Tag Archives: Lester Hudson

Laugh? I thought I’d never start

18 Mar

From the Newham Recorder’s report of last night’s cabinet meeting:

In other business, councillors agreed there was no need “at the present time” for new Gypsy and Traveller accommodation in the borough.

Discussing the matter, deputy mayor Cllr Lester Hudson joked that he would like to know the address of the person who “made the objective”.

“I think what Lester is saying is that we would be very happy to set up a site right next to their house,” Sir Robin added.

I can’t quite believe they actually said that – out loud – in a public meeting.

And thought it was funny.

UPDATE (20/03/2016)

On Friday evening Lester Hudson issued a statement to councillors claiming he had been misquoted in the Recorder story:

Deputy Mayor Councillor Lester Hudson has today rebutted a Newham Recorder online story over the misreporting of part of a debate at Cabinet on Thursday in connection with new gypsy and traveller accommodation in the borough.

The rebuttal statement issued to the Recorder by Councillor Hudson reads:

“The local newspaper account of this exchange is simply wrong. I was absolutely serious when I asked to understand more about objectors to our approach, not the objective.

“I am proud of the fact that Newham Council has previously established an authorised public site for Gypsies and Travellers and has made a detailed analysis of the needs of these communities locally.

“Other local authorities could learn much from Newham’s approach and should do much more to help those communities. I wanted to know whether the local authority of any objector had made a significant commitment to Gypsies and Travellers as Newham Council has. I would be happy to see a dedicated public site for Gypsies and Travellers established by every local authority in the country.”

Notably absent from this statement is any comment on what the mayor said, much less a denial.

Shuffling the pack

14 Dec


Sir Robin has written to councillors to announce some changes to his team of ‘mayoral advisors’, including a couple of additions to the already bulging executive payroll.

Cllr Ellie Robinson (Forest Gate North) is taking over responsibility for Commercial Opportunities, leading “work to make the Council more commercial, to ensure we have a strong income stream to mitigate the loss of government funding.” This probably means resurrecting the mayor’s crass MoneyWorks payday loans idea, flagged in the 2014 manifesto but largely forgotten since. The other money-spinning manifesto promise, a kind of BrightHouse competitor to flog white goods to the poor on the never-never, has also vanished from sight. Perhaps Ellie will be tasked with reviving that too. 

Having passed over the commercial brief, Cllr Forhad Hussain (Plaistow North) will be able to spend more time with Ken Clark, working on ‘Community Neighbourhoods.’ Lucky man.

Ellie’s previous role as lead for OneSource, the partnership with Havering council to share back office services, will be taken up by deputy mayor, Cllr Lester Hudson (Wall End). According to Sir Robin, this “will enable us to better harness the synergies between strategic and operational finance work.” Beings as the perennially useless “Three Jobs” is already cabinet lead for finance AND he chairs the audit board AND he chairs the investment and accounts committee, this further consolidation of financial responsibility looks like a governance disaster waiting to happen. 

Cllr David Christie (Beckton) gets responsibility for the “Newham 2020 transformation programme” and the “reconfiguring of our services.” Which will make him the public face of everything that goes wrong in local public services for the next five years. 

Joining the ’special responsibility allowance’ gravy train for the first time are Cllrs Julianne Marriott (East Ham Central) and Tonii Wilson (Beckton).

Cllr Wilson will be taking Ellie Robinson’s seat on the OneSource board. With 14 previous directorships – all at companies which are now dissolved – she brings a wealth of boardroom experience.

Cllr Marriott is a surprise addition to the team. As recently as last June she was one of nine councillors excluded by the mayor from a budget pow-wow at a swanky hotel in Chigwell. But time (and money, no doubt) heals all wounds. Like Forhad Hussain she will be spending a lot of time with Ken Clark in her new role. The mayor assures councillors that her appointment to the Regeneration brief “will give us more capacity to ensure we are delivering regeneration that genuinely transforms people’s lives.” Perhaps by scheduling extra buses to ship them out of town before their homes are bulldozed to make way for yet another ‘luxury development’? 

Residents interested in finding out what any of these ‘jobs’ actually entails or what councillors will be doing to prove they are worth their additional allowances will be out of luck. There won’t be anything resembling a job description on the website for months. And even then nothing by way of performance targets. Luckily for our mayoral advisors, if there are no targets they can’t miss them. Trebles all round!

