How to give a screw-up a positive spin

Since Hammersmith Bridge closed a few weeks ago, the Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and Labour H&F Council have been arguing over who stumps up the cash to fix it.

Causing disruption to thousands, with the alteration of six bus routes, LBHF have come up with a novel way to address the problem – celebrate it!

They have put up large banners saying they are restoring Hammersmith Bridge to its full Victorian glory.   We need to celebrate the closure! Who knew? Ten out of ten for unabashed News Speak.D6_iiDmXoAI7o8w

Hammersmith Bridge – if you’re not prepared to take responsibility you shouldn’t be in power

Hammersmith Bridge is a major traffic artery for thousands of Londoners. A couple of weeks ago it closed indefinitely, without prior notice. The bridge is owned by Hammersmith & Fulham Council. TfL is responsible for its upkeep and maintenance.

H&F Council is a Labour Authority and the Mayor of London is a Labour Mayor.  Not wanting to criticise each other, look at the buck-passing that goes on.  Click here to see LBHF’s statement on the closure.

A major cause of the damage is high bus usage.  LBHF say “In 2015 we secured an agreement that there would never be more than one bus going either way at any one time. However, the bus companies consistently breached that agreement, ignoring our engineers’ warnings that this would cause a critical structural failure”. How were the bus companies meant to keep to this agreement? Have drivers semaphore from opposite ends of the bridge?  If this was a critical issue, it was up to LBHF to find a way to enforce it. Which they openly admit they didn’t do!

The cost of repairing Hammersmith Bridge has risen to at least £40 million. About TfL’s failure to make adequate repairs and to stump up the cash, LBHF say “We are sympathetic to TfL’s funding problems”. Effectively “please don’t blame them”.

LBHF continues “TfL has suffered an £800million cut to its budget and has had to pay for the refurbishment of Albert Bridge and Putney Bridge in recent years.”  Did TfL not realise that it was responsible for the Albert and Putney Bridges? Should Londoners send TfL some emails outlining what other bridges is it is responsible for in case they haven’t realised?

Meanwhile, over £43million was wasted on the failed Garden Bridge folly.” I am sorry – but not relevant. TfL accountants are monitoring and managing costs and risks over a whole variety of projects at all times.

LBHF’s entire statement is effectively “It’s not our fault and please don’t blame TfL either”. Well then who? Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? If you don’t want to take responsibility for managing vital infrastructure, you shouldn’t be in power.

Hammersmith Bridge Closure – forces change to 6 bus routes

Six bus routes used Hammersmith Bridge before its closure. That’s a huge number of people whose daily lives have been disrupted by Hammermith & Fulham Council’s failure to monitor and manage the Bridge properly.

This Saturday, TfL are implementing permanent bus changes to the area. The details of all of these changes can be found here. You can also provide comment on the changes.

Some buses now simply stop either side of Hammersmith Bridge with people advised to walk over. Others are rerouted in ways which will be entirely irrelevant for many users.  The bus traffic over Putney Bridge will increase dramatically with the frequency of the 265 increasing by 5 buses an hour in both directions and the 209 also rerouted to cross Putney Bridge.

When we condense traffic to a smaller number of major arteries, air pollution gets worse as traffic slows to crawling speed.

Publicly TfL and LBHF are cooperating closely to maintain that its not their fault that a bridge that they are responsible for has closed.  Let us hope that they are co-operating, as closely, behind the scenes, to get it back open.

First Greenhalgh H&F Mayoral Pledge: Reopen Hammersmith Bridge to cars and buses by introducing road user charges if necessary

Stephen Greenhalgh is seeking to become the directly elected Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham.

Over one month has passed since the emergency closure of Hammersmith Bridge and both Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Mayor continue to play the political blame game. H&F Council and TfL have had a “final report” on repair options for Hammersmith Bridge from their engineering consultants since the end of 2018. No plan to carry out the major works needed to reopen Hammersmith Bridge to cars and buses has yet been announced.

If I were the directly-elected Mayor, I would borrow the money to fix Hammersmith Bridge and set the borrowings against a road user charge for both buses and cars if TfL refused to stump up their fair share. The GLA Act allows both boroughs and the Mayor to levy road user charges.

I would look at two options:

  1. Full repair and restoration: Strengthen and repair of the existing bridge (and still maintain its listed status) so it could take modern transport. This would last 2-3 years and may only give the bridge an extra 30 years lifespan.
  2. Modification: Replacement with an independent structural deck. This has been done in the past when the steels of Hammersmith Bridge were rebuilt and deck replaced as part of the 1973 refurbishment. This would take the same length of time as the full repair and restoration option and could give the bridge an extra 60 years lifespan. The costs would be similar according to bridge architectural experts.

