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.
unnamed(1)
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.

 

 

Zac backs flyunder plan for the A4

zacgoldtwoZac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, has written to me to give his backing replacing the Hammersmith Flyover and a stretch of the A4 with a “flyunder”.

He says:

“I strongly support the idea of taking the A4 underground, allowing us to knit together all of Hammersmith into one beautiful riverside town. The project also has huge potential for reducing air and noise pollution. With up to 10,000 lives cut short a year due to London’s poor air quality, I am committed to taking action to address this. Tackling the gridlock and congestion at sites such as the Hammersmith flyover is essential to ensuring both motorists and the environment benefit and I await the outcome of the consultation process with great interest.

“However, the scheme is not currently funded in Transport for London’s business plan – which means the next Mayor will need to work with Government, business and the local community to find innovative ways to finance the scheme. I am determined to do that.”

When Zac makes a pledge he means it. So this is excellent news. Now all we need to do is to get him elected….

H&F Council spent £777,000 on “Personal Health Plans” – one person gave up smoking, 15 drank less, six lost weight

I have written before about my concerns that the £22.7 million spent by Hammersmith and Fulham Council on public health fails to achieve value for money. When I asked for a budget breakdown it included the following item – costing £777,000 a year:

“Delivery of personal health plans – individual goal oriented planning and support for 1,560 people a year and 1,800 community health checks delivered each year; the service helps people to lose weight, become more active, reduce alcohol use, stop smoking and eat more healthily, and is focused on areas of deprivation.”

That’s pretty expensive. Just under £500 a head. But to get an idea of whether it was good value for money I asked a further query:

“How many of the 1,560 people that we have funded personal health plans have drunk less, lost weight or given up smoking as a result?”

The results:

15 people reported reduced alcohol consumption.

1 person gave up smoking completely.

6 people reported reduced weight.

Of course there will be other health targets. But these are pretty obvious ones and the figures are derisory. It works out at £37,000 a time for each of those 21 achievements. Furthermore how many of those outcomes would have happened anyway regardless of signing up to the personal health plan?

This is the context in which the Council claims there is no money available from the Public Health budget to promote shingles vaccine. Or restore drinking fountains. Or provide dust suppressant spray on the roads to reduce air pollution. Or provide hypnosis for pregnant women to give up smoking or residential rehab for drug addicts. Or provide blood pressure tests for middle aged men. Or peer support for mental illness.

Or really just about anything at all that might be of greater real, practical value than the £777,000 for the Personal Health Plans. It would be quite a challenge to think up a less effective way of spending the money.

Cllr Greg Smith dissects Labour’s dodgy budget

gregsmithLast week, Cllr Greg Smith responded as Leader of the Opposition to the LBHF budget.

These are just some of the dodgy claims and broken promises of Corbyn’s Council that he highlighted:

  • Labour’s “Council Tax cut guarantee” broken, despite £1.5m in new revenue
  • An extra £13,000 spent on allowances for the cabinet, while claiming a “cut”
  • A new £14,000 second allowance for the Council Leader personally
  • £4.8m raised through Moving Traffic PCNs, after claiming they were a “scam”
  • A doubling of Bus Lane PCNs in a year, enough to pay for a 1% tax cut on its own
  • £1.5m spent on a futile attempt to end council housing, with risks of up to £16m
  • A plan for pollution charging on parking permits, despite stating “no increases”
  • £170m claimed in new developer payments, but only £1.79m actually budgeted
  • An unequivocal pledge to cancel the Hammersmith Town Hall redevelopment broken
  • Fewer new homes to be built, with a broken promise on “overseas” investors
  • Millions wasted on commissions and false propaganda about Charing Cross
  • Failure to lobby for a Crossrail 2 station at Imperial Wharf
  • Filthy streets, overspending, hypocritical savings, and bogus claims on bins

Greg also noted Labour’s complaint about an “uncontrollable downward trend” in deaths in the budget papers, which made The Times diary: ‘Bring out your dead, please’.

You can read his full speech below, which starts by raising an extraordinary allegation that the Council Leader made about the last Conservative Council. It has now been personally refuted by the Chief Executive of RBKC. Despite his intervention, Cllr Cowan has refused to apologise for misleading councillors.

Budget Council 2016

Cllr Greg Smith, Leader of the Opposition

Thank you, Madam Mayor.

