Havering Council Tax Meeting, 2nd March 2022

Setting a council tax is a statutory duty. It was dispiriting watching a debate dominated by trivia. The Mayor didn’t realise that he’s expected to terminate out-of-order speeches. Trivia degenerated into drivel.

The single highlight was Roger Ramsey (@ 2 hours 12 minutes in the webcast). Calm, measured and magisterial, he noted irrelevance with a weary acceptance. His focus was the demand-led Adult Social Care. That budget literally can’t be controlled. It’s a statutory obligation. Children’s services are also demand-led with huge expenditure for personalized transport during the pandemic. Massive shortfalls in government funding were highlighted. This was described as a Stealth Tax (Ray Morgon: (@ 50 minutes).

Damian White (@ 25 mins) is turning into a Socialist. He worried about the cost-of-living crisis, environmental funding, the stigma of Food Banks, and substandard KS3 achievements in schools. 400 job losses which will, amazingly, improve service delivery was used as an example of tough decisions. The government’s £150 reduction of Council Tax for bands A-D was welcomed. Belatedly he recognised that Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA) mattered in an election year and offered half-baked proposals.

Keith Darvill (@1 hour 35) talked of a perfect storm of increases in Rent, Council Tax, National Insurance and inflation, especially energy costs. Ray Morgon actually made a policy proposal. Savings from reducing SRAs would go to street cleaning. There was a lot of expectations on productivity gains from digital working. This was rubbished by David Durant (@ 3 hours 31) who discussed cyber-terrorism. Another policy proposal was by Jeff Tucker (@ 1 hour 53) who wanted fewer councillors (18) because officers made all the decisions anyway. He also proposed himself as Leader as he had ‘the most brains’.

Graham Williamson (@ 2:32) said savings on SRAs were irrelevant, being gesture politics. Gillian Ford (@2:41) did a tour d’horizon which included refugees, Green Flags in parks and Food Banks. I hoped for more.1

Conclusion

Jeff Tucker is absolutely right that there are too many councillors. This meeting was a disgrace and should be used as a training programme for the incoming Mayor so they understand their role in chairing a meeting. Roger Ramsey is retiring and someone needs to step up and fill his shoes as ‘the only grown-up in the room’.

Webcast

Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com)

Note

1 Other speakers: Martin Goode, Chris Wilkins, Ciaran White, John Tyler, Robert Benham, Darren Wise, Bob Perry, Joshua Chapman, Graham Williamson, Reg Whitney, Ron Ower, Viddy Persaud and Dilip Patel. There may have been others but my webcast failed at 3 hours 42 and so I missed the last hour.

Havering’s Elections and Facebook

Facebook matters in Havering’s election campaign. The candidates usually use their own account with a running commentary. Bob Perry (RA) is the king of this technique. Labour candidates in St Alban’s ward, Jane Keane and Hope Mendy also use this technique.

Recently there’s been paid content. This is a waste of money.1 The voting statistics2 all deny a ‘value for money’ narrative. The Havering Independent Residents’ Group and David Taylor (Conservative) paid to be viewed across Havering but their target audience is only two of the 18 wards. They should use leaflets. But who’ll deliver them?

Addendum: Three examples from two sample days3

  • Havering Independent Residents’ Group Paid for content. No names or target wards are attached 22 February 2022 A further blog (paid for) shows they’re the Harold Wood 3: 23rd February 2022

Our councillors put the community first. Havering Independent Residents Group’s record speaks for itself in getting roads resurfaced and potholes filled. We will always fight for continued investment in public facilities and services.

  • Councillor Bob Perry’s regular blog on his campaign in Squirrels Heath 21st February 2022
    Myself and HRA colleague Dave Godwin were called out earlier by worried residents of Copthorne Gardens reporting activity of tree clearance on the area protected by TPO’s. When we arrived the activity was actually happening in an adjacent field, after we have a word with the contractors we were satisfied that they were only clearing back hedgerow and brambles so the land could be used as a paddock, we also saw the work plan they were working from and had it confirm that no trees would be trimmed or felled.
    We would like to remind residents of Copthorne Gardens to contact the team if they suspect further activity in the protected area.

