Sunday 30 October 2011

Why H&F’s Opposition Voted Against Appointing The Council’s New Chief Executive

It’s a straight forward management decision: Does H&F Council need a Chief Executive on £300,000.00 a year as well as a Managing Director on £200.000.00 a year? At the last Full Council Meeting my Labour Opposition colleagues and I voted “against” that unnecessary proposal and said "no we don't".

Before doing that, we had asked the Conservative Administration and its officials for details of all the objective analysis that had been carried out that led them to determine that the tax payers of our Borough needed to pay for both of these almost duplicate positions. Here’s what we found:
  • No good practice models had been followed in determining the need for both the CEO and MD post
  • No independent advice was sought from any possible critical friends in other local authorities, the Local Government Association, the government or academia
  • No cost benefit analysis was carried out on the likely benefits of having both a CEO and MD
  • H&F Council admitted that it hadn’t undertaken any objective analysis and hadn't followed any recognised methodologies when coming up with this highly unusual senior exec job structure. 
These jobs had simply been negotiated amongst officials in private back-room deals and signed off by Conservative councillors in the relevant boroughs. That wouldn't happen in a large organisation genuinely committed to getting value for money - especially in these difficult times.

To be fair, our council will be sharing its new Chief Executive with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. That means we will get that person’s time and energy for about two and a half days a week for a cost of £150,000.00 a year. Consider that Hackney is a much larger London Borough but it pays their Chief Executive £180,000.00 a year. It begs the question couldn’t we have done better?

Local government needs to modernise. It is not acceptable that jobs should be fixed in private deals that side step best practice. Our Council particularly needs to learn from the very best companies in the private sector so it can better manage its staff and its resources.

Should Labour win power in 2014 we will delete the CEO’s post and just have an MD. We will also strip out up to ten per cent of assistant director positions and cut back the senior directors to just four. The money we save will be used to cut taxes and fund front line services such as extra police and better youth facilities.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Gun Crime, Burglary, Robbery And Total Crime Up But H&F Conservatives Vote To Confirm Borough's Police Cuts

Last week at the Full Council Meeting my Opposition colleagues and I voted to have the Council restore the four local sergeants positions that have been cut from Hammersmith and Fulham’s police force this month. The Conservative run Council deployed its block vote and unanimously voted against that proposal. They did admit crime had gone up - with gun crime, burglary and robberies all up from last year but they refused to say why they were voting to stop the Council stepping in and stopping the current round of police cuts.

Does the Borough have the money to fund these roles? Consider that H&F Council made the BBC News last weekend for wasting between £5m to £12m on shoddy consultancy contracts; or that a leading Conservative MP condemned the Conservative Administration for spending £5m of tax payers’ money on "political propaganda"; or that they waste millions of pounds on some of the most expensive and unnecessary senior bureaucrats positions in the UK. Put another way the choice is even more straight forward: people in this Borough could have their four police sergeants back or keep paying for just one of the Council's high paid consultants. So yes - the money is there but only if the political will to make this a priority is there. But it wasn't.

There are 31 Conservative councillors in Hammersmith and Fulham to 15 Labour councillors. Their votes killed the proposal to restore local police numbers.

Police numbers are important. There are lessons from around the world that demonstrates how police numbers make a major difference to cutting crime. Combined with measures that tackle the causes of crime, governments and councils can make real headway into making areas much, much safer.

This is not the time to cut police numbers. The public are rightly concerned about knife crime; about increases in violent crime and about the fact that total crime is up in Hammersmith and Fulham for the first time since Ken Livingstone introduced neighbourhood police teams many years ago. 

My Labour colleagues will increase police numbers should we win control of the Council in 2014. But we need action now. So, along with local residents, we’ll continue to campaign on this issue. Sooner or later the Conservatives will have to listen and restore those important police officers jobs.

