28 February 2011

One in five children in Hammersmith living in severe poverty - and that's before the cuts bite

Six thousand children (that's one in five or 20%) in Hammersmith & Fulham are living in severe poverty and the situation could get worse as national benefits are reduced and local Tory cuts to services such as family support, childcare and Sure Start take hold.

Meanwhile, regular readers will recall that H&F Tory council is failing to engage with local firms, the engine of job creation. A survey last December by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that the council needed to do more to "help deliver improvements for local residents, the business community and the development of the economy of west and central London.

Those planning the new triborough setup should note that in Westminster - which is ranked fifth worst in the country - 9,000 children (24%) are living in severe poverty. In Kensington & Chelsea, a further 6,000 children (19%) live in penury.

The figures are from from Save the Children and the Guardian, which  has broken down the data by borough.

Save the Children fears that, with unemployment rising and welfare changes reducing the value of benefits, the number of children living without the basics will rise unless action is taken. They are calling on the Chancellor to announce an emergency plan in the budget on 23 March to channel new jobs into the poorest areas and increase financial support for low-income families, for example by paying for more childcare costs so that parents can work. 

Note: Across the UK, 1.6m youngsters are living in severe poverty. The government defines severe poverty as a household which has half the average income (less than £12,500 for a family of four) and also suffers from material deprivation. For example, children can't take a holiday or invite friends home for tea and adults can't pay for repairs to fridges or afford insurance.

25 February 2011

Exploding the Tory myths about Hammersmith's debt burden

Like the Tory-led government, Hammersmith Conservatives should stop using debt as a smokescreen to do what they want to do ideologically – cut down the state.

Tory Hammersmith & Fulham councillors are justifying their decision to slash with abandon by saying there is an urgent need to pay off the council’s debt. They either believe this, in which case they are economically illiterate, or they don’t, in which case they are dishonest. We thought we’d ask our own economic policy guru, Labour councillor Professor Andrew Jones, to explode a few Tory myths.

Myth No 1: H&F’s debt is unsustainable.
It isn’t, any more than a mortgage on a home is. Another word for debt is borrowing. And just as people borrow money through mortgages to have somewhere to live, councils of all colours borrow money (incur debt) to provide facilities and local services. A previous Hammersmith Tory administration increased the debt to build the unloved Town Hall extension and the now defunct Janet Adegoke swimming pool. Labour borrowed to build affordable local homes for rent. Both parties borrowed to improve schools. 

The difference between a council’s debt and ordinary people’s is that councils can get much better deals, such as 20-year fixed rates, and they can switch deals when rates fall. It may not suit the Tories’ political purposes to publicise this but Hammersmith council officials have rightly taken advantage of record low interest rates in recent times to make much of the council’s borrowing very cheap by historical standards.

Myth No 2: Paying off debt quickly is always best.
When the economy is doing well, paying off debt more quickly can be a good idea. This is why the last Labour administration in Hammersmith paid off £12 million in 2005/6 – more than the Conservatives in four years – without damaging services. 

But when times are hard, just as most people can’t afford to increase their mortgage payments without having to cut back on basics like food, heating and clothes, the only way that councils can repay their debt quickly is, as Hammersmith is doing, by cutting essential services such as child protection and Sure Start and by selling off community buildings.

This brings us to Myth No 3: H&F Tories are practical, not ideological.
Far from it. Hammersmith’s debt is more affordable than ever due to low interest rates, which means the pain being caused by over-rapid debt cutting is impractical and unnecessary. So why is the council inflicting it? The answer is that they are using debt as a smokescreen to do what they want to do ideologically – cut down the state. Cut it nationally and cut it locally.

You can disagree with this ideology while accepting that an honest difference of opinion here is possible. What isn’t acceptable is the Tories’ dishonesty in hiding behind the smokescreen of economically illiterate arguments about council debt to make ideologically-driven cuts.

