A warning for “Greater Exeter” as London council backs out of 3- council agreement due to lack of transparency and conflicts of interest

“The high-profile Tri-borough shared service arrangements are to set to come to an end with Westminster City Council and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea deciding to serve notice.

Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea said they had “reluctantly” taken the decision “in the face of uncertainty caused by.… Hammersmith & Fulham appearing to make alternative in-house plans without any formal engagement with the other two local authority partners about key services”.

The two authorities claimed this was causing anxiety to shared staff and placing potential risks to the joint services for vulnerable people in each borough.

In response the Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham, Cllr Stephen Cowan, said the council had had concerns about the value of Tri-borough and conflicts of interest.

Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea’s decisions will terminate the shared staffing arrangements in respect of Tri-borough Children’s Services, Tri-borough Adult Social Care and Tri-borough Public Health Services.

According to a paper on the Westminster website, the decision was urgent “because the tri-borough agreements require a year’s notice to terminate the shared arrangements; and ideally any new arrangements need to be in place before the next financial year beginning April 2018; and as soon as possible so that staff can be clearer about their future options”.

Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea said they were determined to continue to work together. They also maintained that the Tri-borough project, which was established in June 2011, had improved services and realised £43m in savings.

The two authorities stressed that Tri-borough’s legal agreements “set out that with any termination of the arrangements all parties are obliged to minimise disruption to delivery of services and to staff during the period of notice”. They called for a joint project team with Hammersmith & Fulham to oversee the transition.

The Leader of Westminster City Council, Cllr Nickie Aiken, said: “We would not have chosen to end the Tri-borough arrangements which we believe have been a great success. When it was established in 2011 it was quite rightly lauded as an innovation in local authority service delivery.

“However, both the Leader of Kensington and Chelsea and I feel we are unable to continue with tri-borough when we have a partner that we do not believe is committed to it as we are and appears to be making their own plans to leave, without any formal discussions. We can’t have that uncertainty for staff and these vital services which is why, with much regret, we have taken the very reluctant decision to terminate the joint arrangements for children’s services, adult social care and public health.”

Cllr Aiken added: “We are confident that the future remains stable and positive for the continued sharing of services between Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea and our door remains firmly open should Hammersmith & Fulham wish to come and discuss a review of the current arrangements and find alternative ways of working together.”

Hammersmith & Fulham’s Cowan said: “We’ve had concerns for some time about the value of the ‘Tri-borough’, its lack of transparency and its built-in conflicts of interest.

“In our last two budgets, Hammersmith & Fulham Council found £31m in savings but the ‘Tri-borough’ contributed no more than £200,000 of that, less than 1%.”

Cllr Cowan claimed that problems with Tri-borough contracts had cost Hammersmith & Fulham more than £5m, including a contract for special needs transport that he argued had put its disabled children at risk.

He added that “senior Tri-borough officers have had to balance Hammersmith & Fulham’s determination to keep Charing Cross Hospital open with Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea’s support for closing it.”

Cllr Cowan said: “Triggering withdrawal is evidently a long-planned move by the two councils. I look forward to having sensible discussions with them about how we can all move on in the best way for our residents.”


“Private fat cats have got rich on the sale of our schools”

” … The invention of academies has involved a different kind of transfer of assets (schools) from public hands to private. In most cases, publicly owned schools are leased to academies and trusts on 125-year leases, with the local authority retaining the deeds. The academies must carry on educating children but can “maximise their assets” by using the premises to raise money. It is this area of money-making that has on occasions caused problems, as with Durand academy and its on-site businesses.

Academies can also flog off land and buildings, if the much weakened local authorities agree. Serious money can be made, management salaries are high, and hidden in all this is the long-term public subsidy in such sites.

The birth rate didn’t stay low. Children need schools. The very same councils that flogged off their prized school buildings are forced to squeeze children into overcrowded schools elsewhere in their districts. Fair enough: children from overcrowded homes should go to overcrowded schools, eh? Local authorities are not allowed to open new ones. The government solution is to use our money to send search squads to find and buy sites for new schools, some at enormous cost, such as £7.6m paid for a former police station, some within spitting distance of the ones now converted into flats.

I must remind myself that these new schools are called “free” and I do hope that these transactions and new arrangements have enabled a few thousand people to make some serious money out of the public sector. …”


“The government lacks the political will to fix the broken [housing] market

“If the price of milk had risen in line with average house prices over the past 40 years, consumers would now be shelling out more than £10 for a four-pint carton: a sobering reminder of just how broken Britain’s housing market is. With price increases like these, it is little surprise the number of first-time buyers relying on family loans is now at a historic high, according to new research from the Social Mobility Commission: one in three rely on family help, and the proportion of 25- to 29-year-olds who own their home has almost halved since 1990.

A world where a growing proportion of young people can only afford to buy a home with family support makes a mockery of equal opportunity. Home ownership matters in Britain: yes, as oft remarked, it is a cultural aspiration; but one that is underpinned by rational financial interests. Home ownership provides a stability and financial security simply unavailable to those who rent, thanks to house price growth that benefits owners but drives up rents, and our very weak framework of tenants’ rights.

