Monday, December 31, 2007

Hylands Ward Christmas Dinner

We had a post Christmas dinner for Hylands Ward at the Harrow Lodge indoor bowls club, on Saturday night. Despite the difficult date 77 people attended and the venue was excellent. Hylands Ward will be part of the Romford constituency at the next general election, following the latest round of boundary changes.

The picture shows Hornchurch MP James Brokenshire, Leader Of Havering Cllr Michael White, myself, and Romford MP Andrew Rosindell. In the front row are Paul and Sharon Clifford who organised an excellent evening.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


I'm back from my Christmas week with the family in Yorkshire. This was a good year and I got to see many of my relatives and their friends, including my nephew Joe, who is learning to talk. Next time I see him I will probably be able to hold a full blown conversation.

Now my attention is turning to those New Year resolutions. Scientific research has shown that men are more likely to keep them if they set themselves targets, so resolutions need to be quantifiable. I guess mine will be along the lines of:

Losing weight / getting fit
Getting re-elected in May
Writing and publishing a sequel to my novel, Gremal Quest
Saving more money and spending less
Visiting my cousin in Cornwall
Going abroad on holiday in the Summer

Any other suggestions would be welcome. I would also be interested to know what my readers' resolutions will be for 2008.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas

To all my readers. this Christmas tree is at Havering town hall and is one of the best on the patch. Thank you for sticking with me through another year.

Cop Out

The Mayor has found a new way to avoid answering questions:

Graham Tope: How much has the MPS spent on hire cars in each financial year since 2000/01 to date? What additional costs have been incurred in each of these years for failure to return vehicles in time, damages and any other penalties?

Ken Livingstone: Your question does not directly relate to the exercise of Mayoral statutory functions. In accordance with my letter to the Chair of the Assembly of 5 December 2007, I therefore suggest that you refer your question to the relevant authority or agency.

This standard response is given to a number of written questions, however the MPS budget is the single largest component of Livingstone's precept. It is set by the Mayor and he spends a lot of time boasting about falling crime rates and new initiatives, so it is surprising that he classes it as 'not directly related to the exercise of Mayoral functions'.

There will be more question ducking as the election approaches.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Golden Buses

My latest question about the new generation of hydrogen buses shows more money splashed around carelessly:

Roger Evans: What is the unit cost of each bus?

Ken Livingstone: TfL is procuring 10 vehicles at a cost of £9.65m, the bulk of which is made up of capital cost of the vehicles. However since the contract also includes procurement and maintenance costs and fuel cell replacement during the first five years of operation, it is not possible to provide an exact cost per bus.

Unlike the bendy buses, they won't be calling these the 'free buses'.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Under 18 Bus Passes

The latest costs for the controversial scheme are revealed in a reply from November's Question Time:

Richard Barnes: What is the latest lost revenue estimate for both the under 18 and under 16 free bus pass scheme.

Ken Livingstone: I replied to Andrew Pelling a few months ago that free bus travel for the under 16s was estimated to have reduced fares revenue by around £35m p.a. and free bus travel for 16/17s by £20m p.a. The estimated revenue reduction remains in line with these figures.

So that is a total cost of £55m.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Long Walk Home

Yesterday morning Chris Wilson from the Redbridge Pensioners' Forum took me to see the subway under the A12 near his home. This one is at the top of Somerville Road and it looks pretty uninviting. I'm going to try to get TfL to clean it up and improve security, because Chris and other older people have to use it to get to the Post Office on the North side of the A12, since their local office was closed.

It astounds me that the Peoples' Post Office went ahead with this closure after being shown the subway that their customers would have to use. Recently the Taxpayers' Alliance published their public sector rich list, which highlighted Post Office chief executive Adam Crozier as the highest paid public sector employee in the country, earning well over £1 million per annum, and making TfL look like a stingy employer.

I wonder if Mr Crozier would care to collect a months pay in cash then walk home through here on a dark November afternoon...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Auditors go in

Yesterday the Assembly voted to advise the Mayor to call the auditors in for a full investigation of the recent grants controversy. Let's see if he takes our advice...

