Monday 27 October 2014

Review On The Tri-Borough Shared Services Scheme Out Today

Lord Andrew Adonis published the Critical Friends Board
review today
The review of the council  shared services scheme that has become known as "tri-borough" was published today. You can read the executive summary here, the full report here and the press release put out by the Critical Friends Board here.

My colleagues and I have been broadly supportive of the idea behind this scheme from its inception and wrote about that in our manifesto. However we also had concerns about how it was put together back in 2010 and we raised those here when we were in Opposition. 

H&F's residents gave my fellow Labour councillors and I control of H&F Council in the local elections last May. We viewed it as vitally important that an independent review, devoid of vested interests, was immediately carried out. That has now concluded.

It is the most thorough and comprehensive analysis yet undertaken of the "tri-borough" initiative.  Indeed, it is the only independent review the three councils' shared services have undergone. I would like to thank Lord Andrew Adonis, Prof. Tony Travers and Deborah Lincoln for their enormous hard work and insights.

The shared services initiative has brought benefits to Hammersmith and Fulham although it is striking that the millions of pounds of savings so far achieved across the three councils are roughly equivalent to those delivered by Hackney and Lambeth and Camden on their own without undertaking such a sharing scheme. Those councils each delivered savings by stripping out layers of management instead of sharing them.

The three borough's shared services scheme will deliver a combined saving of £46.5million by 2015/16 which is well short of the £100million that the Rt Hon Eric Pickles (Con), the communities secretary, and his colleagues predicted here when the project was launched in 2010. 

The financial tsunami facing local government -  H&F is being required to make £71 million of cuts by 2017/18 - now requires a bigger and bolder approach to shared services while protecting local decision-making. I have acted immediately in implementing one of the major recommendations to appoint an exclusive chief executive for H&F. This brings about an immediate saving but also recognises the importance to each borough in having their own 'champion' directly accountable to elected representatives and therefore to borough residents. 

I have appointed Nigel Pallace as the interim chief executive to replace Nicholas Holgate who returns to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Nigel will take on the CEO's duties alongside his other role as H&F's Executive Director of Transport and Technical Services. I am grateful to Nicholas Holgate for all he has done for our borough. 

Further savings will be made from a review of senior management costs.  I am also waiting on Deloitte, which were appointed to support the review, to report back next week on an additional £1million of savings that has not already been identified by H&F's officers.

This landmark report lays the foundations for the future of shared services, not just at H&F but for all local authorities who are all facing tough financial circumstances. It recommends that shared services should not be about the creation of exclusive entities, which threaten local decision-making and accountability. It should be about sharing with as many boroughs as possible to deliver greater savings while retaining the ability for local councillors to set their own specification and standards.  That goes to the heart of each borough being able to fulfil its own democratic mandate.

I am grateful to each of the London Boroughs of Camden, Hackney and Lambeth and to our partners in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Council for sharing important information and co-operating with this review.

I look forward to working with the leaders of our two partner councils as we hope to build on their successes and the recommendations of the Critical Friends Board.

Sunday 19 October 2014

MIPIM, Boris Johnson And H&F's New Commitment To Tackle London's Housing Crisis

MIPIM, the international property development conference came to Olympia, London last week. It’s usually held in Cannes on the French Riviera. We inherited a £9,000 stand which Conservative councillors had booked before the local elections so we took the opportunity to deck it out with the manifesto and pledge card commitments that gained a public mandate last May.
“Putting residents first” and therefore not allowing oversized developments that blight neighbourhoods, “homes for residents, not overseas investors” and “tackling London’s housing crisis” all have broad backing from H&F residents.

Responsible developers and their advisers get that. They're keen to work with H&F's cabinet member for economic development and regeneration (who is also a professor of economic geography) to help regenerate the borough, support small businesses and provide homes Londoners want and can afford. We’ve already been able to renegotiate millions of pounds in extra payments to the Borough on schemes that were said to have been done and dusted by the former Conservative Administration. That vital money will be allocated to more policing and building more low cost homes to buy and more homes at social rent.
But there are others who just see Hammersmith and Fulham with the UK’s third highest and fastest rising land values as some sort of gold rush bonanza. These speculators turn up at the planning department’s door claiming that they and their gravy-stained lobbyists have already been given the nod from Mayor Boris Johnson (Con), and the Conservative/Lib Dem government, and so their oversized schemes with pitiful amounts of genuinely affordable homes will sail through the appeals process should Hammersmith and Fulham Council even try to stick to the London Plan.
I don’t know if Boris Johnson and his team realise his name is bandied around by such people and with such carelessness. I can’t imagine any politician aspiring to lead their party could do so if there was ever any truth in these whispered allegations that the Mayor is effectively working with property speculators in such a way as to botch negotiations for more genuinely affordable homes for Londoners and crucial extra cash in this time of “the graph of doom” austerity cuts.
True to form, on the BBC last week, Boris Johnson sought to sweet-talk the opposite of what his policies were actually achieving - indicating he and his team are all too aware of where voters' hearts and minds have settled when it comes to Britain's housing crisis. That BBC News piece also featured the new H&F Council's position. London Live TV ran the story too.
Our stance is popular as well as being the right way forward. But not everyone likes it: many of our current and former Conservative councillors are furious. They had flown to MIPIM when it was on the French Riviera with the £12,000 annual tab picked up by the Borough’s tax payers. They had enjoyed lavish hospitality from developers and their eager lobbyists with free lunches and dinners, free trips to cricket games, free trips to premier league football matches, free trips to tennis tournaments and even free tickets to the Proms. And they had held private meetings with developers with no published agenda and no minutes. We have put an end to all of that, just as we said we would: it is perhaps not surprising that for the Conservatives the way we set out our messages on the MIPIM stand they'd contracted was the final insult.
Peter Bingle
Many of the former Conservative councillors are themselves now full time lobbyists for property developers and speculators - so they have a vested interest in attacking H&F's new approach. Others are unhappy too: for example, there's a lobbyist called Peter Bingle who has taken to Twitter to offer his ignorant insults about Hammersmith and Fulham’s newly assertive position, knowing that this administration's interest in his platitudes are zilch.
Things have changed. That’s what happens in democracies when the voters hire someone else to do their bidding. The message to those property firms who present ridiculous viability assessments for schemes that damage neighbourhoods and blight our borough's landscape is simple: think again or look somewhere else.

Monday 13 October 2014

Statement on West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates and the Earls Court Development

In the wake of the decision around the Earls Court waste removal plan, there have been all sorts of comments flying around about this new administration's approach to the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates and the Earls Court development. There are legal limits to what I can say but I wanted to set out where we are.

I know there is a lot of anxiousness about this development and I appreciate that it's difficult for some to trust any politician to do what they said they'd do - especially now that many believe all politicians are just like Nick Clegg.

But we remain determined to achieve what we said we’d do when we wrote into our manifesto (see page 23) that we “oppose the schemes for West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates” and “aim to re-negotiate” them. We are making some progress with what are difficult and very complicated negotiations.
The demolition of Earls Court was put together by the Conservatives and is supported by London's Conservative Mayor and the Conservative/Lib Dem government. It already had planning permission and indeed, much of the land was sold and is now owned by the developer. We opposed the demolition of Earls Court at the time and still do but it is now too late for this new administration to do anything to stop that aspect of this scheme. The Earls Court demolition waste removal decision was largely a matter for Kensington and Chelsea Council and it certainly did not give us an opportunity to turn the clock back or halt the scheme.

We will make a more substantive announcement as soon as we can.