Havering’s Children and Learning Overview and Scrutiny Committee, 30th September, 2021

This is an appalling committee. Judith Holt, the chair, is hapless. Her fellow councillors drift along, sleepily ignorant of what scrutiny might mean. Item 7 Schools Quality Assurance demanded intellectual curiosity.1 Officers didn’t do much ducking-and-diving to escape embarrassment as the committee didn’t lay a finger on them.

Havering’s primary sector is good, unlike the secondary academies but councillors weren’t interested. The chair didn’t provide a steer to officers about expectations and so that’s what they got. No discussion about the fragile academy sector which is systematically under-achieving. A feeble protest from the chair was brushed aside.

Four academies are failing,2 but the officers won’t name names. A lay member asked about St Edwards and was fobbed off.

Academies are unaccountable, arrogant businesses.3

Hall Mead is a high achieving academy. Examining their statistics shows Pupil Premium student outcomes are weak.4 They receive £166,000 for vulnerable students, which doesn’t level-up achievement. Hall Mead fails these students in exactly the way that the other 17 academies do. Draconian discipline codes and an obsession on school uniform is a failed strategy. Perhaps they should try something else?

Because this committee is pathetic, crucial issues like Item 7 escape scrutiny. It’s obvious the council’s policy is to avoid damaging the reputations of academies. Or, to put it another way, they prefer that children receive an inferior education. In secret.

Notes

1 From 1 hour 5 minutes to the end. The presentation lasts until 1:16. Councillors Misir, Lawal, Carol Smith, Durdin and Whitney. Gillian Ford bogs herself down in petty detail. The committee relies entirely on lay members for scrutiny.

2 See Havering’s Academies’ GCSE Results, 2021 – Politics in Havering

3 The Loxford Trust runs Abbs Cross Academy amongst others. The CEO gets £260,000 p.a. Loxford 2020ACCSWIZ.cvw (loxfordtrust.s3.amazonaws.com) p70 The Harris Trust has many schools with one in Rainham. It has four staff earning between £200,000 and £460,000. 1222_H0147_Signed accounts 2020_Buzz.pdf (harrisfederation.s3.amazonaws.com) p49

4 Hall Mead School – GOV.UK – Find and compare schools in England (compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk) The statistics are buried in the summary but can be found at Disadvantaged children.

Langtons Gardens, Hornchurch

Langtons Gardens doesn’t have Havering Park’s magnificent redwood trees, or the broad acres of Hornchurch Country Park. Nor does it have a deer park with vistas across Havering that are so good they could be prescribed by your GP. Right in the centre of Hornchurch the gardens are the beating heart of the urban area.

 

The Georgian house in Langtons Gardens. It’s now a wedding venue

Covid-19 has taught us about the critical importance of parks. Havering is blessed. Langtons Gardens are part of Havering’s historical legacy, which is very easy to take for granted.1 The magnificent gardens are maintained at a very high level, which is essential because they are under constant pressure by thousands of visitors. The garden’s constant improvement has seen a cafe opened and public toilets.

The lake in Langtons Gardens with the Georgian house in the background

Langtons has a wonderful Georgian house and Orangery. These are picture perfect for wedding photos. The gardens include lawns, flowerbeds and a large lake. The pathways are smooth and readily accessible by everyone. There are numerous benches. After Fielders Field was opened there are more extensive walks. In the summer Fielders Field is used for cricket. Young children use the woodland adventure playground.

The woodland play area for children

Langtons Gardens are a delight and a credit to Havering Council.

