Havering’s Cabinet Meeting, 28th September 2022

Boris Johnson’s economic philosophy was straightforward: I want my cake and I want to eat it.1 Ray Morgon’s Cabinet would do this too if it wasn’t fantasy. Havering once had a substantial government grant but Osborne’s Age of Austerity programme ended that.2 Havering’s budget is apparently balanced but this is achieved by ‘smoke and mirrors’. Damian White’s March budget is a classic example.3 400 redundancies were penciled in, without any loss of services. A claim made with a straight face.

Local government finance is boring until the bills arrive. (Most people used to pay energy bills without bursting into tears. Not anymore.) Since 2010, Havering’s government grant has evaporated from £70 million to £1.5 million. Havering hasn’t been allowed to increase Council Tax to fill the revenue gap. The inevitable decline in public services has accelerated and will continue.

‘Low hanging fruit’ will be picked. This means school crossing personnel, park gates left unlocked, fortnightly bin collections, library hours cut, swimming pool hours reduced for example. HRA’s sacred cow is street care but it might take a hit under the pressures.4

Setting Council Tax for 2023-4 will be hideous. The council is crippled by financing Adult and Children’s services, which are statutory.5 Will Kwasi Kwarteng cap Council Tax increases? Realistically 10% is needed but the Conservative government might find this politically unacceptable.

The government imposes duties on Havering council and denies the resources to fulfil them.

Notes

1 For Brexit it worked out this way Post-Brexit trade: UK having its cake and eating it, says Boris Johnson – BBC News On a personal basis he ‘paid’ for gold wallpaper and then got a dupe to actually pay Boris Johnson’s Wallpapergate: Leaked £200,000 estimate reveals flat renovation plan included £7,000 rug and £3,675 trolley | The Independent

2 Budget 2010: Pain now, more pain later in austerity plan | Budget | The Guardian

3 Agenda for Council on Wednesday, 2nd March, 2022, 7.30 pm | The London Borough Of Havering

4 ibid  HRA councillors voted to reduced councillor allowances to pump money into street care in a pitiful example of ‘gesture’ politics.

5 Chris Wilkins led the debate. He floundered through a repetitious presentation. He weaved in and out of ‘pressures’ like a ship drifting without power. And the elephant in the room – the size of the Council Tax increase – wasn’t hinted at. Heroically Ray said that they should lobby the two Conservative MPs to see if they’d vote against the government. See Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) for the debate. Wilkins speaks for the first 20 minutes

The Queen Elizabeth Memorial Council Meeting, 22nd September 2022

Ray Morgon (@ 7 minutes)1, as Leader, had to get it right and he did. The entire conduct of the meeting was in step with his quiet deferential, but not groveling, opening statement. He didn’t use his entire five minutes, saying what needed to be said with a suitable amount of brevity. It was unrushed and sincere.

Keith Darvill (10 mins) as a former MP had met the Queen and remarked on that occasion. He also commented on her charity and voluntary work and her position in the Commonwealth.

Martin Goode (15 mins) had an interesting comment about the way that Canadians honoured her as head of state. He also had an amusing anecdote of mistaking Princess Margaret for the Queen as a very young child in east London.

The Mayor (17 mins) read a eulogy from the Islamic Cultural Centre before remarking on his work as a fireman at Wimbledon with the Queen present.

Judith Holt (21 mins) made a moving and deeply personal series of anecdotes about the importance of the Queen to her own family. She queued for several hours last week for the laying in state.

Linda Hawthorn (32 ) told a lovely anecdote about the Queen’s visit to the Queen’s Theatre in 2003. She spoke briefly but obviously felt deeply.

Viddy Persaud (38) began by saying she was worried about repetition but then comforted herself by saying (rightly) that on this occasion repetition was appropriate. She was the last speaker.

There were 15 speakers in all and this is a summary of the meeting. I thought the meeting hit the right note throughout, as councillors rose to the occasion.