Before we get to the substance of the budget, I’m going to return to a subject that was in the last council meeting – you know, the one with the dodgy minutes – and that I’m delighted the Leader of the Council repeated this evening. Let’s just remind ourselves.

At the last meeting, and again tonight, the Leader of the Council got on his feet. He said – I quote from the transcript, and it’s probably close to what he said tonight as well:

The very first meeting I had with the former Chief Executive, he shuffles into my office to tell me that you had planned a 14% increase on parking charges.”

Now, prior to the last meeting, we had only heard his anonymised version of that. At the last meeting, and again tonight, he named the source as the former Chief Executive, Nicholas Holgate. So I wrote to Mr Holgate. I put it to him that the Leader of the Council had made this claim at the last council meeting. Let me read you his reply:

I do remember discussing parking charges but I do not think there was any plan by your Administration to raise them.”

It gets better: “Nor would I have prayed any such plan in aid of a conversation with Cllr Cowan as it would have been none of his business.”

The email goes on, “My starting point is that”, and we have some bullet points:

“– there wasn’t such a plan;

I did not discuss any such plan;

it would have been wrong to have done so as it is not for one Administration to be told about its predecessor’s intentions; and

he would appear to be mis-attributing a point of view that I put to him on my own account.”

Think about what that email says.

The serving Chief Executive of Kensington and Chelsea, our former Chief Executive, has refuted the Leader of the Council’s claim. He adds, to complete his email:

In case I have failed to recall any such plan, I have asked two people who might remember; and I will come back to you, I would hope in the next few days, if they remind me of something I have forgotten.”

No-one has got back to him. No-one believes such a conversation, or any such plans, existed.

When Cllr Cowan gets back on his feet later to sum up, he should apologise for misleading this Council, he should apologise to our former Chief Executive, and he should apologise to members of the last administration for what he accused us of doing.

Because not only is this a demonstration of his utter disregard for the truth, but it now shows that whenever he quotes his anonymous sources, he simply cannot be believed.

This is an administration of dodgy claims and broken promises. I’m now going to turn to the broken promises in this budget.

Penalty Charge Notices

And where better to begin than with Penalty Charge Notices? Their post-election manifesto said, and I quote: “By entrapping motorists, the council makes the fourth-highest profit in the country from traffic fines.” And the Leader said the official figures, and I quote: “demonstrate the scale of this scam”.

Curious words. What figure demonstrated a scam? Here it is: “Year 2011/12 – Number of Moving Traffic Penalty Charge Notices – 72,837”.

Here’s another figure to consider from 2014/15, your first year in administration: “Number of Moving Traffic Penalty Charge Notices – 96,666”!

That was last year. This month’s cabinet papers show that in 2015/16, the Council will get £4.8 million from Moving Traffic PCNs alone. And Moving Traffic PCNs are far from the only kind.

Let’s look at Bus Lane PCNs. In our last year in charge, 2013/14, the total number of Bus Lane PCNs issued was 11,505. In this financial year, which isn’t even over yet, it’s 21,888!

You’re going to double them and the cabinet papers show that will bring in a million. In fact, your increase in Bus Lane PCNs would pay for a 1% Council Tax cut by itself.

The Leader of the Council used to claim to have a clear view on responsibility. In 2014, he said: “If you’ve been issued with a £130 H&F traffic fine in the last few years that is a consequence of a deliberate policy of the Borough’s Conservative councillors.” Well, whose deliberate policy is it now? This hypocrisy of the worst kind.

Even on the Bagley’s Lane junction specifically, the one that those of you who were here all stood on your feet denouncing, what’s your record? In our last year, the PCNs issued totalled £1.65 million. In your first year, it was £1.73 million and now it’s going up and up and up. Your hypocrisy is so flagrant that you have actually institutionalised it.

Another curious line in your budget says, “Recognition of historic parking variances”. It’s on page 38. It nets you £1 million a year.

Now, that’s not new money, is it? That’s you starting to bank the revenue that you condemned as a scam in opposition. That’s not a party of principle; that’s not a party that’s standing up for what they claim they are; that’s a party that is just pocketing all the money.

You haven’t changed a single junction – what you have changed is your tune. If there is a scam, it’s the one that you have pulled on the electors of this borough.

Parking Charges

Which brings me neatly back to parking charges. We’ve already been reminded of the Leader’s dodgy form on this subject.

