Council leader’s false claim of 70 per cent cut in Council spending

 On Saturday morning just before 8.30am on BBC Radio 4 Today programme the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council Cllr Stephen Cowan made the startling claim that “they’ve been cut 70 per cent since 2010, local government budgets.”

In 2010/11 total local authority spending was £104.2 billion (this included £57.6 billion from central Government grants, £26.3 billion in Council Tax). In 2016/17 the total is £94.1 billion (this includes £54 billion from central Government and £26 billion in Council Tax).

So in terms of cold hard cash that’s a cut on nine per cent. When we start start trying to talk about the change in “real terms” it gets more complicated. There is seven years of inflation – which is another 23 per cent. On the other hand some of the “cuts” are notional – for instance if a school converts to academy status it is funded direct by central government rather than via the local authority.

Thus there is some room for argument about the precise figure. But a claim of a cut of 70 per cent – or anything approaching such a figure – is wildly dishonest.

That was not the only muddled part of the interview with Cllr Cowan. He said in Hammersmith and Fulham using the adult social care Council Tax precept as enough savings had been found instead from banners on lamp posts.  But then he said that more money was needed:

“I meet people at my surgery. I meet old people who lie in bed and wonder how they are going to get out to go the toilet. You meet people you can’t get out the house, or can’t keep the house clean.”  He said that “we are compassionate society” and the answer was to “provide the funding.”

Some would argue it is simplistic to believe that more spending means a better service. There is little evidence to show a correlation between spending and outcomes in different local authorities. It is about better management. But if as council leader Cllr Cowan feels the social care service the Council provides is unacceptable and that increased spending is the answer then why doesn’t he take that decision? What does he promise those who go to his surgery? To send himself an angry email?

Alfred Daniels’ Murals In Hammersmith

By the gentle author

Old Hammersmith Bridge by Alfred Daniels

Old Hammersmith Bridge by Alfred Daniels

When I met Alfred Daniels, the painter from Bow, almost the first thing he said to me was, ‘Have you seen my murals in Hammersmith Town Hall? I’m very proud of them.’ So it was with more than a twinge of regret that I went to see the murals yesterday for the first time, over a year since he died, realising I should have gone while Alfred was here to tell me about them.

Yet it proved an exhilarating experience to discover these pictures that declare themselves readily and do not require explanation. Five vast paintings command the vestibule of the old town hall, created with all the exuberance you might expect of a young painter fresh from the Royal College of Art in 1956.

On the south wall, three interlinked paintings show scenes on the riverbank at Hammersmith Mall,which was just across the lawn at the back of the Town Hall before the Great West Road came through. The first looks east, portraying rowers standing outside The Rutland Arms with Hammersmith Bridge in the background. The second painting looks south, showing rowers embarking in their sculls from a pontoon, while the third looks west, showing a Thames pleasure boat arriving at the pier. A walk along this stretch of river, reveals that these pictures are – in Alfred Daniels’ characteristic mode – composites of the landscape reconfigured, creating a pleasing and convincing panorama. In Alfred’s painting the river appears closer to how you know it is than to any literal reality.

These three pictures are flanked by two historical scenes from the early nineteenth century, showing old Hammersmith Bridge and the Grand Union Canal, adding up to an immensely effective series of murals which command the neo-classical thirties interior authoritatively and engagingly, without ever becoming pompous.

This must have once been an impressive spectacle upon arrival at Hammersmith Town Hall, after crossing the small park and then climbing the stairs to the first floor entrance, before they built the brutalist concrete extension onto the front in 1971. This overshadows its predecessor and offers a new low-ceilinged entrance hall on the ground floor which has all the charisma of a generic corporate reception. Yet this reconfiguration of the Town Hall has protected Alfred Daniels murals even if it has obscured them from the gaze of most visitors for the past forty years.

However, the murals can be viewed free of charge when the Town Hall is open and I recommend you pay a visit.. You just need to drop an email to arts@lbhf.gov.uk and make an appointment.

daniels2daniels3Painted by Alfred Daniels and John Mitchell in 1956, cleaned and restored by Alfred Daniels assisted by Vic Carrara and Robyn Davis, 1983daniels4daniels5

Mural on the west wall

This post originally appeared on Spitalfields Life is a reproduced with kind permission.

Joe Carlebach: We need to work together to honour our commitments to vulnerable children.

joecarCllr Joe Carlebach is a councillor for Avonmore and Brook Green Ward.

I was very disappointed when I heard that there was to be a halt to the current programme to receive unaccompanied refugee children coming to the UK who are particularly at risk.

The scheme became known as the ‘Dubs amendment’ which resulted in an alliance of central government and local authorities in an attempt to help alleviate the suffering of these very vulnerable children.

It is for me a matter of real regret that confusion now reigns as to why this programme has been has terminated with central and local government arguing with each other as to who is responsible for this and why.

