Thursday, October 05, 2017

Councillor Report to West Ham Ward 5 October 2017

Councillor Report to Ward
5 October 2017

tel: 0203 373 2615 or email

This is my first written report since the General Election campaign. On the day it was announced I was on holiday walking in North Wales when I received a call on my mobile from the West Ham CLP Chair and she said to my astonishment “Hello…is that Agent Gray?”

So I was the Parliamentary Agent for our candidate, Lyn Brown (for the 3rd time in a row). It was a short but exhausting campaign but I was really pleased that she was re-elected with a massive increase in her majority and Labour did so well (never forgetting that we did not win. But we will next time). Many, many thanks for all the hard work and commitment by West Ham ward members in this election all over London (and outside).

Council Issues
Fossil Free Newham Launch 25 April
I was invited to attend the launch by activists who want the Newham Council Pension Committee (I am a member) to divest from investments in carbon companies. I made a contribution in my personal capacity that I broadly support the aims of the campaign but reminded the meeting that the pension fund did not belong to the Council but to its staff and pensioners.

Newham Council AGM 18 May
This is the formal meeting that takes place at the historic Old Stratford Town Hall.

Newham Authority Governor & Free School Meals
I am a School Governor for Rebecca Cheetham Nursery School and Ranelagh Primary School. In my last report I expressed concerns and made representations about the 60% proposed recharge to schools of the cost of providing meals to primary school children. I am pleased that the Council will now be providing 100% of the cost.

Newham Full Council meeting 10 July 2017
There was a dispute about the minutes from the AGM. I was late at that meeting and missed the part under dispute. Despite a majority of members voting to accept the minutes it would appear that there was some sort of mistake since business that the AGM minutes stated had been passed at that meeting were voted on again at the 10 July meeting.

I got assurances that the Newham Housing Residents Scrutiny Commission will meet again and that there will be consideration on how all residents who live in Housing Association or privately owned blocks can scrutinise their own fire safety.

There was unacceptable personal attacks made by Executive Members at that meeting against a senior Councillor and a Newham resident which I understand are being investigated.

Newham Cabinet meeting 7 September 2017
The Mayor made a statement at the beginning of the meeting that there had been misreporting on social media about the £40 million “impairment” on our loans to the West Ham FC/Olympic stadium but he cannot comment any further on the matter since there is ongoing negotiations, which are commercially sensitive but once they are over there will be full disclosure. 

I asked for reassurance that the new cladding that will be put on our Newham tower blocks will be safe and that there will be no unintended consequences or risks. I also asked (again) for copies of pre Grenfell fire risk assessments for tower blocks in my ward. I received such assurances from the Executive Advisor on Housing, Cllr Terry Paul and the Mayor confirmed that I will be sent these risk assessments. I did not however receive these assessments until I chased.

Newham Full Council Meeting 18 September 2017
At this meeting I was very disappointed that my written questions submitted via the Chief Executive on the “impairment” and “write off” of the £40 million loans to the West Ham/Olympic stadium were not heard. However, I was able to ask a similar question during the debate on the financial report and was told by the Executive Advisor that the loan was not written off but “impaired” and that it had no impact on the current Newham budget. Any costs regarding Grenfell will also be fully met.

Newham Audit Committee/Investment & Accounts Committee 27 September 2017
This was a very difficult joint meeting of (firstly) the Newham Audit Committee to consider whether or not to recommend to the Investment & Accounts Committee (I&A) to approve the Newham Council accounts 2016/2017.

Once they received this recommendation (or not) then I&A will consider whether or not to agree to approve the accounts.

Some of Audit committee members were concerned that they were being asked to recommend approval of the accounts despite receiving legal advice form the Council chief legal officer that they had no obligation to do so since the auditors had not finally agreed the accounts.  Bearing in mind we were facing an unexplained £44 million “impairment” (explained as not a “write off” at the moment but a “write down”) as well as an unknown figure that had been given as some form of “working capital” to the stadium. They asked for a delay to clarify things. It was confirmed by the auditors that there would be no extra costs if there was such a delay.

