Tag Archives: Ken Clark

Repairs and Maintenance

15 Jan

This morning Newham Council published the papers for its extraordinary meeting next week on the mismanagement of the repairs and maintenance service.

Anyone who takes the trouble to read the report will be appalled by the scale of financial and project mis-management, which has resulted in a loss of AT LEAST £8.78 million.

The vast majority of this was in the RMS Highways Services, in particular after it started to undertake the work on the Council’s Keep Newham Moving programme in early 2016. Poor practice was also found in other areas, but RMS was – overall – financially viable; the £8.78M overspend was caused by using external contractors to deliver the Keep Newham Moving programme at a higher cost than the price agreed with RMS.

Keep Newham Moving was one of the previous mayor’s flagship initiatives, supposedly a ‘prudent investment’ of the council’s resources to improve the lives of residents. It was a ten year, £100million capital programme to “improve the quality of roads, footways and street lighting in Newham…”

The council decided to put the work through RMS, on the grounds that this would deliver “efficiencies of around 25-30% as compared to the previous contractor.”

Clearly, this was a risk, but it was agreed that a Risk Register (a common tool in project management) would be compiled with the Cabinet Member for Building Communities, Public Affairs, Planning and Regeneration (Cllr Ken Clark) and the Mayoral Adviser for Environment & Leisure (Ian Corbett, who is no longer a councillor). This would be monitored and updated throughout the life of the project.

So £100 million was allocated to RMS despite there being no evidence they could manage the work and no serious assessment of how they could outbid Conways by 30%. It turned out they couldn’t:

[The] significant overspend of £8.78m was a result of RMS under-pricing its Keep Newham Moving Highways activity and then failing to manage contractor costs resulting in increased capital costs to that originally budgeted for. This was a very serious and significant mismanagement of public money. None of the investigations found sufficient evidence of criminal activity to bring proceedings but the Council remains willing to consider any further evidence brought to its attention.

The report describes how RMS managers avoided proper financial controls by splitting invoices so they fell below the procurement threshold and within the level of authority granted under the Scheme of Delegation. The accounts were seriously misrepresented, so that it appeared RMS was making a profit, when in fact it was running a substantial loss.

It is worth noting that although RMS was an in-house service it was being considered for outsourcing under the previous administration’s Small Business Programme or (CSSB, as it was known). This programme looked to outsource Council services into Council-owned companies.

RMS operated with significant autonomy over the management of its accounts, payments to staff and contracting with external businesses ostensibly for it to work on a “commercial” basis as part of Mayor Wales’s CSSB outsourcing programme.

Whether their ability to operate in this fashion was explicitly supported or encouraged by very senior officers and by a Mayor / Cabinet member decision or whether it simply evolved through weak internal controls is unknown. It is also possible that this was an element of the CSSB outsourcing programme encouraging services to begin to operate with a more commercial mind set as they were progressing towards outsourcing.

On 2 February 2017, approval was given by Mayor Wales to outsource RMS following an options appraisal. This was later suspended and RMS didn’t rejoin the programme. Rokhsana Fiaz abolished the CSSB programme following her election in May 2018.

Timeline

  • 2011 RMS was brought in-house. It carried out repairs to Newham’s housing stock. 
  • 2014 (Oct) RMS started taking on highways work from external company Conways on a two year pilot (no evidence of evaluation/review of pilot being carried out)
  • 2016 (Feb) Cabinet commits to (mainly) borrow £100m to ‘Keep Newham Moving’ delivered by RMS which it states is 25/30% cheaper than Conways. Cllr Clark and Corbett are lead members and named as agreeing and monitoring risk register (this is before two year pilot due to end)
  • 2016 to 2018 RMS is unable to deliver work itself and is subcontracting out work resulting in it being charged more than they were receiving per job (and definitely not making 25/30% savings)
  • 2017 RMS misrepresents 2016/17 accounts
  • 2017 (June) Whistleblowers make allegations, resulting in an internal investigation
  • 2017 (July) External auditors (Mazaars) appointed
  • 2017 (Aug and Dec) Mazaars reports does not find any criminal fraud
  • 2018 (Jan) QC advises insufficient evidence to meet criminal fraud
  • 2017/18 RMS overspent by £8.748m in 2017/18 accounts (in highways contracts; housing repairs is profitable)

So, where in all of this was the Audit Board?

