20 April 2011

Will Hammersmith council publish the legal opinion it used to gag a local families group?

We reported recently that almost the last action of H&F News (aka The Greenhalgh Pravda) was to drop an advertisement from a group of parents thanking families who had chosen to use our local primary schools. You can read the pulled advertisement here. It's from Parents' Alliance for Community Schools (PACS), which is trying to raise the profile of the borough's excellent primary schools.

We now gather that, because the advertisement gently criticised free schools, the council’s lawyers apparently argued it should be pulled, even though H&F News had already approved the draft and prepared the artwork.

According to the Chronicle, the council was frightened of falling foul of new rules on local authority publicity. A spokeswoman said, "We were concerned we would have been backing an anti-political organisation… It was only before we were about to go to press that our legal department raised this potential issue, and we were unable to run."

Putting aside any questions we may have about what on earth “anti-political” means (did the spokeswoman perhaps mean “too political”?), we wonder what H&F’s legal department actually advised, given that neither of the two relevant government documents - the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity nor the related Explanatory Memorandum - says anything about council publications not being allowed to carry views which disagree with the council.

Indeed, the Explanatory Memorandum says, "A healthy free press is important in providing information to the public to hold their local authority to account" (para 7.2). While H&F News was hardly a free press, the idea of holding the local authority to account – which the advertisement did – clearly gets the government’s thumbs-up.

Perhaps PACS could make a Freedom of Information request (here's how), asking to see the verbatim opinion given by the legal department on which the decision not to publish was based.

Even though H&F has officially been named one of the worst councils at responding to freedom of information requests, this may just be worth a go.

Or perhaps they could make a complaint to the Local Goverrnment Ombudsman (here's how).

How Hammersmith Tories use debt as a smokescreen for ruthless cuts

At the council meeting on Tuesday, Tory councillors lamely blamed the council’s debt for their decision to slash early years services and youth support. One nameless councillor (oh, very well, it was Helen Binmore) even claimed that if interest rates went up, so would the council’s debt repayments.

Fortunately, Labour’s Rory Vaughan was on hand to explain that most of the council’s debt is on 20 to 30-year fixed rates, which provides solid protection from an interest rate rise.

If he hadn’t been shouted down, Rory would have gone into more detail about why the Tory claims about Hammersmith’s borrowing are economically illiterate, as we have already explained here.

The truth is that for the leading local Tories – if not all their more gullible members – debt is a smokescreen, a carefully constructed myth that they use to justify cutting an extra £1 on top of every £3 of local cuts demanded by the government.

If they stopped peddling the debt myth, they would be forced to have the courage to admit they are cutting because they believe ideologically in hacking the state down to (a very small) size.

Tory Councillor Harry Phibbs let the cat out the the bag when he tweeted recently that the cuts didn't go far enough.

19 April 2011

Official: over 11,000 Hammersmith kids to lose early years support

Hammersmith Tory councillors confirmed their decision to cut £3.4m from Sure Start early years services at a council meeting yesterday evening. They ignored a petition from 2,000 residents and pleas from impassioned parents for an Andrew Lansley-style "pause for reflection".

Under close questioning from Labour opposition leader Steve Cowan, top council official Andrew Christie revealed that the much-reduced service would help only 2,000 of the 13,100 children it currently supports. That's a cut in numbers of 11,100 or nearly 85%!

Mr Cowan also asked Cllr Helen Binmore, Cabinet Member for Children's Services, who argued strongly for the cuts, to justify her claim that early years services would get "better". She couldn't.
"Won't resign": Helen Binmore

Labour Councillor PJ Murphy asked Cllr Binmore whether she would resign if services got worse and a centre closed. She said she didn't expect this to happen.
Sure Start centres give Hammersmith & Fulham children the chance to make friends and learn as they play. They help parents get professional advice on health and family matters, learn about training and jobs or just socialise with other people.
 For more than one in six local children and their families, the council has shut the door on these opportunities.

18 April 2011

Andy Slaughter MP on Sure Start lobby, White City whitewash and Shirley Porter's ghost

  • Lobby Against Closure of Sure Start Centres and Youth Clubs
  • White City Whitewash
  • Surely Not Shirley?
  • Free Schools - At What Cost?
  • Wormwood Scrubs Fun Day
  • Round-up

Lobby Against Closure of Sure Start Centres and Youth Clubs
6pm Tonight, Monday 18 April, in front of Hammersmith Town Hall

On Monday night I will be joining local Labour councillors and groups from Hammersmith & Fulham Parents Unite and the Fulham Cross Youth Project in asking the council’s Cabinet not to make more cuts to services for children in the borough.

The Council are proposing the closure of nine of the 15 Sure Start Centres, used by thousands of families with pre-school age children. While the grant from government is falling by 12.9%, the Sure Start budget is being cut locally by almost 50%. When some councils are protecting children’s services from cuts, ours is targeting them.

Similarly, with youth clubs, only three of the seven local clubs are still open, and - to prevent them being re-opened in the future - the Tories are now selling the sites. Many young people, parents and community groups will be there to lobby for a change of heart - please join us for the rally at 6pm or the Cabinet meeting at 7pm.

