Tag Archives: Cllr Stephen Cowan

The Independent Healthcare Commission’s Report: public meeting

Last night I attended a public meeting called by Hammersmith and Fulham Council to report on the findings of the Independent Healthcare Commission, which was chaired by Michael Mansfield QC.  The main findings were reported in the mainstream media in December and now it was the public’s chance to hear about the findings. It was a well-attended meeting with many people standing, and an overflow room had been made available for those who couldn’t squeeze into the limited space in the Town Hall’s small hall.

The meeting was chaired by Cllr. Vivienne Lukey, the cabinet member for health and adult social care. Her opposite number, Conservative councillor, Andrew Brown, was also present in the audience. I had been told that Brown was a doctor, but it turns out that he didn’t qualify and, in the middle of his training, transferred to the BSc Medical Sciences with Management course at Imperial College instead. He currently owns and runs a, guess what? A PR company that specialises in communications in the healthcare sector.

Council Leader, Stephen Cowan, was first to address the audience. He told us that his life had been saved by the NHS at least five times during his childhood and for this, he would always be grateful to them. Cowan also remarked on how upon taking office, he was finally able to see the confidential papers relating to local hospital closures, which confirmed his worst suspicions. During the 2014 Local Government elections, the local Tories claimed that Labour and the Save Our Hospitals campaign was “scaremongering”. They have been rudely exposed as liars. Brown was silent.

Cowan also claimed that Shaping a Healthier Future (SaHF), a group established to provide public relations for the cuts, has literally spent billions churning out propaganda and little else. SaHF’s website trumpets what it calls “joined up care” and announces “7 day services”, which itself hinges on Jeremy Hunt’s tissue of lies about the NHS not having a 7 day service. Cowan also warned the government that the council wouldn’t hesitate to take them to court and a Judicial Review would be the possible next step. Brown said nothing.

After Cllr Cowan’s address, a film was screened that outlined the findings of the Independent Healthcare Commission was screened. Brown was unmoved.

Dr. Stephen Hirst, a former GP and a health commissioner explained how all the hospitals in which he’d worked had all closed. He then went on to claim that SaHF affects areas of high deprivation more than other areas and any attempt to define Urgent Care Centres, such as that proposed for the Charing Cross Hospital site, was difficult. As for the proposal to move most of Charing Cross’s functions to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, he asked “Why can’t St Mary’s move to Ealing”? Ealing Hospital’s maternity unit and Accident and Emergency department has recently been closed. Brown offered no response.

Next to speak was Dr. John Lister, who told us the commission took written depositions from both sides. However, the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) saw fit only to provide witnesses after the elections. The commission also sought a meeting with NHS England but its Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, was being obstructive. Stevens, according to his Wikipedia entry is former Labour councillor on Lambeth Council. But that wasn’t all: the business case for closures was constantly delayed and it seemed to me that NHS England was dragging its feet because it has something to hide. Lister, who was witty and humorous in his assessment, also added that the commission recommended that the closed A&Es be reopened. “How many nurses do you have to sack to save £75 million”, he demanded to know. Brown stood there impassively.

It struck me that, once again, the government and its lackeys were manipulating statistics to make some rather boastful and dishonest claims. It was also clear that the CCGs were not standing up for patients or the needs of hospitals and were solely concerned with cost-cutting. This is ironic given the amount of money being spent on management consultants and PR companies like Saatchi.  Dr. Lister concluded that “Urgent Care Centres have a place as long as they’re alongside A&Es”. Brown said nothing and fiddled with his phone.

Save Our Hospitals (SOH) chairman, Patrick Barron gave an emotional and passionate speech, telling the room that “They’re trying to shaft the community”. He reminded us of the junior doctor’s strike and how the government has ended the nursing bursaries, which begs the question: how do we attract more people into nursing? Surely, the possibility of a crippling debt is enough to deter anyone from entering the profession? Barron said that Northwick Park Hospital couldn’t cope with the sheer volume of patients who had been displaced by the closure of A&Es elsewhere in North West London. However, when Barron claimed that SOH helped to get Labour into power in the borough and repeated the earlier claim made by Cllr Cowan regarding the Tories lying over hospital closures,. Cllr Brown finally felt emboldened enough to speak. “It’s not true”, he interjected. The Cat thinks that Brown’s sense of entitlement compelled him to interrupt Patrick Barron, because he was neither a doctor, nor a councillor, nor a person of the same class as Cllr Brown. A typical Tory bully.