I have said publicly a number of times that very vulnerable orphans and unaccompanied minors should be given priority in coming to this country and I stand by this.

It is hard to see these children as economic refugees and their plight is real and desperate. I include in this group many orphans of the dreadful war in Syria whose parents and immediate families have been slaughtered in that terrible humanitarian crisis. They sit in poverty, in desperation and alone.

As an aside I want to say shame on the Red Cross for demeaning this term by attempting to portray our wonderful NHS in the same light as the plight of these children. This is a betrayal of both the NHS and these desperate children.

Our great nation has a proud history as a place of sanctuary and safety for those fleeing persecution.
I am the child of a German  Jewish refugee who arrived here on the Kinder-transport just before the outbreak of the Second World War. The generosity showed to my father and then to me by this country has made me so very proud to a British citizen.

That is why I am now asking for all involved to come together to find a way forward and continue to help and protect these very vulnerable children.

Specifically I believe central and local government need to work together on this issue to come up with a solution that is both practical and humane.

We should never turn our backs on those most in need. We should continue to demonstrate we are a compassionate, caring and understanding country and that indeed we are still a leader amongst nations on all issues including this one.

H&F Council’s energy bill increases to £3.55 million a year

This financial year Hammersmith and Fulham Council estimates that its energy bill will be £3.548 million. That is an increase of £76,900 on 2013/14 when there was a Conservative Council and the energy bill was £3.472 million. That is despite all the talk of cuts, staff reduction and greater efficiency.

Windsor and Maidenhead Council achieved reductions in their energy bill by making their smart metering information public on their website in real time. The Conservatives planned to follow this example in H&F but Labour are not proceeding. “We do not at this stage make this data public,” the Council’s Strategic Finance Director tells me.

I was only two weeks ago at a Council meeting that the Labour councillors declared climate change “one of the greatest threats facing the world” and accepted the Council’s “duty” to “take actions to protect and improve the environment”. Since then we have had news of them spending £250,000 a year more on printing and slashing the tree planting programme.

They can table virtue signalling motions but their record on the environment is a disgrace.

Celebrate diversity on your doorstep with our local Mayor

Join Cllr Mercy Umeh for an evening of dancing, food and music from around the world and help support two important local charities.

The Mayor of Hammersmith & Fulham is hosting this unique event on 11th March 2017 at the ‘Assembly Hall’ in Hammersmith Town Hall,  King Street. Built in the 1930s this is one of the largest halls in West London and the perfect venue to host a celebration of the rich mix of cultural diversity in Hammersmith and Fulham. Cllr Mercy Umeh would like to invite residents from all over the city to join the evening and help raise money for two local charities.

The evening will mix together international flavours, culinary delights and artistic performances from all corners of the world, and will include performances ranging from Irish folk music to a Caribbean steel band. Not only this, there will be dancing, drinks, canapes and a three course meal and an opportunity to win some great prizes from the raffle. The evening promises to be a vibrant showcase of what a dynamic and wonderfully varied borough Hammersmith and Fulham is.

The event is in support of the Mayor’s chosen local charities, Hammersmith and Fulham Mind and Hammersmith and Fulham Foodbank. H&F Mind is the boroughs leading resource for advice, support and empowerment in mental health. They run projects that range from befriending and counselling services to youth mentoring and carpentry courses for those facing mental health issues or suffering from isolation. H&F Foodbank works across the borough, providing emergency food, toiletries, and other necessities to local people in crisis who have been referred to them.  They also work alongside other organisations to provide professional advice to their clients; as well as running cooking courses and holiday clubs with the long-term ambition of eradicating food poverty. The mayor has championed these two locally impactful organisations since May 2016, and all money raised from the evening will be donated to these vital Hammersmith & Fulham causes.

Tickets are £30 per person or £25 per person for table bookings of 10 people or more. The evening will start at 6pm at Assembly Hall, Hammersmith Town Hall, King Street W6 9JU.

If you would like to purchase tickets for this charity evening please contact: mayor@lbhf.gov.uk or phone 020 8753 2013/2081

Landlord licensing scheme meltdown at Hammersmith & Fulham

A flagship London Labour Council licensing scheme for private landlords was facing collapse this week as a series of legal mistakes forced Hammersmith and Fulham to slash the number of properties covered. In a Leader’s Urgency Decision by Cllr Stephen Cowan published on 1 February, the Council revoked the designation of 44 streets out of 172 within weeks of issuing the formal legal notices, admitting having used “erroneous data” to choose the streets it covered.

And opposition and residents are calling for the whole scheme to be dropped.

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Labour Cabinet passed the Selective Licensing scheme for private sector landlords at a Cabinet Meeting on 2 November 2016. The Scheme originally included some 172 streets, allegedly chosen because antisocial behaviour in those streets was “attributable to occupiers of privately rented properties”. It would have required all landlord in those streets to register with the Council and pay a licence fee of £500. However, the list included:

Two entire streets of Council-owned properties (Charlow Close and Watermeadow Lane) which have been empty for years and are scheduled for demolition.

