Former Labour MP brought in to oversee council housing privatisation

keith-hill-432_tcm21-193939The former Labour MP Keith Hill has been appointed by Hammersmith and Fulham Council as the “Residents Housing Commissioner”. His brief is to win round tenants and leaseholders to the councils proposal to privatise the entire council housing stock.

It must have been a tough interview.

The Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Lisa Homan used to work for Mr Hill. She continued working for him for 13 years.

Labour MP Austin Mitchell has attacked Mr Hill for a “dogmatic insistence on privatisation” regarding council housing.

Mr Hill was Housing Minister from 2003-05. Even the Labour member of the London Assembly Tom Copley has said that Labour should apologise for its housing record in Government – where fewer new council homes were built in 13 years than in a single year under Margaret Thatcher.We have yet to hear any such apology from Mr Hill.

In 2009 Mr Hill became Chairman of Lambeth Living, the disastrous council housing almo – which tenants have just voted to scrap. The year after Mr Hill’s appointment it emerged that consultants were paid £4,500 a week to work there.

The following year the Labour MP Kate Hoey said Lambeth Living was “pretty much of a disaster”.  Adding “the tenants are now left with huge amounts of very bad housing with no one wanting to do anything about it. ”

So is Mr Hill to do for Hammersmith and Fulham what he has done for Lambeth?

We are getting used to gimmicks about “independent” task forces, reviews and commissions. But even by Labour’s cynical standards this latest appointment is less than subtle.

 

NHS Trust confirms plans for brand new Charing Cross Hospital

handsnhsLast week, Greg Hands, the Conservative MP for Chelsea and Fulham, welcomed senior management of the Imperial College NHS Trust to the House of Commons.

Greg called the meeting to get the latest on the plans for a new Charing Cross Hospital on the existing site on Fulham Palace Road.

Following the meeting, the Chief Executive of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Dr Tracy Batten, has written to Greg to provide an update on the Trust’s plans for a new Charing Cross Hospital on the same site in Fulham Palace Road.

Highlights for the site’s plans include the following:

  • £150 million redevelopment
  • A wide range of specialist and planned care, including: day case surgery and treatment, one-stop diagnostic clinics, outpatients, chemotherapy, and renal dialysis
  • Integrated care and rehabilitation services, especially for elderly people and those with chronic conditions
  • An Emergency Centre
  • Existing partner services to be co-located, including mental health and cancer support

As well as a redevelopment of the Charing Cross site, the Trust’s strategy proposes a significant redevelopment of the St Mary’s site, and a smaller redevelopment of the Hammersmith site (where Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital would remain co-located).

The Trust has a made a bid for capital investment to fund the proposals, which is currently awaiting approval by the North West London Clinical Commissioning Groups of GPs (CCGs). Once approved the plans will go to NHS England and the NHS Trust Development Authority for consideration.

The Trust anticipate milestones to include approval of the outline plan in 2015/16, and approval for the final plans in 2016/17. This would then enable a three-year construction programme to begin, which is currently expected to last until the end of 2020/21.

Greg Hands, said:

“It was helpful to meet Dr Batten and her team, to hear first-hand about their plans for the redevelopment and rebuilding of Charing Cross Hospital. The public will welcome the Trust being able to lay out some more detail of their vision.

“Charing Cross is an excellent and valued hospital, with which I have deep personal ties. The rebuilding will leave it capable of providing even better services in the future, becoming a leading centre of excellence for elective surgery.

“In contrast to some misinformation from other sources, the Trust has confirmed to me personally that it is proposing a brand-new hospital with Accident & Emergency. And whilst it is true that the concrete tower block which is no longer fit for purpose will be demolished, this will be only after the new and improved hospital is up and running.

“The local Labour Party has been deliberately spreading misinformation and scaremongering about the fate of the hospital. Andrew Slaughter MP and Labour have repeatedly told residents, wrongly, that the hospital and its A&E department is to close.

