30 March 2012

Property developers behind Hammersmith Tories' West Ken demolition plan arrested for corruption

Just a week after the Guardian featured West Kensington residents' pain and frustration in the face of Tory Hammersmith & Fulham council's plan to demolish their estate, the two property speculators behind the scheme have been arrested for corruption. See details in the ever-sharp Cowan Report here.

What this means for the Tories' much-loathed plans for the estate isn't yet clear but on past form, we're unlikely to get a straight answer any time soon.

After all, less than a fortnight ago, Tory councillors twisted every which way to justify not putting their plans to a vote of the West Ken residents because they knew they'd lose. See details here.

They also tried to cover up their intentions from the very beginning. As Labour group leader Steve Cowan recalls, when the Fulham Chronicle first exposed the planned demolition of the West Ken and Gibbs Green homes, "The Council's PR department actually threatened that newspaper with legal action unless they retracted the story. But within six months the Council had officially started consulting on its proposal and last Monday night they altered the Council’s planning documents to make it easier to demolish all the homes in that area."

Ken plans Energy Co-operative to put £120 back in Londoners' pockets

News from the Ken campaign - a great idea to help ordinary people in place of Boris's bombast and bluster

Ken Livingstone today announced his support for the Big Switch campaign and released his plan for a London Energy Co-operative, the latest of his policies to put money back in Londoners’ pockets.

Through harnessing the buying power of Transport for London, the biggest purchaser of electricity in London, and the rest of the GLA Group, the London Energy Co-operative will be able to purchase energy on the wholesale markets, giving Londoners a cheaper alternative to rip-off energy suppliers.

Members of the co-operative would be given a stake in their own energy company. Savings will be realised through both lower bills on average, as well as an annual dividend if the co-operative operates at a profit.

It has been estimated that through setting up the co-operative, Ken Livingstone could save Londoners up to £120 off their bills.

Ken is also supporting the Big Switch campaign, led by Which? and 38 Degrees, which he believes will be able to negotiate cheaper bills for Londoners now.

He said: “Soaring energy bills are hitting Londoners hard. I’m pledging to tackle London’s rising living costs on everything from fares and housing to childcare and energy bills.  

"The collective purchasing approach taken by the Big Switch is a simple but potentially trailblazing way to help bring down soaring energy bills. When people come together, they’ll have more power to negotiate cheaper energy bills with the big energy companies.”

“But to break the stranglehold of the ‘Big Six,’ and get a better deal in the long-term we will need more competition. I will set up a London Energy Co-operative that will seek to break the power of rip-off energy companies and provide a cheaper alternative for the millions of families that are struggling with their bills.”

“Average energy bills have risen by over £300 per year while Tory Mayor Johnson has been in office, yet he has failed to act. At the heart of this election is a clear choice for Londoners – a Mayor who will take action to ease the squeeze Londoners are facing or an out of touch Mayor who will cost Londoners dear.”

21 March 2012

Private Eye unpersuaded by "pompous" Harry Phibbs as Hammersmith Tories panic over exposé of their tax-dodging use of consultants

"There's rising panic among the Tories who run Hammersmith and Fulham council as scrutiny of their easy-going attitude to the employment of tax-avoiding 'consultants' in senior roles increases", according to the latest Private Eye (see full story below).

For those coming new to this scandal, details of the council's overuse of consultants and its related tax dodge are here.

Now Tory councillor Harry Phibbs has penned "a pompous letter" protesting about the Eye's expos√© of this scandal. He also attacked the BBC because a recent edition of the award-winning File on 4 carried the story of Hammersmith's dodgy dealings - see here.

As Private Eye points out, when it comes to facts - as opposed to foam - Phibbs offers nothing to refute the accusation that the Tories have not been tax-compliant in their use of consultants and are potentially looking at a whopping £15 million bill for back tax.

Indeed, Phibbs and his his colleagues in Britain's self-proclaimed "most transparent" council blocked a recent Labour request to make all the figures public.

Until the Tories open the books, all the pompous bluster in the world won't take away the smell of fish in Hammersmith town hall.

Private Eye, 23 March-5April 2012

07 March 2012

Hammersmith Tory council faces a £15m black hole in its finances thanks to dodgy tax arrangements

“H&F currently owes HMRC around £15m in unpaid taxes and fines”. So says this week’s Private Eye (see below - and see previous blogs with more detail here and here).

£15 million is equivalent to a 25% increase in council tax.

In other words, if HM Revenue & Customs rules against the hopelessly inefficient Tories, local residents could end up paying a quarter more for their services. Or face yet more cuts.

To make matters worse, Britain’s least transparent council is blocking any attempt to shed light on the matter. 

When Labour councillors at last week’s budget meeting called for the council to ensure its tax obligations were met and up to date and to report full details of any back taxes and fines issued by HMRC, Tory councillors voted to block this.

A £15 million potential black hole and a refusal to be open. Only in Tory Hammersmith & Fulham.

Private Eye, "Rotten Boroughs" section, 9-22 March 2012

01 March 2012

Hammersmith teenagers will benefit from Ken's plan to restore education allowance in London

One of the most short-sighted things the Tory-led government did when they took power was to end the education maintenance allowance (EMA), which helps teenagers from poorer backgrounds stay on at school.

The EMA offered every young person a chance to get ahead, no matter their background. It kept the dole queues down and gave the country a better-educated workforce. Sadly, that wasn't how axeman Michael Gove saw it.

Now Ken Livingstone has promised to restore the EMA in London if elected.

In a day dominated locally by news of Hammersmith Tories' cuts to services for women, children and young people, this is good news.

And well done to Hammersmith Labour's own James Mills, who leads the Save EMA campaign.

All we need to do now is kick Boris out. You can sign up to help the Ken campaign here.