A street where all but one of the houses have been demolished, leaving one house which is not privately rented at all (Gorleston Street).

A number of streets of properties owned by Housing Associations, which are not subject to selective licensing (Gwyn Close, Mandela Close, St John’s Close).

A street where the only residents are two Catholic priests and a school caretaker (Commonwealth Avenue).

It later emerged many of the 172 streets had simply been chosen because they included pubs with high crime levels – rather than the crime being anything to do with rental properties. The Urgency Decision refers to the pubs as “commercial outlets”.

National landlord organisations argue Selective Licensing schemes simply push up rents for private sector tenants, as landlords seek to recover the costs from their tenants. The Hammersmith license fees are amongst the highest in the country.

The scheme is already in meltdown, and there isn’t a scrap of evidence the remaining streets have high levels of crime caused by rental properties. It’s just another Labour stealth tax, and a tax that will be paid by tenants.

Public Notice of the scheme with a list of streets was given on Legal notices were published on 13 December 2016. A copy is here.

Proposal to demolish hideous “Landmark House” – and replace with something even worse

landmarkhouseA planning application has been sent in to Hammersmith and Fulham Council to demolish Landmark House (right), the hideous 18 storey office block in Black’s Road.

But before you all cheer too loudly the proposal is to replace it with something just as ugly and even taller – 28 storeys (left).  The new scheme has been been designed by the architects Rogers Stirk Harbour – so it is hardly a surprise that it should be so awful.

If you wish to register your objection with the Council you have until February 28th – and can do so here.

The proposal should be seen in the context of plans by the Council and the Mayor of London to clutter the skyline with appalling new tower blocks in the Hammersmith Town Centre.

landmark_house_artists_impressionYet all this would seem to be quite in line with the Labour Council’s planning policy. A briefing from the Hammersmith Society says:

Site context:
Planning: current LBHF Core Strategy planning policy provides general guidance for the site development, seeking (Policy HTC) ‘…to encourage the regeneration of the town centre and riverside. …. to build on the centre’s major locational advantages for office development and to secure more modern accommodation…. to continually improve the environment and public realm, and to improve access between the town centre and the Thames… ‘. These general policy ambitions for the town centre appear to be reflected in the development proposals – subject to justification of the hotel use proposed. However the emerging LBHF Local Plan, due for adoption in summer 2018, refers to potential comprehensive changes to the town centre: a tunnel to replace the A4 flyover, improvements in the connection between the city centre and the river, the redesign of Hammersmith gyratory. Hammersmith Society is aware of an emerging masterplan for the town centre, with a valuable and radical vision for the future, which will be included in the new Local Plan. The Landmark House development could be a very significant first step in realising this vision, and it is essential that the application design is developed, and assessed, in the context of the future Local Plan…

Town centre: further design information is needed to understand how the development will relate to the immediate and general surroundings of Hammersmith. The division of the buildings into separate blocks, the evident modulation of the façade designs, and the open spaces around the buildings would together help to diminish the perceived bulk of this sizeable development. The impact on daylight and sunshine in King Street needs to be assessed. The lesser scale of the west side facing Angel Walk is welcome, but nevertheless the existing terrace will be dwarfed by the development. Angel Walk is in the King Street East conservation area: whilst there is no conservation area profile, common to all conservation areas is concern for the immediate context of the area, referring to the impact of adjacent development on the character of the area; on this count the proposals would fail.

Height: current LBHF Core Strategy planning policy BE1 identifies the town centre as ‘…an area where tall buildings may be appropriate but …not all parts of the town centre will be suitable. Any proposals for tall buildings will need to respect/enhance the historic context, make a positive contribution to the skyline emphasising a point of civic or visual significance…’.

A number of verified views of the development were shown at our meeting with the project team but do not appear to be included in the website information. Besides being visible in long views from King Street, the impact of the development on the Hammersmith skyline viewed from the river and the bridge is a critical consideration. The importance and sensitivity of these views is highlighted in ‘Thames Strategy – Kew to Chelsea’, a policy document endorsed by LBHF and The London Plan, where the Hammersmith river skyline is included in the listing of ‘Important Local Views’. A tall building is unwelcome, a tall building whose location is likely to appear random in the skyline context is more unwelcome, and a tall building which appears to have no locational or design relationship with future tall buildings on the Broadway site would be unacceptable. The development design has to be progressed in parallel with the emerging Local Plan, and with a specific LBHF policy which is needed for the town centre skyline.”

So lots of scope to object even within the constraints of the Council’s planning policy. But the fundamental problem is that the policy is at odds with the wishes of residents. For new development to be popular it must be beautiful, traditional and sympathetic.