Tony Blair created practical democracy with the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. Havering’s Overview and Scrutiny committees are utterly useless but citizens can use Blair’s Act to personally scrutinise the Administration. They may wish to use the information to apply pressure when foolish decisions are made.** There are two examples below but there are endless other possibilities.
(1) The destructive alteration of car parking charges has damaged local shopkeepers who need help, not hindrance. How much did the Administration anticipate raising and, importantly, are they actually raising it? Increasing prices can be counter-productive as people stop using car-parks altogether.
(2) The 2019 budget brought a despicable 67% increase in council tax for the disabled. Cllr. Roger Ramsey intended raising £1.1m but did he? Did council tax arrears criminalise the disabled and in addition create a financial loss? The Administration increased the council tax of the disabled to reduce what everyone else paid. But are Havering’s council tax payers’ callous enough to want to pour yet more misery onto our disabled fellow citizens?
These are possible uses of the Act. Any council activity, except personnel or those subject to data protection, are available to Havering’s citizens. We live in a democracy and to keep it alive we should use the Freedom of Information Act to hold our councillors to account.
* A very good summary is here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_Information_Act_2000
** If you want to make a Freedom of Information request for Havering go to https://www.havering.gov.uk/info/20044/council_data_and_spending/138/freedom_of_information_foi/2
If you don’t get the information required in 21 days you should contact https://www.havering.gov.uk/info/20044/council_data_and_spending/138/freedom_of_information_foi/2
2019 was a vintage year for decisions. They varied between the puerile and OMG.
(1) Damian’s* Death Tax Moment. Havering has the highest charges for cremation in London and he increased them by £5.
(2) Roger’s Despicable Moment. Multi-millionaire Roger Ramsey, finance chief, increased council tax for the disabled by 67%.
(3) Joshua’s Planning Moment. He spent £100,000 on lawyers’ fees. This proved the council owned land on the New Zealand Estate, Rainham but he then decided not to sell it after all.
(4) Robert’s Damascus Moment. He found out his secondary schools are below average.
(5) Osman’s Green Moment. Parking charges were escalated in car loving Havering. He wasn’t applauded.
(6) Viddy’s Johnson Moment. She planned to spend £900,000 renting 5 Met police officers. It didn’t happen but made a good headline.
(7) Jason’s Loyalty Moment. He doesn’t do much apart from agreeing with the others in cabinet. This makes him popular with Damian.
(8) The Cabinet’s Trumpian** Moment. They purchased the Romford Marks and Spencer freehold for £13.25M. If they’d asked Debenhams’ managers, they’d know why the site was (a) available and (b) a bad deal. High street retail is in terminal decline with lots of CVAs*** and downward pressure on rents. M&S is a badly managed company and the chances of collecting headline rent through to 2027 are poor. Meanwhile they’re selling prime land elsewhere in the borough.
* For a list of cabinet members go to https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/mgCommitteeDetails.aspx?ID=153
A politician visited a village in India and asked the what their needs were.
“We have two basic needs, Honourable Sir,” replied the village leader. “Firstly we have a clinic but no doctor….”
On hearing this, the politician brought out his phone and made a lengthy phone call. Looking very pleased with himself he said, “Don’t worry I’ve arranged for a doctor to be here in the morning.”
“…secondly Sir, there is no cellphone reception anywhere in the village.”
Irony of Ironies! Brexit opportunist Damian lost because Farage did a deal with Johnson. The Brexit Party stood against Jon Cruddas and neatly split the vote. Brexit purists think the ‘Oven Ready Johnson Deal’ is a sell-out. Northern Ireland is still in the EU and there’s a new frontier down the Irish Sea. This isn’t a clean break: it’s Theresa May lite.
Brexit no-hoper Tom Bewick got 2,887 votes. His votes would have carried Damian over the line and into parliament. But it wasn’t to be. Now Damian’s faced with a hard slog. His Romford heartlands are under threat from Resident Associations. Population growth will bring political change to Havering as the borough gets younger.
What happened ‘Up North’ could happen in Romford in 2022. It isn’t only Labour heartlands that change and Damian knows it. Unfortunately for him, Romford Conservative Party is a ghetto. Unless he has a powerful sponsor, he’s waiting for Andrew Rosindell to get out of his armoured Range Rover and fall beneath a number 86 bus, otherwise his parliamentary dream is over. Five years of Johnson should cool the ardour of his recent converts, making Dagenham and Rainham even less accessible to the Conservatives.
