28 January 2011

How the West London Free School was found a building at the expense of children with special educational needs

On 17 January, Tory Hammersmith & Fulham Council announced that it was giving the Bryony Centre in White City to the West London Free School for two years until Palingswick House in Ravenscourt Park was ready. In doing so, it dashed the hopes of some of the borough’s most vulnerable children. This is what we gather happened.

Until Michael Gove cancelled the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme last July, Hammersmith’s Cambridge School, which educates children with special educational needs, was expecting to move out of its current, insufficiently accessible building into the Bryony Centre, which was going to be rebuilt and made fully accessible. In preparation, the existing adult education courses were relocated out of the Bryony, which was left empty.

The received wisdom has been that the end of BSF meant the end of all of Hammersmith’s £207 million plans for 13 schools across the borough. But this was not the whole story. As the council explained at the time, "Town hall education chiefs will now begin to work with schools and the Department for Education on a revised affordable capital programme for primary, secondary, special and post-16 provision in the borough".

For Cambridge School, we understand this meant the opening of behind-the-scenes discussions with H&F education officials on developing a lower-cost scheme to enable the move to the Bryony still to go ahead.
Discussions were continuing and hopes were still high right up until 17 January, when the council took the sudden decision to offer the Bryony to the West London Free School for two years instead.

The latest issue of H&F News (25 January) confirms this. Not directly but clearly enough. A front page piece refers to the free school being “temporarily based” at the Bryony Centre and makes the apparently innocuous comment: “The Bryony is earmarked for development as the new home of Cambridge School in Hammersmith.

Note the phrase “is earmarked”, not “was earmarked”. Anyone who claims that the plan to move Cambridge pupils into the centre died with the ending of BSF is quite simply wrong.

It is perfectly reasonable to assume that, under the new plans, the scaled-down building work to adapt the Bryony to the Cambridge pupils’ needs could still have begun later this year. That work now cannot start for at least two and half years because for the next two years from this September the free school will be occupying the building.

We have no reason to think the free school realised that taking the Bryony meant they were elbowing aside children with special educational needs. On the information the council gave them, they may well have thought that the centre would otherwise remain empty.

We hope the free school will give local kids of all backgrounds an excellent education. But that is not the point. If we are correct – and we have every reason to believe we are – Hammersmith council has given the Bryony Centre to the West London Free School at the expense of the Cambridge School’s vulnerable pupils. And that just doesn’t seem right.

(A further twist is that the national free schools' budget comes out of the cancelled BSF programme. Michael Gove made this clear before the election when he told The Independent that the capital cost of free schools would be met by reducing spending on BSF.)

27 January 2011

Tory council holds out slim hope for UK's only Irish Cultural Centre – eyes now on 7 Feb decision

At a passionate meeting last night, Tory H&F council confirmed it would be selling off the Irish Cultural Centre building by Hammersmith Broadway but council leader Stephen Greenhalgh held out some hope about the timing by asking how long it might take the centre to buy the building itself

Georgie Cooney, Conservative councillor for North End ward, was booed by the many people packed into the gallery when she argued for the sale of the centre. She said that being of Irish origin herself, she knew the Irish were a resilient folk and would pick themselves up again if the centre was sold. This patronising Uncle Tom comment didn’t go down well with the audience.

As matters stand, the Tories are trying to renege on an agreement with the centre to extend its lease to 2017, aiming to sell it off next April instead. Over six thousand local people have signed a petition asking for the lease to be extended as the council originally promised to give the centre time to raise £2 million to buy the building. Irish actor Gabriel Byrne has said selling off the centre “would be a devastation for Irish culture in Britain”.

Jim O’Hara, the centre’s chairman, told last night's meeting,“I was brought up with an old saying that a man’s word is his bond and I believe that the councillors would not see that as an out-moded concept”.

It would be great to see the Tories honour their promise and give the centre a realistic chance to raise the funds to stay open.

The final decision is due to be taken at a Cabinet meeting on 7 February.

Cooney: booed for being patronising

26 January 2011

Hammersmith council 'not interested in us' say local small firms

As the economy contracts, a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) reveals that Tory H&F council is failing to engage properly with local business. All the local firms surveyed say the council has never proactively contacted them about local issues and seven in ten have had no contact with the council at all.

