Monday 20 December 2010

H&F Conservatives Grit Failure - “Elderly Going Down Like Ninepins"

Fulham Road, Fulham
This is the third winter in a row that there has been a lack of any gritting on Hammersmith and Fulham’s main roads, pavements and side streets. It’s not the same in neighbouring Kensington and Chelsea who appear to have gritted all their high streets and pavements within hours of the snow first falling. This is clearly a budgetary and policy decision made by H&F’s ruling politicians and one that is causing chaos for many Borough Residents.

The lack of any attempt to make even main thoroughfares safe became obvious in February 2009 – when H&F Council tried the excuse, they “couldn't get their gritting machines going.” Last winter this reoccurring failure even damaged the attempt of a local Conservative councillor to become a Member of Parliament – so it's reasonable to expect lessons would have been learnt.

Dawes Road, Fulham
Shepherds Bush Councillor Mercy Umeh (Lab) tells me "it's chaos they haven't improved any safety measures since the last big snow fall". Adding "as recently as last Saturday I couldn’t find a single street that had been gritted and I still can't find much evidence of any gritting today."  Mercy said “My Saturday morning surgery was very busy. One constituent, who cares for her elderly mother told me she is distraught as she is unable to take her mother out in her wheelchair. I’ve written to officials demanding immediate action but as yet the streets remain un-touched.”

Munster Road, Fulham
Local resident Bert Schouwenburg contacted me to say that last Friday he slipped on the untreated ice in Shepherds Bush. He says “I went head first onto the pavement, ended up in an ambulance and now have 8 stitches in a nasty head wound above my eye. Was I in a back street where the pavements hadn't been gritted? No, I was in Goldhawk Road.” Bert Schouwenburg is the President of H&F’s Trades Council and said “Despite the weather warnings, H&F Council and their contractors had not salted or gritted any pavements and the ambulance staff told me that the elderly were going down like ninepins - some of whom will never walk again.”

Meanwhile, I was out and about in Fulham on Saturday. I took these photos (click to enlarge) from 1.00pm onwards. Notice that not only is there un-melted ice, there’s no sign of any grit or treatment to make it melt.

If you’ve fallen or been hurt or are caring for someone who has, you can complain to H&F Council by clicking onto the email address listed at the bottom of this link. Please copy me in to any complaints by emailing me here.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

H&F Pays “Retired” Bureaucrat The Equivalent Of 1.17% Cut In Council Tax For Each Local Household

On Monday, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP (Con), the Secretary of State for Local Government, announced that Hammersmith and Fulham will have a 6.56% cut in central government funding. He also announced an interesting solution to balancing the books. He said “Councils could cut chief executive’s pay.” He should re-read this article scooped by the Mail on Sunday on the 31st October 2010. It tells how H&F’s Nick Johnson “receives a total of £310,000 a year – making him what is believed to be the highest-paid council-funded official in Britain.” The Mail explains that this sum is a combination of Nick Johnson’s ability to draw a £50,000.00 local government pension as well as invoicing H&F for over £260,000.00 a year. He is able to claim both these amounts because the Hammersmith and Fulham money is paid to his private limited company (Davies Johnson Ltd) rather than directly to him. I think Mr. Pickles should look into the circumstances around this.

Nick Johnson is currently paid as H&F Council’s interim Housing Director and the Chief Executive of H&F Homes - its 100% owned housing management subsidiary. Prior to that he had worked as Bexley Council’s Chief Executive where, according to this newspaper report, he was paid a salary of £203,000 a year.

But he retired from Bexley earlier than the normal pensionable age on 4th November 2007. This happened after he was deemed to be so ill that he was “permanently unfit to discharge his duties or any comparable duties as defined by the Local Government Pension Scheme regulations”. Dr. Johnson started work in Hammersmith and Fulham on 11th February 2008 – fourteen weeks and one day after he retired. Since then he has billed H&F around £700,000.00. This sum equates to a 1.17% cut in council tax for each Borough household. Davies Johnson Ltd was incorporated on the 27th February 2006.

In a note to Bexley Councillors the current Chief Executive of that authority tells how an “Independent Occupational Health Consultant” reached the conclusion about Dr. Johnson’s health and the decision to retire him was made in 2007 by “the Acting Chief Executive, Dave Berry and the Leader of the Council [former Councillor and former Deputy Mayor of London Ian Clement (Con)].”

Bexley councillors have questioned why they are paying a pension to an individual who appears to still be working. Their Chief Exec has advised them “Dr. Johnson has confirmed that he is not employed by Hammersmith and Fulham homes or any other eligible employer, so the Council has no basis on which to reduce any benefits being paid under the statutory terms of the Local Government Pension Scheme.”

The Swanley and Dartford Chronicle finds these goings on highly questionable and says Nick Johnson “clearly works for H&F Homes” on page 2 in this piece titled “Miraculous Recovery”.

H&F Conservatives say Nick Johnson is “good value for money” in this article here. Our local Conservatives’ admiration for Nick Johnson were first published by Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh (Con) when he thanked him and others for the “tremendous amount of help as we have developed our thinking” on page 6 of this controversial policy paper titled Principles for Social Housing Reform. Many of the ideas in Cllr. Greenhalgh’s paper are now set to become government policy. These including hiking social housing rents to “near market values” and removing people’s rights to secure tenancies.

