Havering Councillor: Timothy Ryan (Brooklands)

Timothy isn’t a well known councillor but is Damian White’s crony. He may be talentless but he’s grateful for crumbs that come his way. So when an embarrassing job needed to be done, Timothy agreed immediately.

Damian’s policy is to use council allowances to cement his position as Leader. In Timothy’s case this means being vice chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. For this Timothy gets £150 a week. He probably appreciates this when we look at his Register of Members’ Interests statement.*

So what favour did Damian request? Earlier this year, 2020, Damian boasted about his control of the Chief Executive and the borough’s boundary submission on reconfigured wards. Damian thought he was amongst friends. He was mistaken. A recording was taken which went viral. This in turn led to an external adjudicator declaring Damian had a case to answer.

A committee was formed to hear evidence.** Timothy and Conservative councillor Matt Sutton sat alongside councillor Linda van den Hende. Timothy announced, at the beginning of the meeting, that he’d excuse himself as he’d been a participant when Damian was boasting. Obviously Damian planned this. They both knew Timothy was unable to serve on the committee. Although quorate, the chair, Matt Sutton, postponed the meeting. Exactly to plan.

Damian’s ploy wasted time and money but Timothy felt he’d done well. Like all Zoom meetings, it’s interesting to see participants’ composure when provoked. Timothy’s action pleased him, pleased Damian and hacked everyone else off. I hope Damian’s boasting isn’t subsequently white-washed.

Damian White’s cronies are undermining democracy in Havering.

* https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=1346&T=6

** https://aisapps.sonicfoundry.com/AuditelScheduler/Player/Index/?id=b1d0e822-0795-4c82-958c-0e9cc0af01ce&presID=77236848e6084cce976cdaadd45b8cf31d

The Bizarre World of Hornchurch and Upminster Politics

This constituency is a safe Conservative parliamentary seat. But it’s also a no-go area for them in local politics. Indeed Conservative candidates have to brand themselves as Resident Association (RAs)to have any chance of success in council elections. The RAs are splintered and don’t have critical mass when it comes to power and influence. As a consequence, the minority Conservative administration has an easy time of it.

Veteran RA councillor, John Mylod, ‘became’ a Conservative prior to the 2018 election after a spat with fellow councillors in St Andrews ward. This ward is an RA stronghold but he still won with a personal vote. Or, maybe, voters didn’t appreciate he’d jumped ship. Harold Wood’s three RA councillors created a working majority for the Conservatives. They were always crypto-Conservatives but being offered lucrative allowances helped them make the crucial decision.

Two wards return Labour councillors. In their heartlands they won five of six seats. The sixth seat went to an Independent novice. The only reliable Conservative ward is Emerson Park, which isn’t rock solid. They lost a seat in 2014 to a UKIP candidate. Then post-2018, Bob Perry found Romford’s councillors too arrogant and he’s now an Independent.

So Julia Lopez MP has a majority of 23,000 in a constituency with only three Conservative councillors. Her seat may not be as solid as it looks. Local politics shows there is dissatisfaction with the Conservatives. Local elections demonstrate that voters are quite prepared to abandon them.

Havering Council Meeting, 9th September 2020

Zoom Council meetings are unforgiving. The elderly Mayor, John Mylod, failed utterly from the very beginning.* After ten minutes or so he was still bumbling along, testing the patience of councillors. Several gripped their heads in disbelief, others openly laughed. This was the very public outcome of Damian White’s policy of using jobs to maintain his power, regardless of operational efficiency. It has brought the council into disrepute.

The meeting ended with a long** debate about Havering’s academy schools. Surprisingly, the Conservatives fielded four cabinet members including the Leader,*** deputy Leader and former Leader. The Conservative chair of the Children and Learning committee didn’t speak. This is shocking as her committee will scrutinise Havering academies’ under-achievement. Robert Benham, chair of education, read a script where each word seemed unexpected. Is it possible he didn’t write it? Councillor Ford didn’t develop her good debating points fully. Councillor Darvill opened and closed the debate with considerable authority. There was empty political point scoring by the Conservatives, which fell flat.