Sunday 23 October 2011

H&F Conservatives: “We’re Not Embarrassed!” As £5m to 12m Is Wasted On Shoddy Consultant Contracts

Gone but not forgotten
During the last year, H&F Council eventually agreed to examine the highly unorthodox consultancy contracts it now admits it has wasted millions of pounds on. But that examination was a direct consequence of a two year investigation carried out by H&F’s Labour Opposition. This was featured on today’s Politics Show and BBC London News

Audit Committee reports were successfully pushed for by Councillors PJ Murphy (Lab) and Mike Cartwright (Lab) who are two of that Committee’s members. This began after concerns arose about the Conservative Administration’s curious method of hiring Mr. Nick Johnson, which it claims is a “full-time consultant”.

Conservative councillors initially complained that they didn’t understand why the Audit Committee was “wasting its time” looking into these matters but were then embarrassed to discover that the majority of contractors hired by their Administration: 
  • Had NO valid contract
  • Had NO clear specification of what the council was buying
  • Had NO performance criteria
  • Had NO performance monitoring to check outcomes
  • Had NO checks for value for money
Indeed, the investigation showed that while the Conservatives argued they were cutting the number of staff they employed, they were actually hiring many of them back on inflated private service company contracts which were hidden from public scrutiny. This meant:  
  • Some council bureaucrats were being paid twice from the public purse given that they were former local government employees already on generous final salary pensions (who had often been allowed to retire early) but were then hired back by H&F Council as full time employees for sums ranging up to £1000 per day and more
  • The Conservative-run Council kept no records of how many consultants it employed and initially tried to stop any investigation by the Audit Committee on the basis that it would be “too much work” to compile this information
  • The Conservative Administration got itself into a situation where consultants were hiring other consultants to do work that was unspecified, unmonitored and in many cases unnecessary
  • The Conservative Administration even paid consultants despite the work not being completed and in one case the consultancy company had even ceased to exist.
Indeed, the Opposition estimates that H&F Council has wasted between £5m to £12m by commissioning consultants for work that was thoroughly unnecessary. It is however, still difficult to have much confidence in the way H&F Council is managing these contracts. It was only last month that the Finance Director eventually wrote to me to confirm that as a consequence of the Opposition's investigations, a new “procedure for the selection, appointment and management of consultants and interims was approved by the Executive Management Team (EMT) on 13th July.”

Consider that for every £3 the Conservative led government has cut to H&F Council’s budget, the local Conservative Administration has added an extra £1 cut. That translates into service cuts and local stealth taxes, such as ending the Sure Start children’s education programme in all but name; cutting homeless acceptance criteria;  introducing a 55% parking charge increases in just one year; and a new £12.40 hourly care charge for the elderly, sick and disabled.

To be fair to Cllr. Greg Smith, I think he did quite a good job on today’s Politics Show by putting a positive spin on what is an awful story about his Administration's waste and incompetence. But much of what he said was blatantly not true: he falsely claimed credit for taking "the initiative" and investigating what was going on. He even tried to blame a previous Labour Administration that left office nearly six years ago. All of the incompetence the Council has identified is a direct result of the policies and actions of the current Conservative Administration although Cllr. Smith did tell the BBC that he and his colleagues were "not embarrassed" in the slightest - which is a concern in itself.

Meanwhile, H&F Council is still refusing to say how many more of its full time staff are actually employed by agencies and therefore hidden from public scrutiny. The agencies enjoy a high commission which is paid to them from public funds with every monthly bill. While there are occasions when large organisations may need to employ people like for short periods it is very peculiar for people to be employed by a council as agency workers on a permanent basis. However, the Opposition has already discovered that many of these individuals hold high level council positions and have been employed by H&F Council in exactly this way for years.

Many residents will be asking how much more is there to come out? H&F Council therefore needs to be transparent and publish a full public account of what's gone wrong and why they tried to avoid fixing it. Then the Administration needs to publish a detailed plan of how they are going to ensure this type of waste never happens again. If they don't do that and we discover further problems, then the Opposition will be calling for some high profile resignations.