Thursday, 11 December 2014

'SHAMBOLIC' #2, RBKC confuses 'want' with 'need'

We know there are homeless people out there, thousands upon thousands of them, and we know there are rough sleepers. I have seen more and more tucked away in quiet corners of the borough over the summer, and left them to it; in warm weather it may be tolerable. Some rough sleepers have work of a kind (manual labour at a certain building site), some have come to the UK to work and found none, others have simply fallen off the edge.

So I shouldn’t have been shocked by this photo, sent in by a resident, of a rough sleeper on Portobello Road, with one layer of wrapping, lying on concrete on the coldest night of the year, Friday 5 December.

But I was.

Now sensitised, while I am out and about I look out for bundles of blankets and cardboard, and see quite a few. Sometimes there’s a poor soul hidden inside. How many will survive this freezing weather?

In a civilised society, in the self-professed ‘richest borough in the universe’ this is unforgivable. I have sat at meetings when Council officers backed by a pinstriped Cabinet Member have painstakingly explained how night shelters, lunch clubs, even food banks, encourage the hungry and un-housed to hang about in the borough. How unseemly! ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ and never mind where they will end up, half starved and rough sleeping.

So, the churches fill in where they can, and thank God and all the gods for that.

So reflect on this for a moment:

The ‘richest borough in the universe’
is CUTTING £150,000
from its homelessness prevention scheme this year.

Yes, the Council that can justify handing over, no strings attached, £5m to a loss-making business, Opera Holland Park, that some say has cost us cc£20m since inception - a ‘business’ that loses up to £125,000 per week on its eight-week summer run – is CUTTING the price of a week of opera (if you add in the cost of renting the location at Holland House, which is given free), for a year of homelessness prevention.

As we go about our rounds, we find the message of financial incompetence and tortured priorities by the Council is getting through. So, for the sake of absolute clarity and accuracy, here are some figures to feed your outrage this wintry season. So, when you are wondering how a civilised society and ‘fabulously’ rich Council can walk by someone sleeping on a pavement in below-zero temperatures, this is how:

Short course

Any organisation that has been run inefficiently for years can make savings through better planning and tightening up on costs.

But RBKC has taken this to a new level. While bleating ‘austerity’ and ‘tough decisions’ they have cut back on services, particularly focussed on  the most vulnerable who cannot speak for themselves.

And yet, most of this is simply unnecessary. Here’s why. Below you will see a table of government funding cuts to RBKC since 2010 (cuts = savings). In the third column is the total of UNDERSPENDING across the Council in the same year. All these sums have been taken from the Council’s own documentation:

Government funding cut
Total underspend
















A large chunk of the underspends every year are put into the Capital Reserve, to fund major projects such as the cc£100m Holland Park School.

The ‘usable Reserves’ from which capital and other projects are funded look like this:

10/11 - £206m
11/12 - £224m
12/13 - £241m
13/14 - £267m
at September 2014 - £283m

You would think that having large Reserves means you would get some interest on that to ‘soften the blow’ of savings; in fact Council policy states precisely that. You would be wrong.

These Reserves are kept almost entirely in the Debt Management Office (very safe but can be accessed quickly), whose return on investments is .25%pa. Given that inflation has been cc2.5%, the loss on say £100m of these Reserves (the sum the Council states they have not earmarked for capital projects) is cc£4-5m/yr. So we are actually LOSING money. If that £100m was invested, we could GAIN cc£4-5m/yr. So you could say that we are forgoing cc£10m/yr.

Now let’s look at some of the Council’s PRIORITIES. In 2010/11 (election year) £4.2m was spent on an ‘efficiency dividend’ of £50 each to all registered for Council Tax. In 2013/14 (election year) £7.5m was spent on an ‘efficiency dividend’ of £100 each to all Council Tax PAYERS (ie not in receipt of Housing Benefit).

