H&F Council paid its chief exec £309,712 last year

The Sunday Times reports:

“The highest paid council executive in London last year was Nigel Pallace, former chief executive of the Labour- controlled Hammersmith and Fulham, who was paid a total package of £309,712, which included a salary of £190,000.”

That’s more than twice the Prime Minister’s salary – she gets by on £150,402.

The Taxpayers Alliance Town Hall Rich List report gives more details. It says Hammersmith and Fulham Council provided pay packages of over £100,000 to the following officials last year:

Nigel Pallace, Chief Executive – £309,712

Elizabeth Bruce, Shared Services Executive Director of Adult Social Care for LBHF, RBKC and WCC – £183,321

Juliemma McLoughlin, Lead Director of Planning and Development – £176,135

Hitesh Jolapara, Strategic Finance Director (Section 151 Officer) – £159,433

Kim Dero Director of Delivery and Value  £154,765

Debbie Morris Director of Human Resources £143,071

Nick Austin Director of Environmental Health  £130,573

Michael Hainge Commercial Director  £129,897

The report adds that Nigel’s basic pay was £190,000 – he also got £24,700 as a performance related bonus and another £95,012 as “compensation for loss of office.” He’s now the chief executive of Slough Borough Council. Good for him. But there is a wider story of how dysfunctional Hammersmith and Fulham Council has become with its senior management since Labour took over in 2014. At first they had Nicholas Holgate as chief executive. Then they had Nigel Pallace – an Extraordinary Council Meeting was specially specially held to appoint.

Then last November we had another Extraordinary Council Meeting to appoint Kim Dero. It only took 12 minutes.

Three chief executives in four years is not exactly ideal in terms of good management – quite apart from the huge sums Council Taxpayers money being spent. It is incompetence as well as extravagance.

But that is not the only post where people keep coming and going. For instance the Housing Department – which I have a particular interest in as the Conservative housing spokesman – we saw the appointment of Nilavra Mukerji as the Director of Housing Services. He resigned as a Labour councillor at Westminster to take up the post. His basic pay at Hammersmith and Fulham Council was £104,669 a year. A lot of his time was spent on the Council’s doomed stock transfer project. That unwanted scheme cost £1.395 million – not including Nilavra’s salary – before it was abandoned. Then last year he left.

By the way, I think the Taxpayers Alliance understates the scale of six figure pay packages at Hammersmith Town Hall. According the latest transparency data – which the Council is obliged to publish on its website the list has 26 paid over £100,000 a year – when bonuses and pension contributions are included.

When they were in opposition Labour attacked “fat cat” pay at the Council – at the time the total number earning over £100,000 was nine.

 

Council Tax to rise again in H&F – due to hike in Mayor’s precept

A year ago I reported that Council Tax bills would be going up in Hammersmith and Fulham for the first time in 11 years. I’m afraid that this year households will see another increase. Some residents tell me they “don’t mind” paying more – but they tend to be those on higher incomes. Council Tax hits the low paid the hardest and for those on tight budgets any increase is unwelcome. Wandsworth and Westminster have much lower bills while maintaining a high standard of local services.

The Council Tax bill is really two bills. The part that goes to Hammersmith and Fulham Council has been frozen again – breaking Labour’s pledge to cut it.

Another chunk of the Council Tax goes to the Mayor of London for the precept. That bill is going up 5.1 per cent. That is the maximum amount that the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is able to push it up without the approval of a referendum. It equates to an increase from £280.02 to £294.22 a year for a Band D household.

It could be worse. Chris Williamson, a Labour Shadow Minister, proposes a 20 per cent increase in Band D Council Tax across the country, a 40 per cent increase for Band E, a 60 per cent increase for Band F, an 80 per cent increase for Band F and 100 per cent rise for Band H. No Council Taxpayers would benefit under his plan – Bands A-C would be frozen. But the proposals for Bands D-H would mean huge rises for most people in Hammersmith and Fulham – they would hit 62,292 or the borough’s 86,793 households.

Of course many of those living in high value properties include pensioners and others who may not be high incomes. It’s not yet adopted as official Labour policy but Williamson is a close ally of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – and so gives an indication of the direction of travel in the Labour Party on this issue.

UPDATE

Good news that Williamson has been sacked as a shadow spokesman. But how much comfort should we take from that? I suspect that his offence was being indiscreet about Labour’s intentions…

H&F Council to privatise Council Tax debt collection

A recent report entitled Stop the Knock from the Money Advice Trust. It says that:

“Council tax arrears were passed to bailiffs on 1.38 million occasions in 2016/17, with around 810,000 referrals for parking fines and around 50,000 for Housing Benefit over-payments. There were around 86,000 referrals to bailiffs for unpaid business rates, around 2,200 for commercial rents and more than 22,000 for sundry/other debts.”

