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.


Cllr. PJ Murphy (Lab), Councillor for Hammersmith Broadway ward said...

Following the Mail on Sunday article I wrote to the Chairman of the Audit Committee asking council officers to prepare a report for the December 7th Committee meeting. I wanted the Committee to examine the background behind this role, how it was advertised and consider all details concerning the appointment process.

After much pushing it was eventually agreed a report will come to the February meeting - a full 4 months after my initial request.

I hope that the report will be substancial and consider all matters relating to this case.

Anonymous said...

Johnson is wrong here

He says H&F Homes is the landlord for council houses. They are not. The Council is the landlord. H&F Homes are no more than the managing company.