Hammersmith & Fulham Labour council's Finance and Delivery Policy and Accountability Committee isn't dynamic at the best of times, but its meeting on September 22 was a real spectacle of mediocrity and low ambition.
Committee members had been led to expect a tour de force presentation from Labour’s new cabinet member for commercial revenue about how he would bring in millions to council coffers through a more commercial approach to the way the council does business.
Needless to say that is far from what we got.
Let’s start at the beginning. I have no idea why Labour find it necessary to have a separate cabinet ,member for commercial revenue, costing taxpayers twenty odd grand a year. How on earth is this a distinct role? When I had the privilege of serving the residents of our borough in the Council Cabinet between 2006 and 2014, it was inherent to my job and all my colleagues' jobs to ensure we were maximising areas of commercial revenue within our own departments. None of us needed an additional colleague to try and do that bit for us!
Putting that, admittedly quite fundamental, point to one side, I remained hopeful Labour might just be building on some of the major successes the previous Conservative administration had achieved on commercial revenue. For example the deal I had previously overseen to sell space in the ducts under Hammersmith & Fulham’s streets for cable companies to use that is projected to bring in £12 million. Or the deal to partner with the private sector that would have seen £2 million investment in Hammersmith Park and free new football facilities for local people (which Labour opposed).
There was nothing of this scale. Or even close. With a wide grin and self satisfied demeanour Cllr Ben Coleman said he was looking at such big ideas as renting the car park on Nigel Playfair Avenue for car boot sales. How much will that raise? £25 a car tops? Perhaps a few quid extra from a tea stall?
Challenged, the Labour councillors muttered that they don’t have a target yet as they’re still waiting for a new officer to start to come and tell them!
To be fair, car boot sales were not the only things on Benji’s list. He also suggested renting council garages (the council has done that for years anyway); centralising the hire of tenants halls on estates (many such halls are run by tenants associations who spend the money they raise locally on their estates, I predict this money grab will not go down well); selling services to other councils (already done); and hosting dragons den sessions for staff (probably the best idea, so that sensible people to come up with the ideas instead).
Then came that old Labour staple, hypocrisy, stating their wish to make money from advertising hoardings around the borough. Well they need not re-invent the wheel, the last Conservative administration brought in millions from installing such hoardings on sites such as the A4. The trouble here, Labour opposed every last one of them!
The last item on the agenda was a performance related pay scheme for council officers. I cheekily suggested that the Cabinet Member for Commercial Revenue should perhaps receive his allowance on a performance related basis. Funnily enough Labour wasn’t so keen on that.
As I am a generous man I’ll give the Labour Party an ‘A’ for at least realising commercialisation is a good way forward, but they are still in ‘F’ territory when it comes to delivery and ambition.