Zoom Council meetings are unforgiving. The elderly Mayor, John Mylod, failed utterly from the very beginning.* After ten minutes or so he was still bumbling along, testing the patience of councillors. Several gripped their heads in disbelief, others openly laughed. This was the very public outcome of Damian White’s policy of using jobs to maintain his power, regardless of operational efficiency. It has brought the council into disrepute.
The meeting ended with a long** debate about Havering’s academy schools. Surprisingly, the Conservatives fielded four cabinet members including the Leader,*** deputy Leader and former Leader. The Conservative chair of the Children and Learning committee didn’t speak. This is shocking as her committee will scrutinise Havering academies’ under-achievement. Robert Benham, chair of education, read a script where each word seemed unexpected. Is it possible he didn’t write it? Councillor Ford didn’t develop her good debating points fully. Councillor Darvill opened and closed the debate with considerable authority. There was empty political point scoring by the Conservatives, which fell flat.
The Council meeting was ruined once again by poor chairmanship. This illustrates the negative impact of Damian’s croneyism, which extends to every Overview and Scrutiny committee, none of which are independent of the executive.
Council tax is loosely based on the value of property. Because of political cowardice, the 1991 valuations haven’t been revised. Havering has seen significant increases in house prices since then. The financially ruinous, but politically adroit, freezing of council tax in Havering wasn’t sustainable. It must be revised upwards.
After a quick look at Rightmove,a house on Harrow Drive, Hornchurch seemed like a good starting place. It’s on sale for £1,400,000 (August 2020). In 2012, it sold for £655,000. The untaxed profit on this property is £745,000 or £94,375 per year.
The band H council tax for this house is £3,592. This means they’re paying 0.25% of the value of the house. In 2012, the council tax was £3022 or 0.46% of the value of the house at that time. Council tax has reduced by 0.21% over the last eight years. 0.21% doesn’t seem much does it? But on £1.4 million it’s an additional £2,940 per year.
Merely maintaining the value of the 2012 council tax means this house in Harrow Drive should pay £6,532 per year. That isn’t an increase,it simply maintains the property tax relationship of 2012. If this principle was used across the entire housing market in Havering the borough wouldn’t be flirting with bankruptcy.
Jack Cornwell was a boy-sailor who died, aged sixteen, from his injuries after the battle of Jutland. His exemplary courage was recognised with a Victoria Cross. Harsh unrelenting attitudes towards the poor meant he wasn’t given a hero’s funeral and was buried in a common grave.* Once this became known it provoked widespread public anger. Jack was re-interred with full military honours in Manor Park cemetery but his family continued to live in poverty.
Because Jack was sixteen and a VC, his death was used for propaganda purposes. Although Jack had no connexion with Hornchurch, land here was cheap and so money which was raised in his name was used to build the Jack Cornwell houses for injured servicemen.**
After the first world war many severely injured survivors were unemployable. The workhouse system was still in place but that was entirely inappropriate. Lloyd George’s slogan Homes fit for heroes haunted him as public pressure demanded meaningful action. Philanthropy kicked in with huge donations from all over the country to build specially designed housing for disabled servicemen. The Jack Cornwell houses are an example.
Napoleon famously preferred lucky generals. A lucky general ruthlessly exploits an advantage for victory. Or, if disadvantaged he retrieves the situation. Napoleon didn’t like generals who squandered advantages.
Damian was triumphant in 2018. Romford’s Conservative heartlands provided a core of councillors but not a majority. He was prepared for this eventuality. Three Harold Wood Resident Association (RA) councillors were squared off and came on board. A further coup enticed Michael Deon Burton (RA) into the Conservative fold. Sally Miller (RA) followed Michael.
Damian was lucky with his opponents who are a splintered opposition. He controlled the agenda without a majority. The political sun shone on Damian in 2018.
Unfortunately Damian caught a nasty dose of hubris.
Damian doesn’t do ‘arm round the shoulder’ TLC. He should. Stomping on people’s finer feelings is fun but usually rebounds. Bob Perry’s expert, unpleasant and notorious secret recording of Damian’s bragging about his political genius was a coup. Bob’s recording added to Damian’s own goals and may have given other Conservative councillors ideas. Will he ever speak freely again?
Damian’s personal decision to get the council to invest £14.7M for the Marks and Spencer site wasn’t a great idea. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it a disaster.* As an ardent Brexiteer,Damian loved Nigel Farage’s simplicities. Unfortunately Farage’s fantasy world included ‘fighting’ every Labour seat in 2019. Damian lost the Dagenham and Rainham seat because of him. Damian’s bad luck means his future comprises of soft soaping Conservative councillors in order to prevent mutiny.