Meanwhile there was another auditor's report on the agenda. Who remembers Bob Kiley and his consultancy contract? It was a short report but it made some sound points:

the nature of the services provided by Mr Kiley has been such that there is no written documentation available to demonstrate that value for money has been received. TfL has not requested written reports from Mr Kiley, rather advice has been taken in meetings between the Mayor and the Commissioner and Mr Kiley. The consultancy agreement requires Mr Kiley to provide details of days spent performing the services to TfL. TfL has not to date requested such details from Mr Kiley or put in place any other monitoring arrangements. Whilst we understand that the consultancy was set up on a retainer basis, the absence of a documented monitoring process is, in our view, a weakness.

There's a familiar theme here...

And on the subject of the agreement itself:

We also note that the terms of TfL's remuneration committee have since been amended so that the remuneration committee is now required to agree to the terms of any compromise agreements with senior officers. However, the Chair of TfL is also the Chair of the remuneration committee. This, in our view, is an unusual situation. The Combined Code on Corporate Governance (which applies to listed companies) states that the members of the remuneration committee should be independent non executive directors.

TfL's response is that their Chair is unpaid, so that makes him independent...

And on the money paid:

from our discussions I understand that TfL does not intend to make payments to Mr Kiley while he is ill and not available to provide services to TfL. Specifically, if Mr Kiley submits an invoice for the payment due on the contract date of 1 July 2007 this will not be paid while Mr Kiley is unwell and not able to work. TfL should also consider whether any part of the payment made on 1 January 2007 for the six months commencing on that date should be allocated to future services provided, as Mr Kiley has not been available to provide advice since late March 2007.

TfL respond that it is 'not considered appropriate to seek reimbursement.'

So the curtain falls on another Labour scandal involving poor financial controls and waste of public money. Nothing more to see here - it's time to move on...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Question Time Alert

It's the monthly Mayor's Question Time tomorrow morning. I suspect that the matter of financial controls at the LDA will feature prominently, after the Mayor came out fighting at his press conference this morning. He has secured the support of several community figures - Sir Herman Ouseley, Richard Taylor, Rev Nims Obunge and Dawn Butler MP.

A motion for urgent debate has just been circulated by the Lib Dems:

In light of the articles in last week's Evening Standard, and the allegations levelled in those articles about some of the London Development Agency's processes and the role played by one of the Mayor's advisers, this Assembly calls on the Mayor to refer these allegations to the District Auditors of the GLA and the LDA and asks that the District Auditors investigate and report back their findings in as short a time frame as is possible.

Given the political balance, this or something quite like it is probably going to be approved. We will then see if the Mayor is willing to comply.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Costly Caracas

A recent question about the Mayor's obsession with Venezuela revealed the following:

Angie Bray: When will the GLA office in Caracas be open for business? Can the Mayor detail how many staff from the GLA family will be seconded there, and what will the annual running costs be?

Ken Livingstone: A 12 month lease was completed on an office in Caracas at the end of July. It is currently being set up.

No staff from the GLA will be seconded there.

Running costs for 12 months are estimated to be £77,200.

So an office was leased in July but is still not in use...

There may be no GLA staff on site, but two locals will be employed at the office and they are being recruited.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Night in Romford

It's getting very festive in Romford town centre. Tonight I was out meeting the street pastors who do a vital job looking out for people in what can be a hostile and intimidating situation. Safety has improved greatly in recent years with the introduction of live CCTV and close working between police and nightclub security staff.

Here we are outside the newly opened Liquid Nightclub in South Street. Standing at the back is General Manager, Colin Goodwin. In the yellow jacket is hard working Romford MP, Andrew Rosindell. I'm the one in the unusual but fashionable headgear.

Now I'm back at home, but outside the party has just started!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

West London Waste

The West London Tram is dead, killed by the determined opposition of local residents and their councillors - but the cost lingers on...

