27 August 2011

FT: West London Free School's pupils "will come from richer backgrounds than those in surrounding state schools"

Last summer, all Hammersmith & Fulham schools lost out when Michael Gove abolished the Building Schools for the Future programme. This weekend, the Financial Times has confirmed that the government is giving Toby Young's West London Free School £15 million: see here.

We have nothing against the WLFS per se. We all need to keep striving for better secondary education in the borough. But as the FT also points out in an interview with Toby Young today, "The £15m that will have been spent by the Department for Education on the new school’s buildings would, it could be argued, otherwise have gone into repairing or expanding existing schools." See here.

The WLFS claims it will operate a fair and non-selective admissions policy. We note Toby Young's claim to the FT that its old-fashioned curriculum is “very appealing to working-class parents, immigrants ... The proof will be in the pudding.” 

Yet as the FT also point out, "the early portents are that the school’s pupils will come from richer backgrounds than those in surrounding state schools. Initial estimates suggest that about 17 per cent of the entry are eligible for free school meals – an indicator of poverty. Other local state secondary schools have a rate of 31 per cent."

This is worrying.

Andy Slaughter MP's latest news and views

  • Cuts begin to bite
  • Children forced out of school
  • Voluntary sector loses £1,000,000
  • William Morris pupils lose £350,000
  • Boris Johnson to cut Met by 2,000 officers
  • Hammersmith Park for sale
  • Minister attacks opponents of unrestrained development
  • Arab Spring
  • Coulson
  • Results!

Cuts begin to bite
Details are beginning to emerge of the effect on local public services of the cuts being pushed through by all levels of government, and they make dramatic reading.
  • Over 1,000 children will have to leave borough schools as their families are uprooted by Housing Benefit cuts
  • Local voluntary groups will lose £1,000,000 over the next three years
  • Cuts to Education  Maintenance Allowance will cost one school alone £350,000 a year from next year
  • Despite the riots of two weeks ago, the Mayor is pressing ahead with 20% cuts in police numbers
  • The Council is selling one third of a local park – described as a ‘drain on resources’ – to ‘generate a substantial income’
But life remains good for developers in Hammersmith & Fulham, who are pressing ahead with plans to demolish local housing and build blocks up to 30 storeys across the borough. Opponents of such schemes are guilty of ‘nihilistic selfishness’ according to one Government minister this week.

And for senior council officers, who have awarded themselves massive pay rises while cutting jobs and freezing pay for the lower paid.  Hammersmith & Fulham have given their Chief Executive an £11,000 a year pay rise, according to the Chronicle, making him the second highest paid person in local government on £280,000 a year.  Not bad for running one of the smallest London boroughs

Summer appears to be over in Hammersmith & Fulham

Children forced out of school
For some months I have been requesting information on the effect of the Government’s cuts to Housing Benefit on Hammersmith & Fulham families.  I understand why the council wants to conceal this information as it will mean hundreds of families uprooted and forced to leave their homes, moving to parts of the country where rents are lower.  Many will be in low paid work where HB makes up the difference between what they can afford and the high rents charged by private landlords in west London.  So they will lose jobs as well as homes and be forced to move far away from friends and families.

But I have obtained figures for the number of children who will be forced to change school. 884 primary and 322 secondary age children will be forced out of borough schools, 10% and 5% of the total school population respectively.  Leaving aside the human consequences, this will have serious implications for schools, both their budgets and future planning.  But the council sounds pleased with the outcome, describing it as reducing ‘the exceptionally high demand we currently have’.
By definition these children will be from poorer families and this may explain the council’s glee.  Without the need for the estate demolition and service closures they are proposing elsewhere and which have provoked local opposition and national censure, they can press on with the social changes to the area they wish to engineer.

Voluntary sector loses £1,000,000
The Big Society is supposed to be about voluntary organisations taking on the responsibilities of the state.  Not here, where community organisations are under siege.  Masbro’s summer party last week attracted over 1,000 people, an eloquent response to the £45,000 cut to its funding the week before.

But this is only one of many long-standing and essential services losing out.  Staying Put, the homelessness prevention service, will lose £60,000 from October, and the overall loss will be £1,000,000 from a budget of £4 million by 2014.

William Morris pupils lose £350,000
Education Maintenance Allowance supports poorer pupils post-16.  It pays for travel, books and living expenses and at up to £30 a week can make a real difference to family income.  Without it many students are likely to drop out of education, which not only increases social inequality but leaves many more teenagers on the streets with no money or useful employment, with potentially explosive results.

So there was an outcry when the Government abolished EMA, and they promised an alternative.  What that alternative means to just one local school, William Morris Sixth Form, emerged this week.  No more than 25% of pupils will be eligible compared with 70% now and they will on average get half the current rate.  When the new scheme is fully implemented next year this will mean £350,000 less going to WMSF pupils.

WMSF is an outstanding school, as its last two Ofsted reports have confirmed.  The fact that 70% of pupils receive EMA is evidence of the level of deprivation of its student intake.  Those same students have just achieved excellent A Level and GCSE results.

Boris Johnson to cut Met by 2,000 officers
Hardly a popular idea before the London riots, the Mayor of London’s decision, backed by the Home Secretary, to press on with 20% cuts in police numbers, now looks unwise if not dangerous.  1,900 warranted officers and larger numbers of PCSO and support staff will go over the next three years if Boris Johnson is re-elected in May 2012.

