Labour spends over £300,000 of Council Taxpayer’s money on vanity redesign of council website

Hammersmith and Fulham Council has revamped its website. it gives more prominence to propaganda. There are also plenty of pictures of the council leader. However for residents wishing to navigate the site for practical purposes it is unsatisfactory.

It is harder to find out about council services, harder to report on their failings and harder to make payments for them.

The greatest priority is for assuaging the vanity of the Dear Leader. The mundane matters that most residents are actually looking for are given less prominence.

As if that wasn’t bad enough there is a huge bill for this user-hostile website.

Cllr Robert Largan put in an FOI request to ask about the cost of the redesign. What would you guess it would be? £3,000? £30,000? In fact it is an astonishing £300,000.

He was told:

“The total approved budget was £376k. The project will be delivered under-budget. We don’t yet have all the final costs, but the likely figure is nearer £300k.”

This is the same council that says it can’t find £50,000 for the shingles vaccine. It also has broken its pledge to cut Council Tax this year – a one per cent cut would have cost £500,000.

Many will conclude that the council has the wrong attitude and the wrong priorities.

Come to the Grove Neighbourhood Centre’s Spring Fete on Saturday

spring-fete-2016-logoThe Grove Neighbourhood Centre is  holding a Spring Fete for 2016 this Saturday 19th March 2016.

Door open 1PM sharp don’t be late!

RAFFLE PRIZES INCLUDE:

CHAMPERS & HAMPERS
GIFT SETS
& MORE!

In the UPPER HALL

JEWELLERY

CLOTHING, SHOES & ACCESSORIES
INCLUDING
DESIGNER CLOTHES RAIL

CLAIRVOYANT

In the LOWER HALL

TOMBOLA
GIFTS
HOMEBAKE
BOOKS
RAFFLE
PLANTS
BRIC A BRAC
HOT FOOD
KIDS GAMES

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Labour resist transparency in H&F after false Council minutes are approved

Trust in Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s procedures has hit a new low – sunlight would be the best disinfectant but there is a determined effort to remain in the dark.

There was a Council Meeting on January 26th where Andrew Johnson asked the following Public Question:

“Q When LBHF entered into 50/50 joint venture with Stanhope in March 2014 to deliver hundreds of new homes across the borough, it was envisaged that planning applications to re-develop both Watermeadow Court and Edith Summerskill House would be submitted within 12 months. Yet nearly two years later, these sites stand empty and bricked-up, with no applications having been submitted. Since he formed his administration in May 2014, can he confirm when he, or any member of his cabinet, last attended a board meeting of the joint venture?”

Cllr Andrew Jones, the Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Regeneration, gave a reply with false information – for which he apologised at a subsequent Cabinet Meeting.

However the Minutes of the meeting give a quite different wording of his reply to one he actually gave. Even when this falsification was pointed out the Labour councillors still voted through the Minutes as a “true and accurate record”. A quite staggering and blatant contempt for truth.

Fortunately the record of what Cllr Jones actually said is available on the Council website by listening to the audio of the meeting.

Since the minutes can no longer be trusted it seems to me all the more important that the audio should be made available for committee meetings. The Council Cabinet Meetings are already recorded so why not put the audio on the website?

I had already called for this. On January 4th Kayode Adewumi, the Council’s Head of Governance and Scrutiny responded:

“I am consulting the Administration whether they want to change the current practice.”

Then this morning there was some breaking news. He emailed:

“The policy remains still subject to review and no further update is available.”

Make of that what will you will. I take it as a “No.” Labour don’t want the audio on the website as hey won’t to be able to cover up their mistakes from Council Taxpayers who pay the price.

