Last night a Cabinet Meeting at Hammersmith and Fulham Council approved a decision to allow a sale, in due course, of several council buildings. It was a lively evening with a demo outside. There was an item on Newsnight by their reporter Jackie Long attacking the Council. She claimed those opposing sales of Council's buildings "were fighting to save their very own Big Society." She talked about cuts to the voluntary sector. Yet selling property allows halving of our Council's debt – and it's £5 million debt interest bill. That means we can maintain spending on grants to voluntary groups.
The report did not feature any of the groups that are getting new funding from the Council, such as the Spear charity (see film clip) which helps the young employed get jobs. Of money to help social enterprises get off the ground such as the H&F Credit Union – or H&F Circle, which encourages volunteers to help the elderly. We have cut the bureucracy that blocks the Big Society on things like applying for grants and holding street parties.
Another point missed from the BBC report was that while the Labour Party dogmatically oppose the sale of any the buildings, several of the community groups are keen to buy them. Some were protesting under the misconception that we didn't think their money was a good as anyone else's or that we were planning to sell the buildings straight away. The Irish Cultural Centre, for example, have every prospect of raising the money to buy their buildings. The report ended, in an indignant tone, that one of the buildings would "controversially" become a free school.
The BBC seemed not to understand that a borough where community groups bid to buy their own buildings and groups of parents start up free schools. There were a lot of people in the Assembly Hall at the meeting last night. But there had been even more in the same room on January 24 when prospective parents went to hear the headmaster of Toby Young's West London Free School.
In my borough we have a debt double whammy inherited from the Labour Party. As well as the Government grant cuts necessitated by Labour borrowing nationally we also have the burden of local debt inherited from years of Labour administration locally. The architect of this misery is Andrew Slaughter, the Labour MPfor Hammersmith, who as Council leader left us with legacy of £169 million debt. We have so far got it down to £133 million. While he mortgaged the future we are determined to secure a strong future. Nor is Slaughter a friend of the voluntary sector. When he was Council leader he cut spending on voluntary organisations by 10% in just one year – from £4,452,009 in 2002/03 to £4,025,989 in 2003/04.
As Tim Montgomerie said on Any Questions, the Labour Party are behaving like arsonists who then hang around to throw stones when the firemen arrive to put out the blaze.