From the data in the report we can see the figures for individual local authorities. For instance:

“In 2016/17, London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham instructed bailiffs to collect debts from individuals and businesses on 20,697 occasions.”

That is likely to change from April this year. Hammersmith and Fulham Council will privatise debt collection for Council Tax. The firm that will be chasing the money, 1st Credit, will operate on Financial Conduct Authority standards to public debts – in the same way as when they pursue private sector debts.

Of course the proposal needs to be scrutinised. Will those who owe the Council money be made bankrupt even if the debt is below £5,000? The Council tells me:

“Other, appropriate and proportionate legal remedies remain available.”

So that sounds like a yes.

What about other payments being chased? The Council says that the use of bailiffs is a “medieval practice” as regards to collecting overdue Council Tax. So why continue with the practice for parking fines? There is some PR from the Council about how “ethical” 1st Credit is but in the past they have been criticised by the Office for Fair Trading for being too quick to threaten legal action.

Since April bailiffs have been used for Council Tax arrears alone by Hammersmith and Fulham Council 2,481 times.  If it is “medieval practice” why not stop using it now rather than waiting until 1st Credit are managing it?

Also since April the Council has used bailiffs for Business Rates debts 347 times and for Parking fines 9,247 – and intends to continue doing so. I’m told:

“The Council is committed to radically reducing the use of bailiffs for all Council debt recovery over time.”

It would also be welcome if Hammersmith and Fulham signed up to the Council Tax Protocol, produced by the Citizens Advice/Local Government Association to agree to basic standards of good conduct. The Council told me:

“The Revenue & Benefits service has been going through a service review over the last 6 months and we did not have the resources available to implement all the recommendations. However, this review will be complete in early 2018 and we will be reviewing this once the new teams are up and running.”

But the principle is welcome. The state is not good at debt collection – any more than it is at anything else. The lumbering, inflexible bureaucratic approach is both inefficient at gathering in the money and insensitive as to the human cost of how it is achieved. Often it is the Council that will have to deal with some of those human costs – if a family is made homeless or a child ends up in care. Going to court is a slow and expensive way to proceed. Often there are miscarriages of justice. Far better to intervene earlier – with well trained staff to negotiate payment of the sum owed on an affordable schedule.

Big increase in use of zero hours contracts by H&F Council

Two years ago I reported on the hypocrisy of Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council for employing staff on zero hours contracts. At the same time Labour councillors were denouncing other employers for using them.

So what has happened since? The Labour Party’s opposition is stronger than ever. At the General Election earlier this year Labour said in their Manifesto that “for too many people work is insecure” and therefore they would:

“Ban zero hours contracts – so that every worker gets a guaranteed number of hours each week.”

Yet according to the Council’s latest Workforce Data the number of Council staff on zero hour contracts has more than doubled in just two years to 1,262.

The Council could well argue that many staff welcome the flexibility of such contracts. But then private employers could make the same point. Whatever view you take Labour’s credibility on this issue is in shreds.

Will the demolished King Street cinema site become Labour’s money pit?

The redevelopment of the Hammersmith Town Hall extension and the surrounding site is in chaos.

I understand that for many months the Council refused to meet its “development partners” King Street Developments Ltd – despite growing concerns about the viability of the project. I have emailed the Council to seek confirmation of this:

I can see no record on the Council’s website of any meetings with council officers or councillors with any representatives of King Street Developments Ltd since 2014.
https://www.lbhf.gov.uk/councillors-and-democracy/data-and-information/transparency/meetings-between-developers-and-councillors
Please confirm if this is the case.
Please advise if any requests were made for such a meeting and if so why they were refused.

Best wishes,
Harry

Now the plug has been pulled. But why did the Council wait until the cinema in King Street (a long standing and much loved local landmark) next to the town hall had been demolished? As it is we are left with a prominently located bomb site for the indefinite future

There will now be uncertainty, the risk of expensive litigation from the developer and delay over what a new scheme could bring. Given the Council’s enthusiasm for tower blocks there can be little confidence it will be anything attractive. Meanwhile the hideous Town Hall extension (which includes the planning department) continues to deteriorate and will need increasingly heavy maintenance spending to stop the windows falling out.

The scheme was supposed to provide the Council with £10 million in savings instead it will cost money – probably rather a lot. Will the Council buy the cinema site from the developers? How much will that cost?

What a complete mess. Labour’s giant money pit. At the last council elections they promised to save the cinema but their revisions to the scheme still resulted in demolition. Complete mismanagement that has left us in the worst people state of affairs.

