27 July 2009

'Tory propaganda on the council tax' exposed

Evening Standard journalist Andrew Gilligan has today exposed H&F News, the council's official newspaper, for the Conservative Party propaganda that it really is. As Andrew reports:

Ten miles to the west, in Tory-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham, lies H&F News, circulation 75,000, and perhaps the craftiest operation of all.

H&F News is a brilliant facsimile of a good, meaty local newspaper, complete with a 12-page property pullout, a sudoku and crossword, a What's On supplement, lots of ads from real local businesses and even a five-page gardening section.

The council PR stories ("Residents dish out the love ... Poll reveals that three years of tax cuts give joy") are interspersed with page after page of other news, much of it seemingly straight, and you struggle to remember this is an official publication. But of course it is.

In H&F News, it is the Labour Party that does not exist and the Tory councillors who get all the quotes.

However, the true genius is in some of the apparently straight reporting. In H&F News, unlike all the other official papers, occasional controversy is allowed - but only in the context of the council listening and taking heed.

In H&F News, with few exceptions, the only crimes are committed by people who have been caught and jailed by the borough's ever-vigilant police (regular advertisers in H&F News). In H&F News, crime is nearly always falling, even when it isn't.

The 5 May issue proclaimed that "violent crimes have fallen dramatically across the year" to April and quoted the relevant H&F cabinet member, Cllr Greg Smith, speaking of "impressive falls across the board".

In fact, however you slice it, some, perhaps even most, violent crimes did not fall in Hammersmith and Fulham in the year to April 2009. Rapes, for instance, went up.

Above all, it is Hammersmith that may soon become the first borough in Britain covered only by official media. The local paid-for paper, the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle, sells 1,500 and falling.

"They were virtually out of business long before we started H&F News," says a council spokesman. "They are not even based in the borough. There has been in our borough an information vacuum which we are trying to fill."

26 July 2009

H&F today, Cameron's nightmare tomorrow?

Rather than the traditional end of term report, here is a scary look forward.

Anyone in any doubt about what a Tory government under David Cameron would do should take a look at what has happened in H&F under the Tory council since 2006.

Take five examples of the nasty party in action:

1) huge cuts in spending and local services - £61 million already cut from the council's budget with more to come, hitting services for older and disabled people and schools and childcare; all the council's staff served with redundancy notices to cut their terms and conditions

2) a Tory tax con - cuts in council tax (amounting to less than 50p a week) are more than made up for by the huge hikes in fees and charges for local services, all part of a secret budget only revealed after the Tories were elected

3) gerrymandering - secret plans to knock down social housing and sell large estates for redevelopment with local people moved out and priced out of the borough

4) dirtier streets - H&F streets are filthy as flytipping increases following the cuts in street cleaning and refuse services plus new charges for collection of bulk items

5) public assets sold off - valuable community buildings housing local voluntary organisations and facilities for young and old people have been sold off, never to be used again by the local community

H&F council is hailed as an exemplar by David Cameron. Be careful what you wish for.

09 July 2009

What a stink!

What's going on at Hammersmith town hall? As soon as you walk into the foyer, you are hit by the most terrible smell. Work to refurbish the foyer seems to have been going on for months, so goodness knows how much it's costing. But still the smell lingers...

Tories' gerrymandering plans exposed

On the day that H&F Tories are celebrating the council's so-called achievements, the Evening Standard has exposed Conservative plans for 'social cleansing' Hammersmith & Fulham:


H&F council has recently announced plans to demolish 3,500 homes on estates they have declared “not decent neighbourhoods”.

Secret documents obtained through an FoI request reveal that the Conservative leader of the council, Stephen Greenhalgh, told senior Conservative Party officials that council estates are “ghettos”. The people who live there “add to the welfare cost of Government” and “have fallen into a cycle of unemployment and dependency”. “We (the taxpayer)” get “no return”. “What is needed” is “a solution to concentrations of deprivation”.

The documents reveal that the council gathered together a secret group of people to discuss this. Someone asked: “What is a ‘Poor person’?” Someone else said Fulham Court “is not a place, it is a barrack for the poor”. Yet another suggested the 2,000 strong White City estate was “an ideal place to develop and deliver a ‘master plan’”. And someone else said it was “hard to get rid of people”.

Participants acknowledged: "'Porteresque' accusations of gerrymandering or social engineering needed to be faced head on." Hence, “funding needed for political problem of management”, and “regeneration should not be stymied by a very few who object on spurious or ideological grounds”.

The “message” is “ownership empowers”, and “the Sacred Cows need to be shot!”. “We need to create mixed communities in concentrated areas of deprivation.”

Now, the Council has developed its “bulldozer argument” for its planning strategy - branding seven council estates containing 3,500 homes “not decent neighbourhoods”.

Using the language of social cleansing, and with no respect for age, vulnerability or human rights, the Tories propose to destroy communities on estates in Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith and Fulham. The sites will be used mainly for commercial development like hotels and conference centres. There would be a reduction of social rented homes by up to a third, and new housing for sale would be unaffordable to local residents.

In the meantime, all but health and safety repairs to the properties would cease and flats would be let on a temporary basis. Whole neighbourhoods are now blighted, with freeholders and leaseholders unable to sell, even though demolition could be years away. For the remaining social tenants in the borough – almost 40% of the population – there would be no prospect of re-housing for 20 years as the displaced residents took the few homes that become available.

But the targeted estates are places that all types of people wish to live – from pensioners and young families to first-time buyers and professionals. Many millions of pounds of public money have been spent on them under the Decent Homes programme. There is no need to destroy these communities. Residents are naturally furious at the proposals and don’t want to be forced into smaller homes at higher rents.

This is social engineering on a grand scale, and it is being recommended to the national Conservative Party hierarchy as the way forward in housing: no security, high rents, no duty to house the homeless, not even right to buy.

The secret council documents suggest H&F council’s policy to destroy communities they brand “not decent” may be unlawful, as well as immoral. Council officers are writing Tory party policy using council taxpayers' money. But, far worse, poor and vulnerable people in H&F are being used as guinea pigs in a dishonest and destructive socio-political experiment.