Four in ten cite crime in the borough as a key issue.
(Boris Johnson has cut 455 police officers and refuses to guarantee the future of London’s 630 Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams. Labour had a Safer Neighbourhood Team in every ward and increased the police's numbers.)

Local firms particularly object to parking fees being increased as they need to be able access customers and suppliers. 
(The cost of parking in H&F has rocketed by 65 per cent, despite Labour councillors arguing that this was the wrong time to increase the cost of visiting residents and businesses.)

The FSB says, “It was felt that this [parking fees] was symptomatic of a general lack of interest in the well-being of the local business community.” 

Like the Tory-led government, which the director-general of the CBI yesterday accused of failing to articulate an economic vision for the future, Tory Hammersmith council is clearly failing small firms. Its only economic vision seems to be property development, even though its plans for the Shepherds Bush Market and King Street worry many local businesses.

Firms also told the FSB they want the Council to do more to promote the borough, help with recycling and ensure that businesses are not paying more business rates than necessary through the vigorous promotion of Small Business Rate Relief.

The FSB concludes, We believe that an increase in the Council’s engagement with local businesses would help deliver improvements for local residents, the business community and the development of the economy of west and central London.

Hear, hear.

Irish Centre gets just five minutes from the Tories to make the case against closure as 6,000 sign petition and Gabriel Byrne warns of “devastation”

Tory H&F Council is giving the Irish Cultural Centre a paltry five minutes at this evening's council meeting to makes its case against closure. The centre will be presenting a petition signed by a massive 5,805 people who live, work or study in Hammersmith and Fulham.

By getting over 5,000 signatures on the petition, the centre bought itself the right to speak at the meeting – without it, the Tories wouldn’t have given them even a minute (let alone a whole five!) so well done to everyone who signed the petition.

The duplicitous council is trying to renege on an agreement with the centre to extend its lease to 2017; instead they want to sell it off next April. The centre is asking the council to reconsider or at least to extend the lease to 2017 to give them time to raise the £2.2 million sale price.

The council will make its final decision at a Cabinet meeting on 7 February and we'll be watching closely.

Meanwhile, acclaimed Irish actor Gabriel Byrne has warned that selling off the centre “would be a devastation for Irish culture in Britain. We must by all means prevent this, not only for this generation alone but for those who follow.”

And the Irish Post tells the story of 51-year-old Margaret Joyce, who can’t read or write. The centre reads her mail for her and assists with form-filling and paperwork. Ms Joyce says, “I am in there all the time as the staff help me with my letters. They read them for me and help with my housing paperwork and my benefits. What stranger in the council will sit with me and do that? I don’t know what I will do if the centre is no longer there it will have a huge effect on me.”

In a letter with the petition, chairman Jim O'Hara explains that the centre offers a wide range of programmes to Irish people, the elderly and many other diverse local communities, and over 16 years has acquired a national and international reputation for excellence in arts and education.

24 January 2011

Five years after Labour did the deal, the Hammersmith Academy is finally opening in September

It isn't often this blog agrees with the Tories. But we can join them wholeheartedly in welcoming the Hammersmith Academy, which Labour set in motion and which is opening its doors this September. We are excited about the great education this will offer local children.

Our only gripe is that the doors should have opened sooner. It has been a long five years since the then-Labour council put the Hammersmith Academy deal together with two livery companies, the Mercers’ Company and the Information Technologists’ Company.

Five years for the Tories to take forward what they inherited from Labour and get the new Academy up and running. What a contrast with the effort they are making to slam through the West London “free” school.

PS The Academy's bear cool video is well worth watching.

It’s time for Hammersmith council to stop hiding behind Toby Young

No surprise to see Toby Young’s cheeky piece in this Sunday’s Mail, combining reasoned argument with personal insult and inaccurate figures to make the case for the West London “free” school.

What is surprising, however, is why it is the unelected Young who is fighting the fight for H&F Tory council and its leader Stephen Greenhalgh.

Surely it should be the council that defends kicking out 21 charities from Palingswick House so the “free” school can have it in two year’s time?

Surely it is the council that should be defending its sudden decision to give the Bryony Centre to the “free” school for now, even as behind-the-scenes discussions were still continuing about letting the crumbling Cambridge School for disabled children move into the centre?

