Mark Higton: Labour’s threat to youth provision in H&F

A guest post from Mark Higton, a Conservative candidate for Ravenscourt Park Ward.

I am deeply concerned about how the Labour Council are privatising Youth and Family Services. These changes will happen if they are left unchecked, and the reason voters are unaware is because the Labour councillors involved have failed to publish definitive policy documents, which makes scrutinising and discussing these plans extremely difficult.

The first we learned of this was 18 months ago, when Community Centres and Youth Charities were informed that two of the five Youth Hubs could be cut, whilst the remaining three would be ‘re-imagined’ to become Super-Hubs. The decision was only to be made after May 2018. Hubs were told only to apply if they were located next to a School and Health Centre. They were also informed that they could lose their facility funding should a change in their designation occur, whilst Children’s Centres could be cut as part of the wider rationalisation.

Naturally the Children’s Centres, and the many Youth Charities that support them, were alarmed by this information. To this end a group of Charities established the Young Hammersmith & Fulham Foundation to exchange information, and provide an independent voice. I have been speaking with their members, and aligned voluntary groups, and they are clear that the privatisation of Family and Youth Services has already commenced in Hammersmith and Fulham, resulting in cuts to budgets, annual funding reviews, and delays in funding decisions.

The EdCity project in White City is a clear example of the Council’s vision for a Super-Hub, and it is already impacting how Charities will be commissioned in Ravenscourt Park and other Wards. The Council decided to dispense with the existing Community Centres and Charities which have decades of youth provision experience in Hammersmith, and gave the mandate to a private-public partnership called OnSide. As part of this deal the Council have pledged to provide 50 per cent of the funding required to build a Youth Zone costing £6 million. This will be owned by Onside, and local charities and community groups will have to pay commercial rates if they want to use the building.

Furthermore the Council has pledged 40 per cent of Onside’s annual £1,000,000.00 operating budget, the remaining 60 per cent will be generated via Sponsorship and User Charges. Onside estimate the cost of delivery per child to be approximately £17.90 per head, which is almost £4.00 more than what our existing youth charities charge, whilst user charges will mean that a Child who currently attends the Youth Club for free will have to pay between £7.00 and 50p per session.

So why are Labour Councillors backing a partnership which is noncompetitive to our local Charities, and will cost the poorest in society up to £547.50 a year to access? The answer is simple, the Council want to make long-term savings of £9.00 per child, cutting their costs from £14.00 to £5.00 per head. That, of course, is the theory…

What if OnSide fail to meet their share of the operational costs? Presumably the Council will be forced to underwrite the scheme, and a building nobody else can use, whilst the community will still have to pay for services at point of provision. More to the point, least well-off parents that can’t afford the user charges could find that their taxes are being used to subsidise better-off parents, who might otherwise have paid more.

If that isn’t enough to worry about, the Council plan to move Youth and Family Services into a Purpose Led Vehicle, where 75 per cent of costs will be met by the private sector in five years. This shift, and a reduction in staff, will coincide with Super-Hubs being given greater responsibility to directly commission Children’s Centres, Community Organisations, and Youth Charities. The loss of accountability to the Council should this vision be fully implemented could be disastrous.

Conservatives believe this money could be better spent. £3 million would fund our existing Hubs for two and a quarter years, or provide much needed investment into their facilities and the Children’s Centres they support. Whilst the £400,000 annual operating capital is equivalent to the entire H&F Youth Services budget!

A budget the Council has claimed time, and time again, it has to cut.

Surely it would be simpler to increase the youth budget, and directly support experienced providers like the Sulgrave Club and Harrow Club?

Members of the the Young Hammersmith & Fulham Foundation say we are talking sense, they believe the corporate model which the Labour Council backs is anti-competitive, not fit for purpose, and doesn’t provide taxpayers with value for money.

Victory! King Street residents to get the chance to recycle

Recently I wrote about how hundreds of residents in King Street were being prevented from recycling.

I took the matter up with the Council and I have been sent the following undertaking from the Council’s Waste Action Development Manager:

“Please accept my apologies for the delay in getting back to you. I was awaiting a response from Serco which never came. I have now had a conversation with them and have an understanding of the problem and of a way forward. I’ve been advised that they do not deliver to flats above shops on King Street, as the rolls of bags do not fit through the letter box. Leaving rolls of bags out on the High Street would be both unsightly but also, means they are at high risk of being stolen and /or misused.

“I believe all properties with a kerbside collection should be delivered sufficient recycling bags, and so this current situation needs to change. That’s why I’m seeking quotes for flat packs of bags, which will fit through letterboxes. Hopefully, this will provide a solution going forward.”

H&F Council’s energy bill rises to £4.3 million a year – could challenger firms provide a cheaper and greener deal?

