Saturday 22 July 2017

SPECIAL FEATURE: Government's Charing Cross Hospital Demolition Shenanigans Exposed

At 3.44 p.m. on Friday 16 June 2017 the Guardian published this exposé: Most of Central London Hospital to be Sold Off, Plans Reveal. What ensued goes to the very heart of the dishonest approach the Conservative government has taken concerning its plan to demolish Charing Cross Hospital and replace it with a small clinic, and close its A&E and replace that with an Urgent Care Clinic - which it admits it proposes to do after 2021.

Within an hour of the story going online, the Department of Health had got onto the Guardian to tell them the they'd got it wrong. They encouraged the story to be pulled from the next day's newspaper and insisted that The Guardian added this paragraph to their online article:

“The proposals in question are exactly that - proposals – and no final decisions have been made. As with all such cases across the NHS, decisions will be made after a public consultation and must have the full support of local doctors in order to secure the best outcomes for patients.”

However, that statement from the Department of Health was not true. By Monday 19 June, they came clean and admitted that.

Indeed, they even asked for the paragraph they'd wanted inserted 3 days earlier to be removed from the on-line story. The Guardian did as they asked but added a new paragraph stating that the Department of Health has now "confirmed that these plans [correctly reported in their original story] were consulted on and agreed in 2012/13, so the reconfiguration of those services is underway".

That episode is typical of the consistently underhand approach the Conservative government has taken in its determination to stop the public having a full understanding of what they actually plan to do to Charing Cross Hospital.

The government's "reconfiguration of those services" is the ironically titled Shaping a Healthier Future plan for North West London. That was signed off by Jeremy Hunt MP (Con), the Secretary of State for Health, in 2013 and details how they will:
  • Demolish the current Charing Cross Hospital
  • Sell off most the Charing Cross Hospital site 
  • Replace the current hospital with a series of clinics on a site no more than 13% the size of the current hospital
  • Re-brand the clinics as a “local hospital” 
  • Replace the current A&E with an Urgent Care Clinic
  • Re-brand the Urgent Care Clinic a "Class 3 A&E
  • Lose more than 300 and possibly all the acute care beds 
Anyone viewing the government's Shaping a Healthier Future website will find it hard to see any of this detail. Instead, the language is rich in disingenuous double-speak.

For example, that website explains the closure of four hospitals in North West London by saying “the existing nine hospitals will be transformed into five major acute hospitals”. In the case of Charing Cross Hospital, their use of the word “transformed” means demolished.

In that same spirit on 27 March 2017, two government heath bureaucrats wrote to me and asserted "there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross Hospital".  The complaint was from Dr Tracey Batten, the highly paid Chief Executive of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Clare Parker, the Chief Officer for North West London Collaboration of Clinical Commissioning Groups.

I wrote back to them pointing out that they are "playing fast and loose with the English language". For example, when they wrote “there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross Hospital” their case "appears to rely on the fact that they are planning to name the new clinic, that [they’re] planning to open, a 'local hospital'”. You can read my letter in full here.

We viewed Tracey Batten and Claire Parker's letter as a deliberate attempt to gag Hammersmith & Fulham Council from informing our residents about what is proposed for Charing Cross Hospital.

They followed their letter up with a statement controversially given to PR Week during the recent general and council by-elections which included an intimidating threat that they will "take it to the next level".

Our local Conservative councillors have long been at the front of all these attempts to mislead the public on the future of Charing Cross Hospital. In 2013, when they ran the council they left the cross-party campaign to save the hospital and then spent public money to falsely claim they had already "saved" Charing Cross and "retained" its A&E after they and government health chiefs came up with the ruse to re-brand the new small clinic a "local hospital".

wrongly claiming
Charing Cross
They're still doing that now. On 5 April 2017, I received an email from David Morton just after he had been selected as one of the three Labour council candidates for Avonmore & Brook Green. He wrote that "at 7:30 pm last night I received an unexpected visit to my home from Cllr Joe Carlebach. [Con]" and reported that Joe Carlebach had told him "he was prompting the NHS to take legal action against us for claiming that there was an intention to close Charing X hospital."

wrongly claiming
A&E 'retained'
Cllr Joe Carlebach is the borough's current leader of the Conservative opposition but at the time he was the chair of the Hammersmith Conservative Association with responsibility for all election material they put out during the recent general and local elections.

