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THE letter below—of yesterday’s date—was written by Cllr. Stuart McNamara to the Haringey Council Leader, Claire Kober.
I have reproduced faithfully what was sent to me. I understand it is common currency within Labour Party circles; it was not sent to me by Councillor McNamara and I have not discussed it with him.
Stuart McNamara is a former Labour Cabinet Member and a current Haringey Councillor of much experience. Stuart has been in the forefront of warning about the extraordinary risks posed by the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) to the Council: and to the Borough as a whole.
I am a Haringey Councillor
Highgate Ward, Liberal Democrat
3rd November 2017
As you know, I have recently spent some time travelling and with my family. I returned this week and, although I have been kept informed of developments during my absence, nothing could have prepared me for recent events at the council, especially as we are a mere six months away from the local elections in May 2018. Whether the fact that your intransigence over the HDV has now led to the council being dragged through the courts, your stubborn determination to close Park View Road, your giveaway that is the Hornsey Town Hall deal or countless other bad ideas such as the Highgate Library plan, things just stagger from bad to worse.
Haringey Council’s current position is increasingly untenable, as a result of the way you have personally chosen to lead the organisation, especially over the past couple of years. This has, in turn, had a significant impact on my view of the health of the council and on my future intentions. I am and always have been a loyal Labour Party member and it is for that reason that I feel what you have done to the borough and party, and continue to do, has to stop.
Somebody has to call you out on your wrecking ball tactics and horrific wasting of public money on nonsense vanity projects whilst council services are starved of cash or sold off to the lowest bidder, making horrendous Tory government cuts even worse. This government and its behaviour towards the most vulnerable in our society is an absolute scandal; I am not suggesting they are not the core cause of the council’s financial predicament, rather that your ideological determination to pursue out-dated and maverick policies, whilst losing sight completely of the Labour values we are supposed to stand for, has made a very bad situation immeasurably worse.
When you became leader, nine years ago, we all welcomed new blood and a fresh injection of young talent into the local party. You had joined us in Haringey with a number of friends from Labour Students and the National Union of Students. You all quickly assumed central roles and responsibilities. The council’s reputation and recent history had warranted change and you came to us at a time of crisis at Haringey Council when a fresh direction was urgently needed. Like many people, I initially supported your leadership. You had, and still have, a right to be objectively and fairly judged on the merits of your leadership. Sadly, and on that basis, your leadership has been largely focused on the ideological pursuit of a poorly thought-through version of a commissioning and out-sourcing council.
Many of the policies you have pursued and subsequently rolled out, often in the teeth of significant opposition from a wide range of others within the Haringey Labour Party, have been badly researched and untested, have squandered significant amounts of taxpayers’ money and ultimately caused great harm to council services. You have operated in your role as Leader of the Council as though Haringey were your own personal fiefdom, consistently ignoring the views of others and prioritising bad policies time and time again and, in the process, you have caused incalculable damage to the Labour Party in Haringey. You have shown yourself to have little or no regard or respect for party members, a sizeable number of Labour councillors, both Constituency Labour Parties and both Members of Parliament. Considering that you are Chair of London Councils and regularly speak on behalf of the Local Government Association on issues pertaining to London, I am at a complete loss as to where you actually get your mandate from when you clearly have used your position in Haringey for your own personal political advancement, at the expense of even moderately constructive relations with others here in Haringey. You have projected a falsely positive view of Haringey to other local authorities and people of influence elsewhere in local and central government that is increasingly divorced from the reality on the ground. You have also placed a far higher importance on having good relations with private developers than with others in the Labour Party in Haringey and with residents, the very people we were elected to support and represent.
We are now facing your third term of office and we do this under a Conservative government which is fragile but which has managed to inflict incalculable damage on local residents through its austerity programme and through swingeing cuts to local government. I have voted against some despicable cuts proposed under your leadership yet I have been loyal to those collective Labour Group decisions, which have gone through anyway, without much serious analysis and with many Group members sadly being largely incurious about alternatives. You have only maintained a narrow majority in the Labour Group throughout your time in office and you have done this through a combination of patronage and punishment. Many of my colleagues have, unfortunately, been willing to let you run the council without their input.
Although you have loyal courtiers and enforcers that you actually have some sort of relationship with, the vast majority of us, elected local Labour representatives, are strangers to you, uninvolved with decision-making and powerless to influence the council’s direction. Our interventions are regarded with suspicion and hostility and you have attempted to publicly humiliate some of us with suspensions, formal warnings and demotions, so as to keep us in our places.