Locally, we are facing the disruption of our Safer Neighbourhood Teams as all the team sergeants in the borough compete for fewer jobs.  Campaigns to save the popular sergeants in North End and Sands End wards have already started ahead of a formal announcement next month.

With other London MPs I have written to the Mayor to ask him to think again about reducing police numbers.

Also this month came news that crime is rising in the borough after years of reduction, with burglary up a staggering 16% in the last year.

Hammersmith Park for sale
For the third time in as many months the Council is trying to build on or sell off parts of our parks.  After defeats at the hands of residents’ groups in South Park and Shepherds Bush Common, 30% of Hammersmith Park is now up for sale.

Earlier this year the Tory councillor responsible for parks promised my colleague Iain Coleman that the well-used but unsafe football pitches in South Africa Road, in Iain’s ward, would be upgraded.  Now we see what that promise was worth.
A private company will be leased not just the pitches but adjoining areas of the Park, almost a third of the total area according to the Council.  This is described as an ‘issue’ site ‘which is currently a drain on resources’.  Curious language to describe a public park, you might think (PDF).

The private company, PlayFootball, whose involvement was rumoured months ago before the ‘tender’ exercise to select them, will build a pavilion on the site and 11 pitches.  All but two of these will be rented out commercially.  They will make a lot of money from this. So will the Council which expects to generate ‘a substantial income’.  The losers will be my constituents in White City and Shepherds Bush who will not be able to afford to play football on their local pitches.

Two important principles are being dispensed with here.  Firstly, the sale of public open space for private profit has always been resisted strongly in this borough.  Secondly, the Council is refusing to give details of the lease, the service delivery plan or the charging structure.  The first two are commercially confidential it says, so we cannot know how long the Park will be in private hands or how much the rental is.  The last is because the charging rates are not agreed.  In other words the Park has been sold without knowing what local residents will pay to use the pitches.

Minister attacks opponents of unrestrained development
I’ve never thought of the National Trust as an anarchist organisation, but apparently it is, according to planning minister Greg Clark who this week accused it of ‘nihilistic selfishness’ for criticising the Government’s  recent decree that there would, for the first time in the UK, be a ‘presumption’ in favour of development.

If the rest of the country wants to know what that means (along with the presumption in favour of asset sales that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles embraced this month) they need only come to H&F.

This autumn we can expect planning applications for the Shepherds Bush Market site, including the demolition of the Goldhawk Road shops, Westfield’s plans for 1,700 flats up to 22 storeys in Wood Lane, and St George’s 750 shoeboxes on the riverside.

Helical Bar’s revised plans for the Town Hall site have been universally condemned.  They propose to shave 30 flats off the top of the 15-storey towers, but that still means the loss of the cinema, Pocklington Trust flats and part of Furnivall Gardens.  The Planning Inspector’s report on the Council’s overall planning strategy this month specifically called for the retention of Pocklington properties for the visually impaired and 40% affordable housing in such schemes: currently there is 0%.  For more go to www.saveourskyline.co.uk.

The West Ken/Earl’s Court application, with buildings up to 30 floors high, is currently out to consultation.  This is by far the biggest and least digestible scheme currently out for approval. 

The developer intends to take 20 years to complete the scheme.  What this means in terms of disruption for the whole of north Fulham is barely imaginable, but for the residents who will lose their homes it is far worse.

This week I received confirmation that the Council will not allow Groundwork to undertake planned improvements on the West Ken estate.  Residents have faced three years of blight and uncertainty already.  Last month the council sold the option on demolishing their homes for £15 million.  If the plans are approved they face years, perhaps decades, living on a building site with a freeze on maintenance and improvement works.

Arab Spring
I share the delight at the downfall of the Gaddafi regime, but I believe we will come to regret the way NATO has abuse the terms of the UN Resolution supporting intervention.  I voted, with some reservation, for the imposition of a no-fly zone and the use of air power to protect civilians, when the Commons debated this at the start of the insurrection.

I was not voting – nor was the UN – for British and French forces to become the aerial and, increasingly, special forces arm of one side in a civil war.  I hope that a stable and democratic government can be quickly established in Libya and that the EU can play a role in building institutions in the country, but who is going to believe or support any future resolution about humanitarian intervention, however well merited.

The comparison with Syria becomes starker every day.  So far the British Government has not thought of derecognising the Assad government, expelling Syrian diplomats or imposing effective sanctions against the regime.
Last week I met a leading Syrian dissident Haitham Al-Maleh.  This week he was in Istanbul as part of the Syrian National Council, the first concerted attempt to unite all opposition forces.

With the death toll climbing towards 3,000 it is time the Government focused on Syria and offered all possible support, short of military action which they do not want, to the anti-Assad forces.

Meanwhile, Shepherds Bush did its own bit for Egyptian unity this week.  The Egyptian Association in the UK brought together Muslim and Christian Egyptians from across the UK for a traditional Iftar meal.  It also marked my second fast in a week, following attendance at Al-Muntada’s Ramadan Community dinner.