“Only this week, Mr Slaughter has put leaflets through resident’s doors clamming that ‘Charing Cross Hospital remains under threat of demolition’, without any reference to the new hospital on the same site. He has been told directly by both the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister that he is not telling local people the whole truth, and now he has it from the doctors of the hospital, and no less than the Chief Executive.

“I hope now that Mr Slaughter will stop his misleading campaign, and start representing his constituents responsibly, instead of continuing to try and spread fear and score points out of an issue on which he is plainly wrong.”

Revealed: Labour’s unpaid £18,400 bill for town hall booking fees

In December I reported on the scandal of the Labour Party have been holding meetings at Hammersmith Town Hall without paying the required booking fees.

Gradually more details are emerging which demonstrates the industrial scale of this abuse. It was not just a mistake involving one or two meetings.

On December 12th I made the following Freedom of Information request:

“Please provide copies of all emails from Mary OHara over the past 12 months regarding room bookings for Labour Party meetings in the town hall.

Best wishes,
Harry”

I have not had a full response but the partial response so far gives an idea of the scale of what has been happening.

The schedule of room bookings suggests the amount owed to the Council Taxpayer by the Labour Party over the past year alone is substantial.

The Hammersmith Constituency Labour Party held monthly meetings in the Council Chamber – the booking fee is £160 an hour. They had a booking of four hours a time so £640. So that is £7,680 owed for the year.

But that is only the start. The Avonmore and Brook Green, Fulham Reach, Hammersmith Broadway and North End Labour Party branch meeting would hold another monthly meeting. That took place in Committee Room 1 – where the book fee due is £55.00 an hour. Again each booking was four hours £220 a time coming to £2,640 a year.

Then there was also a monthly meeting for the College Park and Old Oak, Shepherds Bush Green and Wormholt and White City Labour Party branch in the Courtyard Room. Again the fee due was £55 an hour. Again it was four hours a time coming to £220 or £2,640 a year.

The Ravenscourt Park Labour Party had a rather uncomradely arrangement of having their meeting in their own room. Their monthly gatherings were held in the Small Hall. That can seat 120 – I rather doubt all the seats were needed. Anyway the booking fee is £110 an hour so £440 a time coming to £5,280 a year.

There also appears to have been an extra Fulham Reach Labour Party meeting for four hours in Committee Room 4 on 12/6/14 – that’s £40 an hour so another £160.

All that comes to £18,400.

That is just for a year.

How many years has the abuse been going on?

When will the Labour Party pay what they owe to the Council Taxpayer?

 

Angela Clarke: Discovery of the Doves Press typeface in the Thames

angelacA guest post from Angela Clarke, Trustee, of The Emery Walker Trust

The most frequently asked question asked by visitors to Emery Walker’s house at 7 Hammersmith Terrace is whether the Doves Press typeface thrown into the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge over the summer of 1916 – ‘do you think it might still be there’.  For the last 10 years, the guides have said that it is most unlikely due to frequent dredging of the river and the fast tide.   However they have recently  been proved wrong!

412px-Doves_Press_BibleRobert Green, a designer, became intrigued by the typeface, recreated it digitally and then decided last year to instigate a search in the mud under the bridge – and miraculously some 100 items of the typeface have been found 98 years later.   They will now enable him to make a yet more accurate digital version of the Doves typeface and in due course it is anticipated that some of the items will be on permanent loan and on show at 7 Hammersmith Terrace.