The emails above merely show they can’t even bring themselves to be transparent a about their opposition to transparency,
 

More variety at Brook Green Market as new traders start

Push Dhawan reports

Brook Green Market and Kitchen is your local food market with  fruit, Veg, meats, cheeses, fresh pasta, raw milk, cakes, eggs, artisan bread and so much more.  We champion British naturally grown free rang and organic meats and produce, we believe it is much healthier for you.  We want to tell you that we are expanding our range at the market to make it more of a one stop shop.  We will have fresh fish, granola, porridge and lots more fruit and veg all starting on the 19th March 2016.

unnamed(2)Perry Court Farm is joining us at the market and will be trading with us every week. It will mean we will have all the full range of fruit and veg that is available in season throughout the whole year. They will bring along everything and importantly they will have everything that you can get in winter as well as summer. This will bring much more variety to the market and will make it a one-stop shop when it comes to getting fruit and veg that is in season. You can also expect Tomatoes all year round. They also produce their own range of healthy fruit crisps that count as part of your 1 a day as well as their own juices.

The farm itself produces a huge range of salad and vegetable crops but also work with neighbouring farms to make sure they can bring all that is needed to your plate.  They don’t use any fertilisers or crop sprays at all, relying on a traditional rotation system.  So fresh produce that is delicious in taste and is natural.  One thing you will also find is that they are also very competitive with their pricing. Millets Farm will also be back as soon as asparagus is in season.
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Channel Fish have already started with us last week, they actually sell the fish that they catch so you are buying direct from the fisherman.  They also sell some organic farmed fish but only from sources they know and trust.  Their Fish is less than 24 hours out of the sea, you can’t get fresher fish and they are cheaper than most fishmongers.  All their fish is caught in the English Channel in a 2-8 mile radius of Shoreham harbour where they land.  They fish using fixed nets, gill nets and lines off small day boats which means all their fish is caught sustainably.

Lastly we have The Crunch joining us, here is what they had to say: -The Granola at The Crunch is made using the finest ingredients and is slowly baked to create delicious aroma, texture and flavour.  The Crunch is a small – batch granola street food company based in Brockley.  Our unique inventions are all natural, preservative – free and have many organic ingredients. Always using local fruits and thick and tasty ”Court Lodge” yoghurt.  We serve granola with a choice of fruits, yoghurt or milk (or both!) and different syrups.

As well as fresh produce we also have street food, live music, a bar, coffee and board games so there is plenty to do for all ages and the little ones can also play on the climbing frames that we have.  We are very much a community market.

Brook Green Market and Kitchen every Saturday

10:00am to 3:00pm

Addison Primary School, Addison Gardens, W14 0DT

http://www.brookgreenmarket.co.uk

Sarah Thrift: We need CCTV on the Maystar Estate

Sarah Thrift photoA guest post from Sarah Thrift of North End Ward Conservatives.

I remember my first visit to the Maystar Estate. It was 1996. Three friends were living in Shuters Square. It was the first of many happy visits, especially once I moved in a few roads down, and where I still live today.

Twenty years on, I am back on the Maystar Estate, having conversations with as many residents as possible. I have recently returned from four years living in America and I don’t like what I see: dirty streets, anti-social behaviour, neighbours telling me about housing problems that are just not being fixed.

I want to know what’s really going on and how I might be able to help. So along with colleagues from the local Conservative association, I begin knocking on everyone’s door in the Maystar Estate (Cheeseman’s Terrace, Passfields, Sun and parts of Star Road and the Squares: Shuters, Vine and Orchard) plus Alice Gilliatt Court.

20160309_165611I am reminded of strong the sense of community I know from all my previous visits here and how much residents love their homes.

But I become saddened by much of what I hear. Due to anti-social behaviour – often involving drugs and groups of nonresidents congregating – residents’ ability to fully enjoy their homes has been diminished. In some blocks, this has become so bad that resident reported needing to be accompanied to their frontdoors.

20160309_171117I hear about parking problems and about the lack of public walkways. Residents show me entrances to block which aren’t secure or significant damage in their homes which has not been repaired. Many tell me of the mice and cockroaches that have infested their homes and about countless calls to the council to report it.

Several residents raise concerns about the Labour council’s plans for a stock transfer of the Estate (along with all others in H&F) to a Housing Association. If the proposal goes ahead, it 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.

