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

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.

Emerson Park Ward: a Crumbling Conservative Stronghold

Background

Emerson Park is Hornchurch’s only Conservative ward. It’s a wealthy area with ten million pound plus houses for sale.1 It’s the fiefdom of Roger Ramsey who’s a veteran councillor He’s smooth, clever, wealthy, massively experienced, a fluent speaker and everything modern Conservatives aren’t. But Emerson Park Conservatives are vulnerable.

Discussion

Over the years, the Conservatives have lost safe seats in Upminster and Cranham to huge Resident Association (RA) majorities.2 The signs are Emerson Park is going the same way. Roger’s holding it together with his personal vote. He’s done 50+ years but even superstars prefer life without whining colleagues. He’s cabinet member for finance, which is demanding even for eager beavers.

The 2014 election brought UKIP into the equation. One seat was won by a man who wasn’t a Conservative, which was his only virtue. In 2018 three Conservatives were elected but the RAs failed by four votes to win a seat. This is an ultra marginal outcome.

2018 was a good year for Conservatives but Roger Ramsey’s stronghold turned ultra marginal. The next four years weren’t been kind to the Conservatives. Bob Perry left and reinvented himself as a ferocious anti-Conservative campaigner in Squirrels Heath after the gerrymandering scandal.

The Conservatives have been in power 20 years. Their image is tarnished by their use of Special Responsibility Allowances which don’t look warranted. Emerson Park Conservatives may well pay the price in 2022.

Notes

1 Correct on 1st November 2021

2 Linda Hawthorn has a 2000 vote majority over the Conservatives in Upminster, which is unbelievable in local elections. Local elections | Election results | The London Borough Of Havering

Havering’s 2022 Election: Is Damian White Doomed?

Local elections are usually a verdict on mid-term governments, except in east Havering where Resident Associations (RAs) dominate.

Damian knows that in a ‘good’ year, 20181, he didn’t get a majority. He used nifty political footwork and created a majority from renegade RAs.2 Damian looks doomed in 2022 because of his reliance on Romford’s heartlands.3 Romford Conservatives have massive majorities and look impregnable. This is an illusion. No-one survives a vicious political swing, as John Major found out in 1997.

Brexit isn’t the Promised Land of milk and honey. The details will be forgotten by the electorate but there’s a feeling it’s been badly handled. Who’d have expected foreign HGV drivers to be imported to rescue Christmas? And the hospitality sector is reeling from staff shortages.

Damian is facingnational tax increases four weeks before the election. Inflation is rocketing, with electric, gas and petrol leading the way, closely followed by the price of poultry. And saving rates are a joke. Poor council finances means tax increases will be substantial. More trivially, after 20 years the electorate’s bored with Conservatives.

2022 should produce an RA majority but they might implode 2018 style.4 Damian Lazarus White wants to be Leader and knows how to get it. Is there an RA who’s as keen on power as Damian?

Isn’t Havering fascinating?

Notes

1 Jeremy Corbyn was the Labour Leader and Brexit was the Promised Land.

2 See Damian White’s Political Arithmetic – Politics in Havering

3 Local Elections 2018 | The London Borough Of Havering

4 What will happen to the Harold Wood 3? Can anyone work with Jeff Tucker? These are just two significant challenges for an in-coming RA Administration

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.

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.

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