The Doves Press was set up in 1900 by two friends of William Morris – Emery Walker and T J Cobden-Sanderson (a book binder) and named after the pub of that name as Cobden-Sanderson had moved from 7 Hammersmith Terrace to the house next door to the pub.   They designed their unique typeface and produced, among others,  a very beautiful and still much sought after version of the Bible in 5 volumes, with the opening of Genesis now ranking among the most famous pages in printing.  Production of this Bible also involved two of their other neighbours – Edward Johnston whose designs for the typeface for London Underground is still used today and Eric Gill whose typefaces Gill and Perpetua are also in common use.   But TJ Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker were very different characters and soon fell out and eventually, to ensure that Emery as the younger of the two men could not inherit the typeface on his death, in  1916 over a number of summer nights TJ ‘bequeathed it’ – all two tons of it  –  to the river.

hammersmithdrawingThe Doves Press was a prized  part of the private press movement –  a movement in book production which flourished at the turn on the 19th and 20th centuries  to produce  books as works of art in limited editions  often using  hand-made paper, and specially designed type-faces as in the case of those for the Kelmscott Press founded by William Morris in 1891 and the Doves Press.

You can hear more about the story of the Doves Press by visiting 7 Hammersmith Terrace which will be re-opening for pre-booked tours at the beginning of March for a shorter season than usual as it will close during the summer for  about 18 months for repairs and improvements to the ‘visitor experience’  to be made following the award of an HLF grant Arts and Crafts Hammersmith, a joint project between the Emery Walker Trust and the William Morris Society, which is based at Kelmscott House.  The works will however in no way allow the unique character of the house to be spoilt with its almost untouched interior dating back to the early part of the last century.

 

Mark McDermott: Why do the Hammersmith Broadway Labour councillors ignore fly-tipping?

markmcnewA guest post from Mark McDermott

I was born and bred in Hammersmith and my family have lived in the Borough for over 50 years.

Hammersmith is a great place to live, work, socialise and be educated in. In the last few years I’ve noticed a massive improvement in the area with new investment, opportunities and a real sense of optimism about the place.  Unfortunately things are no longer quite so rosy. Here is my experience with the increase of fly-tipping and in the general state of the streets.

markgrot2Fly-tipping is something that has always happened and probably always will. Previously when it happened it was dealt with quickly, efficiently and with a minimum amount of fuss. That has all changed in the last few months. I’ve just checked and I’ve had to use the H&F Report It App a total of nine times in January alone. I could have used it a lot more but sometimes I just don’t have the time to log each incident I come across. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I don’t report it then it just won’t get removed in any kind of hurry.

Going to work the other morning I saw fly-tipping in a street I regularly walk down. I had a particularly busy day at work so was unable to report it. Coming home that evening I noticed it was still there. When I got home I reported it via the app.  As we live in the 21st Century I also sent several tweets to LBHF and one of my Labour Ward Councillors during the course of the next couple of days. I didn’t receive any replies to the tweets. Eventually the fly-tipping was removed on the day that street had it’s normal rubbish collection.

mattressmarkAt the weekend I reported branches which had fallen from a tree lying across the pavement in another street. Those branches had been there for at least seven days. I can’t believe any kind of regular street monitoring service could have missed this. I remember walking past a dumped Christmas tree so many times that we were almost on first name terms before it was removed.  Another local street often has so much fly-tipping, rubbish, dog fouling and bicycle’s chained to lamp posts that it can be like navigating through an obstacle course at times.

It’s ironic that each time I report an incident of fly-tipping I receive an e-mail from “Love Clean Streets”. Now I’m all for doing my civic duty but I expect as a given that my local Council actually do keep the streets clean. LBHF Council need to do so much better.

Good news for Goldhawk Road

goldhawkrdoneGiven that so many planning developments make our borough more ugly I am pleased to note a proposal, that has recently had planning approval, that promises a visual improvement.

The image on the top right shows 77 Goldhawk Road as it is today. It used to be the British Prince pub – pretty awful it was too.

The image below it shows how 77 Goldhawk Road will look in the future.

goldhawkroadtwoThe proposal attracted letters of support from more than 40 local residents and businesses.

At present the site is a run-down building close to Shepherds Bush  with the exterior is affected by graffiti and fly-posting. Inside it is dilapidated and without development will be uninhabitable.

Development will result in the creation of three new flats of sufficient size and with good levels of lighting, and outlook for future occupiers.

Windows will be restored where they have been bricked out and PVC windows replaced by sash windows. Hurrah.