Hammersmith Conservatives printed and delivered a variety of election material claiming that those reporting that Charing Cross Hospital and its A&E are under threat are lying. They even re-printed Tracey Batten and Clare Parker's letter and delivered it across Hammersmith repeating the line that “there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross Hospital”.

Meanwhile, in the south of the borough, Greg Hands (Con) the MP for Chelsea & Fulham also repeated the nonsense that Charing Cross Hospital and its A&E are not under threat while accusing both the Council and Labour candidates of "falsehoods" for pointing out all of the details listed in the government's Shaping a Healthier Future plan.

As recently as last Wednesday night's Full Council Meeting, Conservative councillors were dismissively yelling out that the closure of Charing Cross Hospital is a lie. Their deputy leader joining in such heckling just moments after he and his colleagues had indicated they may want to change their public position following the recent election results - having realised Hammersmith & Fulham's residents had not been taken in by their shenanigans and were punishing them at the ballot box.

Carlebach and Hands both fully understand what the government's Shaping a Healthier Future plan will mean for the current Charing Cross Hospital. They have simply been sticking to the Conservatives' long-standing line. The same line that on 7 September 2014 had The Mail on Sunday attack David Cameron in this article. They reported how "days before council elections in May, the Prime Minister visited Hammersmith in London and stated that Charing Cross Hospital in nearby Fulham ‘will retain its A&E and services’... But the organisation that runs the hospital intends to close the department and replace it with an ‘urgent care centre’, NHS papers show".

I have been formally reviewing the issues around the closure of Charing Cross Hospital since they first began to unfold around 2011 as I was a member of the borough’s Housing, Health and Adult Social Care Select Committee between 2010 and 2014.

That committee had a statutory duty to scrutinise all matters to do with public health in our borough. If any reader puts "Charing Cross Hospital" into the search bar of this website they can read the many reports I've made as this issue has unfolded.

After being elected as the Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council in 2014, I believed it was important to cut through all the misleading information being put into the public realm by the government, health bureaucrats and local Conservative councillors. I asked the eminent Michael Mansfield QC to chair a public inquiry into the the Shaping a Healthier Future plan.

Along with Ealing, Hounslow, Brent and Harrow councils, we funded the Independent Healthcare Commission for North West London.

The commissioners were Michael Mansfield QC (Chair), Dr Stephen Hirst, and Dr John Lister. It was advised by health experts Roger Steer and Seán Boyle. The Mansfield Commission (as it also became known) was run like a court and was supported by Katy Rensten (counsel to the Commission), and Marcia Willis Stewart (Birnberg Peirce, solicitors to the Commission). It carried out extensive public hearings across North West London. Its key findings were:
  • There is no completed, up-to-date business plan in place that sets out the case for delivering the Shaping a Healthier Future (SaHF) programme, demonstrating that the programme is affordable and deliverable. 
  • There was limited and inadequate public consultation on the SaHF proposals and those proposals themselves did not provide an accurate view of the costs and risks to the people affected. 
  • The escalating cost of the programme does not represent value for money and is a waste of precious public resources. 
  • NHS facilities, delivering important public healthcare services, have been closed without adequate alternative provision being put in place. 
  • The original business case seriously underestimated the increasing size of the population in North West London and fails to address the increasing need for services.
You can read the Independent Healthcare Commission for North West London report in full by clicking here. Its main recommendations remain:
  1. The Shaping a Healthier Future programme needs to be halted. 
  2. Local authorities should consider seeking a judicial review of the decision to implement the programme if it is not halted.
The Independent Healthcare Commission for North West London indicated that the government would find it impossible to stick to its original schedule for closing Charing Cross Hospital. Indeed, the people charged with closing the hospital have not even met any of the half dozen or so deadlines they had set themselves for publishing their business plan. So now they have delayed the closure of Charing Cross Hospital until after 2021 and are scrambling to meet the demand they failed to predict - just as lots of people told them they would.

