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 evident that the Borough's opposition Conservative Party leader, Greg Smith, does not understand rudimentary aspects of council finances. On 25 February 2015 he said:“I find it curious that he 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.

He was giving the opposition's response at the annual budget meeting and explaining how the opposition thought the borough should meet the £71 million, year-on-year budget gap in the council's revenue account by 2018/19 - and which we had inherited from his administration. Instead however, the opposition leader demonstrated he didn't understand the difference between the revenue account and the capital account or the difference between a single year's revenue savings and a year-on-year savings target that would need to be reached by 2018/19 and again (plus a greater amount) each year thereafter. Going by the cheers of his colleagues it appeared quite a lot of Hammersmith & Fulham's Conservative opposition didn't understand that either.

The following year, the leader of the opposition's budget suggestion of abolishing the meals-on-wheels service (which would not save very much money at all) had him attacked as "clueless" by this website.

On 13 January 2016, the opposition leader attended the Audit Committee as a representative of Riverside Studios. Under questioning from 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.