Shout Out To H&F Labour's Councillor Ali Hashem

How time flies: just a couple of days ago President Barack Obama gave his last speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner as you can view here. However, the week before, when he was here in the UK, he addressed people selected to take part in the US Ambassador's young leaders project and took a moment to shout out to H&F Labour's excellent Councillor Ali Hashem as you can view here:

Along with fellow Labour Councillors Larry Culhane and Daryl Brown, Ali Hashem was elected to represent the residents and businesses of North End ward on 22nd May 2014. They're a fantastic team and have been doing an excellent job working hard for their constituents ever since.

Sunday 27 March 2016

New Independent Start-Up: Café De Nata's Pastéis De Nata Brings Some Portuguese Sunshine To Hammersmith

Pastéis de nata - those delicious Portuguese custard tarts - can now be found, freshly baked in the centre of Hammersmith.

Made to head chef Lucio's secret recipe, Café de Nata produce  a perfectly crisp flaky pastry and creamy smooth custard filling that will brighten your day and ruin your diet.

Proprietor Diogo Esteves hopes to make the pastel de nada a popular treat in the UK - just as it is in Portugal and many other parts of the world.

They are really delicious and go well with Café de Nata's excellent coffee. So he appears to have a very good chance of doing that.

Pastéis de nata were first baked at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém, Lisbon. But in 1834 the monastery closed. Three years later, after having purchased the monk's recipe, the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém took over. They've been making them ever since. In 2009, The Guardian was so taken with these delicacies, it urged people to visit Belém in an article titled: The 50 best things to eat in the world and where to eat them. But as the Facebook reviews of Café de Nata say, you can save yourself the journey and enjoy perfectly fresh, warm pastéis de nada straight out of the oven in Hammersmith Broadway.

Café de Nata are based in a small shop at 25B, Hammersmith Broadway Shopping Centre that's a part of the bus and tube station.

You can view their Facebook page here and follow them on Twitter here.

Hammersmith and Fulham is fortunate to have attracted retail entrepreneurs who have brightened the borough's landscape. There's amazing gelato ice creams at Bertotti Pure Italian, stunning French breakfast pastries, cakes chocolates and breads at Patisserie Sainte-Anne, the ever wonderful Brackenbury's Delicatessen and more.

I wish Diogo Esteves and his partners good luck with their new enterprise but going by the reception Café de Nata is getting from their customers, I really don't think they'll need it.

Friday 25 March 2016

At Half-Mast: Belgian and Union Flags Over Hammersmith And Fulham

Sadly, the Belgian and Union Flags flutter together over Hammersmith Town Hall this week, mourning those murdered in the barbaric attacks on Brussels on Tuesday, and sending a message of support to the Belgian people.

Thirty one people's lives were taken and 300 more were injured. Such attacks are not a reflection of any religion, they are simply indicative of the poisoned minds of the perpetrators.
I know the good wishes of everyone in our borough will go to all those suffering loss because of this terrorist atrocity and to the friends and families, sitting by the hospital beds, of the 63 people still in a serious condition. 

Monday 21 March 2016

H&F Labour's 2016/17 Budget: Tough On Wastefulness; Winning £140 Million From Developers; Putting More Money In Residents' Pockets; Modernising And Improving Services; And Resisting The Government's Attempts To Force Us To Raise Council Tax By 3.75% Each Year For The Next Four Years

Hammersmith & Fulham’s Labour administration is one of only a handful of councils in the country to freeze rather than increase council tax this year. Last year we were the only administration in London to cut it. We’ve managed to do that while also:
  • Cutting 16 of the council charges we inherited 
  • Freezing 178 other council charges this year
  • Cutting, in real terms, 85% of all council charges as measured by the income they raise
  • Cutting meals on wheels prices from £4.50 to £2.00
  • Abolishing the £12 per hour charge for home care for elderly and disabled residents and this year abolished the 15-minute-only visits to give people more time for the care they need
My colleagues and I have added to what we started last year making H&F council take a more business-like approach to stripping out waste from its budget - as we said we would (see page 4) in our manifesto. That means we have:
  • Introduced zero-based budgeting to focus on outcomes important to residents rather than just spending on things because that’s the way it’s always been done
  • Taking a new tough line to negotiating with developers winning a record £140 million for borough residents
  • Selling council services commercially
  • Cutting the numbers of expensive senior management
  • Re-configuring how the council operates and making it start to work more effectively across council departments and with other local agencies to save money and improve outcomes
  • Better debt reduction
The Evening Standard's graph demonstrating how
H&F Labour's sound financial management
is helping to deliver London's greatest
percentage reduction in council tax

for the second year in a row.
I am very grateful to Cllr. Max Schmid, the borough’s cabinet member for finance, and his team of finance officers. Max is an accountant who had previously worked at PwC where he worked to help councils and central government be more efficient. I'm glad he's now leading on that for us.