Roger Evans: Can the Mayor confirm how much money was spent on the West London Tram?

Ken Livingstone: The expenditure to mid October 2007 was in the order of £34.8 million. This was necessary to meet the level of detail required for a Transport and Works Act application. The money funded work including engineering, transport modelling, consultations, legal advice, scheme drawings and the Environmental Impact Assessment. Recent expenditure has focussed on closing down the project.

Much of the work already carried out by Transport for London on the tram project will assist in the planning of any new public transport solution for local journeys in west London.

Is that the sound of 'bendies' approaching?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Boris Demands Answers

Today's Standard carried a number of disturbing allegations about grant funding in Livingstone's administration. Local television is picking the story up and running with it. Boris has issued the following statement:

If these reports are true, huge sums of money have not been getting through to community groups who need and deserve support. That is a scandal.

There will be volunteers across London who will be appalled to learn that all this money has been wasted or simply trousered - when it could have been used to give life changing opportunities to kids across the city.

We need to know urgently what the Mayor knew and when and what action he proposes to take. Londoners are paying more and more for the current Labour Mayor - and yet he seems determined to treat the taxpayer with contempt.

Today I have written to the Mayor to demand answers on this issue. I am still waiting for the Mayor to explain what he knew about the serious allegations of fraud in the Metropolitan Police expense accounts.

Livingstone's in tray is filling up...

To be fair, the Mayor's response to the Standard story is here:

Full to Bursting

Yesterday, Boris joked that desks were being sawn in half at City Hall to create space for all the bureaucrats. A humourous exaggeration perhaps, but based on reality, as the following exchange shows:

Richard Barnes: Further to your answer to 2381/2007, rather than a minimum estimate based on desk numbers and people, how many people in City Hall actually hot desk?

Ken Livingstone: As was previously stated in question 2381/2007 City Hall currently has 691 desks which accommodate 732 people of all categories, this excludes staff such as security and mail room who do not need a desk to perform their duties. By virtue of these numbers, this means that at least 41 staff share desks, which is equivalent to 5.6%.

We do not currently hold data on the precise number of staff who actually hot desk; this information will only be known to the individual teams. However, as part of the accommodation strategy review process we are seeking this information.
Lest we forget, City Hall was originally designed for a lean, strategic authority, with 400 employees.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

May the Boris be With You

Boris Johnson hosted his Christmas party at the Star Wars exhibition last night. The next Mayor of London gave a rousing speech, urging supporters to prepare for government. Those attending went way beyond the party faithful and included leading journalists and figures from the London establishment.
I got to wield a light sabre but the picture is slightly blurred, perhaps the photographer was a bit nervous. Could do with keeping it to enforce the Assembly whip...
Go Boris - Use the Force!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Ongoing = Not Known

An interesting exchange about the Blackwall Tunnel maintenance works:

John Biggs: Thank you for your informative and thorough reply to my question 2348/2007. When ongoing maintenance works necessitate regular and routine closures, please could you ask TfL to display the end date of their works on the www/ website to "ongoing" which is more reassuring to motorists than "not known".

Ken Livingstone: TfL appreciates your feedback and has confirmed that its traffic news page is being updated so that the Blackwall Tunnel works are described as "ongoing".

So that's reassuring - Labour are such experts at the use of language...

Christmas at Havering Park

An excellent dinner last night to celebrate Christmas with Havering Park Ward. Featured in the picture are, from left to right; local activist Billy Taylor, guest speaker David Amess MP, Councillor Sandra Binion, myself, Andrew Rosindell MP,and Councillor Geoff Starns.

David Amess provided an entertaining speech, complete with ringing denunciation of the current government - which is not difficult. There were getting on for 80 guests, which is excellent for just one ward.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Transport Questions Alert

Wednesday morning will see the annual Assembly question time with Transport Commissioner, Peter Hendy. Subjects for discussion include the Metronet fiasco, fare rises, fare evasion and crime on the buses.

Two hours isn't really long enough to cover all the issues, but any suggestions of points to raise are welcome...