Tuesday 28 March 2017

Conservative councils exit ‘Tri-borough’ arrangement after H&F seeks better value and campaigns to save Charing Cross A&E

Cllr Cowan with Cllr Sue Fennimore & Borough Commander Gideon Springer

Last night, Westminster Council and Kensington and Chelsea Council decided to exit the ‘tri-borough’ relationship. 

Their move follows concerns raised by Hammersmith and Fulham about the value, transparency and conflicts of interest contained in the shared service relationship.

Instead of working to resolve these issues, the two Conservative councils opted to withdraw.

Cllr Stephen Cowan, the Labour Leader of H&F Council said, “We aspire to be the best value, most effective council in the country - the best place for residents to live and businesses to prosper.

“We’ve built a reputation for improving services to residents while keeping tax low. While our Conservative neighbours in K&C and Westminster have increased council tax by 2% and 4% respectively, Labour H&F is one of only a few councils in the country to freeze council tax.”

Cowan also pointed to the facts that H&F are the only London council to cut council tax this electoral term, the only council in the country to abolish charges for adult social care, and the only council to cut 85% of all charges for our residents, including freezing parking permit charges for each of the last three years.

Turning to the ‘tri-borough’, Cowan said, “It is no secret that we’ve had concerns for some time about the value of the ‘tri-borough’, its lack of transparency and its built-in conflicts of interest.”

H&F’s last two budgets identified £31 million in savings. The ‘tri-borough’ contributed less than 1% of that (£171,000). But problems with ‘tri-borough’ contracts, procured by Westminster City Council have cost Hammersmith & Fulham over £5 million. This includes a botched contract for special needs transport that put disabled children at risk (see this Guardian story here) and which H&F has now put right for its children at great expense. 

Tri-borough officers faced conflicts of interest, for instance
over saving Charing Cross A&E
Cllr Cowan added, “Senior ‘tri-borough’ officers have been put in the impossible position of balancing our determination to keep Charing Cross Hospital open with Westminster and K&C’s support for closing it.”

“We have raised our concerns with colleagues in the other councils, but it seems triggering withdrawal was evidently a long-planned move for them. 

"I look forward to having sensible discussions with them about how we can preserve any savings tri-borough may have produced and move on in the best way for our residents.”

Monday 6 February 2017

H&F parents, teachers and Labour councillors come together to fight government cuts to local schools

Public meeting on 28 February
Burlington Danes Academy in Shepherds Bush

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Labour-run council has called an urgent public meeting with parents, teachers and other residents to fight government proposals to slash funding to H&F schools.

At the meeting on Tuesday 28 February at 7pm in Hammersmith Town Hall, head teachers and councillors will set out the damage the cuts will do, and discuss with parents and other residents how to campaign against the cuts.

The Conservative government has proposed cuts to H&F schools of £2.8 million (three per cent) at a time when outside pressures from government are seeing costs to schools rise by 10%.

H&F Conservatives reject cross-party campaign against school cuts       

 “We hoped this would be a cross-party campaign,” said Labour councillor Sue Fennimore, “But sadly H&F Conservatives are putting their national party above local schools.”

At a council debate on the government’s plans last year, Labour councillors voted to fight the cuts but H&F Conservatives refused to back schools and parents in the campaign.

Fennimore said, “This is disappointing, but it’s great parents and teachers are coming together in huge numbers to stand up for our local schools.

“Labour councillors have worked hard to protect school budgets and back our teachers, and our schools are getting better each year.

“These government cuts would undo the good work, so we hope more and more residents will join the campaign to protect our schools.”

Support from H&F’s head teachers

The local campaign has the backing of H&F’s Schools’ Forum, which represents all the borough’s schools.

Its chair, head teacher Peter Haylock, warns, “If schools’ budgets are cut – at a time when costs are increasingly significantly – it can only have a negative effect on the education that we are able to deliver.

“We will not be able to employ the number of high quality teachers and leaders that we need to be able to maintain standards.”

Learn more about the campaign against school funding cuts here.  

Thursday 1 September 2016

H&F council rejects new threat to Charing Cross Hospital: “Our job is to protect the NHS and this plan is about dismantling it”

Charing Cross A&E and other services at risk in draft STP

Hammersmith & Fulham's Labour administration has rejected a new threat from the Conservative government to Charing Cross hospital’s A&E and other key services.

The new danger comes in the so-called “Sustainability and Transformation Plan” (STP) put together by NHS North West London. This is one of 44 STPs across England which the Conservative government has told the NHS and local councils to prepare, and which menace hospital services throughout the country.

H&F and neighbouring Ealing councils have refused to sign the North-West London STP because it threatens Charing Cross and Ealing hospitals by proposing to cut the number of major acute hospitals in the area from nine to five.