Finally, next month will see a push for Palestine to be recognised as a sovereign state and admitted to the UN.  123 countries already recognise Palestine’s right to exist, a handful short of the two thirds needed.  The pre-1967 territories of West Bank and Gaza which there is now consensus amongst Palestinians should form the basis of the state represent only half the area the UN demarcated in 1948. And yet Foreign Secretary William Hague has said Britain is ‘not minded’ to support recognition.

This is a spineless and incoherent response in the face of pressure from Israel and the US.  A petition has just been started on the Downing Street website calling for UK support for recognition which I urge everyone to sign.

The revelation that ex-Cameron press secretary Andy Coulson received hundreds of thousands of pounds from News International while working for the Tory Party is profoundly significant for three separate reasons.

Firstly, it means he appears to have consistently lied about his income both to Select Committees and on official documents.  This further questions Cameron’s judgment in employing (twice) someone to work at the top of Government, whom he continued to see as a friend after Coulson resigned earlier this year.

Secondly, it raises the question what did Murdoch get for all this money that he did not contractually have to pay to someone who had resigned in disgrace from the organisation.  What he appears to have got is his own man at the heart of the government in waiting at a time that both his war with the BBC and bid to takeover BSkyB were at their height.

Thirdly, what did Cameron get by taking on soiled goods and not asking questions about who was funding Coulson’s lifestyle? Increasingly it looks as though Coulson was employed and retained for so long because of, not in spite of, his conduct at News International.

With only one exception that I have come across, there has been warm praise for the achievements of local schools and pupils at this year’s excellent A Level and GCSE results.  Can I add my congratulations to the hundreds of students and teachers who worked so hard to achieve their best.  And to the Chronicle for its comprehensive school by school coverage.


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

15 August 2011

Official: Hammersmith council cuts over £600,000 from police budget with more to come

Those who follow HFConwatch on Twitter will know that trying to get Hammersmith Tory Cllr Greg Smith to admit how much his council has cut from its crime budget is like pulling teeth. Now the Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle has confirmed that over £600,000 is being slashed from this year's budget and that "additional council cuts will be made over the next two years" (see here).

Multiply that by the three years of the budget and it comes to nearly £2 million cut, which is about what we've been saying all along.

Mr Smith says borough commander Lucy D'Orsi is happy with the reduced police numbers. Nearly as happy, we'd imagine, as having words put in her mouth when she can't disagree publicly.

Btw, to see Ms D'Orsi's latest update, click here.

Sign petition to stop Boris's police cuts

Despite criticising David Cameron for reducing police numbers, Tory Mayor Boris Johnson is still going ahead with his own plans to axe 1,800 Met officers. Boris is ultimately responsible for the Met and its budget, so his calls to halt police cuts are highly hypocritical.

Boris should:
  • abandon his plans to force 600 London police sergeants to reapply for their own jobs. They should be focusing on making the streets safe for Londoners, not worrying about their own jobs. 
  • drop his plan to cut 300 sergeants from London's 630 safer neighbourhood teams. 
  • reverse his decision to cut 1800 police officers in London over the next three years. 

If you think the Mayor should be cutting crime, not the police, please sign this petition.

Andy Slaughter MP on the riots and the way forward

  • The riots - one week on
  • Shepherds Bush Festival
  • Save our Riverfront
  • Another victory

The riots - one week on

Last week there was political consensus that law and order must be restored before politicians started analysing why the riots happened and what should be done to prevent a recurrence.

Today, that analysis started with speeches from both Cameron and Miliband, and consensus there is none.

There is a danger that all commentators faced by dramatic events like these simply use them to state their own agendas and long-held views, making the facts fit a pet theory.  This is as true of Iain Duncan Smith blaming moral collapse as of Polly Toynbee saying after condemnation and punishment, what then if not rehabilitation?

I will try and be aware of my own prejudices in writing this, though obviously I am closer to Miliband’s plea to avoid knee-jerk reactions than to calls for National Service (Daily Express) or boot camps (Boris Johnson).

I have written in my article for this week’s Chronicle why I think Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush escaped serious violence, based on what police officers at PC and Commander level told me and my own 50 years of living and working in this community.

I do not mean this to sound complacent.  Riots by definition are volatile.  It could have happened here.  It might in the future.  But a strong community and a dynamic police force – prepared to pre-empt trouble whether by talking it down or arresting those fomenting it – are the best preventative tools.

Let me start by thanking our new Borough Commander, Lucy D’Orsi, and every one of her officers who showed both courage and intelligence in keeping our streets, homes and businesses safe.

Let me also thank the thousands of community workers and volunteers, people like Andy Sharpe at Masbro and Keith Da Silva at Fulham Cross, who I have worked with over decades, and who give their time and energy selflessly to build and support the lives of young people and adults locally.

The riots were criminal acts.  They had no political motivation.  There was a catalyst in the shooting of Mark Duggan, but no causal link to what then mushroomed from area to area around first London, then many major English cities.  There was no racial theme, no particular local issues.  Gangs played a part – and need to be taken seriously by the Mayor and the Met irrespective of the riots – as did electronic communication in coordinating the mob, but are not explanations in themselves.

I have said what I thought averted riots here but beyond opportunity and a growing sense of social dislocation, there is no easy explanation for what happened when and where it did.  Which is why we need a full inquiry, not instant ‘solutions’ based on prejudice.