There is an extra storey but that enhances the appearance.

Very good news.

It’s in the Hammersmith Grove Conservation Area and it’s a small development. It hasn’t been built yet. But the example could be widely applied. It is possible to both have new homes and an improved environment for those of us already living here.

 

Slaughter backs plan to privatise the entire Hammersmith and Fulham council housing stock

Hammersmith and Fulham Council have published extraordinary proposals to privatise their entire council housing stock – flogging it off to a housing association. They have kept quiet about the implications but the Voluntary Stock Transfer to a Housing Association would mean ending council housing forever within the borough. The Labour Council has begun a “consultation” spending millions of pounds on consultants and lawyers – money which could be better spent on improving council housing or building new homes.

If it goes ahead the proposal could lead to higher rents and service charges, less security of tenure and less power for tenants. For example, in 2013 the rent per week for a two bed council flat was £95.37 compared to £117.61 for one rented from one of the borough’s major housing associations.

charliedewCllr Charlie Dewhirst, the Conservative candidate for Hammersmith, has written to Council tenants and leaseholders  to oppose the plans:

He says:

“I do not believe that stock transfer is the right approach. The Council’s time and resources would be better spent improving its housing stock and building new affordable homes for local people, not selling them off.

I am shocked and deeply concerned that the Labour Party is planning to give your home away to a Housing Association without any guarantee to you over your future. Housing is one of the most important issues facing us here in Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush. We need to build more homes, not sell them off. Under Labour’s plans you could be hundreds of pounds worse off each year through higher rents and service charges, and be far less secure in your home. This is not right and I believe the people of Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush deserve better.

I will be campaigning hard against the planned sale of Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush council housing. Please email me at charliedewhirst@hotmail.com if you would like to add your name to the campaign.”

slaughterpicBut the Labour MP for Hammersmith Andrew Slaughter backs the Council’s sell off plan. He says:

“The Labour Council is now planning a Borough-wide consultation with tenants and leaseholders to ensure that Council housing can be safeguarded for the future and that residents have more control over their homes. It wants to protect Council housing for future generations, start building new affordable homes and safeguard the rights of existing tenants. That way if the Tories ever get back in power locally they cannot auction off and demolish homes or worsen conditions for tenants. I have  spoken to the councillor responsible for housing and the leader of the council and they will be in touch with you to provide further reassurance.”

Mr Slaughter’s response is, to put it kindly, muddled.

If the housing ceases to be owned and managed by the council in what sense is “council housing” “safeguarded”? He gives the game a way by saying (with rather undemocratic triumphalism) that a future Conservative council would not have anything to do with such housing. But then nor would any future Labour council. You see it wouldn’t be council housing anymore.

Mr Slaughter’s logic that all council housing should be sold to prevent a future Conservative council selling any housing is also perverse.  He complains that the previous Conservative council “sold off at auction several hundred vacant Council homes rather than re-letting them to families in need.” But these were properties either in terrible disrepair or of very high value. Doesn’t it make more sense if a council house in Parsons Green worth £2 million comes vacant to sell it and use the proceeds for more replacement homes and improvements of existing stock?

But anyway Mr Slaughter’s stance is that the Labour council should sell all its 12,500 properties – with sitting tenants – to avert the possibility of a future Conservative council selling a few hundred more vacant properties.

I think he will have to come up with something a bit more convincing than that.

Here is a briefing about the implications of Labour’s proposals:

HIGHER RENTS AND SERVICE CHARGES

Housing Association rents are typically much higher than council rents, in some cases by as much as 25%.  For example, in 2013 the rent for a two bed council flat was £95.37 per week, whereas for a two bed Notting Hill Housing flat the rent was £117.61 per week. So being a tenant in a typical 2-bed flat with a Housing Association, as opposed to the Council, could leave council tenants £1,156.48 a year worse off.

Under any proposals for stock transfer there is no guarantee over future levels of rent despite any promises made. Service charges are generally higher for Housing Association tenants. In most stock transfers the small print in the offer document shows service charge rates are only guaranteed for a few years, if at all.

