Punishment Beating for Havering, 2010-20

If government achieved local government’s effectiveness, public services would be exemplary. Local government serves the people and is responsive to direct feed-back to its decision-making. Parliament is consumed by hubris and belief in sound-bites.

The last ten years have wrecked the British economy. George Osborne’s response to the 2008 banking crisis was the ‘Age of Austerity’ programme. This exacerbated the dire economic situation and Havering has paid the price ever since. Havering’s government grant has been reduced by more than half since 2010. Austerity forced Damian White and Roger Ramsey to make despicable decisions, punishing the disabled and the most vulnerable.

Blair’s wars, 2003-10, look cheap in comparison to implementing Universal Credit. This was extended to 2023 for an additional £500 million. Johnson’s go-ahead to HS2 is a £100 billion gamble. Trident’s unusable missiles soak up £100 billion and Chris Grayling’s reformed probation service cost £500 million before being binned. Theresa May gave a billion to the DUP for 10 votes in 2017. A billion! Meanwhile no-one knows the cost of Brexit.

Government is an albatross around Havering’s neck. At least Johnson has promised to tackle the ridiculous Council Tax bands. Multi-million mansions will, hopefully, pay a realistic amount. The broad shoulders of house owners in Emerson Park, for example, will take some of the load that the poor suffered in the 2019 Havering budget.

For Afghanistan see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/30/afghanistan-war-cost-britain-37bn-book
For Iraq see https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/blood-and-treasure-costs-iraq-war
For the 2008 banking crisis see https://www.theweek.co.uk/87574/ten-years-on-the-financial-crisis-in-numbers
For the effect of the Age of Austerity on local government see https://www.ft.com/content/9c6b5284-6000-11e7-91a7-502f7ee26895
For Universal Benefit see https://www.computerweekly.com/news/4500248772/Universal-Credit-costs-leap-by-more-than-20-to-158bn
For HS2 see https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/hs2-cost-buy-billion-nhs-education-brexit-a9293021.html

Living in Havering, February 2020: the Wates Residential Edition

February’s ‘Living In Havering’ breaks new ground. Damian White’s photo presence is reduced to ‘only’ six but this isn’t the principal change. ‘Living in Havering’ is sponsored by Wates Residential and reads like a PR newsletter. They completely dominate the magazine. So the obvious question is: did they pay for the entire production and delivery costs?

Wates Residential control the feel of ‘Living in Havering’. They have corner adverts on 13 pages, acknowledgements on the front and back cover and six pages of editorial content. Page three has a ‘promo’ photo facing page two alongside further Wates Residential mentions. Wates Residential’s presence is 24 of 40 pages.

So what? If ‘Living in Havering’ requires sponsorship and Wates Residential demanded a pervasive presence then that’s the price of business on this occasion. But why did Havering need sponsorship? ‘Living in Havering’ issued a special South Havering edition last August. This emptied the budget. Did Havering have to go cap in hand to an important partner? Having begged for sponsorship of ‘Living in Havering’ and then having bowed the knee, did they have to take whatever terms they were offered?

February’s ‘Living in Havering’ is a humiliation for this borough.

Havering’s Car Parking Charges: A Stealth Tax

Havering’s car parking charges controversy concluded at the Council meeting, 22nd January 2020. The 30 minute grace period was irrevocably cancelled. Additionally a root-and-branch review was initiated by Osman Dervish in ‘Living In Havering’, February 2020. The principal question remains however: what is a legitimate use of profits from car parking? This contested issue can only be satisfactorily dealt with by hypothecation.*

The government restrict the use of on-street car parking profits. They state there are three legitimate uses of profits, (1) supporting public transport, (2) highway improvement projects and (3) environmental improvements.** Councils must budget separately when using car parking profits.

Damian White said: “It’s of course never popular to take tough decisions like raising car parking charges but when our residents told us they want our roads, pavements and pools – this was the only way we can fund it.”***

Damian is implementing his party’s ‘Austerity’ programme by using stealth taxes. These are necessary to survive.+ Another tactic was imposing despicable increases in council tax for the disabled and the vulnerable in 2019.

Damian’s car parking charges are a stealth tax as part of his implementation of the government’s Austerity programme. Motorists will see where the profits from the car parking charges are actually spent once the forthcoming budget has to identify the money as a separate item.

* ‘Living in Havering’ p7; hypothecation is an income stream dedicated to a specific programme.
** https://onthewight.com/council-gives-view-legal-use-car-parking-income/
*** https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/councillors-vote-against-free-parking-in-havering-1-6479735 Spending money on ‘pools’ is illegal.
+ https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmtran/writev/parking/m42.htm
See also https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/22/residents-high-court-barnet-council-parking-permit?fbclid=IwAR32BnLrTegPHXiUjDz5QajF-16HDn7vTTZTVqCC8GmskUdwYyuFj3J-NUI
And https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/06/28/councils-make-record-1-billion-parking-charges/
Eric Pickles gave government guidance in 2013 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/eric-pickles-calls-for-more-town-centre-parking-spaces

Havering’s Audit Committee: The £6 million Question

Damian White, Leader of Council, made Martin Goode chair of this committee as a reward. Martin’s four meetings in 2019 lasted three hours 50 minutes, so he isn’t a workaholic.* The Audit Committee is a rubber stamping operation despite its importance.

