Monday, 28 February 2011

Fulham Palace medieval moat excavated

A fascinating article from the BBC here about a window into our past which is only now being fully excavated, restored and then understood. Possibly iron age in origin but with references emerging in the late 1300s the moat around Fulham Palace is going to be viewable to us all in the coming months but for now remains a bit of a building site.

I think stuff like this is fantastic as a window onto how people lived in ages gone - and well done to the Council for supporting it.

Hundreds of students picket Hammersmith Town Hall

A large demonstration welcomed London Mayor Boris Johnson to our very own Town Hall on saturday as the Mayor attended a Tory conference that the local Conservatives had tried to keep under wraps but was widely leaked in the week before the event, which may have had something to do with the Prime Minister not coming after all.

Taking place just days after swingeing cuts were voted through in the chamber of the same venue there was no shortage of local protestots and many of the same faces who barracked Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh made an appearance, as did several hundred students from across London.

They were protesting against the scrapping of Educational Maintenance Allowance and were basically there to bait Tories since, as the Mayor's press office pointed out in response to the protest, he has no responsibility for education.

But there were also local residents making their voices heard on issues including the cuts to Sure Start services (though not the physical centres as the Conservatives point out) and a range of others including support for disabled people. In fact the same woman who was ejected from the Council chamber was there avec loudhailer just in case anyone missed the nuances of what she wished to communicate.She is a well known campaigner in disability circles called Tara Flood. Pictured above, courtesy of Cllr Stephen Cowan.

The BBC were there in force this time as were other media - and it's clear to me that this sort of thing is going to become more and more regular. Mayor Johnson himself, perhaps ruing the timing of the whole thing, kept a very low profile in the end and appeared to enter and leave by the back entrance, avoiding any contact with the protestors at all.

During the meeting in the Council chamber last week one comment struck me actually. Cllr Nick Botterill, Deputy Leader of the Council and, back in 2009 saviour of Shepherd's Bush Green from some shoddy cowboy builders, gestured to the public gallery above the chamber and said "it's not pleasant being unpopular, being disliked" but went on to argue that they had no choice but to impose the cuts that they went on to do. I have some sympathy with that although there is a real debate about how and when to make those choices - but one thing is very obvious now, which is that the unpopularity is only just beginning.

During the last election I didn't earn many fans in the local Labour Party by dismissing Labour's chances of winning power back in Hammersmith Town Hall. In fact I said people should vote for Andy Slaughter as the MP just so there was balance between a Labour MP and a Tory Council. But the way things are going with the sheer scale of the cuts this Council is pushing through, which as Labour point out are significantly greater than the cuts central government have imposed on H&F, I can start to conceive of power changing hands here in four years time. But that, of course, is a long time in politics!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Shepherd's Bush Market: Traders attack "misinformation" from Orion/Council

After weeks of confusion over exactly where the traders stand, with the owners of the Pie & Mash Shop on Goldhawk Road having given a statement to the Council saying that they wanted to talk turkey and sell the joint to move somewhere else, they appear to have regrouped and decided what their line is.

Here is the text of a statement that they released on Sunday, which points out that Orion the developers would like to build seven floors of very high density housing on top of the Market:
"After months of misinformation, softening up and attempts to divide and confuse residents and traders, the proposals for redevelopment of the Market and surrounding area were unveiled last weekend. Nothing could disguise what is planned - a massive complex of high-rise flats by a developer hand-picked and aided at every step by the council. And of course the end of any viable Market in Shepherds Bush.
Contrary to the usual propaganda, neither the shopkeepers nor traders are happy. Not suprisingly. The scheme purports to safeguard the pitches and rents during the course of development, which they estimate will last 5-7 years. In reality I doubt the market will survive this length of disruption. Who will want to shop or trade on a building site? Meanwhile the 290 luxury flats/ mews houses will be shoehorned into a tiny space, hence the need to go up seven-and-a-half storeys, completely destroying another historic part of the borough and losing valuable social projects like Broadway - visited by a government minister only last week!
The developer intends to use monies paid as part of the legal agreement with the council (section 106 funds) to pay for refurbishment of the market site. This is another broken promise. Previously they tried to justify the overdevelopment because they needed to use the profits from the flats to subsidise the market renewal, consistent with the council's claim that this was about redevelopment of the market. Now it is just another high-rise luxury small flat scheme (1,2, and 3 bed flats on a 5:4:1 ratio) with extra profit for the developer. The 106 monies would usually have been used to make some of the flats affordable to local residents, but that is the last thing the council wants.
Even by recent standards, where planning consents are used as a tool of the council's development strategy rather than to protect resident and business interests, this stinks"
At last. At long last the traders seem to be back on the same song sheet and many of the points they make are entirely valid. Not once during the exhibition that I attended and reported on here was the issue of affordable housing raised - there won't be any as far as I can gather.

The Market will become very much an indoor space for the majority of traders, being under the seven floors of housing units and therefore relying on artificial light throughout the day. Not quite the vision I think many people had when the plans for a revitalised Market were set out, but it's what makes the scheme very profitable for Orion, and that seems to be the main driver here.

And while you can hardly blame a private developer for wanting to make a shed load of cash, can you begin to imagine the shadow seven floors of flats would cast over the rest of the Bush?! There has to be a better way, but the write up from the Council's press office describes the Orion housing plans as "elegant" so the only hope for salvation seems to be in the courts.

Or does it? Don't forget that Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh gave a clear and unequivocal committment here at this meeting to those traders that if they didn't want the large third entrance on Goldhawk Road then the Council would not give permission for it. All they need to do, and it's a big ask, is stand united  and call that committment in.

Friday, 25 February 2011

TfL take £1000s in Oyster overcharges from Bush residents

233,000 at Shepherd's Bush Overground, 368,000 at Shepherd's Bush Central line, 108,000 at White City and 46,000 at East Acton are the numbers of people who have had money taken from them during 2010 in fines by TfL for allegedly not "touching out" at the end of their journey with pay as you go Oyster cards. The grim numbers were revealed by an answer from London Mayor Boris Johnson just this week.

If you don't touch out the Oyster system basically fines you by taking the maximum possible fare off your card. So for example if you travelled from Zone 1 to White City which is in Zone 2 but the machine didn't record a "touch out", it will charge you for a potential journey to the furthest point you could have possibly gone on the central line adding up to four zones more.

So if we take each of these recorded incidents as costing around a fiver that means TfL have taken around £3,775,000 away from commuters into and out of W12 in the last year alone. You're talking silly money when you add that up across London as a whole with over 14 million journeys having been subject to an overcharge courtesy of TfL - and how many of these people were ripped off as a result of the system itself screwing up? Many more than the one in four that get compensated as a result.

I know that's hapenned to me when I most definately did swipe in and out and was still overcharged, and then there was the time coming home from the Notting Hill Carnival when the station officer at Shepherd's Bush H&C Line refused to believe that people were being told just to walk through without touching in at all the stations around the Carnival because of the crowds - I was overcharged again. I suspect I'm far from being the only one.