Here are some more ‘priorities’:

Opera Holland Park – underwriting loss of cc£1m/yr
Leighton House – this year alone £2.6m refurb costs
National Army Museum – ‘loan’ of £2.5m for refurb
Kens Academy artwork - £150k
Holland Park Ac artwork - £120k

In the past six years, the Council has spent an incredible £1m on Pre-Raphaelite art:
-      Clytie (lady in a nightie)
-      Cimabue’s Madonna ( lady in a nightie)
-      Nymphs in a Landscape (shockingly, ladies without nighties)

Now let’s look at ‘underspends’ in services, using 2013/14 as an example:

Adult Social Care                      £6.4m
Children’s Services                       £641k
Env Leisur and Res                      £2.3m
Housing                                     £638k
Libr, Arch, Heritage                     £238k
Planning, boro devt                      £1.6k
Transp & Techn                         £6.4m
Corp Servi                                £3.8m
Adult, Family Learning                    £44k

As you can see for yourself, ‘tough decisions’ are in truth IDEOLOGICAL.

And people, if the Tories get into government again and are allowed to kick off their destructive ‘deficit balancing’ budget, make no mistake, people will die.

Which is why. given that RBKC is a microcosm of all that is very wrong in the country at present, we need to understand how our Tories in RBKC make their decisions, where the money is, and just how the process is driven by wrong-headedness, incompetence and ideology. 


Far be it from me to tell anyone how to spend their money, so I would just like to say 'thank you' to whoever sent me these gorgeous flowers, an extravagant but very touching anonymous gift with a very flattering message attached. Times are tough, and gratitude is rare; you made my day.

Monday, 1 December 2014


Children at Venture Centre Adventure Playground face fears of closure

In yet another utterly shambolic and logic-defying decision by the self-professed ‘richest borough in the universe’, RBKC Council is at the point of rubbishing years of excellent work by closing its Play Services. Children of low-income working parents are to be hit hardest, as the result of what is feared to be a pre-determined ‘Review’ is proposing that the after-school and holiday play services that so many rely upon are to be effectively privatised. Cut off from any form of Council subsidy, the cost of this service is destined to go through the roof and be unaffordable for many.

All this to save a measly £500,000 over three years.

A measly £500,000, regarded as a ‘tough decision in times of austerity’. This is in addition to the £500k already cut from Youth Services as youth crime and violence rises, the £340k cut from Special Educational Needs Transport that caused huge upset and allegedly put our most vulnerable children in danger, and the upcoming reorganisation of Children’s Centres and Nurseries to save £500k, that will ‘amalgamate’ services and is feared to reduce numbers of places and increase costs to an unaffordable level.

Where precisely is the logic of NOT making work pay for hard-pressed parents and carers? What will be the human cost of families no longer able to work their hours, of children stuck in an overcrowded home after school and during holidays, losing out on the very creative and physically healthy activities offered at after-school and holiday play centres?

To think the Council are supporting a study on childhood obesity, at the same time!

Simply insane.

So while the Council is trimming costs and services left, right and centre in the name of austerity, they are simultaneously proposing handing over a whopping £5m to cut loose from its loss-making Opera Holland Park, which some calculate has already lost the Council cc£20m. The season is just two months a year, which equates to a loss of cc£16,000 A DAY. And the current director, who has presided over this loss-making fiasco, is to be guaranteed his position in the new, taxpayer-funded venture.

Some Councils are genuinely struggling financially. Ours is not. It has stashed £283m of YOUR money in an ‘under-the-mattress’ fund whose return is so low that, taking inflation into account, it actually LOSES £12m/year.

So. Cuts for Play Services, that help nurture children in their early years, add immeasurably to their safety, social skills, health and well-being, and help parents work, study, or care for others. And £5m for Opera.

*Sometimes* services that cost money are excellent value; this is certainly the case with our Play Services. Our Council knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. And this terrible, illogical and dangerous situation could blight an entire generation of children.

STOP PRESS: This issue will be debated at Full Council on Weds 3.12.14, from 6.30pm in the Council Chamber. Come to the Public Gallery and show your support for parents and children in the borough.