Finally, there's Myth No 4: H&F Tories achieve value for money.
On any measure, they don’t. What they are doing is asset stripping at a period of low return after a recession. They consistently fail to look to the long term or to undertake any cost-benefit analysis of their actions. 

Take the sale of community buildings. This will bring in a mere £800,000, around one half of one per cent of the council’s borrowing. Our community will lose out today, and if a Labour council wants to expand services in the future, buying new buildings will cost more than if we had kept the ones we have. And even if the sell-offs were necessary, it makes no sense to make them now at the bottom of the market.

Equally, while cutting voluntary sector grants saves trivial amounts of money, taking away this Big Society safety net will increase demand on Hammersmith council from the most vulnerable in our society. How will the council find the extra money to meet the demand? By cutting services to those on middle incomes? Or – despite all their fine words – by leaving the most disadvantaged to suffer?

Hammersmith Conservatives are also quite prepared to spend money with reckless abandon when it suits them. Their plan to replace the Town Hall extension, which they themselves built with debt, is likely to cost millions and benefit only property developers.

It is time to look beyond the myths.
Whether you call it debt or borrowing, there is no economic requirement to cut services and facilities in order to pay off what Hammersmith council owes at this reckless pace. Politics is always about choices. H&F Tories are making an ideological choice and they should come clean about it.

24 February 2011

Join the anti-cuts demo at Tories' London Conference on Saturday

David Cameron and Boris Johnson will be attending the Conservative Party's London conference at Hammersmith Town Hall this Saturday 26 February, just three days after their favourite H&F council slashed millions of pounds of funding from local services.

What greater opportunity to make your feelings about their devastating cuts agenda known than by joining the demonstration organised by several organisations opposed to the cuts?

The rally starts at 9am sharp outside the Town Hall on King Street. The nearest tube station is Ravenscourt Park: click here to see the location.

Children bear the brunt as H&F Tories vote to slash more than government demands

"It's not easy having people dislike you" said an uneasy Cllr Nicholas Botterill yesterday evening, as the H&F Conservatives voted to take away £14.8 million - or one pound in every seven - from local services.

Cllr Botterill's plea for sympathy was somewhat undermined by the fact that the ideological Tories were brutally slashing nearly £4m more than required by the national cuts (increasing to 15% the 11.3% that Eric Pickles had already sliced from H&F's government grant).

Children - our future - are bearing the brunt, with funding for child protection, Sure Start and children in care heavily reduced on top of the £206 million already taken from H&F's schools building programme. See details here.

Sure Start early learning services have been decimated. Their b
uildings may be remaining open for now, but under a new "hub and spoke" scheme, funding for ten out of sixteen centres has been drastically reduced by almost 95 per cent to only £19,000.

Cuts cheerleader Peter Graham
During the meeting, except for the occasional outburst - which included applauding themselves once they had voted the budget through - most of the Tories stayed nervously quiet. A notable exception was Councillor Peter Graham, parliamentary researcher to Fulham MP Greg Hands, who grinned and cheered as the cuts were announced, and jeered at the opposition, which included an angry group of local parents, children and disabled people in the chamber. 

Update (25 February)
We note that Ruthie Walsh of the campaign to save Wendell Park's Children's Centre has blogged (see here): "I was horrified that Cllr Peter Graham felt happy enough at the cuts to Sure Start that he was actually smiling when Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh first mentioned them. Since when has taking facilities away from children been funny? Since when has having a child cry at the thought of losing their Children's Centre garden, and the vegetables they have planted... been funny?! It's funny to have children crying?". 

Greg Hands MP, who employs Cllr Graham, must be very proud of his protégé.

23 February 2011

Oppose Hammersmith council rubber-stamping its cuts tonight - meet 6.30pm at Town Hall

H&F Tory council is meeting tonight to rubber-stamp its cuts. Please come to the public gallery in the Council Chamber and support the Labour councillors in opposing their cuts.