The most worrying consistent factor in the riots is the age of some of those involved.  Children in their early teens took part in violence and looting perhaps for the first time in the UK.  This above all makes the need to deal with causes as well as symptoms the number one priority for this Government.

The right approach
The streets are quiet today, in part because of the number of officers patrolling.  But trouble could flare up again any night.  We must keep policing visible and at enhanced levels.  Hammersmith has a tradition of engaged policing that goes back to previous Commanders like Kevin Hurley and Anthony Wills.  Other areas could learn a lot from that.

It should be beyond argument that cuts in frontline policing are restored, but at national, London and local level they are going ahead.  George Osborne and Theresa May confirmed that 16,000 officers nationally will still be axed.  Boris Johnson claims he is converted to reversing the cuts but he has already lost 455 officers, announced the loss of 300 safer neighbourhood sergeants and plans to lose 1,900 in total by 2015 if re-elected.

In Hammersmith we are losing at least four sergeants with further cuts across council services from Parks Police, town centre teams and wardens.  To this we can add the cuts to youth clubs – most of which have been closed and are now being sold off – and the voluntary sector, like the £45,000 cut from Masbro last week.  This was always wrong, now it looks short-sighted as well.

As someone who practised criminal law for many years, I trust the courts to deal fairly but firmly with those convicted of offences arising from the riots. But again I worry that the cuts in Youth Offending Teams (20% this year), probation and the prison service will mean both punishment and rehabilitation, let alone prevention, will be under-resourced for years to come.

Rising youth unemployment, cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance and £9,000 a year tuition fees will all mean more young people on the streets with time on their hands and no stake in society.  None of this excuses criminal behaviour, but right-wing politicians are simpleminded if they think it will not lead to increased crime and disorder.

It is time for Osborne’s Plan B (aka Labour’s Plan A) – cuts to the most sensitive public services must be reversed and the economy stimulated not shut down.

The wrong approach
David Cameron is blaming the police and setting them up to fail.  Talk of bringing in US policing or police chiefs undermines the police service here. Publicly offering the police water cannon, which they have declined, means that if further disturbance breaks out he can blame them for not taking up his offer.  Saying that he ordered the police to be more robust in tackling rioters is simply not true.

This is Government by PR and gimmickry.  Poor at any time, positively dangerous at present.
Iain Duncan Smith is on the lookout for evil people who, bereft of moral values, are hiding in dark corners of society.  I doubt he will find any but it is an excuse to evict families from secure homes and to deduct benefits from poor families.  How punishing a household for the actions of an individual is either equitable or rational, I don’t know, but it has been repeated by politicians seeking soundbites and at a loss for real answers from Nick Clegg to Tory councillors in H&F.

Promising to evict families from council homes if a member of the family is convicted of an offence implies council tenants are more prone to criminal behaviour and that they should have a greater punishment than others committing similar crimes.  Of course, the Council has no power to evict in most cases, that is a matter for the courts and this is gesture politics, but if families are evicted and on the streets how is that going to aid social cohesion?

But nothing can beat for crass opportunism Chelsea and South Fulham MP Greg Hands.  In over 30 messages to his constituents over the past week only three have mentioned the effect of the disorder on his constituency, where there were serious incidents, and those were from newspaper reports.  The majority have been personal attacks on me and other Labour politicians.  Many of these are simply untrue – all are irrelevant to his residents and the job he is paid to do.    Less time spent on political spite and more serving his constituents would be good for them and in the long run for him as well.

Shepherds Bush Festival

I spent Saturday afternoon at the Shepherds Bush Festival, held on the Green for the second year running.  The Festival is organised from scratch by local resident Joanna Berridge who missed the Masbro Carnival that was a feature of the area for many years.  It is a fantastic achievement – all the more so this year with no lottery funding.  From the live music to tutoring on playwriting by the Bush Theatre to superb jerk chicken and curried goat it was a great day out – even enjoyed by passing QPR and Bolton fans.

Save our Riverfront

Visit www.saveourriverfront.co.uk  to read about the latest fightback against greedy developers and their councillor mates intent on ruining Hammersmith’s historic riverside.  On 14 September plans for 750 high-rise flats next to Hammersmith Bridge go to H&F planning committee.  Local residents opposing the scheme are holding a public meeting at St Augustine’s Church, 55 Fulham Palace Road W6 8AU at 7pm on 6 September.

Curiously at the last committee on 3 August, a much smaller scheme on a neighbouring site, Queen’s Wharf, was turned down for all the reasons that apply to the Hammersmith Embankment site – density, lack of affordable housing, height, effect on the conservation area.  The difference is Queen’s Wharf is owned by a housing association the council doesn’t want to do business with.

Another victory

Congratulations to the friends of South Park who have won a planning inquiry against the Council to stop the development of more public open space.  Coming so soon after Shepherds Bush Green was saved from tarmac this is a further sign that we are not friendless in the battle with the Luddites at the town hall.  It was an ancient covenant which saved Clancarty Lodge in South Park, as was the case with Shepherds Bush Library – saved from sale and now home to the Bush Theatre.  Elsewhere Grove Neighbourhood Centre and Masbro have been kept as community resources because the previous Labour council gave the users long leases – I wish we’d done that more often.  Of course, this doesn’t stop the Tories cutting grants, as with the Masbro’s sudden loss of £45,000 last week, but it means that unlike the youth clubs and other buildings already sold at auction, they will be there for future generations.


