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)

Damian White’s Dereliction of Duty

Background

Havering’s Health and Wellbeing Board is a high powered forum for the Council, the NHS, local GPs and the Council’s directors to discuss the ramifications of the pandemic.1 The 28th April meeting included GPs who offered expertise despite not being full members of the Board.

Discussion

There have been eight meetings of the Board since the pandemic struck. Damian White has attended only two. The pandemic has been catastrophic for Havering, killing nearly a thousand residents. The Board discuss the ramifications of Covid-19 some of which are, as yet, unknown.

At the 28th April meeting, which Damian didn’t attend,2 there was a discussion of Long Covid. This illness is new and not yet understood. At its worst, it’s catastrophic and could be incurable. Neither Havering’s director of Public Health or the NHS know the scale of Long Covid. They know it’s emerging as a medical and social challenge.

Apart from the chair, Jason Frost, none of the other councillors were present. None of them offered apologies. They appear to treat this critically important forum as trivial. The worst offender is Damian White3. His behaviour is a disgraceful dereliction of duty. There should be a vote of ‘No Confidence’ from his own party or they will suffer the consequences.

Addendum One: Membership of the Board

Elected Members: Cllr Robert Benham, Cllr Jason Frost, (Chairman) Cllr Damian White, Cllr Nisha Patel.

Officers of the Council: Andrew Blake-Herbert, Chief Executive, Barbara Nicholls, Director of Adult Services, Mark Ansell, Interim Director of Public Health

Havering Clinical Commissioning Group: Dr Atul Aggarwal, Chair, Havering Clinical Commissioning Group, (CCG) Ceri Jacob, BHR CCG

Other Organisations: Anne-Marie Dean, Healthwatch Havering, Jacqui Van Rossum, NELFT and Fiona Peskett, BHRUT

Addendum Two: Board meeting 23rd June 2021

All four councillors attended this meeting for the first time since the 21st October 2020. Damian went off camera at 41 minutes and didn’t reappear and was silent during the period he was there.

1 These are the Minutes of the most recent meeting 28th April 2021 For enquiries on this agenda please contact (havering.gov.uk)

2 Neither did Robert Benham, deputy Leader, or Nisha Patel. None of them offered apologies to the chair, Jason Frost. Nisha Patel has missed three meetings out of eight (two without apologies).

3 See Damian White and Havering’s Pandemic – Politics in Havering

Havering’s Health and Wellbeing Board: 28th April, 2021

Jason Frost is an effective chair. He’d clearly read the agenda1, understood it and engaged so that he could lead the discussions. Given the importance of the business, an effective chair is vital.

Almost immediately the issue of sharing data came up. This was to be a recurring theme as suspension of data protection was implied. There are special procedures in place for the period of the pandemic about data sharing.

Jason immediately understood that the current emergency Covid strategies are expensive – but underwritten by the government- and likely to become permanent. He hoped that they could become part of the environmental officers’ brief, presumably to save money, but that was shown to be an improbable suggestion.

The challenges of Covid extend to Long Covid. The scale isn’t known but it’s a certainty. As there’s no cure, provision will have to be made to protect those suffering from it. Havering and the NHS will have to work closely together to meet this challenge.

A gloomy note was hit when the director of public health pointed out that Covid will be here for an extended period. Any surge would have to be met by stringent local actions, or, at worst, further lockdowns.

Addendum: Falsified Minutes

Damian White didn’t attend, yet again. In the minutes2 it says that he and two other councillors offered apologies. Viewing the webcast3 you’ll see they didn’t apologise for their absence. This pathetic falsification is childish corruption and deeply worrying in this critical period in Havering’s history. Let’s not forget the entire agenda was discussing the ramifications of a pandemic, which has killed 921 Havering citizens.

Notes

1 For the Agenda see (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Health & Wellbeing Board, 28/04/2021 13:00 (havering.gov.uk)

2 For enquiries on this agenda please contact (havering.gov.uk)

3 Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) Go to start point 2 minutes 55 seconds for announcement of apologies beginning with the chair and then the clerk: about 10 seconds altogether.

