Reopening Havering’s Schools: Governors Will Decide

Good government requires ministers and civil servants who pay meticulous attention to detail. Reopening Havering’s schools needs careful judgement not prejudiced, hand-wringing bluster. They were shut because of the government’s public health strategy in March, 2020. Public health is a government responsibility but health and safety in schools is devolved to school governors and Academy Trust management teams.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit Britain in February, 2020, becoming severe during March when the government declared a public health emergency. Public health legislation is a sledgehammer closing every school regardless of local conditions.

It’s seductively simple closing schools but reopening them is complex. Schools aren’t managed by the government. Havering’s schools will open when their governors are satisfied that the health and safety of staff and pupils is guaranteed. Health and safety is a responsibility of governors or the Academy Trusts. Government can advise but can’t instruct. The indicated date of June 1st has been challenged across the country because of local circumstances.

Havering’s schools will reopen when governors are satisfied it’s safe to do so for staff and children. The arrangements will reflect the geography of their school buildings. Local knowledge is crucial here and will be used to keep Havering’s staff and children safe.

Sources

For school closures see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-colleges-and-early-years-settings-to-close

For the responsibility of school governors see https://schoolgovernors.thekeysupport.com/finance-and-premises/health-and-safety/

For the reopening of Havering’s schools see https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/may/10/boris-johnson-coronavirus-lockdown-shops-schools-june-reopening

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.”** (my emphasis)

Amazingly the July, 2019 report says, “this is aliquid 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

http://stockmarketalmanac.co.uk/2014/02/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

Alan Gorsuch: Love and Fear 1939-40

War broke out to the sound of air raid sirens. Alan’s parents believed war meant bombing and gas attacks. When a safe haven in Oxfordshire was offered for Alan they were thankful. Alan’s brother, Brian, was evacuated with his school elsewhere, so their family was broken up. Unselfishly they were certain it was the right thing to do putting him above their emotional needs.

Alan was five in 1939 and hadn’t been out of London. Alan’s interminable journey involved crossing London and two hours on a coach to Headington. His new home was Downside Road, on an estate built for Oxford’s motor industry just like Dagenham.

Alan wasn’t welcomed in his new school. Oxford was insular and he was ‘alien’. Alan’s first experience of school included consistent bullying. Although ‘Auntie Hilda’ was lovely he had severe challenges each day, which he had to cope with. Being five he wasn’t always successful especially during the night. Almost unimaginably Alan was completely cut-off from his family. There was no phone and being five he couldn’t communicate his feelings to his mother by letter.

Alan returned to Dagenham in 1940. The eight month ‘Phony War’ was ending but they didn’t know that then. Unsurprisingly Alan’s parents took the view they’d been suffering unnecessarily. He returned as the Blitz began. His mum kept him in the house till the war ended. Love conquered fear.

Once home in Becontree Avenue Alan thrived. He went to Stevens Road school. Like most people in Dagenham he spent considerable periods of time in Anderson shelters between 1940 and 1943 and, after the war, in 1946, he entered Ilford County High School.

Source
Alan and I have sat next to each other at Dagenham & Redbridge FC for quite a few years. He is absolutely impressive and I’m delighted to have written this biographical fragment, which has been done with his help.
Other Sources
For memories of Headington see http://www.headington.org.uk/history/reminiscences/index.htm
For a general history http://www.headington.org.uk/history/timeline_briefhistory/briefhistory.htm
For the phony war September 1939-March 1940 see https://www.britannica.com/event/Phony-War
For Chadwell Heath’s history see https://www.francisfrith.com/chadwell-heath/memories

Damian White and the Covid-19 Challenge

The government is sending mixed messages but they’re at least sending a message. Matt Hancock knows he’s mouthing words, whilst Dominic Raab has the rigid steely eyed look of someone mainlining on class A drugs, ready for an ordeal. Here in Havering Damian is bunkered down. It’s difficult to know why. All he has to answer are simple technical questions and here are a few.

Havering’s finances have taken a tremendous hit: but how big a hit? Damian’s infamous 2019 car parking charge increases were ‘essential’ and now that’s all disappeared. How much per month has gone over the Covid-19 cliff face? What’s the nature of the contract with those enforcing car parking? Are there break-clauses and if there aren’t, has the workforce been furloughed? Sunak, the chancellor, has made large with taxpayers’ money, so why can’t we have some to fill gaps in our finances?*

Obviously the council finances need to be strengthened after Covid-19. Is the Freedom Pass part of Damian’s calculations? It costs £7 million and would repair some damage. If that’s too toxic for the Harold Wood 3, does Damian have any viable suggestions?