Bulb, an energy supplier that uses 100 per cent renewable electricity, has put in freedom of information requests to local authorities – which suggests many are failing to shop around for greener and cheaper alternatives by switching to cheaper challenger companies.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council uses Npower and Total Gas – both very large firms. Last year I reported that the Council told me its energy bill has increased to £3.55 million annually – and has refused to provide the transparency of public smart metering.

The situation was seem to have got worse since then. In their response to Bulb the Council says it’s energy bill is now £4.3 million a year. Divided by the number of residential properties in the borough – 82,390 – that comes to £52.38 a year. That is one of the highest bills in London.

Bulb Co-founder Hayden Wood said:

“There’s a huge opportunity for councils across the country to lead from the front and show that they are committed to a renewable future.

“Sadly, our research reveals that councils – including some who have expressed vocal support for renewables – are currently missing out on the chance to go green. A change would benefit the environment, while opening up opportunities to cut publicly-funded energy bills.

“That’s why we are encouraging people to write to their local councils and call on them to commit to switching to a renewable energy provider. We’d love to see councils help protect the planet, and save some money for residents too.”

Caitlin Burbridge, a community organiser with Citizens UK, which is building a people-powered energy campaign to tackle fuel poverty said:

“Councils have a responsibility to seek the best value for money for their residents, and spending on energy should be no different.

With many smaller suppliers offering cheaper tariffs, and often green energy, councils should look to shop around rather than continue to stick with the Big Six. We are committed to finding the most cost effective, green, and transparent ways for consumers to purchase energy.

Local Authorities have an ability to set a strong precedent in their area in favour of fairer, cheaper, and more ethical energy choices.”

I have asked if the Council offered challenger firms the chance to see if they could provide a better deal.

First the King Street pipes burst. Then the ones in Goldhawk Road. Was there a causal link?

Further to the burst water mains in King Street – shortly followed by ones in Goldhawk Road  – many have been asking about the cause.

Some recall there being an investment to upgrade the system in recent years. The main roads were torn up, new pipes put in,  signs announced that the Victorian mains were being replaced, to prevent leaks. What went wrong?

A member of the Thames Water Local and Regional Government Liaison responds as follows?

“Thank you for your email 7 April regarding the burst water mains on King Street and Goldhawk Road and the request for further information.   I am very sorry for the delay in responding to your earlier request. 

We initially received reports of a leak in King Street on 26 January and attended to investigate the same day. On arrival we discovered a significant leak, which had caused the carriageway to lift as well as damage the footpath.  It may be helpful to explain we have four different mains supply pipes in the immediate area from which the leak was showing.  Our investigations confirmed the water was coming from one of the three 30 inch mains and plans were made to isolate and make safe the area, while the permanent repair was arranged. Unfortunately, before we could complete this work and pinpoint the leak, further reports were received of a new and major burst at the same location.  Our teams worked extremely hard to replace the damaged section of pipework and repairs were successful. 

At the same time as the burst main on King Street, we received a report on 31 January of a major burst on Goldhawk Road.  We investigated, identified the source of the leak and arranged a permanent repair which has been completed.

We are carrying out tests on the damaged sections of pipe, which are now at our Innovation Centre, to help us better understand the cause of both incidents.  This will allow us to determine why the leak happened and help prevent further incidents occurring.

In respect of the water network in King Street and Goldhawk Road, these are trunk mains and were not included in our Victorian Mains Replacement Programme.  However, at the beginning of January 2017, we did replace approximately 100 meters of distribution pipework on King Street by the Kings Mall Shopping Centre. 

To date, we have replaced almost 100km of our pipework, with our initial focus being on replacing sections of our network that were prone to leaks and bursts.  Moving forward, we will be considering areas for further work, especially in areas where we have not yet completed a full Victorian Mains Replacement Programme.

We have several monitoring devices in the area which are designed to record pressure levels.  We have asked our contractor to carry out a review of these devices and confirm if it would be possible to adjust them.  If it is, we will then use the data to receive earlier indications of changes or issues within our network.  Unfortunately, there are no monitors in place on the pipework that was previously affected. 

To assist with our monitoring of King Street, we have now installed a specialist chamber that will help us to monitor our network more effectively in the future.  Using this technology, we have already undertaken an acoustic survey of our network in the vicinity to ensure there was no other nearby leaks.  Turning to Goldhawk Road, we took the opportunity to install an additional valve onto the main as part of our repair work.  This will give us an enhanced level of control over our network in the area and assist with resilience. “

London Corinthian Sailing Club wins award

Congratulations to the London Corinthian Sailing Club in Upper Mall which was officially recognised as amongst Britain’s best when it received the Increasing Participation Award at the prestigious RYA and Yachts and Yachting Club of the Year Awards 2018.