 

  • David Taylor paid content. Candidate for St Edwards (he didn’t mention the other candidates) 22nd February 2022
    I’m standing as a Councillor in Romford, to protect our town’s character and to improve local’s lives. Follow my page for updates, policy and more.

 Notes

1 “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” | B2B Marketing

2 Local elections | Election results | The London Borough Of Havering See Squirrels Heath for their 35.27% turnout in 2018.

3 These examples are from my Facebook feed and if there are any others they’re invisible to me. This is another challenge for paid content.

The Power of Positive Politics

Visitors to the Ingrebourne Hill Country Park1 don’t realise that it was once an environmental disaster zone. There were major fly-tipping problems, rat infestation, motor-cycle nuisance and horses were tethered and left over the winter months, many of whom starved to death. In the long hot summer of 1976 major fires happened frequently because of the rotting waste producing methane gas. On at least two occasions the flames rose above the height of the houses.

Airfield ward councillors Ray Emmett (1982-2002) and Chris Purnell (1990-2002) led a campaign for a positive environmental solution, with the Labour Administration. There was a wonderful proposition, which resulted in the country park. Nothing less likely could have been imagined. Derelict land ravaged by decades of abuse was given an enormous facelift to the benefit of the entire community.

But there was a cost. The land was used as a dumping site for inert waste from all over London with hundreds of lorry movements each month. Simultaneously there was gravel winning which also meant a great deal of industrial activity. Ingrebourne Hill was engineered using that inert waste and then capped and sculpted into what it is now. The lake which is adjacent was the result of the gravel winning. Years of disruption for the Park’s neighbours have been richly rewarded.

The Ingrebourne Hill Country Park has mountain bike tracks, a short and challenging climb to the top and also, less energetically, gentle walks through to Albyns Farm. A further cost was the political careers of the Labour councillors who promoted that vision, which took just too long for the voters to see through to fruition.

Note

1 Ingrebourne Valley | The London Borough Of Havering

Havering’s Resident Associations and Planning

If, as expected, Ray Morgon, becomes Leader of the Council in May 2022 he’ll be faced with many challenges. One of which is that Resident Associations (RA) routinely oppose anything that looks remotely like over-development. To the outside observer it appears that RAs have a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction, which opposes strategic decision-making. The two photographs below demonstrate what over-development actually looks like outside Havering. RAs in power will have to learn to think strategically, which is going to be a culture shock.

These photographs make the intensity of development in Romford and elsewhere in Havering look positively rural.

Havering Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee: 20th January 2022

Item 6: Adaptations due to Covid and Covid Recovery1

This item is extremely important and revealed more than could reasonably have been expected. Through the intervention of the chair, Judith Holt, the focus of the discussion extended beyond SEND children2 to the impact of school closures on the on the more able.

Havering’s education department can be congratulated for their response to a two-year crisis. Staff training, sensitive use of Teacher Assistants, and true engagement with parents was on display. Respite care, for example, has grown in importance3. Nonetheless there’s been regression amongst some pupils, which was anticipated. Vulnerable children taken out of a structured learning environment are unlikely to maintain momentum.

The detailed report on SEND children was superior to comments on the more able. Responses here were anecdotal. They were hampered by disagreement as to what ‘more able’ meant. One anecdote was startling. This was that more able boys ‘thrived’ outside the school environment. Both the chair and Gillian Ford discussed this revelation without drawing a conclusion. There’s a possibility that school behaviour codes are alienating and negatively impact on achievement. More research needs to be done on this important point.

The chair called for this additional meeting and was richly rewarded.

Notes

1 (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Children & Learning Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee, 20/01/2022 19:00 (havering.gov.uk)

2 Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

3 £300 grants were given to certain parents who were struggling with the burden of educational provision at home. Educational equipment was also loaned out where required.  It isn’t known whether Academy schools with SEND children were equally proactive.

Havering’s Elections and Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson’s ‘partygate’ is poisoning the political blood stream. Politicians are never held in high esteem but this scandal has reached new levels of awfulness with all politicians being tarred with the same brush.

Boris Johnson is said to have broken ‘rules’, which doesn’t sound too bad. But lockdown regulations weren’t ‘rules’: they were laws backed up by the courts.1 Boris Johnson’s excuses would shame a teenager not handing in homework.

