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.

Havering’s Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee, 21st July, 2021

Havering’s councillors are getting livelier. All five councillors, who were present, spoke. The energetic Darren Wise and Michael Deon Burton made five contributions each. Michael tends to be more conversational than Darren but, let’s not quibble. Darren set the Gold Standard. His first query cited a page reference (p39: appendix ‘A’ if you’re interested). There were also contributions from councillors Carole Beth and Matt Sutton along with the Chair, which is sort-of-obligatory so isn’t noteworthy. Nic Dodin was absent and I don’t think he was missed.

Item 7 was interesting. The funding of LBH’s traffic schemes turns out to be complex. There haven’t been any schemes completed since May because of funding issues with Transport for London. They in their turn can’t approve anything because the funding stream from the government has dried up. So LBH have green lighted injury reduction schemes and they can’t commence. Darren was disappointed that his pet scheme in Cambourne Avenue has failed at this funding hurdle. Interestingly no-one complained about this new wave Austerity programme which has been introduced by stealth.

There was a similar sub-text to the Rainham Creek item, Item 8. On this occasion it was the Environment Agency who haven’t coughed up. There will be a Topic Group on this issue, which will start after contractors have costed the clean up and remediation works. The wider point about flooding in the borough was touched on by the Chair, Carole, who described her personal experiences of flooding, and Darren.

Zoom continues its challenge. I don’t understand why senior officers were presenting items from home and in one case from her garden. The presentation of supporting documents was abysmal. Surely if councillors can attend in person so can officers.

Note

For the agenda see (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Environment Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee, 21/07/2021 19:00 (havering.gov.uk)

Havering’s RAF Hornchurch Heritage Centre

Sometimes in life you work long and hard and fail. The dedicated volunteers who’ve created Havering’s RAF museum have no worries. They’ve triumphed.

RAF Hornchurch was at the epicentre of the Battle of Britain. The street names in the area memorialise their heroic deeds and two schools have been named to celebrate their victory.1 But there was no museum to gather together every facet of RAF Hornchurch.

The museum is organised around ten themes, each with their dedicated space. Because this was a labour of love, the volunteers went the extra mile to curate the collection. A stellar example was tracking down the uniforms of Wing Commander Finucane in Room 2. They were unseen and unloved in a professional museum until they were rescued and given a prominent display cabinet.

Room 5 tells the story of Sanders Draper who heroically saved hundreds of children’s lives by sacrificing his own when his Spitfire had catastrophic engine failure. As of September 2021, the local academy will revert to his name after the dismal decision to delete it a few years ago.

Room 6, The Home Front Room is richly evocative and filled with the everyday aspects of civilian lives. There are memoirs, with photographs, which cumulatively add up to a rare and wonderful insight into what that generation had to put with.

I spent about an hour in the museum but feel I only touched the surface. The volunteer guides are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.

There’s a small car park and an entry fee of £5. If you sense that you’ll be returning, and I will, then the £20 annual membership fee is a bargain. The museum is staffed by volunteers and is open each Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. till 4 p.m.

Note

1 R J Mitchell Junior School and the Sanders Draper Academy

Havering’s Crime and Disorder Committee, 5th August 2021

Take a bow councillors Sally Miller, John Tyler, Philippa Crowder and Michael Deon Burton. They made the Overview and Scrutiny system work.1 Interestingly they were present in the chamber unlike silent Zoom councillors.

Item 5 was an update on a £5 million CCTV capital programme. John Tyler, supported by the chair, Sally Miller, expressed his incredulity. They were outraged by incompetent decision-making, which authorised a £5 million expenditure, without detailed costs. This is ‘wish and a prayer’ procurement. The incompetent culprits are Councillors Viddy Persaud and Roger Ramsey who are, respectively, Public Safety and Finance cabinet members.

The principal officer struggled to defend this fiasco. Heroically she said the £5 million budget couldn’t be exceeded. She acknowledged a Chinese factory fire had created a world-wide shortage of microchips, but, no worries, other suppliers would fill the gap. This left the programme in tatters, as Tyler noted.

She thought that about 350 cameras were needed but it might fewer. The number was being driven by costs. Deon Burton said Havering needed mobile units to combat fly-tipping. He also asked about competitive tendering. This was an unintentional trick question because local authority CCTV is a quasi-monopoly. Consultant fees were questioned but the committee were hurried past as they are an unmentionable cost.