The Council meeting was ruined once again by poor chairmanship. This illustrates the negative impact of Damian’s croneyism, which extends to every Overview and Scrutiny committee, none of which are independent of the executive.

* First ten minutes https://aisapps.sonicfoundry.com/AuditelScheduler/Player/Index/?id=980fc1ad-8bc8-4ed9-a60c-548e1f6c560b&presID=52e9140a88324a8fa193e7954f87df451d All times refer to this webcast site

** See 1 hour 33 minutes to the conclusion. The councillors in speaking order, Councillors Darvill, Benham, Mugglestone, Ford, Durant, White D, Ramsey, Tucker, Persaud, Nunn and McGeary

*** Damian said he was uneducated because of Havering LEA. This is implausible. More likely causes are poor teaching and a lack of diligence.

Damian White: an unlucky general?

Napoleon famously preferred lucky generals. A lucky general ruthlessly exploits an advantage for victory. Or, if disadvantaged he retrieves the situation. Napoleon didn’t like generals who squandered advantages.

Damian was triumphant in 2018. Romford’s Conservative heartlands provided a core of councillors but not a majority. He was prepared for this eventuality. Three Harold Wood Resident Association (RA) councillors were squared off and came on board. A further coup enticed Michael Deon Burton (RA) into the Conservative fold. Sally Miller (RA) followed Michael.

Damian was lucky with his opponents who are a splintered opposition. He controlled the agenda without a majority. The political sun shone on Damian in 2018.

Unfortunately Damian caught a nasty dose of hubris.

Damian doesn’t do ‘arm round the shoulder’ TLC. He should. Stomping on people’s finer feelings is fun but usually rebounds. Bob Perry’s expert, unpleasant and notorious secret recording of Damian’s bragging about his political genius was a coup. Bob’s recording added to Damian’s own goals and may have given other Conservative councillors ideas. Will he ever speak freely again?

Damian’s personal decision to get the council to invest £14.7M for the Marks and Spencer site wasn’t a great idea. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it a disaster.* As an ardent Brexiteer, Damian loved Nigel Farage’s simplicities. Unfortunately Farage’s fantasy world included ‘fighting’ every Labour seat in 2019. Damian lost the Dagenham and Rainham seat because of him. Damian’s bad luck means his future comprises of soft soaping Conservative councillors in order to prevent mutiny.

Note

* The charges for this investment are about £500,000 p.a.

Damian White and Romford Marks and Spencer (M&S) July, 2019

Damian personally authorised the £14.7 million purchase of M&S’ Romford site in July, 2019. The checks and balances of the Overview and Scrutiny committee were by-passed by Darren Wise, the chair. As a consequence, the decision wasn’t subject to robust analysis as it was hurried through. A Havering College 6th former studying Business Studies knows this is the worst possible way to make an investment decision. The students would have done a SWOT analysis first.

Strength M&S is an iconic retailer with a loyal customer base

Weakness M&S is a flabby, badly managed company feeding off past glories

Opportunity M&S has a wonderful reputation for quality, which can be migrated into other activities

Threat M&S, along with every other retailer, is faced with online competition, which is destroying their principal activities.

Havering’s M&S investment depends on a revenue stream paying the costs related to borrowing £14.7 million. The question posed by ‘Threat’ is: will M&S pay their rent? Many retailers are negotiating with landlords to accept CVAs with downward adjustments, sometimes to zero.

£14.7 million is required to replenish the capital allocation for new opportunities. A significant opportunity arose to purchase the lease of the premises occupied by Marks & Spencer in Romford earlier this year [2019] which reduced the allocation by a similar amount. The annual lease income being received from Marks & Spencer covers the ongoing revenue costs of the purchase and makes a return to the General Fund.”**

Amazingly the July, 2019 report says, “this is a liquid asset, providing many of the characteristics which investors are seeking.” *** (my emphasis) The statement is nonsense. In 2019, some property unit trusts couldn’t meet redemption demands because their property assets were illiquid and they’re professional property investors.