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

How Hammersmith residents are fighting back against property speculators

As H&F Tory councillors spare no efforts to prove themselves the property developer's best friend, local residents are fighting back. They are not party political. They simply want to save where they live.

Save Our Riverfront (SOR) is a new, non-party group just set up to get the council to take a more reasonable approach to developing Hammersmith Embankment (which the developers and council have renamed Fulham Reach), rather than impose 750 properties of up to 9 storeys high, which would block light, destroy protected river views, strain transport, increase traffice and parking problems and offer no new social housing.  The Hammersmith Society has long been opposed, saying this would "do permanent damage to Hammersmith’s historic riverside" (see here and here).

SOR are holding a public meeting on 6 September: details here. You can also lodge your own objections with planning officers: see here for how.

The Friends of South Park have just helped to fight off the council's plans to sell Clancarty Lodge in the park's north-west corner. After a government planning inspector ruled against this, Julie Lane, vice chairman of the Friends of South Park, said, "This is an issue that really galvanised the community." See here for details.

Save our Skyline and The Hammersmith Society are continuing to battle the council's plans to build two, monstrous, 14-storey luxury blocks of flats and a supermarket on King Street, demolishing an art deco cinema and a home for the blind in the process and destroying a third of Furnival Gardens with a footbridge so the luxury flat dwellers don't have to cross King Street to get to the river. "Mere tinkering of a still wholly unacceptable scheme. It is still a disgrace to Hammersmith" is how SoS's chair John Jones describes the cosmetic changes just proposed by the King Street Deveolopment company (KSD).

Meanwhile, KSD's director Matthew Bonning-Snook has cocked a snook at a more sensitive proposal by a group of local architects by saying, "Our primary objective is to deliver this much needed investment to the area". Translation: "This wouldn't make us so much money". See here.

Well done to all the local people involved and more power to their elbow!

Help the police identify the criminals

The Met have posted more pictures here of people who committed criminal acts in the violent disturbances.

If you recognise anyone or have any information about the disorder, please contact the Major Investigation Team on 020 8345 4142 or speak anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The Labour alternative to Tory police cuts in Hammersmith

At a time like this, Hammersmith & Fulham's Tory council should not be cutting one in four police sergeants (from 16 to 12) says Labour opposition leader Steve Cowan, who adds that restoring the sergeants "should just be the start of having a more comprehensive strategy to tackle crime and disorder in our Borough." 

Cllr Cowan proposes making savings to pay for the police we need by reducing the number of council directors and highly-paid consultants, ending the council's controversial propaganda budget and halting the £35 million new Town Hall offices scheme.

He says: "Just for the record, should Labour win control of the Council in 2014, I stand by our promises and confirm we will invest more in crime prevention and policing than the current Conservative run Council. We will restore the sergeants and provide all of the Borough’s sixteen wards with extra 24/7 police task squad protection."

See Cllr Cowan's blog here for details.

13 August 2011

Hammersmith's budget shows £2.2m police cuts but Cllr Greg Smith says no. So what's the figure?

We had a Twitter exchange yesterday with Tory Hammersmith & Fulham councillor Greg Smith, who leads on Residents' Services, about his cuts to the crime and anti-social behaviour budget. We asked Cllr Smith repeatedly to confirm the value of the cuts, which we believe total £2.212m, and he repeatedly evaded the question (see below). Why is he being so uncharacteristically coy?

Below are the relevant extracts from the council's February budget for everyone to see. The page numbers and a link to the full document are here. (Note: "Rationalisation" is just another word for cuts and "FTEs" are full-time equivalent jobs.)

We think this means:

  • £2.2m cuts over three years. 
  • A resulting reduction in on-street enforcement, out-of-hours services, police working hours and Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams
  • A loss of 12 full-time policemen and other crime-fighters or a loss of a greater number of part-timers.
If Cllr Smith still disagrees, let him drop the waffle and tell us clearly what figures he is working to.

12 August 2011

Tell Cllr Greg Smith to stop the police cuts in Hammersmith & Fulham

Concerns about cuts to local policing were also raised at the public meeting yesterday evening. Hammersmith and Fulham's Tory councilBoris Johnson (whatever spinning he is doing now) and David Cameron have all signed off on plans to slash funding. This was always dangerously short-sighted. Today, we need a rethink.

The H&F councillor responsible for steering through cuts in the crime budget is Greg Smith, Cabinet Member for Residents Services, known for his short temper and foul mouth (see here). He was the only Tory councillor we could see at the meeting (Labour opposition leader Steve Cowan was there with many colleagues).

If you think Greg has got it wrong and should reverse the local police cuts, you can email him at greg.smith@lbhf.gov.uk.

So where do we go from here?

One of the most useful points made at last night's  public meeting in Hammersmith with the local police, led by Chief Superintendent Lucy D’Orsi, was the need to distinguish between those rioters and looters who were criminal thugs and those who were vulnerable and got caught up in it.

What made this argument telling is that it came not from the public but repeatedly from experienced, battle-scarred police officers themselves. Effective protection, punishment and prevention will clearly require a variety of approaches.