In the last budget round, we voted to cut meals on wheels, close day care centres for the elderly, close a recycling centre, begin charging for some waste services and shut down children’s centres across the borough. You put to us a proposal to increase council tax for residents with disabilities and to sell off our parking services team. This was voted down, but so was our counter-proposal to increase council tax. We have been left with the nonsensical legacy of your cast iron commitment to keep a promise you made in a manifesto many years ago. What makes this remarkable is that this is the only manifesto commitment you have ever truly kept and when the government is reducing, to zero, the funding it gives us, your position look stubborn and asinine rather than principled. You are strangling the services we deliver.
You have overseen a culture where a core group of senior officers and a few members of Cabinet set the policy direction of the council whilst backbench councillors are ignored. This was the case after the August 2011 riots when dozens of ward councillors like me were side-lined and you sought to empower self-appointed and unelected ‘community leaders’, including the group you recommended that nearly scuppered the IPCC investigation into the death of Mark Duggan. You have consistently made statements declaring that almost everything we have, and do, to be a failure and then outsourcing or selling it off, sometimes under very dubious circumstances. The exception to this of course being schools, where you have taken credit for improvement and at the same time actively encouraged schools to leave council ownership and seek academy status. You are generous with council resources, waiving rents and large payments from powerful organisations when it suits you and you condone councillors dining out and enjoying corporate hospitality when the meals on wheels service has been cut. All too often, Labour councillors and residents find out about these things after the event, through member enquiries or FOI requests.
What you are currently planning to do through the council’s proposed partnership with Lend Lease which was, in effect, sprung on all of us when it was too late to plead for reason and restraint, is splitting the Labour Party and putting you at odds with almost everyone else, including a number of your Cabinet. The HDV was not in any manifesto and yet you have pursued it through a covert and incremental approach, duping fellow councillors who sat on the Future of Housing Review about the sheer size and scale of the plans. Both MPs and both the Tottenham Labour Party and the Hornsey & Wood Green Labour Party actively oppose it. It is also opposed by a sizeable and growing number of local residents, local groups and businesses and has dragged the council into the High Court and the press for all the wrong reasons and at great expense to the Haringey taxpayer. You have totally ignored the scrutiny process, which was far more thoughtful, thorough, and in-depth than anything you, or officers, could deliver and you have sought to insult the intelligence of your fellow councillors and the public by peddling the pretence that the council has undertaken meaningful consultation and has met its Public Sector Equality Duty. It is disappointing, yet sadly very familiar, this same pattern of you seeking to force through unpopular, expensive, and incompetent and poorly thought-out policies. You seem to have no inherent ability to either listen to others or know when something is simply a very bad idea. Your Thatcheresque ‘I have no reverse gear’ isn’t a sign of strength of leadership or character but an abysmal flaw whereby you see compromise as weakness.
The One Borough One Future Fund (£668,745 in Tranche 1 paid out in 2012 out of the £1.5 million fund set aside to give grant funding to various organisations without any evidence of their track record in delivery), the iMPOWER contract (£2,000,000 paid up to May 2017 with little concrete evidence of how this was good value for money and whilst the youth service budget was slashed), the N17 Design Studio (estimated in June 2015 as costing the council £351,037 for refurbishment and running costs, now likely to be much higher than this, for an architect firm that left after the free money stopped and yet was awarded contracts on Apex House and another site in Tottenham Hale), 51 Degrees North (£406,618 for a failed experimental lettings firm that only secured a handful of tenants and then collapsed) and a seemingly endless list of other bad and failed ideas have seen your administration squander millions upon millions of pounds of finite council money on trendy and exciting sounding fads, almost all of which failed to deliver on their original aims and objectives and with no-one held to account and the council patting itself on the back at each turn on its dynamism and willingness to experiment with new ideas.
These ideas weren’t dynamic; they were incompetent attempts to reshape the very nature of what the Council is for, without the necessary expertise or common sense to see that, irrespective of how good or exciting these ideas might have been, they were experiments nonetheless and badly researched ones, whilst vital public services had almost identical sums of money slashed from their budgets to fund these irresponsible gambles. Haringey Council is a local authority, not a bank or a hedge fund and the loans to Chicken Town (£90,000 grant, £210,000 loan and a further £40,000 loan) and other local hipster ventures are further evidence of poor decision-making, especially when the amount of money you have personally allowed to be spent on all of these things could have kept our adult social care homes open and fully funded our youth service and a range of other council services. For every one of these bad and costly decisions there have been desperately needed public services you have been willing to shut down at the flip of a switch that could have been kept open if you had been willing to listen to what your colleagues and the residents of this borough have been trying in vain to say to you.