On the detail we have before us tonight, the budget says, “no increases proposed for parking fees”. But everything we hear – we’ve had the Air Quality Commission referenced and I notice that the “independent” Liberal Democrat has left – everything we hear, indicates something entirely different, with a switch to motorist-clobbering, emissions-based charging due to come in. It’s something we are told is likely to be agreed at a cabinet meeting this year.

So again, when he’s back on his feet, will the Leader confirm whether parking permit charges will actually be frozen at £119 for all renewals and all new issues for the whole of the budget year 2016/17? Or is their real plan to bring in higher emissions-based charging for parking permits?

We look forward to reading the Equalities Impact Assessment on that plan, particularly for those people on low incomes – and sole traders with older vans that they need to run their businesses – who can little afford to run out and buy a car that pollutes less.

Uprating by RPI

So what’s the broader picture on fees and charges? Whenever the last administration put up a fee or charge by RPI, you stood in this council chamber and denounced it as a ‘stealth tax’.

We remember when you attacked us for proposing to raise council housing rents by RPI. You argued for CPI instead. Well, by your own logic, by choosing RPI and not CPI for your increases, you are the stealthy ones now.

The driving difference between RPI and CPI is that RPI includes housing costs, and that has nothing to do with the Council’s costs. So we see you increasing fees and charges by 1.1%, rather than what should be 0% – a much bigger gap than existed when we used to put up by RPI in our time.

Meals on wheels

We can have a look at one charge, pretty much the only one that the Leader has put his finger on them having reduced, the meals on wheels reduction – or increased subsidy, I should say. He’s so pleased about this one, it got a press release all to itself in the budget cycle.

But how many residents actually benefit from this increased subsidy for meals on wheels? A thousand? Two thousand? Any guesses?

The answer is on page 66 – it’s 122 people. Only 122 service users are left for a service that is in absolute terminal decline. The Council is subsiding each meal by over £5. It would actually be cheaper to order the Tesco Finest or the luxury Waitrose microwave meals and have them delivered without the users having to pay anything at all.

Some might prefer that, others might not. But there seems to be a personal obsession with a service in decline that could actually be delivered much better, and much cheaper, in a way that the majority of people would want.

Zero-based budget?

Of course, fees and charges are only half the story. We were promised, and he referenced it earlier, a zero-based budget.

In one of his many press releases that the press inexplicably failed to report, the Leader boasted that, “our zero-based budget reviews mean we will continue to find savings”. And, to be fair to you, it was in your manifesto: “We will undertake a zero-based review of all council activities, stripping out those that don’t benefit residents and submitting the results to an expert Critical Friends Board.”

So where is it? Where’s the review? Where’s the board? I asked in the PAC meeting and I’m asking again tonight. There is no evidence of a zero-based review having taken place at all.

A zero-based review involves totally redrawing services; starting with a blank sheet of paper; building up the departments from scratch; ignoring the baseline from previous years and producing an entirely new model. All you have actually done is oversee an absolutely standard budget-setting process, no different to the Medium Term Financial Strategy process that we went through in our eight years in power, which has produced the same sort of tables that we are all used to having seen for many years.

There is no zero-based review. There is no review document. There is no expert board that has considered it. I know they used to have their “Critical Friend” report, but he’s left the Labour Party now.

It’s just a zero-based approach to the truth.

Cabinet allowances

Perhaps it’s the old spectre of allowances that’s distracted them, an area where we find yet more broken promises.

You pledged to reduce the size of the Cabinet – then you increased it. As we know, total spending on councillors’ allowances has gone up by £13,000 a year. Others might be a little cautious about their increased burden to the taxpayer, but he issues press releases claiming he leads “the first administration to ever cut councillors’ pay”. Thirteen-thousand pounds a year more is not a cut!

And what, if we remember those days when they were the Opposition, what about the Leader’s staunch opposition to any councillor receiving a second allowance?

Well, on top of his Leader’s allowance, there’s a neatly pocketed extra £14,000 for him and £3,000 for another Cabinet Member from the OPDC.

I’m not sure how all the extra pay will be viewed by the council staff who face the £756,000 in redundancy measures in this budget. Perhaps the councillor who also represents the GMB might let us know at some point?

Whilst we’re on the subject, even his old hostility to MIPIM seems to have vanished. We all remember his persistent attacks on the last administration for attending MIPIM, which were never extended to attacking his Labour colleagues in London who went. Then last year, what was that phrase? He took the protest inside, which meant he acquired a ticket and went!

