The Dagenham and Rainham MP Jon Cruddas has written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, as well as the Electoral Commission raising his concerns about the misuse of council resources and funds, including incidents he believes to be in breach of the 2011 Code of Recommended Practice On Local Authority Publicity. In this instance the breach is related to social media videos.
Mr Cruddas quotes :
“The abuse of Council funding and resources to self promote is not something that I identified, but something that hundreds of local residents have called out on social media.
“I have copied the Electoral Commission in to this letter and am urging a full investigation into what I believe to be disingenuous and potentially unlawful practices being employed by Havering Council under Damian White’s Leadership”.
The Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
2 Marsham Street,
London SW1P 4DF
I am writing to you today as a matter of importance, urging you to instigate an investigation into the alarming practices taking place in the London Borough of Havering – not least the misuse and wasting of public funds, and the alleged misconduct of elected representatives.
‘PROPAGANDA ON THE RATES’ – ERIC PICKLES (2014)
In August Havering Council Leader Damian White commissioned a ‘Special Edition’ of Living in Havering, the local magazine produced and paid for by the local authority. The ‘Special Edition’ was delivered to every property in Elm Park, Rainham & Wennington and South Hornchurch – the three Havering wards that fall in the Parliamentary constituency of Dagenham and Rainham.
Cllr White appeared in central features no less than five times and was also the focus of the front cover. An FOI unveiled that this publication cost the Havering taxpayers a total of £4215.29 (£2037.50 print cost, £600 design cost, £1314.82+VAT delivery cost). There has never been a ‘Special Edition’ of Living in Havering for the south of the borough prior to this. The intention of the publication became clear four weeks after delivery when Cllr White announced his candidacy for the Parliamentary seat of Dagenham and Rainham.
In 2014 Eric Pickles, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government accused five Labour-led councils of publishing ‘propaganda on the rates’ – using tax payers’ money to produce literature deemed as political publicity. I believe that this is just that.
FURTHER MISUSE OF COUNCIL RESOURCES FOR ELECTORAL PURPOSES
Since announcing his Parliamentary candidacy Cllr White has used the Havering Council media vehicle to produce and post regular self-promoting videos on social media. Havering Council has released a series of videos and press releases to the local press since the beginning of October consisting of Cllr White instigating clear U-turns on policy for the south of the borough. This appears to be a clear and cynical attempt to win votes across Elm Park, Rainham and South Hornchurch.
In June this year Damian White announced that Havering Council would be scrapping the 30 minutes free parking on local high streets.
On 11th October Damian White announced the Council would be launching a review of this policy just four months after its introduction. Presumably due to the reaction of the public.
On 22nd October Havering Council released a video on social media of Cllr White announcing that Council-run car parks will be free at weekends in the run up to Christmas and throughout Purdah.
On 16th October Havering Council posted a video of the Leader on site at the construction of Hornchurch Leisure Centre. Cllr White took the opportunity to announce plans to deliver a brand-new sports centre for the south of the borough.
This is important because the Council removed funding for the existing Chaffords Sports Complex in Rainham last December, and then explained that there was ‘no funding’ to deliver a replacement facility.
After announcing his political ambitions Cllr White appears to have conveniently located the ‘magic money tree’, pledging to deliver a multi-million-pound investment in Rainham despite removing existing provisions one year prior due to ‘lack of funds’.
A second video materialised on Havering Council social media on 31st October of Cllr White standing in South Hornchurch officially unveiling the plans.
On 24th October Havering Council published a video of Cllr White outside Elm Park tube station with the police explaining how he was working with them to tackle crime and anti-social behavior. The entire video was based in the south of the borough and centred on Cllr White.
On 21st May Havering Council announced a £40m investment for roads and pavements. The Council website lists the roads that will be resurfaced in each phase of the investment. As of yet no roads in the south of the borough have been named, which is something I raised at the time.
However, at the end of September Upminster Road South in Rainham was resurfaced with added traffic calming measures. Something I campaigned for alongside residents in April 2017 but was told by Havering Council that it wasn’t possible due to ‘lack of funds.’ It appears that the ‘magic money tree’ was found just in time for the general election.
The single largest concern regarding a misuse and waste of public funds and resources is the case of Dover’s Farm Estate Green (land bounded by New Zealand Way, Queenstown Gardens and Gisborne Gardens, Rainham RM13 8JT).
Since 2015 Havering Council has been determined to develop and concrete over the precious community green, so much so that two failed planning applications later the Council spent £105,600.40 on legal professionals and internal planning services to block residents attempts to protect the land at a public hearing. This information was revealed by an FOI request.
After speaking with planning professionals, it is estimated that the combined cost of planning applications, staff hours, etc. would have cost hundreds of thousands in tax payer’s money to date. Which is why when Cllr Damian White announced the day before confirming his candidacy on Wednesday 25th September, that Havering Council were withdrawing the planning application for the land and would now work to protect it, many residents contacted me baffled.
The above-mentioned instances indicate to me a clear breach of the 2011 CODE OF RECOMMENDED PRACTICE ON LOCAL AUTHORITY PUBLICITY. In many of the instances outlined it can be suggested that the Leader of the Council is misusing his Office and Council resources to ‘treat’ for votes in the run up to a general election.
The recent use of Council spending is clearly targeted on the wards that fall within Dagenham and Rainham.
HAVERING COUNCIL MEMBERS CODE OF CONDUCT
In recent months I have heard concerning testimonies from whistle blowers in Havering Council of a growing culture of bullying and harassment. Several people including one Councillor have claimed to have been on the receiving end of ageist and sexist discrimination, and on Wednesday 25th September a Councillor claimed to be physically attacked at the Full Council Meeting.
Sources suggest that these are not isolated incidents, and that they were allegedly dismissed by both the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive in Havering with no disciplinary action taken.
There is a clear need for independent scrutiny of Havering Council’s ‘Members Code of Conduct’ and what structures are in place to ensure that the Code is being adhered to by Members. At present whistle blowers are alleging that the toxic environment does not allow Councillors to fulfil their elected duties. If true, this is at odds with the democratic process and the Nolan Principles.
The abuse of Council funding and resources to self-promote is not something that I identified, but something that hundreds of local residents have called out on social media and in the local press.
I have copied the Electoral Commission into this letter and am urging a full investigation into what I believe to be disingenuous and potentially unlawful practices being employed by Havering Council under Damian White’s Leadership.
Jon Cruddas MP
Member of Parliament for Dagenham and Rainham
Cc. Electoral Commission