Damian’s administration relies on the Harold Wood 3, one of whom is Darren Wise. He’s the Overview and Scrutiny chair who agreed scrutiny wasn’t applicable due to the urgency of the decision. The Cabinet was by-passed by Damian, using ‘strong leader’ provisions of the Localism Act. He behaves as if he’s an elected Mayor. (see Addendum One)

The use of ‘urgency’ clauses is exceptional and the assistant Director of Regeneration added a hand-written note to the document (see Addendum Two) stating it was authorised by Darren Wise. This suggests that he had doubts about whether it was urgent. The preliminaries of a property deal of this size take an extended period of time. Prior to purchase it went through due diligence, ensuring the deeds were accurate, the physical condition of the 52 year old building, the insurance details (which were odd, as it turns out). Finance has been arranged for thirty years. There was no ‘urgency’.

So why did Damian do it?

Nigel Wilcox, the executive director of the Institute for Economic Development said: “The conclusion is that local authorities are embarking on risky strategies – but they have clearly been driven to this route through the underfunding from central government.” (my emphasis)

£14.7 million of the Havering 2019 capital budget was used for property speculation by people who are naive as investors. Damian has saddled Havering with a 30 year debt for a non-performing asset which is probably unsellable and Darren assisted him. Covid-19 is the final nail in the coffin of this ‘investment’, which was reckless from the beginning.

Addendum One: The strong leader

In 2009 Milton Keynes Council moved to the Strong Leader model – a model where all powers that fall to the Executive are now discharged solely by the Executive Leader (whether personally or through delegation), and not by the Executive as a ‘body’.”

The two ‘executive’ models that now exist are the Executive Leader model (known as the Strong Leader Model) and the elected Mayor model.”

…in practice these will be delegated to other executive members (cabinet members), committees of the executive, or officers of the council. But even once delegated this does not stop the leader from personally exercising any executive function.”* (my emphasis)

https://milton-keynes.cmis.uk.com/milton-keynes/Document.ashx?

And https://www.unison.org.uk/content/uploads/2013/06/On-line-Catalogue213663.pdf

Notes

* Strength – Weakness – Opportunity – Threat

** https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/s39402/190910%20Budget%20Update%20-%20report%20final%20100919.pdf 18th September 2019

*** See https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/s38373/49%2039-43%20South%20Street%20Romford%20Acquisition%20and%20finalisation%20of%20outstanding%20pre-conditions%20on%20Prope.pdf

SourcesFor the retail environment as an investment see https://www.ellandi.com/our-news/ellandi-media-coverage/2019/11/exclusive-no-evidence-councils-buying-shopping-centres-out-of-the-area#.XrxBJG5Fy70

For illiquid property unit trusts see https://www.hl.co.uk/news/articles/Investing-in-property-consider-liquidity-risk

For M&S relegation from the FTSE 100 see https://www.theweek.co.uk/103101/why-ms-is-about-to-drop-out-of-ftse-100 Next joined the FTSE 100 in 2001

History of companies joining and leaving the FTSE 100 Index since 1984

For a very good summary of CVA see https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/trading-investing/credit-valuation-adjustment-cva/ see also https://www.savills.co.uk/research_articles/229130/290114-0/spotlight–the-impact-of-cvas-on-the-uk-retail-market

Romford Town Centre: 1968-2020

Liberty One, 1968, was the first phase of three linked shopping malls. Phases two and three were Liberty Two, 1990, and The Brewery, 2001. Romford town centre is a dull retailing monoculture. This was irrelevant until Lakeside, 2004, and Westfield Stratford Shopping Centre, 2011 provided better retailing experiences. Latterly e-commerce, a systemic threat, which has been turbo-charged by the Covid-19 pandemic, reconfigured utilitarian shopping. Malls predicated on utilitarian shopping must reinvent their retail offer to survive.

