Havering’s Cabinet: Amateur Hour?

Havering’s cabinet members make policies for the borough. This requires expertise, which they don’t have. Therefore they need training. Training would encourage flexibility where diversity of views are welcomed as an opportunity, rather than seen as a threat. The cabinet’s decision-making shows they don’t understand the necessity of consultation, scrutiny and defending policies against legitimate challenges. A good example is the car parking charges fiasco.

The Romford Recorder* reports Osman Dervish’s 2019 car parking charges decision as one made without consultation with Havering’s high streets traders, or an economic impact study. This decision wasn’t scrutinised by Ray Best’s Town and Communities Overview and Scrutiny committee. The decision is abysmal because Osman made no effort to predict the economic outcome.

Osman’s allowance of £28,000 is reasonable** if, and only if, he’s doing the job. But he isn’t because he doesn’t understand what the job is. He’s an example of Havering’s ‘Amateur Hour’. No cabinet member has ever discussed policies at an Overview and Scrutiny committee. The cabinet gets away with shoddy decision-making because Conservative councillors questioning them are labelled disloyal, which is punishable by loss of allowances.

Until cabinet members are trained, decision-making opportunities will be lost. Both they and the Chairs of Overview and Scrutiny committees need to work harder to improve their expertise in these crucial roles.

* 10th January 2020
** Osman’s a part-time councillor, he also has a councillor allowance of £11,000

Havering’s Overview and Scrutiny Chairs: Damian White’s Cronies Cash In

Only cronies of Damian White and Conservative councillors are chosen as Chair of an Overview and Scrutiny (O&S) committee. There are five O&S Chairs and they’re in cahoots with Damian, preventing the government’s blueprint being implemented. That blueprint envisages O&S committees as a robust critical friend of the Administration.* This role enhances the quality of decision-making. Damian’s view is that O&S committee Chairs need rewarding for loyalty. The committee Chair’s allowance is £14,418 p.a. This is in addition to their councillor’s allowance of £10,208.**

Judith Holt is Chair of Children and Learning. The four meetings she chaired, 27th November 2018 to 9th July 2019 inclusive, lasted 7 hours 35 minutes in total. Judith earned £1902 an hour just for being Chair. (Likewise all other hourly rates below.)

Bob Perry is Chair of Crime and Disorder. Appointed in 2019, he chaired three meetings, 17th July to 30th October 2019 inclusive, which lasted 4 hours 45 minutes. Bob’s served 75% of the year, which is reflected in his handsome £2276 per hour.

Maggie Themistocli is Chair of Environment, appointed in 2019 like Bob. Unlike Bob she’s missed a meeting (3rd December). Her meetings were 31st July and 16th September. Committee time, when present, was 4 hours earning a stunning £2703 per hour.

Christine Smith is Chair of Individuals, appointed in 2019. She’s chaired three meetings, 16th July to 5th December inclusive. Her committee time was 5 hours 5 minutes, earning £2128 per hour.

Ray Best is Chair of Town and Communities, appointed in 2019. He’s chaired three meetings, 11th July and 4th December inclusive. His committee time was 4 hours 30 minutes. Ray’s £2403 per hour is a useful supplement to his pension.

Damian rotates his goody bag keeping everyone loyal and happy. That Johnson’s government regulations are undermined is a casualty to Damian’s greater purpose: retaining power.

* https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/800048/Statutory_Guidance_on_Overview_and_Scrutiny_in_Local_and_Combined_Authorities.pdf

** https://www.havering.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/3185/allowances_paid_to_councillors_and_co-opted_members_2018-19.pdf

Havering and the Freedom of Information Act*

Tony Blair created practical democracy with the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. Havering’s Overview and Scrutiny committees are utterly useless but citizens can use Blair’s Act to personally scrutinise the Administration. They may wish to use the information to apply pressure when foolish decisions are made.** There are two examples below but there are endless other possibilities.

(1) The destructive alteration of car parking charges has damaged local shopkeepers who need help, not hindrance. How much did the Administration anticipate raising and, importantly, are they actually raising it? Increasing prices can be counter-productive as people stop using car-parks altogether.

(2) The 2019 budget brought a despicable 67% increase in council tax for the disabled. Cllr. Roger Ramsey intended raising £1.1m but did he? Did council tax arrears criminalise the disabled and in addition create a financial loss? The Administration increased the council tax of the disabled to reduce what everyone else paid. But are Havering’s council tax payers’ callous enough to want to pour yet more misery onto our disabled fellow citizens?

These are possible uses of the Act. Any council activity, except personnel or those subject to data protection, are available to Havering’s citizens. We live in a democracy and to keep it alive we should use the Freedom of Information Act to hold our councillors to account.

* A very good summary is here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_Information_Act_2000
** If you want to make a Freedom of Information request for Havering go to https://www.havering.gov.uk/info/20044/council_data_and_spending/138/freedom_of_information_foi/2
If you don’t get the information required in 21 days you should contact https://www.havering.gov.uk/info/20044/council_data_and_spending/138/freedom_of_information_foi/2

A Review of Havering’s Financial Decision-Making: 2019

2019 was a vintage year for decisions. They varied between the puerile and OMG.