We'll be gathering outside the Town Hall in King Street at 6.30pm for the 7.00pm meeting.

Developers should follow Westfield's example and include social housing

We'll reserve full judgment about Westfield's plans to build 1,200 homes around White City until the details are clearer. But one thing we can welcome in principle - the intention to include social housing.

How different from the controversial plans by King Street Developments to build two 14-storey blocks of flats in King Street W6, which will contain no social housing and deprive that to the east of the site of light. They will, however, destroy the art deco Cineworld and a home for the blind, not to mention the skyline.

We're not clear whether Orion's plans for hefty seven-storey blocks of flats on top of Shepherds Bush Market include social housing. If not, they should.

21 February 2011

Pickles turns a blind eye to the H&F council official earning £286k *plus* a £50k pension

Can it be right for a high-powered local council official to be deemed “permanently ill” and allowed to retire on a £50,000 pension at age 54 only to pop up a few weeks later at another council, being paid more than £260,000 a year….and still claiming his pension?

Surely Eric Pickles, the self-proclaimed scourge of such Town Hall shenanigans, would be keen to act on such an abuse, especially after it was highlighted by the Mail on Sunday?

Well, er, no. At least not when the man costing taxpayers more than £310,000 a year works for Tory Hammersmith & Fulham, the council which Pickles describes as the “apple of my eye”.

For when the borough’s opposition leader wrote to Pickles about Nick Johnson, H&F’s Director of Housing and Regeneration, doing all of the above and suggested that Johnson should be moved from his private contractor status to PAYE, thus forfeiting his pension for now, Pickles's only response was to get underling Baroness Hahnham to write explaining why the government needed to look the other way. (The letters have fallen into our hands and can be viewed here.)

Maybe that apple is interfering with our Eric's vision?

Now Colin Firth and Ralph Fiennes oppose plans to knock down Art Deco cinema

Today's Evening Standard reports that Colin Firth and Ralph Fiennes have joined the campaign fighting H&F Tory council's plans to demolish the Art Deco Cineworld on King Street and build two 14-storey blocks of flats and a supermarket.

See full story here. And please do what you can to help Save Our Cinema and Save our Skyline win the battle with the Tories' property developer friends.

Rise in Hammersmith bus crime shows failure of Boris's pledge

Boris Johnson promised to make buses safer but bus-related crime in Hammersmith & Fulham actually went up by more than 12 per cent last year (from 449 crimes in April-December 2009 to 505 crimes over the same period in 2010).

In numbers terms, the biggest rises were in theft and handling (40 more incidents) and criminal damage (12 more occurrences).

In percentage terms, the biggest rises were in drugs cases (up 200%), fraud/forgery (up 167%), criminal damage (up 80%) and theft and handling (up 25%). Details here.

Overall, as Boriswatch makes clear, a third of London boroughs saw an increase in bus crime.

18 February 2011

Toby Young isn't giving the full story behind the WL Free School’s U-turn

Toby Young devotes much of his latest Telegraph column to rubbishing Andrew Slaughter MP’s claim in his recent constituency newsletter that the West London Free School was “ousting…a school for severely disabled children in its rush to open”.

Yet there is no doubt that until recently, the free school was about to overturn long-standing plans under Building Schools for the Future (BSF) for the Cambridge School for children with special educational needs to move into the better-suited Bryony Centre. 

The free school wanted the Bryony instead, even once HFConwatch revealed that behind-the-scenes discussions on moving Cambridge into the Bryony had kept going after BSF was cancelled.

(We should note here that Young - based on what the council has told him - doesn’t agree that discussions continued behind the scenes. It might help clear this up if someone could make a Freedom of Information request to the council - click here - asking to see all emails between Hammersmith & Fulham Council and Cambridge School from July 2010 to date regarding the Bryony Centre. Any takers?)