Hammersmith & Fulham and Ealing councils resisted the attempt to sucker us into helping them plan their NHS cuts by refusing to sign up to the government's new Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) - which was little more than a re-packaging of their failing Shaping a Healthier Future plan. That was despite the (what turned out to be a completely false) threat that they'd damage our adult social care budget if we didn't.

Along with Julian Bell, the leader of Ealing Council, we commissioned Roger Steer, Dr John Lister and Seán Boyle to do a further review which was titled Health and Social Care in North West London which you can read here

The Shaping a Healthier Future plan has also proposed that Ealing Hospital will close. It is being valiantly defended by Ealing Council - with Conservative councillors taking a similarly cynical approach there as they do in Hammersmith and Fulham.

Since winning control of Hammersmith & Fulham Council my fellow Labour councillors and I have re-engineered services and are cutting and re-assigning £63 million of wasteful council spending. So we're all for modernising services and saving money in any public institution. 

My fellow Labour councillors and I agree that there needs to be much greater coordination between councils delivering adult social care and hospitals discharging people back into their homes. That's one of the reasons why Hammersmith & Fulham Labour are the only council administration in the country to abolish charges to our residents for adult social care. But what the government are doing to our local hospital is ill-conceived and wrong. I have been consistently setting out that case such as here in this video:

Hammersmith & Fulham Council is the body responsible for public health in the borough. My fellow Labour councillors and I, along with our officials and advisers, have consistently sought assurances from the people behind the Shaping a Healthier Future plan to work with us to change it in light of the considerable amount of evidence we have presented that says they should. But they have repeatedly refused to do that.

Instead they hired a Conservative government spin doctor and a high profile advertising agency to re-engineer the English language so it misleads the public about what exactly it is they propose to do to our local NHS services.

The Conservative government's approach to the NHS that underlies Shaping a Healthier Future is thoroughly ideological. 

Hammersmith & Fulham's Labour administration will continue to defend Charing Cross Hospital and work with others to protect our NHS. We have hired some of the best advisers and lawyers to help us do exactly that.

The Shaping a Healthier Future plan is deeply flawed. We cannot see how the government can move forward with it without putting lives at risk.

When the people charged with delivering this for the government recognise the very real need for Charing Cross and Ealing Hospitals and change their approach, they will find the door is still open for them to work with us to help them make that change.

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Tackling Air Pollution With H&F's New Electric Car Club And More Electric Car Charging Points Than Anywhere Else In The UK

Bluecity car club launched at H&F's Eco Fair
Over the last eighteen months, my fellow Labour councillors and I have introduced 100 Source London electric vehicle (EV) charging points in Hammersmith & Fulham. That is the most in the country and many times more than any other council. We aim to have 250 by the end of the year.

We’ve also introduced the Bluecity electric car club and negotiated a deal that allows our residents to try the club for free.

The electricity provided by Source London and used by Bluecity is SSE Green which is 100% clean, coming with a zero emission rating - mostly generated from wind and hydro-electric sources.

Driving one of the Bluecity EV cars has the pleasant effect of putting a smile on your face but that isn’t our primary motivation. We believe we need to make a determined push to clean our air.

I was pleased to join Source London's Cédric Bolloré and Christophe Arnaud to speak at City Hall on 21st June about the urgent need to improve air quality and how their excellent schemes will help us to do that. Here is a snippet of my remarks:

Air pollution is linked to chronic lung problems, asthma, heart conditions, breast cancer, dementia and even diabetes. London’s air is the most dirty in the country.

