The ABC of Hammersmith & Fulham’s Spending Review

An interview with Stephen Greenhalgh, leader of the Council

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With the central government’s decision to cut what it sees as superfluous costs, all London boroughs are facing the prospect of reducing costs by at least a quarter of current spend. At HammersmithToday.co.uk, we wanted to investigate what this meant for the borough.

The leader of the conservative led Council; Stephen Greenhalgh outlined to us what he calls “the ABC of the spending reviews” and his four-year vision for the Council.
Asset management, budget control and cost reduction are the three pillars of the strategic plan.

Asset management includes a review of all the buildings owned and financed by local government whether it is the town hall, libraries or social housing and to ask the tough question – can we afford to pay for this or should we return the savings to central government either by controlling the local budget, reducing costs or even selling the assets and improving the balance sheet.

Under budgetary controls, the Council is scrutinizing the underlying cost structures, overheads, unit costs and looking at commercializing or privatising some services where costs have become onerous.

Cost reductions on key overheads are a vital part of the budgetary controls programme.
“We need to take a business-like approach in managing our finances as a Council, “the leader of the Council, Stephen Greenhalgh told Hammersmith Today in an interview, adding. “If we are looking at regenerating business in the borough we have got to make decisions that appeal to business”

Part of this plan to revitalize business in the Borough is to re-develop King Street and open up space for commercial office space, housing and new shops.
“With the success of the Lyric Square regeneration, the more run-down part of King Street can benefit from the lessons we learnt when Lyric Square was being redeveloped,” the Councillor said.

These include opening the bidding process to competition and offering the developers a commercial incentive to regenerate the area, he said. However, this is a much debated strategy. Over 400 local residents met at the local Methodist Church in Hammersmith to block these plans.

The key objections that were raised were:
1) Changes in the original plans now added two floors of commercial apartments that would block the skyline and spoil the river view
2) Environmental objections of the scale of the building on the sub soil making Hammersmith flood-prone was another key objection
3) The impact of traffic, congestion and noise was another concern that was raised on the quality of life changes when commercial build replaced resident’s needs for a quiet and peaceful neighbourhood

Responding to the key objections from residents and special interest groups, the Councillor said that the environmental concerns, if there were valid, would be handled by the Environmental Agency and that the Conservative government’s re-development plans were not vastly different from the original plans proposed by the previous Labour government.

“We are adding two and a half floors to the original plan and not much more,” the Councillor said, adding: “What we should focus on is the benefits to the community.”
“It is our solemn pledge to cut local taxation by reducing costs and to cut our local debt which is roughly £133 million and falling,” he said, elaborating: ”We aim to do this by repaying our local debt, introducing competitive bidding for all new projects and reducing bureaucracy.”

He emphasized: “What we are not cutting is quality, only costs. Our front-line services on crime prevention, improving education and services to local residents still remain important.”

November 10, 2010