White City Whitewash
What is the future for White City? The way to find out last week was not reading about the Mayor of London’s ‘vision’ but attending the planning inquiry in the Town Hall.

Although the planning framework for the area won’t be agreed until next year, Westfield and Imperial College are putting in planning applications for 3,000 homes this autumn. These will include blocks of 20 and even 30 stories and will set a precedent for the rest of the site. Consequently, the developers are already saying at least 6,000 new flats can be justified east of Wood Lane, not the 4,500 in the plans.

The council wants over a thousand of the new homes to be council homes at low rents. No, this is not some dramatic u-turn by the most anti-affordable home council in the country. The condition is that they are all taken by residents of White City, Wood Lane and Batman Close Estates to the west of Wood Lane. Not one new affordable home must be built.

You don’t have to be Richard Rogers to work out that this leaves over a thousand empty flats in White City Estate – half the current neighbourhood. And yet the plan states ‘there are no plans for the White City housing estates’. What they mean is they won’t tell us.

It was clear as soon as the Opportunity Area was extended to include the estates that, just as in West Ken, the long-term plan is demolition and re-development to a much higher density with luxury rather than affordable homes.

At the same time Shepherds Bush Green and Town Centre were included in the development area, even though they are south of Westfield. So far here we have seen an attempt to get rid of Ginglik, the Village Hall put up for sale, plans to cut down mature trees and erect a cafe on the Green (now subject to a planning inquiry) and seven stories of flats crowding out the Market.

There is space for development in White City, in the interests of new and existing residents. This isn’t it.

Surely Not Shirley?
So far the council have sold off 64 of the most valuable council homes on the open market, leaving more local families to wait in inadequate of overcrowded accommodation. Now they are set to approve a more general sale of 300 properties of different sizes and values.

This is the comment of the council’s own lawyer on the plans: ‘sales...must be motivated purely by bona fide housing objectives. In particular, they must not be tainted by any considerations of potential electoral advantage (any member or officer pursuing, or wilfully blind to, such motives would act unlawfully and not be protected by any legal advice).’ What can he mean?

Free School - At What Cost?
Wormholt residents were both angry and bewildered when asked to view the revised plans for the ARK Free School last week. Lack of demand (there were only 25 applications for places at the school originally intended for 410 pupils) led the council to cut pupil numbers by half, and many local people thought this meant it would be a lot smaller. But it will still take up the same footprint, closing local roads, building on open space right up to the edge of homes and forcing local community groups out of their premises.

A bad neighbour but not very good for local children either. The small play area is right on the A40. Existing schools have been encouraged or forced to become two-form entry to be more economic, but this will be a very small school costing several million pounds to set up while Bentworth, Canberra and Wormholt Park are starved of funds.

Wormwood Scrubs Fun Day
Last weekend I visited the annual Fun Day at Wormwood Scrubs organised by Groundwork London. Over 400 local residents came along to enjoy the beautiful weather and the wide range of activities run by the Groundwork team. The children who attended were able to meet the animals at the mobile zoo, take a ride in a traditional horse drawn cart, or make their own puppets to take home with them. They also made a model of what the Scrubs would look like in the Twenty First Century.

Groundwork London has been working in West London since 2002, bringing local communities together and helping them engage with the natural spaces in the city. The charity was instrumental in having a Local Nature Reserve designated within Wormwood Scrubs Park.

As Parliament isn’t sitting until after Easter I have had time to:
  • Meet leaders of the Syrian opposition to President Assad’s oppressive regime. On their behalf I wrote to William Hague to ask whether CS Gas used against protesters had come from Britain and why the Syrian Ambassador has not yet been censured
  • Give evidence to several sessions of the examination in Public of the council’s Core Strategy, the 20-year plan for the borough
  • Visit Newport to speak at the annual conference of personal injury lawyers and meet with mediation specialists Resolution to talk about the government’s plans for compulsory mediation
To contact Andy, please e-mail him at andy@andyslaughter.com or call his office on 020 7610 1950

17 April 2011

FoI request to devious Hammersmith council would expose the truth about early years cuts

Users and friends of H&F Sure Start early years centres will be delivering a 2,000-strong petition on 18 April, asking the council not to rubber-stamp £3.4m worth of cuts to the "Sure Start" services that give children a better start in life. There will be a peaceful “buggy push” rally at 6.15pm outside Hammersmith Town Hall, King Street, London W6.

The council is shamefully claiming that the cuts will mean “Families get a Surer Start” (see their press release here). This is sheer nonsense: even after a brief consultation launched in response to parents' protests, we estimate that the council is still slashing 19 out of every 20 pounds it previously gave to most Sure Start centres.

Before the consultation, the council said it would reduce funding for nine of the 15 existing centres to £19,000. We understand most centres were getting £400,000 to £500,000 a year each so the new funding is less than one-twentieth of what they used to get.  £19,000 is barely enough to keep the buildings open – certainly not enough to provide any worthwhile help for families.