Leader Knows Best

27 Aug

by Rachel Collinson

“I know how this vote is going to go. If the motion was ‘the earth is flat’ councillors Rokhsana, Seyi, Kay and Susan would vote 4-2 for it,” thunders Lester Hudson, as he eyes the Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting.
I’m so offended and shocked by this that I can’t help snorting, despite being in the public gallery.

Hudson continues as though nothing has happened. “If the motion was ‘Geoffrey Boycott is useless at cricket’ they would vote 4-2 for it.” Nobody’s laughing this time. His tirade continues: “I sincerely hope this time, common sense will prevail, but I doubt it.”

There is general uproar, and the female councillors who have been the subject of these personal attacks are rightly livid. (Later on I realise that John Gray – also a member of the rebellion against the Robin Wales regime – is spared the vitriol. Could it be that the Y chromosome is a safeguard?)

A chap to my left passes me a sheet of lined A4 notepaper, with “Attendance Sheet” scrawled at the top. There is a name and one signature on it so far. I pass it on without signing.

A few minutes later, an unnamed lady shouts “Has everybody signed the attendance sheet?”

“I’ve never been asked this before as a member of the public in a council meeting,” I say, annoyed. “It doesn’t say on it how the data will be used, so I didn’t.”

“I just need to know who is here,” she replies.

Well, that much is obvious.

This meeting has been called because Newham Council’s Cabinet have seemingly approved a dubious investment proposal without oversight of the Investment and Accounts Committee. Councillors heard about it in passing and were horrified. They have decided to ask the Mayor to reconsider spending £500,000 without due process.

Council Officers will not let members of the public (or even certain councillors) see more details of what’s proposed. All we know so far is that the Cabinet are attempting to reduce payments to the council’s pension fund –  which already has a £238 million deficit – using a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’. We understand that the council is using some of their buildings as security on a risky investment. How do we know it’s risky? Because their financial advisors are warning them against it.

It seems common sense to me that if the proposal were common sense, then the Cabinet would not resort to bending the rules to avoid scrutiny.

What I am seeing in action here is the Labour belief that Leader Knows Best, and democracy is merely a frustrating blot on the master plan. The belief that the people ought to shut up and take their medicine. The belief that is shown up at its worst in the Executive Mayoral system.

This is further confirmed when a member of the public stands up and questions whether the chair should be asking loaded questions of his own committee. The offender, Anthony McAlmont, says that members of the public are not allowed to speak, despite having allowed an earlier question. For some reason this breach of meeting protocol goes unnoticed by the Legal advisor present.

I hear the words ‘p&%$-up’ and ‘brewery’ emanate loudly from elsewhere in the public gallery.

With dogged persistence, the female councillors draft a resolution that no more money should be spent until the investment and accounts committee has had a chance to review the proposal in more detail. In the end, the meeting vote is 5-1 for this motion.

Hudson warns this is a waste of time. What does he know that we don’t?

During this fiasco, I am reminded of the botched Labour leadership elections. You can vote for anything, as long as it’s the right choice.

As if to reinforce this, the Mayor rejects the motion day after.

It would be easy to despair right now. But I’m seeing a new movement emerging amongst the people of Newham. I see it in the snowballing, hopeful tweets about Jeremy Corbyn. I see it in the growing bravery of left-wing councillors against their bullying leaders. I see it in the swelling numbers of Newham Green Party.

And it’s almost reassuring to observe some councillors in utter denial of this growing trend. It means we will win, and soon.

If you’re interested in helping the Green Party challenge Labour’s one party state in Newham, do sign up here. (NB: We have a No Purge Promise™)

Rachel Collinson is acting membership secretary for Newham Green Party, and a former General Election candidate. 

Old jokes home

12 Aug

Sponger caption

One has an ill-defined job, lavishly funded at taxpayers’ expense. The other is the Duke of Edinburgh.

The geezer is underpaid

23 Jul

Sir robin wales labour hand up for more money

Hands up if you think you’re underpaid on £81,000 a year (photo: WorldSkills)

by Iain Aitch

‘The geezer is underpaid’ is not a phrase you expect to hear from the Deputy Mayor of a Labour council when talking about his boss. You expect it even less when his boss, Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales, draws allowances of £81,029 per-annum and is asking Council Tax-payers where £50m of cuts should be made. 

Yet these are the words that came from the mouth of Councillor Lester Hudson at Wednesday evening’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) at East Ham Town Hall. Hudson said he was speaking on behalf of the Mayor as he attempted to justify how and why Wales should get a £10,858 pay rise, in the shape of a pension paid for solely by Newham residents. 

