Archive | December, 2014

2014 in review

30 Dec

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 27,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Maud Street

16 Dec

This was posted as a comment on my About page a couple of days ago (I’ve tidied up the punctuation a bit so it’s easier to read):

Please someone help.

Maud Street car park is closing due to another bit of incompetence by the councillors. We gave 1800 objections to the closure; Ian Corbett blocked these objections.

This will put business and jobs at risk. Guess who carried out the consultation? Helen Edwards.

This is money scheme by the council as the proposed social housing was sold to Chinese investors.

This morning Andrew Boff, the leader of the Conservative group on the Greater London Assembly, submitted a string of FOI requests to Newham Council about the consultation:

  • When is the parking order (dated October 1st) for the provision of On Street parking on Malmesbury Road and Oak Crescent due to commence?
  • When were local residents and businesses consulted with regard to the appropriation of land at Maud Street car park?
  • Please supply a list of businesses and residents notified with regard to the appropriation of land at Maud Street car park.
  • Please supply a list of all responses to the consultation process related to the appropriation of land at Maud Street car park.
  • What were the costs of the consultation process related to the appropriation of land at Maud Street car park.
  • Please supply a list of all responses to each of the notices to revoke the (Off Street Parking Places) (Maud Street)(No1) Order 2007.
  • Of the responses to each of the notices to revoke the (Off StreetParking Places) (Maud Street)(No1) Order 2007, how many were infavour and how many against?
  • When is the parking order (dated October 1st) for the provision of On Street parking on Malmesbury Road and Oak Crescent due to commence?

I’m not sure why all of these couldn’t have been submitted as a single request, but the questions seem pertinent in the light of the allegation that the overwhelming public response to the consultation was rejection of a proposal that has gone ahead regardless.

If anyone knows any more about this, please post in comments.

Brass neck

12 Dec

The Newham Recorder has finally got round to reporting on the Newham Collegiate 6th Form and East Ham Town Hall debacle.

And entirely predictably it has regurgitated the mayor’s line that this is all the fault of officers.

It even has a quote from Lester ‘3 jobs’ Hudson: 

“There has been a complete and utter failure by senior officers in the governance process in this project.”

That’s some brass neck you’ve got there, Lester!

Are we really expected to believe that governance has nothing to do with elected members? That the executive mayor, his cabinet lead for finance and chair of the audit board have no responsibility for ensuring that major spending projects are running to budget, or that the authority pays heed to leading counsel’s advice on the legal status of a new school?

The supine and pointless Recorder obviously does. 

If our deputy mayor were being honest he’d have said “There has been a complete and utter failure by elected members to do the jobs residents elected them to do and for which they receive extremely generous allowances.”

That would be swiftly followed by the words “I am very sorry and I resign.”

Equalities

9 Dec

Corbett Crawford

 
What does the mayoral advisor on the left have that the cabinet member on the right doesn’t?
 
The answer is a not ‘a fucking clue’.
 
Thanks to a recent FOI request we know that it’s a special responsibility allowance on top of his basic councillor’s pay.*
 
Richard Crawford advises on ‘Resident Experience’ – whatever that means – and gets a handsome £33,395 a year extra for his trouble.
 
Jo Corbett looks after the Equalities portfolio but “there is no renumeration linked to this post.” She gets nothing.
 
If this were anywhere but Sir Robin Wales’s Newham you’d think that was some kind of joke, but it’s par for the course here.
 
Of the mayor’s nine cabinet members five are men and four are women. Of the men, four get top whack – an extra £33,395 a year. The fifth, the Rev. Quintin Peppiatt, has declined to take an extra allowance this year.** Among the women only Ellie Robinson gets the full allowance. Frances Clarke and Lakmini Shah get £6,679 each; Jo Corbett gets nothing.
 
Outside the cabinet it is no better. Mayoral advisors Andrew Baikie, Clive Furness and Ian Corbett join Councillor Crawford in the top pay bracket. Terry Paul and David Christie each get £13,358. Joy Laguda is paid what Sir Robin clearly thinks a woman’s work is worth – £6,679.
 
It beggars belief that Newham Labour members allow their leader to get away with this year after year, apparently without question.
 
Equalities, my arse.
 
* The current basic allowance for councillors is £10,829
** Cllr Peppiatt hasn’t always been so self-denying. Between 2010 and 2014 he accepted an annual SRA of £18,624 on top of his basic.
 