Following the consultation, Cllr Helen Binmore had the gall to say, “After listening to parents, we are altering our proposals to provide more funding than originally planned for the Cathnor Park, Wendell Park, New Kings and Shepherd’s Bush Families Project centres.” It turns out this actually means a total increase for these four centres of only £44,000, so on average they and the other five will still be getting less than one-twentieth of what we believe was their previous funding.

The cheeky council press release also trumpets that the remaining six centres will each have their funding increased. Yet it carefully doesn’t say by how much, probably because the truth is that the council will require these centres to do hugely more than now for only a tiny bit of extra funding.

Are we being unfair? Put in a Freedom of Information request!
See here for how. The request should ask the council to itemise centre by centre: 
(a) What budget each centre had in 2010/11 and what budget it will have in 2011/12; and 
(b) What services each centre offered families in in 2010/11 and what services it will offer in 2011/12. 

It should be stated that this information is being sought for each centre individually, ie for each of Bayonne Nursery, Bishop's Park, Broadway, Cathnor Park, Flora Gardens, Fulham Central, Fulham South, Masbro, Melcombe, New Kings, Normand Croft, Old Oak, Randolph Beresford, Shepherds Bush Families Project and Wendell Park. See here for details of the centres.

The honest scale of the reduction of support to local children and families will then become clear.

But why does any of this matter? We hand you over to Steve Cowan, leader of the Labour opposition on the council (see here for more from Steve):
"Well, if you care about living in a country where children grow up to have good jobs and are able to win wealth for the UK in an increasingly competitive world; where they are less likely to get involved in crime or anti-social behaviour and instead live healthy, productive lives, then early intervention through Sure Start matters.... The latest empirical evidence shows that early, pre-school, years intervention gives our children the best possible start in life. Even Republicans supported the introduction of the similar Head Start programme in the United States and almost every developed nation has a variation of Sure Start."

14 April 2011

Hammersmith & Fulham Tories' links with Young Britons' "madrasah"

An unsettling organisation called the Young Britons' Foundation (YBF), in which Hammersmith & Fulham Conservatives play a starring role, has been expertly probed by local blogger Guy Debord's Cat. Long-standing HFConwatch readers may remember we first aired our concerns about YBF in March 2010, noting that its leader, former H&F councillor Donal Blaney, had called the NHS Britain's "biggest waste of money", claimed global warming was a "scam" and suggested that water-boarding prisoners could be justified.

According to its own website, YBF "identifies, trains, mentors and places philosophically sound [sic] activists in politics, academia and the media". After giving them "policy and skills training at our workshops", YBF "places" [sic] these people in "full-time jobs and work experience in the City, the professions, business, the media, academia and politics".

Right-wing commentators have approvingly called the organisation a Tory “madrasah”, a term mostly used (or abused) to describe schools for radical, ideological fundamentalists. In the same way, perhaps, that the Militant tendency was a left-wing madrasah in the 1980s, until the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock dealt with them.

YBF's links with the H&F Tories run deep. 

Cllr Greg Smith, H&F's cabinet member for residents services, is YBF's director of campaigns. He co-founded YBF in 2003 with Donal Blaney, an H&F councillor for Eel Brook Common from 1998-2002. He also ran Greg Hands's campaign to become MP for Fulham in 2005 and then set up Hands's office.

Cllr Mark Loveday, H&F's Chief Whip and cabinet member for strategy, is on YBF's advisory board.

Greg Hands MP sits on YBF's parliamentary council. Hands was Donal Blaney's fellow councillor in Eel Brook Common. In 2007/08, he claimed £7,500 in parliamentary expenses for "consultancy" payments to Greg Smith.

Guy Debord's Cat notes the similarities with the troublesome, now defunct Federation of Conservative Students (FCS), and another blogger wonders to what extent "1980s FCS-types" have been "mentoring" the YBS. Cllr Harry Phibbs, H&F's cabinet member for community engagement, is well-known for his starring role in the FCS, until the organisation was denounced by that notorious left-winger Norman Tebbit.

12 April 2011

Sir Simon Milton

We are very sad to hear of the death yesterday of Sir Simon Milton, deputy mayor of London, chair of the Local Government Association and former leader of Westminster Council. He was only 49.

We did not agree with Sir Simon's politics but we respected his love for local government and his dedication to improving it. We admired his brains, ability and gutsiness and enjoyed his eminently reasonable manner and dry, occasionally frisky sense of humour. At times, he seemed to be the only capable person in Boris’s administration.

We will miss him. Our thoughts go out to his partner Robert.

11 April 2011

Andy Slaughter MP's latest punchy news and views

  • Fulham Cross Youth Project to Close
  • Furnish
  • Uncertain Future for Riverside
  • NHS
  • Libya
  • 'Pravda' Ends As It Began - With a Big Lie

Fulham Cross Youth Project to Close
Fulham Cross Youth Project (FCXP) in Lillee Road closes this Friday, the fourth youth club the council is shutting, leaving only three in the borough. I found out about the latest closure a few weeks ago when two of the young people who both use and help at the Project, Louis Scott and Lewis Williams, came to my surgery with a petition signed by hundreds of local people that said:

‘FXYP is a local youth club that caters for many young people between the ages of 11 and 19, 25 if you have a disability. The club has a basketball and football court, a communal area with entertainment facilities, which has a kitchen situated inside. There is also computer room and an art room which is used for homework club – our youth project is truly a home away from home for many of us.'