Cllr Stephen Cowan and Michael Mansfield QC
Stephen Cowan, leader of H&F council, said: “We condemn the Tory government for drawing up these plans. This is about closing hospitals and getting capital receipts. It’s a cynical rehash of earlier plans and is about the breaking up and selling off of the NHS. It will lead to a loss of vital services and will put lives at risk.”

He added: “Our job is to protect the NHS and this plan is about dismantling it. This document is an affront to the sensibilities of the people of north-west London.”

Julian Bell, Leader of Ealing Council, said: "We have made it abundantly clear that we will campaign until our last breath to save Ealing and Charing Cross hospitals.”

Following government pressure on the NHS, Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals closed their A&E units in 2014, resulting in unprecedented waiting times and missed targets.

Since being elected in May 2014, H&F's Labour administration has been fighting alongside residents to stop the same thing happening at Charing Cross.

Last year, it invited leading barrister Michael Mansfield QC to lead an independent commission with medical experts to examine the government’s plans for Charing Cross hospital. Mr Mansfield concluded that the proposals were “deeply flawed” and “should be halted immediately”.

“We were elected to defend Charing Cross Hospital and its services,” said Ben Coleman, H&F’s Cabinet Member for Resident Satisfaction, “And the plans as they stand at the moment, although they have some good things in them, don't do that and we can’t support them” (see video at 2:07).

Monday 1 June 2015

Reviewing H&F Conservatives' approach to hospitality one year after H&F residents removed them from office

Former councillor Andrew Johnson's
(Con) hospitality register
listed below
On January 29 last year the borough's former Conservative administration voted to keep enjoying hospitality from property firms and other businesses Hammersmith and Fulham Council was or had been courted by. Five months later the Conservatives were voted out of office giving Labour a land slide victory in a borough that had been known as "Cameron's favourite council".

Labour councillors immediately changed the rules and banned hospitality from property developers. We wanted to get an insight into the types of things Conservative councillors had been enjoying so here below is the hospitality record of former councillor Andrew Johnson who up until 2014 had been the borough's cabinet member for housing and a former member of it's planning committee. You can view the link to Mr Johnson's hospitality register here.

Andrew Johnson was voted out of office on 22 May 2014.

Register of hospitality received from property developers by the former councillor Andrew Johnson (Con), Hammersmith and Fulham's former cabinet member for housing.


Free lunches, dinners and drinks:
  • 4th November 2013 – Free dinner paid for by St. George Group
  • 6th February 2013 – Free dinner paid for by British Gas
  • 24th January 2013 – Free lunch paid for by Savills residential team
  • 22nd November 2012 – Free dinner paid for by St James Group
Free tickets and hospitality for sporting events and receptions
  • 2nd November 2013 – Free tickets to watch Fulham FC v. Manchester United FC courtesy of Alistair Mackintosh
  • 9th June 2013 – Free Polo in the Park Family Day
  • 1st March 2014 – free tickets to watch Fulham FC v. Chelsea FC courtesy of Alistair Mackintosh
  • 18th November 2012 – Free ticket to Fulham Football Club paid for by Steve Norris
  • 6th November 2012 – Free tickets to a reception at Somerset House paid for by Barratt Homes
  • 21st June 2012 – free tickets to the cricket match, Middlesex v. Essex, at Lord's Cricket Ground paid for by Mosaic Family
  • 12th June 2012 – Free tickets to the Aegon Championships tennis tournament at Queen's Club with free lunch - all paid for by Development Securities Plc
  • 10th June 2012 – Two free tickets to the MINT Polo in the Park paid for by MINT Polo in the Park.
We may well review the gifts and hospitality register of other Conservatives over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, as well as refusing all hospitality, the borough's Labour councillors have taken a more forthright approach in dealing with property developers as we can read about here. We'll be reviewing that in the coming weeks.

Sunday 29 March 2015

H&F Conservatives' half a million pounds cut to H&F's street cleaning service was agreed six months before council elections but they decided it would only kick in afterwards

At this cabinet meeting on 11 November 2013, Cllr. Greg Smith (Con), the Borough's former cabinet member responsible for street cleaning, reported to his fellow Conservative councillors that he had cut £465,000.00 from Hammersmith and Fulham Council's street cleaning budget. However, he delayed the reductions in the street cleaning service until June 2014 - which was just a few days after the borough's last local elections.

Also in November 2013, Cllr Smith extended Serco's street cleaning contract which had been set to expire in June 2015. Now, it will run until 2021.

All of this has prompted Hammersmith and Fulham's new Labour administration to attack Cllr. Smith for sabotaging the street cleaning service. Cllr. Max Schmid (Lab), the borough's cabinet member for finance, said: "By delaying the implementation of nearly half a million pounds of cuts in the street cleaning services until the weeks after last year's council elections, Cllr Smith was clearly hoping to disguise what he'd done while people were considering who to vote for. But by signing this into an extended contract he agreed would run until 2021 he has literally sabotaged the street cleaning service"

"Deceitful attempts to fool local residents like this is exactly the type of arrogant behavior that led the public to remove Cllr. Smith and his colleagues from office last year.  Now, this new Labour administration is literally having to clean up H&F Conservatives' mess".