Note

1 In brackets means the start time. The webcast is here Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com)

Havering, ULEZ and Public Health

Government intervention in urban Public Health began in 1835 when councils were permitted to build pavements and charge them to ratepayers. 120 years later The Clean Air Act was passed by a Conservative government to stop thousands of preventable deaths from air pollution. The Great Smog, 1952, slaughtered Londoners adding to the normal annual toll.

The 1956 Act banned traditional open coal fires and turbocharged the switch to central heating.

 

Domestic coal delivery was a very hard and dirty job

The Clean Air Act was transformative, with housing changed forever. There were significant costs during the transition period. But! Tens of thousands of lives were saved and Londoners lived longer, happier, healthier lives.

ULEZ stands in this tradition. “The ULEZ is central to the Mayor of London’s plans to improve Londoners’ health. It will clean up the city’s toxic air, which leads to the early deaths of thousands of people every year.”2

The Great Smog of 1952 was a physical reality. Parts of London came to a halt with choking polluted air and very poor visibility.

 

The Great Smog of London killed thousands of Londoners

21st century air pollution is invisible, though deaths are unpleasantly real. Three people a week die in Havering from air pollution. Deaths are the gruesome tip of a toxic iceberg. Thousands of people suffer respiratory problems which ruin their everyday lives.

During the transition to EV vehicles, ULEZ is a small and important step. It stands in a long Public Health tradition stretching back to 1835.

Notes

1 Summer 2022. ULEZ is London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone. For the historical contest see Highway Act 1835 – Wikipedia and Clean Air Act 1956 – Wikipedia

2 The Mayor’s Ultra Low Emission Zone for London | London City Hall There are about 9,500 air pollution deaths each year Twice as many deaths caused by air pollution in London – HealthyAir

Havering Councillor: Sue Ospreay (Rainham and Wennington)

Sue’s a maverick politician.1 She was a Conservative elected in May, 2022 and joined HRA2 four months later. Conservative voters thought they’d ousted Resident Association councillors but Sue was Conservative in name only. Despite voting for change, Conservatives now continue to have Residents’ Association councillors.

Sue’s a maverick in other ways too. Her Register of Interests document is blank, simply signed at the bottom. The Register is a legal requirement, which must be filled in within in 28 days of an election. The question is, does a blank answer constitute ‘an answer’?

Question One asks for, “Any employment, office, profession or vocation carried on for profit or gain”. Sue’s left it blank but it’s a criminal offense to not ‘disclose a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest’. Sue might be unemployed and living in a tent but she’s a councillor picking up £200 a week. £200 a week looks like a ‘gain’ to me. Sue’s blank ‘answer’ appears to be false.3

Question Two relates to Sponsorship which means ‘…financial benefit….towards your election expenses.’  There’s evidence that Sue had help with ‘election expenses’. Her fellow councillor, Jackie McArdle, declared assistance from the Conservative Party for election expenses.4 It’s unlikely the Conservatives discriminated against Sue. It’s possible this blank ‘answer’ could also be false.

Question Four relates to Land. I’d have thought Sue, as a middle-aged person living in a high home ownership area like Havering, did have an interest in property but there’s no evidence one way or the other. There’s no evidence for blank answers to Questions 3, 5, 6 and 7.

Section B Personal Interests is left blank, which is surprising considering her interest in allotments.

Being a maverick and defecting from one party to another without calling a by-election is one thing. Not fulfilling a legal obligation is dereliction of duty at the very least and calls into question her status as a councillor.

Notes

1 This is her Register of Interests document mgConvert2PDF.aspx (havering.gov.uk) Accessed 9th September 2022

2 HRA = Havering Residents’ Association

3 As is that of her fellow councillor Sarah Edwards who’s also left this question (and question two) blank.

4 mgConvert2PDF.aspx (havering.gov.uk)

Chris Wilkins and the 2023 Budget

Chris is an indentikit HRA councillor. He’s elderly, retired and hates uneven pavements, potholes and nuisance parking. His political life has evolved and he’s now the cabinet member for finance.