The south side of the Hammersmith Broadway gyratory is the fifth worst polluted black-spot in the country. Our borough has 4 of the UK’s other locations for Britain's worst polluted air.

Back in 2015 we set up one of London's first Air Quality Commissions which undertook an extensive public inquiry producing this report last year.

We have also been taking a number of actions to improve air quality since local residents gave us control of the borough in 2014. Those include introducing new safe cycle routes, planting plants that absorb pollutants, deterring lorries and rat-running cars from entering residential areas and lobbying the government and London’s Mayor to replace the Hammersmith Flyover with a flyunder. But, the Source London network and the Bluecity car club has the potential to make a generational shift and change how all of us live and travel as EVs and the EV car club catches on in London and other parts of the country. 

We aim to increase the number of EV charging points and to keep building the network and encouraging demand to increase.

The scheme is run by the Bolloré Group, a French company, who have invested £3 million into our borough. Their electric cars are made in the European Union bringing new jobs and economic growth with this new life style choice.

I say new… Actually electric cars were popular from the 1880s until the early twentieth century. But as the internal combustion engine was refined and gasoline became cheap and plentiful they lost out and the twentieth century took a different path. It’s not hard to see how different modern history might have been without our reliance on oil.

So how should we plot the course for the next 140 years? What will future generations say about us if we don’t urgently clean our air and find new ways of getting around and living in a way that sustains our environment?

We have to act and in Hammersmith & Fulham, I am determined H&F Labour remain in the vanguard in doing so.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

The Grenfell Tower Fire Tragedy

A sign in a Rest Centre this afternoon
Twelve people have now been confirmed dead, 75 people are being treated in six hospitals and 20 people are in a critical condition following the fire in Grenfell Tower in Kensington. My thoughts go to all those people who have lost loved ones and who have been frantically trying to find out what has happened to their loved ones. They have lost their homes and everything they own. You can make a donation here.

The emergency services have done and are doing an amazing job. Our NHS, fire, police and ambulance services have been outstanding as have council officers, volunteers and community groups - many still working now.

The Edward Wood
Community Centre
this afternoon
Along with many of our residents, Hammersmith & Fulham council quickly offered help and we have been assisting our neighbours in Kensington and Chelsea council who are doing everything they can.

Sue Fennimore and I were in the area this afternoon - at the Community Centre on the Edward Woods Estate and at St Clements Church on Sirdar Road in Kensington which is one of two Rest Centres being run by a Hammersmith & Fulham council officer. 

Faith groups, businesses and lots of compassionate people have been dropping off food, drink, clothing, toiletries, children's toys and books, and other vital supplies.  Their many, many kindness showing London at its best. I am advised that while we have enough supplies at the moment, cash donations are still very welcome.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

London Stands As One

London stands as one at the vigil for the victims of the cowardly attack
on London Bridge and Borough Market
Last night Sue Fennimore, Hammersmith & Fulham’s deputy leader, and I stood alongside London’s leaders and thousands of Londoners at the vigil for the victims of the London Bridge and Borough Market atrocity.

The shock and sorrow that all of us feel is shared by people across the world following the hateful attack by three deluded cowards.

The defenseless victims killed and injured come from many different countries and backgrounds – all peacefully enjoying their Saturday night because London is a city where people live, work and get along together like no other place on earth.

Those that attacked us did so because their poisonous ideology sees that as a threat to how they think the world should be.

We must stand firm against them and we must win. That’s why our Labour administration has put the largest number of council-funded police onto the streets in the history of our borough, is increasing CCTV coverage and taking new measures to keep our residents safe.

But we must beat those that attack us with our ideas and way of life too. We must continue to show our solidarity and love for one another and in doing that we will face down this evil.

Last night, as we walked back from the vigil through the London Bridge area, it was heartening to see Londoners defiantly carrying-on – working, hanging-out with friends and typically refusing to be cowed.