No-one is suggesting that Damian White’s councillors attended these parties, or indeed, any party at all but they’re likely to be punished as if they had attended. Why?

Millions of British people suffered dreadfully during the lockdowns. ‘Partygate’ is shocking but it’s actually worse than that. Tens of thousands of people died and their loved ones couldn’t see them in their final days or attend funerals. Johnson’s parties were despicable. But he can only be punished in the electoral box: in the local elections. And that is precisely what will happen.

May’s elections could be ‘the slaughter of the innocents’.

Note

1 How many people prosecuted for breaking lockdown rules | South Wales Argus This included one person getting six months and 3500+ people being fined.

Havering Councillor: Linda Hawthorn (Upminster)

Linda’s been a councillor for thirty years. She’s maintained her position at the top of the polls since 1990.1 She’s the best example of Havering’s bizarre political life.

Upminster is the living heartbeat of outer-London Conservative domination. Julia Lopez’s enormous majority is guaranteed by places like Upminster.2 However if she and Linda went toe-to-toe in a council election she’d be trounced. In local elections the Conservatives are toxic. The Residents’ Association (RA) reign supreme. Why?

There was a political earthquake in Upminster in 1990. A Conservative ‘impregnable’ majority was destroyed by Linda and her two RA colleagues. In 2002 Linda received 4202 votes, an unprecedented result. Linda’s majority was a stunning 3223. In 2018 there wasn’t a single councillor who got 3223 votes.3 She’s been a turbo-charged vote gathering machine for 30 years.

The Conservatives lost an impregnable majority through arrogance. They haven’t learned. The recent sale of the Hall Lane site is entirely typical.4 What made this worse was the foolhardy decision to buy the Marks and Spencer site in Romford.5

Linda’s political career is astonishing. She epitomises RAs in Upminster with her unwavering commitment to defending the area from predatory Romford Conservatives.

Notes

1 Historic (Pre 2010) local election results | The London Borough Of Havering

2 Julia Lopez (politician) – Wikipedia her majority is 23,308

3 Local elections | Election results | The London Borough Of Havering

4The sale of ‘Hall Lane Pitch and Putt’: Conservative Revenge? – Politics in Havering

5 Damian White and Romford Marks and Spencer (M&S) July, 2019 – Politics in Havering

South Hornchurch Ward: Utter Chaos

South Hornchurch is Havering’s political disaster zone. It’s a Residents’ Association (RA) stronghold which has imploded.

Michael Deon Burton fell out with the RAs and was re-elected as an Independent. 48 hours after being elected he became a Conservative. As Conservatives are toxic in South Hornchurch this was Damian White’s only route into the ward. Michael is an important part of Damian’s coalition. Damian’s Conservatives failed to get a majority and he had to win over those who were susceptible to his charms.

The re-drawing of Havering’s ward boundaries reduced South Hornchurch to two seats from three. Easy-peasy you might think. As there are only two RA councillors left, they carry on. Unfortunately life since 2018 has been unkind. Michael is awaiting trial for harassing RA Natasha Summers1,2 and as a renegade he’s unlikely to be elected. She hasn’t enjoyed being a councillor and might not stand.

The elderly, but feisty, Graham Williamson3 is the last RA standing. The self-inflicted damage the RAs have suffered will help Labour’s Julia Offord Pearman and Adeel Akhtar. Unlike Graham they live in the ward. Ironically this used to be the RAs selling point. Labour is campaigning. This is a skill complacent RAs forgot long ago. Campaigning can make a difference even in safe seats.

2022 is throwing up interesting contests but, as always, democracy is about who turns up to vote.

Notes

1 Havering Council Conservative denies harassment at court | Romford Recorder

2 See my blog Havering Councillor: Natasha Summers (South Hornchurch) – Politics in Havering

3 Graham features in Wikipedia Graham Williamson – Wikipedia

Havering Council Meeting: 17th November, 2021

Havering’s councillors love eulogies. Nothing deters them. David Amess, the murdered Southend MP, brought Ron Ower to his feet. Ron lived near Amess in Forest Gate as a boy and councillors were pleased to hear about that. Eulogies are supposed to celebrate the deceased, not provide a platform for ego massage.1 They should be given a maximum of 10 minutes to stop time-wasting.