The council leader constantly claims what a good deal he gets out of property developers by being “tough” with them. But in this case at least his refusal to even talk to them looks rather stupid. An expensive mistake – which the rest of us will have to pay for.

Wanted! Armchair auditors to check the accounts for H&F Council

A group called Peoples’ Audit has published a devastating analysis of the accounts of Lambeth Council:

“A group of Lambeth residents, including finance professionals and experienced campaigners, had a month in the summer of 2016 to request accounts, contracts, invoices and correspondence relating to expenditure. They supplemented this with Freedom of Information Requests and Members’ Enquiries by a councillor. “

They found:

“Evidence of extensive financial mismanagement and a systemic lack of financial governance costing millions of pounds of public money, discovered by ‘armchair auditors’ using citizens’ powers under the Local Audit and Accountability Act.”

Among the (many) examples detailed in the report:

  • Overpaying building contractors for work on council estates. In a sample of three blocks we checked on the Wyvil Estate in Vauxhall, Lambeth Council paid its contractors for more than twice the number of concrete repairs that were actually carried out. Lambeth paying an average £4,000 for kitchen replacements, priced under its Decent Homes contracts at £2,000-3,000. Contractors for repairs at Cressingham Gardens Estate charging for works that have not been carried out; repeat instances of the same repair; and instances of overcharging.
  • “Industrial scale” ignoring of rules on competitive tendering.
  • Numerous examples of expenditure being understated on Lambeth Council’s website, when compared with actual invoices, including £3.2m paid to Transport Trading Ltd (a wholly owned subsidiary of TfL)
  • Costs of Lambeth’s controversial project to refurbish the town hall have more than doubled from the £50m the council claimed in 2012 and is now estimated at £104m.  Part of the shortfall in funding appears to be coming from a raid on council tenants’ rent ring-fenced for repairs to their homes (Housing Revenue Account).  Little evidence to back up Lambeth’s claim that the development will save £4.5m a year.

I would hope that Hammersmith and Fulham Council finances are not in quite such a bad state. But are there are any retired auditors or accountants out there who would be willing to check? You don’t to have professional qualifications but I guess some ability to understand a balance sheet would be an advantage.

They are entitled to do so at the moment for the 2016/17 accounts. The Audit Public Notice says:

 “From 3 July 2017 to 11 August 2017 between 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, any persons interested may inspect the accounts of the Council for the year ended 31 March 2017.”

I have also written to the Council to say:

“I realise this is the statutory minimum period. But if any residents wished to inspect these documents after August 11th is that a request that the Council would be willing to show any flexibility in being willing to accommodate?”

The Council should welcome scrutiny to ensure good value for money. Anyone interested in helping with this project please email me on harry.phibbs@gmail.com

Come on all you Spreadsheet Phils (and Philippas) out there…

H&F Council in crisis as Labour create £52m budget black hole

Hammersmith & Fulham’s Labour Council have just taken a deliberate political decision that will have major ramifications for our local area and council services.

Labour has decided to withdraw from the “Tri-Borough” shared services agreement with Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea councils. This agreement was established in 2011 to save taxpayers’ money by sharing resources of all three councils, reducing backroom bureaucracy and improving frontline services.

It currently saves council taxpayers’ an estimated £13 million a year. That’s £52 million over the four years of a council administration.

The shared services initiative has been so successful that Labour promised to extend it in their election manifesto back when they won control of the Council in 2014.

By Labour’s own figures, this shared service arrangement saved council taxpayers’ £46.5million between 2011-2016. That’s £46.5m more that could be spent on the services that matter to residents. Services such as street cleaning, bin collections, parks, housing and adult social care.

However, due to Labour’s decision, based purely on short sighted party politics and extreme ideological opposition to working with Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, essential council services are now facing cuts on a massive scale, as well as inevitable council tax hikes to try and plug the huge black hole in the Council’s finances.

The Conservatives believe this decision by the Labour Council is a terrible terrible mistake.

This announcement comes on the back of the news that the Council’s Chief Executive has unexpectedly resigned, meaning the Council has now had three different Chief Executives in the last 3 years. Or the botched attempt costing millions of pounds to sell off all council housing, which was halted by the Government in an unpredicted move following serious concerns over the proposals. It appears that the Council is descending into complete chaos.

The last Conservative administration may not have got everything right but it did manage Council finances properly, cutting council tax by 20 per cent while delivering real improvements to key services.

The next council elections are not until May 2018. The choice has never been clearer. Financial incompetence by Labour verses value for money and better services with the Conservatives.