And this year, now he’s inside the boardroom of the OPDC with the extra £14,000, what did he vote for? He voted to send multiple OPDC members to… guess where? MIPIM in Cannes!

Labour’s cuts

Or perhaps their zero-based review was side-lined by their re-defining of ‘cuts’?

It’s all changed now, and never more so than with things that this administration used to describe as ‘cuts’. Let’s take a look at the Adult Social Care budget for a moment and play the old Cowan game.

Here’s one: a “Review of direct payment packages through a case file approach”, saving £152,000. In Opposition, he would have said this was finding excuses to cut vulnerable people’s direct payments, who couldn’t defend themselves.

Let’s try another line: “In Borough / At home support for younger adults through Learning Difficulties Supported Accommodation” – a saving of £89,000. The old Cowan would have said we were cutting vital support at home for vulnerable young people, who wouldn’t get the help they need.

Let’s try another one: “Review all high cost/high needs placements for continuing health funding” saving £600,000. The old Cowan would undoubtedly have said that the people who were most in need of help were going to lose over half a million.

On items like “Reviewing of care pathways”, saving £1.3 million, he would have given us his deep suspicions that this was a penny-pinching exercise that would lead to worse care – without any evidence, but because we couldn’t possibly ‘cut’ and mean well.

And then we would have had his old sob stories about people he’d met, who he’d never name, but we don’t need to go over those. That was his approach to savings in Adult Social Care back then.

Now, because we know that it is possible to deliver more for less, and proved it, we’re not going to take your approach. We will give you the benefit of the doubt on these changes, a benefit that you never once extended to us, simply decrying ‘cut’ and ‘wrong’ to everything that ever involved money.

Not enough deaths’

Possibly the most staggering line in your budget is a complaint. It’s a complaint that not enough people in the borough are dying. On page 45, an entry under cemeteries complains, and I quote, that an “Uncontrollable downward trend in income [is] likely to continue”!

Now to try and blame the budgetary pressures on not enough residents dying is something, even for them.

Terrorism

More serious is an item we find described as “Increased risk of terror attacks abroad”, “Coroner”, “£100,000”.

This, from the party that is led nationally by a man who describes Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends”, who made apologies for terrorism on Russian TV, who wanted to disband the army and is still trying to remove our nuclear deterrent.

This, when their former group leader and the current MP for the north of this borough has actually visited proscribed Hamas leaders with Corbyn, has convened meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood in Parliament, has been photographed on marches arm-in-arm with Ismail Patel, who wants the death penalty for adulterous women, and Hafiz al-Karmi of the PFB.

This, from the party whose national Leader and Shadow Chancellor supported and praised the bombs and bullets of the IRA when it was planting bombs on Hammersmith Bridge and killing Londoners.

Rather than looking abroad, perhaps they should look a little closer to home.

Children’s Services

How can we be expected to believe that Children’s Services department is going to deliver £3.2 million of savings in 2016/17, when according to latest Corporate Revenue Monitor figures the department has been unable to meet this year’s savings or balance their budget without a drawdown from reserves?

Bin collections

And what are we really to believe on bin collections? I know they like to massage the figures, they like to change the minutes, they like to rewrite history; but the reality was that they put out a public consultation, that we know was signed off by the Cabinet Member, which very explicitly asked residents for their views on reducing weekly bin collections.

Hurriedly dropped – caught out by the Conservatives – their new response? An incentive to use the bulky waste collections.

The charge for collecting bulky waste items, again another subsidised service, is being reduced to, and I quote: “encourage greater service take up by households”. Now that might not necessarily be a bad idea. The current charge is £24.85. Take a fiver or a tenner off and it might work.

What’s the new charge? Any of you know? £24.30 – a game-changing 55p lower! Don’t all rush with your ‘10 items or fewer’ at once.

Filthy streets

The problem this administration has – I’d be amazed if it wasn’t coming up in their own conversations as they trot around the borough trying to get Sadiq Khan elected – is the number-one issue on the doorsteps. It’s the state of the streets, which have become steadily more filthy over the course of the last couple of years.

They like to talk about changes to the Serco contract. I happen to know a lot about changing the Serco contract, because I did it. The reality was a change that was 100% about putting right things that were wrong in the original contract, where streets had been classified incorrectly as needing multiple sweeps a day, and where other streets had actually been classified originally as being swept once a week, when they clearly needed much more regular sweeping.

