H&F Council’s Spending on Councillor Allowances set to hit £847,000

Caroline ffiske writes

The H&F Council budget for councillor allowances in 2018/19 is £785,600. Proposals contained in papers for the Council Meeting this week will result in an additional annual cost of £62,137.80.   If the proposals are passed, and all the allowances taken up, the new annual expenditure on Councillor allowances starting next year will be a whopping £847,000.  All data is contained here starting on page 100.

The cost increases arise from the Administration expanding its Cabinet to ten people , and creating additional paid roles for administration councillors including roles for “Assistants to the Cabinet”.

The basic rate allowance for all LBHF Councillors is £8,940.  All 46 Councillors receive this amount.  That is just under £180 a week.  There should be a large dose of public service in being a local councillor.  But to make some sense of the annual payment, if we assume that councillors are being paid somewhere between £10 and £20 an hour, residents could expect their local councillors to be doing 10 to 20 hours of community and ward-based work per week.  As part of the role, councillors are also expected to focus on borough wide issues – policy, or sector, or event, or issue focused.    So the  creation of additional allowances for assumingly additional work should be treated with great care.

Nevertheless here are the additional annual amounts payable to Councillors above and beyond the basic pay of £8940 received by all Councillors, as proposed in this week’s Council papers:

The Leader £32,186.70
Deputy Leader £26,816.40
Other Cabinet members (8) £21,454.20
Chief Whip (where not a member of Cabinet) £21,454.20
Deputy Chief Whip (2) £5,564.70
Chair of Policy & Accountability Committees (6) £5,564.70
Leader of the Opposition £16,086.60
Deputy Leader of the Opposition £5,564.70
Opposition Whip £5,564.70
Chair of Planning and Development Control Committees, Audit, Pensions and Standards Committee, Licensing Committee, and Councillor Member on Adoption and Fostering Panel (3) £5,564.70
The Mayor £10,729.80
Deputy Mayor £5,564.70
Assistant to the Cabinet (5) £2,700.00

If all these allowances are allocated, a whopping 29 out of the 35 administration councillors will receive additional cash under the new proposals.  Interestingly this is in direct contravention of the views of the Independent Panel that looks at Councillor Allowances.  This stated “We reiterate our view that no more than 50% of councillors should receive a special responsibility allowance”.

H&F Council’s energy bill rises to £4.3 million a year – could challenger firms provide a cheaper and greener deal?

Bulb, an energy supplier that uses 100 per cent renewable electricity, has put in freedom of information requests to local authorities – which suggests many are failing to shop around for greener and cheaper alternatives by switching to cheaper challenger companies.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council uses Npower and Total Gas – both very large firms. Last year I reported that the Council told me its energy bill has increased to £3.55 million annually – and has refused to provide the transparency of public smart metering.

The situation was seem to have got worse since then. In their response to Bulb the Council says it’s energy bill is now £4.3 million a year. Divided by the number of residential properties in the borough – 82,390 – that comes to £52.38 a year. That is one of the highest bills in London.

Bulb Co-founder Hayden Wood said:

“There’s a huge opportunity for councils across the country to lead from the front and show that they are committed to a renewable future.

“Sadly, our research reveals that councils – including some who have expressed vocal support for renewables – are currently missing out on the chance to go green. A change would benefit the environment, while opening up opportunities to cut publicly-funded energy bills.

“That’s why we are encouraging people to write to their local councils and call on them to commit to switching to a renewable energy provider. We’d love to see councils help protect the planet, and save some money for residents too.”

Caitlin Burbridge, a community organiser with Citizens UK, which is building a people-powered energy campaign to tackle fuel poverty said:

“Councils have a responsibility to seek the best value for money for their residents, and spending on energy should be no different.

With many smaller suppliers offering cheaper tariffs, and often green energy, councils should look to shop around rather than continue to stick with the Big Six. We are committed to finding the most cost effective, green, and transparent ways for consumers to purchase energy.

Local Authorities have an ability to set a strong precedent in their area in favour of fairer, cheaper, and more ethical energy choices.”

I have asked if the Council offered challenger firms the chance to see if they could provide a better deal.

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.