The Q&A session began with Dr. Sean Morris, a junior doctor who explained the situation on the ground. Brown looked uncomfortable (he was asked to give up his seat to someone who was less mobile and was standing) but interested. Dr. Morris told the audience how he had worked in four local hospitals and that the review was not “clinician-led”. He also told us how, on more than one occasion, he’d worked 56 hours straight. The last strike by junior doctors was 40 years ago, yet the Tory government has cast the British Medical Association as a militant trade union in the mould of the National Union of Mineworkers. How’s that for melodrama?

Speaker after speaker gave their views, one of whom reminded us of the European Union’s working time directive, which will no doubt be scrapped if Britain leaves the EU. A former SOH chair, Merril Hammer, was pleased that Cllr Cowan had indicated the possibility of a judicial review and asked what the council was doing with regards to challenging the business case adding “Save Our Hospitals is not going away”! Cowan said that he’d met with a QC about the case and said “the last thing we want to do is sue the government” but “if we have to, we will”. He then reminded us that £35 million had already been spent on management consultants. A shocking waste of money that could have been spent on the NHS instead.

Local MP, Andy Slaughter arrived late after voting against the government’s welfare bill and further cuts to disability payments. He reminds us of the Tories’ “black propaganda” when they were running the council. There isn’t a peep from Brown. However, Dr. Hirst assured us that the review is not party political and says that “no one knows his politics”. This is issue “isn’t about Labour or Conservative” he claims. Brown nods.

Actress, Vanessa Redgrave, whom I’d last seen at a production of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf nearly 10 years ago at the now demolished Riverside Studios, spoke passionately about how the NHS saved her life and said “what the government is doing to junior doctors is illegal”. Interestingly, she reminded us that if all else fails, there was always the option of taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Jim Grealy also of SOH wanted to know where the team goes from this point on. Finally Dr Sandhu told a harrowing story about what he had to deal with over the Christmas period, while working at Ealing Hospital. He finishes by telling us how expensive MRI scanners that have been installed at The Shard, which is visible from the hospital. A private healthcare company having taken over three floors of the building in November 2013. It was obscene. “The Shard” he tells us “sticks out like a knife” cutting out the heart of the NHS. It’s a potent mental image to be sure.

The meeting was encouraging but it’s clear that there’s a great deal of work to do. The struggle goes on!

 

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Save Our Hospitals!

Ealing-20130427-00023

Yesterday, I went on the march and rally to save hospitals in West London. For those of you living outside of West London, Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Central Westminster and Ealing Hospitals, are to have their Accident and Emergency departments closed under the government’s plans to destroy streamline the NHS.  All emergency treatment will then be provided by Northwick Park, West Middlesex and Chelsea and Westminster hospitals. For those of us who live in Hammersmith and Fulham or Ealing, these A&E units are too far away and anyone needing emergency care could find themselves dying en route to one of these hospitals.

In the last few months, I’ve used Charing Cross A&E department: once for a badly burned hand and last week, for chest pains…. which turned out to be a muscular-skeletal problem. If that A&E department were to close, I would have to spend an hour getting from my home to the nearest hospital.

Here in Hammersmith and Fulham, the ruling Tory group supported the resident’s campaign and cross-party opposition to the closures. As was reported on this blog and Stephen Cowan’s blog, the Tories later back-peddled and signed off the government’s proposed closure of Charing Cross and Hammersmith Hospitals.

Cllr Cowan says,

It turned out that there has been a considerable amount of disquiet amongst local Conservatives about attacking their own government’s policy of hospital cuts. Many had never wanted to join the residents-led campaign in the first place. When the government offered them a cop out they took it and figured they could use council funds to blanket the Borough with propaganda spinning what they had done.

They have so far spent over £20,000.00 of tax payers’ money telling residents that they have “Saved Charing Cross Hospital.” Nobody who has studied the facts or heard their explanations believes that’s true. In fact, in the panic of trying to explain themselves last week, one Conservative councillor admitted nothing had been finalised and nothing yet agreed – underlining how the Conservatives have undermined their negotiating position.