11 August 2011

Latest message from Hammersmith & Fulham Borough Commander

The Shepherd's Bush Blog is doing a good job of giving us updates from the local police.
You can read the latest one here.

Lest we forget - Boris Johnson’s London police cuts

Please let's not let his current bleating blind us to the fact that, on top of Tory Hammersmith & Fulham's crime budget cuts (see here), Tory Mayor Boris Johnson has been making swingeing reductions of his own.

  • As Mayor of London, Boris sets the annual budget for the Metropolitan Police.
  • Before the last election, Boris's 2009 police budget cut 455 police officers in London (see here).
  • Boris's  current plans are to cut 1,800 police officers from London - that's fifty lost from H&F and every London borough. By 2013/4 there will be just 31,360 police officers in London, down from 33,260 in 2009/10 (source: Johnson’s own Metropolitan Police Authority: see here).
  • Boris is also cutting 300 local beat team sergeants in London (see these MPA minutes here
All this puts the Metropolitan Police in an impossible position.

Merton’s borough commander, Chief Supt Wolfenden, has said, “The future doesn’t look great. We’ve got to find between 4 and 5 per cent in the next financial year. By 2014 I’ll be operating with 25 to 30 per cent less than I had eight months ago. If that was in the private sector, if someone asked you to run your business with 30 per cent less cash, most people would find that very difficult. My life, right now, is all about spinning plates and trying to keep the shop open. It’s been incredibly difficult and I’m fighting battles on all sorts of different fronts” (see here).

Bromley’s borough commander, Chief Superintendent Charles Griggs, has said, “The budget is being looked at centrally and at the moment the Met is still waiting to see what the government cuts are going to look like. I have no doubt there will be the need to make significant cuts, and 78 per cent of the Met’s budget is people, so the reality is we will have to lose people" (see here).

Barnet’s borough commander Neil Basu has said there would be a “profound” reduction in police and staff numbers across the capital as the Met worked out the impact of cuts (see here).

We agree with Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, who said yesterday, “It is shameful that it has taken these appalling events to force Boris Johnson to realise people are concerned about police cuts, as he has already cut 900 police officers from the Met in the last year and the Mayor's own plans mean 1,800 officers are expected to go in total over the next few years. The police, communities and campaigners have been warning that these cuts were unsustainable for many months. It should not take awful criminal violence on the scale we have seen for those warning voices to be heard.”

Will Tory Cllr Joe Carlebach speak out against Hammersmith police cuts?

Councillor Joe Carlebach is not a head-banging ideologist or a mewling infant like some Hammersmith and Fulham Tory councillors. He has written to the Evening Standard, rightly asking that the bravery of rank and file police officers not be forgotten (see here).

Yet less than six months ago, in the teeth of Labour opposition, Cllr Carlebach and his Conservative colleagues voted to cut spending on preventing crime and anti-social behaviour in H&F by £2.2m.

As a result, on-street enforcement, out-of-hours services, police working hours and Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams are all being reduced (details here).

If even Boris Johnson, until today a leading slasher, can do a U-turn on police cuts in London, surely Hammersmith council can do so, too? Let's hope Joe will see sense and help his colleagues to do the same.

Police public meeting tonight, 6.45pm at St Paul's Church, Hammersmith

The police are holding a public meeting  this evening at 6.45 pm at St Paul's Church, Queen Caroline Street, Hammersmith W6 9PJ (click here for map).

Come along to listen and ask questions to Police Borough Commander Lucy D’Orsi and David Page, the Assistant Director for Safer Neighbourhoods in Hammersmith and Fulham.

(Hat tip: The Shepherd's Bush Blog.)

How you can help the police help us all

The police are asking for help in identifying and bringing to justice those who committed criminal acts in the disturbances in London.

They have posted pictures of people and items stolen here. If you recognise anyone or have any information about the violence and disorder, please contact the Major Investigation Team on 020 8345 4142.

Alternatively, anyone can report crime and provide information anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

There is more information at www.met.police.uk.

10 August 2011

This is no time for £2.2m Tory cuts to Hammersmith's crime budget

Well done to our local police and their borough commander Lucy D'Orsi for keeping Hammersmith and Fulham safe and relatively quiet. Let's hope they can maintain the same level of protection and vigilance over coming days and weeks.

The shame is that they will have to do this in the face of H&F Tory council’s cuts of over £2 million to the local crime and anti-social behaviour budget.

This February, the council cut the budget for crime and anti-social behaviour by £2,212,000 in 2011-2014. The page references below are to the council’s own budget document here.
On-street enforcement cut by £1,095,000, losing eight officers (p. 783)
Out-of-hours service cut by £297,000, losing three officers (p. 784)
Police working hours cut by £360,000 (p. 785)
Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams cut by £465,000 (p. 785)

This looked bad  back in February - it looks even worse now. The trouble is that H&F council is run by peculiarly inefficient, economically illiterate Tory ideologues who simply don't believe enough in community services. Why else would they be cutting £4 for every £3 demanded by the government?

At the last council election, Labour pledged to do more than the Tories to fight crime, including by putting extra 24/7 police task squads in the five wards with the highest crime within two years and ensuring extra 24/7 squads in all 16 wards by the end of four years. The money would have come from tackling Tory inefficiency and unfairness, including cutting the council’s propaganda budget, ending 16% salary increases for council officials and other perks, cutting assistant directors and senior managers and selling high-value, council-owned office space, not community assets such as youth clubs, community centres and housing. (You can get more details from here.)

