Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Shepherd's Bush: BBC London report on Westfield heavies

You can watch the BBC London piece by clicking here.

Yesterday I got a call from a journalist working in the BBC newsroom who'd read about Westfield's security men and their treatment of some librarians protesting about changes to their terms and conditions. The article, which thanks to a Twitter overdrive from hundreds of people has been viewed by over 3,500 individuals according to my blog stats thingy, seems to have touched a real nerve.

Not just about the frankly ridiculous way in which Westfield security men in their Spooks-style black suits prance around talking into their lapels and think its OK to aggressively pick on middle aged ladies who are clearly no threat to anyone, but about the whole concept of public services being built or funded by the private sector - and the many strings that come attached with that.

For a group of harmless librarians to be picked on this way is one thing, but I'm told by journalists and some of our Assembly Members based at City Hall that they too see it happen - City Hall is surrounded by private land run by the More London private firm, for example. And their security people are likened by many to a well known European regime of the 1930s in the way they pounce on anybody protesting, filming or even just taking pictures. After all, its not like anything important gets decided inside the seat of London Government is it, so why should the public of London have a right to be there?

So why did our Council agree to host our library on private land? And by the way this isn't a question for the current Conservative administration because, as the Labour opposition always point out to us when people are giving credit to the library - which is genuinely a really nice building - they were the ones that signed Westfield up to it in the first place, before the Conservatives took power at Hammersmith Town Hall. Did they not see this coming? Labour Leader Cllr Stephen Cowan may wish to tell us.

Late last night Westfield themselves issued a statement to me, if not to the BBC, which read simply: "Westfield takes matters like this very seriously. We are investigating it further and will take any necessary action."

Which is fair enough on one level, although I hope the only action they take is to tell their heavies to cool it rather than anything more serious - they were only following instructions given by the higher-ups after all.

But it does raise serious questions about how we as members of the public hold our publicly elected officials to account over their stewardship of public services. In the rush to find private sector money to pay for those public services which characterised much of the last 10 years we may now have arrived at a state where we're starting to realise just how that deal changes things.  If people can't even protest or gather outside a public building nowadays, what does that say about democracy?

And here in Hammersmith & Fulham down the road from the Bush this current Council is about to embark on a project which essentially privatises half of Hammersmith including the Town Hall - in the teeth of local opposition. That very much is a Tory decision for which they too should be held accountable. It seems the developers are calling the shots there, according to local residents. No doubt some councillors will be delighted at the prospect of public protest potentially being banned there too.

Incidentally this also illustrates the power of local blogging - a super-local story being taken up by the mainstream London media because it represents a bigger issue. And the strength of this blog is not me but the readers. Half the stories on here come from you and Saturday was no exception - all I do is the easy bit of writing and posting them up. So well done Shepherd's Bush.

And finally, just for fun, here's a last look at our new star Nathan, doing his thing:


  1. I'd call that a good result. I used to work near More London and saw how the security drones would relieve their boredom by harassing tourists taking photographs. Anything that reigns them in is welcome.

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcihLv1bL6Q