Destination shopping centres should offer a pleasing environment. Romford doesn’t. Plentiful toilet facilities are a necessity. A single set of toilets serve Liberty One and Two. The food courts of the Westfield Shopping Centre, enhance shopping as a leisure activity. Romford has been captured by retailer whales operating out of huge uncompromising units. The Cosgrave ownership period was a disaster as they tried to milk it for yields far beyond what was feasible. (see Addendum)

E-commerce murders utilitarian shops. It demonstrates retail is either a utilitarian transaction or an experience. Romford’s shopping malls can only compete as a leisure activity. Unsuccessful mall owners go to the wall: Intu and Hammerson’s are prime examples. (see Addendum)

Romford is facing an existential crisis. It does however have a competitive advantage because it’s a population centre. Romford’s retail monoculture could be softened by independent traders supplying a ready made customer base living in the proximity. Stranded retail whales, like Debenhams, demand a rethink. This rethink doesn’t include tinkering with variations on the failed strategies of 1968.

Addendum One: the shopping mall crisis
Britain’s biggest mall owners* have suffered catastrophic share price declines. This means the existential crisis hitting Romford town centre is systemic. A systemic challenge requires a fundamental shift in thinking. Cosgrave Property appear to have sold the centre. If the reported price is correct they made a 29% loss in 12 years of ownership, in line with expectations in 2006:
“Cosgrave expects ‘to push rental yields at the Liberty Shopping Centre to 5%’. But sellers Hammerson put this year’s [2006] rental yield on Liberty at just 3.5%, which indicates, say surveyors, that the Cosgraves might have overpaid.”**
The new owners are apparently looking to convert retail to housing. This is a sound strategy.

Addendum Two: The Marks and Spencer site
Late in 2019 Havering Council bought this site for £13.8 million. It was impeccable bad timing. All the signs were in place demonstrating that shopping malls are in terminal decline (see above). This is a classic example of a failure in Council procedures as it wasn’t robustly reviewed by the relevant Overview and Scrutiny committee or stress tested.

* For Intu’s five year share price movement see https://www.hl.co.uk/shares/shares-search-results/i/intu-properties-plc-ordinary-50p
April 2015 = 330p; April 2020 5.17p
For Hammerson’s share price movement see https://www.hl.co.uk/shares/shares-search-results/h/hammerson-ordinary-25p-shares
April 2015 = 650p; April 2020 = 58p
** https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-1601635/500m-UK-property-grab-by-Irish-family.html

Sources

For historical pictures see https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/romford-pictures-havering-s-proud-brewing-history-explored-in-new-exhibition-1-3215943 and also http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=Ind_Coope_Ltd
For Debenhams see https://www.google.co.uk/search?sxsrf=ALeKk01115XWDCSdQ0hBYzGEcBqLbkIE3Q%3A1587657067576&source=hp&ei=a7mhXtzXIMqmaLujuqAJ&q=debenhams+administration+2019&oq=debenhams+administration&gs_lcp=CgZwc3ktYWIQARgBMgIIADICCAAyAggAMgIIADICCAAyAggAMgIIADICCAAyAggAMgIIADoFCAAQgwE6BAgjECdQwgpY_1lgnnJoAXAAeACAAVWIAc4LkgECMjSYAQCgAQGqAQdnd3Mtd2l6&sclient=psy-ab
For a hint of the council’s thinking see https://authenticfutures.com/romford-town-centre/
Cosgrave Property appear to have sold the town centre for a £81m loss https://haveringspecial.wordpress.com/tag/cosgrave-property-group/
For a quick press overview see https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/havering-council-consultation-romford-town-centre-improvements-1-5863512
For a 2016 press review which reflects many points made in this blog see https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/shoppers-and-small-business-owners-fear-for-romford-s-retail-future-1-4691214
For a report on the new owners see https://haveringspecial.wordpress.com/tag/cosgrave-property-group/
For a recent Council discussion see https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/g6286/Public%20reports%20pack%2025th-Feb-2020%2019.30%20Towns%20Communities%20Overview%20Scrutiny%20Sub-%20Committee.pdf?T=10

