05 April 2011

Latest news on Sure Start cuts, closure of Kensington Olympia and more from Andy Slaughter MP

  • Sure Start protests grow as closures confirmed
  • HS2
  • Kensington Olympia
  • Libya
  • March for the Alternative
  • Nottingham People's Forum
  • Justice
  • Other things

Sure Start protests grow as closures confirmed

On Mothers’ Day I joined mums and dads from Hammersmith in delivering a petition to Samantha Cameron opposing the cuts to Sure Start centres in England. 2,000 of the 52,000 signatures came from the Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush centres threatened with closure.

Last Wednesday we handed the Hammersmith petition into the Town Hall after a ‘buggy push’ by around 100 local parents and carers from Wendell Park and Cathnor Park Children’s Centres.  The same day the Council published its latest plans – even more cuts - while at Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron said, “there is money available in the Budget to keep Sure Start open. That money is not being reduced.”

The 45% cut in Sure Start is the most shocking part of the £67 million cuts to local services.  Alongside cuts to after school and play schemes, youth clubs, playground and school building programmes it shows how children will pay disproportionately for the Tories’ economic policies.  But they are anything but honest about their plans.

Back in January I found hidden in a council report a proposal to close nine of the 15 Children’s Centres in the borough. After agreeing the cuts of almost half the £4 million budget the council, under pressure from local parents, proposed a token £19,000 for the closing centres ‘for upkeep of the premises’ - and then started a consultation!

Despite all the protests, the only changes now proposed are a further cut of £180,000 from the budgets of those ‘hub’ centres that are staying open, only £47,000 of which will go back to the ‘spokes’, the rest being retained by the Council at its discretion. For Shepherds Bush Families’ Project, who are also being moved to far less suitable premises, this means an extra £1,000 - £20,000 in total instead of their current £250,000.

Parents Unite, who have organised the campaign so far, will be lobbying the Cabinet meeting that will make the final decision on Sure Start at 7pm on 18 April at Hammersmith Town Hall – please come and show your support. The council leader was keen to piggy-back on the success of Sure Start when he attended the opening of Wendell Park two years ago saying: ‘this centre will be an outstanding example of joining up services for local children and families’. Wendell loses 90% of its funding in his plans.

I support high speed rail – and the current proposed route of HS2, the £17 billion line between London Euston and Birmingham.  Of course, it helps that the main interchange will be in Old Oak and apart from bringing a new Crossrail, Heathrow and Great Western station to Shepherds Bush, will provide a direct route to the rest of Britain and Europe.  There are supporters and opponents in all Parties, but we had a surprisingly unacrimonious debate in the Commons this week.  

Given the hard time HS2 will get from rural communities as its consultation moves out of London you would have thought they would make it easy for local residents here – who are largely supportive – to find out more.  But their miserable hut hidden away by the Holland Park roundabout on Friday was less than adequate and I have asked them to put on further sessions in Old Oak itself.

Kensington Olympia
TFL has announced the withdrawal of all weekday District Line services to Kensington Olympia station.  This closure will come as a blow to residents and businesses in and around Olympia.

It is outrageous for TFL to close down this valuable link, which is now an important rail interchange, with no public consultation. It is harmful particularly to those with limited mobility who will now be nearly 20 minutes from the nearest underground station.

With Overground services, including the West London line, getting busier this should be an opportunity to increase the use of Olympia which serves one of the most densely–populated areas of London.

Bizarrely, local Tories not only agree with the closure but lobbied for it.

I spoke last week at a meeting of over a hundred representatives of Britain’s Arab communities at the House of Commons.  Chaired by Keith Vaz MP, the meeting also heard speeches from Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander.  Ed took questions including from many Libyans resident in Britain.  Separately, I met representatives of Hammersmith’s large Arab community.  There remains a high level of support for humanitarian intervention to stop atrocities by Gaddafi’s forces, but Britain and France in particular appear to be pursuing a policy of regime change for which there is no mandate. This view was expressed by speaker after speaker in the Commons last week.

March for the Alternative

Last weekend around half a million people descended on Hyde Park to let the Government know that their spending cuts were hurting, but not working. They came from every part of the UK, a complete cross-section of the population by age, background and occupation, united in opposing the destruction of valued public services.
The march had a carnival atmosphere as the crowd was treated to a mixture of music, poetry and speeches from a range of guests including Ed Miliband.  The day was the perfect opportunity to show what the real Big Society looks like when it comes together in a common cause.  And also to remind the Government that a majority of the electorate voted at the General Election for a slower, more sensible deficit reduction plan.

Both the Labour Party and the Lib Dems went into the General Election with a promise to cut the deficit gradually as growth was secured.  Nick Clegg argued  “if we cut public spending too quickly we risk undermining nascent recovery.”  Unfortunately Nick no longer agrees with Nick, and the absence of any Lib Dems from the rally was noticeable.

I went with about 30 members of Hammersmith Labour Party and met up with trade unionists, Party members and MPs from all over the country.

Nottingham People’s Forum

Last week the whole Labour front bench travelled to Nottingham for the People’s Policy Forum - an opportunity for everyone to discuss their policy priorities with Labour’s shadow government. Over 2,000 people attended and I spent four hours fielding questions on crime and justice – from sentencing and prisons to police numbers and legal aid cuts.

GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips and comedian Eddie Izzard hosted the main event – 90 minutes of question and answer with Ed Miliband. The views expressed echoed those I hear every week on doorsteps in Hammersmith: anger at the Coalition making decisions neither Party supported before the election and frustration at excessive and irreversible cuts to public services.

A busy week as the government rushed out a number of new proposals on reform of the justice system.  We were critical of their plans to make claimants pay from their damages the costs of recovering compensation for personal injuries, less so of their tendering process for prisons.  But no decision yet on their disastrous proposals to cut legal aid by up to 90% for the most vulnerable, and a defeat for the Government by over 60 votes in the House of Lords on the abolition of the very successful Youth Justice Board.

Other things
  • A meeting with the NHS top management for London confirmed cuts of at least 4% a year – so much for Cameron’s promised increase in real terms.
  • The Prostate Cancer Charity, based in Hammersmith, held a very successful launch of its latest campaign at the Commons.
  • Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, of which I am vice-chair, held its annual reception for over a hundred MPs, Peers and supporters and heard speeches from Douglas Alexander, Peter Hain and the Palestinian Ambassador
  • Hammersmith firm Betfair wrote to let me know that they would be giving £10,000 to the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre, which organises riding for disabled children. I asked them to link up with the Centre after I visited earlier this year and was hugely impressed by the work done by Mary Joy Langdon and the staff and volunteers. Betfair will continue to donate, help with other fundraising and encourage their staff to help out at the Centre.
  • I met Thames Water to talk about the Thames Tunnel. There will be further consultation later this year but it now looks like they will be ending the main bore in south Fulham and extending a further link to the Acton storm tanks picking up the outflows from Hammersmith en route – with no major works in Hammersmith or Shepherds Bush.
  • The Guardian exposed the council’s development strategy – building luxury flats for Far Eastern investors. The block in question - in Glenthorne Road - has no affordable housing for local people because the council agreed to delete this from the plans after the developer pleaded poverty. You can guess what this portends for the more lucrative Hammersmith Town Hall, Fulham Reach and West Ken sites.


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

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