Things just go from bad to worse for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. Their cherished dream of ‘redeveloping’ the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates as part of the Earl’s Court regeneration scheme has hit a massive pothole in the road. To add to their misery (Mmm, Schadenfreude, I love it!), the Council’s tax affairs, which have been reported in some detail by both Shepherds Bush blog and The Guardian’s Dave Hill, look set to kick another great big hole in their claim to fiscal responsibility.
Let’s look at Earl’s Court first. It would seem that LBHF has broken the law and tried to sign up tenants to some kind of “VIP list” if they co-operate with the Council’s scheme. We already know that the ruling Tory group, anxious about the huge opposition to its plan, had set up its own astroturf group as a means of claiming that it had complete support for the project. Of course this is a lie and to make matters worse, in January, the director of the pro-demolition group resigned.
Now what about that “VIP List”? Hill tells us,
Last month a document was handed to the Metropolitan Police containing information, which, it said, “substantiates allegations,” that officers of the Conservative flagship West London council of Hammersmith and Fulham promised preferential treatment in the allocation of new council homes to certain residents of two housing estates in the borough in return for their supporting the estates’ demolition as part of controversial proposed redevelopment scheme in the Earls Court area.
The document – entitled The Early Movers List: Homes for Votes? – claims to supply “evidence that may contribute to a police investigation into Misconduct in Public Office, which could lead to criminal charges,” and might additionally lead to civil litigation for a breach of the Housing Act 1996. I understand that Scotland Yard detectives have been making an assessment of the material.
Oops! On 11 October, Shepherds Bush blog tells us that the High Court has ruled against the Council.
And the Judge gives short shrift to our Council’s expensive lawyers who tried to get the application by the residents thrown out on the grounds it was submitted late. He had this to say:
“The defendants and interested parties [Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Developers] argue that the claim was not filed properly and that permission should be refused. I am not persuaded that the claimants [the residents] should be denied permission on this basis.
Last week, the Evening Standard carried this story.
A flagship Tory council faces fines and back taxes of almost £1 million after failing to pay its correct tax bill.
Hammersmith and Fulham admitted a “careless” approach to its finances after telling HM Revenue and Customs 59 cases where it had not taken tax off employees at source, out of a total workforce of 4,800.
The council said it had failed to carry out proper checks on whether people were consultants, who are responsible for their own tax, or staff.
So much for economic literacy, eh? The Tories like to tell us that they’re “good with money” but it seems that they’re anything but. By the way, this expensive blunder happened while the Dear Departed Leader was in charge. He’s now Deputy Mayor for Policing. Yeah, breathtaking, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, the iconic Shepherds Bush Market is under threat. A High Court judged had earlier ruled that what the council’s plans were unlawful. Cllr Stephen Cowan writes,
On Monday night, Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Conservative Administration met to vote through compulsory purchase orders (CPO) for the shops on the Goldhawk Road. They did this against the wishes of the small retailers who have long run those businesses – many fearing that this will finish them off.
Incidentally, this is the same Monday night that LBHF Tories voted to end council tenancies for life and deny those with incomes of £40,000 a place on the waiting list. Cowan continues,
I asked the Conservative cabinet members why they had placed hundreds of thousand of pounds of tax payers’ money, their officials’ time and other resources at the disposal of their chosen property speculator. They explained they believed it was necessary to push this deal through.
“Necessary”? What’s the rush? Cowan explains what happened next,
Cllr. Mark Loveday (Con) made a somewhat emotional interjection involving shouting personal insults at my colleagues. In part this was his usual technique to try and stop a line of questioning. But, Cllr. Mark Loveday had been responsible for many of the unhappy deals the Conservative administration has made with big property speculators across the Borough. Regular readers will recall how he enjoyed a £12,000.00 tax payer funded jaunt to the French Riviera where he met many property speculators while hawking the Borough’s “contentious development sites.” He was also exposed as having misled the public about dealings with the same property speculator on another site. So Loveday’s ill-considered personal defensiveness is perhaps understandable.
Personal insults are what today’s crop of Tories use whenever they’re asked to provide explanations. They don’t much care for evidence or questions either. For to question them is to question G*d Himself – or so they like to think. Like many of his cohorts, Loveday is involved in the Young Britons Foundation. Speaking of which, Frank Manning, YBF’s Campaign Co-ordinator recently wrote a defence of the Council’s decision to scrap tenancies for life on HF Tories blog site. Here’s the last paragraph of his article,
The current system is unsustainable. Houses worth more than £1 million are used as social housing, distorting the market and pushing up rents. In August, Policy Exchange released a very interesting report advocating the sell-off of high value council homes, allowing the government to use the funding to build new affordable homes. As usual, the left used emotive language such as ‘social cleansing’, but the real issue is quite simple. In these difficult economic times, there is only a certain amount of investment available for social housing, and it should be aimed primarily at those most in need and most deserving.
Dissembling. Damned dissembling. It’s a congenital disorder with these Tories.
Back to the Earls Court mess, yesterday the Council’s Chief Executive ordered Deloitte to investigate allegations of a “VIP list”. Shepherds Bush blog again,
More tax payers cash is lining the pockets of accountants as our Council has just responded to the legality of its actions over the West Ken Estate being ruled open to question by a High Court Judge not by simply co-operating with the police or answering the allegations in court, but by instructing Deloitte to investigate things independently.
Stupid question: but do you get the feeling that the Council has something to hide?
Finally, the Lib Dems have become involved. Caroline Pidgeon, the leader of the Lib Dems at City Hall has written to the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, expressing her concern over the way in which the Council has circumvented procedure and corrupted the processes. As I have learned from my own personal experience, the Council is arrogant, makes frequent errors that it refuses to acknowledge and rides roughshod over the wishes of residents.