The success of government attempts to improve housing policy should be judged by a simple indicator: price. For decades, governments have rolled out policies aimed at improving affordability and helping people to get on the ladder, but at the same time long-term house price growth has far outpaced any increase in wages. What’s gone wrong?

The biggest problem is a land market that serves landowners and developers at the expense of buyers. Land is a fixed commodity and a public good: its sale should be highly regulated. Yet our planning system delivers huge windfall gains to landowners in areas of high demand: giving agricultural land residential planning status increases its value on average by a factor of 328. Landowners sell to developers offering the highest price, who maximise profit by slowly releasing houses on to the market to fuel further price growth, skimping on build quality and affordable housing.

This is a distortion relatively easily fixed. As Shelter has argued, local authorities and public development corporations should be given the power to buy undeveloped land based on its existing value: a power widely used across much of Europe. They could then sell land on to developers who commit to building affordable housing of better quality for quick release. This should be accompanied by tax reform – council tax is a hugely regressive property tax based on property values from 1990 – and stronger rights for tenants in the private rented sector, including caps on rent rises and longer-term minimum tenancies of at least five years.

This package of reforms would slow house price growth while increasing security for renters. But it is one the government shied away from in its recent white paper: it took only the most tentative of steps towards land market reform and improving tenants’ rights. Instead it has lifted regulations on minimum home sizes, paving the way for a flurry of tiny “rabbit hutch” homes to come on to the market. It is focusing the bulk of its political capital on deregulatory planning reforms, unlikely to have much impact given that planning permission has already been granted for almost half a million homes yet to be built.

The problem is not a lack of solutions, but a lack of political will. This is an area where ministers fear their own success. What government truly wants to preside over years of flatlining house prices at the expense of relatively affluent homeowners in the south-east? Almost 10 years after the financial crisis, economic growth remains too fuelled by the consumer debt enabled by rising house prices, and too little by long-term investment. And so the charade continues: politicians tout over-ambitious house building targets while tinkering at the margins, avoiding the market intervention needed to truly put a brake on price growth. It is young people without family wealth who will pay the price.”


‘Dog kennel’ flats 40% smaller than Travelodge room!

Hundreds of tiny studio flats, many smaller than a budget hotel room, are to be squeezed into an eleven-story block in north London as its developer takes advantage of the government’s relaxation of planning regulations.

‘Rabbit hutch’ homes should be consigned to the past, say architects
Plans for Barnet House, used by the London borough of Barnet’s housing department, reveal that 96% of the 254 proposed flats will be smaller than the national minimum space standards of 37 sq metres (44 sq yards) for a single person.

The tiniest homes will be 16 sq metres – 40% smaller than the average Travelodge room. They are legal because of government deregulation designed to promote the conversion of underused office space to help meet housebuilding targets.

Local residents have labelled the Barnet scheme “ridiculous” and “immoral”, comparing the planned homes to dog kennels.

Once kitted out with basic furniture, such as a small kitchenette, bed and wardrobe, the smallest flats will have very little room to move around. There appears to be little space, for example, for a sofa or a washing machine, unless it is stacked on top of the fridge.” …


First UKIP MP charged with election fraud

“Former Conservative MP Bob Spink, who defected to Ukip and became its first MP, has been charged with electoral fraud.

The 68-year-old has been charged alongside a second man, 38-year-old James Parkin, over allegations that they submitted false signatures on Ukip nomination papers.

The accusations relate to the local election for Castle Point Borough Council in south Essex, England in 2016. [Irish Times]”


“NHS bosses ‘spent half of extra Autumn Statement cash on outside services’ “

“About half of a £2bn cash boost from the 2014 Autumn Statement for frontline health services in England was spent outside the NHS, research has found.

The Health Foundation analysis for the Financial Times showed £901m was spent on buying services from private and non-NHS providers in 2015/16.
It said £800m was spent buying the same kind of care from NHS trusts.

The government said it showed the NHS was “making clinical judgments about delivering high-quality care.

Ex-chancellor George Osborne said in his final Autumn Statement before the 2015 general election that the money for NHS England was a “down payment” on a plan drawn up by NHS bosses, which called for an extra £8bn a year above inflation by 2020.

‘Diverted’ patients

The Health Foundation report also found that £1 in every £8 of local commissioner’s budgets in England is spent on care provided by non-NHS organisations.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: “Rising demand for emergency care meant that NHS providers haven’t had the capacity to deliver planned care and patients had to be diverted outside the NHS.

“NHS hospitals were left squeezed by sharply rising drug and staff costs with little additional funding.

“The result was big deficits that had to be covered by raids on investment budgets.”

She said the NHS had to “urgently” consider how to ensure additional funds reach NHS providers.

“The health service needs to plan better for emergency demand, fund emergency care fairly and make sure it gets the best possible price for care provided outside the NHS,” she said.

The Department of Health said it spends less than 10% of its budget on independent providers.

A spokesman said: “This report simply shows the NHS is making clinical judgments about delivering high-quality care for patients.

“The truth is that for many years the independent sector has made a contribution to helping the NHS meet demand, now amounting to less than eight pence in every pound the NHS spends.”