11 April 2011

Andy Slaughter MP's latest punchy news and views

  • Fulham Cross Youth Project to Close
  • Furnish
  • Uncertain Future for Riverside
  • NHS
  • Libya
  • 'Pravda' Ends As It Began - With a Big Lie

Fulham Cross Youth Project to Close
Fulham Cross Youth Project (FCXP) in Lillee Road closes this Friday, the fourth youth club the council is shutting, leaving only three in the borough. I found out about the latest closure a few weeks ago when two of the young people who both use and help at the Project, Louis Scott and Lewis Williams, came to my surgery with a petition signed by hundreds of local people that said:

‘FXYP is a local youth club that caters for many young people between the ages of 11 and 19, 25 if you have a disability. The club has a basketball and football court, a communal area with entertainment facilities, which has a kitchen situated inside. There is also computer room and an art room which is used for homework club – our youth project is truly a home away from home for many of us.'

It is a great building, with dedicated staff – who will lose their jobs – and above all many ambitious, mature young people who rely on the project to give them opportunities they don’t get from home or school. This is the sort of venture the Council should be starting up not closing down.

In the run up to the Election last year, partly because their parliamentary candidate was a youth worker, the Tories denied they had plans to any more close youth clubs after the bad publicity they got closing Townmead two years ago. Since then White City and Avonmore have closed and now Fulham Cross. The cuts were sneaked out last August as a personal decision of the Council Leader, not even going to Committee. They will have cut over £1 million from youth services by the time Fulham Cross closes, but the real objective is to empty the buildings for private sale. Townmead was marketed for £4 million, Avonmore and Fulham Cross will be up for sale if the council’s Cabinet authorises this on 18 April – at the same meeting the nine Sure Start centres are being closed. By disposing of land and buildings as well as cutting funding the Tories hope to ensure that, if and when we regain control of the council in 2014, it will be impossible to build essential services up again.

Nationally, the government’s cuts programme affects women, children and the poorest families disproportionately, but H&F have taken a particular aim at children’s services: school budgets and building programmes, Sure Start, after-school centres, playgrounds and now youth clubs have seen cuts of up to 50%, way beyond the 27% over three years local government has to find.

This week I visited Furnish, a local business that is providing offenders with productive work. Run by Shepherds Bush Housing Association, Furnish collects donated furniture and sells it at bargain rates to people moving into new homes who can’t afford to buy at full price. The offenders working there are part of the Probation Service’s Social Enterprise Programme, part-funded by the EU. In the past year Furnish collected 170 tonnes of furniture, made 1,537 collections of donated furniture and delivered to over 800 homes. This helps reduce the amount of furniture lost to landfill.

SBHA is the third biggest social landlord in Hammersmith and, unlike H&F Council and Notting Hill Housing Trust, still sees its role as helping people on low incomes find decent affordable homes locally. They were too charitable to mention the problems Furnish is facing have been caused by the Council increasing the rent on its warehouses in Scrubs Lane by £77,000 this year, or the loss of work placements from the Job Centre when the Coalition government cancelled Labour’s highly successful Future Jobs Fund – both of which threaten its viability.

A separate link up between SBHA and Latchmere Open Prison allows offenders near release to get work experience renovating flats before new tenants move in. Two of the ex-offenders I met were offered permanent jobs and are now training others to follow them.

Uncertain Future for Riverside
It is a sign of the times that the Bush Theatre (11% cut), the Lyric (5%) and the Bhavan Centre (18%) probably breathed sighs of relief when Arts Council England announced its grants this week.

No comfort for Riverside Studios however that has lost all its ACE funding. Riverside is one of the great artistic venues in a Borough that has many, from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts to the BBC, as well as those mentioned above. We must ensure its survival on its current site, especially given the Council and St George property developers would like to get hold of the site for more tower block developments around Hammersmith Bridge.

I’ve been responding to the hundreds of email and letters I’ve received about the Tories’ plans to privatise and carve up the NHS, and it was one of the topics raised when I did the politics hour on LBC this week, for the first time in some months.

Three months ago Clegg was boasting that the reforms were his idea, and Lansley and Cameron were refusing to listen to reason from doctors, patients or experts like the King’s Fund. Readers of this newsletter will know the fears I have heard expressed from local GPs, primary care, Imperial and the Mental Health Trust. A ‘pause’ in legislation is no good – presumably they intend to wait until the fuss dies down and then press on. What the NHS needs is stability both in its budget (the growth Cameron promised not the 8% cuts we are facing locally) and organisation.

I spoke about the humanitarian crisis in Libya in a Commons debate on Tuesday. Since then further civilian and rebel deaths at Coalition hands have emphasised the delicate balance between protection of human rights and aggression. We do still have a role in stopping the attacks on cities like Misrata but Coalition intervention is getting closer and closer to arming the rebels and forcing regime change, which is not what the UN or the Commons voted for.

My attempt to praise William Hague failed when he denied press reports I put to him that the EU was about to recognise a Palestinian state. But the pressure from non-aligned countries is growing and it is only a matter of time before a majority of the UN lose patience with the stalemate and the expansion of Israeli settlements into Palestinian territory, now restricted to little more than 10% of historic Palestine.

'Pravda' Ends As It Began - With a Big Lie
Deceit and hypocrisy have been the journalistic watchwords of H&FNews since it began sliding through our letterboxes five years ago. In that time millions in taxpayers’ money has been spent on a vanity publishing exercise that has ranged from political bias to nauseating self-promotion of Stephen Greenhalgh and his chums.

In announcing its demise the headline claimed ‘all the costs were met by income from advertising revenue’. They were not. Only the printing and distribution costs were covered by advertising, some of which was by the council itself, some pinched from the Chronicle in an attempt to close that independent source down. The staffing, accommodation and overhead costs were all paid for by the Council, that is you and me.

And they will be still – H&F are going to pay the Chronicle to carry their propaganda, no doubt hoping to influence that paper to go easy on them too. I hope it doesn’t. This is contrary to the new Publicity Code introduced by their own Government. All opponents of state propaganda should complain to the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles.

Meanwhile the Leader of the Council lamented ‘it was never able to hold us to account’. Ignore the staggering hypocrisy of the statement, H&FNews did a lot more than censor any criticism and headline every word of self-praise of Britain’s most controversial council. It tried and probably succeeded in winning elections for the Tories. Not Hammersmith's parliamentary seat, although by banning all mention of my name for five years, they had a go. But the remorseless one-sided presentation of everything the Council, the Government, EU, Thames Water or the NHS did depending on who was running it may have helped them pick up Council seats.

And yet I shall almost miss it – where else could you find headlines like this week’s 'Children’s centre numbers rise following consultation', describing a decision to close 9 of the 15 Sure Start centres opened by Labour and reduce the budgets of the remaining 6 yet further?


To contact Andy, e-mail him at andy@andyslaughter.com or call his office on 020 7610 1950

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