In the 2017/18 financial year RMS was only discussed once. As appendix 1 (Chronology) makes clear, requests by councillors for an update were regularly fobbed off. Finally, inNovember 2017

Briefing and documents presented by internal Audit in closed session [of the Audit Board]. Chair LH [Lester Hudson] declined requests for further discussion at meeting. Concerns raised and recorded in minutes by Cllr’s Paul and Fiaz that item could not be debated

Lester Hudson was both Cabinet member for Finance and, simultaneously, chair of audit board. This is generally not regarded as best practice in local government finance.

Audit Board finally got to discuss RMS in March 2018 and the minutes have now been published, with some redactions to protect whistleblowers. They show councillors were absolutely furious about what had gone on. As a footnote to the minutes notes

At this stage in the proceedings, Cllr Paul resorted to expletives and offensive language to underscore the point he was making, informing the clerk he could minute his comments “in any way you like”.

and Cllr Julianne Marriott stated that

… in her view, the Audit Board was complicit in the failings of the Council as there had not been a meeting of the Audit Board since November 2017. If the Audit Board was not meeting on a regular basis, the public could not have any confidence that Members of the Board were holding the Council to account on their behalf, as residents.

It is hard to argue with that assessment.

In May the new mayor commissioned the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) to conduct a financial health check on the council (report). It found

There is a lack of Member involvement in financial reporting and budget control; Audit Board is non-decision making. Overview/Scrutiny has had almost no impact

This is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention over the past few years.The Olympic stadium ‘investment’, the unbudgeted cost overruns on the East Ham Town Hall campus project, Newham Collegiate 6th Form, the London Pleasure Gardens fiasco, sleight of hand over the funding of ‘free school meals’… the list goes on.

Despite attempts to distract attention elsewhere, all of £8.748m overspend happened during administration under Sir Robin Wales – which included his cabinet member for Finance (and chair of audit) Cllr Lester Hudson and the Statutory Deputy Mayor and lead member for the £100m Keep Newham Moving Cllr Ken Clark. If either of them has any sense of shame or decency they’ll stand up next Tuesday, apologise for their failure and resign.

I’m not holding my breath.

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Season of Goodwill

14 Jan

Back in December the Newham Recorder reported that a number of senior managers in Newham council’s repairs and maintenance service (RMS) have been suspended and sacked for gross misconduct amid a catalogue of claims about financial malpractice.

It’s worth reading the Recorder piece in full, but some of the ‘highlights’ include:

  • Staff claiming allowances of up to £14,000 and separately for overtime which they may or may not have worked, including one claiming for up to 66 extra hours a week
  • One person caught making payments of £800 a day to an external consultant
  • Companies being issued fuel cards for Newham’s Folkestone Road depot to fill up with, leading to fuel costs soaring into the millions
  • Bonus and incentive payments dished out to plumbers and carpenters worth three times their basic salaries
  • One supplier carrying out bathroom fittings at triple the expected rate
  • Allegations of parts and equipment, including expensive pumps, being bought by RMS employees with council money and given to external contractors who would then re-charge the council to deploy them
  • An £8.7m overspend in just one part of RMS in the 2017/18 financial year
  • £423,770 paid in bonuses and incentives to 10 operatives in six months

This all happened on Sir Robin Wales’ watch and, entirely predictably, the former mayor tried to deflect the blame onto his successor, saying

“I am surprised that, seven months after taking office, and a full year after she became aware of the problem, the current Mayor has not commenced criminal prosecutions or announced that there is insufficient evidence to proceed.”

Equally predictably, Sir Robin’s supporters wasted no time in attacking his successor. Cllr Ken Clark, who was his statutory deputy mayor and held the cabinet portfolio for ‘Regeneration, Planning, Building Communities and Public Affairs’ emailed Rokhsana Fiaz, copying in all councillors:

Thank you for your email on the coverage of the RMS in the Newham Recorder.

Indeed the Recorder seems to know more about this situation than anything councillors are being told by this administration. Why do councillors find out via a third party when you should be reporting to labour members in the first instance and not as an afterthought.