It’s time the council stopped hiding behind the tiggerish Mr Young. He may be cheering them on, but they’re the ones taking the decisions and who are answerable to the voters.

20 January 2011

West London 'free' school head weeps for the charities his school is kicking out

The newly appointed head teacher of the West London "Free" School has said he is "sympathetic" towards the 20 community groups being evicted from Palingswick house to make way for his school.

Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter somehow comes to mind, particularly the bit when the pair are about to gobble up all the oysters they have persuaded to follow them:

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Refugee Council condemns 'deplorable' plans to eject charities from Palingswick House for Toby Young's 'free' school

The Chief Executive of the Refugee Council has described as "deplorable" Tory H&F council's "proposals to  eject organisations supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society from Palingswick House in Hammersmith so that they can be replaced by one of the government's flagship free schools".

In a letter in today's Guardian, Donna Covey also warns this will "be detrimental to the local area, by adding pressure on other local services to fill [the] gap, and hindering the integration of refugees and asylum seekers into the community."

She concludes, "It is ironic that the Conservative-led local authority would decimate such a fine example of the government's 'big society' – a place that brings communities together under one roof in order to promote community cohesion."

When will the council and the "free" school's Steering Committee get the message about the misery that this ideological and unwanted interloper is causing?

The apple of Eric Pickles’ eye is rotten to the core

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government may have called Hammersmith & Fulham Council “the apple of my eye” on Monday but it is the opposite of your friendly local borough. See Andy Slaughter MP's typically sharp round-up of the council's abuses here.

These include:
  • Shutting down a housing charity that tried to help a heavily pregnant, abused woman ignored by the council.
  • Slashing Sure Start services for young children.
  • Evicting 22 local charities so Toby Young's divisive and unwanted "free" school can have their building.
  • Undertaking a fire sale of assets, from libraries to town halls and the Irish Cultural Centre.
  • Trying to block local council tenants from taking over their estate so H&F can sell it off to a property developer.
  • Using new powers given by Pickles to end low rents and capital investment in social housing.

19 January 2011

As Lansley launches NHS 'reforms', Mirror exposes Hammersmith Tories' £50,000 link to private healthcare millionaire

Today's Mirror reveals "private health firms set to cash in on Conservative plans to rip apart the NHS".

One name will be very familiar to the Hammersmith Conservative Party. According to the Mirror, hedge fund boss John Nash and his wife Caroline "gave £203,500 to the [national] party over the past five years. The cash included £21,000 which was given directly to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to bankroll his office before the Conservatives took power."

Our own investigations reveal that Hammersmith Tories have also benefited from Mrs Nash's generosity to the tune of £50,000 since 2007.

The Mirror says, "The City tycoon was chairman of Care UK, which makes most of its money from the NHS, when most of the donations were made. Mr Nash continued to work as a consultant to the firm, which provides walk-in centres, GP surgeries and other specialist services, after selling his majority stake to a private equity firm last year. The 'hedgie' is also a founder of City firm Sovereign Capital, which runs a string of private healthcare firms."

The paper adds, "Our startling findings come as ministers today unveil destructive reforms which experts fear will set the NHS on an unavoidable path to privatisation. Not for the first time, it casts major doubts over the Prime Minister’s pledge before the election that the NHS was safe in Tory hands."

When will Hammersmith Council publish its promised Sure Start consultation?

Last week, H&F Tory councillor Helen Binmore pooh-poohed well-founded concerns that the council was cutting services at nine of its 15 Sure Start early years centres. Indeed, under fire from families, teachers and Labour councillors at a council cabinet meeting on 10 January, she promised that a consultation would be launched "in, er, a week". When challenged by her colleague Mark Loveday to say how long the consultation would run, she said "Er, no longer than, er, one month".

A follow-up council press release said, "The council will also launch a public consultation on the detailed changes at each of the centres." So we can expect both an overall consultation and lots of centre-specific ones. Very good.

Except that now, er, over a week has gone by and at the time of posting there's no sign of any Sure Start consultation on the H&F council website.

The idea that Cllr Binmore just promised a consultation to get herself through a difficult meeting is clearly wrong and we're sure she'll keep her word. If anyone wants to ask her when this might be, she can be reached at helen.binmore@lbhf.gov.uk

18 January 2011

Is there anything more disgusting than making disabled children pay for the West London “free” school?

