Havering’s Election: Thrills and Spills

Hornchurch and Upminster have no Conservative councillors at all. Emerson  Park fell when Roger Ramsey retired. Labour won their first Romford seat for 20 years but the Havering Residents’ Association (HRA) will take power.

Havering’s politics is complex. The election result1 is a mish-mash. HRA 20 seats, the Conservatives 23, Labour 9 and Renegade RAs three.2 Meanwhile in Rainham the count continued on Monday 9th May and the result was announced during an acrimonious recount. Four burly police officers were there, at huge expense, to protect the Chief Executive in case things got physical. Three Conservatives won leaving them short of a majority.

HRA + Labour reach the magic 28 seats but will they do a deal? Havering’s politics depend on deals. There’s no political ‘purity’. This is the fifth time in six elections with No Overall Control.  In the previous four, Conservatives have done deals with RAs. Now it’s the RAs turn to do a deal or not.

That’s the Thrill.  Now the Spill.

Damian White had an innovative way of awarding allowances. Consequently, every Conservative councillor is facing a pay-cut. Damian loses about £55,000 a year. This might explain his anger on Election Night as he saw it dribbling away.

Local government has national organizations. There are many committees which demand representation. There’s nothing quite like an awayday at someone else’s expense and Conservative councillors are going to miss them.

There’s also the glory of summoning Chief Officers and strutting round the Town Hall. Demotion to backbench voting fodder is cruel but is the result of depending on a niche electorate.

Four years isn’t too long if you say it quickly.

Notes

1 Local Elections 2022: Havering Council live results | The London Borough Of Havering

2 Harold Wood councillors propped up the Conservatives 2018-22

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 Councillor: Timothy Ryan (Brooklands)

Timothy isn’t a well known councillor but is Damian White’s crony. He may be talentless but he’s grateful for crumbs that come his way. So when an embarrassing job needed to be done, Timothy agreed immediately.

Damian’s policy is to use council allowances to cement his position as Leader. In Timothy’s case this means being vice chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. For this Timothy gets £150 a week. He probably appreciates this when we look at his Register of Members’ Interests statement.*

So what favour did Damian request? Earlier this year, 2020, Damian boasted about his control of the Chief Executive and the borough’s boundary submission on reconfigured wards. Damian thought he was amongst friends. He was mistaken. A recording was taken which went viral. This in turn led to an external adjudicator declaring Damian had a case to answer.

A committee was formed to hear evidence.** Timothy and Conservative councillor Matt Sutton sat alongside councillor Linda van den Hende. Timothy announced, at the beginning of the meeting, that he’d excuse himself as he’d been a participant when Damian was boasting. Obviously Damian planned this. They both knew Timothy was unable to serve on the committee. Although quorate, the chair, Matt Sutton, postponed the meeting. Exactly to plan.

Damian’s ploy wasted time and money but Timothy felt he’d done well. Like all Zoom meetings, it’s interesting to see participants’ composure when provoked. Timothy’s action pleased him, pleased Damian and hacked everyone else off. I hope Damian’s boasting isn’t subsequently white-washed.

Damian White’s cronies are undermining democracy in Havering.

* https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=1346&T=6

** https://aisapps.sonicfoundry.com/AuditelScheduler/Player/Index/?id=b1d0e822-0795-4c82-958c-0e9cc0af01ce&presID=77236848e6084cce976cdaadd45b8cf31d

The Irresistible Importance of Brian Eagling: the Deputy Mayor’s Allowance for 2020-1

The government understands that political patronage is corrosive and they’ve written guidance to police it. This guidance has been trounced by Damian White. The Resident Association’s Brian Eagling will be deputy mayor during 2020-1 and Damian has doubled his Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA). It’s legal but is it wise?
The deputy mayor’s allowance has more than doubled to £8,160. Responsibilities haven’t doubled. The 2018 SRA for the deputy mayor was £4,000 and is now increased to £8,160. This is blatant political patronage, reflecting Brian’s importance to the maintenance of Damian’s administration. He, and the other Harold Wood councillors, are vital to the stability of Damian’s minority administration. Following Bob Perry’s defection, their importance has increased.
It’s politically convenient to throw money at Brian but is this what taxpayers want? The guidance has a touching belief in the acuity of the local electorate:- “the local electorate may rightly question whether this was justified.” In the real world of local politics everyone knows that SRAs are not a major issue beyond a world weary, ‘They’re only in it for themselves’. Damian’s cute move isn’t illegal and won’t be costly in the 2022 election. Its ultimate cost is that that it’s destroying the public’s faith in politicians and democracy itself.
Brian has been a brilliant mayor in the past and will be in his mayoral year but doubling his allowance is an outrageous use of taxpayers’ money for political advantage.
Sources
For the government’s guidance see https://www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/employment-income-manual/eim65960

