"Over 1,000 Children Will Have to Leave Borough Schools"

MP Andy Slaughter says cuts are beginning to bite

Stories From Across London

Andy Slaughter

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Details are beginning to emerge of the effect on local public services of the cuts being pushed through by all levels of government, and they make dramatic reading.

  • Over 1,000 children will have to leave borough schools as their families are uprooted by Housing Benefit cuts
  • Local voluntary groups will lose £1,000,000 over the next three years
  • Cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance will cost one school alone £350,000 a year from next year
  • Despite the riots of two weeks ago, the Mayor is pressing ahead with 20% cuts in police numbers
  • The Council is selling one third of a local park – described as a "drain on resources" – to "generate a substantial income"

But life remains good for developers in Hammersmith & Fulham, who are pressing ahead with plans to demolish local housing and build blocks up to 30 storeys across the borough. Opponents of such schemes are guilty of "nihilistic selfishness" according to one Government minister.

And for senior council officers, who have awarded themselves massive pay rises while cutting jobs and freezing pay for the lower paid. Hammersmith & Fulham have given their Chief Executive an £11,000 a year pay rise, according to the Chroniclemaking him the second highest paid person in local government on £280,000 a year. Not bad for running one of the smallest London boroughs

Summer appears to be over in Hammersmith & Fulham

Children Forced Out of School

For some months I have been requesting information on the effect of the Government’s cuts to Housing Benefit on Hammersmith & Fulham families. I understand why the council wants to conceal this information as it will mean hundreds of families uprooted and forced to leave their homes, moving to parts of the country where rents are lower. Many will be in low paid work where HB makes up the difference between what they can afford and the high rents charged by private landlords in west London. So they will lose jobs as well as homes and be forced to move far away from friends and families.

But I have obtained figures for the number of children who will be forced to change school. 884 primary and 322 secondary age children will be forced out of borough schools, 10% and 5% of the total school population respectively. Leaving aside the human consequences, this will have serious implications for schools, both their budgets and future planning. But the council sounds pleased with the outcome, describing it as reducing ‘the exceptionally high demand we currently have’.
By definition these children will be from poorer families and this may explain the council’s glee. Without the need for the estate demolition and service closures they are proposing elsewhere and which have provoked local opposition and national censure, they can press on with the social changes to the area they wish to engineer.

Voluntary sector loses £1,000,000

The Big Society is supposed to be about voluntary organisations taking on the responsibilities of the state. Not here, where community organisations are under siege. Masbro’s summer party last week attracted over 1,000 people, an eloquent response to the £45,000 cut to its funding the week before.

But this is only one of many long-standing and essential services losing out. Staying Put, the homelessness prevention service, will lose £60,000 from October, and the overall loss will be £1,000,000 from a budget of £4 million by 2014.

William Morris pupils lose £350,000

Education Maintenance Allowance supports poorer pupils post-16. It pays for travel, books and living expenses and at up to £30 a week can make a real difference to family income. Without it many students are likely to drop out of education, which not only increases social inequality but leaves many more teenagers on the streets with no money or useful employment, with potentially explosive results.

So there was an outcry when the Government abolished EMA, and they promised an alternative. What that alternative means to just one local school, William Morris Sixth Form, emerged this week. No more than 25% of pupils will be eligible compared with 70% now and they will on average get half the current rate. When the new scheme is fully implemented next year this will mean £350,000 less going to WMSF pupils.

WMSF is an outstanding school, as its last two Ofsted reports have confirmed. The fact that 70% of pupils receive EMA is evidence of the level of deprivation of its student intake. Those same students have just achieved excellent A Level and GCSE results.

Boris Johnson to cut Met by 2,000 officers

Hardly a popular idea before the London riots, the Mayor of London’s decision, backed by the Home Secretary, to press on with 20% cuts in police numbers, now looks unwise if not dangerous. 1,900 warranted officers and larger numbers of PCSO and support staff will go over the next three years if Boris Johnson is re-elected in May 2012.

Locally, we are facing the disruption of our Safer Neighbourhood Teams as all the team sergeants in the borough compete for fewer jobs. Campaigns to save the popular sergeants in North End and Sands End wards have already started ahead of a formal announcement next month.

With other London MPs I have written to the Mayor to ask him to think again about reducing police numbers.

Also this month came news that crime is rising in the borough after years of reduction, with burglary up a staggering 16% in the last year.

Hammersmith Park for sale

For the third time in as many months the Council is trying to build on or sell off parts of our parks. After defeats at the hands of residents’ groups in South Park and Shepherds Bush Common, 30% of Hammersmith Park is now up for sale.

Earlier this year the Tory councillor responsible for parks promised my colleague Iain Coleman that the well-used but unsafe football pitches in South Africa Road, in Iain’s ward, would be upgraded. Now we see what that promise was worth.

A private company will be leased not just the pitches but adjoining areas of the Park, almost a third of the total area according to the Council. This is described as an "‘issue" site "which is currently a drain on resources". Curious language to describe a public park, you might think.

The private company, PlayFootball, whose involvement was rumoured months ago before the "tender" exercise to select them, will build a pavilion on the site and 11 pitches. All but two of these will be rented out commercially. They will make a lot of money from this. So will the Council which expects to generate "a substantial income". The losers will be my constituents in White City and Shepherds Bush who will not be able to afford to play football on their local pitches.

Two important principles are being dispensed with here. Firstly, the sale of public open space for private profit has always been resisted strongly in this borough. Secondly, the Council is refusing to give details of the lease, the service delivery plan or the charging structure. The first two are commercially confidential it says, so we cannot know how long the Park will be in private hands or how much the rental is. The last is because the charging rates are not agreed. In other words the Park has been sold without knowing what local residents will pay to use the pitches.

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