The education of local children with special educational needs is taking second place to H&F Tory council's ideological passion for a “free” school that will take half its children from outside the borough.

Today, prime toads Toby Young and Stephen Greenhalgh have confirmed that they are shafting the disabled children and staff at the Cambridge School, who will not be moving out of their inadequate school building into a renovated Bryony Centre as they had been promised. No, the Bryony Centre will instead be given to the West London “free” school until Palingswick House – from which all the charities are to be kicked out in August – is ready.

An excellent piece in Children & Young People Now contains a questionable  “refutation” by “a spokeswoman for Hammersmith & Fulham Council”, who says:

(a) The West London Free School will help deal with a shortage of school places. No, that's what the new Hammersmith Academy, which is opening in Shepherds Bush in September 2011 with 780 places for students aged 11 to 18, will do – see details here

(b) The “Cambridge School does not expect to move site for at least two years.” Note the weasel words “at least”. The idea was that the Bryony Centre would be adapted over the next year or two to the needs of the Cambridge School’s disabled pupils. Now, however, the lengthy adaptation work will not begin until the “free” school has moved out after two years to Palingswick House. So the Cambridge pupils' move is actually being delayed by three to four years. And what if it takes even longer to get Palingswick House ready for Toby Young's Latin scholars?

An extra piece of poison is that by being located in Bryony Centre, the “free” school will doubtless try and poach the best kids from neighbouring Phoenix High.

And then of course there is the disgusting expulsion of local charities from Palingswick House. Toby Young today claimed “My understanding is that the groups currently using the building will be found alternative accommodation by the council.” Let's hope for the sake of his eternal soul that this is an understanding based on ignorance. The truth is that the council is not guaranteeing that the charities “will” be found a new home. Instead, they are to be required to bid for space in one of two “community hubs”, with a possible third hub not being created until after the charities are kicked out in August. See here for details.

The degree of local misery this “free” school will cause is quite shameless. It will be built on tears.

17 January 2011

URGENT - Are Tories breaking promise to children with special educational needs in favour of “free” school?

Last week, Tory Hammersmith Council announced it was cutting £6.95 million from children’s services, including nine out of 15 Sure Start early years centres. Now we have just heard it is planning to hijack a building earmarked for disabled children and give it to Toby Young’s “free” school for two years.

The council had previously promised the Bryony Centre in W12 to the Cambridge School as a replacement for its crumbling building. The Cambridge School educates children with a wide range of learning difficulties and other disabilities.

Cambridge pupils were expecting to move into the rebuilt Bryony Centre in 2012, with the building transformed to meet their special educational needs. An added bonus was to be closer working with neighbouring mainstream pupils at Phoenix High school and access to the on-site Janet Adegoke pool and gym.

At best, this now appears to be delayed for two years. At worst, it may never happen.

We also gather that Tory council leader Stephen Greenhalgh last week summoned the trustees of Palingswick House and told them that all the 20+ charities currently there must leave the building by August.

Have disabled children really been shoved to the back of the queue by the sharp elbows of Toby Young and his Latin scholars?
  • Is the council still committed to the Cambridge School moving into the Bryony Centre? If so, when will this happen?
  • Will the “free” school be paying any rent wherever it is located?
  • What other funding will the council be giving to the “free” school (money which would otherwise have gone to existing schools or other local services)?
  • Given that half the “free” school's pupils will come from outside the borough, why is the council supporting it over local residents?
  • Where will the “free” school go after two years?
  • What is happening to Palingswick House? Is it now being sold off or will the “free” school still move into it in two years' time?
  • What is the Askham Family Centre's future if the the“free” school is not taking it for its first year?
  • Given that the Bryony Centre is next door to Phoenix High School, will the “free” school cream off Phoenix's best pupils?
  • What do Cambridge and Phoenix High think about all this?

14 January 2011

Save the Irish Cultural Centre - sign online petition

The Irish Cultural Centre by Hammersmith Broadway needs your help.

Hammersmith Council has gone back on its agreement to extend the centre's lease to 2017 and wants to sell it off. The centre is trying to raise the money while asking the council to reconsider or at least to extend the lease to 2017 to give them more time for find the money.

If you live, work or study in Hammersmith or Fulham, please sign the centre's online petition here.