On 17 January, Tory Hammersmith council took the wholly unexpected decision to give the Bryony to the free school for two years. Goodbye Cambridge’s hopes for now.

The head teachers both of Cambridge and of the Phoenix School, which is next door to the Bryony, expressed their grave concern, and so did Andy Slaughter. HFConwatch blogged extensively about the shameful shenanigans (see here, here, here and here).

And lo and behold, after hurried discussions with the council, the free school decided it would after all rather move into the Cambridge School’s building once vacated and not the Bryony Centre.

In his attack piece today, Toby Young somehow ignores all this. He also talks patronisingly about “bending over backwards to do what’s right” for Cambridge School and how grateful everyone there is to him, as if the free school’s decision not to snaffle the Bryony is doing Cambridge a favour for which we should all be terribly thankful.

The West London Free School may end up providing great education to local kids. It may even become a beloved part of our community, as we are sure the new Hammersmith Academy (which got going under Labour) will when it opens in September. But for now, it needs to learn to act with a little more humility and ideally with a little less Toby Young.

Guardian rubbishes Hammersmith councillor’s desperate attack on Shelter and Cambridge University

Cllr Lucy Ivimy is Tory H&F council's Cabinet member for Housing and a standing embarrassment to her Tory colleagues. She recently made a full-throated attack on Shelter and Cambridge University's Centre for Housing and Planning Research for producing a well-argued report which showed that government cuts would make Hammersmith and many other London boroughs virtual no-go areas for anyone on housing benefit - exactly the social cleansing” Boris Johnson warned about last year.

Embarrassing Lucy Ivimy
Cllr Ivimy, whose academic credentials are believed to be limited, said Cambridge's work was “based on false assumptions and deeply flawed analysis, coming to alarmist conclusions”. She even made the extraordinary claim that Cambridge researcher Alex Fenton, who undertook the report, was “some 26-year-old undergraduate who had no knowledge or understanding of statistics and had no idea what he was doing” (see this detailed report by Labour councillor Lisa Homan). We don’t know Mr Fenton's age but we do know he has an MA in Social Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh and an MSc in Research Methods from the University of Surrey (see here) and an impressive body of work (see here).

Now the Guardian’s London blogger Dave Hill has taken up the story and set out why he thinks the Shelter report is spot on. His piece is well worth reading.

Hill notes the restrained response to Cllr Ivimy from Shelter’s Kay Boycott: "We look forward to seeing Hammersmith and Fulham's own independent assessment of the impact these cuts will have on child poverty and homelessness within the borough”.

He says, “My hunch is that Boycott would not have said this were she not confident that Hammersmith and Fulham has no plans to produce such an assessment. I'll gladly set the record straight should I be wrong.”

We wouldn't suggest Dave holds his breath.

Btw, for the benefit of the Tories who we know scour this blog, here are a few facts (more here):
  • More people who claim housing benefit are in low-paid work (26%) than unemployed (22%).
  • Others are pensioners, disabled or have caring responsibilities.
  • Reducing housing benefit rates will move people away from their jobs and future employment opportunities and disrupt children's education.
  • The main reason the housing benefit bill has grown is because rents have risen by 63% over a decade from 1997.

16 February 2011

Come and see Shepherd's Bush Market plans

Chris Underwood at the Shepherd's Bush Blog reveals that the planning application to "regenerate" Shepherds Bush Market is open for viewing at the Old Shepherds Bush Library (now Bush Theatre) over the next three days as follows:
  • Thursday 17 Feb, 1pm-7pm (food and drink provided)
  • Friday 18 Feb, 1pm-7pm (food and drink provided)
  • Saturday 19 Feb, 11am-4pm
You can see designs and a large scale model of the scheme, give your feedback and speak to the developers and architects.

Chris notes: "As with the previous consultation, Orion [the developers] have imposed a 100 metre cut off - in other words, if you live more than 100 metres from the Market they don't much care what you think and won't invite you. I thought I would let you know despite them."

