Dagenham and Rainham MP Jon Cruddas writes:
Last week, following the alleged misuse of public funds by Damian White, the Electoral Commission confirmed to me that their investigations team would scrutinise the allegations.
These were serious allegations that involved hundreds of thousands in taxpayers money being used to further the political aspirations of Damian White.
Exactly one week later the Electoral Commission have now stated they have stopped their investigation – and referred me back to Havering Council so that they can investigate charges of financial abuse against the leadership of their own Council!
Something doesn’t add up. People aren’t stupid!
I have now written to the Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission to account for this change of course and to reveal details of who has been onto them since their investigation began. The concerns of Havering residents need to be independently scrutinised.
Letter to head of Electoral Commission
3 Bunhill Row,
Monday 11th November 2019
Dear Mr Posner
I am writing to you today on a matter of utmost importance. On Friday 1st November I wrote to the Electoral Commission and the Secretary of State regarding the alleged misuse of public funds by Havering Council.
The allegations included a targeted council publication costing upwards of £4,000, social media content produced and promoted by Havering Council and several dramatic last-minute policy U-Turns that have cost hundreds of thousands in taxpayer’s money. Since then more alleged abuses of public funds have been brought to my attention, including allegations of Conservative Association literature being processed at the Town Hall by Cabinet Support Officers.
My office received a phone call on Monday 4th November to confirm that these allegations were being passed to your Investigations Team to be thoroughly scrutinised. Just one week later, I have now been informed today alongside the Romford Recorder that this investigation is not now being pursued by the Electoral Commission.
I would like some clarification as to why, after confirming this would be passed to the Investigations Team, the Electoral Commission are now claiming that this does not fall within their remit.
Please see below a recap of the allegations from the original correspondence.
‘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.
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 unambiguous U-turns on policy for the south of the borough; policies that he personally has relentlessly pursued for many years. This appeared 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. Yet 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 pledged 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’. This money 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 and Councillor White in particular 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 taxpayer’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.
Over the last few weeks I have been inundated with complaints by council tax paying residents outraged at what they believe to be grotesque practices within Havering Council which many believe to be corrupt.
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. I am seeking clarification as to why your Investigations Team, having agreed to investigate, has decided to not now investigate the above allegations and to refer me back to Havering Council; an extraordinary suggestion given that the charges are directed at the leadership of the Council itself.
I would also like to know the details of all representations you have received from either Havering Council, the Conservative Party or the Conservative Government regarding the above. Moreover, could you please inform me of all communications with the Romford Recorder, who were informed of the curtailed investigation at the same time as I was.
I would also be very much obliged if you could advise on the next steps for the residents of Havering,
given that you have curtailed your investigation and referred me back to Havering Council to investigate their own alleged questionable practices.
Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Dagenham and Rainham