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.


  1. So, if monies are being mismanaged, and the homeless failed, who is accountable? And what can residents do to make them pull their finger out?

    1. The Council is accountable, you can either lobby the Leader or Cabinet Member yourself or support your local Councillors who fight for you night and day.

  2. What about the contracts..

    Consider the buses taking disabled children to school. The children used to be on the bus for 2 hours a day, now because it is longer routes and tri borogh the children are on the bus four hours a day. And they are children with disabilites, what a nice way for the rich to treat them. And there is the issue on parking space for buses at Trelick Tower, A local charity was who wanted to bid was told the parking space would not be provided, but guess what, the same parking space has been made available to the new private sector supplier. The new supplier is also forcing their minimium wage staff to put in extra voluntary time like queuing in the mini bus to pick up children from the school which can take 40 minutes if there are a lot of buses picking up at the end of the day. Well thats not work, its the driver travelling to work say the management, the driver and escort are only paid for time when children are on the bus, It's probably not legal; but they dare not complain because they will be moved onto worse routes - its a fixed time for a five mile route and the same time for a 15 mile route so you have to lick up to management or you get shafted.
    Then there is the Health Trainers Contract, awarded to a supplier who costs £1.4 million more than the local charity who was supplying the service. The officer (or one of the team of officers) in tri borough who made the recommendation to cabinet was once a director (with the last 2 to 3 years) of the organisation that won the contract.

    And the Respite Care Contract, The workers (respite care staff) had their wages cut from London Living wage to minimium wage by the new contractor.

    We all got a reduction in council tax due to efficency savings, now we know what efficiency savings are - screwing low paid workers and disabled children. And, do we want to pay our taxes to private sector cow boys?

    1. I agree with you 12.44, the fat cats are taking over and they care about profit, not residents.

  3. Could RBKC end the winter cull of its pensioners. It's contractor the TMO refused to put double glazing into Council Flats on Swinbrook estate despite the cost of repairing windows and painting them being about the same as double glazing. The least RBKC could do is say "every tenant aged over 65 gets double glazing," that way the winter cull of pensioners will go down.

  4. Many thanks for this post Emma! It's extremely insightful and does much to highlight the draconian nature of the Tory Council, and how they pander to a select minority.

    I'm quite enthused and excited by what Kensington Labour has to offer in 2015. As a 22 year old student, who has lived in the borough (Colville Ward) for my entire life, it's especially annoying and upsetting to see the way in which income equality exacerbates the further North you get in the borough.

    In terms of the council, what are the tangible targets of Kensington Labour? And with potential success What do you intend to change in terms of welfare provision and public services?

    Many Thanks,

    Bashiru Shardow


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