We know all of this thanks to Caroline Pidgeon who is the Liberal Democrat leader on the Greater London Assembly. She asked the question and was given the numbers, but was also told by Tfl that:
"Maximum fares are not overcharges. The terms of pay as you go (PAYG) make it quite clear that users must touch in and out to obtain the best fare. Maximum fares are charged to deter fraud and ensure that users validate their cards properly".
"In principle, customers who do not touch in at the start of their journey are at risk of a maximum fare because they are travelling without a valid ticket. TfL calculates that between 60 and 80 per cent of the revenue raised through maximum fares would have been spent by customers if their Oyster card were validated correctly".
But, as Caroline Pidgeon points out in response, very few of these people are ever compensated:

"It is staggering that last year 14 million people were overcharged for making journeys around London using Oyster - yet in just one of four of these cases were they ever compensated.

"As a matter of urgency we must get to the bottom of how this overcharging is occurring so as to ensure passengers are routinely charged the correct fare. Of course in some cases passengers might be forgetting to swipe their cards, but that should not cover up the fact that there are some fundamental faults in the Oyster system. There is now increasing evidence that thousands of people being ripped off at no fault of their own.

"It is time the Mayor started answering questions as to why so many Londoners are being ripped off when using Oyster."
It is indeed - but this close to the election next year don't expect any answers soon. You can just draw your own conclusions instead about Boris' record on this and so many other things. I would simply urge people not just to touch in and out but also to make full use of websites like which is an automated compensation claiming system that reminds you when your train was delayed according to when you have told the system you normally travel. How many times have you been delayed, meant to claim compensation, and then forgotten about it?

And if you are overcharged - claim. If anyone has any stories they'd like to share please do so in the comments section below, I'll be following this one up in the coming weeks and months.

1ST MARCH UPDATE - The Fulham Chronicle have caught up with this story here

H&F politicians debate my definition of "chutzpah" - what's your view?

Councillor Cowan - does he do chutzpah?
The Great Debate has started, it seems, and I appear to have unwittingly started it. In my report on the rumbustious debate which took place in Hammersmith Town Hall on wednesday evening, and which resulted in the voting through of swingeing cuts to services, I made the throwaway comment that Councillor Stephen Cowan, the Leader of the Labour Opposition didn't "do chutzpah".

I was comparing him to the chutzpah of Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh, who very much does do chutzpah, in my humble opinion, by reading out this quote in support of the cuts which he said he'd received from a local resident:
I've often wondered what David Cameron means by the Big Society – but if this is it I'd like to see more of it”.
But my conclusion that by comparison his Labour counterpart didn't "do" chutzpah has provoked an angry reaction from Conservative Councillor Harry Phibbs. Cllr Phibbs is in the Boris Johnson mould of Tory politicos as you'll see from what he said in a minute, but it's also worth pointing out that he has brought about some welcome changes in W12, such as the transforming of derelict houses that were blighting our streets - a Top Tory.

Anyway, back to chutzpah - Cllr Phibbs rages thus:

"Shepherd's Bush blogger Chris Underwood makes the extraordinary comment on his blog last night that Cllr Stephen Cowan, the Labour Group leader on Hammersmith and Fulham Council, "doesn't really do chutzpah."

Chris, chutzpah is in Cllr Cowan's DNA. It's his middle name. His irreducible essence. He is the physical manifestation. The embodiment of chutzpah. Cllr Cowan is chutzpah made flesh.

Cllr Cowan's speech last night was pretty typical. He complained that the Council employed too many HR managers. When the Conservative administration took over from Labour there was a total HR headcount of 100 posts at a cost of £4,612.834. HR headcount has been cut over time and today it is down to 47 posts (a total reduction of 53 posts) costing £2,816.300. This has resulted in a total saving of £1,796.534.

He complained too much was spent on communications.

Yet under Labour Communications spending was £1.14 million. We are halving that cost. According to an Evening Standard survey our total spending on publicity at £669,000 is the second lowest of the 32 London boroughs. Only Bexley spends less. Southwark spends over £5 million. We have slashed spending on spin and cut the number of Communications staff from 13 under Labour to seven. The cost of h&f news is much lower than the previous Council publication HM Magazine which cost £400,000 a year".
Phew. Looks like I'm off Cllr Phibbs' Christmas card list, but there's more:
"The greatest chutzpah was voting against the budget without offering an alternative budget. The only saving he came up with was fixing the lights in the Town Hall extension saving £250,000. Yet the saving is £20,000 and has been accomplished. It is true that the building is energy inefficient - which is one reason why it should be knocked down and the site redeveloped. Yet he is fighting to save the Town Hall extension.
Requests to substantiate his claims, for instance on police cuts, were met with bluster.

So Chris I'm afraid I would have to conclude that Cllr Cowan does do chutzpah
Well, that's me tellt.

So what do you think? Who in our local political class does the best chutzpah? To get you started here is the definition of "chutzpah":

–noun Slang .
1. unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall.
2. audacity; nerve.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

How blogging works: BBC London report on H&F

Two blogs, mine and another in south London led the BBC news in London today. Sounds very trumpet blowing but actually it's a statement of fact. The budget cuts meeting that took place in H&F and that I reported on here was not attended by BBC London, because in their own age of cuts, they just couldn't spare the resources and sent reporters to Lambeth instead.

So my report was picked up instead the next day, complete with pictures I took being used. Apparently they even picked up and asked Council Leader Greenhalgh about the fact I'd noted his use of the word "scalpel" which he prefers to "axe" when it comes to the cuts!

So why do I say this? To illustrate the way the media is going, basically. The big broadcasters can't possibly hope to cover everything so they use bloggers instead. And actually that's no bad thing. It's also, of course, how we all met Nathan the security guard from Westfield who tried to manhandle a bunch of middle aged female librarians into the street!

The vast majority of stories that appear on here come from readers - keep them coming, people.

David Cameron, Boris Johnson in Hammersmith on Saturday

David Cameron at a "Cameron Direct" event in Hammersmith, January 2010

One of the Borough's worst kept political secrets ceased to be a secret today as it was leaked that the Prime Minister will be joined by London Mayor Boris Johnson to launch Boris' campaign for re-election to City Hall. It isn't the first time either the Prime Minister or Boris has been down our way and it won't be the last given the closeness of Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh to both men.

The problem for the Conservatives, however, is timing. And as any politician will tell you, timing really matters.

So to launch Boris Johnson's campaign in the same venue just days after £200 million was cut from local services, and also just days since his claim to have increased police numbers was branded a "barefaced lie", it doesn't quite add up to quite the ambience that I think the boys in blue rosettes really had in mind.

And as you'd expect Labour are keen to put the boot in and make it even worse for poor old Boris by organising a demonstration outside the Town Hall at 0930 on Saturday morning. So expect lots of noise and banging of drums down King Street way if you're thinking of getting a head start on yer weekend shopping.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

H&F Council cuts voted through - £27million+ gone

Vast quantities of testosterone sloshed around the Town Hall Council chamber this evening as the rough and tumble between Labour Leader Stephen Cowan and Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh threatened to descend into a schoolboy playground scrap - “I challenge you to debate me publicly” shouted Cllr Cowan, “name a time and place!” retorted Cllr Greenhalgh, and then “with your grasp of facts, any time and any place!” the big beast roared.

But this evening was a serious occasion, in fact everyone in the room knew that it would profoundly change many people's lives in the borough. In some cases enormously, and much of the debate was heard, to give each side their credit, in respectful silence where children and vubnerable people were discussed.