Note

1 Langtons Gardens, Havering | GoParksLondon

Havering’s Ambulance Service is being ‘Reformed’

Four ambulance stations in north-east London – Romford, Ilford, Hornchurch and Becontree – have already been earmarked for closure in the first stage of the plan. They will be replaced by one new ambulance deployment centre in Romford in Havering.1

If all trusts implement the practice of the best, the scope for greater productivity is around £200 million by 2021.2

Havering’s the test bed of the reorganisation of London’s ambulance service following Lord Carter’s review. His review was embraced by the London Ambulance Service (LAS) in 20183 with ‘hubs’ the first of which will be in Romford. Lord Carter’s survey found great differences between ambulance services. He created a ‘Top Down’ package of solutions. LAS comment,

we plan to transform our estate to better serve our patients and to improve our staff and volunteers’ places of work. This will also reduce our costs and be better for the environment.” (my emphasis)

The reduction of costs is LAS’s principal motivation with anything else a bonus.

Political context matters. The government’s Levelling Up policy is led by two multi-millionaires. They’re former Hedge Fund manager Rishi Sunak (Chancellor) and former Deutsche Bank managing director Sajid Javid (Health). Both regard the NHS as Socialism. LAS savings will be sent to the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, the worst service in England.

The LAS over-achieves in bombastic self-regard,

In focusing on providing the best possible working environment for our staff and volunteers through these changes, we hope this will enable us to achieve our vision of being a first-class employer and a world class ambulance service for our patients across London. (my emphasis)

We’ve heard it all before and there’s a credibility gap as big as the Grand Canyon to overcome.

Notes

1 Fears over NHS plan to close all local ambulance stations in London | NHS | The Guardian

2 Lord Carter’s review of ambulance services in England Operational_productivity_and_performance_NHS_Ambulance_Trusts_final.pdf (england.nhs.uk)

Cost of the English ambulance service £1.78bn NHS Ambulance Services (nao.org.uk)

3 Our estates vision – London Ambulance Service NHS Trust

Havering Council and Religious Diversity

Romford Town ward has been reconfigured into two: St Alban’s and St Edward’s. The question is why were they given names linked to the Church of England, which is a minority sect within the Christian community? Although 65% of British people say they’re Christian, overwhelmingly they’re semi-detached.

The Church of England isn’t pre-eminent in Havering but the Council has named three wards after their churches. Historical importance can justify St Andrew’s and St Edward’s but St Alban’s?3 It’s devoid of stellar historical qualities and is anonymous.

The Council’s Diversity Policy aims at creating harmonious communities. Objective three of the policy document says they are Promoting Community Relations, diversity and Civic Pride.4 If the Council is determined to celebrate Faith in their ward names, why not chose a Roman Catholic church who have the largest congregations. Or a Baptist church or maybe, a Methodist? There’s also a non-Christian synagogue in the ward. The Council has shown a tragic lack of imagination and commitment to religious diversity.

It’s a moot point whether a secular Council should ostentatiously celebrate Faith. Most councillors are, statistically, non-believers or non-communicant Christians, which deepens the puzzle.

Which Back to the Future Conservative powered this decision through?

Notes

1 Romford Town Demographics (Havering, England) (localstats.co.uk)

2 Faith Survey | Christianity in the UK

3 The Parish of St. Alban Protomartyr – A Church Near You This church community is a minority sect being Anglo-Catholic.

4 2. 2019 – 20 Equalities Champion Annual reportv2.pdf (havering.gov.uk)

Havering’s Council Meeting: 1st September, 2021 (part two)

After the tributes to Del Smith,1 Damian White resumed orchestrated time-wasting. His Leader’s speech (26 minutes)2 outlined his achievements, which includes future Olympians. Havering’s problems are someone else’s fault but he’s resolving them. There was, amazingly, criticism of the government funding regime thrown in by accident.

Damian’s time-wasting (45) had 20 minutes of ‘reports’ by committee chairs. Nothing was said apart from Judith Holt waffling energetically.

