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I have come to regard it as a painful duty to speak in debates such as this and to bring a report from the front line of Conservative local government in Hammersmith and Fulham-the Leader of the Opposition's favourite council. We now hear from the Conservative party chairman that Conservative councils demonstrate how the Conservatives will run the country. After seeing how the financial settlement was treated in Hammersmith and Fulham, I feel that we need a post-watershed warning about violent and disturbing images. Three principles govern what happens in that authority: increasing charges, cutting services and disposing of assets.
In the last three years, charges for meals on wheels have been increased by 60 per cent. There is now a £15 million surplus in the parking account. Adult education fees, particularly for people of pension age, have shot up, because the council falsely claims that it is age discrimination to give concessions to the over-60s, despite the fact that many other London councils do so. The council even charged for recycling, and then claimed that the service was unpopular and cut it altogether.
Most significant, having given a clear, one-line promise in their manifesto not to introduce charges for home care, within six months of election the Conservatives introduced charges of £12.40 an hour for home helps. They have substantially cut the home care and resident warden services. I am sorry that Mr. Cox, who was complaining about resident warden services, is no longer in the Chamber, because such decisions are for local government. The Opposition cannot say that local government should have the power to make local decisions and then blame central Government for decisions taken locally. The proudest boast of the leader of my Conservative council is that he has cut 1,000 jobs in three years-1,000 jobs in the middle of a recession-not bureaucrats, but home helps, wardens and other people who provide front-line public services.
The voluntary sector has been cut massively, particularly advice services and services for black and minority ethnic groups. The schools budget has been cut to the bare minimum, while schools have been loaded with additional central costs. So far, so typical.
The next phase of development is asset sales, including youth clubs, community buildings and 13 hostels for the homeless-65 self-contained units of accommodation sold off at public auction, which means that the price received by the council is about 20 per cent. below market value. Sixty-five families who were living in council hostels at a cost to the taxpayer of between £100 and £200 a week will now be in private rented accommodation at a cost of between £500 and £600 a week, but that does not matter to a Conservative council because the income tax payer rather than the council tax payer will pick up the increased bill.
Schools have been told specifically to sell their sites to private education institutions. One has to ask where it is all leading. I shall hold that thought for a moment while I fill in one or two other parts of the canvas in the little time I have for my speech.
I echo the words of my hon. Friend John Austin in relation to the chutzpah of Conservative councils in claiming credit for central Government initiatives. If Members drive around Hammersmith Broadway, they will see banners hanging from the lamp posts that North Korea would have been ashamed to put up, with claims about the £200 million the council has invested in secondary schools, the £200 million it has invested in decent homes or the 13 Sure Start centres it has opened. The council has taken over a local primary care trust and now even claims credit for investment in the NHS as well.
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