The budget was passed by a majority vote that was a foregone conclusion this evening, resulting in millions being taken off the council budget and numerous services either being closed completely or radically reduced. There was much talk of “restructuring” and savings from the Conservatives but the fact is people will now lose their jobs and services be the poorer. In fact by my tally the Council has cut by 15% which is more than the central Government cut of 11.3%.

In fairness the Council could hardly have done anything other than cut, given the state of the nation's bank account. A point which Cllr Greenhalgh openned with as he stated that central government was paying more on interest rates than on national defence. And that's where most of the cash for local government comes from.

Councillor Greenhalgh claimed that they were not taking an “axe” to services, as I claimed here, but that it was a “scalpel instead”, which was a neat metaphor. Sitting in the middle of the chamber in the press seats I seemed to get a special glare when he said that, but perhaps that's just me. But he then went on to say that this was going to cost 330 posts, so he wasn't disguising the pain.

He referred to the cuts to Sure Start in the borough as a “big, bold and brave move” which would “restructure” services while “protecting the front line”. This provoked the first of the evenings regular barracking from the public gallery and guests sitting on the floor of the chamber that was to characterise much of the night. Cllr Greenhalgh lauded the budget as being “the three Rs of local government – Releasing assets, Restructuring services and Reforming delivery of those services”. The 'releasing assets' bit was a reference to the sale of Council buildings which I covered here back in July.

He claimed it wasn't ideology driving the cuts, which was the claim from the Labour benches opposing the budget, but plain old “common sense”. This was met with more barracking.

He concluded, with chutzpah that only he could muster, with a quote about Hammersmith & Fulham that said “I've often wondered what David Cameron means by the Big Society – but if this is it I'd like to see more of it”.

Councillor Cowan, for the Opposition, doesn't really do chutzpah, but he does do passion. He jabbed his finger and derided the claim that these cuts, which would see he said children's protection being placed at risk because of cuts to vital child protection services, was nothing to do with ideology. He quoted an economist who'd described the national Government's cuts as being a “sledgehammer to local government” and asked the Conservative benches “where were you when the sledgehammer was being wielded?” “where were you?” “on the sidelines clapping and cheering” he said pointing out that the cuts being made by H&F Council were actually even more than the Tories were imposing nationally.

He made the charge of incompetence on the selling of council buildings at what he said were historic low market rates and noted that figures claiming massive profits of £20 million that were projected to be made by the sales had mysteriously disappeared from the Council website after he'd challenged them on the BBC Politics Show recently.

But he reserved some of his fiercest criticism for the amount of money the Council spent on what he termed “propaganda” - specifically H&F News which the Government recently forced the Council to close down. “You are an administration driven by propaganda” he charged as he noted that £20,000 had been spent on an information campaign warning of a “super sewer stink pit” appearing in Furnival Gardens, which was later found not to be true.

He added up the sums he claimed they were spending on H&F News and their new plans to buy space in a local newspaper for “advertorials (ie more propaganda) and then multiplied them by the vast amounts he said they were spending on consultants and said they could have kept front line services open instead – but that, he said, wasn't their priority.

There followed a vote and cries of “shame” and “disgrace” from the crowd, before one disabled woman was escorted from the building by security for having shouted one too many times for the numerous beefy security guards liking. But I have to say the whole affair left me cold – it was a foregone conclusion beforehand and nothing happened in that room that changed anything. The decisions were made and all that was left was for bluster on both sides.

So what does it mean for us, the non politicos of the borough? Outside, before the meeting, I spoke to Sophia Jones, who has two infants at the Cathnor Park Centre which is set to be hit by the cuts to Sure Start. She said the Council's mantra that a new “hub and spoke” operation relacing the current level of equal service across 15 sites for early years children was meaningless since the “spokes” had no free places for her children to go to. That meant they now had nowhere to go, she said. And she was very worried about that indeed.

Police cuts: Boris accused of "barefaced lies"

The Guardian reports on a stormy exchange at today's meeting on the budget at City Hall between Labour Assembly Member John Biggs and London Mayor Boris Johnson, who stands accused of cutting front line police numbers by freezing recruitment but then playing with how the numbers are presented to make it look as if there won't be any impact.

Mr Biggs, accusing the Mayor of "barefaced lies" was asked to withdraw his remarks and calm down but refused, which resulted in the angry man's ejection from the chamber. Mayor Johnson called Mr Biggs "an apple short of a picnic".

Speaking to the Evening Standard Mr Biggs said:

"Only Boris Johnson could claim police numbers are going up when he is actually cutting them. The spin is clear to see from the Met's own figures.The fact is this Mayor inherited a budget from his predecessor which paid for 1,000 extra officers. But under Boris Johnson and this Government numbers will be down and the progress we have made in tackling crime could well now be reversed."

"Only Boris Johnson could claim police numbers are going up when he is actually cutting them. The spin is clear to see from the Met's own figures.The fact is this Mayor inherited a budget from his predecessor which paid for 1,000 extra officers. But under Boris Johnson and this Government numbers will be down and the progress we have made in tackling crime could well now be reversed."
Which all bodes well for tonight's budget cutting meeting at Hammersmith Town Hall, then!

H&F Council hold budget cuts meeting tonight

Hammersmith Town Hall will witness the dropping of the axe this evening as the cuts begin to bite. The Council's budget meeting will be open to the public but there have been concerns in the media over the last week that meetings like this one will even attract possible crowd trouble, as has already hapenned in Lewisham and Islington.

The Evening Standard last night reported that our Council is making some of the biggest cuts in London, at £14.8 million, and we've already seen a shrinking of Sure Start services for children. The same report described how some Councils have made provisions for meetings to be held away from the public due to concerns over meetings being disturbed by crowds of angry people.

I would of course offer you a film of the procedings, but I have been told before that if I get my camera out I'd be asked to leave by security and escorted from the building. So much for transparency - and this sort of thing has led to Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles urging councils to let bloggers film and report freely from Council meetings with the same accreditation as "professional" journalists - we'll see if H&F take him up on that but I wouldn't hold your breath!

It's become normal recently for big set pieces like this at the Town Hall to be prefaced by some kind of demonstration outside beforehand so there may well be one this evening, but the main action will be in the Town Hall where what will otherwise be a quiet meeting with a simple agenda will ring the changes through for this borough, and very far reaching they will be too.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Shepherd's Bush Market traders confusion

The historic Goldhawk Road Terrace of shops are in confusion over what they want their fate to be. Our Council is quoting the owner of A Cooke's Pie and Mash Shop on Goldhawk Road, Mike Boughton, 59, as saying this:

"I have been here for 41 years and the business has been here for 111 years. I hope to keep the business running in new premises on Goldhawk Road and we are talking to OSBL about how that can be achieved."

But it seems either our Council have made that quote up out of thin air or Mr Broughton didn't check with his erstwhile fellow traders first, for this has provoked a curious reaction. First of all the owner of A Cooke's Pie and Mash Shop Twitter Feed, which was set up only days ago and which you can view here, denied any knowledge of wanting "new premises". He/she said this:

"Do not want new premises! Want to save the existing shops. They are so much a part of the local community".

So when I asked about the quote Mr Boughton had given, which says the opposite and which I had produced on the campaign groups' facebook site, which you can view here, - it promptly got deleted by Coll McDonnell who runs the facebook site! Obviously Mr McDonnell only wants supportive comments on there.
Incidentally Mr McDonnell is not above a bit of content thievery either as the main picture he is using is taken from this blog without any reference to it.