* The charges for this investment are about £500,000 p.a.
The beauty of local history is it offers a terrific opportunity for fascinating minutiae which is lost in academic writing. The Romford Outrage has rigour as well as wonderful microscopic detail. For people in Havering there’s the joy of ‘knowing’ the locality. The book opens with an incident on South Street, Romford, where Simmons shows his heroic personality.
Another aspect of local history is the opportunity for lavish illustrations, which add to the story. The authors have 61 none of which are padding. Taken together this book is irresistible.
One of those convicted of murder wrote about the causes of crime in an amazingly modern way and his preference for the death penalty,
“….he wrote that of all the terrors awaiting the convict, including the ‘cat’* and hard labour, it was the long periods of silent, solitary confinement which had filled him with most dread and had contributed most to his alienation from honest society. He asserted that the three major causes of crime were heredity, locality and the police system.” p154
I thoroughly enjoyed this well written book, which is an excellent example of local history.
Havering’s Raphael park is in an urban setting. Lying on a busy road, there are good links with central Romford with ample car parking immediately opposite. Its principal feature is a lake. The paths have a good surface with many benches, mostly in good condition. Tree cover means there’s plenty of shade. Also in the park is a Turkish restaurant with al fresco dining. A pleasant experience without being outstanding.
Sitting on a lakeside bench gives a view of houses whose gardens sweep towards the lake. I wondered what impact the public’s investment in Raphael Park had on Lake Rise’s house prices. The surveillance society meant finding out was easy.
Two houses, virtually opposite each other, were sold in the recent past. 21 and 22 Lake Rise vividly illustrate the private benefit flowing from public investment. Number 21 was sold in August, 2018 for £780,000, whilst 22 went for £850,000 in June, 2019. There are 18 photos illustrating number 22. Three show the lawn sweeping down to the lake. Raphael Park is being monetised for lake view houses. Number 22 has a 9% premium over 21 because of the view.
Maintaining parks is costly and is therefore a political decision for the Council. George Osborne’s Age of Austerity attacked Havering’s revenue base,` meaning there were many hard decisions about spending priorities. The untaxed profit made from buying and selling houses like those in Lake Rise is an anomaly which needs to be addressed.
Havering is blessed with wonderful country parks, offering a variety of experiences. This one is in the east adjacent to the M25 ‘frontier’*. Thames Chase park was created by hard volunteer work and planning vision. The collaboration between volunteers and planners has created a masterpiece.
Although the park is multi-purpose, I only use two of them. The Forest Centre building neatly separates a wooded hillside walk of about a mile. It’s got an accessible all-weather surface, which is essential for older and less able people. 10/10 for the walking surface. There are enough benches in good condition to have a rest and enjoy the ambience.
The second of the two main walks is flatter with lush vegetation, Again there’s a good walking surface, with sufficient benches. It’s a decent walk of less than a mile. Both walks have wide paths making social distancing rules very easy to abide by.
The Forest Centre is excellent. A very good cafe with plenty of seating inside and outside with good views opposite a large field. There are 2nd hand books available and a small gift shop. The adjacent barn hosts many activities throughout the year. There’s a large cheap car park with an all-weather surface.
* The M25 provides a ‘musical’ accompaniment to the Thames Chase experience
Selling Hall Lane Miniature Golf course was a cause celebre in 2019. Outraged residents*, in million pound houses, suddenly enthused for Miniature Golf. Too late. Romford’s Tories sold. This committee spelt out the horrors residents are facing.
The Hall Lane area surrounding the site is recognised for its special townscape and landscape character, with Policy DC69 requiring developments to maintain the special character of the Hall Lane Policy Area which is typified by large detached and semi-detached dwellings set in large gardens with considerable tree and shrub planting. Para 6:15 p27 (see source below)
Havering worries about people living in million pound houses.** Even people on quite decent wages – head teachers, doctors and so on – are deliberately priced out by policy DC69.
But credit where it’s due. Havering achieved 50% of Affordable housing. Affordable housing is sometimes mistaken for what used to be called council housing but is actually a mid-point for those with good incomes who’ve been priced out by inflation.
