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. 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

 

Havering’s Adjudication and Review Committee: 24th June, 2021

After a hesitant start1 this was one of the best committees I’ve reviewed. Councillors had read their papers and engaged with them. After a detailed officer led summary, three councillors drilled down into the report and, in the process, added value to it. The report was an end-year analysis of stage one and stage two complaints and the outcomes from the Ombudsman. This included penalties for poor performance, which were below a thousand pounds each.

Ray Best (start 13 minutes): He focused his questions on the scale of penalties. It was noted there were semi-disguised penalties where fees were returned for poor service. It was noted that care fees were halved in one case for poor service.

Joshua Chapman (15m): He made important constructive criticisms of the use of complaints. He felt data should be incorporated into training as complaints highlight shortcomings. The chair sensed that this point had been made previously but nonetheless should be highlighted once more. Joshua spoke with refreshing fluent authority.

Linda van den Hende (19:30m): Her important point was that as many of the Council’s services are out-sourced penalties should be ‘forwarded’. The officer said it didn’t matter whether a service was out-sourced, the Council had ultimate responsibility. She also hinted that contractors who had Ombudsman failures should have contracts reviewed. This is difficult to argue against.

Addendum: Jeff Tucker

Jeff was absent once again.To attend this meeting Jeff had to open his Council provided laptop and log in. This committee has met twice in six months. He’s attended neither. Considering the importance of the report, this is abysmal behaviour as he also didn’t arrange a substitute.

Note

1The meeting actually began six minutes after the scheduled time as the chair, Matt Sutton, was late. Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) For the Agenda see (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Adjudication and Review Committee, 24/06/2021 19:00 (havering.gov.uk)

Damian White’s Dereliction of Duty

Background

Havering’s Health and Wellbeing Board is a high powered forum for the Council, the NHS, local GPs and the Council’s directors to discuss the ramifications of the pandemic.1 The 28th April meeting included GPs who offered expertise despite not being full members of the Board.

Discussion

There have been eight meetings of the Board since the pandemic struck. Damian White has attended only two. The pandemic has been catastrophic for Havering, killing nearly a thousand residents. The Board discuss the ramifications of Covid-19 some of which are, as yet, unknown.

At the 28th April meeting, which Damian didn’t attend,2 there was a discussion of Long Covid. This illness is new and not yet understood. At its worst, it’s catastrophic and could be incurable. Neither Havering’s director of Public Health or the NHS know the scale of Long Covid. They know it’s emerging as a medical and social challenge.

Apart from the chair, Jason Frost, none of the other councillors were present. None of them offered apologies. They appear to treat this critically important forum as trivial. The worst offender is Damian White3. His behaviour is a disgraceful dereliction of duty. There should be a vote of ‘No Confidence’ from his own party or they will suffer the consequences.

Addendum One: Membership of the Board

Elected Members: Cllr Robert Benham, Cllr Jason Frost, (Chairman) Cllr Damian White, Cllr Nisha Patel.

Officers of the Council: Andrew Blake-Herbert, Chief Executive, Barbara Nicholls, Director of Adult Services, Mark Ansell, Interim Director of Public Health

Havering Clinical Commissioning Group: Dr Atul Aggarwal, Chair, Havering Clinical Commissioning Group, (CCG) Ceri Jacob, BHR CCG

Other Organisations: Anne-Marie Dean, Healthwatch Havering, Jacqui Van Rossum, NELFT and Fiona Peskett, BHRUT

Addendum Two: Board meeting 23rd June 2021

All four councillors attended this meeting for the first time since the 21st October 2020. Damian went off camera at 41 minutes and didn’t reappear and was silent during the period he was there.

1 These are the Minutes of the most recent meeting 28th April 2021 For enquiries on this agenda please contact (havering.gov.uk)

2 Neither did Robert Benham, deputy Leader, or Nisha Patel. None of them offered apologies to the chair, Jason Frost. Nisha Patel has missed three meetings out of eight (two without apologies).

3 See Damian White and Havering’s Pandemic – Politics in Havering

Havering’s Health and Wellbeing Board: 28th April, 2021

Jason Frost is an effective chair. He’d clearly read the agenda1, understood it and engaged so that he could lead the discussions. Given the importance of the business, an effective chair is vital.

Almost immediately the issue of sharing data came up. This was to be a recurring theme as suspension of data protection was implied. There are special procedures in place for the period of the pandemic about data sharing.

Jason immediately understood that the current emergency Covid strategies are expensive – but underwritten by the government- and likely to become permanent. He hoped that they could become part of the environmental officers’ brief, presumably to save money, but that was shown to be an improbable suggestion.