27 FEB UPDATE - Coll has been in touch to point out that the person responsible for censoring their facebook site was in fact not him, but his fellow administrator. He doesn't go so far as to name that person but is adamant it wasn't him. And, in fairness, he did take down the nicked pic and replace it with one of his own. So well done Coll.

My other inquiry, to try and understand what seems to be the shifting line taken by the dwellers of the Terrace, was to Aniza Meghani (pictured above with Coll McDonnell) who stood up at this meeting to berate Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh. Her reply was thus:
"Thank u for yr email . Our lawyer Michael Webster of Webster Dixon , is representing us and will reply on behalf of us"
He hasn't been in touch.

So what to make of all this? I can only assume that some of the owners have indeed approached Orion with requests to be bought out and that the quote given by the owner of A Cooke's Pie and Mash Shop is indeed genuine and reflects what is actually going to happen. And in the face of a determined Council and even more determined developer this mix of division, confusion and general haphazardness is hardly going to put them off.
Which as a Bush resident I think is a shame because the more I walk past that Market having seen the models at the exhibition the less I really want a huge seven floor luxury flat complex dominating the Bush - that's what this is starting to be all about for me now.

Colin Firth and Ralph Fiennes join campaign against Council

Defending Hammersmith King Street against the incursions of the wreckers ball and two soaring blocks of luxury flats, the actors Colin Firth and Ralph Fiennes have signed up to the Save Our Skyline campaign that was launched last year at a packed out church on King Street, so the Evening Standard reports.

At that meeting, pictured above and which I reported on here, Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh professed his "hurt" at the allegation, made by a number of people throughout the evening, that he wasn't listening and that he was in the pocket of the developers - whose plans also involve destroying around a third of Furnival Gardens with a footbridge so that the dwellers of the luxury flats don't have to have the inconvenience of crossing King Street in order to get there. He then submitted the plan to developers without a single change.

Regular readers may remember the Council professed to be defending Furnival Gardens against evil Thames Water just months ago. How times change. And you may see more than one coincidence with the way in which the Shepherd's Bush Market development is being pushed through.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Fulham Chronicle propaganda deal: Plot thickens

Two meetings and a contract: the super sensitive reaction of the Fulham Chronicle to this blog's attention to their possible transformation from independent newspaper to council propaganda vehicle first let me know I was onto something. I was "strongly urged" to, in effect, seek permission from owners Trinity Mirror before publishing otherwise I might have lawyers on my case.

I published anyway and still haven't received my phone call. And since then two meetings have come to light courtesy of one of my moles in the Town Hall. There have been two meetings, I'm told, between Trinity Mirror Southern Managing Director Simon Edgley and H&F Chief Executive Geoff Alltimes on the 16th and then the 26th April at which the future of H&F propagandising was discussed.

And now we have this - a contract for the provision of advertising and communication services - described as an "opportunity" by the Council on this website. It states thus:
"The Council is seeking to enter into a six year contract with an organisation to provide advertising and communication services in a newspaper distributed across the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham".
And what of this contract? What will it mean the lucky newspaper gets to do? Well, the council:
"wants to use free space in the newspaper to fulfil its own communication needs"
I see. And the contract begins on April 11th - just after the Government enforced death of what Secretary of State for Local Government calls "Town Hall Pravda" H&F News. So what would the readers of the Chronicle get?
This will include without limitation using the newspaper to engage and involve residents in the delivery of public services in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. In terms of the quantity or scope the Council’s requirements are for advertising of display, recruitment and public notices in a local newspaper. In addition, the Council will want to use the newspaper to distribute its own materials.
So a full scale and unlimited space to carry on what the Government has called "propaganda on the rates" a la H&F News but within the pages, potentially, of the Fulham Chronicle. Those days of campaigning against propaganda must seem like a very long time ago in the newsroom of the Chronicle these days.

More to follow.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Andy Slaughter answers Toby Young attack

Our MP has issued a statement to me following the attack made on him by West London Free School founder Toby Young, who himself was responding to comments made here. And at this point I need to own up to a pretty big screw up - I should not have reproduced the attack by Mr Young yesterday here without at least giving Mr Slaughter a chance to answer it first given the very personal nature of it.

Frankly on the subject of schools, even with the strong feelings involved, I think we could do with less of the nastiness

Anyway, here is what Andy Slaughter has to say in response:

I note the co-ordination of personal and inaccuarate attacks on me between Young, Michael Gove and the Tories in my constituency. It's not true that I come from a privileged background or paid for my education. The fact they they want to personalise the issue or tell lies is, I suggest, related to the high stakes for Young and Gove who don't want a critical examination of a risky project linked directly to them.

Young doesn't deny that they have conducted an enrolment process, discrete from that of other local schools, before securing a site, having their business case approved or completing consultation. If by 'perfectly proper' he means this is the normal way to set up a school, I disagree, but this is the same issue Michael Gove refused to address when I questioned him in the Commons last week.

As for catchment area, this appears to be a moveable feast. When I met Young before Christmas he tried to reassure me that local secondary schools would not be threatened by his school as his target market was outside the borough, and indeed he and his original supporters live in Ealing. Only when I suggested that Hammersmith residents wouldn't be very impresed by losing the local charities the council is evicting to make way for him if he wasn't taking local pupils did he change his tune and say half the recruitment would be local. This remains the case with as many children being recuited by lottery from up to three and five miles away as by how close they live to Hammersmith Town Hall.

Young's school is only in Hammersmith because the council here will do anything to accommodate him. Ealing and the other west London boroughs will not and it is ridiculous to think he could have got to this stage without Hammersmith & Fulham, as well as Gove, bending every rule in his favour.

The best example of this is the treatment of Cambridge school. Free schools benefit from this school for children with learning difficulites losing its £9 million Building Schools for the Future grant. Notwithstanding this, H&F were intending to fund a move to the Bryony Centre for Cambridge in September 2012. When Young pre-empted this by requiring a temporary home for two years, the offer to Cambridge was withdrawn. After protests from Sir William Atknison and Young's own parents, the decison was taken to move Cambridge a year early to accommodate Young on their current site in Cambridge Grove. This may be the lesser of two evils but it allows very little time for Bryony to be converted for Cambridge's needs. The priority at every stage has been the free school.

If the free school opens the local community will have to make the best of it - as will I. For the present I will continue to do my job on behalf of my constituents whose interests are being ridden over for reasons of ideology and to save face.

Bushstock: First three artists announced

Fink, The Staves and  Tom Williams & The Boat  have been announced for the one day music festival set to take over Shepherd's Bush on Saturday 7th May this year.

With early bird tickets now having sold out the prices are risinng and so, it seems, is the interest in this event. Keep an eye on it

Friday, 18 February 2011

Shepherd's Bush Market: 270 flats and no more Goldhawk historic terrace

Over a thousand people will be moving in, or should I say on, to Shepherd’s Bush Market as it is redeveloped by Orion according to the displays currently on view at the old Shepherd’s Bush Library building on Uxbridge Road. The exhibition lasts until the end of the weekend.