15 February 2011

Never forget - H&F Tories tried to pay themselves 18% more while cutting jobs and services

Hammersmith Tories are trumpeting their proposal to freeze councillors' allowances for the third year running. This is the right thing to do but let's remind ourselves of the real reason behind it.

Four years ago, in February 2007, H&F Tories actually voted to give themselves an 18 per cent salary increase. This was at the same time as they were shutting down three local schools, charging for removing garden waste, cutting home care and increasing meals-on-wheels charges to the elderly and sick.

A campaign led by Labour councillors embarrassed the Tories into reversing the increase and they've hardly dared to touch the allowance since then.

The pay freeze is not due to Tory efficiency. It is due to local people's outrage and Tory shame.

Respond to WL free school consultation - support Bridge Academy - ask about EC Harris's funding

There are just seven days left to share your views with the West London Free School's consultants EC Harris about the proposal for the free school to move into the Cambridge School building when Cambridge moves (finally) into the Bryony Centre.

EC Harris's Louise Allanach wrote a letter to selected “key stakeholders” inviting comments by 22 February. We put the letter up here so anyone could comment.

As we said, we welcome this for Cambridge, which educates pupils with special educational needs. It would have been wholly wrong for H&F Tory council to ditch long-standing plans to give the Bryony to Cambridge and to have handed the centre to the free school instead.

But there's a fly in the ointment. It should be the Bridge Academy which now gets the Cambridge building, as originally planned, and not the free school interloper. The Bridge is a pupil referral unit for excluded and vulnerable young people and is in poor condition, with water pouring through the roof when it rains.

Something else that's worth considering: money. When we last wrote about this, one reader commented, "How much do the Free School's advisors, EC Harris, get paid for their support and what is the source of this funding?"

A very good question and all the more topical given a piece in today's Guardian about the lack of transparency around free schools (especially worth reading for Toby Young's knuckle-headed comments in the last paragraph).

Please show your support for the Bridge pupils and try and get some transparency about EU Harris's funding by responding to the consultation. Email louise.allanach@echarris.com (put “WLFS - Consultation Response” in the Subject box).

Shaun Bailey's own charity accounts are still overdue… yet again

Accounts for the charity My Generation, which is run by Shaun Bailey, David Cameron’s new Big Society Ambassador and failed Tory Hammersmith parliamentary candidate, are now 15 days overdue and counting

My Generation has submitted its accounts late in three out of the past four years.

 When it last year failed to account properly for £16,000 of its expenses and spent unusually large amounts on publicity and travel and administration, Bailey told the Times, "What you are dealing with is a kid from the estate who had a good idea to do this and never had a wider view of accountants and lawyers.”

Even a narrow view of accountants as the people you use to submit your accounts would do, Shaun.

13 February 2011

Devious H&F Tories show pattern of cowardice and contempt by slipping votes through

A week ago, Hammersmith & Fulham Tories voted to flog off important community buildings. Now a fascinating blog by Labour leader Steve Cowan reveals a pattern in the way they engineered this by restricting questions, not answering those asked and then slipping through a vote when the audience was distracted.

Cllr Cowan says: “Cllr Greenhalgh paused, checked that was all of the Opposition's questions and began to sum up and move to the vote. I interrupted, asking him if he was going to answer any of the questions put by me, my fellow Labour councillors or the audience. He didn’t respond and the vote went through unnoticed by almost everyone in the hall.”

The same happened on 10 January, when the Tories voted to slash Sure Start by £3.2 million and cut funding from nine out of 15 early-years centres. As one attendee then noted, the councillors voted in a split second and started talking about planning regulations as everyone else was still interested in children's services.”

This shows a devious and cowardly pattern of contempt for local people.

12 February 2011

Shaun Bailey accused of “disgusting slur” against charities

Shaun Bailey, failed Hammersmith Tory parliamentary candidate, has started his new job as one of David Cameron’s Big Society ambassadors by insulting charities. According to the Times, he has described big charities protesting about cuts as “a few people with their vested interests who think they were going to make a lot of money”.