Hammersmith & Fulham Tories have shot themselves in the foot over this issue and have exposed themselves as hypocrites.

The Hammersmith and Fulham side of the march started at Acton Park. I took my bike with me since it is quicker to get to the park by cycling than to take the 266 bus. I arrived in time to hear Andy Slaughter speak.

Ealing-20130427-00019 There are at least 300 people assembled here. The march starts and we walk down Uxbridge Road towards Acton. I’ve put my bike in the lowest gear and I’m riding very, very slowly at the sort of speed that is alien to London’s legion of bad cyclists. One of the march stewards even compliments me on my control skills. Loads of motorists beep their horns in solidarity as they pass us on the other side of the road.

We arrive at Ealing Common. There’s a funfair.  It’s not a great day for fun fairs. The chilly, damp weather has done its best to dampen our spirits but it hasn’t succeeded. We’re here to let our voices be heard. There are more people here than at the dismal Rally Against Debt a couple of years ago. And you know what? You never see anyone from UKIP or any other so-called libertarians at these rallies and do you know why? They don’t care.

I look towards north-westwards and I can see a the Ealing contingent making its way towards us, there must be around 1,000 of them. I can see the banners of the local Labour, Green and Socialist Party branches. The Socialist Workers Party, Left Unity and even the Workers Revolutionary Party are here too. There’s even someone selling the WRP’s paper, Newsline. I haven’t seen that for awhile.

Bob Marley’s song Get Up, Stand Up is blaring from the speakers. It’s an inspired choice. “Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up. Don’t give up the fight”!

This woman’s placard (below) says it all.

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One of the leading campaigners from Ealing, Dr Onkar Sahota, who is also an AM for the Greater London Authority, has the task of being MC for the afternoon. Ealing, unlike Hammersmith and Fulham, is a Labour-controlled council and has resisted the government’s plans. Sahota tells us that many people from neighbouring boroughs of Hillingdon, Harrow and Brent are here making their voices heard.  Indeed, this is a good turn-out. I can see Ealing’s MP Stephen Pound waiting in the wings, when he does come up to the mike, he comes across as something of a showman (he used to be a boxer). The crowd loves it.

Pound is followed by Tory MP, Angie Bray, who is greeted with a mix of boos and applause. She leaves to the same mix of boos and applause. A woman standing next to me complains and tells those who are heckling Bray to shut up. They’re not listening to her remonstrations and she walks off in a huff.

One speaker from the GMB union reminds us that the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt authored a book in which he calls for the NHS  to be denationalised, but erroneously attributes the words “60 year old mistake” to him. These were, in fact, the words of Lyin’ King when he appeared on Fox News five years ago to lambast the NHS and argue for his coveted small state. Nonetheless the sentiment is the same. In spite of his warm words and vacant expression, Hunt does not like the NHS and like many of his fellow Tories, he wants to cut it to pieces and sell-off the profitable parts to his vulture capitalist friends. Andy Slaughter reminds the rally that under the council’s proposals, 60% of Charing Cross Hospital site will be sold off to private developers. The Tories, despite what they’ve said about ‘saving’ the hospital, have done nothing of the sort.

Dr Thomas Sissons, writing in The Independent in February says,

Hammersmith and Fulham council is the only council out of 11 in London affected by the hospital closures to have supported them, and this is a damning reflection of their interest in what those they govern think. They are stitching up their own constituents, metaphorically but certainly not literally, so that they can play nice with central government. Their decision to release these plans before the official date may have given us some unwitting help though by allowing us some time to organise. What we need to do now is campaign against this ham-fisted reorganisation.

A Lib Dem councillor comes on to speak and at that point, I decide to leave. The Lib Dems have done much to support this Conservative-led government in achieving its ambitions, none of which appeared in their manifesto and for which they have no mandate. A man next to me says, “I don’t want to listen to the Lib Dem, they helped the Tories to do this”. I agree with him, get on my bike and ride home.

The next Save our Hospitals event is a rally at Jubilee Gardens (where I once lamented the passing of the GLC) on 18 May at 1200. If you care about hospital provision in London, you’ll be there. I know I will.

You can find out more about the campaign here.

