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 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 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)

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’s Individuals Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committee – 13th April, 2021

This meeting1 discussed findings from Healthwatch Havering. Their report was released as part of a NHS survey: Experiences of disabled North East London residents in the Covid-19 pandemic.2

The questionnaire was too long. For example Q2 was sub-divided into six parts whilst Q12 was sub-divided into eleven parts. The document was formidably long at 26 pages. The additional questionnaire for carers was 25 pages long. Ian Buckmaster faced an impossible task summarising the findings accurately. (4-32 mins)

GP services were challenging for disabled residents (13-16). Harrowing anecdotes were told of lengthy delays hanging on the phone. GP websites were problematic and Ian Buckmaster said they could be in breach of NHS contracts.

The chair Christine Smith guided the meeting successfully. The only bleak spot was David Durant (see especially 47-9) who holds his prejudices uncritically. Trivialities like plausible information doesn’t deflect him. The chair used personal knowledge to rebut him. It didn’t make any difference. Too many councillors were silent apart from Jan Sargent and John Tyler.

The report was noted. Recommendations to the cabinet member Jason Frost should have been made. GP services impacts everybody as John Tyler hinted. Havering Council could, perhaps, broker a deal with the NHS and GP services in this critical area.

Notes

1 Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) All timings refer to this webinar

2 (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Individuals Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee, 13/04/2021 19:00 (havering.gov.uk)

Havering Council Meeting 3rd March, 2021: Budget Setting

Taxes Are What We Pay for Civilized Society1

Damian White (Con)2 Damian did entry level bragging about his ‘leadership’ skills. He said other councillors should watch and learn. He discussed the 2020 RA’s budget proposals in a failed political demolition job. Rainham’s flooding problems can be resolved, he claimed. All that’s needed are gutter cleaners when heavy rain is forecast: well good luck with that. The Covid-19 victims (880) are to be memorialised with tree planting. (30)

Ray Morgon (RA) There was a sharp change in intellectual climate with Ray’s speech. It began with a macro-economic survey and Havering. Covid-19 and Brexit are seen as current negatives. He worried about deskilling senior management and was sceptical of performance indicators. The quality of building work in South Hornchurch was highlighted. The £17 million of efficiency savings were probably a negative for quality. (51)

Chris Wilkins (RA) Chris added little to Ray’s speech. (1:07)

Jeff Tucker (RA) Jeff’s speech was a job application. If the Harold Wood 3 perish next year he’ll be ready! Otherwise it was incoherent drivel. (1:20)

Keith Darvill (Lab) Keith did a forensic survey of the budget, citing page numbers and showing unique command of detail. He said Havering’s challenges began in 2010 being deliberately inflicted by central government. Adult social care is demand led and the entire 3% council tax increase for this is probably insufficient. The additional Covid responsibilities are only partially funded, inflicting yet more council tax pain. (1:39)

Martin Goode (RA) Martin slavishly follows Damian. (1:50)

Roger Ramsey (Con) Roger did a masterclass. Quick, articulate and in command of his material, he shone like a beacon of talent. A political knee-capping job on Keith, Tony Blair and Sadiq Khan showed Damian how to do it. Roger could have increased council tax by a further half million pounds. That he didn’t is economically illiterate because Roger is unashamedly political in everything he does. No posturing, just steel. (1:53)

The next five speeches were generic, which went along these lines: 1) Covid has caused significant problems; 2) I’m wonderful; 3) My staff are hard-working; 4) We’ve had tremendous successes; 5) The RAs are awful except for; 6) Jeff Tucker.

Jason Frost (Con) (2:03)

Osman Dervish (Con) (2:12)

Robert Benham (Con) (2:22)

Viddy Persaud (Con) (2:33)

Joshua Chapman (Con) Of the five cabinet generic contributions, this was the best. (2:44)

After an hour of cabinet reports, opposition members were permitted to speak. They’d waited two hours fifty-two minutes for the opportunity. Damian dodged accountability with his cynical manipulation of the speakers’ roster. It was an abuse of elected members who wished to speak for their communities.