“This is a disgusting slur on the work of some of our countries most loved and most effective institutions” says Stephen Bubb, who speaks for the sector as head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO). “Our ‘vested interests’ are the most vulnerable, the most needy and the most damaged parts of our communities.” See the full story here.

We are, of course, talking about the same Shaun Bailey whose own charity My Generation last year failed to account properly for £16,000 of its expenses and which spent unusually large amounts on publicity and travel and administration – see HfConwatch reports here, here and here.

And whose accounts for 2009-10 are already 12 days  overdue, according to the Charity Commission’s website.

Last year, Bailey claimed to the Times, "What you are dealing with is a kid from the estate who had a good idea to do this and never had a wider view of accountants and lawyers. We have raised this money, spent it on the kids. We just didn’t know."

He said this even though the founding trustees of My Generation were Charles Niren, a chartered accountant, Karin Norman, a former investment banker, and Laetitia Gunn, a former Conservative A-List parliamentary candidate and barrister.

Cameron, Greenhalgh & Bailey. Your society safe in their hands.

Hammersmith's free school U-turn still leaves vulnerable pupils losers. Please object by 22 Feb.

As predicted here, following pressure from local campaigners and head teachers, Hammersmith Tory council has seen the light and no longer appears to be putting the West London free school ahead of the Cambridge school for pupils with special educational needs. But another school for vulnerable children looks set to lose out and we urge local people to let the free school know their concerns by 22 February.

The council now wants to give Cambridge the Bryony Centre in September after all, as was the plan until the snap decision on 17 January to give the Bryony to the free school.

Instead, the council has "asked" the free school to consider taking Cambridge’s vacated building (for two years until Palingswick House, whose 21 charities are being kicked out, is ready).

We welcome this for Cambridge, but it would still disadvantage the Bridge Academy, a pupil referral unit for excluded and vulnerable young people. The original plan was for the Bridge, which is is in a terrible condition (rains pours through the roof), to get the building once Cambridge pupils moved into the Bryony (see the last three paragraphs here). This won't happen if the free school moves into Cambridge.

The free school’s consultancy EC Harris has just sent out a letter to “key stakeholders” inviting comments by 22 February. We think that everyone, not just a select few, should be able to comment and would encourage you to click here to see EC Harris's letter and send in a response.

The letter says, “[T]he Trustees of the WLFS have been asked by LBHF and the headteachers of two local schools to consider an alternative site for the temporary location of the [free school]. This would be instead of the Bryony Centre.”

In preparation for the Cambridge pupils, the Bryony Centre “will undergo works to be made fit for purpose as a special needs school before September 2011”. (The fact that the Bryony can be made ready for Cambridge as soon as September supports our view that discussions about the move continued behind the scenes after the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future last July.)

The letter concludes, “Any comments on the use of the Cambridge School as an alternative temporary site [for the free school] would therefore be most welcome.”

Our comment? This is excellent news for the Cambridge School, whose years of planning for the move to the Bryony will finally come to fruition. H&F Tories were wrong even to consider handing the Bryony to the free school and we welcome this apparent U-turn.

However, the council should be giving the vacated Cambridge building not to the free school but to the Bridge Academy as originally planned.

We are also confused by what it means for local democratic accountability that it is EC Harris rather than the council who has sent this letter and is consulting. After all, decisions about the use of council buildings are meant to be the council’s, not the free school’s.

To make your concerns known, please send a comment by midnight on 22 February to Louise.allanach@echarris.com (Put “WLFS - Consultation Response” in the Subject box). If you want to send us a copy at hfconwatch@hotmail.co.uk, we’d be happy to post it.

09 February 2011

Does H&F's "no library cuts" claim hold water?