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Nightmare on King Street (Part 8)

This week Newham Council announced that it was exiling families in need of housing to Stoke on Trent, where there are fewer jobs than in London. Cllr Stephen Cowan, the opposition group leader on Hammersmith and Fulham Council, has discovered that the same thing is happening right here in David Cameron’s model borough. He writes on his blog that,

The BBC is reporting that Hammersmith and Fulham Council “are considering” proposals to move at least “500 families from London to the East Midlands.” They are undertaking this enterprise with their two other tri-borough Conservative-run local authorities and using the astonishingly disingenuous excuse that there is “a shortage of housing in their areas.”

Apparently the council has already packed off people to Margate.

You can read the rest here.

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Nightmare on King Street (Part 1)

Don’t worry I’ll be real gentle 

As you may have noticed I’ve decided to start a new series. To be honest with you, dear readers, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it earlier. But if I had started this series earlier, I may well be on my way to Part 90 by now. So why “King Street”? Well, for those of you who don’t know Hammersmith & Fulham, that’s where you’ll find the Town Hall, which is run by a team of Tory slashers. They’re the local government equivalent of a gang of Freddie Kruegers and they’re gonna cut you up.

The Tories are an undemocratic party. I think we can all agree on that – unless, of course, you’re a Tory or one of those UKIPers who still carries a torch for the Conservatives on the sly. I’m willing to bet that Farage and Pearson carry a picture of Thatcher in their wallets.

Naturally there are those Tories who would demand “Well, what about Labour”?  What about them indeed. But I’m talking about Tories here and their track record for creating legislation that limits the means by which people and political parties can oppose them.

I’m also talking about the horror show that is Tory-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham, with its gore fest of cuts and closures dressed up as ‘savings’. It’s a slasher film like no other and it’s happening right now.

This is from Shepherds Bush blog and it remind us of how the opposition is routinely silenced by the Tory diktators of this burgh.  It also reminds us how smears are constructed not, in this case, from myths – which are also constructed – but out of pure lies.

The local partei’s (yes, the misspelling is entirely deliberate) defence, if you call it one, is to claim that the Labour opposition don’t show up to meetings and therefore, aren’t worth £164, 340 a year. This is a very dishonest argument and it’s based entirely on the false premise that the opposition are actually permitted to oppose. Having attended the the Council meeting last January when the Tories voted to close the Sand End Centre, The Irish Centre, Shepherd’s Bush Village Hall and other community spaces, I can testify to the effect that Cllr. Greenhalgh repeatedly became petulant whenever Cllr Cowan demanded answers to his questions.   In a democracy, a question is supposed to be met with an answer, not  a brick wall. This is what happens in dictatorships. Ja?  Has Hammersmith & Fulham now become the template for a future one-party English state?

This is what Cllr. Andrew Johnson said in his blog on the laughably named Residents First.

But recently a worrying trend is starting to develop within Hammersmith & Fulham. For it seems despite pocketing not insignificant sums of money, that senior members of the opposition are not bothering to show up to critical meetings or hold the council to account. Failing, for example, to attend key meetings, such as Cabinet when important decisions are being taken, or even recently by failing to table amendments to the Council’s budget as it was being discussed at scrutiny meetings.

Foghorn Phibbs tried this schtick last year. This time his colleague puts forward what appears prima facie to be a pure economic case but it’s bogus.

Towards the end of the blog there’s a number for your Tory bingo card. Eyes down for a full house!

Often it’s all too easy to criticise without having a credible alternative in place, yet our opposition are not even doing this.

It’s poison. The opposition don’t get to ask questions, let alone criticise Tory policies.

But what do you expect from a local branch of the Conservative Party that has nurtured such talents as Aidan Burley and Donal Blaney? This is a democracy? Get a grip.

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Democracy, Hammersmith & Fulham style

In previous blogs, I’ve described Hammersmith & Fulham under the Tories as Pyongyang-on-Thames. I based this observation on the council’s now defunct propaganda rag, H&F News. Indeed, when I attended the open meeting in January in advance of the Council’s sell-off of community buildings, I became convinced that these Tories, who never tire of bleating about democracy when it comes to other countries, are an undemocratic bunch who are deeply affronted by the fact that they have to deal with an opposition.  In their ideal world, they would cast themselves as unopposed rulers and kill anyone who would dare to disagree with them.