It is a great building, with dedicated staff – who will lose their jobs – and above all many ambitious, mature young people who rely on the project to give them opportunities they don’t get from home or school. This is the sort of venture the Council should be starting up not closing down.

In the run up to the Election last year, partly because their parliamentary candidate was a youth worker, the Tories denied they had plans to any more close youth clubs after the bad publicity they got closing Townmead two years ago. Since then White City and Avonmore have closed and now Fulham Cross. The cuts were sneaked out last August as a personal decision of the Council Leader, not even going to Committee. They will have cut over £1 million from youth services by the time Fulham Cross closes, but the real objective is to empty the buildings for private sale. Townmead was marketed for £4 million, Avonmore and Fulham Cross will be up for sale if the council’s Cabinet authorises this on 18 April – at the same meeting the nine Sure Start centres are being closed. By disposing of land and buildings as well as cutting funding the Tories hope to ensure that, if and when we regain control of the council in 2014, it will be impossible to build essential services up again.

Nationally, the government’s cuts programme affects women, children and the poorest families disproportionately, but H&F have taken a particular aim at children’s services: school budgets and building programmes, Sure Start, after-school centres, playgrounds and now youth clubs have seen cuts of up to 50%, way beyond the 27% over three years local government has to find.

This week I visited Furnish, a local business that is providing offenders with productive work. Run by Shepherds Bush Housing Association, Furnish collects donated furniture and sells it at bargain rates to people moving into new homes who can’t afford to buy at full price. The offenders working there are part of the Probation Service’s Social Enterprise Programme, part-funded by the EU. In the past year Furnish collected 170 tonnes of furniture, made 1,537 collections of donated furniture and delivered to over 800 homes. This helps reduce the amount of furniture lost to landfill.

SBHA is the third biggest social landlord in Hammersmith and, unlike H&F Council and Notting Hill Housing Trust, still sees its role as helping people on low incomes find decent affordable homes locally. They were too charitable to mention the problems Furnish is facing have been caused by the Council increasing the rent on its warehouses in Scrubs Lane by £77,000 this year, or the loss of work placements from the Job Centre when the Coalition government cancelled Labour’s highly successful Future Jobs Fund – both of which threaten its viability.

A separate link up between SBHA and Latchmere Open Prison allows offenders near release to get work experience renovating flats before new tenants move in. Two of the ex-offenders I met were offered permanent jobs and are now training others to follow them.

Uncertain Future for Riverside
It is a sign of the times that the Bush Theatre (11% cut), the Lyric (5%) and the Bhavan Centre (18%) probably breathed sighs of relief when Arts Council England announced its grants this week.

No comfort for Riverside Studios however that has lost all its ACE funding. Riverside is one of the great artistic venues in a Borough that has many, from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts to the BBC, as well as those mentioned above. We must ensure its survival on its current site, especially given the Council and St George property developers would like to get hold of the site for more tower block developments around Hammersmith Bridge.

I’ve been responding to the hundreds of email and letters I’ve received about the Tories’ plans to privatise and carve up the NHS, and it was one of the topics raised when I did the politics hour on LBC this week, for the first time in some months.

Three months ago Clegg was boasting that the reforms were his idea, and Lansley and Cameron were refusing to listen to reason from doctors, patients or experts like the King’s Fund. Readers of this newsletter will know the fears I have heard expressed from local GPs, primary care, Imperial and the Mental Health Trust. A ‘pause’ in legislation is no good – presumably they intend to wait until the fuss dies down and then press on. What the NHS needs is stability both in its budget (the growth Cameron promised not the 8% cuts we are facing locally) and organisation.

I spoke about the humanitarian crisis in Libya in a Commons debate on Tuesday. Since then further civilian and rebel deaths at Coalition hands have emphasised the delicate balance between protection of human rights and aggression. We do still have a role in stopping the attacks on cities like Misrata but Coalition intervention is getting closer and closer to arming the rebels and forcing regime change, which is not what the UN or the Commons voted for.

My attempt to praise William Hague failed when he denied press reports I put to him that the EU was about to recognise a Palestinian state. But the pressure from non-aligned countries is growing and it is only a matter of time before a majority of the UN lose patience with the stalemate and the expansion of Israeli settlements into Palestinian territory, now restricted to little more than 10% of historic Palestine.

'Pravda' Ends As It Began - With a Big Lie
Deceit and hypocrisy have been the journalistic watchwords of H&FNews since it began sliding through our letterboxes five years ago. In that time millions in taxpayers’ money has been spent on a vanity publishing exercise that has ranged from political bias to nauseating self-promotion of Stephen Greenhalgh and his chums.