Denis O’Flynn (Lab) Denis is a politician to his fingertips and has had a long and distinguished career. He brilliantly refuted Roger’s history lessons about why Havering is in dire straits. The recalibration caused by the collapse of Poll Tax meant that from 1991 Havering was doomed to under-funding. He brushed off the cheap points Benham made. (2:52)

Ron Ower (RA) Ron did a terrific job, especially focusing on the capital receipts programme of the next five years. He was sceptical of its achievement – probably rightly. The massive IT programme of £34 million seemed to be under-scrutinised, whilst the Adult Services budget was optimistic. (2:56)

Michael Deon Burton (Con) Mimicked the cabinet members. (3:00)

David Durant (RA) Repeated his well-known views on Covid. He made an important point about the ‘floods officer’ who left after allegedly being down graded. Perhaps he knows ‘cleaning gutters’ isn’t a viable response to endemic flooding? Worse, perhaps he said so? (3:04)

Gillian Ford (RA) Gillian is a class act and has a calm speaking voice. She riled at Damian’s cheap point scoring about the lack of an alternative RA budget. She made telling points about system failures. The wrecking of the Overview and Scrutiny committees and cancellation of meetings meant that the administration basically gets a free ride. The ‘Pitch and Putt’ sale rumbles on with the administration increasingly looking as if they’ve under-estimated the Upminster RAs (3:08)

Barry Mugglestone (RA) Barry made a quick point about cancelled council meetings (3:11)

Damian White (Con) Damian appeared to be speaking from an illegal bar with Union Jack bunting and a dart board behind him. His ‘summary’ was a hysterical rant entirely lacking intellectual content. Was he ‘tired and emotional’? (3:12)

Dilip Patel (Con) Dilip murdered the National Anthem. Judith Holt (Con) should take up the baton as she’s a chorister. (3:19)

Damian’s phalanx of poor cabinet speakers lacked fluency and couldn’t sight read ‘their’ speeches. Roger Ramsey, Ray Morgon and Keith Darvill stood out, meeting the demands of the occasion. Others ranged from a blizzard of statistics (Frost), a jog-trot round parks (Dervish), 900 laptops for deprived children (Benham) and various self-congratulatory remarks.

This was an opportunity to demonstrate the Conservative administration fully understands the challenges of Covid, Brexit and seismic changes in working practices in Havering. It was missed.

Addendum Times are in brackets in bold: (53) means the speech began 53 minutes into the webcast. This is the webcast link Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com)

Notes

1 This is engraved on the Inland Revenue Building in Washington, DC

2 Con = Conservative; RA = Resident Association; Lab = Labour

Dagnam Park Football Pitches: ‘Penny pinching gone mad’

Havering’s Conservatives got a huge capital receipt and then subverted a statutory 106 notice. They did this by building two football pitches in Dagnam Park without changing rooms. Naturally they weren’t used and the pitches was closed because of ‘lack of use.’ It’s a grim tale of outlandish decision-making destroying every precept of local government.1

The two football pitches were built to the exacting standards of Sports England. “Whilst the combination of re-grading and installation of pipe drains on the proposed pitch areas will provide a good standard of playing surface, ongoing management will play an equally important role in sustaining their playability during the winter months.2 (my emphasis)

The pitches were engineered for winter use. Expensive drainage, ground management, re-profiling of the ‘slope’, were essential and cost £100,000+.3 They were a sop to Sports England. The council had no intention of the pitches being used.

These pitches are for winter use. There’s no changing room facilities or car parking. They’re unusable for adult football. Adults don’t rent pitches, change in the open air and pop behind a bush to ‘spend a penny’. Having no changing rooms adjacent to football pitches is equivalent to building a house without a bathroom and toilet.