The Cowan Report confirms my deepest suspicions,

Over the last year or so there has been a new approach at H&F Council’s Cabinet Meetings. The Opposition have been forbidden by Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con) the Leader of the Council to ask questions and, at times, even speak.

The meetings can sometimes be over in just five minutes. Usually, Cllr. Greenhalgh shouts out a series of numbers relating to agenda items and his colleagues obediently respond with the words “Agreed!.” The real discussions have always taken place days before at a secret call-over meeting.
On the occasions that my Opposition colleagues and I have been able to garner some form of response it’s hardly been what one might expect from a government institution in the world’s oldest democracy. Consider the Cabinet Meetings on the 18th July 2011. Cllr. Greenhalgh refused to allow any of the Opposition to ask questions or even speak at the packed public meeting – I spoke anyway. Or take the one on 20th June 2011: My fellow Opposition Councillors wanted to ask about the tri-borough deal with K&C and Westminster councils. Cllr. Greenhalgh asked why we had “bothered to turn up”, forbade any questions or comments from my colleagues and said I could make a short statement. He then announced that if we wanted questions answered we should write to him or his officials (which we had done anyway). The meeting on 9th May 2011 was similar.
We did get to ask questions at the Cabinet Meeting on 18th April 2011. But when Cllr. Greg Smith (Con), H&F’s Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, was asked about proposals to sell off homes on a Fulham estate because of his Administration’s self-confessed “failure to cut crime,” he responded with the words “You tw*t!” and followed that up with a tirade of other similar foul-mouthed abuse. The public have been met with similar condescension even when they turn up in their hundreds as they did over the sell off our local ‘Big Society’ voluntary clubs or the demolition of Shepherds Bush market.
So I was a touch surprised to return from summer holiday early Tuesday evening to be told that H&F Conservatives were crowing that Labour hadn’t turned up to last Monday’s Cabinet Meeting. Cllr. Harry Phibbs (Con) detailed the council allowances of each Labour councillor (odd given his dubious record on council pay) and told his readers that this meant that the Opposition had therefore failed to “hold [his] administration to account” or “to provide some [necessary] rigour in the decision making process.”
The Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle was even suckered into running Cllr. Phibbs’ spin on page two of their current edition. This being an apparent break in the Chronicle’s boycott, of sorts. Back on the 14th June 2011 one of their employees had told me they’d decided not to report anything about the activities of Labour Opposition Councillors – a strange decision for a self-proclaimed “proper paper.”
You can read the rest here.

On Residents First (I think we know which residents come first), Foghorn Phibbs says,

The local Labour Party blog HFConwatch urged local residents to “come and object” at last night’s Cabinet Meeting. None did so. Not even any of the 15 Labour councillors who are paid a total of £164,310 in allowances each year at the expense of the Council Taxpayer. Opposition leader Cllr Cowan paid £26,814. Absent. Deputy leader Cllr Cartwright paid £15,123? Absent. Cllr Aherne, Labour Group Chief Whip, paid £15,123? Absent. The other Labour councillors Brown, Campbell, Chumnery, Coleman, Harcourt, Homan, Jones, Murphy, Needham, Powell, Umeh, Vaughan? Each of them paid £8,940 a year of your money. No show.

Ah, the classic smear job. Let’s read on,

Of course the opposition aren’t expected to run anything. But their job is to hold the administration to account. To provide some rigour in the decision making process by challenging what is proposed. To offer serious, constructive alternatives. But instead of making the effort to be a credible opposition they don’t turn up – even when they themselves have called a protest.

Nor did there seem to be evidence of much thought having gone into the objections they would have raised had they turned up. They oppose the disposal of the empty Edith Summerskill House on the Clem Attlee Estate and claim it would mean a loss of affordable housing. Yet the decision approved was: “That 100% of the capital receipt ( after the deduction of appropriate costs) is used for future affordable housing and regeneration purposes.”

There are some untruths  here.  The biggest one is Edith Summerskill House. The council misled the tenants and decanted them, telling them that the block was going to be refurbished. Instead, the council sold it to a private developer. Phibbs is “Cabinet Member for Community Engagement”. That’s an awfully grand title for a glorified propagandist. Furthermore, how many communities has Cllr Phibbs engaged with? You know, real communities with real people. I doubt he’s met many people outside his own community of rentier capitalists, free-marketeers and assorted parasites… and it shows. Remember this is the man who coined the phrase “vertical slums” as a blanket term to describe council tower blocks.

