Cllr Greg Smith: H&F Council should stop wasting time on its own foreign policy

gregsmithCllr Greg Smith is Leader of the Conservative Group on Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

For most of the year five flags fly above Hammersmith Town Hall.  Those of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland occupy the four lower flag poles, underneath the Union Flag.  They are not there by accident, but fly as a symbol of our pride as a borough in the capital city of our great country.  I am therefore struggling to comprehend the attitude of the H&F Labour Party following the EU referendum.

At the July meeting of Full Council,Labour Councillors spoke of their “pride” in the local result of the referendum, where 70% of residents voted to remain in the European Union.  They even tabled a motion saying: “The council resolves to observe the wish of the significant majority of its residents to remain in the European Union.” Furthermore, the Labour Member of Parliament for Hammersmith, at a rally in Ravenscourt Park last week, described the decision of the British people for the UK to leave the EU as “a mistake” and talked of his desire to see the decision reversed.

Let’s think about that.

On 23rd June 17.4 million people voted to leave.  That is the largest mandate ever given to anyone or anything in our democratic history.  For clarity, I was proudly one of them, having been an opponent of Britain’s membership of the undemocratic European Union for my whole 20 years in politics and that our country would be more prosperous and safer as an independent global player.  The H&F Labour Party’s line that Hammersmith & Fulham’s 70% vote to remain should somehow trump that of the rest of the country is intolerance and disrespect of the highest order.  For this was not an electoral test of one borough, nor of London, but the whole country.

Any talk of disregarding the view of our United Kingdom is not just undemocratic, but playing up to the caricature many outside the capital have of “Metropolitan elites” who think they know better.

In many ways – I found the referendum campaign refreshing.  For the first time in 20 years I did not campaign with the comfort blanket of my party around me.  Nor did those committed people I campaigned alongside from the Labour Party, the Greens, UKIP, the Lib Dems and of no party at all.  It was also a pleasure to campaign alongside people from EU nations who equally believed Britain’s involvement with the political project of the European Union needed to end.

In fact, everyone I saw campaigning for the winning Leave vote had deeply held views, real conviction and a belief in the future of our country.  I nor they were campaigning on some whim, but long held,honest beliefs that our country will be better governing our own affairs, striking deals all around the world for our prosperity and able to treat all people that want to make Britain their home equally and fairly, no matter where they come from.  That is what 52 per cent of the country voted for and that is what will happen.  Our new Prime Minister has made clear that Brexit means Brexit and it is incumbent on all of us who believe in democracy to support her and the Government in delivering it.

Of course we must listen to the concerns of the 48 percent.  But that is part of what making a success of Brexit means.  Proving those fears, predominantly economic, wrong as we build new trade deals across the globe.

Meanwhile, in Hammersmith & Fulham, whilst our Labour Council tries its hand at foreign policy, the streets are getting filthier with fly-tips on the rise.  Our once awarded and celebrated parks are falling into ruin. Indeed I have recently been handed a file of over 120 maintenance issues in Bishops Park from dangerous dangling electricity cables to churned up turf.

Crime is on the rise whilst evictions for anti-social and criminal behavior are down. And every single council tenant and council leaseholder faces incredible uncertainty as the council pursues its scorched earth strategy of selling off the whole housing stock to a third party.

So my message to Hammersmith & Fulham Labour is a clear one.  You won an election in 2014 to run our Council.  You have that local democratic mandate.  Instead of talking down the popular view of the country, why don’t you get on with doing your job.

Now H&F Council refuses to take any more unaccompanied refugee children

dubbsIn May the Government agreed to a demand from Lord Dubs that the UK should take in 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from across Europe where local authorities agree.

There is a difficulty with the policy given that it gives priority to those who have reached Europe (Syrians and also Afghans, Eritreans and others) rather than those in the refugee camps. Those in Europe are generally safer than those stuck in the camps. Also giving preference to those who have reached Europe provides an incentive for the people smugglers – the criminal gangs that attract the desperate.

So while I agree with Lord Dubs that we should take more refugees I disagree over where they should come from. However this dispute is rather academic in our borough. Our council is not taking any more from anywhere.

I have already written about the Council’s general failure in this regard yesterday. Under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme it has a score of nil.

Under the Lord Dubs unaccompanied refugee children scheme it has the same score. It’s all very well for Lord Dubs to be paraded around at local Labour Party gatherings like a prize bull where they all tell each other how caring they are. Then they go away and decide to block anyone from coming in.