I’d like to invite you, your friends and family to celebrate our diversity and solidarity with our borough’s second ever Unity Day on Sunday 11 June. We will be gather at Shepherds Bush Green at 11am and walk to Ravenscourt Park where there will be music, dance and food from the wide range of cultures that enrich our borough. The event will last until 4.30pm.

Friday 26 May 2017

We're Working To Deliver The Best Value Council In The Country

Last Monday was the three-year anniversary of the council elections in which local people voted to give the job of running our borough to my fellow H&F Labour councillors and me. This is the BBC News report from that evening.

People voted for us from across a wide variety of political persuasions. My colleagues and I have always remained grateful to all of them and absolutely determined to make our residents proud.

There's much we've done, which I'll report on over the coming weeks. Here's a report on some of the things we're doing with the borough's finances.

Over the last six months or so, the Mail on Sunday, BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, The Standard, The Sunday Times and a host of other media have all reported that Hammersmith & Fulham’s Labour administration runs the only council in the country to abolish charges for Adult Social Care while being one of the only councils in the UK to freeze council tax this year.

The Daily Politics programme reported that we're the only council in the country to offer our residents better value now than we did twenty years ago.

Our Conservative predecessors had enjoyed a generous government Council Tax Freeze Grant but the Conservative government abolished that two years ago and instead urged us to raise council tax by 7.75%. Despite that, my fellow Labour councillors and I are the only administration in London to cut council tax this electoral term.

Our Conservative predecessors had introduced 600 stealth taxes, but we are the only administration of any political colour to cut 85% of all the Council's charges for our residents.

And while our Conservative predecessors put parking charges up by 25.3% and budgeted to put them up 14.7% immediately after the council elections, we've frozen parking charges for each of the 3 years we've been in office.

This year, we're adding an additional £4.4 million of new funding to the Adult Social Care budget - which is £1.1 million more than that department’s officials asked us for.

We've done this and more at a time of punitive government cuts to our budget.

Most council funding has traditionally come from a central government grant - not from council tax. By the end of the next financial year, the Conservative government will have cut H&F's central government grant by 74% since they and their former Liberal Democrat partners came into office in 2010. That will be a reduction of £83 million for our borough.

So how have we been able to do all of this?

We saw the problems we inherited as opportunities to save money and do things better
We came into office with a critical view that local government was a long way off where it needed to be if our residents were to favourably compare their council with the very best organisations in the world. However, we were surprised to find we had inherited an organisation that was simply not fit for purpose across many areas of its responsibilities.

To be fair, some useful improvements happened under the former Conservative administration and there were areas of the council's work which remain impressive but they had bequeathed us a corporate culture that was dated, wasteful, self-satisfied and had too little regard for our residents. Too often, the approach to complex challenges was amateur. When things went wrong, as they inevitably did, the cultural reflex was often one of blame, denial, ducking responsibility and indifference rather than forensic analysis, fixing the problem, learning and moving on.

All this wasted time and money and all of this was exacerbated by the Byzantine structures of a 'tri-borough' arrangement the Conservatives had agreed with two other councils.

We were immediately confronted with the scale of the changes we needed to make during our first summer in office. The first and worst example of this culture being the new tri- borough Special Educational Needs Transport Service for disabled children which had gone live just over a month before the election. It was horrendously bad and it put the children at risk. Parents, teachers and carers were desperately worried. Fixing that service - which we did - was made so much harder by all of the above.

In fact, the Conservatives had procured some astonishingly costly and disastrous contracts. They had employed some of the highest paid officials in the UK and had too many of them too. There was little effective training and development of the council's employees with too many staff carrying out important work which they did not have all the necessary capabilities for.

And the Conservatives sold billions of pounds of public land to property developers at knock-down prices - with no regard for the fact that on some of that land were the council homes of hundreds of local families.

Meanwhile, Conservative councillors had squandered millions of pounds: adorning our streets with vanity banners hanging from lamp post featuring their super-sized photos; a newspaper; and over half a dozen different self-aggrandizing magazines - all promoting their North Korean style political propaganda.