It was also about the introduction of more automation: automated buggies, with brushes that are a lot more efficient at getting the detritus out of the gutters and cleaning the streets. Well, they were supposed to arrive in June 2014. Mysteriously, I have only seen one so far. It was a hired one – it wasn’t properly branded.

What has happened to those machines? Why are they not on the streets, as the contract that we signed and put in place for June 2014 said they should? They are not here.

I have no idea how the street cleaning contract has been messed up so badly, but it has, and our streets are getting dirtier. It’s happened on your watch and you now need to do something about it.

Housing stock transfer

What about the next scandal? This administration is spending £1.5 million in a vain – a personally vain attempt by the Leader – to end council housing in the borough.

It has never been about trying to do the right thing for council tenants, leaseholders, or taxpayers. Rather, it’s the Leader’s personal attempt to revive the community gateway model that he wanted when, all those years ago, he was Cabinet Member for Housing, despite it being 15 years out of date and having failed wherever it’s been tried.

 

Of course, there are other reasons for them to want to get our estates off the books: by ending the sale of expensive voids, they have driven a hole right through the middle of the Housing Revenue Account and have endangered basic repairs.

 

There was a reason they approached a former Housing Minister from Lambeth, who pushed through wave after wave of stock transfers, despite bitter opposition from tenants and leaseholders alike. Mostly they were ALMOs, like the disaster that the previous Labour Council created here.

Of course, we have got to remember that an ALMO can be brought back in-house, just as the last Conservative administration brought Labour’s failing ALMO back in-house, and the damage can start to be reversed. It is not an irreversible step that would leave even a special resident-led housing association, which isn’t financially viable by the way, at the risk of takeover. The words ‘Old Oak Housing Association’ should surely be enough for some of the members opposite to recognise that.

 

The reason they approached Keith Hill was because he could be trusted to recommend handing over a portfolio of around 12,000 properties, with a value approaching £4 billion, to a unspecified landlord based upon a business case that the Council’s own advisors concluded was marginal. That and the present Cabinet Member for Housing was able to improperly inject the name of her former boss into the selection process. It’s a small world.

 

It’s so small that their entire plan now relies – and you liked quoting him earlier – on the excellent Chief Secretary to the Treasury writing off £280 million in HRA debt. That’s more than the entire allocated budget for stock transfer in the last Parliament. And what is their case to the excellent Member of Parliament for Chelsea & Fulham?

 

It’s not that council tenants will get anything back from the write off. Leaseholders won’t even get a say. And council taxpayers? They will have to pay a figure estimated to be over £2.5 million and possibly as high as £16 million to give the stock a positive valuation; a figure that comes out of housing resources, but was known and endorsed by this administration’s cabinet.

 

Yet here is the curious thing. Based on their cabinet’s own timetable, there should be a ballot for this in the autumn of this calendar year. Yet there is no reference in this budget to the cost or the budget risk of that.

According to the cabinet papers, a transfer would occur in spring 2017, within the budget year that we are about to vote on. They state, and I’m quoting now: “There will be a corporate impact of a stock transfer; including an impact on the General Fund should it proceed.” They also say: “delegate authority to the cabinet member for housing to release a further £778,000 from the General Fund to progress beyond the business case to finalise and seek DCLG/HCA consent to a detailed offer during financial year 2016/17.” 

Yet there is absolutely nothing in this budget that makes any sort of provision for that. There’s the option to release another £500,000 from the General Fund in the event of significant delays, or so say the cabinet. It doesn’t say it in the budget.

 

Where is the reference to it? This is supposed to be one of your flagship policies. This is supposed to be something that you want to shout from the rooftops. It’s just not there.

Why does it not even appear as a risk? Having spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to get shot of our council housing, surely this an acknowledgement that it was unworkable plan from the start: a way to avoid keeping the HRA on a sustainable basis, which the Treasury would be negligent in its fundamental duty to the taxpayer were it to endorse.

 

And the ultimate irony? To get as far as this, what did Cllr Cowan and this Labour administration put in the model for their Brave New Association? What was there in black and white?

The redevelopment of estates – but without any of the guarantees that tenants, as council tenants, hold.

Government funding

Another tick in the hypocrisy box. Let’s turn to the reality of government funding, and tax.

The truth is that reductions in government grant are slowing. See page 19: “From 2010/11 to 2015/16 government funding has reduced by £66m.” The 2016/17 funding reduction is actually £8.2 million. “In addition, the Government has imposed” – fair enough – “£3.4m of new burdens on the Council”. Funding is forecast to reduce by £25 million up to 2020; a slower rate of reduction than the last Conservative Council had to put through.