As you can see from the pics the Market is set to change, and change radically. But the most surprising news for me is the apparent caving in of the owners of the Goldhawk Road Terrace of historic buildings who had seemed so dead-set against the idea of their buildings being demolished and rebuilt that they wrung a commitment out of Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh at this meeting late last year to stop Orion in their tracks. I understand from Orion that most of the tenants have in fact now asked to be re-housed or bought out.

So it seems the fabled third entrance from Goldhawk Road (see above) is upon us, as is a vastly increased market space with some interesting and exciting new zones. For example there are to be wide seating and entertainment spaces including an outdoor square for the now resident neighbour Bush Theatre to use for performances. Hours look like being extended too with late night opening for food to cater for the post pub trade and many more trading sites that is currently the case.

The downside for me is the fact that in order to make their money Orion are going to stack no less than seven storeys of flats on top of the Market, alongside a row of “mews houses” backing onto Pennard Road which together will add well over a thousand new Bush residents who will live literally right on top of both each other and the Market itself, the majority of which will be underneath the housing.

And there are to be just 40 new parking spaces, although intriguingly Chris Horn of Orion tells me that no new resident will be entitled to a parking permit for the surrounding roads, the idea being to stop them having cars at all and rely entirely on public transport. In my humble opinion that is more than a little unrealistic.

And what of the traders concern that customers need parking? Well Orion claim that their research indicates that only 4% of current customers use cars. So no more parking for anyone.

Chris Horn, speaking to me at the exhibition said of the reaction thus far: “it’s been overwhelmingly positive. People have said that if they could get a wider range of things they would use this market more often. If you can get stuff here that you can get at Portobello Road then they will come here instead”

Orion feel “close to an accommodation” with the traders which, if true, marks a seismic shift from the sort of divisions that were laid bare at the public meeting, in the same venue, last December.

Orion need to submit a formal planning application by this summer and by then they need to decide once and for all whether the destruction of the historic terrace on Goldhawk Road, once the subject of a die-in-the-ditches fight but now apparently inevitable, is part of that plan. But from what I heard today it will be. Here’s Chris Horn again: “The majority see an opportunity to get new premises and a new trading position. All the evidence is that this market is declining with reduced numbers of customers. People like the idea of new shop fronts in keeping with the character of Shepherd’s Bush”

Well from what I saw it fundamentally changes the character of Shepherd’s Bush with a huge building rising way above the current set up and relegating the Market to being a basement. Or you could say it’s bringing new people in, which isn’t a bad thing on its own, and much needed investment to a Market which let’s face it does come across as badly in need of more than a lick of paint.

What’s also clear to me, although no-one at Orion said this directly, is that they have cottoned on to the fact that keeping our Council with their reputation and penchant for bashing residents into submission at arm’s length has paid dividends in terms of turning vehement opposition into what looks now like active co-operation.

Or am I speaking too soon?

SATURDAY UPDATE: It seems I was. The traders of the historic terrace have been in touch to say they are adamantly not part of this plan and will fight it in the courts. Here's Aniza Meghani who runs one of the shops: "City Law Firm WEBSTER DIXON LLP are acting on behalf of the Goldhawk Road shopkeepers. We would like to inform you all, that we still DO NOT WISH TO BE DEMOLISHED.WE ARE VERY MUCH A UNITED ROW OF SHOPKEEPERS"

So it seems omce again in H&F planning folklore we're headed for the courts. The traders have applied to the courts to have the plans withdrawn. Watch this space.

Toby Young calls Slaughter "liar" and "untrustworthy"

Controversial West London Free School founder Toby Young has launched an extraordinary attack in the Telegraph on the claims made by Andy Slaughter on this blog in his weekly update to Bushers. Mr Young has clearly had enough of Mr Slaughter and decided to call him an untrustworthy liar - presumably therefore removing any chance the two of them ever had to have a rational debate.

Here's what the furious Mr Young had to say in full - what do you think? I'll feature Andy's presumably swift response here too.

Dear Andrew,

I’m writing to you to express my disappointment about the manner in which you’re campaigning against the West London Free School. Nothing wrong with your decision to oppose the school. I was hoping you’d be more sympathetic, given that the classical liberal education on offer at our school will be similar to the education you received at the fee-paying Latymer Upper School. It seems you’re not in favour of extending the opportunities you enjoyed to local children from less privileged backgrounds, but that is your right.

As I say, it’s not the fact that you’re opposing our school that I’m objecting to, but the form that opposition takes. In the House of Common on Monday, for instance, you claimed the West London Free School had begun “enrolling pupils” in spite of the fact that our “consultation is not complete”. You’re right to point out that our consultation is ongoing, but wrong to say we’ve started enrolling pupils. As you know, we’ve received 445 applications for 120 places this September, but we won’t be offering any of those applicants places until 1st March, subject to the outcome of our consultation. And those applicants won’t be enrolled until they’ve accepted those places. This is perfectly proper and above board and to suggest that our Academy Trust is acting otherwise is inaccurate, to put it mildly.

Last month, you made an equally misleading claim in the House of Commons when you said that “most” of the children at the West London Free School will “come from outside the borough”. How can you possibly know that when we haven’t enrolled any pupils yet? Given that approximately half the children at the school will be admitted on the basis of proximity and the majority of the other half via a lottery within a three-mile radius, that seems unduly pessimistic.

You followed up with a blog on LabourList (‘When a Free School Comes to Town’) in which you said the West London Free School had only ended up in Hammersmith and Fulham because the neighbouring boroughs of Ealing, Hounslow and Brent had “said no”. This, at least, was a milder version of what you’d said in an earlier piece in the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle in which you claimed these boroughs had given our school the “boot”. Not only is this statement untrue – we have never asked any of the neighbouring local authorities if they’d consent to establishing our school in their boroughs – it’s a non sequitur. As you know, free schools don’t require local authority consent. You’ve invented a hurdle we have to get over and then falsely claimed that we failed to get over it.

I have to confess to being shocked that a member of Parliament should have such little regard for the truth, but these statements were nothing compared to the claim in your most recent constituency newsletter. The West London Free School, you said, is “ousting … a school for severely disabled children in its rush to open”. Presumably, this is a reference to the fact that we’ve enlarged our consultation to allow for the possibility that our school may temporarily be located in the Cambridge School, a facility that’s currently used by special needs children. As you well know, we did this at the request of the Headmistress and Board of Governors of the Cambridge School who wrote to us to tell us they’d prefer to be in the Bryony Centre, which the Council had initially proposed as our temporary site. Earlier this week, the Chair of Governors wrote a follow-up letter in which she said: “The Governing body of Cambridge School would like to thank you unreservedly for your understanding and positive action in supporting the changes to the West London Free School consultation document.” A strange letter for her to write if, as you say, we’re “ousting” her school from its current site. In fact, we’re bending over backwards to do what’s right for the children in her school.

In spite of all the lies you’ve already told, Mr Slaughter, I didn’t think you’d stoop so low as to exploit people’s sympathy for disabled children in an attempt to discredit our school.

What’s so disappointing about all this is that we could be having a perfectly calm and reasonable debate. I would happily meet you in a public forum to discuss the matter in a sensible way. If you’re worried about the impact of our school on the borough’s neighbouring school, let’s talk about that. If you think our admissions policy won’t capture enough Hammersmith and Fulham residents, I’d be more than happy to discuss that. You may have decided that the classical liberal education you received is no longer suitable for the 21st Century. Let’s debate that, too. I’m all for a vigorous exchange of views. But instead of engaging in this sort of rational exchange, you’ve decided to invent reasons to oppose our school. Why poison the atmosphere with this unending stream of lies and smears? Have you so little regard for the democratic process? Are you so convinced that you would lose the argument if you stuck to the facts?

