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 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.

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