On 2nd March, 2022 he condemned Damian White’s budget.1 Nervous, constantly wringing his hands and more-or-less incoherent, he realised he’d inherit Damian’s poisoned chalice. (It’s a quirk of local government that the incoming HRA Administration had to implement Damian’s budget.) But the 2023 budget will be his.

Chris said Damian’s budget was ‘catastrophic’ and could end in a section 114 notice.3 The world is a nastier place now. Britain’s economy is deteriorating at the speed of light. Energy prices have increased by 80%, so far, inflation is north of 10%, and there’s widespread strikes like the 1970s.4 There’ll be upward pressure on wages due to rampant inflation. This is bad news for Chris who’s absolutely pivotal in financial decision making.

How will LBH pay for their staff, offices, libraries, leisure facilities and fleet of vehicles? Mandatory services for the elderly and children will explode in unavoidable demand led expenditure. The 2023 Council budget will be torrid for Chris. He’ll be proposing a minimum 10% increase with Damian taunting him.

It’s a long way from moaning about street care, isn’t it?

Notes

1 Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) begins at one hour twenty. Damian White was Leader of the Council at that meeting.

2 HRA = Havering Residents Association

3 A section 114 notice is an incredibly significant action for a council to take for several reasons. Not only is it a very public declaration that its budget cannot be balanced, it also results in a suspension of additional spending.

4 Including, amazingly, barristers.

Havering’s 2022 Election: an Unexpected Outcome

Local politics is a cult with a tiny number of activists.1 As a result, local politics relies heavily on these people to finance it, the most important of whom are councillors along with their families and friends. Any significant downturn in their financial status immediately effects their local party.

The 2022 election was a disaster for Romford Conservatives because they were defeated after 20 lucrative years. Damian White and his cabinet lost tens of thousands of pounds in allowances each. Other Conservatives lost smaller, but significant, amounts. Hundreds of thousands of pounds in allowances no longer flow to the Conservatives.2 Romford’s Conservative councillors suffered a lifestyle changing event in May, 2022.3 This reduced their enthusiasm for financing the party.

On the other side of the coin Ray Morgon’s HRA4 have finance they’ve never had before. HRA is a federation which doesn’t have the costs of a political party. Their 2022 poster campaign did, however, indicate a direction of travel. So, it’s possible HRA will become a borough political party. HRA’s junior partner, Labour, have had an increase in councillor allowances with two cabinet posts. This should improve their campaigning.

These unexpected financial consequences could reshape Havering’s political landscape. The Conservatives are starved of money, which could expose them to the mercy of wealthy backers. Another scenario is activists will promote hobby-horses, which might end up being extremism of one kind or another.

Notes

1 John and Philippa Crowder; Oscar and Gillian Ford; Dilip and Nisha Patel. These three families are an extreme example of the cult-like atmosphere. Oscar and Gillian are the most powerful husband/wife politicians since Arthur and Margaret Latham in the 1990s.

2 Romford councillors pick up the basic £10,412 p.a (£239,476 in total so they aren’t entirely bereft and may have a bit left over to contribute towards the party – if they want.)

3 Due to Damian’s pot-of-gold policy virtually every Conservative has lost at least £3,000 per year.

4 HRA = Havering Residents Association

School Uniforms: A Stealth Tax on Education?

All of Havering’s academies have single supplier contracts.1 Parents are captured by this arrangement. They’ve no choice what to buy, where to buy or how much to pay. School uniforms are mandatory. This is contrary to government advice (see Addendum). Multi-academy groups are big businesses who ‘deliver’ thousands of customers to a preferred supplier.2 (It would be interesting to see what’s in it for them, but we can’t because they’re unaccountable.)