Please, Mr Slaughter, have some regard for the dignity of your office and the trust that’s been placed in you by the people of Hammersmith. Let them know what the real issues are instead of deliberately misleading them. However passionately you feel about free schools, using disabled children as a political weapon is beneath you. I’m sure that, in your heart of hearts, you’re a better man than that.

Kind regards,

Toby Young

Shepherd's Bush "Tweet up" - 24th Feb, Adelaide pub

Entirely and exclusively organisaed by Twitter-man @stewbirch the next meet up will be at the Adelaide pub on the Uxbridge Road kicking off at 8pm. Be there or be .... somewhere else! Here's a report of a previous meeting so you can see what you might be letting yourself in for and once again, muchos congratulations to Busher Stewart for putting in the effort to get us together once again.

Toby Young: Tax avoidance is OK

Bush Free School founder Toby Young has cemented his reputation as something of a conservative firebrand by provocatively placing an article in the Telegraph (where else) arguing that tax avoidance is not morally wrong, in fact it is "sensible" practice which should not be condemned.

Here's what the Free Schooler has to say:
The moral case for forcing the rich to pay more tax isn’t as clear-cut as Shaxson seems to think. One of the more amusing chapters in Treasure Islands concerns the Vesteys, for many years Britain’s wealthiest family, who Shaxson treats as a case study in financial chicanery. But as Edmund Vestey says: “Let’s face it, nobody pays more tax than they have to.”

When you think about it that’s true. And far from being immoral, it’s perfectly rational. This argument was neatly summed up by Conservative thinker Andrew Lillico: “If you buy freshly squeezed orange juice, the price includes VAT. If you buy standard concentrated orange juice, there is no VAT. So if a key reason you buy concentrated orange juice is that it is cheaper, you are avoiding paying VAT. Is that wrong? Spirits incur higher alcohol excise duty than beer. So if you would fancy a whiskey but consider the price a bit steep and so buy beer, you are avoiding paying tax. Is that wrong?”

The answer is patently no. Indeed, governments routinely increase taxes on certain things – such as cigarettes – in the hope that we will alter our behaviour as a consequence and avoid buying them. It would be odd if a government told us it was perfectly right and proper for ordinary citizens to engage in tax avoidance, but not the rich. Just because there’s more money at stake doesn’t make it immoral.
What do you think?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Shepherd's Bush shoppers revive Westfield

So says the Evening Standard, anyway. I have to admit I've been in the shopping centre about three times since it was built so I suppose that is progress!

Slaughter reminded of private school past

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, reminded our MP of his private school education this week in a parliamentary exchange about Toby Young's controversial West London Free School that could be charecterised as a catty verbal fencing game. Read for yourself:

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The Secretary of State will know that schools in Hammersmith and Fulham lost £200 million in well worked-up, mature BSF proposals. Instead, we have free schools enrolling pupils, despite the fact that they have no approved business case, their consultation is not complete and they have no secured site. Will he reconsider decision making in Hammersmith and Fulham before he is back in the High Court?

Michael Gove : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point. I have had the opportunity to visit with him many of the outstanding schools in Hammersmith and Fulham, including Phoenix high school, which we both hold in high regard. The new free school that is likely to be opened, the West London free school, is being opened at a significantly lower cost than that for which schools were built under BSF. It will be in a handsome building adjacent, I believe, to the fee-paying independent school Latymer upper, where he enjoyed such a great education.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

H&F Tory Councillor slams "propaganda sheets"

Councillor Harry Phibbs has attacked the production of "newspapers" which are actually propaganda sheets in no uncertain terms. Announcing that this was a despicable practice he launched vehemently into an attack on the Local Government Chronicle who, he says, are nothing more than a Labour Party propaganda sheet.

Could this be the same Councillor Phibbs who is a senior, in fact Cabinet, member of Hammersmith & Fulham Council, who produce a propaganda sheet called "H&F News" which has been described by the Conservative Secretary of State for Local Government as a "Town Hall Pravda" and "propaganda on the rates" and which is now, after yesterday's revelations on this blog, about to corrupt the Fulham Chronicle into becoming a reincarnated H&F News?

It could indeed! Step forward, Councillor Phibbs, for the Shepherd's Bush Blog Chutzpah Award for Services to Brassneckism!

Let's remind ourselves of what Conservative MPs think of Cllr Phibb's propaganda sheet, this a transcript of Cllr Mark Loveday being challenged about this by Philip Davies MP - Fulham Chronicle owners Trinity Mirror may wish to pay special attention before signing the deal with the Council to turn their esteemed organ into a vehicle for the same propaganda:

Philip Davies: …we will start off with Hammersmith and Fulham. This is, let us face it, council propaganda masquerading as an independent newspaper. There is nothing here to the casual reader that would indicate that this had anything to do with a council publication. This is masquerading as an independent newspaper. If you are so proud of your publication, let us have it plastered all over it that this is a council publication so that everybody who reads it knows exactly where they stand when they read it. Why are you not upfront about what this is?

Councillor Loveday: I can bowl for Britain on the subject of propaganda, and Sefton Delmer and the radio stations that were set up in this country during the war, and the distinctions between black propaganda and other propaganda, and so on, but in terms of residents knowing that this is a council newspaper, my simple answer is that we do test this, and the latest survey showed that 80% of residents said it was clearly a council newspaper. People are aware of that. I suspect that 80% is a pretty good score by any means.

Philip Davies: I will give you a better score, which is 100%. I guarantee to you that, if you were to put on the front of your paper (and plaster it quite prominently) that this is the newspaper delivered to you by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, you would be able to improve on your 80%, you would probably be able to get to 100%. We would all know where we were and also you would not need to spend any money testing out whether or not people knew; you would be able to know straight away that people knew. I know you are obsessed with saving money at Hammersmith and Fulham Council. I have given you a perfect money saving idea, so can I now expect you to save money on testing it out and plaster over it that this is council propaganda so that your residents know exactly what it is they are reading?

Councillor Loveday: Can I ask you a question?

Philip Davies: No, I am asking you a question.

Councillor Loveday: Will you give us the £400,000 to put it through our paid-for local media, because that is not going to happen.

Philip Davies: I am asking you, on here, to make it abundantly clear to your residents that this is a council publication, right on the front page. You are saying how good it is. Why are you ashamed of it? Surely you should want to be proud of the fact that the local authority is putting out this kind of propaganda. Let everybody know why you are hiding your light under a bushel.

Councillor Loveday: The majority of copies, I think, certainly did have a strapline reference.

Philip Davies: I am just unlucky, am I?

Councillor Loveday: No, I have not followed the details of the straplines on the various editions. The front cover, of course, is a slip advert, or a wrap-around advert.

Philip Davies: Yes, inside is even worse.

Councillor Loveday: Inside this, obviously, the front page---

Philip Davies: Yes, I know exactly what you are doing: you are putting out propaganda and masquerading it as independent news.

Councillor Loveday: Propaganda is a loaded word.