Your constant blame of the previous administration – of which you were part – is noted. You blame the previous mayor for not sharing in full the historical details of this matter but in this same email you state you are unable to share full information with all of us due to ongoing investigations. Can’t you see how hypocritical this is. Don’t you realise that the same restrictions you are under now applied to the previous mayor during his tenure or are you just being deliberately obtuse.

It’s no good blaming fellow members for holding back information when you are in the same boat yourself. It seems unbelievable that your fellow cabinet member for finance, Cllr Paul, who held the housing brief in the previous administration and who would be likely to know the most about this matter did not bring you fully up to speed months ago.

As a former member of the audit board you were privy to confidential information not in the public domain or available to other councillors.

Indeed I don’t know what officers have told you since you took office but I do know that as information is finally being released by officers into the public domain there seems little reason to avoid a police enquiry. Why don’t you call for one now?

I hear you are in the market for blunt emails at the moment so why don’t you put your money where your mouth is, stop pretending that the former administration is to blame for officer fraud, stop pretending that as a previous member of the audit and scrutiny boards you didn’t have a voice on council matters, and start taking responsibility in the job you now have. It’s time to call for a police enquiry into RMS and the way officers have behaved.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

His fellow Manor Park councillor, Salim Patel, also chipped in with his own seasonal message to all councillors:

Dear colleagues,

It is with deep concern for us all to learn of the massive scale of alleged corruption at Newham Council which has only been revealed as a result of the persistence of journalistic investigations by the Newham Recorder. Many of my residents have now raised this issue with me directly, so I wish to make my position on this matter very clear.

The revelation that over £9m of Newham tax-payers money was fraudulently siphoned off by some corrupt Council officers is completely unacceptable. It is also unacceptable that elected Councillors only found out about the sheer scale of this through the local press and that Council officers were investigating themselves. All these issues have been rightly highlighted by Councillor Clark and I understand that RMS has been discussed for some time at the Audit board but in private session, and with no visible outcome.

It is clear that over the past 18 months, Councillors have not been fully briefed on the scale of the allegations and the internal Council investigation. It is also clear that some Council officers have chosen to deliberately keep the full details hidden from members, even though we are the democratically elected representatives of the people of Newham. It also brings to light the question as to whether Council officers should have been allowed to investigate themselves in the first place when the crime was so huge.

Therefore and due to the severity of the matter, I am asking that the Metropolitan Police and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) be asked to intervene immediately to properly investigate, charge and bring to justice the perpetrators of this massive fraud of local residents money.

We know that Councillor Terry Paul had direct involvement with and executive responsibility for housing which covered this service area, during the time when this huge criminal endevour is alleged to have taken place. That’s why its important that Councillor Paul immediately step aside from any current executive responsibilities, to ensure public confidence in the investigation and that it is totally free from even the perceived threat of any interference.

In the meantime, as elected Councillors we have a duty to work together to ensure the Repairs and Maintenance Service continues as a fully reliable public service, that the backlog of repairs are completed and that the service is fully protected from any threat of fraud in future.

Finally, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

All of which overwrought and hysterical nonsense prompted the mayor to respond (link added):

Comrades – thanks for your respective emails which I have noted, alongside today’s anticipated Newham Recorder article which followed the unsurprising email sent last night.

You’ll have received my previous Members briefing sent a short while ago, so please refer to the CIPFA report and its comments about RMS (slide 24) – namely: ‘Major issue over financial control in the repairs and maintenance division, RMS; Led to an overspend of £9m in 2017/18 due to poor pricing of highways work’.

What that means is that the majority of overspend actually happened in Highways NOT housing Services. Yes, the role of all executive members at the time yes should be examined; but be clear precisely whom; alongside the role of the then Statutory Deputy Mayor who would have been privy to issues emerging with RMS (including private executive discussions) and the non-statutory Deputy Mayor who was lead finance and chair of the Audit Board at the time.

Instead of the histrionics, I’ll remind colleagues of the old adage that before jumping to conclusions get the facts right.  That has been the process that we have undertaking since May: a judicious and exacting process of interrogating information being provided by officers including independent experts, during which period a live investigation relating to the range of allegations has also been taking place. The final phase of investigations are near conclusion and any ‘jumping ahead of that’ could risk any future legal proceedings we may be able to proceed with. Rest assured we are on top of this and as I said previously a major announcement will be made about this in the New Year as well – which was always the plan because this was an area being looked into by CIPFA. This will include providing members with a full briefing and an opportunity to discuss the issues.