Economically illiterate
The local Tories are peddling myths about Hammersmith's debt burden - see here for why their economic arguments just don’t stack up.

H&F Tories believe in slashing the state for the sake of it. Council leader Stephen Greenhalgh’s right-hand man, Councillor Harry Phibbs, has openly called for deeper cuts (see here)

Cutting £2.2 million from Hammersmith & Fulham's crime and anti-social behaviour budget was and is wrong. The council should think again.

02 August 2011

Tories fall out over Olympia and suck up to developers: Andy Slaughter's latest e-news

  • Save Olympia's tube - what we've achieved so far 
  • Object now or lose our Riverfront
  • Qui bono?
  • Sure start - false start
  • Ken Cycles
  • Blue Cross Hospital
  • Banooda Aid Foundation anniversary celebrations 
  • Ramadan
  • Football Latest

Save Olympia's tube - what we've achieved so far

Four months ago Transport for London and Hammersmith & Fulham Council announced the closure of the weekday tube service to Olympia not just as a done deal but as a benefit to travellers!  Now, after Tuesday night’s highly-charged public meeting, attended by over 300 residents and backed by almost 2,000, all bets are off and London Underground are looking at alternatives.

From previous dealings with TfL I can say this is already a substantial achievement, as they are not known for putting their customers before their own convenience.  Of course, the argument is not won, and I encourage anyone who has not already done so to send their objections in to enquire@tfl.gov.uk.  Richard Parry of TfL agreed to consider further representations sent in following the meeting – see mine here- as well as answering questions for 90 minutes and agreeing to send further information on alternatives and current service usage.

Mr Parry was generally praised for the courteous way he dealt with questions, though his insistence that there were convenient alternatives for Olympia even for elderly and disabled people were greeted with incredulity.    

He was particularly pressed on the business case for closure – why losing the all-day service at Olympia could be justified by just five extra trains to Wimbledon and why exhibition goers were being excluded when calculating passenger numbers.  Several questioners thought TfL was looking to save money by the closure.  Others worried that the area would be less safe once the tube station closed, particularly now the local police teams are being cut back.  Sinclair Road residents thought more people would drive to the area causing even greater parking stress.

Brendan McGrath, founder of www.myolympia.org.uk put the case for the residents, with Earl’s Court & Olympia, Barclay Homes (who are building 1,200 new flats in the area) and RBK&C giving strong support. Perhaps the most significant development was the declaration by LBH&F that they now also opposed the closure.  The meeting ended with a united front against TfL’s plans.

This is the Olympia story so far.

On 29 March TfL announced the closure in the third paragraph of a press release that started As part of work to improve the reliability of the District Line, LU today announced its intention to introduce a new timetable in December 2011

On 5 April H&F weighed in with the ‘under-utilised weekday tube service to Kensington Olympia needs to be phased out  adding there are other - sometimes quicker - ways to get from Olympia to Earl’s Court

On 19 April I met Earl’s Court and Olympia management to discuss the effect on their business of closure and on 27th Richard Parry to hear TfL’s case

In May, thanks to the MyOlympia campaign, awareness of the closure began to grow and I started receiving letters and emails and writing about the issue in my eNews and on the web

On 6 June I met Brendan McGrath to review tactics and plan the public meeting

On 15 June RBK&C criticised the plans as short termist and unwise.  Sir Malcolm Rifkind, MP for Kensington has since written to TfL to express his opposition.

But on 28 June Chelsea and South Fulham MP Greg Hands – who until last year represented Olympia – and H&F Cabinet Member (for Residents’ Services!) Greg Smith launched a petition demanding LU honour its commitment to discontinue weekday services to Olympia.  This is the first time I have ever come across one MP trying to make life more difficult for another MP’s constituents – especially when he used to represent them himself.  

Hands has been complaining, by his own admission, about the Wimbledon service for almost ten years without getting anything done.  Freed from the responsibility of representing Olympia he clearly saw this as an attractive option.

That doesn’t explain the Council’s contempt for its Hammersmith residents.  Even this month Smith was tweeting about the Olympia ghost train and Hands was criticising the public meeting for being too late (it was the first date TfL offered).

Following the announcement by another member of H&F’s Cabinet at the public meeting that their official position is now to oppose closure, I have written to Hands and Smith to ask them to confirm they support this – and will not be asking for other changes to the District Line service if this means the Olympia closure will go ahead.

My constituents use the Wimbledon branch, and I can say from personal experience that it has been a poor service for many, many years.  But rather than divide and rule we should all be demanding a decent service on all branches of the Line.

STOP PRESS.  I have a response from Greg Hands.  He refuses to decouple his Wimbledon campaign from the ending of the Olympia service and adds:   As for any online petition, this has not been organised by me. Residents who saw this tweet may find this surprising.

Object now or lose our Riverfront

14 September is the new date for the council’s planning committee to consider St George’s application for 750 hideous high-rise flats just down from Hammersmith Bridge, a site they call Fulham Reach, but is in fact Hammersmith Embankment.  You can read my objections to it here.  Not least is the precedent it will set for creeping development of the riverside with the Town Hall and Riverside studios already in other developers’ sights.  The blocks will tower over neighbouring Victorian streets at two or three times the density, and ruin the views from the Mall or the other side of the river.

