Archive | February, 2015

Overview and Scrutiny

25 Feb

I’ve Storified the live Twitter commentary from last night’s OSC meeting, with some added notes.

The committee’s witness was the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales.

The job’s a joke – and it’s on us

23 Feb

Some residents want to talk to Richard Crawford about their experience

After much delay Newham council has finally published details of what the mayor’s fleet of advisors and cabinet members are supposed to be doing in exchange for their ‘special responsibilities allowances’.

And what dismal reading they make.

Far from being detailed job descriptions, with performance measures that we can use to judge whether they’ve actually done what they’ve been paid to do, they are insultingly brief – a few bullet points of meaningless management jargon.

Take this example:

Advise the Mayor on all matters relating to resident experience, including:

  • To take a strategic overview of all resident experience – across the whole organisation.
  • To understand and learn from what residents value.
  • To interpret the feedback we receive from residents – informing the Mayor about analysis and trends.
  • Oversee the contract compliance function of the organisation

Having read that I still have no idea what Richard Crawford actually does. And this is a full-time, 5 days a week job for which he gets the maximum allowance of £33,735 on top of his £10,829 basic.

Councillor Ken Clark is similarly well-rewarded for his ‘work’ as Executive member for Building Communities and Public Affairs. His time is,  allegedly, fully accounted for by this:

Advise the Mayor on all matters relating to Community Neighbourhoods in Newham. 

  • Promoting economic, community and personal resilience.
  • To drive up activity, satisfaction and resilience in community neighbourhoods – empowering residents to lead and shape their community.
  • To be the eyes and ears of the council, sharing information and local intelligence – feeding that information back into the council to better improve what we do.
  • To provide political leadership to Newham’s public affairs profile – ensuring the needs and views of Newham residents are heard by decision makers across and outside of Newham

To borrow a much-loathed bit of consultant-speak, “what does success look like?” How will we know if he has ‘driven up’ activity, satisfaction and resilience in community neighbourhoods? With no baseline to measure against and no targets, there’s no way to tell. And I don’t suppose the mayor cares. The jobs are a joke; a set of phantoms conjured up to justify stuffing cash into the pockets of his closest allies.

The ultimate proof of this is that special responsibility allowances are

calculated according to the days considered by Council or the Mayor to be requisite to fulfil the duties set out in the Job Profile and / or Portfolio of the Office Held

In practice it is always the Mayor that decides how many days a job needs to take. So the likes of Crawford, Clark, Desai, Furness, Baikie and Ian Corbett all have jobs that require five full days a week. It doesn’t matter what the job is, it always takes 5 days. And it therefore always pays top whack.

Perhaps while PwC are looking at the books the Audit Commission could ask them to do a ‘value for money’ study on the mayor’s advisors. The results would be very interesting.


23 Feb

Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre

Sir Robin explains to Newham 6th form Collegiate students how their education is at risk because someone ignored legal advice

Tomorrow evening the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee will begin to look at the East Ham Town Hall Campus and Newham 6th Form Collegiate fiascos.

The meeting is, appropriately enough, at East Ham Town Hall. It is open to the public and I’ll be going. [UPDATE: The venue has been changed – it’s now at the Old Town Hall in Stratford]

Councillors and independent members of the OSC have a wealth of material to work through and there are plenty of questions to ask, but if they are looking for a good place to start I’d recommend the PwC  ‘report in the public interest’, which was published on the Audit Commission website last month.

PwC – PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP – were appointed by the Audit Commission to audit the council’s accounts and as such have a duty

… under Section 8 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 and the Audit Commission Code of Audit Practice to bring attention to a number of governance weaknesses identified in respect of the London Borough of Newham’s East Ham Campus project.

The report details a number of failings, including

the fact that the various pieces of legal advice which were sought by the Council in relation to this issue, consistently stated that it was not within the Council’s power to establish the sixth form in its current form. However the legal advice was not followed nor escalated within the Council to the Section 151 Officer or Chief Executive. (emphasis added)

And, alarmingly, that

£10.3m of additional work to one contractor was awarded without following procurement rules and without Members approval.

I submitted an FOI request back in November about the overspend – before the illegality of the 6th form college became known. It was due for a response by 19th December. Newham have not replied and the request in now more than 2 months overdue.

Senior members of the council, the well-paid mayoral advisors and cabinet members who should have been paying attention and weren’t, have consistently claimed this is all the fault of officers; it’s nothing to do with them. I don’t believe that. In Newham no-one farts without the mayor’s permission. That a building project could overspend by £10 million AND a 6th form centre be opened illegally without him and his cronies knowing defies belief.