The Climate Change Emergency was the principal item of business. The Council’s plan is huge and lacks detail. It emerged on 10th November and Ray Morgon and Keith Darvill said it needed scrutiny. It didn’t get it and was brought to Council seven days later. Thirteen minutes of argy-bargy ensued. Bizarrely, this means scrutiny will happen after agreement.

Councillors in speaking order:2

Joshua Chapman (44 mins) remarked Climate Change meant “an organisational and cultural change” for the entire Council.

Jeff Tucker (50) said the plan was basically a directive from Boris Johnson, aka ‘The Big Boss’.

Keith Darvill (56) reviewed his previous objections in a telling way.

Viddy Persaud (59) likes the way officers work hard.

Robert Benham (1:01) sold his Jaguar so the Emergency is virtually over.

Ray Morgon (1:03) described the Plan as a ‘massive wish list’, uncosted and ‘all talk’.

Stephanie Nunn (1:07) was scathing, describing it as ‘uncosted’ and ‘rubbish’.

Roger Ramsey (1:08) claimed ‘existing budgets’ would take the strain. He had a straight face proving what an old pro he is.

Michael Deon Burton (1:11) said opposition members were petty for objecting.

Dilip Patel (1:14) wants to spend a lot of money for the future of children.

Barry Mugglestone (1:16) said they hadn’t got the basics right

Chris Wilkins (1:17) said the 2019 report had been ignored.

Jeff Tucker (1:18) spoke movingly about out-of-order lights in Rainham churchyard.

Damian White (1:23) was in combative mode. He claimed councillors hadn’t read the report and the oft quoted £500,000 cost didn’t exist. Surprisingly he added it might cost £10 million. He said Overview and Scrutiny committees were hopeless and never produced anything for the Cabinet to discuss. He’s becoming a class act.

Keith Darvill, Ray Morgon and Damian White should have a round table discussion and get on with substantive decision-making. The drivel that punctuated this debate demonstrates that leadership is called for. Amazingly, Michael Deon Burton was quite right. There is too much pettiness and this matter is too important for that.

Notes

1 The finest recent example of a eulogy was by Roger Ramsey about Del Smith. Havering’s Council Meeting: 1st September, 2021 (part one) – Politics in Havering

2 For the webcast go to Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) All the times relate to this source

Keith Prince vs Damian White: 2022 Conservative Leadership Contest

Keith is a Conservative superstar1 and fancies himself. He was re-elected a GLA Member in May, 2021 but it was a joyless victory. Sadiq Khan’s London Labour are tightening their grip and that’s the kiss of death for Keith who wants to be a mover-and-shaker. Keith now has his sights on Havering. The Havering Conservative Leadership election, 2022, could be blood-thirsty.

Political ironies pile up. Damian is vacating his seat in Squirrels Heath and moving to Havering-Atte-Bower. And who steps into Squirrels Heath ward? Keith!

Damian shouldn’t be underestimated. He’s politically adroit and built a coalition in 2018 out of nothing. For four years he’s used Special Responsibility Allowances2 for the only electorate that matters: Conservative councillors. But that was then. What can Keith offer?

It takes a very brave Leader to re-jig allowances when it’s going to cost councillors money. Neither are going to do that. So the election depends on other things. And what might they be?

Damian has amiable contempt for his colleagues, which he conceals badly. The Bob Perry revelations about possible gerrymandering showed Damian’s unpleasant side. He’s also keen on councillors pulling their weight when it comes to campaigning. This is unpopular with elderly Conservatives who want a quiet life. Perhaps Keith will be more understanding?

This is predicated on the Conservatives forming an administration in 2022, which is far from certain. Keith could find himself rejected by Squirrels Heath’s voters and nursing even more thwarted ambitions.

Notes

1 Keith was a Havering councillor 1990-5; a Redbridge councillor 2003-18 (Leader 2009-14); GLA member 2016-present. He was re-elected in 2021 with a majority of 15,327. On 9th May 2022 Damian survived a leadership challenge by one vote but not by Keith but by stalking horse Robert Benham.

2 2020 Members Allowances final.pdf (havering.gov.uk) For the allowances of individual councillors see Havering Members Allowances 2018-19 summary This is slightly out of date but gives a reasonable idea.