Dagenham & Rainham results: Labour hold
Jon Cruddas (Labour) – 19,468
Damian White (Conservatives) – 19,175
Tom Bewick (Brexit Party) – 2,887
Sam Fisk (Liberal Democrats) – 1,182
Azzees Minott (Green) – 602
Ron Emin (Independent) – 212
Terry London (Independent) – 209
Majority – 293
Overview and Scrutiny Committees are a legal obligation but in Havering they’re pathetic. The remit is reviewing and analysing cabinet policy decisions. Committees are critical friends* offering an alternative to the ‘Group Think’ that dominates decision-making in political arenas. Obviously councillors should read their papers and be prepared to discuss agendas as well as initiate in-depth research through the ‘topic’ system
The committee has six members. The three Conservatives were absent on the 3rd December. The chair, Maggie Themistocli, neither attended or offered apologies. The meeting began in chaos. Eventually Cllr. Martin Goode stepped into the breach. Needless to relate he was inadequate. He’d missed the previous meeting on 18th September, which contextualises his lacklustre performance. Cllr. Matt Sutton, Conservative, missed the September and December meetings. (Perhaps he’s forgotten he ‘earns’ £196 a week for being a councillor?)
The agenda mattered. Havering’s policies on air pollution for example merited detailed scrutiny. They didn’t get it. Poor housing through multiple households is a scandal but the committee failed to meet the challenges presented. The huge report on School Parking Safety Measures** deserved a meeting to itself. No-one from the Administration was there. The officers must have been in despair.
It would be better if Administration councillors got on with what they are interested in: allowances. If the Conservatives just left the officers to get on with the job unhindered, Havering would have a better time of it.
* When are Overview and Scrutiny Committee going to call cabinet members to meetings to actually discuss policy with them?
Robert has a dilemma. He’s the cabinet member responsible for education* and knows the majority of Havering’s secondary schools are under-achieving. Havering council has no right to intervene in them. That responsibility lies entirely with the government, which is too remote to be ‘hands-on’. Robert’s dilemma is this: he’s a loyal Conservative but he’s also got responsibility for the children of Havering. If he acknowledges this responsibility, he must lobby the government to terminate the contracts with under-performing academy trusts. If he does lobby the government, he denies their belief that academies are better than local authority schools.
Eleven of Havering’s academies have negative ‘added value’. This means the Year 11 group under-achieved the government’s Key Stage 2 predictive outcome. The graphs** show academies with negative added value in 2018 which also under-achieved in 2019.
[NB Gaynes School was in negative added value territory in 2018 but lifted themselves in 2019]
Havering’s Academy Trusts
Two academy trusts are responsible for six of the eleven under-achieving secondary schools in Havering. This is compelling evidence that they’re incapable of improving their students.
(1) Empower Learning Academy Trust – Bower Park Academy, The Brittons Academy and Hall Mead School.
(2) SFAET – Redden Court School, Sanders School and The Royal Liberty School
NB The Brittons Academy and Sanders School are ‘well below average’ in the government statistical analysis.
Robert should show leadership to try to rectify this appalling situation. His party loyalties ought to be buried in his concern for the thousands of students making their way through the eleven schools identified by the government as under-achieving.
* His cabinet title is ‘Education, Children and Families’
** All statistics are taken from the government site https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/schools-by-type?step=default&table=schools®ion=311&la-name=havering&geographic=la&for=secondary
Eight of the eleven made improvements but remain under-achieving, the other three weakened further.
Havering and Redbridge have 18 secondary schools each. This analysis of students’ progress from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4 is based on government statistics.* A positive figure means students have had ‘added value’ from their school: they have improved more than expected from Key Stage 2. A negative figure means students have made less progress than predicted.** Havering is poor in general, whilst Redbridge is outstanding.
The graph combines Havering and Redbridge’s results after five secondary school years.
Havering’s mediocrity is illustrated by Sacred Heart, our highest achieving school, ranked eighth behind seven Redbridge schools. The esteemed Coopers school limps in at 12th in the combined list. ‘Added value’ means students have had their performance enhanced during five years of secondary school. Coopers’ gifted students have very good GCSE results, which would markedly improve if it was ‘well above average’.***
Eleven of Havering schools have negative ‘added value’. Their students are doing worse than predicted by their Key Stage 2 results. The graph shows that the worst of Havering’s eleven schools trail a long way behind in the combined list. Redbridge’s worst school is superior to all of Havering’s worst schools.
Councillor Robert Benham should be lobbying for a reconfiguration of Academy Trusts’ leadership. Failing Trusts should lose their franchise and be replaced by teams who accept the challenges of persistent underachievement by a significant number of schools in Havering.
* For Havering see https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/schools-by-type?step=default&table=schools®ion=311&la-name=havering&geographic=la&for=secondary
For Redbridge see https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk/schools-by-type?step=default&table=schools®ion=317&la-name=redbridge&geographic=la&for=secondary
** A zero figure means the school has made no discernible impact on progress.
*** Woodford County High has a 100% score for English and Mathematics; Ilford County High has 95.8%. Coopers has 76.2%. This is streets ahead of any other school in Havering but isn’t a stellar performance.
Chris and Del