And if you can, please also contact your local councillors to let them know why you feel the centre is valuable to you and the area and and what you feel the impact will be if the centre is sold. You can find your councillors' details here.

12 January 2011

MBE for local Tory opponent of Hammersmith's unwanted King Street development

With the Tories, what they leave out is as significant as what they put in. Take the coverage in the latest H&F News - aka The Greenhalgh Gazette - of the MBE recently awarded to local worthy Angela Clarke, former Chair and Secretary of the excellent Hammersmith Society.

Mrs Clarke, of course, was also 16 years a Tory councillor in Ravenscourt Park ward, the very same ward that will be blighted if her former colleagues succeed in ripping down the town hall extension, art deco cinema and homes for the blind in King Street and replacing them with a development that includes two 14-storey blocks of expensive flats which will destroy local views, make traffic worse and increase pollution.

H&F News fails to give, shall we say, the full flavour of the Hammersmith Society’s righteous fury about these plans. It whispers simply that this is one of the “areas of most interest” to the Society and that Mrs Clarke doesn’t want Hammersmith to “become like South Croydon”.

The Society’s own website goes rather further:

 “The height of the proposed office and residential development around the Town Hall, is quite excessive for this location. It includes two blocks of 14 plus storeys (in addition to blocks of 7, 8 and 9 storeys), which will damage views from Hammersmith Bridge and the river and further afield, and create a precedent which will make it impossible to prevent a rash of very tall buildings further along King Street. The public exhibition of plans did not show the impact of the height of the new development from the river and from the middle distance along King Street. It will dominate and overpower the surrounding low-rise streets.”

“The planned footbridge over the A4… will
dramatically alter this lovely and historic riverside open space [of Furnival Gardens] and reduce the area available for public enjoyment. And the raising of Nigel Playfair Avenue to first floor level at the Town Hall would have a disastrous impact on the setting of the listed Town Hall. The footbridge would also have a damaging effect on the cluster of very old and listed buildings around the Doves Passage at the west end of Furnival Gardens, including Grade II* Sussex House.”

Hear, hear. If only Mrs Clarke’s Tory ex-colleagues would listen.

17,000 residents benefit from Labour’s modernisation of Hammersmith homes. What future now for Nick Johnson?

More than 17,000 Hammersmith council homes will have been modernised by March, thanks to funding from the last Labour government’s £230 million Decent Homes programme.

The project has been run by H&F Homes, an arms-length body specially set up. This is headed by Nick Johnson, who is also H&F Council’s interim Housing Director. Regular readers of this blog will recall that Mr Johnson was recently named Retiree of the Year in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs Awards. Tory H&F Council has paid him around £700,000 for his services in the three years since Bexley Council allowed him to retire early with a £50,000 pension on grounds of permanent ill health.

Now that this valuable, Labour-funded scheme has come to an end, Councillor Lucy Ivimy, Cabinet Member for Housing, plans to merge H&F Homes back into the council, saying “There is no need for a separate company with two sets of running costs”.

Presumably, there will be no need for her to pay Mr Johnson quite so much, then, will there?

Indeed, now that we understand a new Director of Housing and Regeneration, Melbourne Barrett, has been appointed, presumably Mr Johnson’s dealings with the council will shortly be coming to an end. Watch this space.

URGENT: Please protect Askew Road from 24-hour alcohol by attending licensing hearing on Mon 17 Jan and/or submitting objection by 13 Jan

The Cathnor Park Area Action Group is urging residents to attend a licensing hearing on 17 January to prevent 24-hour alcohol being sold on the Askew Rd in the new NISA supermarket opposite the Library.

The hearing will be at 6pm on Monday 17 January 2011 in Hammersmith Town Hall.

If you have you have any evidence or reasons why this license application should be turned down, please also email Adrian Overton at H&F Council (adrian.overton@lbhf.gov.uk) by tomorrow, 13 January, copying in Annabel Clarke of the Action Group (annabelclarke@gmail.com).

In a letter to Ms Clarke, Sergeant Ratcliffe, Licensing Officer for Hammersmith and Fulham, has made it clear how important it is that local residents attend the meeting on the 17th, saying

“I personally believe the views of the police and councillors are secondary to those presented by local residents. At a committee hearing I would argue that if yourself or another member of the Cathnor Park Action Group attended and provided your evidence this would actually have the greatest effect. The process is non-confrontational and there is no cross examination by parties. Certainly if it was possible for a number of you to attend to demonstrate the importance of the issue this would demonstrate a united front amongst residents."