Conservative Councillors are a Drag on Damian White

Councillor Perry said: “We were at a meeting on January 14th, Councillor White shouted across the room that we all had to go out and go campaigning or we would lose our chairmanship position.
“Someone then stated ‘what happens if you are ill?’. Councillor White responded by saying that they had to bring in a doctor’s note.
“He is a bully and a dictator. I have decided to speak out and go public in the hope that the Conservative Party decide to do something about this.” [quoted in Havering Daily]

Damian is an ambitious politician whose power base in Romford is the Conservative party in Havering. There’s very little chance that any political party will get a majority in Havering so he must wheel-and-deal to shore up support. He’s done this rather well. Michael Deon Burton, Sally Miller and John Mylod were bagged and three Harold Wood councillors completed the set.

Damian looks to the future. And the future is bleak. The political stability of Havering is creaking. Romford is under attack from both east and west. Following Andrew Rosindell’s techniques, Damian has introduced constant campaigning to, ‘get the Conservative message’ across. This aspiration is unlikely to succeed.

About a quarter of Damian’s group are over 70, including Bob. They like sitting around, picking up allowances and pontificating. They don’t want to ‘do’ anything. Bob is outraged that he’s expected to work. Bob thinks that turning up at meetings is pretty good going.

Source

https://thehaveringdaily.co.uk/2020/02/14/conservative-councillor-calls-council-leader-a-bully/

Havering’s Councillor: Jason Frost (Mawney)

Jason is cabinet member for Health and Adult Services. Havering councillors have unrelenting trust in officers and Jason is no exception. Indeed this trust amounts to a democratic deficit. Like other cabinet members, he receives an allowance which is roughly the median wage in Havering.* He also works as a researcher** in Bishop Stortford. So at the very best he’s a part-time politician. Is there any evidence that he doesn’t pull his weight as a cabinet member? Well, yes there is.

The Individuals Overview and Scrutiny committee decided to have a member ‘topic’ group (see addendum one) into Safeguarding Adults. This topic group was established at their meeting on 3rd September, 2019. The structure of the topic group is set out in agenda item 7.3 The group have a planned series of meetings which will take a few months to complete (see addendum two).

What’s interesting is that the list seems to be comprehensive. It isn’t. Jason hasn’t been scheduled to be interviewed. Has he nothing of interest to say? This is amazing. He’s the principal policy maker in the cabinet and yet is as useful as a cipher in the investigation of Safeguarding. This area is contentious and consumes vast amounts of resources. It’s very difficult to get ‘right’. Dealing with the most vulnerable people in Havering is a delicate balancing act and political support is essential to officers. Is Jason providing that support?

It’s incomprehensible that Jason could be merely a spokesperson for chief officers unless his principal virtue is being slavishly loyal to Damian White.

Addendum One: What is meant by a topic group in Havering
Sub-Committees will often establish Topic Groups to examine specific areas in much greater detail. These groups consist of a number of Members and the review period can last for anything from a few weeks to a year or more to allow the Members to comprehensively examine an issue through interviewing expert witnesses, conducting research or undertaking site visits. Once the topic group has finished its work it will send a report to the Sub-Committee that created it and will often suggest recommendations for the Overview and Scrutiny Board to pass to the Council’s Executive.