With each issue raised with us, my colleagues and I work with Councillor Harry Phibbs, Opposition Spokesman for Housing, to seek a solution. Often this means holding the 20160310_091731council to account to ensure residents don’t get poor service, for example, receiving letters or even visits but no solution.

CCTV is one such area where residents have requested a solution, with many residents telling us that it had been promised to them. North End police also name it as the top priority for the entire North End Ward. But the council tell us that installing CCTV for the Maystar Estate isn’t part of any current plans.

If you support CCTV and would like the council to make it part of their plans, please sign our petition. We have over 100 signatures. You can email me at sarahsthrift@gmail.com and I can sent you freepost letter to sign or arrange to pop round to your front door with the petition.

Please do also email at the same address if you have other concerns. I am excited about making our local area as great to live in as possible and look forward to meeting you on Maystar soon.

Labour-run H&F Council propose a Tenants Tax – while failing to tackle rogue landlords

Labour has a very weak record in Hammersmith and Fulham when it comes to tackling rogue landlords.

I asked for the following information:

Please advise over the past 12 months the number of enforcement
actions undertaken by the Council regarding:
1. The number of prosecutions of private landlords.
2. The number of improvement notices issued to private landlords.
3. The number of rent repayment orders.
Please also advise the number of complaints recieved about private
rented properties.

Best wishes,
Harry

The response was as follows:

The statistics you requested for the last 12 months in respect of activities of Private Housing and Health, between 24th November 2014 and 23rd November 2015 are as follows:

Number of prosecutions of private landlords: 3

Number of Improvement notices served:  9                      

 Number of Rent Repayment Orders made: 0

 Number of complaints received about private rented properties: 553. This figure is an estimate arrived at from evaluating all our service requests as our reports do not allow us to provide a precise number for this category. We work with landlords in order to improve the condition of private rented properties as necessary and enforcement action is taken as appropriate.

Yours sincerely,
 
John Davies
Private Housing & Health Manager

An absolute disgrace.

This is where the Council has the legal power as well as the moral obligation to take action but, when presented with the information of abuse, has overwhelmingly failed to ensure the law is upheld.

Instead last night the Council produced proposals to punish law abiding landlords. They will make them pay £500 for a licence. As they will be able to recover the cost through increased rent this will be a Tenants Tax. It will be “cost neutral” – so all the money would go on extra bureaucrats inspecting the good landlords. The less congenial task of tackling the criminal element – who will obviously evade the licensing regime – would be dodged. Still Labour will be say they are “doing something”.

Furthermore the approach has failed elsewhere. I wrote the following blog about this for Conservative Home in November:

Councils have a role in enforcement against “rogue landlords” – those who fail to meet their legal obligations to provide safe properties and carry out the repairs that are required. The laws are there and councils should enforce them. However many Labour councils are instead diverting their energies into virtue signalling. They are adopting licensing schemes which impose financial penalties and bureaucracy on good landlords. Government rules have scaled back the scope of these schemes. But they still amount to a stealth tax on landlords – which ends up as Tenants Tax as the extra cost results in rents being pushed up.

There are tow forms of licensing councils are using.

One option is Selective Licensing where particular streets are chosen (covering no more that 20 per cent of households in the local authority.)

Another option is Additional Licensing which covers a particular type of tenancy throughout the local authority area: For instance “houses in multiple occupancy” where there are a particular number of people sharing a kitchen and bathroom but they are not one “household”.

Neither form of licensing has any merit for landlords or tenants.

Councils have to show “evidence” to justify their schemes. But all that means is evidence of there being a problem – that there are bad landlords and that they are concentrated in some places more than others.  However, the point should be to provide evidence that licensing would be a solution.

The financial temptation for councils to introduce such schemes is significant. If a London borough imposed it on 20 per cent of private rented properties (typically in the poorest area or type of properties such as flats above shops) that might hit 5,000 properties. The fee for a five year licence could be £500. So that is £2.5 million. Such schemes are supposedly “revenue neutral” but there is not any terribly robust check of that proposition. What is beyond dispute is that it is job creation scheme for the Council – and the bigger the department running it the higher the salary of the director of the department that runs it.