Anything that Foghorn writes should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Especially as he doesn’t understand what the Latin phrase “sotto voce” means. Which is odd for someone who probably went to a public school.

UPDATE: 15/10/12 @ 1842

Phibbsy isn’t a former public schoolboy.

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Is H&F Council reneging on its word to work with Sands End Community Centre?

It certainly looks that way.  According to Labour group leader, Stephen Cowan and those who run the centre, the council is going back on its word. At the heated cabinet meeting on February 7, The Sands End Community Centre put forward their own ‘Big Society’ plan on which the Tory-controlled administration agreed to work with them. It would seem that the Tories have not yet made contact. Cowan says,

What’s happened to the Sands End Community Centre since the infamous Cabinet Meeting on 7th February when H&F Conservatives agreed to close it down and sell it off? Regular readers will recall that the Borough’s cabinet were visibly shaken by the hundreds of people that turned up to plead for a different ‘big society’ solution that could save the centre. So in front of the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at a cabinet meeting the Conservatives muttered a reluctant promise to work with residents to consider all options to keep the centre open. Well, the latest news is that many of the services will cease to operate from the end of April.

You can read the rest of Cllr Cowan’s blog here.

It would appear that the Council is only interested in working for the benefit of the borough’s wealthiest rather than for all of its residents. Is this what local democracy is supposed to look like? Is it the case that communities don’t matter unless they can turn a profit? So much for the Big Society.

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H&F Council votes to sell off community buildings after a lively meeting

The people of Hammersmith rally to tell the council to think again

I arrive half an hour late to the protest outside Hammersmith Town Hall after hot-footing it from Docklands. There’s a pretty big crowd here. I’d say there’s easily around a hundred, maybe more.  It’s a very well-mannered protest. There are a quite a few children and young people, reminding one of the fact that these cuts will affect everyone – young and old. I can see local MP Andy Slaughter giving an interview to a radio journalist and Cllr Stephen Cowan is being interviewed by another journalist. I have a quick chat with one of the tenants of Palingswick House who mistakes me for a journalist.  I tell him that I’m just a blogger and a resident. He tells me that there are actually 33 charities in Palingswick House. I’m surprised.

It’s about 7:45pm when they let us into the Town Hall. I go up some steps to the left hand side of the entrance. We’re ushered into the auditorium. There are minutes of the last cabinet meeting placed on every other chair. I guess we’re supposed share with our neighbour. The minutes talk predictably about “consultation”. It’s a funny word, because it often implies that the public have been consulted but, more often than not, the body that does the consulting has no intention of heeding the public’s advice. Strangely enough, I don’t recall being consulted on any of these proposals.  According to the figures, few people want to see these community buildings closed. Just taking the Irish Cultural Centre for example, I can see that 79% are against and only 4% are in favour of ‘disposal’. The Council apparently received 497 responses. I also notice that Hammersmith Library has also been threatened with closure. This comes as news to me, because I thought it had been reprieved.

6 minutes to go till the start of the meeting. There’s no sign of The Dear Leader or Harry Phibbs. Some Tories have arrived: Botterill, Smith, Carlebatch, Binmore. Their Labour opposites are taking their seats. Then Greenhalgh and Phibbs  arrive – though not together. The Dear Leader takes his seat and the lights go up.  I saw the Bunteresque One on the Politics Show on Sunday doing his best impression of a brick wall while  Cllr Cowan asked him questions. He looked uncomfortable and shifty. He looked like a man who was trying to hide something. He looked like a man who doesn’t take too kindly to questions or contradiction. He looked like a man who’d had too many big lunches. He looked sweaty.

“This is the largest cabinet meeting I’ve ever seen” declares the Leader. Is this supposed to be some kind of ice-breaker? It sounds so insincere. He tells us to turn our phones off.  The woman journo behind me isn’t listening and is tapping text into her Blackberry. The well-suited male journo looks as though he writes for the Torygraph or one of the Rothermere papers. He’s not taking many notes. I’m scratching away like fury.