The toll would only be in the order of 50p for someone to cross the bridge by car for H&F Council to fund and then recoup the costs (this assumes 20,000 vehicles a day for 300 days – 6 million vehicle movements). For comparison a toll bridge in Bath charges 80p and Clifton suspension bridge charges £1. Hammersmith Bridge was a toll bridge originally.

Who is responsible for the Hammersmith Bridge omnishambles? Here is my view:

  1. H&F Labour Council have not done their bit in properly maintaining the bridge and have lost the expert officer expertise since the collapse of Triborough and Biborough collaboration.
  2. H&F Labour Council’s political leadership have not made the reopening the bridge to cars and buses a political priority. The council do not care about the traffic gridlock in west London but see it as a way of stopping cars coming into their brough and making Hammersmith Bridge open only to pedestrians and cyclists.
  3. The Mayor of London has bankrupted TfL so that TfL cannot afford to pay for infrastructure works included the major works needed to reopen the bridge.

Stephen Greenhalgh: Police challenged over the dramatic increase in knife crime in Fulham

Stephen Greenhalgh writes

Last night I was the last minute understudy for local Fulham MP and former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Greg Hands, to chair the local policing public meeting that he had convened at Fulham Broadway Methodist Church. The meeting was expertly opened and closed by Cllr Andrew Brown, the Conservative Opposition Group Leader on H&F Council.

This provided for Fulham residents with the opportunity to meet and question senior police officers from the Met responsible for neighbourhood policing in H&F. Both Simon Brooker, the new Chief Inspector for Neighbourhoods and Royal Parks, Central West BCU and John Childs, Inspector SNT H&F, answered questions for around 90 minutes after Inspector Childs had given a short presentation on crime trends in the 6 Fulham wards.

The public meeting was certainly timely. London’s knife crime epidemic has now hit H&F with two fatal stabbings this month alone: On 7th March Ayub Hassan, a 17-year-old boy from Shepherds Bush was stabbed to death near the Waitrose by West Kensington tube station and a 15-year-old boy has been charged with the murder. Then on 16th March Nathaniel Armstrong was a 29-year-old man who was stabbed to death just 100m from his Fulham home at the junction of Gowan Avenue and Munster Road. Chief Inspector Brooker informed the meeting that both these murders were drug related.

Knife crime levels are dramatically higher in all six Fulham wards and robbery is up significantly in 4 of the 6 wards. Here are the year on year increases presented by Inspector Childs:

Ward                                                     Knife Crime        Robbery

Fulham Broadway                                 +58%                 +41%

Munster                                                +1900%              +25%

Town                                                     +180%                 -3%

Parsons Green & Walham                    +67%                  +35%

Sands End                                             +60%                  -26%

Palace Riverside                                    +317%               +128%

Inspector Childs admitted that these percentages do exaggerate the levels of knife crime in SW6. For instance, the 1900 per cent increase in Munster is a rise from 1 to 20 knife crime offences. However many of the residents felt less safe enjoying the parks and some felt trapped in their homes as result. The police also reported that children going to school had become the target for knifepoint muggings in recent weeks. Residents called for more Bobbies on the beat to tackle this rising tide of violence in Fulham.

It is interesting to note that the police use of stop and search powers is far lower in Hammersmith & Fulham than in Kensington & Chelsea (1000 fewer) once you remove the 2900 carried out in the month of August for the Notting Hill Carnival.

There is also a 3% increase in burglaries in H&F vs a 4% reduction in burglaries in K&C. Inspector Childs also presented a slide that measured environmental, nuisance and personal anti-social behaviour using data from the council. During the discussion a local Fulham businessman reported that their business had suffered £2000 worth of criminal damage and they had captured the perpetrators red handed on CCTV. However, after several months he was told by the Met that this was no longer a priority crime and would not be investigated further. Under Mayor Johnson criminal damage offences were seen as a marker for anti-social behaviour and were one of the so-called MOPAC 7 priority neighbourhood crimes. This crime would have been investigated under the previous Mayor.

Chief Inspector Brooker reported that sexual offences were up +46% in the borough compared to a London average rise of 20%. This was the highest increase in London and most of these offences occurred behind closed doors as opposed to stranger offences which were down 20%.

Naturally a few tried to raise the drop in police numbers as a reason for the rise in crime. The police admitted that they were now recruiting very actively after the announcement by the Home Secretary of an additional £970 million for policing but apparently it has become very hard to recruit enough officers to the Met.

One member of the audience tried to suggest that the closure of Fulham Police Station was the main reason for the knife crime epidemic spreading to Fulham. This was roundly rejected by both officers. They preferred to deploy more neighbourhood police officers than holding onto old and underutilised police buildings. Fulham Police Station was only 35% utilised and cost £400,000 a year to run. Now it is the site of the new Fulham Boys School. Surprisingly Inspector Childs confirmed that the new Fulham police station front counter, that had been promised under the previous Mayor, would now not be opened following the decision of Mayor Khan to close 38 police front counters.