 
 

Yet another matter of interest

2 Dec

In my previous post I described Councillor Lester Hudson as double-jobbing, being both Newham’s deputy mayor and its cabinet member for finance.

It appears I did the poor man a disservice: he is triple-jobbing!

He combines his other two roles with being chair of the council’s audit committee.

Yes, that’s right. The cabinet member for finance also chairs the audit committee. Which surely amounts to a major conflict of interest, especially when there are serious questions to be answered – as there are right now with the East Ham Town Hall campus overspend and the unlawful expenditure on the new 6th form college.

Councillors would be remiss if they did not challenge this very peculiar and unhealthy arrangement.

Monumental incompetence

2 Dec

Lester Hudson: too busy eating cake to notice a £9.8 million overspend

At the cabinet meeting held on Thursday 25th September 2014 the mayor and his advisors received a report on progress with the redevelopment of the East Ham Town Hall campus.

The report stated that additional funding of £9.8 million would be required and that

“there has been a clear breakdown in Governance and reporting procedures for this project, hence these issues have not been properly reported to the Mayor and Cabinet previously.”

Now cabinet has been summoned for an emergency meeting to consider the fall out from the investigation into what went wrong.

That includes the ‘discovery’ that the council opened a new 6th form college without any legal authority and has, therefore, acted unlawfully.

The investigation reveals both systemic incompetence and an extraordinary laxity in project governance:

One problem is that the programme board overseeing the East Ham Campus works appears to have changed into a project board focusing solely on the delivery of the Sixth Form element of the Programme. This shift was not discussed, or approved by any of the Council’s Statutory Officers…

… financial matters across the whole Programme were not discussed at project board meetings. The Board became concerned only with the September 2014 opening of the sixth form centre. Officers assumed its role was to oversee the correct fit out, the appointment of staff, communications etc. and it is clear that cost reports were never submitted to the Board.

… There were no terms of reference or oversight of the whole project.

… Minutes of the project board were taken by a member of the Programme Team, meaning there was a possible conflict of interest and reducing the impartiality of minute taking.

… [Cost and budget management] is the monitoring of actual expenditure, committed expenditure and forecast expenditure to project completion, against the approved budget. On reviewing the documents it is apparent that this has been at best poor or non-existent.

… Not only was there no cost reporting until March 2014, the reports produced do not show all necessary information, in that they do not differentiate between actual and committed expenditure, nor is there a detailed breakdown of works.

… It appears that arrangements for Contract compensation events (these are similar to contract variations) were agreed on an informal basis. An automated system was in place with thresholds for authorisation that did not align with the Council’s authorisation limits and there were inadequate controls or documentation within the Programme for compensation events exceeding authorised limits.

… There were a number of compensation events that were found on the application system which were over £100,000, and above officer delegated authority levels.

… Formal contractual arrangements for the Sixth Form project were never entered into by Officers… the builder was requested to provide a price for the Sixth Form. No report was not submitted to the Mayor, Members or Statutory Officers and, in addition, the Council’s procurement rules were not followed. [see note below – MW]

… There was no sponsorship or Programme Board for the East Ham Campus works since spring 2013. This meant that progress in terms of delivery (time and budget) of the East Ham Campus works as a whole was not challenged or scrutinised by the Programme Board for a period of at least six months.

And on and on (and on) it goes. Page after page of toe-curling detail.

So far three officers have lost their jobs over this, including the executive director for Resources and Commercial Development and the director of Legal Services and Governance. More will follow.

But what about the well remunerated cabinet members who should have been keeping an eye the project: how were these failures not spotted? Why were questions not asked?

Whose portfolios included oversight for the East Ham Town Hall development and the opening of the new 6th form college? Who among our elected representatives is ultimately accountable?

As Sir Robin has thus far declined to publish details of what his army of ‘mayoral advisors’ are supposed to be doing, beyond vague job titles, we can only guess. 

Deputy mayor Lester Hudson double-jobs as the cabinet member for finance and regeneration. He previously also had ‘Property and Assets’ in his portfolio. If his job title actually meant anything you’d expect him to have taken at least a passing interest in what was going on.

That he didn’t either means his job is meaningless or he’s monumentally incompetent. Either way, if he had a shred of decency, he’d be drafting his resignations from both cabinet and council.


Note: As the cabinet report points out, “It should be made explicitly clear that the liability for the failures in establishing adequate or compliant contractual arrangements rests entirely with the Council and there is therefore no evidence of poor practice or impropriety on the part of the Contractors.”