At Question Time, (I:05) Paul Middleton attracted support as councillors barracked Damian for drivel. Osman Dervish had a number of questions and he read the answers quite well. Joshua Chapman likes statistics and Paul McGeary got a lot of them. Ray Morgon discovered Damian doesn’t understand that an uncharged service isn’t free. Many dim GCSE students make the same mistake.  Perhaps Roger Ramsey can explain? Graham Williamson asked about CCTV. He could have asked about a £5m capital programme for an uncosted project.3

Damian doesn’t like debates and the only item discussed was the loss of experienced staff. He missed Ray Morgon, Linda Hawthorne, Barry Mugglestone’s point. They were discussing a specific department and its loss of experienced staff, not the Council as a whole. Keith Darvill said the debate was a waste of time. He was wrong. For Damian the debate4 was an opportunity to not discuss lethal cladding on blocks of flats.

Game, Set and Match to Damian: the anti-scrutiny Leader.

Notes

1 Havering’s Council Meeting: 1st September, 2021 (part one) – Politics in Havering

2 Times relate to this webcast Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com)

3 I discuss this here Havering’s Crime and Disorder Committee, 5th August 2021 – Politics in Havering

4 Robert Benham went as far as discussing the national shortage of HGV drivers

Havering’s Council Meeting: 1st September, 2021 (part one)

The tributes to former Mayor and Councillor Del Smith dominated this Council Meeting. As usual there were eulogies.1 On this occasion they weren’t pro forma crocodile tears.

Del was Harold Hill’s outstanding councillor during the 1980s and 90s. At the meeting, six councillors knew him personally, 23 years after he left council. This demonstrates Havering’s political stability.

Roger Ramsey, Havering’s classiest councillor, began. Roger’s an outstanding speaker and looks like a nice old gentleman. He’s a ruthless political operator though. Del wrecked the Labour Administration in 1996 over a matter of principle.2 Ignoring trivialities, Roger allied the Conservatives with Del’s Socialist group to get glittering prizes. Roger also did a deal with the Residents’ Association (RA). Desmond Tutu’s Rainbow Nation3 became Havering’s Rainbow Alliance. Del was very witty.

Del created the ultimate political group. Very left-wing Socialists with Conservatives and crypto-Conservative RAs. It was hilarious. Del laughed for two years. His mastery of Havering’s politics equalled Arthur Latham4 and Roger. When Del became Mayor, Andrew Rosindell5 choked. But as Roger said, Del was a superb Mayor who orchestrated debate like a maestro.

All six eulogies were sincere and wonderful to hear for those of us who knew him. On a personal level I’ve lost a very dear friend who I mourn.

Notes

1 To watch the eulogies see Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) From 7 minutes to 26. This includes a minutes silence.

In speaking order: Roger Ramsey, Linda Hawthorne, Ron Ower, Keith Darvill, Brian Eagling and Denis O’Flynn. Ray Morgon and Jeff Tucker spoke but didn’t know Del personally.

2 For a massive blow-by-blow account see Del’s Arthur Latham, my part in his downfall (friendsofdagnampark.org.uk) For my critique of Roger see Havering Councillor: Roger Ramsey (Emerson Park) – Politics in Havering

3 Having Conservatives and RAs in a group, with Socialists, epitomised his style. For Tutu’s Rainbow Nation see Rainbow nation – Wikipedia

4 Arthur Latham was an ex-MP and Leader of the Council. He was a restless political operator who never accepted peace and quiet. He didn’t realise that other people were also cunning.

5 Andrew took the cowardly way out of his problem. He couldn’t vote for Del – a Socialist – and he couldn’t defy Group Leader, Roger Ramsey, so he left the chamber until after the vote. This amused Del.

Havering’s Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee, 21st July, 2021

Havering’s councillors are getting livelier. All five councillors, who were present, spoke. The energetic Darren Wise and Michael Deon Burton made five contributions each. Michael tends to be more conversational than Darren but, let’s not quibble. Darren set the Gold Standard. His first query cited a page reference (p39: appendix ‘A’ if you’re interested). There were also contributions from councillors Carole Beth and Matt Sutton along with the Chair, which is sort-of-obligatory so isn’t noteworthy. Nic Dodin was absent and I don’t think he was missed.