Fixing this is a work in progress, but we are making significant progress
The world has moved on compared to even ten years ago. People socialise differently and buy products and services differently. The most effective organisations use big data to better predict demand and they re-engineer and contentiously improve services to make them better for their customers. But the Hammersmith & Fulham Council we inherited 3 years ago acted, looked and felt like an organisation from 30 years ago. We set about a programme of change and modernisation.

So far we're making £62.6 million year-on-year savings in the council's revenue account. Those are being made by:
  • Closing down council magazines, removing vanity banners and other politically inspired wastefulness
  • Using big data to better predict demand to make earlier and thus less costly interventions
  • Remodeling services taking advantage of new technology and working practices
  • Proactively raising commercial revenue - even selling our big data service to other councils
  • Better procurement, negotiation and management of contracts
  • Paying off the council's debt
  • Rationalising the number of council offices
  • Cutting senior management and restructuring the council, while retaining and recruiting some of the best people in local government and training and up-skilling our staff so they're empowered to do more.
We've also negotiated a record £219 million from property developers which will benefit the capital account as those schemes come forward in future years. Of that sum, we won £52.25 million more by immediately re-negotiating 7 property deals shortly after the 2014 council election - deals which Conservative councillors had already agreed at much lower sums and closed the book on.

The borough's Conservative opposition
They're not an active group of local elected representatives. As this link shows, Hammersmith & Fulham's Conservative councillors don't do many surgeries for their constituents and simply don't turn up to a staggering amount of council meetings.

Greg Smith
when Deputy
Council Leader
on a
lamp post
vanity banner
It's also evident that the Borough's Conservative opposition do not understand rudimentary aspects of public finances.

This first became apparent at our first Annual Budget Meeting on 25 February 2015 when Cllr. Greg Smith, the opposition leader and former deputy leader of the council, set out the Conservatives' view on how the borough should meet the £71 million year-on-year budget gap in the council's revenue account by 2018/19. We had inherited this huge gap from the former Conservative administration just nine months earlier so Conservative councillors had plenty of time to form a considered view. However, with Greg Smith's colleagues cheering him on, H&F Conservatives' official budget response had as its centerpiece this statement:

I find it curious that he [me] boasts of £50 million extra from developers - and we’ll come onto the detail of that later - where he says he’s already saved £24 million and he brought in £50 million: well if he got to find £71 million worth of savings in total, I don’t know what his problem is, he’s already got all the money in!” as you can listen to here.

That statement demonstrated that they had mixed up the difference between the revenue account and the capital account and had no understanding of the fact that this was not a one-off gap to be met in a single year but an accruing year-on-year gap that would need to be reached by 2018/19 and again (plus a greater amount) each year thereafter.

The following year, the main suggestion in H&F Conservatives' budget response was that H&F Council should abolish the meals-on-wheels service which, apart from being cruel, would not save very much money at all. That had them attacked as "clueless" by this website.

On 13 January 2016, the Conservative leader attended the Audit Committee as a representative of Riverside Studios. Under questioning from Councillors PJ Murphy and Ben Coleman he said he did not recognise Section 106 money as public money despite it being agreed by Parliament as such in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. He then spent quite a long time explaining his philosophical view that he didn’t support the term “public money”.

We're working to give our residents and businesses the best
We want Hammersmith & Fulham to be the best council in the country. Actually, we want it to be comparable to some of the best, most effective organisations anywhere.

Getting public finances right is crucial to that but can only be sustainable if we modernise how the council operates.

We know that the best way to make improvements is to do it with the people using the services. For a council that is the local residents and businesses we serve. That's why we've; set up resident and business led policy commissions which has helped us do more, better and quicker; we introduced a new public policy and accountability process to give residents more influence on what the council does; and we try to work with our residents and businesses rather than have the council do things to them.