For the 2018 Havering scheme for Special Responsibility Allowances see https://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/s30715/Report%20-%20Special%20Responsibility%20Allowances.pdf
For the 2020 scheme see https://www.time1075.net/156776-2-havering-councillors-allowances-increase/

Havering’s Councillor: Jason Frost (Mawney)

Jason is cabinet member for Health and Adult Services. Havering councillors have unrelenting trust in officers and Jason is no exception. Indeed this trust amounts to a democratic deficit. Like other cabinet members, he receives an allowance which is roughly the median wage in Havering.* He also works as a researcher** in Bishop Stortford. So at the very best he’s a part-time politician. Is there any evidence that he doesn’t pull his weight as a cabinet member? Well, yes there is.

The Individuals Overview and Scrutiny committee decided to have a member ‘topic’ group (see addendum one) into Safeguarding Adults. This topic group was established at their meeting on 3rd September, 2019. The structure of the topic group is set out in agenda item 7.3 The group have a planned series of meetings which will take a few months to complete (see addendum two).

What’s interesting is that the list seems to be comprehensive. It isn’t. Jason hasn’t been scheduled to be interviewed. Has he nothing of interest to say? This is amazing. He’s the principal policy maker in the cabinet and yet is as useful as a cipher in the investigation of Safeguarding. This area is contentious and consumes vast amounts of resources. It’s very difficult to get ‘right’. Dealing with the most vulnerable people in Havering is a delicate balancing act and political support is essential to officers. Is Jason providing that support?

It’s incomprehensible that Jason could be merely a spokesperson for chief officers unless his principal virtue is being slavishly loyal to Damian White.

Addendum One: What is meant by a topic group in Havering
Sub-Committees will often establish Topic Groups to examine specific areas in much greater detail. These groups consist of a number of Members and the review period can last for anything from a few weeks to a year or more to allow the Members to comprehensively examine an issue through interviewing expert witnesses, conducting research or undertaking site visits. Once the topic group has finished its work it will send a report to the Sub-Committee that created it and will often suggest recommendations for the Overview and Scrutiny Board to pass to the Council’s Executive.

Addendum Two: Witnesses to be called by Individuals topic group
Head of Integrated Services (responsible for safeguarding across adult social care)
Service Manager for Safeguarding Adults (specialist role)
2-3 service users (and carers/families) with lived experience of safeguarding intervention (where at least service user has reported their outcome has been met and where at least one service user has reported their outcome has not been met.
2-3 service users (and carers/families) who are currently subject to safeguarding (with consent) to observe safeguarding practice. This would be subject to client consent and Head of Integrated Services
Commissioners, including Quality Team.
2-3 providers of services (such as homecare and residential/nursing)
NELFT safeguarding lead
BHRUT safeguarding lead

1 For Havering’s allowances see http://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/s35795/190227%20minutes%20appx%201%20-%20members%20allowances%20scheme.pdf
2 http://democracy.havering.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=942&T=6
3 http://democracy.havering.gov.uk/documents/g6268/Public%20reports%20pack%2003rd-Sep-2019%2019.00%20Individuals%20Overview%20Scrutiny%20Sub-Committee.pdf?T=10

Havering Councillor: Brian Eagling (Harold Wood)

Brian was a Labour party councillor and Mayor before he discovered he’d never become Leader. Brian switched allegiance and joined the Harold Wood Resident Association (RA). He was eventually elected as an RA councillor. Once more, he found unimpressed colleagues who valued his vote, but not his opinions. So he separated Harold Wood RAs from the RA mainstream and greatness arrived. He became Leader of Harold Wood RAs.

The 2018 election put Brian in poll position. Damian White came calling. Brian straightened his back and accepted the pivotal position of holding the balance of power. Damian didn’t just offer glory. Brian and his two colleagues had their stellar qualities recognised, at last, with all three having remunerated positions of responsibility. For septuagenarian pensioners this was very pleasant, if long overdue.

The allocation of ‘roads’ refurbishment capital stayed in Romford.1 Harold Wood got nothing. Is Brian disappointed? Did he even notice? Harold Wood RAs are an old boys’ clique who’ve long ago forgotten the driving motives behind their movement.

Harold Wood councillors are tied irrevocably to Romford Conservatives. This might not be a shrewd move as Brexit alters Havering’s voting habits. The RAs moved into the ascendency in 2018 at the expense of the Conservatives but what if Harold Wood RAs are tarred with that toxic brush?

1 Living in Havering April 2019 edition p15