The club has made significant progress with major initiatives to increase participation in both dinghies and offshore sailing, offering a wide range of activities for all ages, all levels of experience and all aspirations.

Matt Wright from London Corinthian said:

“It’s an award for everyone at the club – we have some amazing members and volunteers doing projects, making new things happen, and the award is really a testament to them, their enthusiasm and their energy – it’s wonderful.”

The awards citation for London Corinthian said:

“Taking part is at the heart of the Corinthian spirit, and the club has recently made significant progress in rebuilding that spirit with major initiatives to increase participation in both dinghies and offshore sailing. Over the past few years the club has really turned itself around, with a diverse membership of nationalities and professions, a strong student group, a family section, and now offers a wide range of activities, for all ages, all levels of experience and all aspirations.”

Richard Pettifer, the club commodore, added:

“This is a fantastic achievement for the club which has seen its membership and sailing activities expand enormously over the last few years, and we hope it will encourage more Londoners to try out sailing. London Corinthian Sailing Club is a vibrant, welcoming and social club which strives to offer all levels of sailing to the diverse and varied community that makes up London and its suburbs. We are thrilled to be recognised for our efforts to increase participation in the sport.”

Will H&F Council allow the “Cycle Superhighway”? It’s time to come clean

Canvassing in the local elections has confirmed the strong opposition of Hammersmith residents to the flawed scheme from Transport for London for a “Cycle Superhighway” along Hammersmith Road, King Street and Chiswick High Road. At a cost of £70 million.

The Labour Party must have spotted have also spotted that it is unwanted. Yet the Labour-run Council still want say whether or not they will allow it to go ahead. Suspicion is growing that they will allow it to proceed – thus avoiding dispute with the Mayor of London. But they have decided not to come clean with residents about their plans and will only announce them after the elections.

Transport for London have refused to disclose the views of Hammersmith residents to their consultation, which closed last September. They tell me in response to a Freedom of Information request:

“I can confirm that we hold the information you require. However, to provide copies of all the consultation responses from stakeholders and local councillors would be a significant burden to our resources and therefore we are not obliged to provide this information in accordance with section 14 of the FOI Act.”

What about the responses sent to the Council? I asked them, again via a Freedom of Information request. Again they won’t say:

“At the Full Council meeting on 18th October 2017 the Council carried forward the special motion that would enable residents to continue to send the council comments until January 2018. It was also carried that the Council will continue consulting during the design process, including resident and stakeholder advisory groups to look at the detailed design.

The council is still receiving and accepting comments from residents and stakeholders, and these comments will be published alongside the TfL Consultation Outcome report at a future Cabinet meeting, the date of which will be determined by the receipt of the full TfL consultation report.

In applying this Section 22 exemption, we have had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the interest in favour of disclosure.

Factors in favour of disclosure

To disclose the information requested regarding responses sent to the Council about the CS9 proposal would promote transparency and accountability in relation to information held by the Council.

Factors in favour of withholding

The Council considers that it is in the general public interest to disclose the information at the intended time and that there is no specific or pressing public interest in providing the
information before the proposed date. We consider it would not be in the public interest to prematurely disclose information if to do so may mean it is read out of the context of the overall disclosure. To disclose the information while the Council is still accepting comments from residents and stakeholders and before all responses have been evaluated could lead to information being disclosed to the world at large which could give an inaccurate or distorted picture of overall resident and stakeholder views on the issue. It is also fair to all concerned parties to release information to all concerned on the same date, so that, for example, no unfair advantage is gained by any party, in attempts to influence the consultation outcomes.

In all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.”

The truth is that admitting the extent of opposition would be embarrassing for Labour – until the elections are safely out of the way. That is because they intend to ignore it. A pretty arrogant and disingenuous way to behave.  Labour can dodge and dive but the the council elections provide a choice. If you want this TfL scheme to go ahead then vote Labour. If you oppose the plans – and would prefer the £70 million spent on more sensible cycling schemes – then vote Conservative.

 

Hundreds living in King Street flats denied the chance to recycle

The average recycling rate for England is 43.7 per cent. The rate for Hammersmith and Fulham is 23.2 per cent – leaving us near the bottom of the table in 343rd place out of 350.

That is obviously an environmental cost. But also a financial one. The cost to the Council is £90 a ton for general waste which is incinerated and £67 a ton for recycling.

It is always more of challenge for densely populated area to achieve a good recycling rate. However a pretty basic start is allowing residents the chance to recycle.

This week I have talking to residents in King Street living in the flats above the shops and restaurants.

One told me: “It’s probably been three years since we left had recycling bags delivered.” Others have give me the same message. I believe that this problem applies to hundreds of residents.

I have asked the Council for an explanation…