(1) Damian’s* Death Tax Moment. Havering has the highest charges for cremation in London and he increased them by £5.
(2) Roger’s Despicable Moment. Multi-millionaire Roger Ramsey, finance chief, increased council tax for the disabled by 67%.
(3) Joshua’s Planning Moment. He spent £100,000 on lawyers’ fees. This proved the council owned land on the New Zealand Estate, Rainham but he then decided not to sell it after all.
(4) Robert’s Damascus Moment. He found out his secondary schools are below average.
(5) Osman’s Green Moment. Parking charges were escalated in car loving Havering. He wasn’t applauded.
(6) Viddy’s Johnson Moment. She planned to spend £900,000 renting 5 Met police officers. It didn’t happen but made a good headline.
(7) Jason’s Loyalty Moment. He doesn’t do much apart from agreeing with the others in cabinet. This makes him popular with Damian.

OMG!
(8) The Cabinet’s Trumpian** Moment. They purchased the Romford Marks and Spencer freehold for £13.25M. If they’d asked Debenhams’ managers, they’d know why the site was (a) available and (b) a bad deal. High street retail is in terminal decline with lots of CVAs*** and downward pressure on rents. M&S is a badly managed company and the chances of collecting headline rent through to 2027 are poor. Meanwhile they’re selling prime land elsewhere in the borough.

* For a list of cabinet members go to https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/mgCommitteeDetails.aspx?ID=153
** https://www.havering.gov.uk/news/article/628/havering_council_buys_mands_retail_unit
*** https://www.dwf.law/Legal-Insights/2019/March/High-Street-CVAs-Perspectives-from-around-the-world

Politicians should really, really listen

A politician visited a village in India and asked the what their needs were.
“We have two basic needs, Honourable Sir,” replied the village leader. “Firstly we have a clinic but no doctor….”

On hearing this, the politician brought out his phone and made a lengthy phone call. Looking very pleased with himself he said, “Don’t worry I’ve arranged for a doctor to be here in the morning.”

“…secondly Sir, there is no cellphone reception anywhere in the village.”

Chris

Damian White Scuppered by Nigel Farage! 12th December, 2019

Irony of Ironies! Brexit opportunist Damian lost because Farage did a deal with Johnson. The Brexit Party stood against Jon Cruddas and neatly split the vote. Brexit purists think the ‘Oven Ready Johnson Deal’ is a sell-out. Northern Ireland is still in the EU and there’s a new frontier down the Irish Sea. This isn’t a clean break: it’s Theresa May lite.

Brexit no-hoper Tom Bewick got 2,887 votes. His votes would have carried Damian over the line and into parliament. But it wasn’t to be. Now Damian’s faced with a hard slog. His Romford heartlands are under threat from Resident Associations. Population growth will bring political change to Havering as the borough gets younger.

What happened ‘Up North’ could happen in Romford in 2022. It isn’t only Labour heartlands that change and Damian knows it. Unfortunately for him, Romford Conservative Party is a ghetto. Unless he has a powerful sponsor, he’s waiting for Andrew Rosindell to get out of his armoured Range Rover and fall beneath a number 86 bus, otherwise his parliamentary dream is over. Five years of Johnson should cool the ardour of his recent converts, making Dagenham and Rainham even less accessible to the Conservatives.

Dagenham & Rainham results: Labour hold
Jon Cruddas (Labour) – 19,468
Damian White (Conservatives) – 19,175
Tom Bewick (Brexit Party) – 2,887
Sam Fisk (Liberal Democrats) – 1,182
Azzees Minott (Green) – 602
Ron Emin (Independent) – 212
Terry London (Independent) – 209
Majority – 293

Chris

Havering’s Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee, 3rd December, 2019

Overview and Scrutiny Committees are a legal obligation but in Havering they’re pathetic. The remit is reviewing and analysing cabinet policy decisions. Committees are critical friends* offering an alternative to the ‘Group Think’ that dominates decision-making in political arenas. Obviously councillors should read their papers and be prepared to discuss agendas as well as initiate in-depth research through the ‘topic’ system

The committee has six members. The three Conservatives were absent on the 3rd December. The chair, Maggie Themistocli, neither attended or offered apologies. The meeting began in chaos. Eventually Cllr. Martin Goode stepped into the breach. Needless to relate he was inadequate. He’d missed the previous meeting on 18th September, which contextualises his lacklustre performance. Cllr. Matt Sutton, Conservative, missed the September and December meetings. (Perhaps he’s forgotten he ‘earns’ £196 a week for being a councillor?)

The agenda mattered. Havering’s policies on air pollution for example merited detailed scrutiny. They didn’t get it. Poor housing through multiple households is a scandal but the committee failed to meet the challenges presented. The huge report on School Parking Safety Measures** deserved a meeting to itself. No-one from the Administration was there. The officers must have been in despair.

It would be better if Administration councillors got on with what they are interested in: allowances. If the Conservatives just left the officers to get on with the job unhindered, Havering would have a better time of it.

* When are Overview and Scrutiny Committee going to call cabinet members to meetings to actually discuss policy with them?
** https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/g6279/Public%20reports%20pack%2003rd-Dec-2019%2019.00%20Environment%20Overview%20Scrutiny%20Sub-Committee.pdf?T=10