27 August 2011

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

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