In announcing its demise the headline claimed ‘all the costs were met by income from advertising revenue’. They were not. Only the printing and distribution costs were covered by advertising, some of which was by the council itself, some pinched from the Chronicle in an attempt to close that independent source down. The staffing, accommodation and overhead costs were all paid for by the Council, that is you and me.

And they will be still – H&F are going to pay the Chronicle to carry their propaganda, no doubt hoping to influence that paper to go easy on them too. I hope it doesn’t. This is contrary to the new Publicity Code introduced by their own Government. All opponents of state propaganda should complain to the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles.

Meanwhile the Leader of the Council lamented ‘it was never able to hold us to account’. Ignore the staggering hypocrisy of the statement, H&FNews did a lot more than censor any criticism and headline every word of self-praise of Britain’s most controversial council. It tried and probably succeeded in winning elections for the Tories. Not Hammersmith's parliamentary seat, although by banning all mention of my name for five years, they had a go. But the remorseless one-sided presentation of everything the Council, the Government, EU, Thames Water or the NHS did depending on who was running it may have helped them pick up Council seats.

And yet I shall almost miss it – where else could you find headlines like this week’s 'Children’s centre numbers rise following consultation', describing a decision to close 9 of the 15 Sure Start centres opened by Labour and reduce the budgets of the remaining 6 yet further?


To contact Andy, e-mail him at andy@andyslaughter.com or call his office on 020 7610 1950

RIP H&F News, twisting the truth to the end - all eyes now on the Chronicle

So, the last ever copy of H&F News has popped through our doors. As prettily presented piece of propaganda as ever we saw.

Local MP Andy Slaughter reminds us of the fibs it told right up to the last, of which perhaps the richest was “Children’s centre numbers rise following consultation”, when nine centres have lost virtually all their funding and the budgets of the remaining six have been cut.

We also enjoyed that old hypocrite, council leader Stephen Greenhalgh weeping crocodile tears that the paper “was never able to hold us to account”. It never tried. One of its dying actions was to refuse an advertisement from a group of parents thanking families who have chosen to use our local primary schools. See the whole extraordinary story here.

The Chronicle will now be the main source of local news. We hope it won’t be swayed into giving the council an easy ride by the money it is now getting to carry council announcements. And we hope the announcements themselves won’t prove to be further, thinly disguised political propaganda. Plenty of people, including a few of m’learned friends, will be keeping a watchful eye out.

10 April 2011

Peaceful protest works - just look at the Save EMA campaign

James Mills, a leading light of the Hammersmith Labour Party, points out in the Guardian that while smash-em-up anarchists get lots of attention, the media ignore more successful peaceful protests, such as the Save EMA campaign, which has just forced the government to keep providing support next year to the quarter of a million teenagers who currently get the education maintenance allowance (EMA).

The campaign, which James runs, has also persuaded Boris Johnson to call on the government to review its decision to scrap the EMA.

This is good news for youing people in Hammersmith & Fulham and across London, and a useful reminder that legitimate and peaceful direct action still gets results. You can read James's piece here.

06 April 2011

Toby Young's schoolboy letter to Harry Phibbs: women aren't "equipped with the ability to discuss things"

Up to now, the obvious link between Toby Young, leading light of the West London Free School, and Harry Phibbs, a leading Tory councillor in Hammersmith, has been that Phibbs's partner sits on the free school's steering committee.

But it transpires that their relationship actually spans nearly three decades, from the time when Young, then a sixth-former, wrote Phibbs a self-promoting letter of wildly sexist, right-wing loopiness in a style which owes much to that of Adrian Mole.

Young clearly felt his sentiments would strike a chord with the bumptious Young Conservative. Phibbs's reply is not known.

The original letter - from which the above quote is taken - can be read here. An edited, typed-up version is here.

The grown-up Young takes a more mature approach to self-promotion. Here he is equipped with his book.

05 April 2011

Latest news on Sure Start cuts, closure of Kensington Olympia and more from Andy Slaughter MP

  • Sure Start protests grow as closures confirmed
  • HS2
  • Kensington Olympia
  • Libya
  • March for the Alternative
  • Nottingham People's Forum
  • Justice
  • Other things

Sure Start protests grow as closures confirmed

On Mothers’ Day I joined mums and dads from Hammersmith in delivering a petition to Samantha Cameron opposing the cuts to Sure Start centres in England. 2,000 of the 52,000 signatures came from the Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush centres threatened with closure.

Last Wednesday we handed the Hammersmith petition into the Town Hall after a ‘buggy push’ by around 100 local parents and carers from Wendell Park and Cathnor Park Children’s Centres.  The same day the Council published its latest plans – even more cuts - while at Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron said, “there is money available in the Budget to keep Sure Start open. That money is not being reduced.”

The 45% cut in Sure Start is the most shocking part of the £67 million cuts to local services.  Alongside cuts to after school and play schemes, youth clubs, playground and school building programmes it shows how children will pay disproportionately for the Tories’ economic policies.  But they are anything but honest about their plans.