Damian is thin skinned and believes any criticism is hostile, but he’s going to have to mature. Covid-19’s a unique situation and he needs to carry the borough with him. Sunak’s solution is virtually communist. He’s currently employing 50%+ of the British population, albeit for a limited period. Damian should listen to constructive criticism. Some of us have the well being of Havering at heart.

* The token gesture he made to the council is pitiful in relation to the savaging that has been handed out during the years of austerity.

Nine International Airmen Buried in Hornchurch


Russell Norris Langley, Canadian and A Spitfire pilot from Czechoslovakia

Hornchurch airfield was crucial in the defences of London during the Second World War. Many airmen sacrificed their lives and these foreign volunteers are buried in the Commonwealth War Graves section of the Hornchurch cemetery. They fought and died fighting for freedom with the RAF.

After Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis in 1939, many Czech pilots escaped with their aircraft to France. After France fell in spring 1940, they came to Britain and joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve. There were about 88 airmen in the RAF, two of whom are buried in the Hornchurch Cemetery War Graves section.

Blazej Konvalina was aged 23 when he died in January, 1942 in a flying accident at Purfleet.
Josef Valenta died during take-off at Hornchurch in January, 1942.

The Czechs wanted to continue the war against Hitler but New Zealanders fought because Britain was the Mother Country. They felt British and so our war was their war. New Zealand contributed seven squadrons to the RAF as well as 135 airmen. They have three men in Hornchurch cemetery.

Samuel David Earwalker was aged 26. His Spitfire plunged to the ground at Chelmsford in January, 1943.
Erl Joseph Kean was aged 33. He was shot down near Maidstone in April, 1941 by a Bf109 whilst on patrol.
Francis MacKay Laing was aged 29. After combat, he was returning to base and crashed near Hawkinge in July, 1941.

Like the New Zealanders, Canada was also motivated by being part of the Empire. They became the fourth largest air force in the war. Canadians suffered tremendous losses in bombing raids over Germany and they contributed to every aspect of the air campaign. There is one Canadian buried in Hornchurch cemetery.

Russell Norris Langley was aged 24. He died in a crash but I couldn’t find out where, though the date is February, 1942.

The sole South African buried in Hornchurch had lived in England for an extended period of time. He was a university student of mining, which is appropriate as he came from the Transvaal, the South African centre of gold mining. He was a member of what Churchill called The Few. Volunteers from RAF Hornchurch tend the graves of The Few.
Claude Waller Goldsmith was aged 23. He was shot down by a German Me 109 over Maidstone in October, 1940.

Another man with a connexion to Britain, even though having a different nationality, was an Argentinian. He had British parents and was born in Rosario.

Thomas Wilton Smith was aged 24. He came to Britain in 1940 and died of his injuries in Chelmsford in December, 1943.

The American, Raimund Sanders Draper, joined the RAF via Canada. It isn’t illegal for Americans to fight for foreign countries as long as they don’t fight against the USA, but it shows tremendous commitment.

Raimund Sanders Draper was aged 29. He died when his Spitfire had catastrophic engine failure on take-off. He saved the lives of children at Suttons Senior school,
“At 10.45 am an aircraft crashed on the playing field, the main parts being ricocheted onto the drive, fragments breaking a total of 9 windows in three classrooms. Splinters from the ‘plane scored the wall and injured the playing field and shrubbery. Richard Burton received a cut on the leg from flying glass needing medical attention and five boys were treated from primary shock. The boy with the injured leg was conveyed to his home by ambulance, under Dr. Heath’s orders. School was evacuated to shelter for 15 minutes owing to probability of danger from fire and exploding ammunition. By 11.15 am the school had resumed normal work.”*
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raimund_Sanders_Draper

Sources
For foreign airmen in the RAF see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-British_personnel_in_the_RAF_during_the_Battle_of_Britain
For the Royal Canadian Air Force see https://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/chrono/1931rcaf_e.html
For the Royal New Zealand Air Force see http://www.airforce.mil.nz/about-us/who-we-are/history/wwii.htm
For a very interesting review of the Czech Air Force in WW2 see https://fcafa.com/2014/09/18/a-short-history-of-the-czechoslovak-air-force-in-ww2-and-the-post-war-period/
http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/122_wwII.html