He stresses that statements of objection – which can be a simple letter – need to be lodged with Adrian Overton at H&F Council by tomorrow (13 January) and that these should contain:

1.       Facts that are proven and recorded and can be demonstrated through dates and times. These provide substance that general statements lack. Photographic evidence provides a real demonstration to the committee of issues.

2.       Any statements contain evidence that link issues to the specific premises that you are objecting to.

3.       Your views as a resident. Any incidents that have affected you both physically and mentally, ie the way it has actually made you feel. Less safe? Less willing to leave your home?
Askew Rd is a secondary high street with no 24/7 alcohol-licensed premises at present and if a 24-hour license is granted:
  • Existing safety improvements would be lost;
  • The premises could become an all-night venue, which could cause many to gather outside it late at night;
  • Underage drinkers could obtain alcohol; and
  • There would be more urination and vomiting in Askew Rd and the side streets

11 January 2011

In a panicked second, Tories rip heart out of Sure Start in W London. Questions for Helen Binmore

Hammersmith Tories yesterday voted to slash £3.2 million from the Sure Start budget, taking funding from nine out of 15 Sure Start early-years centres and making 50 jobs redundant at a cost of £600,000. Tens of thousands of local children and families will lose out on childcare, early education and health and family support.

Chris Underwood gives an excellent description here of a meeting in which the Tories showed themselves at their chaotic, thoughtless and brutal worst. Councillor Helen Binmore, who is responsible for Sure Start, flailed around under sharp questioning from Labour councillors. Inept rescue attempts by her leader Stephen Greenhalgh and by Councillor Mark Loveday made the audience laugh.

Some of the meeting's more grotesque moments:
  • Binmore’s announcement of a “consultation” on reshaping the Sure Start service. Labour councillors forced her to admit that the £3.2 million would be cut no matter what the consultation said. This is like cutting off someone’s right hand and then consulting on all the things they can still do with the left one.
  • The evident fact that the consultation was dreamt up just before the meeting – Binmore had no dates for when it would start or finish.
  • The Tories’ fishy claim that no Sure Start buildings would be closed. We know that BNP Paribas Real Estate has already been appointed to assess alternative uses for the Askham Family Centre, which houses a Sure Start centre.
  • The Tories' refusal to let discussion continue for more than 15 minutes before cutting it off with a panic vote that most of the audience didn’t realise was happening.
Cllr Binmore can't be allowed to get away with this shoddy behaviour.
  • Why is she is holding a consultation only after the decision has been made to slash £3.2 million from the Sure Start budget?
  • Has she assessed how many thousands of children will lose out?
  • If no Sure Start building is going to be closed, why has the council appointed a property company to look at alternative uses for the Askham Family Centre?
If anyone wants to seek answers to these or any other questions, her email is helen.binmore@lbhf.gov.uk.

08 January 2011

H&F Housing Director Nick Johnson lampooned in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs Awards

The dubious honour of being named Retiree of the Year in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs Awards 2010 has gone to Nick Johnson, Tory H&F council's interim Housing Director and head of their housing management subsidiary, H&F Homes.

The citation explains that Mr Johnson "retired as chief exec of the London borough of Bexley on grounds of ill health in 2007, aged 54, comforted by a £50,000 pension – to which he was entitled immediately on the understanding that he was too sick to work in local government again. In June 2010 he admitted he had been working full time for Hammersmith & Fulham council and its housing management provider, H&F Homes. He was paid £528,000 from these sources between 2008 and 2010."

Last year alone, H&F council paid Mr Johnson £261,000. Meanwhile, they are planning to spend £600,000 on making 50 Sure Start centre staff redundant (see this internal council paper, para 3.8.2). So for one Mr Johnson, you could get 22 Sure Start workers. Presumably that's what the council means when it talks about value for money.

To read a Mail on Sunday exposé of Mr Johnson and wonder at the council's reluctance to come clean about what they pay him, see Labour group leader Steve Cowan's story here.

And please come along to the Save Sure Start rally at 6pm on Monday 10 January outside Hammersmith Town Hall.