For those interested in the details here is my correspondence over the last 24 hours with Steve Miley, the Council’s Director of Family Services. The upshot is that Hammersmith and Fulham could take in unaccompanied refugee children but has quietly made a political decision not to.  just to make clear I don’t blame Mr Miley for this. He takes his orders from Cllr Sue Macmillan and she is the one who must take responsibility.

I wrote to him as follows:

Steve,
As I’m sure you will be aware in April the Government announced a scheme for the settlement of 3,000 refugee children.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-scheme-launched-to-resettle-children-at-risk
Please advise how many we will be taking in Hammersmith and Fulham and when?
Will the placements will be fostering and adoption (with the usual delays) of whether some form of “fast tracking” will be possible. I would presume a decision on placing such children for fostering rather than adoption would depend on whether their parents were still alive?
Will these children be placed with those couples already approved for fostering and adoption? Or will there be some sort of separate category specially recruited?
Obviously I would hope placements in residential children’s home can be avoided.

Best wishes,
Harry

He replied:

Harry

The government is planning a national dispersal scheme for all refugee young people and we anticipate that the 3,000 referred to will be part of that.

The details of the scheme are currently being worked on – the initial plan is that all Local Authorities will be asked to take a proportion of young people according to the Local Authority size – the formula being proposed is 0.07% of the child population in that Local Authority.

Local Authorities who already have more UASC than that number now will not be asked to take any refugee young people; Local Authorities whose number of UASC young people is below the 0.07% figure will be asked to take young people first.

We are currently just above the 0.07% number (which equates to 23 young people) so are unlikely to be asked to take young people first.

In addition, until the scheme comes into place, all children who present in London now are equally shared out under and agreement between London Councils.  On average we take about 15 – 20 children a year (all aged 16 – 17). Approximately 450 young people claiming asylum are shared out across London Councils every year.

All young people are assessed – with fostering as the main placement choice – some older young people go straight into semi independent supported placements. As you say we don’t use residential care for this group.

Steve
Steve Miley
Director of Family Services
Hammersmith and Fulham Council
3rd Floor 145 King Street, London W6  9XY

I responded:

Thanks, Steve.
I was at a meeting of H&F Refugees Welcome last night which discussed encouraging residents to offer to foster or adopt unaccompanied
refugee children. Although we are not planning to take any of the 3,000 I suppose that could still be useful in terms of foster placements for the 15-20 we get each year of 16-17-year-olds?

What if some of the younger refugee children currently with foster carers in the borough were placed for adoption? I presume that would mean they would no longer count as refugee children and so not be included as part of the 0.07% calculation? For example suppose we had 25 children at present and so we our above our quota of 23 and not taking any more (which seems to be the case).  If we placed five for adoption then we would be below the quota and so we would, in that example, be due to take three of the 3,000? Is that right? In any event if the refugee children’s parents are dead would it not be better to place those children for adoption rather than have them shunted around the care system from one foster carer to another?

Also if H&F Refugees Welcome found several suitable potential placements for the children could we say to the Government: “We know we are already exceeding our quota of 23 children as we have 25 children. But the good news is that we have found places for an extra five children thus we could take our total up to 30.” I presume the Government would say: “That’s fantastic. Thanks so much.” Rather than telling us: “No thank you. That would confuse our UASC allocation formula.”

Please clarify these points.

Best wishes,
Harry

His reply was as follows:

Harry

Thank you for this information.

As you know we are always keen to hear from local families interested or wanting to know more about fostering – we would be happy to follow up with briefing session for any community group – I have copied in our fostering and adoption Head of Service Sally Pillay who could arrange this.

Care planning for any looked after child takes account of their age, their circumstances, and their need for a stable upbringing within a family  – so yes adoption would be an option to be considered.

And as you say adopted children leave care and so that potentially could bring out numbers down below the 0.07% threshold.

In addition as most of our UASC young people are aged 16 or 17 approximately 10 a year leave care on their 18th birthday and that also will bring out numbers down below the 0.07% threshold.

In short even though we are currently above the threshold there is every reason to expect that we will continue to need to provide care for refugee children.

And therefore we are keen to follow up any possible options for the recruitment of foster carers.

Steve
Steve Miley
Director of Family Services
Hammersmith and Fulham Council
3rd Floor 145 King Street, London W6  9XY

 

Scaffolding costs soaring out of control in Hammersmith and Fulham

There is a great deal of frustration at the length of time scaffolding is left up on council properties in the borough. It blocks out light and is of great convenience to burglars. Routinely it is left up for months with no work taking place. There is a huge cost – sometimes council leaseholders are forced to pay a share. Most of the bill is met by the Council. This is, of course, the same council that complained about the Government’s decision to provide  modest reduction in rent for hard pressed council tenants.