Stephen Greenhalgh, Tory leader of Hammersmith & Fulham council, interrupted the interviewer on this morning's Today programme to insist that the council was not cutting libraries.

But they are selling off the Sands End Community Centre, which has a thriving library, along with a gym, children's centre, pottery studio and other facilities.

Shome mishtake, surely?

08 February 2011

Tory Hammersmith puts two fingers up to the Big Society as it sells off community buildings

At a heated Council meeting last night (see excellent report by Guy Debord's Cat here), Tory H&F councillors voted to sell off Palingswick House, the Irish Cultural Centre, Sands End Community Centre, Fulham Town Hall, the Distillery Lane Children's Centre, the Shepherd's Bush Village Hall, the Askham Family Centre and the Greswell Centre.
This is a poke in the eye not just to local people but to the Tories’ own Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, who only yesterday said “We’re going to be saying to councils, ‘just make damn sure that you take your costs down before you think about cutting the funding for voluntary organisations’.”
Tory H&F council dresses up brutal cuts as efficiency savings while actually wasting public money. As Labour leader Steve Cowan points out here, they burnt up a quarter of a million pounds leaving the town hall lights on at night and they're throwing away £35 million on new and unwanted town hall offices. And what is efficient about selling off all these buildings at a time of such low property prices?
Here is what Hammersmith and Fulham residents will be losing.
Palingswick House - Home to 21 voluntary sector organisations and used for charitable purposes since it was left to the borough by a wealthy family in the 1880s. Toby Young's free school famously wants to buy the building and it will be interesting to see how the terms the council offers them – market valuation, timing of sale, inviting alternative bids, etc – compare with those offered to the community groups trying to buy the Irish Centre and the Sands End Community Centre. 
The Irish Cultural Centre - Offers educational, welfare and cultural services to the Irish community and is an affordable venue for other local groups. The council has reneged on its agreement to extend the centre’s lease to 2017 and wants to sell it off next April instead. The centre is asking for more time to raise the £2.3m needed. Irish actor Gabriel Byrne has said closing the centre “would be a devastation for Irish culture in Britain”.
Sands End Community Centre - Houses a library, a gym with a climbing wall, studios for dance, exercise, martial arts and rehabilitation work, a roomy creche and a vast ceramics and earthenware workshop. The Hammersmith and Fulham Chronicle says, “Splitting up the Sands End Community Centre and moving the facilities to separate sites will reduce opportunities for neighbourly interaction and add to the deadening feeling among many residents that they are being pushed out in favour of property developers.”
58 Bulwar Street, aka Shepherd's Bush Village Hall - In constant use by local groups for sports, faith, health, dancing and leisure activities. Houses the Shepherds Bush Community Association, the Shepherds Bush Families Project and the West & North West London Vietnamese Association, which provides training, work advice and information, ESOL and IT classes and support to elderly Vietnamese people.
Fulham Town Hall - Used for weddings, receptions, presentations, seminars and conferences, sales and auctions, fashion shows, dinner/dances and examinations,
Distillery Lane Children's Centre
Askham Family Centre - Supports families who need sensitive support, such as supervised contact for children in care. Services include overnight respite for families with severely disabled children and assessments for families with serious behavioural problems.
Greswell Centre - Home of Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability, an organisation run for disabled people by disabled people that offers high quality services and campaigns to remove artificial barriers to opportunity, choice and independence for disabled people.