A smaller proposal by a housing association for the Queen’s Wharf building opposite the Bridge will be determined on 3 August.  Here, council officers are recommending refusal.  But the rumour is the council wants to force a sale to a private developer – as they did with part of the Shepherds Bush Market site – who can also knock down Riverside Studios to produce a much larger scheme, also up to nine stories high.

Qui bono?

Almost every decision taken locally now benefits developers and disbenefits residents.  The town hall slogan really should be Developers’ First.  This week the council announced it was thinking of selling off privately a block of 70 council flats, Edith Summerskill House, in Fulham.  This includes many three-bed flats, exactly the type most needed by the thousands of local families in overcrowded or poor standard accommodation.  I attended the AGM of Edward Woods tenants and residents’ association this week.  Eddie Woods is one of the largest estates in Shepherds Bush and has a strong community spirit.  But most of the council officers who are paid to look after repairs, caretaking or housing management didn’t bother to turn up.  Those that did said the concierge service would no longer operate, even though it is paid for through rents and service charge.  Contrast this with the fawning way St George, Helical Bar and Westfield are treated by councillors and officers.

Also this week came the Government’s decision to make anything goes planning rules the norm.  As with the destruction of affordable housing they have looked at H&F and liked what they see.  From now on there will be a presumption in favour of development and planning applications being approved.  So much for Localism.

Sure Start – false start

Last week I reported that the council had backed down and was allowing Sure Start centres to deregister.  This would allow current users – often schools - to make the best use of the buildings now funding has been withdrawn.  But fearing more bad publicity, the council wrote to some centres on the last day of term saying they would take possession of the buildings and put in their own operators.  This is probably unlawful given the way the centres are set up.   Looks like the under 5s will be back in court again.

Ken Cycles

Using the original name for Boris Bikes tells you how long they have been around.  So why is H&F not getting them until 2013?  The answer is that Barclays, who sponsor them, insisted they went to Canary Wharf and East London first.  As a sop there will be a token installation at Westfield next spring .  Just in time for the Mayoral election, but then as H&F have rolled over on everything Westfield wanted – from losing crèches and leisure centres to ignoring residents’ wishes for a quiet life and some job opportunities  - they deserve a reward.

Blue Cross Hospital

Last week I visited the Blue Cross Hospital in Hammersmith, one of four surgical centres for animals in the U.K. run by the charity. Accompanied by vet Wendy Adams and nurse Sandra Bain, I was given a tour of the premises off King Street. What looks like an unassuming office building from the outside contains a complete operating theatre, examination and treatment rooms and a laboratory.
No sick animals are turned away, though Blue Cross mainly caters for those who cannot afford vet’s bills, offering a free or cost price service to those on means-tested benefits. They also neuter and vaccinate pets, provide classes in how to look after animals and lobby on animal welfare issues from hunting to control of dangerous dogs.
You can find out more about the invaluable work that the charity does here in Hammersmith and around the country by visiting their website.

Banooda Aid Foundation anniversary celebrations

Abdi Haidarow and an enthusiastic group of helpers and teachers set up Banooda Aid Foundation five years ago to help Somali children improve their language and literacy skills. I was invited to speak at their 5th anniversary celebrations and hand out the awards to the best pupils.  Supplementary schools are thriving around the borough despite the lack of funding as parents, teachers and community leaders  – and of course the young people themselves – strive to achieve better and better results.  Of course, having English as a second language at home and often living in overcrowded conditions, having fled persecution or hardship make learning difficult but the children at Banooda more than make up for this by studying every Sunday with an enthusiasm for learning that is truly inspiring.


Today marks the start of Ramadan.  May I wish my thousands of Muslim constituents well for this Holy Month.  The long days make the challenge of fasting from dawn to dusk even more arduous this year.  There are many reasons for fasting, but one which we can all share at present is the empathy it gives with those who do not have enough to eat.

In particular, that means those affected by the famine and drought in East Africa.  Events at home have kept their suffering off the front pages, so I am pleased the Independent is running its ‘give a day’s pay for Africa’ campaign.  Details of how to donate are here.

Two Teams in Europe!

Congratulations to QPR, who won the Trofeo Bartolotti in Italy on Saturday night. Before anyone thinks I've changed allegiance, let me assure my regular readers that much as I respect the premiership newcomers' achievement, my loudest cheers will be reserved for Fulham on Thursday evening when we host the 2010 Serbian Champions for second leg of our tie in the, er, arguably better-known Europa League.
The new football season promises to be fascinating for West London fans: Fulham are embarking on their second decade in the premiership, QPR are back in the top flight where I hope they will stay, and of course, Chelsea continue to show us what money can - and can't - buy. I know the thought of six premiership matches within walking distance of home won't excite all of my constituents equally, but thought of so much top-flight football in the area, as well as all the other marvellous cultural and sporting attractions on offer, remind us how lucky we are to be living in such a lively, thriving part of the world. So here's hoping - with apologies to headline writers everywhere - that on Thursday evening, Fulham can cause a Split in the RNKs.