This is not a new problem. But it did seem to me to be getting worse so I asked for the figures.

The 2015/16 scaffolding costs for capital works came to £5.652m. For 2013/14 (the year before Labour took over) the equivalent cost was £946,000.

On top of this was the bill for “responsive repairs” was £289, 835 for 2015/16. There isn’t a direct comparison for 2013/14 as “maintenance of this type was carried out by two contractors who applied a ‘Price per Job’ cost on all works up to £1,500. There will have been some scaffolding elements to this work.” But I understand that the costs have also greatly escalated even allowing for this.

The upshot is that spending on scaffolding has risen from a million pounds to £6 million.

There needs to be far tighter management in this area. It is something I will pursue…

Hammersmith and Fulham council still failing to tackle “neighbours from Hell”

The latest figures I have been sent show that Hammersmith and Fulham Council is being far too feeble when it comes to crime and anti social behaviour taking place on council estates in the borough.

There were 227 reports of anti social behaviour for 2015/16 where council tenants were the alleged perpetrators. Yet the number of evictions for ASB was just ten.

The council’s policy is to regard “eviction as a last resort”. This should be changed to a zero tolerance approach to the neighbours from Hell. Those found to have broken their tenancy
agreement by engaging in anti social behaviour should be evicted. The Council might see a soft approach towards yobs as “caring” I do not. One yob in a block of flats can cause misery for everyone else. Also there are plenty of decent people in overcrowded accommodation who are desperate for the chance to get a council tenancy.

Of course the allegations need to proven but there are specialist security firms that can gather evidence on persistent offenders – evidence that can stand up in court. Why aren’t the Council using
them?

The eviction rate is pathetic.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council has not yet accepted a single Syrian refugee

Last year the Government announced that it would admit 20,000 Syrian refugees over the five years. Hammersmith and Fulham Council attacked the plan for not going far enough.  Residents were urged to sign a petition calling for a higher figure as “the UK is not offering proportional asylum in comparison with European counterparts.” The council leader said that “we know from speaking to residents over recent days and weeks that many stand ready to help us in finding accommodation.” The Council used its publicity department to put out the message “Refugees Welcome.”

So what has been the reality?

Under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme between the start of October 2015 and the end of March 2016, there have 1,602 people have been resettled across 71 different local authorities. The figure for Hammersmith and Fulham was nil. The updated figure is still nil.  71 local authorities are already participating. Hammersmith and Fulham are not.

The response from the Council is that it is willing to participate in principle – up to a maximum of 50 refugees. They will only be admitted if the cost is fully met from central Government – not a penny from the council’s resources, and additionally only if the housing can be found. Yet those who offered to take in refugees for free in spare rooms have had their offer ignored.

In any case, even if we provided sanctuary for 50 people (which seems a big if) that would be proportionately below providing 20,000 places in the UK. We have 200,000 people, the UK has 65 million. So we have 1/325th of the population. 325 multiplied by 50 comes to 16,250. So even the figure of 50 would not quite be the “proportional asylum” for the 20,000 figure. Yet the Council officially says that 20,000 is much too low.

The council’s official policy is “Refugees Welcome” – that does not appear to be the policy in reality.

 

Cllr Joe Carlebach: We condemn bigotry in all its forms

joecarCllr Joe Carlebach is the Conservative Vulnerable People’s Champion and a councillor for Avonmore and Brook Green Ward. this is his speech to the Hammersmith and Fulham Unity Rally which took place today in Ravenscourt Park.

I want to thank the Council for the invitation to speak today. It is a rare and unusual sight to have Labour and Conservative politicians gathered together, sharing the same platform. It is even more unusual to have them all sending out the same message, however this is one of those occasions.

We have all been appalled by the shocking and unpleasant rise in racism and xenophobia that we have seen across the UK and in our Borough in recent times.
I was appalled and saddened when I learnt of the disgraceful attack on the Polish Cultural Centre, when I heard about people being told to ‘go home’ just because they looked or sounded different, of women being spat on just because they were wearing the hijab, of anti semitic abuse being hurled at members of our Jewish community.

These are all unacceptable and disgraceful examples of the pain caused by racism that from time to time blights our nation until men and women of good character stand up and say NO MORE. As Martin Luther King said  “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.

So let me be very clear, on behalf of my fellow Conservative Councillors, our Conservative MP, our activists and the many thousands of Conservative voters in this Borough and beyond: We unequivocally condemn all forms of racist abuse, bigotry, intolerance, and prejudice. These behaviours have no place in modern Britain and we will do everything in our power to eradicate this evil.