Sources for local history
For a very good overview see https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:RAF_Hornchurch
and http://www.beyondthepoint.co.uk/property/raf-hornchurch/#1511813767070-0eecaf5b-59db
For the inter-war era see https://www.rafhornchurch.com/history/inter-war-years/
and for the conservation status of the area see https://www.havering.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/1970/lbhlp47_raf_hornchurch_conservation_area_appraisal.pdf pp8-9
For photographs see https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=raf+hornchurch+photos&sa=X&biw=1460&bih=761&sxsrf=ALeKk000RTv9AmmxjMcUJwRGdMPmJqBmuQ:1586451685367&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=Tywuxcbje7vdsM%253A%252CPpSGvSfmqAI2zM%252C_&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kRLF1tKIM4sickAQk945tMdVramwA&ved=2ahUKEwjVlKOJ6dvoAhXKasAKHRJ2BMoQ9QEwBHoECAoQHw#imgrc=Tywuxcbje7vdsM:
For a brilliant interactive map see http://www.rafhornchurch.thehumanjourney.net/map.htm
After the war the site was used for gravel winning see https://www.rafhornchurch.com/history/life-after-the-airfield/

Special thanks to Tony Philpot, chair of HAHT for his kind assistance
.

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

Sanders School, Hornchurch: renamed in an act of disrespect

Introduction

Raimund Sanders Draper was an American volunteer who flew Spitfires in the Second World War and on the 24th March, 1943 he crashed landed. His plane developed catastrophic engine failure immediately after take-off. In his direct flight path were two schools with hundreds of children in them. He made an instantaneous decision to sacrifice his life and save theirs. In 1973, Suttons Secondary School was renamed Sanders Draper School to honour his memory. Forty years later the school was renamed Sanders school. This was deeply resented in the community as an act of disrespect.

Discussion
Sanders Draper was an under-performing school in 2013. Headteacher, John McEachern, decided that renaming the school would improve achievement. He believed the name ‘Sanders Draper’ was synonymous with failure. It’s difficult to understand his reasoning. To lift achievement by a name change seems unlikely at best. It might work for soap powder but educational achievement is complex and multi-faceted. Yet he did believe it and he persuaded the governors to change the name despite voracious opposition. The outcome?

John McEachern’s leadership led to a reduction of achievement based on expectations from primary school evidence. (see Addendum: 1 and 2) The adjacent Suttons primary school is rated ‘good’ by OFSTED, which further highlights his disappointing leadership.

John McEachern and the governors had a tragic lack of self-awareness. They were blind to their failure, which caused mediocre achievement. Instead, they engineered a puerile quick fix and a pointless provocation to a community proud of their history. They were replaced in 2017.

Conclusion
Sanders school is now part of SFAET, an academy trust.

Addendum: OFSTED reports
(1) “Students join the school with attainment which is broadly average. The group of students who took their examinations in 2013 unusually had above average attainment on entry. Although the proportion achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and mathematics improved and was above the national average, the progress made by these students was less than average.” 2014 OFSTED Report p6

(2) “Pupils attained standards at least in line with the overall national averages in GCSE examinations. However, variations between groups of pupils, including the most able, the most able disadvantaged and disadvantaged boys, and between subjects, meant that overall improvements in outcomes were modest.”* 2017 OFSTED Report p6
* ‘modest’ means non-existent.
Sources
For the name change see https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/education/anger-at-disrespectful-name-change-of-hornchurch-school-named-after-hero-pilot-sanders-draper-1-3545992 See also https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2603118/Anger-school-named-heroic-Spitfire-pilot-sacrificed-save-hundreds-pupils-changes-name.html
For the 2013 OFSTED Report see https://files.ofsted.gov.uk/v1/file/2193029
For the 2014 OFSTED Report see https://files.ofsted.gov.uk/v1/file/2430137 especially p6
For the 2017 OFSTED Report see https://files.ofsted.gov.uk/v1/file/2676415 especially p6
For the current government performance analysis see https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/school/146309/sanders-school/secondary
For the first OFSTED Report (2018) after the resignation of John McEachern see https://files.ofsted.gov.uk/v1/file/2772447