That aside, I will address other points in the two emails in the New Year, but large parts of what you both set out below are inaccurate. The issues relating to RMS happened before May 2018 and rightly serious questions should be raised and action should be taken to ensure that this never happens again. This is precisely what is happening now because we have and are putting measures in place in a service area that has always been part of the council  – just badly managed like a lot of things we have discovered eight months in and which we are keeping members updated on.

All – kindly note that I’ll be asking Cllr John Gray who is now leading on RMS oversight; plus Cllr Zulfiqar Ali as the cabinet lead responsible for shaping up Highways with Cllr James Asser to help me coordinate the RMS briefing session on my behalf in the New Year. So keep an eye out for details and direct any further questions about RMS to Cllr John Gray in the first instance from here on in.

Thanks.

So, despite an obviously coordinated effort to fit up Cllr Terry Paul due to his brief tenure as mayoral advisor for Housing, it turns out the biggest part of the problem was in Highways. And who had that in their portfolio, including the £100 million ‘keep Newham moving’ programme? Cllr Ken Clark. Whoops.

One person we haven’t heard from in all of this is the former cabinet member for finance and audit board chair, Cllr Lester Hudson. If anyone should be able to shed light on the massive failure of financial governance and control it would be him.

The police are now involved and an extraordinary meeting of the council has been called for 22 January, with a single agenda item: RMS. I am told councillors have already been briefed and that the report which will be discussed is due to be published tomorrow. 

The meeting will be at the Old Town Hall in Stratford, and theres’s plenty of seating for the public. I’ll be there.

 

Note: the original version of this post incorrectly said Cllr Terry Paul was briefly the cabinet member for housing; he wasn’t. He was Mayoral advisor for Housing and responsible for housing repairs. He was not a member of Sir Robin’s cabinet.

Letter to the Editor

8 Aug

A reader writes

Dear Sir,

What on earth is going on at the Newham Mag? I had always thought it was the Mayor’s personal publicity freebie, distributed fortnightly to the adoring masses, and a snip at just £20,000 per issue.

But in the current edition there are only seven (7!)  photos of our Mayor (compared to 20 in the previous edition) and of those, in only 4 is he wearing the Mayor’s ceremonial chain of office. In one photo, he is not even wearing a tie and looking very much the worse  for wear, but possibly this photo shoot was carefully crafted to blend in with a very messy dwelling whose landlord the Council is aiming to prosecute.

And what’s worse there are more photos of the Deputy Mayor (Statutory) and Cabinet Member for Community Neighbourhoods, Ken Clark – he has eight.
Has there been a midnight coup?

Has Clark seized the Mag as part of  his own ruthless drive to succeed the man who has created his Deputy (Statutory)’s political career out of nothing? I think the people deserve an explanation before disllusion and consternation start to take a grip as election year approaches.

Yours sincerely,

Kevin Mansell

All excellent questions.

To which can be added, when will the council comply with the direction issued by the secretary of state for Communities and Local Government last December and reduce publication of the Newham Mag to just four times a year?

Holidays in the sun

2 Aug

Sir Robin at MIPIM 2017

Every March the French mediterranean resort of Cannes plays host to MIPIM, an international property event. According to Wikipedia

The event aims to facilitate business between investors, corporate end-users, local authorities, hospitality professionals, industrial and logistics players and other real estate professionals.

It is tailor-made for the big swinging dicks and wannabe Trumps of the property development racket. So obviously the mayor of Newham would want to be there.

And according to a recent FOI response, he was, accompanied by deputy mayor Cllr Ken Clark, Director of Regeneration and Planning Deirdra Armsby and Head of Regeneration Robin Cooper.

But fear not. Your council tax was not funding a penny of this.

All expenses were paid for via sponsorship from Westfield Group, Berkeley Group, Telford Homes, English Cities Fund and ABP (London) Investments

How very generous of them. 