They complain about “eye-watering” cuts, but then on page 22 insist – they insist, in fact I’m surprised that they didn’t put it in bold – that they have “protected front-line services”.

If they have managed to take all this money out, while protecting frontline services, I don’t understand why they are bleating and crying and standing on their high horse. Surely, if you have protected the services and spent less, that is fundamentally a good thing?

And, of course, what they don’t say in their speeches or in their budget papers is what this government is doing to support local councils and, most importantly, set councils free.

We had a reference to the Council Tax Freeze Grant earlier; only what he didn’t say is that has, in fact, been rolled into the Revenue Support Grant.

There’s the New Homes Bonus – and I’ll come onto that in a moment.

Business rates devolution – 100% business rate retention by the end of the Parliament, and they are looking at transferring other budgets.

And what happens when the government grants extra money? For example, the £74,000 grant for tackling rogue landlords? That equalled a whole LBHF press release without a single mention of where the money actually came from!

And we see buried examples in the budget report, like the end of the legal requirement for councils to pay for carbon allowances, worth £110,000 – again with no recognition of where that money has actually come from.

Tax pledge broken

So with all this in mind, why is it that you have broken your Council Tax cut pledge?

The Council Tax Base is up by £1.5 million, largely because it was the Conservatives in this borough who got homes built. Not to mention that this makes last year’s £0.5 million cut – your 1% reduction in Council Tax – seem like nothing at all.

In 2014, you claimed in your manifesto, and I’m quoting: “Hammersmith and Fulham is currently a high tax borough”. An absurd claim, given that we left this Council with the third lowest Council Tax bills in Britain, but you made it. So after all your PCNs, and extra Council Tax, and fees, and charges, what is it now?

What is it now? Is it still a ‘high tax’ borough? Are you still ashamed of it? Because you made the pledge to cut Council Tax, yet you have absolutely failed to do so this year.

You used to say that you would cut Council Tax by more than us, and, do you know what? Some people believed it. When you said, I’m quoting, “H&F raises a staggering £64.5m from stealth taxes such as parking charges”, some people thought you meant you’d charge less.

When you said, “we will cut council taxes”plural – they thought you meant it. Now you can’t even guarantee the most simple of your guarantees.

Developer contributions

Perhaps the clue lies somewhere in the haze around renegotiations of section 106 agreements.

We’ve all heard the Leader’s boasts about how much “extra” he has brought in – £170 million was the claim at the last Full Council meeting. Although, as the papers state, the Council “currently holds £39.3m of funds [and] further receipts are expected”, but only when “approved developments proceed”.

Your manifesto named three schemes that you were going to renegotiate: West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates; Shepherds Bush Market; and Queens Wharf. Which of those has actually been renegotiated? None of them.

You also used to claim that the new Town Hall offices were “unnecessary” and made the unequivocal manifesto commitment that, and I quote, “we will stop this”. Are the offices going ahead? They are. Let’s pause and reflect on that for a moment: the man who claims he was paid to train people in negotiating skills, and brags about his prowess with developers, has failed to negotiate with… himself.

So when he brags about £170 million that he’s personally secured, perhaps we should turn instead to page 23 of the budget report: “Outside investment secured (i.e. Section 106)” – £1.79 million. What’s two decimal points between friends?

Now, he may say the money’s coming, but until he finally publishes a breakdown of schemes, the amounts, and the concessions he’s given on things like overage, it’s just like the rest of his claims. Absolutely worthless.

Whilst we are on the subject of section 106 agreements, perhaps someone from the administration can stand up and confirm whether the £1.3 million allocated for Bishops Park will, in fact, solely be spent on Bishops Park? Because everything has gone suspiciously quiet on that front.

Fewer new homes

We all know that the key to section 106 agreements is to build. And that is where this administration is failing so badly. Their ideological focus on social rent is denying the thousands of residents who want a helping hand onto the property ladder that opportunity.

The clue is in your own papers. The New Homes Bonus Grant forecast on page 48 is £8.1 million for 2016/17 and £8.1 million for 2017/18 – that’s pretty much the point where the build out of planning applications that went through under the last administration reaches fruition. Then what happens? The New Homes Bonus forecast falls to £5.1 million in 2018/19 and, yet again, down to £4.9 million for 2019/20.