The 5th September 2019 meeting had a very important report: ‘Annual Treasury Management Report 2018/19’**. It was the centrepiece of the meeting. The report was so complex a glossary was included. The table below is a summary of the outcome for 2018-9 there seems to be an explanatory column missing.
Havering Audit summary docu
Martin’s meeting lasted 80 minutes. If he’d allocated more time he might have queried the ‘missing’ column. The column I think was missing showed how much interest was paid for borrowing and the amount of income received from investments. Let me explain.

Assuming the quoted interest rate is AER*** then:
(1) Borrowings of £240.486M at 3.59% costs Havering £8.633M annually
(2) Investment income on £210.234M at 1.07% earns Havering £2.446M annually
(3) Therefore Roger Ramsey’s borrowing/investment policy loses £6.187M for the people of Havering.

Roger’s policy doesn’t look good unless there’s a technical explanation. Do either Martin or Roger know the cost of retiring debt to take advantage of historically low interest rates? ****

The Treasury Report was one of two major agenda items in Martin’s perfunctory 80 minute meeting. Havering deserves a better, more critically aware Audit Committee than this.

* £7650: Four meetings 30th January- 23rd October 2019 at £2,000 an hour.
** https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/g6207/Public%20reports%20pack%2005th-Sep-2019%2019.00%20Audit%20Committee.pdf?T=10
*** AER means Annual Equivalent Rate
**** loc.cit see especially para 6:1 and 6:2

Havering’s Cabinet: Amateur Hour?

Havering’s cabinet members make policies for the borough. This requires expertise, which they don’t have. Therefore they need training. Training would encourage flexibility where diversity of views are welcomed as an opportunity, rather than seen as a threat. The cabinet’s decision-making shows they don’t understand the necessity of consultation, scrutiny and defending policies against legitimate challenges. A good example is the car parking charges fiasco.

The Romford Recorder* reports Osman Dervish’s 2019 car parking charges decision as one made without consultation with Havering’s high streets traders, or an economic impact study. This decision wasn’t scrutinised by Ray Best’s Town and Communities Overview and Scrutiny committee. The decision is abysmal because Osman made no effort to predict the economic outcome.

Osman’s allowance of £28,000 is reasonable** if, and only if, he’s doing the job. But he isn’t because he doesn’t understand what the job is. He’s an example of Havering’s ‘Amateur Hour’. No cabinet member has ever discussed policies at an Overview and Scrutiny committee. The cabinet gets away with shoddy decision-making because Conservative councillors questioning them are labelled disloyal, which is punishable by loss of allowances.

Until cabinet members are trained, decision-making opportunities will be lost. Both they and the Chairs of Overview and Scrutiny committees need to work harder to improve their expertise in these crucial roles.

* 10th January 2020
** Osman’s a part-time councillor, he also has a councillor allowance of £11,000

Havering’s Overview and Scrutiny Chairs: Damian White’s Cronies Cash In

Only cronies of Damian White and Conservative councillors are chosen as Chair of an Overview and Scrutiny (O&S) committee. There are five O&S Chairs and they’re in cahoots with Damian, preventing the government’s blueprint being implemented. That blueprint envisages O&S committees as a robust critical friend of the Administration.* This role enhances the quality of decision-making. Damian’s view is that O&S committee Chairs need rewarding for loyalty. The committee Chair’s allowance is £14,418 p.a. This is in addition to their councillor’s allowance of £10,208.**

Judith Holt is Chair of Children and Learning. The four meetings she chaired, 27th November 2018 to 9th July 2019 inclusive, lasted 7 hours 35 minutes in total. Judith earned £1902 an hour just for being Chair. (Likewise all other hourly rates below.)

Bob Perry is Chair of Crime and Disorder. Appointed in 2019, he chaired three meetings, 17th July to 30th October 2019 inclusive, which lasted 4 hours 45 minutes. Bob’s served 75% of the year, which is reflected in his handsome £2276 per hour.

Maggie Themistocli is Chair of Environment, appointed in 2019 like Bob. Unlike Bob she’s missed a meeting (3rd December). Her meetings were 31st July and 16th September. Committee time, when present, was 4 hours earning a stunning £2703 per hour.

Christine Smith is Chair of Individuals, appointed in 2019. She’s chaired three meetings, 16th July to 5th December inclusive. Her committee time was 5 hours 5 minutes, earning £2128 per hour.

Ray Best is Chair of Town and Communities, appointed in 2019. He’s chaired three meetings, 11th July and 4th December inclusive. His committee time was 4 hours 30 minutes. Ray’s £2403 per hour is a useful supplement to his pension.

Damian rotates his goody bag keeping everyone loyal and happy. That Johnson’s government regulations are undermined is a casualty to Damian’s greater purpose: retaining power.

* https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/800048/Statutory_Guidance_on_Overview_and_Scrutiny_in_Local_and_Combined_Authorities.pdf

** https://www.havering.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/3185/allowances_paid_to_councillors_and_co-opted_members_2018-19.pdf