07 January 2011

Rally to Save Sure Start at 6pm on Monday 10 January outside Hammersmith Town Hall

Please help save local Sure Start centres by coming along to the rally at 6pm on Monday 10 January outside Hammersmith Town Hall.

Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith, recently uncovered plans sneaked out by the Tories over Christmas to shut down nine Sure Start centres in Hammersmith and Fulham and turn the remaining six over to the private sector, with an expected 50 job losses.

Tory councillors plan to rubberstamp their decision, which hasn’t been debated by the full Chamber, on Monday at their Cabinet meeting. The rally is being called to show local residents' disapproval of these plans and their insistence that the voice of residents and teachers be heard.

Please come along and help force the council to think doubly hard about the decision they face.

Below is a press release issued by Andy Slaughter.

Three in five Sure Start Centres to close in Hammersmith & Fulham
Tory council's cuts prove election promise was another lie

A report sneaked out over Christmas by David Cameron's favourite Tory council says cuts of over £7 million in the budget for children’s services will mean that nine of its fifteen Sure Start centres will close, and the rest will be 'contracted out'. Fifty staff will lose their jobs.

Before the election the Tories described Labour's claim that the universally-praised centres for under-5s would lose 20% of funding as 'scaremongering'. The scheme, a flagship of the Labour Government with over 3,500 Centres opened, was described as having 'the [Conservative] Party's full commitment' by the then Shadow Children's Minister Maria Miller, who added 'we will strengthen Sure Start for every family' . The proposed cuts in Hammersmith will be at least 60%.

Labour MP for Hammersmith Andy Slaughter found the details of the cuts on page 32 of a report entitled 'Family Support Programme', smuggled out quietly on the Tory council's website over the holiday period.

Mr Slaughter commented: 'This is the biggest lie yet from the parties that promised to cut tuition fees and not increase VAT. And it is targeted at the most vulnerable. Nine months after telling us they would strengthen Sure Start, they are cutting it by 60%. It's not the same old Tories - these are worse.'

06 January 2011

Will Sure Start cuts pay for West London 'free' school?

As they face the closure of nine out of 15 Sure Start early-years centres across Hammersmith and Fulham, local parents have a right to know exactly how much of the £3.2m "saved" the council plans to give to Toby Young and Michael Gove's ideological school experiment.

The whole £3.2m? More?

Tory H&F Council must also explain to local voters why a school that will take half its pupils from other boroughs is more worthy of funding than early years provision in the borough.

Could it be because Sure Start (needed and popular) was a Labour idea, whereas "free" schools (unneeded and unwanted) are a Tory one? Or would that be too petty, even for this lot?

Remember: there's no such thing as a "free" school. Someone has to pay.

05 January 2011

Sure Start centres - Hammersmith & Fulham council's "biggest lie yet"

Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith, has said Tory H&F council's plans for funding Sure Start centres - which readers of this blog will know mean a whopping cut of £3.2m and redundancies costing £600,000 - represent "the biggest lie yet from the parties that promised to cut tuition fees and not increase VAT."

He added, "It is targeted at the most vulnerable...It's not the same old Tories - these are worse."

The full BBC story is here.

04 January 2011

Hammersmith council confirms plans to slash Sure Start by £3.2m, spend £600,000 on redundancies

Hammersmith and Fulham Tory council has confirmed it will be cutting funding to most local Sure Start centres for children and families.

While attempting to rebut a report in The Mirror that the council was “withdrawing funding from nine out of the 15 drop-in centres for under-fives”, HF Conservative News (hat tip Shepherds Bush Blogspot) has actually confirmed the cuts by drawing attention to an internal Council document from Councillor Helen Binmore, responsible for children’s services.

The Sure Start budget is being slashed by a massive £3.2 million (opening para) and there will also be £600,000 worth of redundancies (para 3.8.2). 

Families are in the front line of the many cuts that Tory Hammersmith council is cooking up. To try and deny it is shameful.

But who’s to blame? Partly the coalition, of course, for cutting “over £4.2m of external grants in the spending review for early intervention services” (para 3.1).

Yet the local Tories’ own PR-driven desire to knock pennies off the council tax each year is clearly just as much at fault: “In addition we need to make over £4m of efficiencies to meet the council budget requirements” (para 3.1).