If Overview and Scrutiny are doing their job properly they’ll be asking who knew what and when they knew it. Officers have lost their jobs over this; it’s high time elected members were held properly to account.


19 Feb

Mayoral Protection Squad

Councillors Whitworth, Wilson, Gray, Chowdhury, Paul, Fiaz, Furness & Collier – the Mayoral Protection Squad on weekend manoeuvres 

Next time angry residents approach Sir Robin armed with a megaphone and loud opinions about social housing, a crack team of councillors will be ready!

Cheap shot

10 Feb

Tory fundraiser WHU

The Conservatives held a fund-raising auction on Monday night. One of the items up for sale was match day hospitality in the Directors’ Box at West Ham.

It won’t have fetched much. We know from councillor Lester Hudson’s register of gifts and hospitality that it’s only worth £25.


10 Feb

Marco Arment, writing on his blog

Vaccines are truly one of humanity’s greatest and most important accomplishments.
It’s tragic, dangerous, and incredibly destructive that society is needlessly regressing on this front. I’m sadly confident that anti-intellectualism and shunning of widely proven scientific data, selfishly and shamelessly encouraged by entertainers and politicians to advance their careers, will prove to be the most damaging and deadly regression of developed society in my lifetime.

Anti-vaxxers are deluded and the idiocy they peddle is incredibly dangerous. Diseases that were all but eradicated are making a comeback because of them. They put not just their own children but everybody at risk.

In Newham only 82.2% of children have received their first dose of MMR immunisation by the age of two. By the age of five, 71.9% of children have received their second dose of MMR immunisation. This is lower than the national average.

The reasons why immunisation rates here are so low are complex and more likely to be connected both to poverty and a highly transient population than to high profile celebrity anti-vaxxers. But they don’t help.


6 Feb

Standard 2015 Feb 06

Sir Robin is desperate to raise his profile beyond the borough boundaries, but this is probably not what he had in mind.

(hat tip to Kevin Blowe)

Sweet charity

5 Feb

The Evening Standard’s otherwise excellent account of the Standards Committee verdict on the mayor includes this slightly odd line:

Sir Robin, who has been leader or Mayor of Newham since 1995, is entitled to an allowance of £81,027 a year, although he donates some of it to charity.

I asked the journalist, Jonathan Prynn, if Newham council’s PR people had asked him to add this and he denied it, saying “the charitable donations have been widely reported.”

I’d say ‘widely’ was pushing it a bit and it’s only ever been reported because the mayor’s people offered it as some kind of justification for his inflation-busting pay rises. It is utterly irrelevant in the context of this story. I wonder what brought it to Mr Prynn’s mind?

Many Newham people who earn far less than Sir Robin give money to charity and it represents a far bigger chunk of their income. They don’t expect to see it reported in the papers and would be deeply embarrassed if it was.

Perhaps the mayor should think back to the lessons he learned back in his Sunday School days:

Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do … that they may get glory from men. (Matthew 6:1-2)


3 Feb

 Angry Robin

Sir Robin being restrained by councillor Obaid Khan

I was going to blog about the Standards Committee’s verdict on Sir Robin’s conduct at the Newham Show back in July, but I can’t improve on this excellent account in the Evening Standard, other than to point out that Sir Robin was not restrained by a member of the council’s staff but by a Labour councillor, Obaid Khan. 

Nor could I give more insight into what happened than Kevin Blowe, who made the formal complaint.

Not titling his post Sir Robin Wales, My Part in His Downfall was definitely a missed opportunity.


3 Feb

In a piece in today’s Guardian on the failure of the 2012 Olympics to deliver a legacy of greater participation in sport David Conn observes

The real Olympic legacy winners, of course, are West Ham United, owned by David Sullivan and David Gold, who made their first fortunes in pornography. Next year the Premier League club will take charge of the Olympic stadium, built with £429m of public money, and for which the public is paying a further £160m to convert for West Ham. The club will pay rent, and stands to make a fortune from the 54,000-seat capacity – far more than than its current Upton Park home – and enhanced corporate feasting. Karren Brady, who has worked loyally for Sullivan all her career, negotiated this stadium deal of the century with London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, and has since been made a Conservative peer – Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge.

And a quarter of that £160m conversion cost is being met by the council taxpayers of Newham – local people who are struggling with falling wages and rising prices. Meanwhile, David Cameron promises to drive even more of them into poverty by cutting the benefits cap if his party wins in May.

But of course there’s no cap on handouts to the wealthy. Multimillionaire pornographers and their Tory chief executive can have their business subsidised by the taxpayer: it’s enough to turn your stomach.