Once tax breaks were taken into account this would leave the Mayor with a council tax-funded income of £96,231. This is more than four-times the mean Newham salary that other councillors reported to the meeting. Hudson was adamant that Wales, full-timers and those who receive Special Responsibility Allowances (SRA) should receive a hefty 13.4% pension contribution from residents. The contribution from Wales and councillors? Zero. 

The meeting was discussing these pensions because the issue had been called in to the OSC by councillors concerned at just how this £600,000 spend over three years would make them look. Councillors Dianne Walls, Seyi Akiwowo and Kay Scoresby asked how this would appear to residents on the doorstep come election time, but Councillors Hudson, McAlmont, Vaughan and Noor argued that MPs get a generous pension, so why shouldn’t they? Vaughan asserted that they were as good as MPs; ironically, Noor decided they were better, even though it appeared that he did not know quite how pensions worked. 

Several members struggled with the concept that they were paid allowances for duties rather than actually being employees of Newham Council. Some had to be reminded more than once. They still remained puzzled. Hudson didn’t help by constantly referring to being an employee, even when he was regaling the meeting with tales of his Cambridge degree, his past as an accountant and how he could earn more elsewhere were it not for his selfless dedication to public service.

If there was a The Thick of It moment during the OSC it was when the big white book of meeting rules was pulled out and dusted off. Newham’s council meetings and committees are not places where dissent is a common occurrence and suddenly there was some. Computer says no. 

The chair, Councillor Anthony McAlmont, didn’t know quite what to do. The rule book was consulted. But it was clear there was more than a simple problem of pensions or procedure at play. The room was divided along gender lines, with Councillors Rokhsana Fiaz and Susan Masters joining the dissent. Female councillors spoke about the impact of austerity, the impact on residents and the probable illegality of the scheme being proposed. Male councillors spoke about how selfless they were and how much they were worth to the public. 

In tense exchanges, issues of childcare, meeting times and parental leave were raised by the women. Councillor Hudson expressed an opinion that those issues had already been discussed at Labour Group. Councillor Akiwowo face-palmed at this point. Fiaz rolled her eyes. Walls pointed out that no such discussion had occurred. Akiwowo came out fighting and impressed mightily. She had already rubbished the idea that huge pensions would attract a younger, more diverse set of councillors. “I’m not 55 and I am pretty diverse,” she said. But the point was lost on the old guard in the chamber. Hudson, unable to vote, left the room stating that he hoped ‘common sense would prevail’ to yet more eye-rolling, astonishment and opprobrium. 

At the meeting’s conclusion, all five women voted to recommend that the Mayor reconsider the pension scheme. All three men voted to say all was fine and dandy and when do the payments start?

The final decision as to whether to spend the £600,000 on pensions now rests with the Mayor. At a time when community centres are being closed, childcare facilities cut and repairs put off it would surely be embarrassing, even for this Mayor, to rub Newham residents’ faces in it, wouldn’t it? Let us see. 

Whatever the decision, it does now seem that the split within Newham Labour’s ranks is becoming visible. It was seemingly bubbling under even before the ink was dry on the ballot papers at the last council election, but now it is out in the open. We may finally have an opposition sitting in the council chamber, only not where anyone would have expected to find them, least of all Sir Robin. 

Iain Aitch is an author and journalist who lives in Newham. He has written for the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times and Financial Times.


The loan arranger

8 Apr

The minutes of the council meeting on 23 February include a section called Members Question Time. I don’t recall seeing this before, so perhaps it’s a recent innovation (or I haven’t been paying proper attention – which is entirely possible).

One particular bit caught my eye, which I’ll quote without further comment (though my emphasis added):

Councillor John Gray to Councillor Lester Hudson:

I note that in Agenda item 14 Annual Treasury Strategy Statement 3.2.2 on Borrowing Strategy (page 55) that the Council will not borrow more than it needs purely in order to profit from the investment of extra sums borrowed. However, is this in conflict with recent statements that in the future Newham will earn income from loans it makes and that this is the sort of commercial money making activity that the Council should engage in?


Cllr Hudson advised that the Treasury statement was self explanatory and referred members to pages 151- 153 of the report which provides information on the Council’s borrowing and Capital Program. If the Council can borrow at a low rate and lend at commercial rates this adds value to the Council and enables us to extract income to cross subsidise where there are holes in the budget. 

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.

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.”

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.”