Philip Davies: It is indeed.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Shepherd's Bush Tube on BBC tonight

Watch the preview here. The BBC will be featuring a programme this evening at 1930 on BBC 1 on the £64 million Transport for London wasted on looking at whether they could do what they should have done to start with and build in disabled access when they built the new Shepherd's bush tube.

£64 million in the pockets of consultants later, the Mayor recently told me it was too expensive and he had other priorities. Shameful.

Fulham Chronicle to carry H&F News Propaganda?

A Freedom of Information request has shed new light on our Council's determination to carry on pumping out propaganda - and, it would seem, the Fulham Chronicle's possible collaboration in allowing them to do it.

Regular readers will remember that, after a long battle, the Council was forced by the Government to stop spending our tax pounds on producing H&F News, which was dressed up as a newspaper but was actually, according to Secretary of State for Local Government Eric Pickles, "propaganda on the rates".

During the battle against the propaganda, which was also monstered by Tory MPs in Parliament, the Fulham Chronicle ran a high profile but ultimately failed campaign against H&F News. They even turned up outside David Cameron's house in West London one day with their billboards. But the campaign died out long ago and it was the main man Mr Pickles who forced the Council's hand. I supported the Chronicle's campaign at the time and called on you to do so as well.

During the battle with the Chronicle, however, the Council pointed out that running their propaganda sheet meant they didn't need to hand over loads of tax payers cash to the Chronicle for expensive advertising space. Rubbish, said the Chronicle, we're really very good value you know.

Well now it seems the Council is exploring a cosy little arrangement with the self-same Chronicle. In return for placing their ads in the pages of the Chronicle, the Council looks set to get free editorial space in that paper to put out their propaganda to us all.

Here's what the Council have admitted courtesy of a Freedom of Information request from Andy Slaughter MP:

"..the Council is currently market testing for an advertising contract with a newspaper provider. As part of the contractual requirements, the Council is requesting free, clearly sign-posted, editorial space to help us engage and involve residents in community issues". Sources have told me that Trinity Mirror, owners of the paper, are part of that process.

So in other words an independent newspaper, which rightly took a principled stand against publicly funded propaganda may be carrying the very propaganda they said the Council shouldn't be producing. All of which means the Council carries on spending our money on propagandising, but this time it features in the Fulham Chronicle instead of H&F News.

A sad end to the story, really, even if it's a good thing that H&F News is set to go. The Chronicle has some good reporters on it and I suspect they are quite non-plussed about this, so don't direct your fire against them - its the owners Trinity Mirror who should be ashamed if it's true.

The newspaper has a column called "Voice of the Chronicle" for those of you who still receive it. Well here's the Voice of the Shepherd's Bush Blog: Trinity Mirror need to weigh up the money they'll receive from the Council's advertising against the knock to the newspaper's credibility if it starts becoming a vehicle for the sort of one sided propaganda that charecterises H&F News. And they need to do that very very carefully indeed.

1600 UPDATE Labour Opposition Leader Cllr Stephen Cowan has responded to this news by sounding the alarm. Here's what he has to say:

"I understand the financial pressures the local press are under but strongly believe that it is vital for civic society that the local press remains independent and free. If the Chronicle/Council deals turns out to be true then it is a concern. Indeed, if there is any indication that the Chronicle is taking a propagandist view of H&F Council then Labour will rip this contract up at the first opportunity when we win back control of the Council which we hope to do at the next local elections in three years time"

Shepherd's Bush Market: Drop in to see plans

Residents are now being notified by leaflet about the second phase of the market (update) on the planning application being prepared to regenerate Shepherd's Bush Market. As with the previous consultation, Orion have imposed a 100 metre cut off - in other words, if you live more than 100 metres from the Market they don't much care what you think and won't invite you. I thought I would let you know despite them.

In fact thanks to the resident who passed me this information otherwise I'd be none the wiser - see the power of the blog?

The essence of the leaflet is that you will be able to:
  • See designs and images of the proposed floor plan
  • View a large scale model of the scheme
  • Provide feedback on specific options for design of homes within the market area
  • Speak to the Orion SBL development team and project architects.
The event is at the Old Shepherds Bush Library (now Bush Theatre)

 Drop in dates are:
  • Thursday 17 Feb 1-7pm
  • Friday 18 Feb 1-7pm
  • Saturday 19 Feb 11am - 4pm
Join them between 5pm and 7pm Thursday and Friday nights for drinks and food from local venues - and feel free to say you heard about it from the Shepherd's Bush Blog and berate them for not telling many people about it.

Londis, Goldhawk Road, apply for 2am booze

Londis of 20 Goldhawk Road has joined the Walkabout and Nisa bandwagon by applying for an Off Sales Licence for sale of alsohol to be extended to 2am nightly - whichwould make it the latest operating off licence around the Bush. The Londis franchised operator already has an off sales licence from 11am to 11pm.

Local campaigner Vivienne James, Chairwoman of the Macfarlane Residents Association says this:
"If we are to encourage LBHF Council to introduce a Cumulative Impact Policy (saturation zone) for sale of alcohol, then this application would set a bad precedent if successful".
Objections to the Londis application by 15th Feb to - we stopped Nisa in their tracks, we can do it to these guys too.

The local media, having only reported Walkabout's point of view here, seem not to be reporting this one at all.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The low-life and angels of Shepherd's Bush

Black cab drivers, an aged zimmer frame user and a woman shopper combined to create an experience for me today that summed up the absolute best and worst of the Bush this evening.

Coming out of the W12 Centre, sweating away after a session at the gym, I came across an old bloke with shaking arms clutching a zimmer shuffling impossibly slowly across the three lane road. The lights were turning to amber and he was only a metre into his shuffle. A young school girl was trying to help so I joined in not realising quite how slowly the guy was going.

Cue standing in front of the traffic and waving lines through only when was safe and holding others in my impression of a policeman which in most cases was accepted by the drivers who were good natured - it was obvious the old fella wasn't going anywhere fast. All except for one prat in a souped up wannabe sports car who beeped his horn. He got a special glare.

Eventually we got across the road, and then the other side too to the tube station side. The old bloke had an address scribbled on a piece of paper, and needed to get a cab. So with old bloke now on side of road, and school girl relieved of her duties, I tried hailing a black cab. Two went past without wanting to stop but then one did. I ran over to him, who assured me he'd wait even though the old guy was slow on his zimmer. Having run back to the old bloke who started his slow journey I saw the self same cab driver take on a passenger and drive away anyway.

At this point a woman shopper came over, apologising profusely - she'd tried to make him wait, she said, but he was having none of it. She offered to hail another one while we carried on our super-slow shuffle to the layby opposite the cafe. She found one, hailed him, and then I saw her hand something over. Yes, the cab driver had said he'd only wait if he could run the meter. So she gave him a £10 note.

Never have I seen low-life motives so contrasted with good ones than then. The cabby saw the slowly shuffling pensioner as a cash-cow - she had seen him as an old and vulnerable person who needed help and so she gave it willingly.

Eventually we made it to the cab and in he got. And off they went. And that's the end of the story, really. Just a little snapshot of life in the Bush, probably replicated a thousand times across London. The low-lifes and the angels all mingling together but on completely different levels. If there's a middle ground, like most people, I fall into that - but it's reassuring people like that woman are around - if only to counteract the sort of people that obviously drive black cabs and souped up sports cars.