Back in January I found hidden in a council report a proposal to close nine of the 15 Children’s Centres in the borough. After agreeing the cuts of almost half the £4 million budget the council, under pressure from local parents, proposed a token £19,000 for the closing centres ‘for upkeep of the premises’ - and then started a consultation!

Despite all the protests, the only changes now proposed are a further cut of £180,000 from the budgets of those ‘hub’ centres that are staying open, only £47,000 of which will go back to the ‘spokes’, the rest being retained by the Council at its discretion. For Shepherds Bush Families’ Project, who are also being moved to far less suitable premises, this means an extra £1,000 - £20,000 in total instead of their current £250,000.

Parents Unite, who have organised the campaign so far, will be lobbying the Cabinet meeting that will make the final decision on Sure Start at 7pm on 18 April at Hammersmith Town Hall – please come and show your support. The council leader was keen to piggy-back on the success of Sure Start when he attended the opening of Wendell Park two years ago saying: ‘this centre will be an outstanding example of joining up services for local children and families’. Wendell loses 90% of its funding in his plans.

I support high speed rail – and the current proposed route of HS2, the £17 billion line between London Euston and Birmingham.  Of course, it helps that the main interchange will be in Old Oak and apart from bringing a new Crossrail, Heathrow and Great Western station to Shepherds Bush, will provide a direct route to the rest of Britain and Europe.  There are supporters and opponents in all Parties, but we had a surprisingly unacrimonious debate in the Commons this week.  

Given the hard time HS2 will get from rural communities as its consultation moves out of London you would have thought they would make it easy for local residents here – who are largely supportive – to find out more.  But their miserable hut hidden away by the Holland Park roundabout on Friday was less than adequate and I have asked them to put on further sessions in Old Oak itself.

Kensington Olympia
TFL has announced the withdrawal of all weekday District Line services to Kensington Olympia station.  This closure will come as a blow to residents and businesses in and around Olympia.

It is outrageous for TFL to close down this valuable link, which is now an important rail interchange, with no public consultation. It is harmful particularly to those with limited mobility who will now be nearly 20 minutes from the nearest underground station.

With Overground services, including the West London line, getting busier this should be an opportunity to increase the use of Olympia which serves one of the most densely–populated areas of London.

Bizarrely, local Tories not only agree with the closure but lobbied for it.

I spoke last week at a meeting of over a hundred representatives of Britain’s Arab communities at the House of Commons.  Chaired by Keith Vaz MP, the meeting also heard speeches from Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander.  Ed took questions including from many Libyans resident in Britain.  Separately, I met representatives of Hammersmith’s large Arab community.  There remains a high level of support for humanitarian intervention to stop atrocities by Gaddafi’s forces, but Britain and France in particular appear to be pursuing a policy of regime change for which there is no mandate. This view was expressed by speaker after speaker in the Commons last week.

March for the Alternative

Last weekend around half a million people descended on Hyde Park to let the Government know that their spending cuts were hurting, but not working. They came from every part of the UK, a complete cross-section of the population by age, background and occupation, united in opposing the destruction of valued public services.
The march had a carnival atmosphere as the crowd was treated to a mixture of music, poetry and speeches from a range of guests including Ed Miliband.  The day was the perfect opportunity to show what the real Big Society looks like when it comes together in a common cause.  And also to remind the Government that a majority of the electorate voted at the General Election for a slower, more sensible deficit reduction plan.

Both the Labour Party and the Lib Dems went into the General Election with a promise to cut the deficit gradually as growth was secured.  Nick Clegg argued  “if we cut public spending too quickly we risk undermining nascent recovery.”  Unfortunately Nick no longer agrees with Nick, and the absence of any Lib Dems from the rally was noticeable.

I went with about 30 members of Hammersmith Labour Party and met up with trade unionists, Party members and MPs from all over the country.

Nottingham People’s Forum

Last week the whole Labour front bench travelled to Nottingham for the People’s Policy Forum - an opportunity for everyone to discuss their policy priorities with Labour’s shadow government. Over 2,000 people attended and I spent four hours fielding questions on crime and justice – from sentencing and prisons to police numbers and legal aid cuts.

GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips and comedian Eddie Izzard hosted the main event – 90 minutes of question and answer with Ed Miliband. The views expressed echoed those I hear every week on doorsteps in Hammersmith: anger at the Coalition making decisions neither Party supported before the election and frustration at excessive and irreversible cuts to public services.

A busy week as the government rushed out a number of new proposals on reform of the justice system.  We were critical of their plans to make claimants pay from their damages the costs of recovering compensation for personal injuries, less so of their tendering process for prisons.  But no decision yet on their disastrous proposals to cut legal aid by up to 90% for the most vulnerable, and a defeat for the Government by over 60 votes in the House of Lords on the abolition of the very successful Youth Justice Board.