Item 7 was interesting. The funding of LBH’s traffic schemes turns out to be complex. There haven’t been any schemes completed since May because of funding issues with Transport for London. They in their turn can’t approve anything because the funding stream from the government has dried up. So LBH have green lighted injury reduction schemes and they can’t commence. Darren was disappointed that his pet scheme in Cambourne Avenue has failed at this funding hurdle. Interestingly no-one complained about this new wave Austerity programme which has been introduced by stealth.

There was a similar sub-text to the Rainham Creek item, Item 8. On this occasion it was the Environment Agency who haven’t coughed up. There will be a Topic Group on this issue, which will start after contractors have costed the clean up and remediation works. The wider point about flooding in the borough was touched on by the Chair, Carole, who described her personal experiences of flooding, and Darren.

Zoom continues its challenge. I don’t understand why senior officers were presenting items from home and in one case from her garden. The presentation of supporting documents was abysmal. Surely if councillors can attend in person so can officers.

Note

For the agenda see (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Environment Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee, 21/07/2021 19:00 (havering.gov.uk)

Seven Questions: Any Answers?

The powers of Overview and Scrutiny Committee1

In particular, regulations give enhanced powers to a scrutiny member to access exempt or confidential information. This is in addition to existing rights for councillors to have access to information to perform their duties, including common law rights to request information and rights to request information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. Annotated advice para 38 (my emphasis)

Discussion

Councillors must exercise their powers to fulfil their statutory obligations. For this huge responsibility they’re well paid.2 Most committees only met once in the first six months of 2021. This is an outrage. Committee chairs sabotage the powers the government has given them.

Havering’s Overview and Scrutiny Committees are listed below, along with suggested questions.

Children & Learning Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee

1 How was Marshalls Park Academy selected for £6.8 million pounds of capital works as opposed to the Council’s own Junior Schools?

Crime & Disorder Sub- Committee

2 What discussions have taken place about Knife Crime since Jodie Chesney was tragically murdered nearly two years ago? And what positive action has taken place?

Environment Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee

3 When will a Task Force be established to discuss flooding measures? This critical problem needs well thought out strategies.

Health Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee

4 How is the Digital Divide being tackled for Havering’s elderly population access to GP services?

Individuals Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee

5 The recent report on N.E.London’s Health Service highlighted the distressing experiences of some disabled residents. What has been the Council’s dialogue with partners?

Overview & Scrutiny Board

6 The 2019 purchase of the Marks and Spencer site costs half a million pounds a year in interest payments. Damian White said this would be paid for with rent. How much rent has actually been paid since the purchase?

Towns & Communities Overview & Scrutiny Sub- Committee

7 What was the impact of the loss of business rates when Debenhams store closed?

Damian White’s Councillors are incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities and should be thrown out next year.

Notes

1 Overview and scrutiny: statutory guidance for councils and combined authorities – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

2 2020 Members Allowances final.pdf (havering.gov.uk)

Havering’s £50 A Minute Councillors

What the Government Says Havering’s Councillors Should Be Doing

The role that overview and scrutiny can play in holding an authority’s decision-makers to account makes it fundamentally important to the successful functioning of local democracy. Effective scrutiny helps secure the efficient delivery of public services and drives improvements within the authority itself. Conversely, poor scrutiny can be indicative of wider governance, leadership and service failure.1 Ministerial introductory statement (my emphasis)

What Havering’s Councillors Did in the First Six Months of 2021

Health Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee

23rd February………………………………….1 hour 10 minutes

Chair: Nisha Patel……………………………£55.72 a minute

Crime & Disorder Sub- Committee

18th March…………………………………….1 hour 15 minutes

Chair: Sally Miller……………………………£52.01 a minute

Environment Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee

18th February………………………………….1 hour 15 minutes

Chair: Maggie Themistocli…………………£52.01 a minute

Individuals Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee

9th March; 13th April…………………………….2 hours 05 minutes (in total)

