Last Thursday an announcement was made in the House of Commons about the future of the hospital building programme in England, including our local hospitals of Charing Cross, Hammersmith and St Mary’s, all part of Imperial NHS Healthcare Trust.
The works on the three sites, which have the biggest maintenance backlog of any hospital trust, were supposed to complete by 2030 at an estimated cost of £4 billion – part of something called the ‘new hospital programme’. That programme has now been limited to £20 billion against a requirement of £35 billion and five additional sites, with severe construction faults, have been added to it.
Therefore, the Imperial hospitals have been dropped from the 2030 programme. There is now no committed funding or a date by which the works will be done. A move which the Chief Executive of Imperial described as ‘hugely damaging for the health and healthcare of hundreds of thousands of people’.
This is very disappointing and made more so by the deliberately dishonest way in which the facts have been obscured. So let me explain, as dispassionately as possible, what has happened.
Many readers will recall the campaign to save Charing Cross Hospital from demolition. For seven years between 2012 and 2019, Conservative Governments pursued a strategy called ‘shaping a healthier future’ which would have seen Charing Cross demolished and most of the site sold. Only treatment, diagnosis and primary care would have remained on part of the site. There would be no A&E and over 300 beds would go.
The whole community came together to fight the plans – and won. Charing Cross was saved, just in time to help in the fight against Covid. The fact that the Conservatives attacked us for scaremongering, claiming the hospital wasn’t threatened, and then claimed credit for the reprieve was not lost on the campaigners, but we moved on.
In late 2019, as part of his election manifesto, Boris Johnson promised 40 (sometimes 48) new hospitals. It was clear from early on that almost all these projects were extensions or works to existing hospitals and also that the timescale stretched at least two Parliaments to 2030. I asked him about this at Prime Minister’s Questions.
But to be honest we were just relieved that Charing Cross was saved and that it and Hammersmith would get the considerable investment they needed. That all changed last Thursday.
Once more the Conservatives tried – to quote the BBC – Spin with a capital S. They said the rebuilds of the three hospitals was confirmed. What that means free of the doublespeak is that Imperial can continue to plan the improvements but there is no money to pay for them by any specific date.
We can take some consolation from the fact that the Tories will probably be out of power in 18 months but for these projects to lose their place in the queue is significant.
Disinformation meant it took about two years before H&F residents accepted that Charing Cross was under threat first time round. This time it took two days. Firstly, Imperial exposed the plans, then the media – local, specialist and national, followed by the Council. Finally, under questioning from Laura Kuenssberg, the Health Secretary himself conceded there were no ‘40 new hospitals’ and that some of the schemes (including all of ours) were in a rolling programme with no completion date: ‘a rolling programme means that some places have rolled off the bottom of the list’. You can watch the interview here, with the key moment for residents in west London at the 10 min 45 sec mark.
But the spin didn’t stop there. The Health Secretary used Charing Cross as an example of a hospital that wasn’t new but would get a complete refurb, ignoring his own admission that the hospital had just been taken out of the funded programme. He then added another layer of misinformation by repeating that temporary wards would be set up at Charing Cross to allow the refurb to go ahead. Imperial know nothing about this. By making these false assertions in his Commons Statement I believe the Health Secretary has misled Parliament and I have written to him to ask him to clarify his claims.
In the end what matters is that our world class clinicians have buildings and equipment that allow them to do their job. For that, as with so much else, we may need to wait for a change of government next year.
One reason the hospitals issue is so subject to Government spin is that it sits on a political fault line. Charing Cross, Hammersmith and St Mary’s Hospitals serve not only Hammersmith & Fulham but Chiswick, Acton, K&C and Westminster, areas that regularly change hands between Labour and Conservative parties. To complicate matters further the boundaries of Parliamentary seats are about to change. I thought this a dry topic but when I put a story in the last newsletter about it, it was the most read item. So here is an update.
The Boundary Commission will present its final report to the Government by the end of June and any election next year will be on their recommended new boundaries. There will almost certainly be a new Hammersmith & Chiswick seat, and I will be the Labour candidate. This means I lose the north of the current constituency (College Park & Old Oak and Wormholt) to the Ealing and Acton seat, and the Fulham part (West Ken and Fulham Reach) to a revised Chelsea and Fulham seat. Charing Cross is in Fulham Reach.
Conservative Party Chairman Greg Hands will likely be the Tory candidate for this seat and will need to explain to residents not only his historic support for the demolition of the hospital but his current claim that the renovation works are funded and timetabled, despite his own Cabinet colleague the Health Secretary admitting this ain’t so.
Anyway, that is a matter for him. I have a practical solution for Chelsea & Fulham residents seeking decent representation. Labour has selected Fulham Councillor Ben Coleman as its candidate, someone already well known in the constituency and cabinet member for health on the council. I will leave him to sort out Mr Hands, but I cannot recommend Ben highly enough as someone who will genuinely represent the interests of all Chelsea & Fulham residents, not just toe the party line. Read up on him here.