You promised that when Customer Services moved from Apex House and Station Road to Marcus Garvey Library and Wood Green Library that services would be improved. It is now clear that these were bad moves and cost huge sums of money for the borough to end up with an inferior library service at both sites and a diminution in Customer Services’ front counter capacity. You were told this was likely to be the case but you simply wouldn’t listen. The same is true for Osborne Grove; a site that we as councillors were assured would be a centre of excellence, yet following a recent damning report by the Care Quality Commission was rated as inadequate. Your response was to suggest it is sold with no one held to account and no immediate commitment to maintaining and improving services there. The same is also true for the Youth Zone proposal, which plumbed new depths when it came to bad ideas written on the back of an envelope. No proper thought was given to the inoperability of a single site, the Friends of Chestnuts Park were neither consulted nor involved and the project would have breached guidance in relation to construction on metropolitan open land. In none of these scenarios have you ever demonstrated responsibility or contrition when they have gone belly up as a result of rushed, poorly researched and contentious proposals. If anything, the more contentious the proposals have been, the more enthusiastic you appear to have shown yourself to be.
When proposals like these inevitably went south, as most of them have, you have simply carried on as normal without a glimmer of remorse and with no one taking responsibility amid an ugly fog of hubris that seems to have taken hold at council headquarters in Wood Green. The more people disagree with you, the more you believe you are right. This is not a way to lead people and in the process you have become increasingly isolated. At this years Labour conference, the leader’s speech appeared to condemn Haringey, without naming us, over our reliance on developers to set local political policy. Your response to the party leader was childish defiance on the issue of ballots for people whose homes are threatened with destruction and who face exile. You are contemptuous of the party you have used to obtain power and personal importance and all you have left to rely on is your record, which is dismal.
We all recently learned of the existence of a Shadow HDV Board, which has apparently been meeting in private, and before any Cabinet decision to proceed with the HDV took place. This sums up what you stand for and the utter contempt you appear to have for almost everyone around you and the very people that put you where you are. I am disgusted how councillors and the public were deceived on this and this, along with the fact that you attempted to interfere in the selection interview process by submitting spurious allegations about fellow candidates that you happen to dislike, is for me the final straw. Haringey Council is fact becoming a Loony Right imitation of Militant on your watch.
I have therefore concluded that I cannot be a fellow candidate with you in the forthcoming local elections and have written to the Haringey LCF to inform them that I am withdrawing my name from the list of prospective candidates. I will be stepping down from the council at the end of my term of office in May.
The Labour Party in Haringey is a force for good, as exemplified by our two brilliant Members of Parliament, the many good ward councillors we have and our thousands of members drawn from every corner of the borough and every walk of life. I am optimistic that common sense can prevail and the Labour Party in Haringey will be able to unify around the sensible, popular and desperately needed policies outlined in the 2017 Labour Party Manifesto and resoundingly win the local elections in May 2018. For that to happen you need to fundamentally change the way you do things and listen to sensible voices around you, including by immediately halting the HDV. If you genuinely cannot bring yourself to actually listen, involve others and change the way you do things then for the sake of Haringey and of the Labour Party you probably need to just resign before you cause any more harm to this great borough.
All over the wires. Including a tearful Cllr Barbara Blake on the local BBC news. All a big Labour battle, surely the Lib Dems should have got involved in such an important issue?
The Lib Dems **did** get involved. Very much so. Along with other parties; and many non-party residents.
So why aren't the LibDems being mentioned by Claire Kober and pals? Because it would contradict the lie they are peddling to the media on this issue. Which is that it's all a Momentum versus "Moderates" battle.
Well it isn't and hasn't been. And more fool the BBC and other news outlets falling for it.
Claire Kober has been described as "inspiring".
This is true. Though not inspiration as we usually know it, Captain.
She has inspired the widest range of opposition I have ever seen across and beyond the Haringey local political spectrum - Opposition to a single policy - the HDV.
The huge, foolish, risky, financially wasteful, destructive, unfair, anti-social Haringey Demolition Vileness.
As the most centrist, middle of the road, mainstream person I have every met, that's my moderate viewpoint. You don't agree? How dare you! You must be a bully. You made me cry.
Cllr Kober is leaving because she sees the writing on the wall for her failed policies including on the HDV and the Wood Green Area Action Plan. What we must ensure is that from May 2018, the new Labour Leader and all Haringey Councillors come up with sustainable and imaginative housing policies that build more social housing (not "affordable" housing as Catherine West MP says since that is not affordable to most working class people in Haringey). There are still some Labour Cllrs who think a modified HDV is a good idea and we need to explain why it is not.
All left-of-centre councillors can and should work together to come up with these new housing policies. If former Kobots want to shed the HDV nonsense and join in the process, then good on them!
This is the time to put the borough's residents' first - especially the poorest and most vulnerable people.
It won't be an easy task to do while Kober herself is still hanging around. No doubt she'll be drawing her several allowances; continuing to make appalling decisions; and generally lurking in the Leader's office in River Park House spreading ill-will. A damaging autocrat with power draining away and pretending to be the bullied victim.