Other things
  • A meeting with the NHS top management for London confirmed cuts of at least 4% a year – so much for Cameron’s promised increase in real terms.
  • The Prostate Cancer Charity, based in Hammersmith, held a very successful launch of its latest campaign at the Commons.
  • Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, of which I am vice-chair, held its annual reception for over a hundred MPs, Peers and supporters and heard speeches from Douglas Alexander, Peter Hain and the Palestinian Ambassador
  • Hammersmith firm Betfair wrote to let me know that they would be giving £10,000 to the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre, which organises riding for disabled children. I asked them to link up with the Centre after I visited earlier this year and was hugely impressed by the work done by Mary Joy Langdon and the staff and volunteers. Betfair will continue to donate, help with other fundraising and encourage their staff to help out at the Centre.
  • I met Thames Water to talk about the Thames Tunnel. There will be further consultation later this year but it now looks like they will be ending the main bore in south Fulham and extending a further link to the Acton storm tanks picking up the outflows from Hammersmith en route – with no major works in Hammersmith or Shepherds Bush.
  • The Guardian exposed the council’s development strategy – building luxury flats for Far Eastern investors. The block in question - in Glenthorne Road - has no affordable housing for local people because the council agreed to delete this from the plans after the developer pleaded poverty. You can guess what this portends for the more lucrative Hammersmith Town Hall, Fulham Reach and West Ken sites.


To contact Andy, please e-mail him at andy@andyslaughter.com or call his office on 020 7610 1950

New questions for the West London Free School and Hammersmith council

Interesting interview with Toby Young in today's Education Guardian. He may have a bizarre view of existing state schools, which he apparently thinks force-feed children “New Labour mumbo-jumbo”. But he says he wants the West London Free School to be a “comprehensive grammar” and is adamant it won’t be exclusively middle class.

That is a worthy ambition. Achieving it is likely to prove a challenge, given the school’s wholly academic curriculum (no practical subjects like computing), and it would be good to know how the school will monitor – and make public – its intake over time.

Young acknowledges for the first time that there may be an impact on neighbouring schools: he says his father, the great egalitarian Lord Young, would have worried about this. Again, it would be good to know how this will be monitored, although this is more a job for Tory H&F council than the free school.

Talking of the council, we wonder if they have paid consultants EC Harris anything for their work promoting the free school. The council’s suppliers' list shows they gave EC Harris £14,392 in the first quarter of 2010 but that was doubtless for something else and we don’t yet have more up-to-date figures. 

And on what terms is the council planning to house the free school in Cambridge School’s old building once Cambridge moves into the Bryony Centre? Will it charge a market rent?

Next to the Guardian's piece about Young’s ambitions for the few sits a bleak report of the education cuts hitting the many across the country, who include pupils in Hammersmith & Fulham.

Toby Young’s response? He plans to march in a pro-cuts rally next month.

04 April 2011

Hammersmith Tories and their government are letting down children living in poverty

We wrote recently about the 11,000 children in Tory Hammersmith & Fulham - that's two out of five kids - who are being raised in poverty. Now the Tory-led government is pulling back from its pre-election promise to end child poverty.

Although Cameron promised, "We will make British poverty history", his government has broken its legal commitment to implement the Child Poverty Act in full and may stop measuring properly whether child poverty is being reduced. See this Guardian story here.

In the same way, Tory H&F council spouts on about "helping the most vulnerable", a group which it never defines. Yet it is cutting more than the government demands, slashing children's services and hollowing out Sure Start early years centres (see this excellent piece by local mother Ruth Walsh).

Many years ago, President Nixon's first Attorney General, John Mitchell, said, "Watch what we do, not what we say”. Good advice then and now.

01 April 2011

News from Claude Moraes, your Labour MEP for London

March Report from Claude Moraes, Member of the European Parliament for London

As I write this, British, French, US and other forces are enforcing a "no fly zone" over Libya. I have serious concerns that I know many share about exactly what the end game is and whether we are already moving well beyond a "no fly zone" scenario.

My work in the European Parliament as Socialists & Democrats Group Spokesperson on Home Affairs is to be involved primarily with the refugee and humanitarian situation caused by the changes in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Also in this newsletter are the monthly issues that Labour MEPs work on that affect Londoners.

I regularly update my website and Facebook page on these themes and hope you will find this report informative. Please feel free to get in touch. See contact details below.

Middle East and North African Protests and EU Asylum and Immigration Policy
I'm pushing for a greater sense of urgency in the EU's immediate and longer term immigration and asylum policy. The situation in the Middle East and North Africa  should be a wake up call, not just in the short-term, but also for the future of such policy in Europe. I've made this point to the Hungarian Presidency, the Commission, the European External Action Service and Frontex in the European Parliament.
We need practical ways of helping people as they flee brutality in Libya and we need to support their calls for democracy in other Middle Eastern and North A frican countries.
Recent events in North Africa have made plain the real need for practical burden sharing and clear procedures for helping those most in need.
I've written about the ongoing situation in Libya, the calls for democracy in Egypt and about how European asylum and immigration policy is at an urgent crossroads.