I continue to represent the current Hammersmith constituency until the General Election, so please contact me on any casework or policy issues. But I will also be acquainting myself with Chiswick, working with my good friend Ruth Cadbury, the current MP. If you are a Chiswick resident do get in touch or ask your friends in Hammersmith whether I am a good pick. In the meantime, here is an interview I did recently with the excellent Chiswick Calendar.
Time for change
The pundits are asking is the next election 1992 or 1997? The answer is it’s 2024, but to play the game, it’s more like 1997. I was talking to residents in Brook Green and Hammersmith Grove at the weekend and was struck – as I am often in conversations and emails – by how many life-long Conservative voters have had enough. Enough certainly of the spin I have been describing, the questionable conduct, but above all the failure to tackle any of the major problems facing the country from the cost of living to the collapse of public services.
This is the definition of a lame-duck government. Treading water, waiting for something to turn up and rescue them and in the meantime pocketing the money and the honours. Having no elections in London this year, I went to Margate to campaign. Very good fish and chips and lots of Labour voters.
Thanet council went Labour for the first time in 20 years, a pattern that was repeated across the country, not just because of the chaos of the past years but because they can see Keir Starmer leads a responsible and committed team of people with ambitious but achievable policies.
There is a lot going on locally and I am as ever engaged in trying to resolve issues on the ground as well as raising them at Westminster. Here are a few but do contact me if your issue isn’t covered:
- At the Old Oak Community Centre I met local charities Bubble and Squeak and the Felix Project providing holiday meals for children who might otherwise go hungry. It’s a £3.5 million project across London to combat Holiday Hunger funded by the Mayor, who came to see it in action.
- E-bikes and E-scooters are a source of many complaints from dumping in the street to causing accidents and even fires. I raised this in the Commons last week and have met with the council, insurers, and operators. They need regulation but the Government has no plans.
- Crime and anti-social behaviour. Theft from vehicles and doorsteps, drug dealing, burglary and street robbery are a constant problem in and around our town centres and beyond. We have the most comprehensive CCTV system in the country and over 70 council law enforcement officers to supplement police officers, but it isn’t enough. We miss the neighbourhood police teams, cut under austerity. I welcome Yvette Cooper’s promise to employ 13,000 more local officers. Meanwhile I have a meeting set up with the Home Office to talk about knife crime and am working on proposals to tackle fraud (now 40% of all crime) when we have a change of government.
- Royal Mail. We saw off an attempt to close all the parcel collection offices earlier this year. Now Royal Mail are trying again. They will attempt to redeliver parcels without being asked, in the hope that this reduces demand on the offices which can then be closed. The current system of choosing a redelivery or collection from the office I think is a better option.
- Housing associations house half the social tenants in the borough but their standards and commitment to building new homes have declined. In large part this is because Government cut about 90% of their grant (austerity again) ten years ago then froze their rents. But management is not good. Of the three big landlords, Notting Hill Genesis has a new Chief Executive who I am seeing shortly, Shepherds Bush Housing got into financial trouble and has been taken over by Guinness, and Peabody has absorbed Catalyst. But bigger isn’t always better. Thousands of families rely on HAs being good landlords, but many fail. Let me know if you are having trouble with your landlord.
- The situation with the Bridge is a bit like the hospitals. The Council is pressing on with what work it can afford and planning for the major renovation, with no support, financial or otherwise, from the Government. The Minster has still not agreed to meet MPs six months after I first asked and I don’t expect any progress to be made under this Government. Even if everything is ready to go by next autumn and the money is then found, I don’t see a temporary solution until 2026 at the earliest and a permanent repair about three years after that.
- HS2 is in denial. The Government has postponed the Euston to Old Oak and the Birmingham to Manchester legs, which is great if you want to get to Birmingham airport from Wormwood Scrubs in half an hour but not quite the Europe to Scotland high-speed line we were promised. So HS2 are going to bury a boring machine under the Old Oak station ready to tunnel to Euston when they get the go-ahead. If they don’t, they can run only run six trains an hour on the line rather than the 17 proposed. Meanwhile regeneration of significant sites in the Old Oak & Park Royal Development Corporation will be delayed by years as HS2 will need to retain them to remove the Euston spoil.
- Thames Water continue to drag their feet on flood relief schemes following the major floods in the borough two years ago. The water companies talk of a £10 billion investment in better sewers – a response to the outrage over pollution of seas and rivers – could provide an engineering solution, but it doesn’t help this summer and it doesn’t explain why we should pay for their profit taking and failure to invest.
- Riverside Studios is in administration. I hope as a supporter for nearly 50 years it survives, but the new centre was always in trouble – a victim of greedy developers and a political fix which left Riverside with impossible debts from day one. Covid was the final nail.