Addendum Two: Witnesses to be called by Individuals topic group
Head of Integrated Services (responsible for safeguarding across adult social care)
Service Manager for Safeguarding Adults (specialist role)
2-3 service users (and carers/families) with lived experience of safeguarding intervention (where at least service user has reported their outcome has been met and where at least one service user has reported their outcome has not been met.
2-3 service users (and carers/families) who are currently subject to safeguarding (with consent) to observe safeguarding practice. This would be subject to client consent and Head of Integrated Services
Commissioners, including Quality Team.
2-3 providers of services (such as homecare and residential/nursing)
NELFT safeguarding lead
BHRUT safeguarding lead

1 For Havering’s allowances see http://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/s35795/190227%20minutes%20appx%201%20-%20members%20allowances%20scheme.pdf
2 http://democracy.havering.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=942&T=6
3 http://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/g6268/Public%20reports%20pack%2003rd-Sep-2019%2019.00%20Individuals%20Overview%20Scrutiny%20Sub-Committee.pdf?T=10

Havering Councillor: Brian Eagling (Harold Wood)

Brian was a Labour party councillor and Mayor before he discovered he’d never become Leader. Brian switched allegiance and joined the Harold Wood Resident Association (RA). He was eventually elected as an RA councillor. Once more, he found unimpressed colleagues who valued his vote, but not his opinions. So he separated Harold Wood RAs from the RA mainstream and greatness arrived. He became Leader of Harold Wood RAs.

The 2018 election put Brian in poll position. Damian White came calling. Brian straightened his back and accepted the pivotal position of holding the balance of power. Damian didn’t just offer glory. Brian and his two colleagues had their stellar qualities recognised, at last, with all three having remunerated positions of responsibility. For septuagenarian pensioners this was very pleasant, if long overdue.

The allocation of ‘roads’ refurbishment capital stayed in Romford.1 Harold Wood got nothing. Is Brian disappointed? Did he even notice? Harold Wood RAs are an old boys’ clique who’ve long ago forgotten the driving motives behind their movement.

Harold Wood councillors are tied irrevocably to Romford Conservatives. This might not be a shrewd move as Brexit alters Havering’s voting habits. The RAs moved into the ascendency in 2018 at the expense of the Conservatives but what if Harold Wood RAs are tarred with that toxic brush?

1 Living in Havering April 2019 edition p15

Havering Council: Damian White gets power, May 2018

Because Havering doesn’t have Proportional Representation, Romford Conservatives rule the roost. Out of 207,311 votes cast, the Conservatives had 37% of the vote (75,008) giving them 25 seats. Damian White, Leader of the Council, found himself without a majority. Tinkering with the allowance budget solved this problem.1

Resident Association (RA) councillors love over-hanging branches, cracked pavements, broken street lights and untidy bin collections and they’re politically naive. Damian understood this and knew the RAs were his route to a majority.

John Mylod (St Andrews) fell out with fellow RAs. He joined the Conservatives to Damian’s delight and split the RA vote, keeping his seat.

John Mylod: Chair of Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee – Responsibility Allowance £14,418 (All members get a councillors allowance of £10,208 p.a. in addition to a responsibility payment)

Michael Deon-Burton (S. Hornchurch) was elected as an Independent and two days later became a Conservative. Michael then took the offer of a glittering prize.

Michael Deon-Burton: Deputy Mayor – Responsibility Allowance £4,000

But John and Michael weren’t enough. Damian needed more. Three Harold Wood RAs were a juicy prize. The three RAs support the Conservatives so Havering can have a strong and stable administration.

Brian Eagling: Chair of Highways Advisory Committee – Responsibility Allowance £7,650

Martin Goode: Chair of Audit Committee – Responsibility Allowance £7,650

Darren Wise: Chair of Overview and Scrutiny Committee – Responsibility Allowance £14,418

Damian’s political cunning strengthened his position in the Romford Conservative party. He’s now being tested by the Melvin Wallace affair. Which RA is next in line for his seductive ploys if Melvin goes maverick? An elderly RA bed-blocker who fancies a supplement to their pension? I’ll bet Damian knows.

1 See http://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/s30715/Report%20-%20Special%20Responsibility%20Allowances.pdf for the full details.