Havering Councillor: Linda Hawthorn (Upminster)

Linda’s been a councillor for thirty years. She’s maintained her position at the top of the polls since 1990.1 She’s the best example of Havering’s bizarre political life.

Upminster is the living heartbeat of outer-London Conservative domination. Julia Lopez’s enormous majority is guaranteed by places like Upminster.2 However if she and Linda went toe-to-toe in a council election she’d be trounced. In local elections the Conservatives are toxic. The Residents’ Association (RA) reign supreme. Why?

There was a political earthquake in Upminster in 1990. A Conservative ‘impregnable’ majority was destroyed by Linda and her two RA colleagues. In 2002 Linda received 4202 votes, an unprecedented result. Linda’s majority was a stunning 3223. In 2018 there wasn’t a single councillor who got 3223 votes.3 She’s been a turbo-charged vote gathering machine for 30 years.

The Conservatives lost an impregnable majority through arrogance. They haven’t learned. The recent sale of the Hall Lane site is entirely typical.4 What made this worse was the foolhardy decision to buy the Marks and Spencer site in Romford.5

Linda’s political career is astonishing. She epitomises RAs in Upminster with her unwavering commitment to defending the area from predatory Romford Conservatives.

Notes

1 Historic (Pre 2010) local election results | The London Borough Of Havering

2 Julia Lopez (politician) – Wikipedia her majority is 23,308

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

4The sale of ‘Hall Lane Pitch and Putt’: Conservative Revenge? – Politics in Havering

5 Damian White and Romford Marks and Spencer (M&S) July, 2019 – Politics in Havering

Havering Council Meeting: 17th November, 2021

Havering’s councillors love eulogies. Nothing deters them. David Amess, the murdered Southend MP, brought Ron Ower to his feet. Ron lived near Amess in Forest Gate as a boy and councillors were pleased to hear about that. Eulogies are supposed to celebrate the deceased, not provide a platform for ego massage.1 They should be given a maximum of 10 minutes to stop time-wasting.

The Climate Change Emergency was the principal item of business. The Council’s plan is huge and lacks detail. It emerged on 10th November and Ray Morgon and Keith Darvill said it needed scrutiny. It didn’t get it and was brought to Council seven days later. Thirteen minutes of argy-bargy ensued. Bizarrely, this means scrutiny will happen after agreement.

Councillors in speaking order:2

Joshua Chapman (44 mins) remarked Climate Change meant “an organisational and cultural change” for the entire Council.

Jeff Tucker (50) said the plan was basically a directive from Boris Johnson, aka ‘The Big Boss’.

Keith Darvill (56) reviewed his previous objections in a telling way.

Viddy Persaud (59) likes the way officers work hard.

Robert Benham (1:01) sold his Jaguar so the Emergency is virtually over.

Ray Morgon (1:03) described the Plan as a ‘massive wish list’, uncosted and ‘all talk’.

Stephanie Nunn (1:07) was scathing, describing it as ‘uncosted’ and ‘rubbish’.

Roger Ramsey (1:08) claimed ‘existing budgets’ would take the strain. He had a straight face proving what an old pro he is.

Michael Deon Burton (1:11) said opposition members were petty for objecting.

Dilip Patel (1:14) wants to spend a lot of money for the future of children.

Barry Mugglestone (1:16) said they hadn’t got the basics right

Chris Wilkins (1:17) said the 2019 report had been ignored.

Jeff Tucker (1:18) spoke movingly about out-of-order lights in Rainham churchyard.

Damian White (1:23) was in combative mode. He claimed councillors hadn’t read the report and the oft quoted £500,000 cost didn’t exist. Surprisingly he added it might cost £10 million. He said Overview and Scrutiny committees were hopeless and never produced anything for the Cabinet to discuss. He’s becoming a class act.

Keith Darvill, Ray Morgon and Damian White should have a round table discussion and get on with substantive decision-making. The drivel that punctuated this debate demonstrates that leadership is called for. Amazingly, Michael Deon Burton was quite right. There is too much pettiness and this matter is too important for that.

Notes

1 The finest recent example of a eulogy was by Roger Ramsey about Del Smith. Havering’s Council Meeting: 1st September, 2021 (part one) – Politics in Havering

2 For the webcast go to Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com) All the times relate to this source

Havering’s Children and Learning Overview and Scrutiny Committee, 30th September, 2021

This is an appalling committee. Judith Holt, the chair, is hapless. Her fellow councillors drift along, sleepily ignorant of what scrutiny might mean. Item 7 Schools Quality Assurance demanded intellectual curiosity.1 Officers didn’t do much ducking-and-diving to escape embarrassment as the committee didn’t lay a finger on them.

Havering’s primary sector is good, unlike the secondary academies but councillors weren’t interested. The chair didn’t provide a steer to officers about expectations and so that’s what they got. No discussion about the fragile academy sector which is systematically under-achieving. A feeble protest from the chair was brushed aside.

Four academies are failing,2 but the officers won’t name names. A lay member asked about St Edwards and was fobbed off.