Staff will then carry out box ticking inspections on those registered to ensure the law is being obeyed. But who do you think will be those who comply and register, coughing up the £500? Not the beds in sheds merchants. They stay off the radar – the number of prosecutions is tiny.

Ah, some will retort, but if the good landlords are licensed this is a “kitemark” that guides the potential tenant in their direction. I can see the theory. But anyone wanting to rent will look at the property before hand. They can ask for the safety checks – which if they are booking through an agency will probably already be in order.

The difficulty is not tenant ignorance. Tenants will tend to know if they have a rogue landlord. They will certainly notice, for example, if they are sharing five to a room. Instead the problem is that the tenant is complicit – for instance due to being an illegal immigrant or only being able to afford a low rent.

Licensing doesn’t solve the problem – indeed it makes it slightly worse in that it pushes up the rents charged by legitimate landlords making their properties still less affordable to those trapped in squalor.

Some councils will grandly retort that the scheme “only costs £2 or £3 a week”, as it is spread over five years. But an extra £3 a week rent for a low income tenant on a tight budget is not so trivial a matter. Also the cost is higher as there will be the admin cost to the landlord. Landlords will be more likely to use agents to cope with it all for them – which tends to push up costs.

Furthermore there will be the impact of higher rents due to the reduction of good, well managed accommodation as a result of the extra charge distorting the market. Consider if someone is going abroad for six months or a year and is inclined to rent out their house while they are away. They would have to pay the full £500 for the five year licence as well as filling in a ton of forms. They might decide not to bother.

The Scottish Government is already declaring war on the private rented sector. The new regulations they are imposing will bring in inflexibility. It poses a threat to the future of the Edinburgh Festival as the availability of temporary accommodation could dry up.

Designating a particular area a Designated Licensing scheme can create a stigma, discouraging property developers from coming forward to build new homes. This was why Manchester City Council abandoned their scheme. The Council added:

“Both the legislation and the City Council’s approach to introducing Selective Licensing (SL) have created difficulties. Members and landlords have rightly criticised the scheme as being overly bureaucratic, with too much effort focussed on the paperwork and administration and not enough on tackling the poorer landlords through enforcement and prosecution.”

One of the supposed benefits of these licensing schemes is ensuring that landlords require good conduct from their tenants. Where tenants are involved in anti-social behaviour I am all for them being evicted. It is argued that the licensing will help – as landlords will be obliged to get rid of problem tenants in order to keep their licence.

The trouble is the practicalities are not thought through. If required to evict a tenant for anti-social behaviour (for example, noise) the landlord will tend to seek vacant possession serving a Section 21 Notice rather than a Section 8 Notice identifying the grounds for possession. The former is simpler and cheaper. Reposession is a formality rather than a matter of doubt. No reason needs be given for serving a Section 21 Notice. Thus once thrown out the tenant can approach the local authority for assistance to be re-housed.

With the Section 21 Notice nobody need offer evidence against an anti social tenant – who can then carry on being housed by the Council a few streets along.

There is also the risk of malicious claims of anti-social behaviour being made, resulting in tenants losing their tenancies. The Council tells the landlord they have had complaints. Under the Selective Licensing system hearsay evidence is enough for them to demand an eviction. The landlord must comply, even if he believes the tenant to be innocent, or the landlord will be banned.

A better way is for councils to use their existing powers – such as Interim Management Orders. They can still secure an eviction but the case must be proven. That protects the innocent. It also means that the guilty are proven guilty.

Of course when landlords – or their tenants – are engaged in criminal behaviour there are already powers available to councils to act.

No doubt they could make better use of those powers and there could be ways that those powers could be usefully strengthened.

Nor do councils need a licensing scheme to discover who owns a property. A Land Registry search is a quick and easy way to do this – and one that can identify the owners of the properties that really need to be targeted for enforcement action.

But these extra licensing schemes are not of any benefit. They punish good landlords with more admin and good tenants with higher rents. Councils get a new revenue stream and claim to be “doing something”.

Meanwhile too many of the law breakers continue to be ignored.