Chair: Christine Smith……………………….£31.21 a minute

Towns & Communities Overview & Scrutiny Sub- Committee

9th February……………………………………2 hours 15 minutes

Chair: Ray Best………………………………£28.89 a minute

Children & Learning Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee

4th March……………………………………. 2 hours 25 minutes

Chair: Judith Holt…………………………..£26.90 a minute

Overview & Scrutiny Board

16th February; 10th March; 22nd June…………4 hours 32 minutes (in total)

Chair: Darren Wise………………………….£27.03 a minute

Chair of the Board is paid £14,706 a year sub-committee chairs get £7803. 2 There’s no interaction or constructive discussion between Overview and Scrutiny committees and the Cabinet. Worse, on no occasion has a Cabinet member attended an Overview and Scrutiny committee to discuss policy issues.

Chairs are are actively preventing Overview and Scrutiny committees from fulfilling their legal duties and are therefore in breach their crucial role in Havering’s democracy.

There were no meetings of any Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committee in January or May

Notes

1 Government advice on Overview and Scrutiny couldn’t be any firmer. They place it at the centre of local democracy. Overview and scrutiny: statutory guidance for councils and combined authorities – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

2 2020 Members Allowances final.pdf (havering.gov.uk) 

I made an error on sub-committee chair allowances which was corrected by Cllrs. Durant and Morgon . Thank you to them. The text is now accurate.

Havering’s Children and Learning Overview and Scrutiny Committee, 6th July, 2021

Children are the major victims of Covid-19 and excellent children’s services are crucial in rescuing them from permanent harm. Children’s services spearhead Havering’s efforts at reducing the pandemic’s impact. This committee should provide constructive criticism and support to hard pressed front-line officers. It doesn’t.

Item 61 of the agenda is a report of the Ofsted findings for their inspection, 12-13 May 2021. The pandemic has caused extensive sick leave and, maybe, a high turnover of front-line staff (Addendum). The implication of this is that the service has an inconsistent outcomes for the vulnerable children of Havering. The chair avoided (evaded?) the critical issue of recruitment and retention. She allowed the director to talk about a ‘training offer’ as if that answered the challenge of recruitment and retention. She doesn’t know what a probing question is.

Judith Holt’s only qualification as chair is she’s President of Romford Conservative Association.2 Havering’s Conservative administration sabotage the Conservative government’s commitment to Overview and Scrutiny because of croneyism. Government advice, is crystal clear,

The method for selecting a Chair is for each authority to decide for itself, however every authority should consider taking a vote by secret ballot.”3 (my emphasis)

Judith Holt wouldn’t win a secret ballot. Havering’s children are being sacrificed on the altar of croneyism.

Addendum: Ofsted Findings (bullet points 4 and 5)

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, social care leaders have an accurate understanding of children’s services and have maintained a focus on improving services to better safeguard children and to improve their outcomes. However, the pandemic has inhibited the leaders’ ability to address some key priority areas, including the recruitment of permanent experienced social workers and managers. Despite best endeavours, a high turnover of front-line staff, and lengthy sickness due to the pandemic, has affected the quality of management oversight and staff supervision. This has led to some children not receiving the help and support they need at the earliest opportunity. In response to this challenge, resources have been secured to recruit to additional senior practitioner posts….. On occasions, as a result of colleagues’ absence due to sickness linked to the pandemic, social workers’ caseloads have been unavoidably high in some teams. For some children, this has meant that they have not seen the same social worker consistently, making it harder for them to build a trusting relationship and share their worries and feelings. (my emphasis)

(Public Pack)Agenda Document for Children & Learning Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee, 06/07/2021 19:00 (havering.gov.uk)

Notes

1 (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Children & Learning Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee, 06/07/2021 19:00 (havering.gov.uk)

2 News | Romford (romfordconservatives.com)

3 Overview and scrutiny: statutory guidance for councils and combined authorities – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) para 32