The commercial aspect is obnoxious but so’s the ruthless enforcement of uniform policies.3 Ties are crucial to learning in Havering’s secondary schools according to their discipline codes. Where else, in Britain, are expensive blazers worn? Black polished shoes but not black trainers? School logo hoodies but not ones without a logo? Havering’s uniforms are a throwback to the 1950s.

Havering’s secondary academy parents pay about £3004 for uniforms to fulfil a legal obligation …sending their children to school. If they don’t buy a uniform their child can’t even enter school buildings. Not buying a uniform isn’t failing an educational requirement. It’s avoiding a stealth tax.

The education stealth tax goes like this:

  • Children must attend school
  • Children must wear school uniform
  • Pay up, or else!

Addendum: Statutory advice on school uniforms

Single supplier contracts should be avoided unless regular tendering competitions are run where more than one supplier can compete for the contract and where the best value for money is secured. This contract should be retendered at least every 5 years….Schools should keep the use of branded items to a minimum. (my emphasis)

Source Cost of school uniforms – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Notes

1 Coopers Coburn appear to have changed supplier but it’s unclear if that was after retendering. Research for this blog was done on 4th August, 2022 using school websites

2 Harris Academy group has 28 secondary schools amongst which is Harris Academy Rainham. Harris academy group – Yahoo Search Results Their uniform supplier is Khalsa Schoolwear as it is for all their secondary schools. This contract ‘delivers’ about 20,000-30,000 Harris students nationwide.

3 To the point that students can be excluded from school as non-compliance is interpreted as a major discipline challenge… Like carrying a knife or selling drugs.

4 The pandemic revealed that whilst parents were shelling out for school uniforms they couldn’t afford laptops for their children. Laptops, it was quickly discovered, are essential to education in the 21st century; unlike blazers.

Havering’s Timid Councillors

Councillors should make their home address publicly available on the Register of Interests.1 Get-out clauses to this are laid out in government advice (see Addendum). Many of Havering’s councillors don’t make their addresses public and six haven’t made a meaningful response. The six might not live in the borough, who knows? 27 councillors concealed their addresses. Why?

Some councillors are fearful “because they believe the process [making addresses available] risks their safety or makes them vulnerable to abusive activity.” Can this be true? Sadiq Khan, London’s Mayor, is subject to intense media attention, which often provokes threats to his safety. His Register of Interests statement deletes his home address, which is understandable. But a Havering councillor?

The fear argument falls immediately for councillors who share wards with co-councillors who do provide home addresses. Veteran councillors, from the 1990s, will remember that addresses and home phone numbers2 were published. Tiresome calls happened but not enough to claim that ‘violence or intimidation’ might ensue.

The notion that addresses are ‘private’ or can be ‘concealed’ is naive. Life in 2022 means living in the Surveillance Society. A malicious person can find an address easily on the internet. Do we want Havering’s councillors to be timid and naïve?

Addendum: Government advice to councillors on publicising their address

The Government wishes to avoid capable individuals being deterred from standing for office because they believe the process risks their safety or makes them vulnerable to abusive activity….The changes made mean that now all candidates in local government elections in England will be able to request that their home address is not made public. Candidates will have a choice – they can continue to include a home address if they wish to highlight their local connection to their ward. (my emphasis)

Source Letter to local authorities about the publication of councillors’ and candidates’ home addresses: March 2019 (publishing.service.gov.uk)

This builds on the Localism Act which spoke of ‘violence or intimidation’ as the principal criteria for concealing addresses. Localism Act 2011 (legislation.gov.uk)

Notes

1 Research done on 24th July, 2022 using Havering’s Register of Interests. This one is for Robert Benham. He wasn’t ‘chosen’ he’s the first councillor on the list mgConvert2PDF.aspx (havering.gov.uk) For Sadiq Khan see Sadiq Khan – Register of interests | London City Hall

2 Veteran councillors from the 1990s are Brian Eagling, Linda Hawthorn, Keith Prince, Michael White and Reg Whitney. This was prior to mobile phones

Havering’s Evasive Councillors

Havering’s Councillors conceal important parts of their economic status. This is despite government legislation demanding they should be open and truthful. The first section of the Register of Interests1 is unambiguous but virtually every Councillor is substantially less than forthcoming. If they don’t want scrutiny then they’re in the wrong game.