Flights, accommodation, the conference tickets, plus feeding and watering four thirsty delegates would have set them back a few quid. Sadly, we don’t know yet exactly how much as the mayor and Cllr Clark have neglected to update the register of gifts and hospitalities with the information.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is what I wrote back in 2012 when the mayor made a similar, commercially sponsored trip to the south of France:

…if there was a genuine and compelling reason for Newham to be present at this conference I’d have no objection to the trip being funded from public money. I’m entirely prepared to believe the trip was a worthwhile way for Sir Robin and his entourage to spend their time.

In fact, if the mayor’s presence was so vital it absolutely should have been paid for by the taxpayer. Drumming up business for Newham is part of his job…

…If going to a global property conference is the best way to meet developers, then that’s the place to be. The fact that the event took place in the south of France is neither here nor there. Sir Robin didn’t choose the venue.

Public officials travelling on public business should have their expenses met from the public purse. That way everything’s above board and there’s no question about whose interests they’re representing.

But this trip wasn’t funded with public money. And that is extremely worrying. No-one provides hospitality on this scale without some expectation of getting something in return…

…Perhaps Sir Robin is pleased with himself for saving the public purse a few pounds, but it may end up being a poor bargain for Newham.

Until we know who paid for his trip the mayor must recuse himself from all discussions about regeneration and redevelopment in Newham and from consideration of all planning applications.

Otherwise how can we tell if he’s doing the right thing by residents or repaying a debt to his generous sponsors?

Five years on, the same concerns apply.

UPDATE

I have been sent a copy of another FOI response on a similar topic (sadly not available online), which was released in June. This says that the Cannes party included the council chief executive. If he was indeed there, the cost to the sponsors (and the implied obligation) is even greater.

It also raises a question about quality control in the information governance team. How could two virtually identical questions, asked within a few weeks of each other, result in two different answers?

No standards

11 Sep

The mayor has received a complaint about the behaviour of Cllr Ken Clark at this year’s Newham Show.

The email contains considerable detail about the incident, in which Cllr Clark swore violently and at some length at Ahmed Noor in front of other councillors and members of the public. It claims that Cllr Clark’s actions have bought both the council and the Labour party into disrepute. It concludes:

 I request you start an independent enquiry and the Standards Committee considering (sic) the nature of the misconduct by Cllr Clark 

There is a procedure for handling complaints against elected members. It is described on the council website and it is set out formally in Part 2, article 9 of the council’s constitution:

The Monitoring Officer shall be the Proper Officer to receive complaints of failure to comply with the Code of Conduct…

The Monitoring Officer shall, after consultation with the Independent Person(s), determine whether a complaint merits formal investigation and arrange such investigation.  

If there’s an investigation it’s carried out by the Standards Advisory Committee. Not the mayor. In fact the constitution explicitly excludes him from membership of the committee. 

So, even setting aside any concerns about a conflict of interest because of his close working relationship with Ken Clark, Sir Robin only had two options when he received the email: he could have told the complainant that he was not the right person to deal with the matter, and that they needed to write to the Monitoring Officer directly; or he could have passed the matter to the Monitoring Officer, telling the complainant that this was what he’d done.

But of course the rules don’t apply to the mayor and he did neither of those things. Instead, this was his reply:

I am writing to clarify a few things following receipt of your email. Just a couple of questions:

  1. You provide a considerable amount of detail which raises a number of questions. Given the detail I assume you were present and I need a few questions answered. Could you please provide me with contact details, telephone, address etc., so that I can arrange to meet you in person and discuss these questions.
  2. I note that you appear to have used a Council distribution group for all members of the Council which is only available through the Council’s email system. I presume that you got this from a councillor or perhaps a member of staff? If you could provide me with their details I can have a chat with them about the issues.
  3. Just to clarify, you make several references to the Newham Labour Party but I do not believe you are yourself a member. Is that correct? Perhaps you are a member in another Borough?

A quick response so we can meet in the very near future would be very helpful.

Regards,

Robin Wales

There’s no acknowledgement of the seriousness of the allegation, no suggestion that this is matter that needs to be put through the proper channels. Just a bullying and sinister tone. How do you suppose that ‘chat’ with whoever provided the email addresses would go?

Replying to Sir Robin the complainant says:

I am very much puzzled as to why you were far more eager to know my background instead of starting the investigation thoroughly against Councillor Ken Clark

Well, they might be puzzled, but I’m not.

