Hammersmith horror: Community funding cuts from The Usual Suspects

Kevin Meagher takes a look at the savage cuts being implemented by Tory-run Hammersmith Council, which faced protests from the Save EMA campaign today.

First we had Clint Eastwood hoping George Osborne would “make his day” by not scrapping the UK Film Council; now Hollywood icon Gabriel Byrne – Ireland’s first Ambassador for Culture – has described the plans of Conservative-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham Council to sell off the building housing the London Irish Cultural Centre as “a devastation for Irish culture in Britain”.

The council, recently described by communities secretary Eric Pickles as “the apple of my eye”, decided at last week’s budget meeting to put the building that houses the centre up for sale as part of its £130 million package of spending cuts. Just last year the council extended the centre’s lease until 2017 but has now reneged on its promise despite hundreds of protestors, many playing traditional Irish instruments, descending on the meeting to make their melodious voices of protest heard.

Former Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, has also lent his voice to the campaign, lauding the centre’s “outstanding work” in providing an Irish community hub and welfare service and calling for the centre’s management to be given “time and space” to mount a fundraising appeal to buy the property outright. To no avail. The centre’s lease will now expire next March, leaving the local Irish community with just 12 months – during an economic downturn – to raise the £2 million needed.

The Irish are not alone. Other council-owned buildings are to be sold off which will close a homelessness shelter and a youth centre. Funding for 10 of the borough’s 16 Sure Start centres will be slashed too. Council leader Stephen Greenhalgh has clearly now mastered the art of cutting the ground from beneath community groups’ feet after previously complaining how hard it is to “get rid of people”.

Byrne, star of the acclaimed thriller The Usual Suspects, lends star wattage to an issue that is being replicated across the country as vital community groups discover the hollowness of David Cameron’s Big Society rhetoric, with harsh and immediate funding cuts sending many groups to the wall.

But Hammersmith and Fulham’s right-wing Tory council has particular form. Two years ago they hit the headlines after plans were revealed to demolish 3,500 run-down council homes in the borough without replacing them with equivalent social housing on the same terms; although there are 10,000 people on the local housing waiting list.

Despite their faltering attempts to detoxify their brand, Hammersmith and Fulham’s Tories show that when it comes to cutting frontline services that affect the poor and needy most, the Conservatives remain The Usual Suspects.

Boris Johnson launched his campaign for London Mayor at the London Tory conference in Hammersmith today, where he was faced by protesters from the Save EMA campaign; for a detailed briefing on the true horrors of Tory-run Hammersmith, described by David Cameron as his “favourite council”, click here.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.