In a split vote the Chair of Audit (the Executive Advisor on Finance) used his casting vote to recommend the accounts and did not allow the independent member to vote. Which is of concern since she has acted as the Vice Chair and voted in previous decisions?

I decided to vote against approving the accounts as a member of I&A (not Audit) because no one could explain what had happened to the £44 million of public money that had been impaired (written down?) but mainly because I had asked the Section 151 officer how much working capital had been invested, have we lost it and when and who had authorised this public money to be used in this way – and she said she did not know but was trying to find out. I said that it would appear to be as much as another £8 million but she said that she did not know but didn’t think it was that much.

I thought that since we did not have to approve the accounts at this moment I could not approve them under these circumstances and voted against. The Accounts were approved by a majority vote.

Surgeries and case work
I have attended 2 surgeries per month in Vicarage Lane Community Centre and Brassett Point Residents Association room. There has been a number of cases regarding ASB; drug dealing; parking; housing disrepair, service charge disputes and neighbour disputes.

I have made a number of home visits and estate inspections.

Ward issues
Rent rises for Key workers One Housing Group
In my last report I mentioned support for these tenants with Cllr Whitworth and I am pleased that the (up to 40% rent rises) have been suspended. I did meet up with One Housing Group management. However, this is primarily down to the hard work and solidarity of the tenants. Well done to them. Further negotiations are pending.

West Quadrant Neighbourhood Meeting
I have attended 2 recent meetings and I am pleased that despite there being no consultation beforehand on its structure and being far too geographically large that the meetings have gone well so far. There is a useful exchange between officers and Councillors on a range of services and local issues.

Grenfell Fire
Like everyone else I was shocked and horrified at what happened. As a Housing worker who has managed inner city high rise blocks for many years and a safety practitioner member of IOSH, I was simply stunned then angry because I was always told that such a thing “could never happen”. I have been pressing the Council over fire safety in all buildings in Newham, whether owned by the Council, Housing Associations or privately owned blocks. I am now on a special Newham Council “Fire Safety in Tower Blocks” scrutiny.

Newham Boxing Club 14 July 2017
Cllr Whitworth and I had a fascinating tour of this centre (a former Council communal bath house) in Church Street and a presentation on an ambitious redevelopment plans by club volunteers to which we offered our provisional support as ward Councillors.

Street Party & Summer Fair 29 July 2017
With Cllr Whitworth we attended a lively street Party at Richardson Road then the impressive HAFS Academy Summer Fair in West Ham Park.

Ward walkabout with Enforcement officers 9 September 2017
Cllr Whitworth and I had what we both felt a really useful walk around much of our ward with the Enforcement officer who is allocated to us. I was very impressed with his local knowledge and proactive attitude to problems in our ward.

Labour Campaigning
During the General Election campaign as agent I went mostly with our candidate Lyn Brown, door knocking and/or supporting street stalls in West Ham ward, Forest Gate North & South, Stratford & Newtown, Green Street West, Plaistow South, Custom House as well as Ilford North, Durham & Harrow West CLP.  As well as attending Electoral Registration & local Labour Party planning meetings. Since the General Election I have been campaigning in West Ham & Chingford & Woodford Green CLP (the new marginal. IDS seat)

For information
Workers Memorial Day 28 April 2017
Helped organise another event at Three Mills Memorial to mark this day with Party activists and trade union branches to remember those killed at work or from work related ill health. It is also a campaigning day to improve the safety of the living.

Newham Anti Education Cuts Campaign 12 July 2017
I have now attended 2 meetings with Councillors, Party activists and Newham trade unions to organise a local campaign to oppose the Tory Government cuts to school budgets. As a School governor I am trying to find out alternatives to Academisation.

Anniversary of V1 attack Dames Road E7 27 July 2017
Helped organise this event to remember the murder of at least 34 East Londoners on a bus from Nazi rocket attack in 1944.

Labour Party Conference September 2017
What a fantastic conference. I attended it as a Newham Councillor (self-funding)

If any member wishes to contact me about this report to discuss any aspect please do not hesitate to do so.


John Gray
West Ham Ward Councillor

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