Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Full Council - 27 October: SECCAG Report

On Wednesday 27 October, the Action Group and dozens of supporters attended a meeting of the Full Council, at Fulham Town Hall (yet another piece of our heritage which is scheduled for demolition).

Much of what went on that evening has been written about in greater detail elsewhere (links below) however the main points now follow.

The main business of the evening, as far as the Action Group was concerned, was to present to the Council a Petition against the closure of the Sands End Centre.  This petition, bearing almost 7,000 signatures, represented over 80% of voters in Sands End Ward.


Proceedings began with a speech delivered by the Action Group, detailing the many reasons why the Centre should be not merely retained but reinvigorated and made to work harder in order to serve the community better.  The main thrust of the speech was just this: that we all know savings must be made in these difficult financial times but merely selling the Centre would be "doing the easy thing" before exploring any other options.  Alongside all the many other arguments for retaining the Centre, The Action Group stressed that it wished to work with the Council to discover ways in which the Centre could become virtually self-sufficient and could be run without cost to the taxpayer.


After the main speech, the Action Group put three further questions to the Council, each answered by Cllr Greg Smith, who chose to respond to each in a similar vein: namely that, as the consultation was still ongoing, he was unable to give specific answers to our questions.  It need hardly be said - but we will anyway: this was pure evasion, as none of the questions that were asked required answers which may or may not have been provided by the outcome of any consultation.


Council Rules dictate that a petition bearing over 5,000 signatures should "trigger a debate" in the Council Chamber and, in some sense, that is what we got.  But it was all a bit one-sided.  The Labour members, to their enormous credit, spoke passionately, intelligently and warmly about the value of the Centre to the community; about the importance of the Library and the many, many smaller yet vital services and amenities which the Centre offers - the Sure Start complex, the Family Assist programme, the Crèche, Adult Education and so on.  

This Petition is probably the largest ever collected in this Borough.  Certainly, no Officer Of The Council could remember one of such magnitude.   The Labour members recognised the importance of it and responded with great dignity.

By complete contrast, the Conservative councillors remained silent.  No Conservative councillor rose to speak.  Not one Conservative councillor could be bothered to get to their feet and say a few words to any of the 7,000 residents who had signed that Petition.  Perhaps they failed to grasp the importance of the situation.  Perhaps they were tired - who knows.  The fact remains that not one of them spoke in that "debate".

When the talking was over, the matter was put to the vote.  Out of the five possible motions, two were chosen for the vote and they were these:

A - For the Council to act on the wishes of the Petitioners and to abandon its plans to sell the Centre.
C - For the Council to undertake further research on the matter.

Needless to say, the vote went precisely according to Party lines - all the Conservatives voting for 'C' and all the Labour Councillors voting for 'A'.  Other than the Mayor (who is obliged under these circumstances) there were no abstentions.  No abstentions.  None.

Let's make this abundantly clear:  our three Ward Councillors, Messrs Karmel (née Law), de Lisle and Hamilton all voted against the Petition - against 80% of the residents in their Ward.  Whether or not there was a "whip' on this vote, it seems to us that they could have easily - and at the very least - abstained, thus demonstrating a small amount of dignity.

We put this question to an experienced Council source, who explained the situation as follows:

"Of course they could have abstained or even voted to support you. 
It's a political judgement every elected representative has to make in that
do they follow what their leadership orders (no matter how ridiculous) and
risk not being promoted or even re-selected as a candidate or do they do
what their constituents tell them or act against their constituents'
interests - and risk not being elected. The real judgement (for me anyway)
in these matters is to do what you think is right.
So to be fair to them they may agree that's it important to close the Sands
End Community Centre. The question for you and all their other constituents
is what did they do to reach that conclusion? Do you feel your three
councillors have make sufficient effort to engage with you, hear your case,
ask questions of their leadership and tell you were they stand before they

To answer the questions in that last paragraph, the answer is a resounding "no".  Moreover, to say that the dozens and dozens of people who had filled the Public Gallery were disappointed would be an understatement.  They were disgusted.  

But what makes our councillors' betrayal (and the Administration's complete disregard for the democratic process) even worse is this: the Conservatives know they can win any vote in the Council chamber, as they have an overwhelming 2-1 majority.  Even without the votes of the three Ward councillors, the Conservatives would have won this vote comfortably.  The Leader of the Council, Stephen Greenhalgh, should have said to them, "I think you should abstain - it will look good in the eyes of your constituents."  Maybe he did - and they still voted against the Petition.  We will never know.  What we do know, however, and will never forget, is that our three councillors were offered a chance to do something good - to do the right thing - and each of them failed.

But then, on 27 October, the Conservative Council failed all the residents of Sands End.

Read the Action Group Speech here

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