Presentations are invited from the groups threatened with eviction. The first up to speak is Gordon Smith of Shepherds Bush Village Hall. He speaks passionately in its defence. He talks of its value as a community resource and how it is fully accessible. Another speaks in defence of the Hall and raises a good point about its use as a polling station. She reminds the Tories of Harold MacMillan’s warning to Thatcher about “selling off the family silver”. She gets a standing ovation. Greenhalgh looks bored. Like he wants to get this over with and head across the road to The Salutation.

Hilda McCafferty of the Irish Cultural Centre reminds the cabinet that they’ve “heard these points before” and reminds them of the extension on the lease for the building on which they have performed a volte face. She also said how the ICC had had its own valuation conducted, while the Council had yet to conduct one of their own. What was taking them so long?

At this point, I must describe the acoustics of this hall: it’s large with a lot of dead space – the sound gets lost in the ceiling. The floor is bare, polished parquet; the kind that you always find in town halls. They’re great for dances and so on but as meeting places, they’re crap. The sound from the PA system feeds back quite a bit too. The microphones look as though they’ve been taken from the council chamber. Some of the Tories don’t realise that they’re either speaking away from these very directional mics or they’re speaking too softly. It’s often difficult to hear the names of those being called to defend their buildings.

A man got up to speak about the Sands End Centre, he spoke about how it was set up by the council in 1978 and how, in those days, they “knew the meaning of localism”. The “council” he said “was a mere custodian of this building”. The Leader then asked for questions from the floor. One made a point about the council’s hypocrisy, another wondered what sort of spaces they would be forced to relocate. One man reminded them of the contribution the Irish had made, not only to Hammersmith, but in the rest of the country. Andy Slaughter asked how much the Council would get from the sale of Palingswick House. He asked him to “stop misrepresenting the condition of the buildings”.

Cllr Cowan tries to pose his questions but the Leader seems tetchy and irritable. There’s a heated exchange between them. Greenhalgh stonewalls. These Tories have made up their minds; they’re going to sell these buildings whether we like it or not. It’s all in their body language and their attitude to this meeting.

Cllr Cowan finally gets to ask his questions without the Leader raising his voice at him.  “Can you give us an audit of which services will be lost”? ” How are you going to make sure those services aren’t lost”? And “Why didn’t you tell people that SureStart would be cancelled”? Finally, Cowan asks him to delay the moves. There’s no answer. The Dear Leader asks the cabinet to make its points. Phibbs asks one woman from the Shepherds Bush Village Hall about timescales, there’s a brief exchange and then Phibbs says “this is not the ideal forum”. Er, come again? The audience are angry and upset at his shocking arrogance. Phibbs, you will recall, was once a leading member of the Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980’s. I make a not-so sotto voce comment about  “Hang Mandela” T-Shirts.

Greenhalgh says that “there’s no fire sale”. Cowan urges him to “work with the community”. Greenhalgh, “We inherited this deficit from blah, blah, blah”. Phibbs, “this meeting is getting noisy”. That’s the first time I’ve agreed with him. Then he throws wobbly “We’ll just have to end the meeting”! Cllr Cowan reminds Greenhalgh that he didn’t answer his questions. The audience are getting agitated, a slow handclap begins.

The Dear Leader announces a 5 minute break.

At that point I decide to leave. I’m tired and hungry. I say hello to Cllr Cowan on the way out.

I had Newsnight on in the background as I typed this. I heard that the Council had voted to sell off the buildings.

Now all I can think about is Toby Fucking Young.

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Filed under Big Society, Cuts, Government & politics, Hammersmith & Fulham, London

H & F Tory councillors go drinking rather than scrutinize council budget

I found this interesting story on Cllr Stephen Cowan’s excellent blog. It seems that the Tories on the council are more interested in getting pissed in the local boozer than doing the work they’re supposed to do.

Cllr Cowan says,

The biggest areas of H&F Council’s budget are in adult social care and housing. If you add in the overlap with the health services then the Select Committee charged with looking into this year’s budget (see page 88) in those departments had an awesome responsibility… At least that’s what most reasonable people would think. So why did the Conservative Committee Chair only allow a mere fifteen minutes for his committee to question officials about the sixty page budget document – most of which is page after page of detailed figures?

You can read the rest of his blog here.

The Dear Leader has pledged savage cuts but has promised to do all he can to help Toby Young move his free school into Palingswick House.  Greenhalgh: he’s all heart.

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Filed under Hammersmith & Fulham, London