With the £60 million redevelopment of Hammersmith Police Station still underway nearly three years after I approved this major investment as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, this means that only Shepherd’s Bush Police Station is open to the public. This is just not good enough and Fulham residents should have the front counter that they were promised.

Finally a series of the Fulham policing ward panel chairs spoke strongly in support of the local police and called for the public to get more engaged in helping the police to fight crime. Unfortunately the H&F Labour Council are unilaterally abolishing these policing-specific panels to create more diluted ones that cover all areas of council responsibility.

Charing Cross Hospital – Future Secured

There has been a rare outbreak of agreement between Conservative and Labour in Hammersmith & Fulham. Charing Cross Hospital is not closing.  Its A&E is not closing.

Here is the question and answer from Greg Hands, MP for Chelsea and Fulham, and Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health, that took place in Parliament yesterday:

Greg Hands: I have been a long-standing supporter of Charing Cross Hospital in Fulham, but I am concerned by the politicised rumours that have surrounded the hospital in recent years. Will he update the House on the “Shaping a healthier future” programme, which many of my constituents believe to be anything but healthy?

Matt Hancock: “Shaping a healthier future” is no longer supported by the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS Improvement or NHS England. The NHS will look at parts of the proposals that are in line with the long-term plan, such as the aspects that are focused on expanding the treatment of people in the community. As for the changes in A&E in west London that are part of “Shaping a healthier future”—for instance, those at Charing Cross Hospital, which he mentioned—these will not happen.

I am pleased to say, that what is different this time around is that the Labour MP for Hammersmith, Andy Slaughter, as well as local Labour Councillors also agree that this is the final confirmation that Charing Cross hospital is not closing.

Though I may disagree with its wording, now is not the time to quibble. What is important is the confirmation of this news from Hammersmith & Fulham Council. See here.

If more detail emerges about future plans I will post it here.  If you see anything that should be shared let me know!

Charing_Cross_Hospital_in_London,_spring_2013_(15)

 

 

Council Tax in H&F to increase by an inflation-busting 4.7 per cent

Council Tax in Hammersmith and Fulham going up. The Council’s share to increase by inflation-busting 4.7 per cent. The Council’s Band D share will go up from £727.81 to £762.01. On top of that Mayoral precept is going up by nine per cent – for Band D up from £294.23 to £320.51. Labour hitting the poorest the hardest. The current inflation rate is 1.8 per cent.

In their Manifesto for the Council elections last year, Labour promised:

“We will continue to keep council tax and council charges low.”

That is a bit vague. It could include cutting Council Tax. Or freezing Council Tax. At a stretch, it could include increasing Council Tax at or below inflation. But I don’t think that pledge is consistent with increasing Council Tax by over twice the inflation rate.

What makes it worse is that the Council is not being honest about its tax increase. In the Budget papers, it calls it an “adjustment”. It says the figure is only 2.7 per cent – that the further two per cent for the “adult social care precept” in some way doesn’t count. It does if you are a Council Taxpayer having to pay the bill. It is money that goes to the Council and it is the Council’s decision whether or not to apply it.

Nor does it follow that just because the Council is spending more on social care that it has a good record. On the contrary, its record is deplorable. See here and here and here and here and here and here.

So often with these examples the bureaucratic delay and mismanagement mean both high spending and poor service. But that doesn’t stop the Labour councillors standing up in the Council chamber boasting about how caring they are and complaining about austerity.

The same point applies to children stuck in the care system. The number in Hammersmith and Fulham is 230 – that is an increase from 204 in 2014. Many of them could and should be placed for adoption and thus have the chance of a permanent loving home. But for ideological reasons the Council is obstructive towards adoption – with a huge human as well as financial cost.

. For all this virtue signalling they can certainly find money for their really important priorities – increasing their “special responsibility allowances”  so that councillor allowances spending is up this financial year from £785,600 to £847,000. There is also the kickback to the union paymasters – nearly £200,000 of Council Taxpayers money in the borough spent on salaries for union officials.

All this supposed austerity still allows them to pay the Council’s chief executive £169,000 a year plus employ another 12 bureaucrats on six figure salaries.

The Council owns 242 of these garages are currently empty. Often these are sites that could provide much needed new homes.

£12 million a year is spent on interest payments on the Council’s debt. Yet the Council clings onto surplus land and vacant buildings. As the Council tax raises £55 million a year inteerst charges represent a pretty hefty item.

With an Orwellian touch the Council’s names one of most wasteful departments “Delivery and Value”. This has annual spending of £1.79 million and includes such items as “Policy and Strategy” £471,000 and £164,000 on “communications”.

Small wonder the Council leader prefers pontificating about Brexit than talking about his record.