Academies are unaccountable, arrogant businesses.3

Hall Mead is a high achieving academy. Examining their statistics shows Pupil Premium student outcomes are weak.4 They receive £166,000 for vulnerable students, which doesn’t level-up achievement. Hall Mead fails these students in exactly the way that the other 17 academies do. Draconian discipline codes and an obsession on school uniform is a failed strategy. Perhaps they should try something else?

Because this committee is pathetic, crucial issues like Item 7 escape scrutiny. It’s obvious the council’s policy is to avoid damaging the reputations of academies. Or, to put it another way, they prefer that children receive an inferior education. In secret.

Notes

1 From 1 hour 5 minutes to the end. The presentation lasts until 1:16. Councillors Misir, Lawal, Carol Smith, Durdin and Whitney. Gillian Ford bogs herself down in petty detail. The committee relies entirely on lay members for scrutiny.

2 See Havering’s Academies’ GCSE Results, 2021 – Politics in Havering

3 The Loxford Trust runs Abbs Cross Academy amongst others. The CEO gets £260,000 p.a. Loxford 2020ACCSWIZ.cvw (loxfordtrust.s3.amazonaws.com) p70 The Harris Trust has many schools with one in Rainham. It has four staff earning between £200,000 and £460,000. 1222_H0147_Signed accounts 2020_Buzz.pdf (harrisfederation.s3.amazonaws.com) p49

4 Hall Mead School – GOV.UK – Find and compare schools in England (compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk) The statistics are buried in the summary but can be found at Disadvantaged children.

Havering’s Ambulance Service is being ‘Reformed’

Four ambulance stations in north-east London – Romford, Ilford, Hornchurch and Becontree – have already been earmarked for closure in the first stage of the plan. They will be replaced by one new ambulance deployment centre in Romford in Havering.1

If all trusts implement the practice of the best, the scope for greater productivity is around £200 million by 2021.2

Havering’s the test bed of the reorganisation of London’s ambulance service following Lord Carter’s review. His review was embraced by the London Ambulance Service (LAS) in 20183 with ‘hubs’ the first of which will be in Romford. Lord Carter’s survey found great differences between ambulance services. He created a ‘Top Down’ package of solutions. LAS comment,

we plan to transform our estate to better serve our patients and to improve our staff and volunteers’ places of work. This will also reduce our costs and be better for the environment.” (my emphasis)

The reduction of costs is LAS’s principal motivation with anything else a bonus.

Political context matters. The government’s Levelling Up policy is led by two multi-millionaires. They’re former Hedge Fund manager Rishi Sunak (Chancellor) and former Deutsche Bank managing director Sajid Javid (Health). Both regard the NHS as Socialism. LAS savings will be sent to the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, the worst service in England.

The LAS over-achieves in bombastic self-regard,

In focusing on providing the best possible working environment for our staff and volunteers through these changes, we hope this will enable us to achieve our vision of being a first-class employer and a world class ambulance service for our patients across London. (my emphasis)

We’ve heard it all before and there’s a credibility gap as big as the Grand Canyon to overcome.

Notes

1 Fears over NHS plan to close all local ambulance stations in London | NHS | The Guardian

2 Lord Carter’s review of ambulance services in England Operational_productivity_and_performance_NHS_Ambulance_Trusts_final.pdf (england.nhs.uk)

Cost of the English ambulance service £1.78bn NHS Ambulance Services (nao.org.uk)

3 Our estates vision – London Ambulance Service NHS Trust

Havering Council and Religious Diversity

Romford Town ward has been reconfigured into two: St Alban’s and St Edward’s. The question is why were they given names linked to the Church of England, which is a minority sect within the Christian community? Although 65% of British people say they’re Christian, overwhelmingly they’re semi-detached.

The Church of England isn’t pre-eminent in Havering but the Council has named three wards after their churches. Historical importance can justify St Andrew’s and St Edward’s but St Alban’s?3 It’s devoid of stellar historical qualities and is anonymous.

The Council’s Diversity Policy aims at creating harmonious communities. Objective three of the policy document says they are Promoting Community Relations, diversity and Civic Pride.4 If the Council is determined to celebrate Faith in their ward names, why not chose a Roman Catholic church who have the largest congregations. Or a Baptist church or maybe, a Methodist? There’s also a non-Christian synagogue in the ward. The Council has shown a tragic lack of imagination and commitment to religious diversity.

It’s a moot point whether a secular Council should ostentatiously celebrate Faith. Most councillors are, statistically, non-believers or non-communicant Christians, which deepens the puzzle.

Which Back to the Future Conservative powered this decision through?

Notes

1 Romford Town Demographics (Havering, England) (localstats.co.uk)

2 Faith Survey | Christianity in the UK

3 The Parish of St. Alban Protomartyr – A Church Near You This church community is a minority sect being Anglo-Catholic.

4 2. 2019 – 20 Equalities Champion Annual reportv2.pdf (havering.gov.uk)

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.