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

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)

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

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)

Havering Councillor: Keith Prince (Con: Squirrels Heath)

Keith is a superstar in Havering’s Town Hall. He’s been a councillor for 32 years in various places. He began his career in Havering, moved to Redbridge becoming Leader of the Council, and then a GLA councillor.1 He’s still a GLA councillor – he was re-elected in 2021 – with a massive majority. And in May, 2022 was elected as a Havering councillor. What’s going on?

Keith, like all successful politicians, can smell political blood. While campaigning last year he noticed Romford Conservatives weren’t a happy ‘Band of Brothers’. So, he did the obvious thing and seized the opportunity. Damian White was ousted from his seat in Squirrels Heath. He inserted himself into the newly created vacancy and was elected in May, 2022. Keith is simultaneously a GLA and Havering councillor. Maybe he doesn’t believe that being a Havering councillor is time consuming?

Keith has made two rare misjudgments. He thought Havering would be ruled by the Conservatives and he’d be Leader. Now he’s in Sadiq Khan’s GLA and is a councillor with an HRA2 Administration in Havering. It’s enough to make a grown man weep.

If Romford Conservatives weren’t a happy ‘Band of Brothers’ in 2021, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like now. And they don’t even have Allowances to keep them interested any more.

Addendum: Register of Interests

Keith’s mentor Boris Johnson, aka The Great White Shark, has taught him to be unworried about trivialities like legal obligations. Keith still hasn’t filled in his Register of Interests, which was due no later than 2nd June 2022.3

Notes

1 He’s GLA councillor for Havering and Redbridge neatly drawing together the threads of his career.

2 HRA is the Havering Residents’ Association

3 As of 4th July 2022 Councillor details – Councillor Keith Prince | The London Borough Of Havering

Ray Morgon’s Cabinet Announced: Who Are They?

After 38 days of ‘wheeling and dealing,’ a cabinet is in place.1 It’s less diverse and older than Damian White’s outgoing Conservative cabinet. Ray has welded together the independent Residents’ Associations.2 He’s also brought Labour into a Working Agreement, making sense of consensus politics. Ray’s done interesting political juggling.

The Cabinet3

Ray and Keith Darvill have had 20 years in opposition. Ray has never succumbed to the Conservatives’ ‘pot-of-gold’ politics. His first act was to reduce Councillor Allowances, which suggests personal integrity. Keith has been a lonely figure following the implosion of Labour in 2002. They’ve both been principal members of Council for 20 years and stand head and shoulders above their colleagues.

Gillian and Oscar Ford are the most powerful husband and wife team since Labour’s Arthur and Margaret Lathom. Oscar (2022) is a complete unknown. He might find scrutiny bruising. For example, is his principal qualification for cabinet being Gillian’s husband? Gillian (2002) has flattered to deceive on many occasions. There always seems to be more unsaid than said. Has she got the inner steel to drive an agenda in a very difficult department?

Paul McGeary (2010), Paul Middleton (2018), Barry Mugglestone (2014) Chris Wilkins (2018) and Graham Williamson (2014) fill the remaining cabinet posts. They’re indifferent speakers but experience will rectify that. Their contributions in committee and council suggests they’re sound. McGeary’s professional profile means he’s amply qualified for his post. Wilkin’s qualification for the Finance post is that he’s a buy-to-let landlord. This is probably insufficient.4

Notes

1 14th June 2022

2 From now on Residents’ Associations will be only referred to by the umbrella title Havering Residents’ Association (HRA)

3 Cabinet structure (havering.gov.uk)

4 mgConvert2PDF.aspx (havering.gov.uk)

Havering’s Winds Of Change: HRA Take Over

The Council Tax meeting, 2nd March 2022, saw Ray Morgon attack the ‘pot-of-gold’ politics of Damian White. HRA produced a detailed analysis of allowances paid to Conservative councillors,1 not all of which were value for money. His ‘compare and contrast’ analysis is unambiguous. Every single additional allowance for 2022-23, will be reduced and some ‘jobs’ deleted altogether. Morgon’s proposals shrink the allowance budget by £218,434.

Unfortunately, £218,434 is too small to make a significant difference in the Council’s multi-million pounds budget.2 Nonetheless I applaud Morgon’s direction of travel. The horrible, insincere Osborne slogan3We’re all in this together’ actually means something in Havering.

Conservative councillors are used to significant supplements to their basic allowance of £10,412.4 They now face a dramatic pay-cut. Damian White’s allowances reduce from £56,317 as Leader to £18,062 as Leader of the Principal Opposition. Former cabinet members lose their £29,356 allowance.5 At least two appear to be full-time politicians, which means they’ll be making major reappraisals of their lives.

The Council has suffered catastrophic financial losses from Covid-19. In addition, central government grant cuts and massive increases in demand for statutory services will worsen the dire financial situation. Morgon’s team have massive challenges facing them but this is a good symbolic start.

Notes

HRA is the Havering Residents’ Association

1 (Public Pack)SUPPLEMENTARY AGENDA Agenda Supplement for Council, 02/03/2022 19:30 (havering.gov.uk) p10

2 Every time the Bank of England raises the interest rate by 0.25% it adds £250,000 to the borough’s interest bill.

3 George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer 2010-16, used this slogan to promote the destructive Age of Austerity.

4 This allowance is unchanged

5 They received this and the councillors allowance of £10,412.