Even they predict that the number of homes being built won’t match previous years. They are not the builders.

Furthermore, their promise on overseas buyers, their promise to “use planning and legal powers to ensure new homes built in the borough go to residents and are not marketed as investment units for investors” – to be generous not delivered, to be brutally honest, broken.

Charing Cross Hospital

So let’s turn to the subject about which they talked most in the election, Charing Cross Hospital. A hospital they don’t run, have no control over, but want to talk about more than anything else.

What have they actually done?

Well, they started by spending thousands on a barrister, paid to make an argument, with no expertise on health whatsoever. They hired the South Bank Centre for a press conference. They published a nice, quite expensively printed book with a lot of blank red pages and, released in the last few days, a quite expensive propaganda video. We all remember what they used to say about propaganda videos.

Cllr Cowan is filmed saying, “the government wants to close down Charing Cross”, which we know – and I think even they know, in their heart of hearts – is complete nonsense.

It was the government that intervened to guarantee the A&E department in 2013. The Prime Minister has gone on the record repeatedly to confirm this. Let me quote from last year: “we’re not closing A&E departments at Charing Cross and Ealing as Labour are trying to suggest. I think the leaflets being circulated by people like Andrew Slaughter are a disgraceful example of scaremongering.”

And the bullets points that flashed up your video are, likewise, a disgrace. “Replaced by GP clinic” – not true. “A&E replaced by Urgent Care Clinic” – not true. “Sold off to developers” – both dodgy and hypocritical at the same time.

Because what did this administration do just before Christmas? This administration signed up to the health devolution deal in London. This borough, as a result of their decision, is a full London partner. And here are the terms of the accord on the HM Treasury website:

London partners are committed to:

increasing value from unused and underutilised estate in order to release land for other health purposes, the provision of public services, and much needed housing

reinvesting disposal proceeds into the health and care system to support new models of health and care across the wider system

taking fixed costs out of the existing healthcare system to reduce running costs

significantly improving the utilisation and efficiency of the existing health and care estate

identifying joint opportunities to share estate between health and care”

 

In other words, exactly the principles they claimed to oppose on Charing Cross!

Their position on their video gets worse – because you’re still prepared to scream “save our hospital” for votes, while you sign up to the opposite in reality. It is a disgrace. I’m sorry to say that it is lying.

And the irony is you all campaigned for a ‘Miliband government’ that wanted to spend £8 billion less on the NHS than this current government.

All talk

The truth is that this administration is all talk and no delivery. No zero-based budget. No Council Tax cut. No reductions to Penalty Charge Notices. But millions spent on commissions that will never see a single recommendation implemented.

Crossrail 2

And nowhere to be seen when it comes to lobbying for serious infrastructure improvements like a Crossrail 2 station at Imperial Wharf.

In the same period that the Crossrail 2 official consultation was live, they produced press releases on an evening gown dress competition, on the Lyric Theatre’s excellent forthcoming Spring shows, on – and this is seriously the title – “Who scored the second goal for Chelsea in the 1970 FA Cup final against Leeds”.

They even had one on the Flying Dutchman, but they didn’t breathe a word, not one word, about the Crossrail 2 consultation that they purported at the last council meeting to agree represents a transformational infrastructure opportunity for our borough. It was left to the Conservatives.

You would have thought they could at least have called up their old ‘Critical Friend’, although, as I said earlier, now he’s taken a job for the Chancellor and left the Labour Party, I accept he is more of a critic than a friend these days. They could have at least called him up and made the case for Imperial Wharf.

A real tax cut

Left to us, just as it is left to Conservatives in power to actually deliver a Council Tax reduction for the hardworking taxpayers of our borough, thanks to Boris Johnson, who is cutting the Mayoral precept.

The 2016/17 budget will see the Mayor’s share of Council Tax fall by 6.4 per cent – a reduction of £19 to £276 for Band D taxpayers. The Mayor’s budget also includes plans to protect police officer numbers and key transport improvements, while supporting the construction of a record number of new homes, creating thousands of new jobs.

And who voted against that? Each and every one of the Labour members on the GLA.

Corbyn’s Council

So, enjoy your fourteen-grand pay rise. Although sadly for you, half your time has gone, wasted on commissions, cronyism and crackpot ideas.

I’m afraid this administration is about as effective as a Vanguard submarine without missiles.

Corbyn’s Council. Rudderless, clueless, out-of-touch and – thankfully – rapidly running out-of-time.