Sir Robin holds the code of conduct and the Standards Committee in absolute contempt. When he was investigated by the Standards Committee last year he refused to even acknowledge the investigation, much less provide any evidence. He and his chums are untouchable. They can behave as they like, without fear of the consequences. 

And as we see in this case, he’d much rather pursue the complainant than any complaint.

Forgetful

15 Jun

 

Dame Tessa Jowell with the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales and Cllr Ken Clark (pic: Newham Recorder)

Two more bits of bad news for Councillor Ahmed Noor.

He has now been suspended by the national Labour Party, not just by the Newham chief whip, pending an external investigation into his conduct. The procedure is called “administrative suspension”. He is still a councillor but until the investigation is complete he can’t attend Labour group or West Ham constituency meetings. He can still turn up at local ward meetings, but I gather he’s never much bothered himself with that anyway.

And last week London mayoral hopeful Dame Tessa Jowell toured the borough, accompanied by Sir Robin Wales and his new best friend, ex-London Labour party regional director Cllr Ken Clark.

She was there to inspect the work being done by local enforcement officers tackling ‘rogue landlords.’ Newham’s private rental licensing scheme would be a template for a London-wide initiative under a future Jowell administration at City Hall. Perhaps led by someone with lots of relevant local government experience?

Following the tour Sir Robin said

“The vast majority of landlords are doing their best but some of them are simply preying on the weakest, we have to tackle this issue head on.

“Tessa is absolutely right that we need to crack down on criminal landlords who are exploiting people across London.”

And what better way for Sir Robin to prove his mettle – and avoid potential future embarrassment – than by prosecuting an unlicensed landlord sitting on his own council? Ahmed Noor may find himself on the wrong side of the mayor’s wider political ambition.

Meanwhile an FOI request has been made to Newham council about whether or not Cllr Ian Corbett has declared all gifts and hospitality he has received. Cllr Corbett is a close friend of Noor and they have attended many West Ham matches together.

I wonder if our Cllr Ahmed Noor was the same person who gave the following gifts to Sir Robin Wales back in 2010?

22/12/2010 – One bottle of whisky, one bottle of Champagne and one box of chocolates – valued at over £25; Name of donor: Mr Ahmed Noor 

If so, did he also give any gifts to his friend Ian Corbett that the councillor has forgotten to declare? 

A walk on part in the war

24 Apr

Newham councillor Ken Clark (pictured above) enjoys a brief walk on part in the full judgement in the Lutfur Rahman case that was published yesterday.

It is an entertaining and eye-popping read all round. Councillor Clark first appears in paragraph 223:

In 2010 the question arose whether Tower Hamlets should have an elected Mayor. The Labour Party at national and regional level was not keen on a Mayor for Tower Hamlets and the Borough Labour Party was instructed by Mr Ken Clark, the Party’s regional director, to oppose the proposition. Mr Rahman, on the other hand was keen on an elected Mayor, considering himself (not unreasonably) as potentially fitted for that rôle. He therefore campaigned in support of the petition. Although there were widespread suspicions that some of the names supporting the petition were bogus, the petition reached the necessary level for a referendum to take place as to whether there should be an elected Mayor. Again the regional Party instructed the local Party to oppose the referendum and again Mr Rahman campaigned in its favour.

After five paragraphs about the determined efforts of the Labour party to keep Mr Rahman from becoming their mayoral candidate he briefly reappears:

The selection took place on 4 September 2010. A transferable-vote ballot was held among members of the Party in Tower Hamlets. The other candidates included Mr Biggs, Mr Helal Abbas and Mr Keith. Mr Rahman was successful and his candidature was announced by Mr Clark (clearly through gritted teeth). 

Of course, as we know, Lutfur Rahman was very quickly deselected by the national executive committee and went on to win the election as an independent.

It is no small irony that the same Ken Clark who instructed Tower Hamlets Labour party to oppose having an elected mayor in that borough is now right-hand man to the elected mayor of this borough. After his election as councillor for Manor Park ward last May he was immediately appointed to cabinet as lead member for ‘Building Communities, Public Affairs, Regeneration & Planning’. His job is ‘to be the eyes and ears of the council, sharing information and local intelligence.’

For some reason all this reminds me of Pink Floyd’s song Wish Your Were Here

And did you exchange

A walk on part in the war 

For a lead role in a cage?