We think our borough has a chance at being the best place for business, the best place to live and work and the very best council. Delivering that is what motivates my fellow Labour councillors and me. We remain ever grateful to all of the 22,163 people who voted for us three years ago and gave us the opportunity to do this.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Manchester ❤️

Once again, the flags fly at half mast over Hammersmith Town Hall after the heartbreaking news that at least 22 people have been murdered and 59 injured by a coward's bomb at a pop concert in the Manchester Arena.

At the time of writing, we have learnt of the first two reported victims. Georgina Bethany Callander was just 18. Georgina died, with her mum at her hospital bedside. Saffie-Rose Roussos, an 8-year-old little girl, had gone to the concert with her mum and sister for what should have been a beautiful evening.

As we learn more of the people taken through this vile act I know that all in Hammersmith & Fulham will share the deepest sadness and want to send the clearest message of love and solidarity to those suffering the consequences of this atrocity.

The Manchester Evening News has set up a crowdfunding page to support the victims' families. You can donate here.

In targeting an Ariana Grande concert, the individuals who planned and perpetrated these murders deliberately chose to target children and young people. They are beneath contempt.

The people of Manchester have shown why it is one of the greatest of cities. Those of all faiths and no faith have rallied: opening their homes to offer shelter; queueing to donate blood; ferrying victims home to their loved ones and more - demonstrating the solid, compassionate strength that has always defined that city's character and proving how in the darkest of times we can still witness the best of humanity.

Thursday 18 May 2017

Robert Largan and Robert Largan

Robert Largan from Fulham, London (left) and
Robert Largan from Bury, Greater Manchester (right)
I've been sent this link to the local Conservative Party website for Bury, Greater Manchester. It states that "Whitefield resident, Robert Largan, has been selected to be the Conservative Candidate for Bury South". That Robert Largan bears a remarkable resemblance to the man we came to know as Councillor Robert Largan who, as recently as 13 April, sent an email out to his constituents stating his residence as Sulivan Court in Fulham some 227 miles from Bury in London.

The Bury Robert Largan appears as a salt of the earth 29-year-old whom, as the Conservative website tells, started work on the fish counter in ASDA before making it as a chartered accountant.

The Fulham Robert Largan is a long-time political hack who'd worked for the Thatcherite Greg Hands MP for Chelsea & Fulham and, until just over two weeks ago, was a junior Conservative Councillor representing Sands End ward in Fulham since 2014. He had also unsuccessfully sought to get elected onto Hammersmith & Fulham Council 7 years ago.

Let's hope this Robert Largan chap in Bury would never behave like this.

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Tri-borough: Conservative Boroughs Call It A Day

In November 2015, a senior 'tri-borough' official told my colleagues and me they had attended an away-day at Westminster City Council during which they had modelled pulling out of the tri-borough arrangement - advising us Westminster proposed to trigger their plan in 2017. When I raised that with their political leadership they denied it.

On Monday night, the Conservative-run Westminster City Council and Kensington & Chelsea Council both put out a press release stating they intended to formally serve notice to pull out of the tri-borough arrangement. Meanwhile, Hammersmith & Fulham’s Conservatives distributed ill-judged leaflets containing the same petty political posturing. It is evident that this was a long-planned and coordinated move.

I had met with the two borough leaders last Thursday. It was a cordial meeting. They did not mention that they had both arranged emergency cabinet meetings for Monday night and had synchronised their press announcements detailing their plans to walk out of the tri-borough deal.

So I thought I might illuminate what’s happening with some facts.

The tri-borough began with an announcement by the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP (Con) on 22 October 2010. He told the BBC his new tri-borough initiative was targeted to save £100 million. It has never come close.

At its worst, the tri-borough has lost all three councils millions of pounds, put the lives of disabled children at risk and made it difficult for staff to undertake the most basic day-to-day functions.

In our last two budgets, Hammersmith & Fulham’s Labour administration found £31 million of savings but the tri-borough contributed no more than £200,000 of that, which is less than 1%.