I am the eldest son of an immigrant. My father arrived in England just before the outbreak of the Second World War on the Kinder Transport. He was a child refugee from Nazi Germany. I have personally experienced the bitter taste of discrimination and I know what it feels like to be racially abused. As a result I have been active in the anti racist and anti fascist movements in this country for over forty years.

I know that if we stand together as one, irrespective of our country of origin, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation we can put an end to racism and bigotry. We can send it back to the darkness from where it originated and where it belongs.

Eli Wiesel the Nobel Laureate and holocaust survivor who passed away recently once said: “No human race is superior, no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgements are wrong.” So let me say again, we have a zero tolerance for all forms of racism, xenophobia and prejudice.

The diversity of our nation is what makes us great and brings us prosperity. We will not stand by or remain silent when we see acts of racism and discrimination.

Together we can and we will put an end to this evil.

Breaking news – no bus service for Blythe Road

Cllr Caroline ffiske says:

Last week I asked Hammersmith & Fulham Council officers if they could give me an update on the Blythe Road bus proposal.

The background is that in January this year the Council received a petition from local residents asking them to explore the possibility of a Blythe Road bus service.

The Council’s response to my query began:

“There is no proposal for a bus service in Blythe Road.”

I take this as being definitive.

However, the email goes on to refer to the pro-bus, and the later anti-bus, petitions saying:

We are currently verifying the petitions in accordance with the council’s procedures. We will then carefully consider the points made in the petitions and in the other correspondence we have received and respond to them.

I read this as ~ we are committed to keeping you all, pro- and anti- bus, in the dark for much longer.

If the Council is clear that there will be no bus, I think they should just tell residents so, publicly.  I’m not sure what “careful consideration” of the points made in the petitions will achieve.

The bus proposal has been a sorry saga from the beginning. It speaks of a department unable to manage what should be a straight-forward policy and consultation process.

It’s worth taking another look at what has gone on.

In early May, the Council asked TfL if it could attend a meeting on the Springvale Estate to hear from the pro-bus petitioners what sort of service they were interested in.  So far so good.

However, seemingly without consulting the Tenants Association, the Council decided to bus leaflet croppedturn their private meeting into a public one.  And spent ~ £900 on a leaflet distributed to residents living in and around Blythe Road.  The leaflet rather crassly told residents “you’ve asked for a new bus service” – when the vast majority hadn’t, and gave them three days notice of the meeting.

A storm of astonished emails followed, and this part of the meeting was cancelled.

So, hundreds of residents were left waiting to hear from the Council as to what the next steps would be.

The next steps never came.

Despite inumerable emails flying around between residents, councillors, and council officers, the Council has never once put in place any kind of formal process to explore the bus proposal and its merits; and it has not put in place even the most rudimentary consultation.  In the vacuum that followed, a number of residents launched the anti-bus petition which quickly acquired ~ 660 signatures.

That petition has now been with the Council for three weeks.

The Council that aspires to do things “with” residents has simply left local residents to slug out an issue via petitioning and counter-petitioning.  That is not good.

At one point (at an Olympia meeting) a few pro- and anti-bus residents managed to run into each other.  It was surreal as the original meeting agenda was cast aside so that residents could hear from each other.  I started to think we needed to go back to direct democracy and convene an open meeting on Brook Green.

Over the months that this has gone on, I have mostly been contacted by residents strongly opposed to the bus and asking how they can get involved with the process.   It has been odd and embarrassing to explain that there seems to be…. no process.   I have also received emails from people who would like to learn more about the possibility of a new local transport service.  It has been just as odd telling them that there seems to be no consultation, but they could sign a petition…..?

Looking at the pages and pages of emails on this subject I saw this from me, to the relevant Council officer on 9 May right at the beginning of this whole fiasco:

“….Please do let me know, after the Monday meeting, what the proposed next steps are and timeline.   I’ll try to disseminate this to as many people as possible, as soon as possible, as the emails are still flying in.  If we can in any way, frame or limit what might be considered going forward, that would be good. …. anything that provides more information would be good…”

There is an idea from Cllr Belinda Donovan to seek minutes from the TRA meeting in the hopes that this could be at least one bit of documentation which could enlighten other residents as to how Council officers planned to take the issue forward.

I see an email from Cllr Joe Carlebach to a resident, dated 7 May, saying “the proposal needs a proper investigation in particular the benefits/disadvantages to residents, traffic flows and the impact on Olympia and the wider community.”

Investigation… next steps… timeline…. information…?

No – that is the stuff of open  and consultative decision-making.

I