Tuesday 21 February 2012

Handbags: Tories accuse Labour of wasting your cash

The Handbag: Thatcher's weapon of choice
The ruling Conservative group on H&F Council has taken a bit of a battering over allegations of tax evasion and criticism of their decision to spend money on booze ups for a leaving Chief Executive who himself was the 17th highest paid in the United Kingdom and who the Government said was over-paid.

They say attack is the best form of defence and one of the Councillors seen as a leading contender to take over from departing Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh has launched a stinging attack on the local Tory blog, which charges the Labour Opposition of being, well, a bit lazy. Worse still, he says, their laziness in not turning up to meetings has cost you the tax payer cash, as meetings have had to be rescheduled and decisions delayed. Labour retort that this is a bit rich coming from a party who intentionally bring meetings to a close in order to "go to the pub" and suggest that this attack has more to do with the H&F Conservative leadership race than anything else. Read the exchange for yourself below - you won't find it reported anywhere else...

Here's the charge sheet from Councillor Andrew Johnson, Cabinet Member for Housing:

Do we really get value for money for Labour’s £164,340 a year?

Good question and one that really needs to be explored further. We, or to be more specific you, currently pay the Labour Group £164,340 a year to oppose. But recently a worrying trend is starting to develop within Hammersmith & Fulham. For it seems despite pocketing not insignificant sums of money, that senior members of the opposition are not bothering to show up to critical meetings or hold the council to account. Failing, for example, to attend key meetings, such as Cabinet when important decisions are being taken, or even recently by failing to table amendments to the Council’s budget as it was being discussed at scrutiny meetings.

Now it might seem rather strange, as a member of the administration, for me to condemn the opposition for failing to hold us to account and scrutinise what we do. But the point remains that in a democracy we need an effective opposition to hold us to account. Especially when they are getting paid additional money for supposedly doing it!

An example of this was a recent Cabinet meeting which, among other things, agreed to set the level of rents and other charges for our council tenants for the coming year. Clearly, not an easy process, given the significant financial constraints of the current economic climate, but something you would have expected the opposition to attend to ask questions, or even propose an alternative. Yet on the night all we saw was a row of empty chairs opposite. Not one Labour Councillor showed up, which is strange considering they always claim to have such a big interest in housing. Strange, but sadly not unexpected.

It seems as though they have either given up, which doesn’t say much for their courage of conviction and staying power. Or they simply realise that this Conservative controlled council is on the right financial track and they have no alternative to offer. Whichever way you want to read it, it is not good for either the conduct of council business or for residents getting value for money from their elected representatives by this failure by the Labour Opposition to do its basic job – oppose!

Next week we have Budget Council, where we will set the budget and level of council tax for the coming year. It will be interesting to see if the opposition actually do table some amendments, or even an alternative budget – they are entitled to do so but never have. I rather suspect they will not, based upon recent performance.

Often it’s all too easy to criticise without having a credible alternative in place, yet our opposition are not even doing this.

So if you happen to spot one of them, perhaps you ought to ask them why. After all it’s your money they’re claiming, for not doing their job!

Tough stuff - but Labour Leader Stephen Cowan has a different view and comes out swinging himself. He told me yesterday that:

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Labour Opposition has become famous for holding this now infamous Conservative Administration to account. Our vigorous approach has included forcing local Conservative councillors to give back their secret 18% salary rise; we’ve made them reverse their decision to cut police numbers in the ward with the highest crime; we’ve exposed exactly how local Conservatives are bending over backwards to help property speculators blight the Borough; we uncovered nearly 600 new stealth taxes they've introduced; and we’ve uncovered their morally corrupt practice of bringing back former local government retirees as £300k a year “consultants” (plus pensions) which has therefore put them on the wrong side of UK tax laws. We continue to work closely with local residents to hold the Conservatives to account and demonstrate when they fail to be honest or when they break their commitments to the public.

This rather silly attack is the same nonsense peddled last September. 

http://www.thecowanreport.com/2011/09/phibbs-spotlights-h-councils-corrupted.html Any resident who has been to the Cabinet Meetings will know that the Opposition has been forbidden to speak or ask questions. The Conservatives have made the Cabinet Meetings a sham and they often finish after just 3 or 4 minutes.

Cllr. Andrew Johnson’s attack (Con) has brought his own record into view. This has included cutting short a Select Committee meeting he was chairing so he and his fellow Conservatives could go to the pub;


admitting he hadn’t read the briefing papers when Shelter came to talk about how his housing policies could make thousands of local people homeless and admitting at a planning meeting that he didn’t know why his Administration agreed to let a property speculator remove all affordable housing (he’s the Cabinet member for Housing) from a giant building scheme in his own ward – which he then voted through against the wishes and vocal opposition of hundreds of his own constituents.

If you consider that this week’s crunch Audit Committee has had to be cancelled for the official reason that “apologies” from all four Conservative “Committee members mean that the meeting would not meet the quorum”. Then it’s questionable whether Cllr. Johnson has any idea what he talking about or whether this is some sort of back-handed attack on Cllr. Nicholas Botterill, who is an Audit Committee member, and whom Cllr. Johnson is currently competing with to be the next Conservative Council Leader.
So that's all clear then - and watch out for swinging handbags.


  1. What Cllr Johnson appears to be arguing is that he (and the Tories) don't like opposition. Johnson has used to fig-leaf of free market economics to support his, er, case as this opening paragraph shows,

    "We, or to be more specific you, currently pay the Labour Group £164,340 a year to oppose".

    That's what oppositions are supposed to do. Get used to it and grow up.

  2. I should have added that preventing the opposition from speaking or raising questions is profoundly undemocratic. Oppositions can't oppose much if they've been silenced.

  3. Cllr Johnson makes some good points.
    However, he is the councillor that left the PAC meeting for the whole evening where thousands of dwellings were given approval at Seagrave Rd and White City Westfield. I would have thought that the cabinet member for housing should have taken part in a meeting that involved housing even if he felt that he should not vote, as he should be showing an interest in housing. Perhaps he would have been unable to answer questions from the other side about the decant housing and lack of social rented housing, the inability to address the housing list within these developments and might have felt uncomfortable if asked about the cost of the so called affordable housing, which it seems is only affordable to couples on a combined income of over £50,000.

  4. Cllr Johnson declared a prejudicial interest in both applications and was therefore obliged to leave the meeting. He had no choice.

    The rules state:
    "What should I do if I have a prejudicial interest?

    You must declare that you have a prejudicial interest and the nature of that interest as soon as that interest becomes apparent.

    You should leave the room unless members of the public are allowed to make representations, give evidence or answer questions about the matter. If this is the case, you can also attend the meeting for that purpose.

    You must leave the room immediately once you have finished speaking, or when the meeting decides that you have finished (if that is earlier)."