Problems with tri-borough contracts, procured by Westminster City Council, have cost Hammersmith & Fulham over £5 million.

Many of the savings attributed to tri-borough were savings that would have been made anyway. Indeed, when other councils kindly opened their books we saw that they had made similar and sometimes better savings by themselves.

Meanwhile, the losses caused by the tri-borough have never been formally listed as such or quantified but run into many millions of pounds.

Senior tri-borough officers have had to try and balance conflicting goals such as Hammersmith & Fulham Labour’s determination to keep Charing Cross Hospital open against the Conservative administrations in Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea’s support for closing it.

While there were benefits, the tri-borough suffered from too many politicians and officials having a vested interest in keeping the myth going that the tri-borough was simply wonderful in every way. That is possibly why a culture developed where problems were brushed under the carpet.

On too many occasions, leading Conservative politicians in the other two boroughs were kept in the dark by their officials when potentially catastrophic problems occurred. While this Emperor was wearing some clothes, he was naked in all of the wrong places.

Given all this, it should surprise no-one to hear that Hammersmith & Fulham has been carrying out a review.

Hammersmith & Fulham’s Labour administration aspires to run the best value, most effective council in the country - the best place for residents to live and for businesses to prosper.

Despite record funding cuts by national government, we’ve built a reputation for improving services to residents while cutting taxes.

While our neighbours in Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster City Councils have increased council tax by 2% and 4%, Hammersmith & Fulham is one of only a few councils in the country to freeze council tax this year.

In fact, H&F Labour have managed our finances to ensure we’re:
  • The only London council to cut council tax this electoral term
  • The only council in the country to abolish charges for adult social care
  • The only council to cut 85% of all charges for our residents
  • The only council to freeze parking permit charges for each year we have been in office 
We are fortunate to have so many excellent staff working hard in the face of numerous challenges to deliver high quality services for Hammersmith & Fulham. All went into public service because of they share a profound belief in public service being fundamental to a good society. That belief goes to the very heart of what our Labour administration is about.

When residents gave my colleagues and me control of Hammersmith & Fulham in 2014, we found we had inherited an institution that looked and felt a lot like something from 30 years ago. Services had been run down by the Conservatives who, across the tri-borough, demonstrated a callous indifference when it became evident they had put our most vulnerable residents at risk. It was not fit for purpose.

As we move on, we will attract more of the very best people to work with us as we continue to build an organisation that is in the vanguard of modernising local government.

We believe the residents and businesses of Hammersmith & Fulham deserve the very best possible services and the smartest most effective support. That is precisely what all of us in Hammersmith & Fulham Labour will continue to strive to deliver.

Thursday 23 March 2017

The Westminster Attack

PC Keith Palmer
On Thursday night, Councillor Sue Fennimore and I represented Hammersmith & Fulham at a candlelit vigil in Trafalgar Square. It had been called by Mayor Sadiq Khan. We were joined by leaders of many faiths and people from different backgrounds and nationalities, sending an image of London united in our abhorrence at the previous day’s vile act of terrorism.

Four people were murdered. Around 50 people from 12 different countries were injured. I know all the people of Hammersmith & Fulham join me in expressing our deepest sorrow to those suffering injuries and to the families and loved ones of the innocent people killed.

One of those whose life was taken was PC Keith Palmer. PC Palmer had served in the Royal Artillery before becoming a member of the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Squad which he had served in for the last 15 years.

We should never forget that when attacks happen, and as civilians are ushered towards safety, it is the police and security services that take the opposite course and confront danger head on.

PC Palmer was just 48. He was a husband and a father of a 5-year-old daughter. He courageously faced down the attacker. I can only imagine the grief his family feel today. They do not mourn alone.

Around the world people joined to send their messages of solidarity. The terrorists will not win. Our diversity, our unity and our democracy makes us stronger. Our respect for human rights, our belief in the rule of law and our compassion make us stronger. These are the values that confront the hatred they espouse. They cannot win.