Damian White and Havering’s Pandemic

Havering was ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, which killed nearly a thousand people and hospitalised thousands more. The Health and Wellbeing Board is the forum for discussing such things calmly with experts. There were three meetings of the Board, at the height of the pandemic, between January and March 2021. The Board has four senior councillors, and health professionals.1 Damian White, Leader of the Council, his deputy Robert Benham, Jason Frost, chair of the Board and Nisha Patel are the four councillors.

There are monthly meetings, so information is always up-to-date. Reading the minutes of the Board is interesting.

Damian loves publicity. Whilst Havering was being ravaged, he appeared on TV on numerous occasions. He presented Havering’s response well and convincingly. He’s also done dozens of Leaders’ blogs during the period, which were informative and helpful. But was it sincere or just a PR exercise, flashy without substance?

The three meetings of the Health and Wellbeing Board were attended by everyone except Damian.2 He attended none of them. So what’s going on?

If there’s a plausible explanation for this dereliction of duty, I look forward to hearing it.

Notes

1 Minutes Template (havering.gov.uk) This Board is very high powered and includes Havering’s CEO who hasn’t missed a meeting.

2 On the 24th February 2021 he didn’t even offer apologies for absence.

Havering and the GLA Election, 2021

Damian White wept when he saw the results. Havering produced rock solid Conservative majorities whilst he struggles with a minority administration. A short political history lesson will explain why he’s suffering.

Fifty years ago, Jack Moultrie was the Conservative Leader of Havering Council who was dismissive of an Upminster housewife. Tragic error! That woman was the late, great Louise Sinclair. She despised the Romford-centric policies Jack embraced. He offered scraps from the table. She wanted more, much more.

Her formidable talents as an organiser and networker turbocharged the Residents’ Association (RA) movement. They fought and won elections in Upminster and Cranham. When Roger Ramsey was Leader in the 1980s, Upminster was nearly a Conservative no-go area. By 1990 it was. That feud shaped Havering’s politics so there would more-or-less be minority administrations. The RAs moved out of their heartlands taking over most of Hornchurch and south Havering.

To keep power, Damian has to do deals with RAs in one way or another.

Meanwhile the GLA election. ‘Tribal’ Conservative voters ignored the Gallows Corner disaster. Notwithstanding pre-election promises, I’m not holding my breath on that one. Shaun Bailey trounced Sadik Khan 51%-29%. His FaceBook campaign suggested there was lawlessness raging from Cranham to Heathrow. His grip on local government finance is strictly Ladybird and doesn’t inspire confidence. Another reason for Damian to weep.

Louise Sinclair changed Havering’s politics in the 1980s. She knew Jack Moultrie’s plan to turn Romford into central London was ridiculous. Louise knew what local politics means, good housekeeping and aspirations. We’ve got the housekeeping. Where, oh where, is the aspiration?

Damian White’s Political Arithmetic

Damian is a politician, which is a precarious job. In 2018, he finessed a brilliant coup.1 Building on his Romford heartlands he’s maintained a minority administration ever since. Now it’s unravelling.

Michael Deon Burton (South Hornchurch) 48 hours after being elected a Residents’ Association (RA) councillor he joined Damian’s Conservatives, seizing his baubles. His chances in 2022 are nil.

Sally Miller (Elm Park) An RA convert to Damian’s Conservatism. Her Elm Park seat will be RA again after she abandons it.

John Mylod (St Andrew’s) Left his RA group immediately before the 2018 election after a row. He retained it on a personal vote. This seat will probably revert to the RAs.

The Harold Wood Three They discovered the joys of Damian’s baubles but stayed in the RAs. I think they’ll lose in 2022. It’s problematic who’ll win with multiple candidates.

Damian’s arithmetic = minus six?

Damian might win six seats. Rainham is unlikely but South Hornchurch is a lottery with poor RA councillors leaving a poisoned legacy. Beam Park is an unknown and it’s only two seats. New wards in Romford are competitive and Damian can’t take them for granted. He might lose. RA heartlands are as safe as Romford and so the bizarre world of Havering politics jogs on.2

The Conservatives need a terrific 2022 Election. If the RAs unite, Damian is looking at an enormous pay-cut.

Notes

1 Havering Council: Damian White gets power, May 2018 – Politics in Havering

2 The Bizarre World of Hornchurch and Upminster Politics – Politics in Havering

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

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 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.