The Affordable housing, which will be built in Romford away from the Hall Lane site,*** comprises of:
…. 1 x 3 bed unit and 26 x 4 bed units (27 units in total), equivalent to 134 habitable rooms. As a comparison, 50% affordable housing, if it were to be provided on the application site, would equate to 18 units or approximately 72 habitable rooms. Para 6:23 pp28-9
Councillors might have had mixed motives for selling Hall Lane Miniature Golf course but Havering’s dire house building programme has made some progress. All we need now is social housing to complete the success.
* An astonishing 884 objections against 37 very expensive houses
** 11 The Fairway recently sold for £1.25 million
*** There has to be good planning reasons to not build on-site and on this occasion there are good reasons.
The show began as satire. The first five minutes were spent discovering that the priest who’d led prayers was on mute. A great opening scene for, ‘Bumbling Councillors Meet Zoom.’ The mute gag was terrific and occurred repeatedly. Each time it was used everyone seemed genuinely surprised, which added to the joy of it. ‘Are we on mute?’ a truly great catch phrase.
Casting is all important for a show. This show needed a cartoon villain, a well-meaning elderly gent, a pompous young big-head, a council officer who wanted to be somewhere else and a strong group of walk-on parts. Casting did a magnificent job.
The mute gag degenerated into farce. Spending 25 minutes discussing, ‘How to vote!’ tested the patience of the audience. Severe editing was needed. Satire transformed into farce. Those who remained in the audience and loved farce, sensed magic in the air and hung on. They were richly rewarded.
A well choreographed conflict between, ‘Cartoon Villain’ and ‘Pompous Young Big-head’ didn’t disappoint. There’s nothing like teasing abuse to provoke a Cartoon Villain. Damian White did it with flair and a well practised smirk. Now and then he stoked the flames when it looked as if the gag was flagging.
And the winner was… Damian White! Once again he evaded any accountability.
Havering’s schools will be judged this August as never before. GCSE results are dependent on previous performance, regardless of current individual achievement. But do students know what the previous performance is? Three schools opt for a ‘warts and all’ approach. Two schools have a decent half-way house. The other thirteen schools’ results are presented in an opaque manner, or not at all in three cases. Examination Boards will adjust schools’ assessment if they appear too severe or too generous. Adjustments will bring results into line with previous outcomes.
Coopers’ Company and Coburn, Frances Bardsley and Sacred Heart of Mary schools publish GCSE results in full. The 2020 results won’t be a straight ‘read through’ from 2019 but will be used in decision making. Coopers’ 2019 cohort achieved 26 grade 9s in Religious Studies. At Sacred Heart English Language, Mathematics and History all achieved six grade 9s. The same three subjects, in that order, at Frances Bardsley led to 6 grade 9s, five grade 9s and 10 grade 9s. All three schools have less successful subjects, which aren’t hidden.
Gaynes School said, “22% of our students gained Grades 7-9 (equivalent to a Grades A** – A) in five or more subjects.” The statement continued, “a phenomenal personal achievement for our students and incredibly rewarding for us as a non-selective local community school.”* This rather begs the question as to what the other 78% achieved. It shields weaker subjects from scrutiny. But in the Havering context this counts as a transparent statement.
Marshalls Park school says, “2019 saw Marshalls Park Academy students achieving amazing results, some of the best the school has ever had.”*** Their headline statement is, “Grade 5 and above in English and Maths: 46% (2018 = 33%)”. They’ve published a list of subjects with outcomes, which again is welcome whilst not hitting the gold standard of the virtuous three. Redden Court offers a different tactic as they make selected comparisons with nationaloutcomes. Opaque but interesting.
Concealing examination results is reprehensible but that’s Hornchurch High school’s tactic. The head teacher’s introductory video presentation says she wants grammar school status. Looking at the government’s performance comparison site, this is delusional. They aren’t alone. Emerson Park and Sanders school join Hornchurch High in not publishing GCSE results at all, not even in the truncated way Brittons school adopts, “9-4 English and Maths… 49%”.
GCSE results should be published so stakeholders can readily understand the information offered. Transparency is important as a tool for critical analysis. Publishing GCSE results in full is the least that can be reasonably expected in a publicly funded education system.
Addendum: Raphael Independent School
Raphael’s don’t publish meaningful GCSE examination results either. They remark, “In 2019 70% of students obtained 8+ GCSE’s with a 92% pass rate in both English and Maths.” Quite what “a 92% pass rate” means depends on what’s meant by ‘pass’. GCSE grades run from 1-9. Most schools regard 1-3 as a fail even though it isn’t. GCSE’s measure achievement. Raphael’s don’t define ‘pass’ but the working assumption is ‘pass’ means grades 4-9.