Weekly Roundup: Andy Slaughter MP

Andy Slaughter, our MP, has started producing a weekly report for constituents - so here's the first one of what I hope will be many. And before anyone accuses me of bias the Council press office know that there is an open invitation for the return of Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh's Leader Column ... all they need to do is write one!

Here's Andy:

Egypt - on the road to democracy

The fantastic news from Cairo that Mubarak has stepped down is a victory for the millions of brave Egyptians who took to the streets and defied his thugs. On Thursday night I was asked to go and commentate on the Islam Channel ahead of Mubarak's speech. There was a huge sense of deflation when he announced he was staying on. But 24 hours later people-power has won the day and, although there is a long way to go, this is one of the most exciting events internationally since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Residents defiant despite building sales

There was no surprise at Monday night’s decision in Hammersmith Town Hall to go ahead with the firesale of community buildings.

Hammersmith & Fulham’s Tories have an unrivalled reputation for arrogance and disregard of the local community. But how it happened on Monday did surprise everyone present. That included over 400 people from every part of the borough and every type of background. From the eloquent deputations by representatives of Shepherds Bush Village Hall, Sands End Community Centre and the Irish Centre, to the tsunami of questions from opposition councillors and members of the public, to the attention of national and local media that saw it making headlines across the country.

These were unprecedented scenes and the Tories buckled. The leader of the council lost his temper, cabinet members who had rehearsed their crocodile tears about the closures forgot the script and burbled on incoherently or simply told outright lies. Matters descended into farce when opposition councillors queried how, without taking notes, the Tories could answer the 100 or more questions put to them. Of course they had no intention of doing so. They had made their minds up before they had come into the room. But attempting to respond they soon found themselves in deep water. “We have found an alternative for the Shepherds Bush Childrens Centre which is quite acceptable to the current users,” said Councillor Binmore. Up to the microphone stepped Tina who has run Shepherds Bush Families Project for 23 years flatly contradicting what had just been said.

“Give us more time and we will raise the money that you want and keep the services running” was the message from the representatives, defeating the Tories only argument that they needed the sale to balance the books. By 9:00pm it really looked as though they would withdraw the report and think again, having been completely outclassed and out-argued by the articulate audience, but, sotto voce, the Council Leader said to his colleagues, “Shall we just agree the recommendations,” and they did so in two seconds and adjourned before anyone knew what they had done.

Ignorant, cowardly, despicable.

But both the anger and the pride of the residents at what had happened meant that everybody left the hall in an upbeat mood knowing that they could beat the enemy and more determined than ever to save the community centres on behalf of the tens of thousands of residents who rely on them. Round 1 to us, and I think Rounds 2 and 3 will be as well.

The issue has gained increasing attention in the national press, with Ed Miliband choosing Hammersmith as an example of where the ‘Big Society’ is failing spectacularly.

Less democracy, more cuts in merger plan

Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham councils this week unveiled plans to merge.

If these proposals are to achieve economies of scale by sharing or merging administrative functions then that it is simply good practice which all councils should be doing at a time of financial stringency and the only remarkable fact is that these self-opinionated council leaders are making a huge fuss about it.

However the defensive tone of their statement and the pompous “sovereignty guarantee” suggests that something much more worrying is happening here, as indeed it is. By concentrating sensitive and important decision-making functions such as adult social services and children services in one borough they are denying access to hundreds of thousands of people in West London, they are abandoning localism and they are seeking to bind the hands of future administrations that may well have different views particularly if they are of different political persuasions

Once again this goes against the Government’s rhetoric on devolution of powers and is something for which they have no mandate. It is already the case that elected opposition councillors and members of parliament from different parties are routinely denied information for political purposes and these steps are likely to increase the culture of secrecy that exists within these town halls.

Instead of axing the chief executive for Hammersmith, why don’t they reduce the salaries of all three chief executives by a third, particularly given they all earn more than the Prime Minister? The biggest con-trick in this document is the idea that this will in some way avoid frontline cuts. These three councils are national leaders in slashing frontline services; the half a million pounds Hammersmith aims to save from the merger next year represents less than 2% of their total savings. What is actually happening in these boroughs is sale of community assets, closing Sure Start centres, demolition of affordable housing, closure of youth clubs, closure of libraries, with most of the cuts targeted at the most vulnerable.

Tory Donors to benefit from NHS Breakup

Who’s benefitting from the Tory-led government’s plans to privatise the health service? It looks like it’s going to be large donors to the Tory party.

John Nash and his wife Caroline, who have substantial interests in the private health care industry, bankrolled Health Secretary Andrew Lansley whilst in opposition, and made a number of other large donations to other candidates including £50,000 to my opponent in the last election.

Curiously it’s Care UK that’s just benefited from a new contract to deliver prisoners' health services in the North East. The private health care company was chaired by Mr Nash until last April when he stepped down, taking an advisory role on their board.

You can read the story in the Sunday Mirror here.

The funding scandal comes in the same week in which it has been revealed that over 50% of Conservative party funding comes from the City.

On Tuesday the Guardian reported that in 2010 funding from the City to the Conservative party accounted for £11.4m, a sharp increase compared to the £2.7m received in 2005, the year David Cameron became leader.

However whilst the financial sector commands such power over the Conservative Party at national level, at local level it’s even worse. During the Mayoral Elections in 2008, 77% of Boris Johnson’s campaign spending was donated by City grandees.

It is further proof that the Conservative-led Government’s weak policies towards the banks are dictated by personal allegiances and vested interests.

Sure Start cuts

It is becoming increasingly clear that the cuts being imposed on Sure Start centres in Hammersmith are not just being dictated by central government policy. The government maintains there is sufficient money in the pot to fund all Sure Start centres. While I doubt this is true, the council certainly has no mandate to close nine of fifteen centres. I raised my concerns during a Local Government finance debate on Wednesday

On Thursday I attended a meeting with parents and carers at the Cathnor Park Children’s Centre where we discussed the council’s plans to slash the money being given to children’s centres and condemn over half of them to closure. Unfortunately no Tory councillor was prepared to attend the meeting to explain themselves. Separately I met with representatives of all the threatened Sure Start centres to plan the campaign against closures. If you wish to be involved in our campaign please respond to this email.

Weekly Roundup

This week I had the pleasure of hosting an event at the Commons for the Hammersmith based company Sipsmiths. This company was founded two years ago by Sam Galsworthy and Fairfax Hall, and is the first new gin distillery to open in London for 200 years. Sipsmiths is a great example of strong local enterprise, being driven by two dynamic young entrepreneurs.

I also visited another local success story on Thursday, online betting firm Betfair. The company, which was only founded 10 years ago has now become the largest online betting exchange in the world, and employs around 1000 people on Hammersmith embankment.

On Friday I visited the Prostate Cancer Campaign headquarters in Hammersmith. The charity employs around 100 people in central Hammersmith and raises nearly £20m a year to research and campaign in the fight against prostate cancer, one of the biggest killers of men every year.

Also on Friday I had the pleasure of attending Addison Primary School to talk to a class of year two pupils. I answered questions and told them what I do in my role as an MP. The kids were responsive and interested in what I had to say, and their behaviour was a lot better than is often encountered in Parliament! It's always difficult to explain democracy to 6 year olds but as the whole class had been watching the events in Egypt on the telly I was able to them that it was what we had and what the protesters wanted and suddenly it all made sense.