We're also keen to see how we can encourage more local services which adds to what the council does and improves life for residents so we're exploring new things like The Casserole Club and looking at how we can better work with the voluntary sector to get things done.

This new results-focussed approach to council finances has allowed us to do the following:
You can read more of about the changes we've chosen in the official H&F Council 2016/17 Annual Report.

We've done this against a backdrop of punitive measures to our finances undertaken by the Conservative government. These include:
  • Cutting the government grant to Hammersmith and Fulham Council by 66% since 2010.
  • Removing the additional annual government grant specifically given to councils to subsidise council tax cuts or freezes
  • Giving councils a number of costly new responsibilities but neglecting to provide any new funds to pay for them. For example, new schemes like Staying Put are good ideas but that programme will alone cost H&F roughly £500,000.00.
  • Basing future government grants to councils on the assumption that all councils will have increased council tax by 3.75% each year over the next 4 years. In Hammersmith and Fulham that means the government will subtract £2 million a year from all future annual grants in the expectation we will raise that sum by putting council tax up by 3.75% each year.
Hammersmith & Fulham's Conservative councillors had little to say about any of this. They haven't been around much since losing the local elections in 2014 but the borough's opposition leader did argue against H&F Labour having reduced meals-on-wheels charges, implying we should continue with their aggressive approach. He also claimed that the government's dramatic cuts to council funding were part of a strategy he supported that would free up councils to do their own thing on finances which is, er... an interesting take on things.
H&F's Labour administration will not raise council tax. We will continue to take a tough, cost-cutting approach to wastefulness so we genuinely put more money back into residents' pockets while modernising and improving council services.

Sunday 17 January 2016

What's The Rationale For Reducing Speed Limits? What Did The Consultation Conclude? What Will Happen Next?

Reducing traffic speeds saves lives. It’s also the significant factor in reducing the severity of any traffic injury. That’s particularly important for children and even more so for very young children as this powerful account by a motorist tells.

That’s why cities around the world, such as New York with its Vision Zero scheme, and councils across the UK are doing their best to reduce traffic speeds and provide safer zones in residential and high accident rate areas.

There are many groups campaigning for much lower urban speed limits too. Those include the Child Accident Prevention Trust20's Plenty, Living Streets and The London Cycling Campaign who are calling on councils to cut speeds to 20 mph.

On 9 June 2015 the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced his target to halve the number of people killed or seriously injured on London's roads by 2020 – which would mean a reduction of more than 14,000 Londoners’ unnecessary deaths or serious injuries by 2020.

And just over a year earlier and after having carried out borough-wide manifesto consultation meetings with residents from all political persuasions, my fellow Labour councillors and I were elected with a manifesto commitment (see page 12) to extend the number of 20 mph safer zones in Hammersmith and Fulham.

So last year, also on 9 June, Hammersmith and Fulham Council began a formal 9-week consultation with local residents about extending the 20 mph safer zones to more of the Borough’s streets. The results that came back can be summarised as:
  • 45% Yes to all the roads H&F Council is responsible for
  • 26% Yes but not on main roads listed by each respondent
  • 29% No, not on any more of the Borough’s roads 
The formal consultation produced a 71% majority to introduce some form of increase in the number of 20 mph roads. There have also been two public Policy and Accountability (PAC) meetings were residents attended and took part in the discussions. Since then officials have been studying the details of the roads highlighted by the 26%. They will shortly be bringing proposals forward.

But not everyone is happy with that. H&F Conservatives have long been against 20 mph safer zones as you can read here and here. They argue 20 mph safer zones are anti-motorist. Indeed, one local Conservative recently confided that thinks it is the fault of parents if their children are killed or seriously injured in a traffic accident because they had clearly failed to properly teach them road safety rules. I disagree.

Rather than argue that point publicly, H&F’s Conservative councillors claim the council's consultation responses show a 55% majority against any form of extension in the number of 20 mph safer zones. They're also falsely telling residents that this administration will ignore the results of the consultation and is planning to introduce a blanket borough-wide 20 mph scheme on all roads. H&F Conservatives are either using the same numeracy skills as those that led them to unnecessarily gift hundreds of millions of pounds to property developers or they are deliberately seeking to mislead people - as seems to be their default mode of operation. Others are peddling the Conservatives’ line too.

Back in 1999 I worked with residents and businesses to introduce the 20 mph Grove Home Zone in Hammersmith. By 2005, rat-running through the area had reduced by 27%, speeds had dropped by over 10% and, along with other 20 mph safer zones, it contributed to accident rates falling across Hammersmith and Fulham by 72%.

The Council's highways's officials will soon bring proposals forward that match the results of the formal consultation. That means there will not be a blanket borough-wide 20 mph scheme but the council will add many more 20 mph safer zones. Those will paid for by Transport for London who are rightly determined to reach the Mayor's accident reduction figures and in the process it will save the lives of, and reduce the seriousness of injuries of, people living in, working in and visiting our borough.