UK government U-turn on human trafficking
Labour MEPs have welcomed news that the UK government will finally opt in to EU proposals to combat human trafficking.
During its final plenary sitting before Christmas, the European Parliament endorsed a deal with EU governments to tackle illegal human trafficking. However, in August the UK government decided to opt out of those plans.
I argued against the UK government's position on human trafficking. Other countries were agreeing to work together to tackle the scourge of human trafficking, and  Britain should have been leading the way in fighting against this abhorrent practice.
As the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) Group's Spokesperson working on this issue with my Swedish S&D MEP colleague Anna Hedh MEP, I welcome the UK government's belated decision to finally opt in to these important proposals. It is however shameful that it agreed only after months of pressure from campaigners and the Labour Party. The UK also lost any chance it might have had to make the Directive even stronger or more effective at the beginning, although the most important thing now is fighting human trafficking in tandem with our European Partners.

Strasbourg travelling circus challenged by Euro-MP vote
Labour MEPs have won a significant victory in their battle against the European Parliament's wasteful practice of decamping and moving to Strasbourg for four days every month.  A procedural amendment was backed in a secret ballot of MEPs, which it is hoped will reopen the debate about changing the rules that currently require the European Parliament to meet in Strasbourg, even though most of our work is done in Brussels.

EU crackdown on fake medicines gets green light
The European Parliament has approved new measures to crack down on the illegal market in counterfeit drugs, a trade that can lead to NHS patients being given simple sugar pills rather than life-saving medicines.

Labour MEPs hail disabled passengers' win in Europe
Labour in Europe has welcomed a new agreement that will make it easier for disabled people to use bus and coach services.
The new EU rules mean that bus and coach company staff will need to know how to take some simple steps to make their services more accessible. Disabled passengers who take longer journeys, of more than 160 miles, will also have the right to free assistance at bus terminals and for a carer to travel with them for free if that makes the difference between whether they can travel or not.

Socialists & Democrats call for export ban on lethal injection drugs
Following some media reports claiming that a London based company has supplied the state of Arizona with the drugs needed for the execution of a convicted murder, I've called for an immediate EU-wide export ban on the export of lethal injection drugs.
As the EU is a death penalty-free area, our bilateral agreements also prohibit extradition to third countries where the death penalty is imposed. This should mean we cannot allow European companies to cooperate with countries that execute prisoners by exporting lethal injection drugs. I oppose capital punishment wherever in the world it is applied and hope that this potential ban will help end the use of the death penalty globally.

Labour MEPs back ‘Robin Hood' tax
Labour MEPs have won the support of international colleagues in their campaign for a Robin Hood tax to ensure that the financial services sector pays its fair share
The European Parliament this month adopted a position backing the idea of a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), which could raise billions and ensure that the financial services sector makes a significant contribution towards the cost of recovering from the banking crisis. Labour MEPs backed the idea, but the Conservatives refused to support the report, which calls for banks and other finance companies to pay a fairer level of taxation.  

Labour blocks US-style prescription drug advertising
Labour MEPs have blocked changes to EU law on how pharmaceutical companies provide information to patients. This is to prevent introducing US-style drug adverts.  At present, drug companies are banned from advertising prescription-only medicines to consumers in the EU. The type of information they can supply to patients is also strictly controlled.

French Front National leader Le Pen "congratulates Cameron"
Marine Le Pen, the new leader of France's extreme right National Front, has congratulated David Cameron, UK prime minister, for what she claimed was an endorsement of her party's views on the failure of multiculturalism and immigration.
Ms Le Pen, elected to lead the National Front last month, s aid Mr. Cameron's rejection of multiculturalism in a speech in Munich last week marked a clear shift in British and European politics. "It is exactly this type of statement that has barred us from public life for 30 years," she told the Financial Times. "I sense an evolution at European level, even in classic governments. I can only congratulate him."
I've written on the politics of diversity in Europe, highlighting my concerns at a growing trend.

Dutch Politician in anti-Islamic court appearance
The far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, facing a retrial on charges of incitement to hatred and discrimination, used a court appearance on Monday to engage in harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric, calling Islam a "totalitarian ideology" that seeks to "destroy" European civilisation. Mr. Wilders faces charges before the court of Amsterdam that his anti-Islamic statements have led to discrimination against Muslims in the Netherlands. The trial's significance grew after elections last year made the PVV the third-largest party. It now provides the swing votes that give the Netherlands' governing coalition its majority in parliament.

In Parliament I regularly speak and ask Parliamentary Questions in plenary sessions of the European Parliament and all of this work can be found here.

Claude Moraes MEP
Labour MEP for London

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Join Andy in Downing Street this Sunday to protest about Sure Start cuts

Andy Slaughter MP and Sure Start early years teams from Hammersmith will be lobbying David Cameron at No.10 Downing Street this Sunday 3 April against the government's cuts to funding for local services.

If you would like to join them, they'll be meeting in Whitehall at 10 am. The nearest tube is Westminster.

H&F Tory council are keeping their Sure Start buildings open but slashing funding for the services provided, turning most of them into shells. The sneaky Tories think this gives them the right to say they aren't closing any centres. We think they should stop playing with words and admit that Sure Start services in Hammersmith are being decimated.