Again, under stock transfer there is no guarantee over future levels of service charges.

LESS SECURITY

On transfer council tenants will lose their special ‘secure’ tenancy and get an ‘assured’ tenancy. There are differences in law between the two types of tenancy. The Council may try to claim that the new landlord will write additional rights into your new assured tenancy contract, which will make it the equivalent of a secure tenancy. However, a promise by the new landlord not to use certain powers is not the same as the statutory rights ‘secure’ tenants have in law.

If the Council wants to evict a tenant, they must prove both the ground for possession (e.g. rent arrears, anti-social behaviour) AND that it would be ‘reasonable’ to evict them. A Housing Association can seek to evict you without the court having to consider ‘reasonableness’ in 8 out of 17 grounds for possession.

MERGERS AND TAKEOVERS

The Council may try to say that the transfer will be to a locally-based organisation. But this won’t last long. There is a high risk the new landlord will merge or be taken over by one of the big London housing associations. In Old Oak for example the well run and much respected Old Oak Housing Association,  formed when the council did a stock transfer in the late 1990s has now been swallowed-up by Family Mosaic, losing all of its distinctive identify and character. Residents there did not get a meaningful say on their future.

Also tenants won’t get a vote on takeovers or mergers and the new Housing Association landlord is under no legal obligation to keep promises made at the time of transfer.

TRANSFER: LESS POWER FOR TENANTS AND LEASEHOLDERS

Don’t be taken in by the council’s idea of ‘community ownership’. A ‘Community Gateway’ or ‘Community Mutual’ is just a Housing Association by another name. There will be wild claims made about making tenants a ‘shareholder’ and how that will empower them, but there’s no basis for this. Tenant ‘shareholders’ in a community mutual or gateway organisation generally won’t even have the right to elect the whole board.

Tenants and leaseholders of the council get to elect their landlord every four years and, if you don’t like the way things are done, you can vote them out through the ballot box. This direct democratic relationship with your landlord will be lost after transfer.

 

Slaughter’s false claims on A&E waiting times

This week a letter arrived from my Labour Member of Parliament Andrew Slaughter asking for my vote in the General Election. It contained his familiar allegation that Charing Cross Hospital and its A&E department faced closure adding that “the local Conservative Party support the closure of our hospital”. These lies do not become any less despicable by the frequency with which they are repeated.

Then he claimed that “our A&E waiting times are among the worst in the country”.

Again that is quite untrue.

The figures released this morning showed that last week 91.2 per cent of patients were seen within four hours at the Imperial College NHS Trust (which covers local hospitals). That was just below the national average of 92.3 per cent. But it was most certainly not among the worst in the country.

For the previous week, ending January 25th, Imperial’s figure was 93.3 per cent – slightly ahead of the national average of 93 per cent.

The week before, ending January 18th, Imperial’s figure was 90.2 per cent against a national average of 92.4 per cent.

For the week ending January 11th, Imperial’s figure was 77.8 per cent against a national average of 89.8 per cent. So that was a bad week. But even in that week there were several other NHS trusts doing a lot worse than Imperial.

Then the previous week, the one ending January 4th, Imperial’s figure was 90.3 per cent against a national average of 86.7 per cent.

Furthermore these are the figures for England. In general the NHS in England performs better than Wales where Labour run the NHS:

nhswalesBut the claim from Mr Slaughter about our local NHS waiting times being “among the worse in the country” is simply wrong. It is not a matter of opinion. Nobody looking at the figures in a fair minded way could possibly conclude that his allegation was true.

That is not to say deny that the NHS should not strive to do better. The target is for 95 per cent of those attending A&E to be seen within four hours. If Mr Slaughter really wanted to help with that he could have used his leaflet to remind residents that there was now seven day GP access in the borough.

But it is insulting to doctors, nurses and other NHS workers to claim they are performing less well than they are.

Mr Slaughter owes them an apology.