Archive | March, 2018

The vision thing

7 Mar

Sir Robin has a vision

Sir Robin’s vision for Newham in 1997 (my emphasis added):

There are too many people, those currently living in Newham and those attracted from other London boroughs, who survive on low incomes or who present themselves as homeless. Whilst we will offer support and carry out our legislative duties, our aim will be to increase Newham’s property values and raise the income profile of all our residents.

What we must take action to avoid is a continued flow of people from other boroughs requiring sustained support.

Which helps to explain why, 20 years down the road:

  • The Carpenters Estate remains empty, despite offering hundreds of good quality, low cost homes
  • There’s been an explosion in high-rise ‘luxury’ apartment developments, particularly in Stratford
  • Developers are rarely, if ever, held to the requirement for 35-50% affordable housing set out in the local plan
  • The homeless are routinely harassed in Stratford
  • Poor and vulnerable families are encouraged to take up housing far away from London
  • The many private landlords sat on the Labour benches in council are Sir Robin’s most loyal supporters

Now that he’s being challenged for the party’s nomination Sir Robin is promising to build record levels of ‘council-owned housing.’ But he doesn’t mean council houses, or even affordable homes – he means housing built by Red Door Ventures, the private rented property company owned by the council which charges full market rents for its properties. And which is currently buying up blocks of flats on the other side of London.

RDV is funded by loans from the council; money which is borrowed from the Treasury or banking sector and then re-lent. If the housing bubble bursts and RDV goes bust, guess who’s left with the bill? (Clue: the same people who will ultimately pick up the tab for the Olympic Stadium ‘investment’)

Under Sir Robin’s watch the proportion of people living in private rented accommodation in Newham has rocketed. A report in the Guardian last year said

The regeneration of the borough – or as others would call it, the social cleansing – has increased the number of privately rented housing to 40% of the housing stock, the highest proportion of all London boroughs. The effect of the drop in home ownership means that residents become transient and many social housing tenants are pushed out

The landlord registration scheme may keep the worst offenders out of the market, but there’s still plenty of opportunity for the greedy and unscrupulous. Which shouldn’t be a surprise: Sir Robin had a vision.

It’s time now for a fresh view.

Academy antics

7 Mar

Image

Councillors are so opposed to academies they are paying millions of pounds for this one to expand

Last Monday Newham council passed a motion, proposed by Cllrs Mas and Salim Patel, declaring itself opposed to local schools converting into academies.

Given that half of all Newham schools are already academies and that by April 75% of local primaries will be in ‘multi-academy trusts’, this is all a bit late. Where have these newly radicalised anti-academy councillors been for the past few years?

It also raises an interesting question about the mayor’s apparent preference for expanding academies at the expense of local authority maintained schools.

Back in April last year, Sir Robin and his cabinet approved a plan to expand Brampton Manor Academy and Forest Gate Community School by a total of six forms of entry. Under the plan Brampton would take in an extra 120 pupils a year (on top of the 300 who already join year 7 each September) and FGCS would take an extra 60.

Despite the two schools being academies and therefore directly funded by the Department for Education, Newham council will be footing the bill for the extra classrooms required. And what a bill – the expansion was costed at over £29 million. That’s around £1 million per additional classroom.

Cabinet April 17

Headteachers in other local schools were, understandably, very concerned. They argued that there was no solid evidence that these extra places will be needed. Creating permanent additional capacity at these two academies will likely mean fewer pupils enrolling at other local schools, reducing their income and, potentially, threatening their long-term viability.

To add insult to injury, funding of a previously agreed special educational needs development in Stratford was cut by £7 million to pay part of the cost.

And now it appears the academy expansion bill is getting bigger. On 22 February – less than a week before full council passed its motion – Sir Robin’s cabinet approved a new capital budget that allocated £34.75 million for the extra classrooms at Brampton Manor and Forest Gate schools – an increase of almost £5 million (17%) in less than a year.

Cabinet 220218

None of this was mentioned in the anti-academies motion, or in the debate. Did the councillors Patel not know, or were they sparing Sir Robin’s blushes?

Oops!

2 Mar

I’ve written before bemoaning the shoddy state of record-keeping and a generally lax attitude to quality assurance at Newham council.

But a paper going to cabinet next week just about takes the biscuit.

This report seeks approval to the correction of the Minutes of the Cabinet Meeting on 20 February 2014

Yes, you read that right. They need to correct a four year-old set of minutes.

Why? Because the minutes of that meeting omitted to record a key decision in relation to setting up Red Door Ventures, the council-owned private rented development vehicle. That decision was to

Agree that the company be provided with funding through state aid compliant loans and grant facilities

So the council has been lending money – A LOT OF MONEY – over the past four years to Red Door Ventures without any properly recorded authority to do so.

Cabinet will undoubtedly agree to

correct the minutes of the Cabinet meeting held on the 20th February 2014 and ratify decisions made under the purported delegated authority, made in good faith, pursuant to the omitted recommendation.

But this is, to say the least, an embarrassing oversight.

On its face, this is an administrative cock up rather than Sir Robin over-reaching his legal authority (in contrast to the Collegiate 6th Form, where he did something he had absolutely no power to do). It is reminiscent of the unapproved £10 million overspend on the East Ham Town Hall campus project. That was also blamed on unnamed officers. The politicians, who should ultimately be accountable, just shrugged it off.

It all reflects extremely poorly on someone who is seeking a fifth term of office, claiming to the candidate of experience and competence.