- The planning application for Shepherds Bush Market went in last week. It is far better than previous proposals that were fiercely opposed by traders and residents alike. This version improves and retains the Market while adding affordable homes and biotech facilities for Imperial College. It is still subject to concern from traders who may see their rents rise steeply after 2030 and neighbours who think the office building is too big. But a decade of blight (since Mayor Johnson sold the site which had been owned by London Transport for a century) has to come to an end and this may be the best deal doable.
- Talking of blight, the Earl’s Court Development Company has finally put forward proposals for their huge site in Earl’s Court/ West Ken, vacant since the Exhibition Centres were demolished. This greatest act of Tory vandalism was stopped when the council bought back West Ken and Gibbs Green Estates from developer Capco and the rest of the land passed to the current owners. The estates, home to 2,000 people, were saved from demolition (Greg Hands may want to explain to another set of new voters his support for knocking down their houses) and a masterplan prepared for the rest of the site. The controversial parts of the current plan are the lack of affordable homes and the height of some tall buildings – at 38 storeys these are higher than the landmark Empress State Building.
Debating constituency issues
- We debated Heathrow expansion again last week. Support for a Third Runway is dwindling, with competitor airports, climate policy and even airlines putting the boot in. A good turnout from MPs of all parties to oppose what would be an environmental, social and transportation disaster.
- R&D at Imperial College and many of the major private sector investors in White City is being held back by the consequences of Brexit, especially access to European research though Horizon. I spoke in a debate on this last month.
- The failure of the courts or the government to provide remedies in the case of child abduction leaves much family heartbreak unresolved. I spoke about the specific case of parents who take children to northern Cyprus, an unrecognised state which is increasingly used to hide from international law.
- A vicious attack on a prison officer leaving HMP Wormwood Scrubs highlighted the risks to officers even outside prisons. I am visiting the prison this month and will speak to the governor and the prison officers’ association about what can be done to improve security.
- The Home Secretary’s hardline treatment of refugees led to some families being forcibly moved from west London over 200 miles away, even though children were in the middle of exams. With the aid of lawyers and teachers we have had some success in reversing these decisions, but it is a cruel way to treat families that we promised to help and who have already suffered great trauma.
- The tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse caused by the failure to label a sandwich with ingredients to which she was allergic has already led to a change in the law, but the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, set up by her parents, has further plans to ensure others do not suffer from negligence. We debated the creation of an allergy tsar to pull together the unconnected strands of allergy research and treatment in the NHS to mark Allergy Awareness Week.
- We are privileged to host the Palestinian Embassy in Hammersmith and I took part in a debate to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, when 750,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes. Their descendants still live as refugees today.
Highlighting some local events and heroes
- The Coronation weekend was not only a chance to celebrate, thousands were raised for local charities including £2,500 for the Upper Room at Greenside and Hartswood Road.
- The annual Age UK BBQ was blessed with good weather this year and I met a group of Iraqi doctors and scientists who after long years of practice in the UK get together in their retirement.
- IKEA launched a national campaign on temporary accommodation, the often cramped and poor-quality housing for homeless families. The Hammersmith store was one of four that had recreated these living conditions alongside their own designer spaces to raise awareness.
- I met a great group of volunteers from the Sipho Bowen Foundation, who have funded and organised hot meal for residents in White City to help those struggling with the cost of living. The founder grew up in the area and, now a successful businessman, is aiming to put something back in the community.
- It was an all-party affair when we voted to ban the import of hunting trophies, with MPs forgoing their usual Friday in the constituency to make sure the Bill got through. This is an issue many people in Hammersmith care passionately about.
New exhibition at Fulham Palace
A new exhibition exploring the history of the Bishops of London and links to colonialism has opened at Fulham Palace.
The new exhibition showcases the work of participants by examining the systems of physical and spiritual resistance that ultimately led to the ending of the transatlantic traffic in enslaved people and slavery itself in the British Empire. This is set against the backdrop of the historic involvement of the Bishop of London and the Church of England in colonialism and transatlantic slavery.
Details can be found here.
There were many well-deserved award winners at the Civic Honours this year (and I was the guest of one, Rosemary Mortimer, who received a special recognition award for a lifetime of public service). So it is with hesitation that I single anyone out, but I have to mention Andy Sharpe who has just retired after 36 years. His work running the Urban Partnership Group, the Masbro Centre and outreach across the borough in poorer communities is unparalleled and inspiring. He also had a very good leaving do.
Last week the Freedom of the Borough was awarded to three remarkable people. Beryl Foster OBE and Bear Montique OBE’s ground-breaking work in tackling domestic violence has been recognised nationally. Barrie Stead, from his first run at Parliament in 1964, has given his whole life to make society, and particularly our corner of west London, better through his work in education, the arts and politics. He and his wife Millie are also the nicest people you would ever meet. As a solicitor, council leader, GLC member and simply as a friend Barrie has spent his life helping those in need.
Finally, we said goodbye to another old friend. Charlotte Gibbons died aged 85 after a lifetime of service to the community and was a generous supporter of local charities. We gave her a good send off on the Hammersmith Riverside where she has spent much of her life. May she rest in peace after a life well lived.