The pitches were, unsurprisingly, unloved and two years ago were abandoned, because no-one was renting them. The remains are two areas of land, immaculately drained, standing in a soggy wilderness. The Council got a huge capital receipt and successfully evaded their responsibilities for replacing like with like. In brief, they decided it was better to waste £100,000+ to get Sports England off their back rather than do the job correctly. Cynical politics at its worse.4

1 For details see Sports facilities May 2012 (friendsofdagnampark.org.uk) For a 106 notice see What Is A Section 106 Agreement?  | Kingsley Smith Solicitors (kslaw.co.uk)

2 For details see London Borough of Havering 160512 JW (friendsofdagnampark.org.uk) See especially pp5-6, p12

3 See a very informed letter by Dennis Cook in the Romford Recorder Romford Recorder, 1 March 2019, readers’ letters: Dagnam Park football pitches, parking spaces, Upminster Pitch and Putt, me… | Romford Recorder

4 Achieve a healthy weight | The London Borough Of Havering This policy is empty rhetoric as it doesn’t influence decision-making.

Flooding and Rainham Councillors

In theory councillors represent their local communities. Councillors should resolve local problems by mediating with the council administration. Political considerations sometimes intercede, such as when the allocation of resources has to be prioritised. Less honourably, personality clashes between councillors also matter. Some councillors are more capable than others at negotiating. Rainham councillors are a case in point.

Rainham has been a Residents’ Association (RA) stronghold since 2002. Jeff Tucker, the leader of Rainham RAs, has been a councillor for nineteen years. The 2018 election result showed the gap narrowing between the RAs and the rest.1 Why?

Jeff’s two RA colleagues aren’t impressive. Neither of them live in Rainham and aren’t part of the community. Tony Durdin had a 29% Council attendance record,2 which is abysmal. David Durant is a let-down in a different way. At a recent council meeting his vaccine scepticism about Covid-19 was discussed. He persuaded Jeff to endorse an amendment. Jeff proposed it but it was so ridiculous he voted against.3 This made him look ludicrous. More importantly, he lost credibility with officers and Conservative administration councillors.

Jeff’s colleagues are poor but how good is he? Rainham is beset with flooding.4 Jeff fully understands this major problem but he doesn’t know how to negotiate. The Conservative administration sits on their hands. Flood prevention isn’t rocket science. It just needs investment and Jeff doesn’t know how to unlock the purse strings. Rainham RAs are a clique who no longer serve their community.

1 Local elections | Election results | The London Borough Of Havering

2 Attendance record – Councillor Tony Durdin | The London Borough Of Havering

3 Havering Council Meeting, 20th January, 2021 – Politics in Havering

4 See for 2014 flooding Flooding causes major problems for drivers in Rainham | Romford Recorder

See for flooding in 2019Rainham residents ‘desperate’ after knee-level floods and sandbags unavailable | Romford Recorder

See drone video of 2021 flooding Rainham Dovers corner floods 31/01/21 – YouTube

Havering Councillor: Natasha Summers (South Hornchurch)

South Hornchurch is a Residents’ Association (RA) stronghold. In the old days RA councillors lived in the ward they represented. ‘We share the same experiences as you and we aren’t politicians’. No more. Michael Deon Burton became a Conservative two days after the 2018 election. Graham Williamson has never lived in South Hornchurch. Natasha is the last relic of RA politics-not-politics. (I don’t understand it either.)

Obviously her community work isn’t publicly available. She might be a tireless councillor but her paid public role is unimpressive. Between 19th August, 2020 to 20th January, 2021 she had 62% attendance. ‘Attendance’ during the pandemic means walking across the living-room and turning on her council provided laptop. 

The council’s principal committee is the Overview and Scrutiny board. There were five meetings in the period and Natasha attended two. The Overview and Scrutiny board is where all contentious and strategic items go for discussion. Members have a great deal of work to do to fully understand crucial long term policies.1 Only senior councillors are on the board and their decisions help shape the future of Havering for years to come. Non-attendance is a disgrace.

The RAs in South Hornchurch are trading on decades of hard work by local councillors who have left a wonderful legacy. This legacy is being trashed.

1 See the agenda for 24th November 2020 as a sample (Public Pack)Agenda Document for Overview & Scrutiny Board, 24/11/2020 19:30 (havering.gov.uk)

Source

For Natasha’s attendance record see Attendance record – Councillor Natasha Summers | The London Borough Of Havering