Max Schmid pointed out that this is the sixth year of the government's austerity budget cuts which has seen a real terms cut of 10% in funding to Hammersmith and Fulham in 2015/16. "Clean streets and a clean environment are a priority for this new Labour administration and despite inheriting a situation where we have to make £71 million of cuts and efficiencies over this four year term, just to balance the books, we will ensure we take the necessary measures to keep our streets clean".

Meanwhile, following last year's local elections, Cllr Greg Smith is now the Conservative leader of the opposition on Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

H&F Labour secures over £50m of extra funding for borough residents after renegotiating Conservative property deals

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Labour administration has renegotiated property deal done by their Conservative predecessors, securing more than £50 million in extra funds for H&F residents.

After winning the election in May 2014 promising to get better deals for residents, Labour councillors urgently examined a series of agreements that had already been recently agreed and signed off by the Conservatives.

The extra £50m secured by Labour as a result of revisiting the deals will:

• Deliver 231 new affordable homes.
• Increase locally-funded police officers by 20%
• Support arts and local infrastructure.

H&F Council Leader, Cllr Stephen Cowan, said: “Too many Conservative councillors cosied up to property developers and were weak in the deals they agreed on behalf of our borough. Mayor Boris Johnson is still doing that today. Despite that we have taken a firm line and by the middle of last summer we had renegotiated an extra £16.2 million on deals Conservative councillors had already agreed and closed the book on. That figure now stands at over £50 million and we will win more".

Stephen Cowan added "Last year people voted for our new Labour administration so we could 'put residents first - not property speculators'. That's exactly what were doing and providing hundreds of more affordable homes, extra police and other benefits for the people of this borough as a result".

Several more large-scale developments are still under renegotiation and it is expected that more will be secured for residents in the coming months.

Thursday 26 February 2015

Let them "drive cars"!

“They drive cars!” shouted out Cllr Jane Law (Con). She was explaining why Conservative councillors in Hammersmith & Fulham think it acceptable to force residents to walk up to 25 minutes to attend a surgery held outside their ward.

Some residents in Conservative-held Palace Riverside ward face a 25-minute walk to a neighbouring ward if they want to see one of their two councillors – who together only hold three surgeries a year.

Advice surgeries are considered a fundamental part of the job specification for Britain’s councillors and MPs but H&F’s Conservatives have linked up wards to reduce the already low number of surgeries they hold. This has left their constituents with long journeys and potentially months of waiting if they need to see their elected representative.

Across the borough, for every five surgeries that H&F Labour councillors offer, the Conservatives do just one. Labour councillors also hold their surgeries in nearly four times as many locations at the Conservatives, making it easier for residents to see them. At least four Conservative councillors hold a single surgery per year, while others undertake only two.

Speaking on a report about councillors’ allowances at a full council meeting last night Cllr Larry Culhane, who is H&F Labour’s deputy whip, contrasted the Conservatives’ limited surgery workload with the weekly surgeries that Labour councillors offer – all of which take place within the wards they were elected to serve.

Cllr Culhane said “All wards have residents living different lives and facing different issues but every resident should be able to see their elected councillors without difficulty. Not only are H&F Conservative councillors failing to hold enough surgeries, but expecting all residents to own cars to access their basic democratic right shows just how out of touch they are.

“This year, Labour’s 26 councillors in Hammersmith & Fulham will be holding over 270 drop-in surgeries in 18 locations across the borough. We also offer additional weekly surgeries by appointment. In contrast, Conservative councillors are holding only 55 surgeries in just 5 locations across the borough.”

This sorry situation only became apparent recently after Conservative councillors submitted their workload plans.

Meanwhile, the eight Conservative councillors who represent 21,000 residents of Palace Riverside, Town and Munster wards have decided to offer just one surgery a month between them. And the six Conservative councillors who represent Sands End, Parsons Green and Walham wards have decided that just one surgery a month between them is enough for their 16,000 residents.

Conservative councillors are also failing to turn up to take part in important decisions at council meetings. Just four out of 20 Conservatives attended the full council meeting last November. And last night’s annual Budget council began with just 13 out of 20 elected Conservatives present.

The published records show that Conservative members are also consistently failing to turn up to of Policy and Accountability Committees (PACs), which are attended by scores of residents and deal with critical issues. Not a single Conservative made the effort to attend the most recent meeting of the important Finance PAC.

In the vote on councillors’ allowances last night, the Labour administration confirmed the 10% cut which its members took in their special responsibility allowances after the local elections last May in order to stand by residents in these tough economic times.