Councillors avoid the first question about, “Any employment, office, trade, profession or vocation carried on for profit or gain.” Few acknowledge that being a councillor is, ‘for profit or gain.’ Even Cabinet Members conceal their roles despite being paid up to £37,412 pa.2

Business interests must be included in section one and mostly these are stated. Some Councillors are directors or hold senior managerial roles. Others are retired, yet more wrote ‘None’ and some don’t answer the question.3

Havering’s Register includes 14 totally invisible Buy-to-Let Landlords who own 19 properties. These assets are worth about £5m generating £150,000 pa in rental income or, ‘profit or gain’.4 Being a Landlord creates political biases shaping decision-making. The government’s Register demands a truthful, accurate statement because biases are important. There’s a lot of organised opposition to social housing from wealthy Councillors who are motivated by NIMBYism.5 They sacrifice the needs of the unhoused to their privileged comfort.

Havering’s Councillors are evasive about they’re Landlordism and their significant political roles. But this isn’t a matter of taste. They’re legally obliged to reveal details and the Monitoring Officer is tasked with making sure they do. That there’s so much discrepancy suggests a total lack of focus.

Notes

1 see Title (publishing.service.gov.uk)

2 This is £6,000 more than the median wage in the UK for full-time employees. To be fair the Leader describes himself as a full-time politician.

3 Your Councillors | The London Borough Of Havering Research done on 8th July 2022. Sue Ospreay (Rainham and Wennington) signed a blank form. Why LBH’s Monitoring Officer finds that acceptable is beyond me.

4 At a 3% return after tax and business expenses this creates a collective income of about £150,000pa. The £5m is a guess-estimate based on the Havering’s property prices. I took £250,000 as a base figure though there are properties costing less than that most cost more: therefore £5m is probably an under-estimate.

5 NIMBY = Not in my backyard

Havering Council Meeting: 13th July, 2022

Ray Morgon’s cabinet has a lot to prove. None have had policy making positions and one’s only been on Council for two months. So how did they do?

Question Time was Ray’s cabinet’s first outing. Classy Conservative questions were a sharp improvement on the tedious HRA efforts we used to endure. There were two standout moments.

Dilip Patel asked about Development (@42 minutes)1. Graham Williamson casually remarked about developing the ‘Green Belt’ in the fullness of time. This is a dramatic policy shift. I wonder if his cabinet colleagues know about it?  Osman Dervish (@53 minutes) asked Oscar Ford about free school meals during holiday periods. He said there won’t be any unless government financed them and then burbled about budget constraints. Ford was unmoved when it was pointed out this meant sacrificing vulnerable children during a catastrophic cost-of-living crisis.

Sue Ospreay (@1 hour10) was emotional about derelict land in Rainham. Morgon said it was a ‘Bad Thing’. They’ll still be wringing their hands in horror in ten years.

Opposing ULEZ2 in Havering (@1:38) was led by David Taylor. Keith Prince’s rant, (@1 hour50) and Judith Holt’s desire to join Essex (@1:52) convinced me some Conservatives are having a mental breakdown. Williamson (@1 hour:55) remarked that 7% of Havering’s death rate was due to air pollution. This is three deaths a week, every week, which is a good argument for ULEZ, I’d have thought.3

There were an unprecedented six Conservatives absent. They included Damian White who’ll be pleased to know his group gave a good show.

Notes

1 Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com)

2 For ULEZ see Ultra Low Emission Zone (ulez.co.uk)

3 Municipality of HAVERING: demographic balance, population trend, death rate, birth rate, migration rate (urbistat.com)