The challenges of Covid extend to Long Covid. The scale isn’t known but it’s a certainty. As there’s no cure, provision will have to be made to protect those suffering from it. Havering and the NHS will have to work closely together to meet this challenge.

A gloomy note was hit when the director of public health pointed out that Covid will be here for an extended period. Any surge would have to be met by stringent local actions, or, at worst, further lockdowns.

Addendum: Falsified Minutes

Damian White didn’t attend, yet again. In the minutes2 it says that he and two other councillors offered apologies. Viewing the webcast3 you’ll see they didn’t apologise for their absence. This pathetic falsification is childish corruption and deeply worrying in this critical period in Havering’s history. Let’s not forget the entire agenda was discussing the ramifications of a pandemic, which has killed 921 Havering citizens.

Notes

1 For the Agenda see (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Health & Wellbeing Board, 28/04/2021 13:00 (havering.gov.uk)

2 For enquiries on this agenda please contact (havering.gov.uk)

3 Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) Go to start point 2 minutes 55 seconds for announcement of apologies beginning with the chair and then the clerk: about 10 seconds altogether.

Damian White and Havering’s Pandemic

Havering was ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, which killed nearly a thousand people and hospitalised thousands more. The Health and Wellbeing Board is the forum for discussing such things calmly with experts. There were three meetings of the Board, at the height of the pandemic, between January and March 2021. The Board has four senior councillors, and health professionals.1 Damian White, Leader of the Council, his deputy Robert Benham, Jason Frost, chair of the Board and Nisha Patel are the four councillors.

There are monthly meetings, so information is always up-to-date. Reading the minutes of the Board is interesting.

Damian loves publicity. Whilst Havering was being ravaged, he appeared on TV on numerous occasions. He presented Havering’s response well and convincingly. He’s also done dozens of Leaders’ blogs during the period, which were informative and helpful. But was it sincere or just a PR exercise, flashy without substance?

The three meetings of the Health and Wellbeing Board were attended by everyone except Damian.2 He attended none of them. So what’s going on?

If there’s a plausible explanation for this dereliction of duty, I look forward to hearing it.

Notes

1 Minutes Template (havering.gov.uk) This Board is very high powered and includes Havering’s CEO who hasn’t missed a meeting.

2 On the 24th February 2021 he didn’t even offer apologies for absence.

Dagnam Park Invaders

Dagnam Park has hundreds of deer who are destroying the natural habitat.1 The deer are so numerous that they are a visible threat to the environment amongst other challenges. The ecology of Dagnam Park is in constant flux. There are three ‘invaders’ which are now part of the beauty of the park. Purists hate invaders and sometimes they really are hateful.

Harlequin Ladybird

Originally from Asia, the harlequin ladybird first arrived in the UK in 2004, and has rapidly become one of the most common ladybirds in the country, particularly in towns and gardens. It is one of our larger species and is a voracious predator – it is able to out-compete our native species for aphid-prey and will also eat other ladybirds’ eggs and larvae. It can have multiple broods throughout the spring, summer and autumn, which also gives it a competitive edge.2

Spanish Bluebell

just because it’s blue, bell-shaped and blooming in a wood in early spring it doesn’t mean it’s our native bluebell……a common favourite in gardens across the land – have been escaping into the wild for over 100 years. In fact, one in six broadleaved woodlands surveyed by Plantlife across the UK were found to contain a Spanish Bluebell or a hybrid between the two.3

Yellow Necked Terrapin

Habitat: Prefers still or slow-flowing water. Commonly found in urban parks…They are opportunistic omnivores and predate on invertebrates, fish and amphibians. They often use the banks of water bodies to bask, which can disturb the nests of waterfowl such as Moorhens and thus interfere with breeding.4

Conclusion

Dagnam Park, like parks across the whole world, is constantly evolving. Foreign invaders are easily identified, though they might not be easily dealt with. Other changes are driven by invisible factors. They include the climate emergency, pollution, mankind – housing, leisure, agriculture – and seasonal variations all alter the habitat. Foreign invaders are however especially important as the people of Florida have found out with their python problem.5

Notes

1 See Havering’s Deer Should be Culled – Politics in Havering

2 Harlequin ladybird | The Wildlife Trusts

3 Plantlife :: What’s the Difference Between Spanish and English Bluebells?

4 This quote is from Northern Ireland but it still holds good for Dagnam Park NIEA-ID-Guide-Trachemys-scripta-spp-Terrapins.pdf (invasivespeciesireland.com)

5 For the problems that Florida, USA has see The Burmese Pythons of Florida | Odeboyz’s Blog (oedeboyz.com)