The chair is dubious about the £5 million. Perhaps Councillors Persaud and Ramsey could explain why they authorised a £5 million expenditure without any detailed costs to the committee?2 £5 million? Why not £4 million? Whether it’s value-for-money at all wasn’t asked.

Notes

1 For the webcast go to Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) This section begins at 20 minutes for about 20 minutes

2 No cabinet member has ever appeared before an Overview and Scrutiny committee to be questioned about their policy decision-making. So this would be a significant event.

Havering and the East London Waste Authority

Bin collections and politics are strangely linked in the East London Waste Authority (ELWA). ELWA is a four borough group.1 The bin and ‘paid-for’ green waste collection is faultless but that’s where excellence ends.

Recycling

Recycling is organised as a weekly orange sack and bin collection. There are also bottle banks, to which you have to travel and Gerpins Lane for bigger items. ELWA’s recycling statistics are ghastly with them coming 327th out of of 341 local authorities.2 This seemed unbelievable so I researched it. Havering is cemented into ELWA with three albatrosses.

Havering accounts for 52.2% of ELWA’s total.3

 

Financial Engineering

ELWA’s financial officers produced a huge, impenetrable document for the councillors. The officers engineered a short-term ‘solution’ to meet the challenges that the local authorities are under. Unfortunately it’s very expensive. “This report proposes a decrease of 29.52% in the 2021/22 levy, which is significantly lower than the 4.59% forecast increase reported in February 2020.”4 That’s a 34.11% decrease on the budgeted levy. “The consequence of the one-off significant decrease in 2021/22 is an increase in the following year of 51.72%. These movements equate to an increase over the two-year period from 2020/21 to 2022/23 of 6.93%.4 Reducing budget pressure looks like a great idea but, “this could provoke a referendum on Council Tax…”5 A referendum would be politically embarrassing and hugely expensive.

Needless to relate they ignored this severe warning and agreed to the 29.52% decrease. ELWA is a political organisation run by councillors who don’t know what they’re doing.6

Notes

1 Havering with Barking and Dagenham, Newham and Redbridge. Osman Dervish and Robert Benham are Havering’s nominees.

2 2019/20 overall performance – letsrecycle.com ELWA comes 327th out of 341

3 08.02.2021-ELWA-Authority-Agenda-Pack-Public.pdf (eastlondonwaste.gov.uk) p165

4 ibid p100

5 ibid p110

6 Despite the well flagged challenges councillors agreed this action Authority-Agenda-Pack-25.06.21-FINAL-open.pdf (eastlondonwaste.gov.uk) Minutes pp9-10

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 Concrete Barges: relics of World War Two

In 1986 Correlli Barnett wrote The Audit of War. he believed that war speeds up innovation. Obviously not every innovation is successful and some look ridiculous in the cold light of day.1 Barnett’s said the stresses of war creates an atmosphere where creative people can ‘think the unthinkable’ and they get an influential audience. Havering’s concrete barges, which are rotting adjacent to the Rainham Riverside Thames path are a wonderful example of bizarre innovation.They are the remains of concrete, iron rod-enforced ships from World War II. Despite appearances, they are lighter than the water they displace, and so can float.”2

Concrete barges at Rainham Riverside

The Americans developed concrete ships but ours’ were barges meant to transport material across the Channel for D-Day. They were invented to overcome a dangerous shortages of steel, which was used for strategically important munitions.

The Rainham Riverside walk starts at a small car park and the concrete barges are adjacent on the edge of the Thames. These 16 historical curiosities are part of Havering’s heritage. If you continue walking eastwards (towards QE2 bridge) you reach the RSPB reserve, which has a visitor’s centre, cafe and fascinating wildlife with accessible paths and viewing points.3 This is an easy walk but there aren’t many benches.

Notes

1 An aircraft carrier made from a mixture of wood pulp and ice is certainly innovative but??? See Project Habakkuk – Wikipedia

2 See Thames History at Rainham (londonriversidebid.co.uk) See also the excellent blog Rainham Marsh Concrete Barges – Beyond the Point and also 16 Ships Made Of Concrete, Hiding In The Thames | Londonist

3 untitled (rspb.org.uk) This shows you the circular walks which are available

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)