On the 24th June 2010 Nick Johnson gave evidence to the Borough's Housing, Health and Adult Social Care Select Committee to say he worked “full time” for both H&F Council and its housing management provider H&F Homes. I asked him how this has come about and he told the committee that his work for the Council had begun following a “personal request from Geoff Alltimes” - Hammersmith and Fulham Council's Chief Executive.

This position was “interim” so it did not go through any of formal recruitment panel involving councillors. I decided to investigate what was happening but finding out about Nick Johnson’s company and payment details was made extremely difficult. Here’s a time line of what happened:
  1. On the 30th July 2010 I received a response from H&F Homes telling me “Davies Johnson Ltd’s supply of Nick Johnson’s services to H&F Homes is commercially sensitive information and subject to commercial privilege.” They flatly refused to tell me how much was being paid to that company.
  2. I took this matter up with Geoff Alltimes and on 24th September 2010, he wrote to inform me that Dr. Johnson’s company is paid “£950 pounds per day.” Which he asserted “equates to an annual salary of approximately £160,000, plus on-costs.”
  3. I continued to ask questions and on the 20th October 2010 I was sent the exact information which showed that in the period 2008/09 Davis Johnson Ltd was paid £268,405.00 and during the period 2009/10 it was paid £260,980.00. 
  4. On 22nd November I wrote to Geoff Alltimes to find out why I was misinformed. Indeed, in the worst instance Nick Johnson had actually been paid £108,405.00 more than Mr. Alltimes told me. As yet, I have not had a reply.
This behaviour is very concerning. It also makes H&F’s boast that it would be “Britain’s most transparent council” look more than a little hollow.

Grant Shapps MP (Con), a government minister who works for Eric Pickles MP, was on the Politics Show on Sunday. He was complaining about a council paying its Chief Exec £170,000.00 a year. Maybe he and his boss should take Hammersmith and Fulham Council to task as our Chief Exec is also one of the highest earning local government officials in the UK and well takes over £270,000.00 out of the public purse. Add in Nick Johnson’s vast payments and it’s reasonable to wonder who is bearing the brunt of the cuts to services in Hammersmith and Fulham? It doesn’t appear to be our high ranking bureaucrats.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Quarter Of A Million Pounds Wasted In Five Years Because Town Hall Lights Left On

H&F Council now admits that over the last five years alone, they have wasted up to £250,000.00 in electricity and burnt an unnecessary carbon footprint of 1,250 tonnes of CO2. The reason? They couldn't manage to turn the lights off in the Town Hall Extension.

I last reported on this a couple of years ago and have written to the Chief Executive of H&F Council on many occasions to ask why they were incapable of switching the lights off. Here’s a telling response I had from a senior official on 22nd May 2008, “The method of switching the lights on and off is via a computer system and unfortunately a problem has occurred to the system… which now prevents the lights being switched off. Whilst in the past we have resisted the option to by pass the computer system by providing a simple switching system to each floor on the grounds of cost and the limited life of the building this recent failure to yet again turn off the lights is clearly unacceptable. An order has now been placed to provide simple manual switches per floor. These works are due to be completed in the next two weeks. Security will then be instructed on how to turn off each floor via these manual switches. I hope this answers your questions and can only apologise on behalf of the Council for this recent failure to adequately control the lights at the Extension.”

Close to £100,000.00 of tax payers money has been wasted since that email was sent. But, yesterday on H&F Council’s intranet, there is a self-congratulatory message applauding their achievement as now they believe they've cracked it: “Due to the recent office moves in the Town Hall extension we have been able to identify the areas where lights need to be on for 24 hours… and have taken steps to switch off the rest of the lights in the building after office hours.  From Friday 26th November, the only lights that should be left on in the Town Hall Extension may be the 6th floor (top floor) and the staircase lighting.”

H&F Council proudly tells us "We have estimated  that this will save the council approximately £40- 50k a year and will reduce our carbon footprint by 250 tonnes of CO2." Consider for a moment all the horrible cuts in services or the vast amount of stealth taxes local residents have had to suffer in recent years. Meanwhile, they were literally burning our money night after night. This tells you a lot about what is wrong with H&F Council and provides an insight to the ineffective culture around their cuts programme.

Saturday 4 December 2010

What Are H&F Conservatives Offering Toby Young's Free School?

H&F Conwatch is reporting that our local Council is considering handing over the Askham Family Centre to Toby Young (see pic) so he can temporarily turn it into his free school. I have written to the director of education to seek clarification and find out exactly what is happening.

Toby Young is an associate editor of The Spectator and also writes for The Daily Telegraph. H&F Council has been in talks with his school organisation for some time about using Palingswick House as a permanent home for his free school - once all the charities that currently use that building have been successfully evicted. The BBC provides a full report here.

A wide range of families, including those with severely disabled children, are currently provided with vital support at the Askham Family Centre. I will tell you what H&F Council plans to do with them once I have a responce from the director of education.