Monday, 14 March 2011

H&F Conservatives to keep VIP freebie Olympic tickets

£50,000 worth of free Olympic tickets are being made available for councillors bottoms to grace seats in the Olympic stadium, and this has not gone down well with some of those on the receiving end of cuts in H&F which our own ruling Conservative councillors have just voted through claiming that there was just no more money in the kitty.

Unlike Lib Dem councillors in the London Borough of Redbridge who are returning their allocation, pointing out that as tax payers we have already contributed huge amounts of money to stage the games and yet we are all at the back of the queue for tickets and have to take part in a lottery instead. No such hard luck for H&F councillors who have their pick, gratis.

The whiter than white LibDems of Redbridge, however, are challenging other councillors in London to show similar virtue and refuse to take them up. Speaking to the Evening Standard Ian Bond, the Liberal Democrat deputy council leader in Redbridge, said the council would not be using cash from London council taxpayers, who have already contributed £625 million towards the cost of the Games. He said: "I would be disappointed if any council thought it was appropriate to take the tickets. For us it was a no-brainer."

And the LibDems here in H&F are up in arms too. Merlene Emerson, who stood for them at the last General Election and is now standing for City Hall told me:

"Like you am curious to know who would be privileged to receive valuable tickets as freebies. 14,000 reserved by the Government does sound excessive. But pleased that my colleagues in City Hall have highlighted this issue and are calling for transparency and full accountability. We cannot allow Olympic tickets to be used as a means of winning friends or rewarding cronies.

Thank you for pursuing this with the local Council with respect to their allocation".

H&F Opposition Labour Group Leader Councillor Stephen Cowan agrees and told me that:

"This Council has been cheering on the Cameron led government's austerity measures and has instigated some of the largest increases in stealth taxes and biggest cuts to front line services in the country. So, it would be the height of hypocrisy and bad taste if the Conservative Administration spent any tax payers' money lavishing these tickets on politicians or officials. The tickets should be sent back or be used for the benefit of some local worthy cause."

You may agree. But not our Council, whose spokesperson told me on friday that:

"The council does intend to take up a number of these tickets but no decision has been made yet on how many or how they shall be dispensed".

Because they're worth it.

1700 UPDATE - Councillor Greg Smith, Cabinet Member for Residents' Services, has been in touch to clarify the Council's intention, he's issued me with this statement:

"In Hammersmith & Fulham, there is absolutely no question of taxpayers paying for councillors and council officers to enjoy the London 2012 Olympics. While the Council does intend to take up this ticket offer, it will be the individuals in question that pay for the tickets. This Council is focused on spending every penny of taxpayers money on delivering the services that matter most and not on perks for officials."

Which is all dandy - were it not for the fact that taxpayers have already paid for these tickets which are being offered to the Council through general taxation for the last few years. So unless the Council is planning on charging people for the ones they have been allocated this doesn't really seem to clarify matters. What would be welcome, and I humbly make this suggestion to the Council, is to announce that they are going to use them to raise money for local charities, by auctioning them off for example.

But will they?

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