07 February 2011

WL free school farce as Tory council rethinks building plans, hides behind confused Toby Young

Hooray! Tory H&F Council is having welcome second thoughts about giving the Bryony Centre to the West London Free School rather than to Cambridge School. Yet it is still favouring the free school over disadvantaged children and hiding behind Toby Young rather than defend its own behaviour. For his part, Young still won't understand that discussions about moving Cambridge into the Bryony continued even after Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was cancelled. Read on.
  • Tory H&F Council is having second thoughts about giving the Bryony Centre to the West London Free School 
Faced with three weeks of uproar since its sudden decision on 18 January to give the Bryony Centre to the West London Free School rather than to the Cambridge School for pupils with special educational needs, the council may now let Cambridge have the Bryony after all. The free school would get Cambridge’s old building instead. 
This follows HFConwatch’s exposé that, even after abolition of BSF last July, behind-the-scenes discussions with council officials on moving Cambridge into the Bryony continued until scuppered by the council’s surprise announcement.
Of course, the council’s change of heart will only matter if it spends some money on making the Bryony accessible to pupils with disabilities. Education campaigner Fiona Millar makes this point on the Local Schools Network website.
  • The council is still favouring the free school over disadvantaged children
The other part of the original plan was for the Bridge Academy, a pupil referral unit for excluded and vulnerable young people, which is in a terrible condition (rains pours through the roof), to move into the Cambridge building once Cambridge’s pupils moved to the Bryony. 
If Toby Young's Latin scholars now get the Cambridge, the Bridge pupils will stay stuck where they are. Not nice. A further rethink is needed.
  • The council is still hiding behind Toby Young rather than defend its own behaviour
Irritating though the yacky and ill-informed Young is, we must remember that he is just the front man. It is Tory H&F council who is responsible for all the decisions. They have created this chaos, which is unsettling existing schools and will still led to the free school get a building at the expense of vulnerable kids.
It is tempting to imagine that the council has made some sort of Faustian bargain with Young: “We’ll find you a building but you’ve got to draw the flak”.  
  • Young still won't understand that discussions about moving Cambridge School into the Bryony Centre continued even after BSF was cancelled
In an email exchange over a fortnight ago, HFConwatch tried to get Toby Young to question what the council was wrongly telling him (that discussions about Cambridge moving into Bryony had died with BSF).
Following our blog “Is there anything more disgusting than making disabled children pay for the West London 'free' school?”, Young sent us a furious email, calling this NUT balls”. We replied, “You’ve been sold a pup. The situation is genuinely more nuanced than you've been led to understand.” You can see the emails here. 
Our hope was that, as a journalist and a man of good faith, Young would ask the council more probing questions. Hearing nothing for ten days, however, we blogged what he should have discovered: “How the West London Free School was found a building at the expense of children with special educational needs”.
Amazingly, in a response to Fiona Millar yesterday (see the yellow section here), Young still ignores reality, although his claim that the Phoenix School head has forced the council to rethink its snap decision to give the Bryony to the free school is intriguing.
He even trumpets his discovery that “the current condition of the Bryony Centre isn’t bad and could be made better with a small amount of money being spent on it”. Er, yes, this is what the ongoing Cambridge-Bryony discussions since July 2010 have been about.
Finally, Young inverts reality by claiming that “some people would accuse us of forcing young people with special needs out of their existing site and into what appeared to be a less desirable site.”  No, we would obviously welcome the Cambridge pupils finally getting the Bryony site they have prepared for for years, assuming the council still spends money on adapting Bryony as needed. We wouldn't, however, welcome the free school leapfrogging the Bridge Academy to get the more desirable Cambridge site.
We shudder to think how much time the council is making H&F's education officers spend dealing with this farce when they should be helping existing schools.

03 February 2011

Join the demonstration against the Tory cuts, 7 Feb at Hammersmith Town Hall

Come and support local organisations demonstrating  against the savage Conservative cuts to local amenities outside Hammersmith Town Hall in King Street this Monday 7 February.

The demonstration, against the closure of the Irish Centre and Palingswick House among others, will start outside the building in Kings Street from 6pm.

This year H&F Conservatives are making a record £26,890,000 of cuts. Many of these target the elderly, sick and disabled and other vulnerable groups. And yet, as Labour Group leader Steve Cowan reports here, local Tories preferred boozing instead of scrutinising H&F Council's 2011/12 Budget – what were they trying to hide?