Only the most ardent and unquestioning of Sadiq Khan’s admirers can have been impressed with his evasive responses when asked at last week’s Mayor’s Question Time about the “hiring” of Amy Lamé as London’s first ever Night Czar.
Questioned on specific aspects of her employment, Khan repeatedly told Assembly Members to save it all for this Wednesday’s meeting of the GLA Oversight committee which will grill officials – but not the Mayor who isn’t attending the session – about the process which culminated in Lamé’s appointment.
Hiding behind non-political staff in this way is not what the public expect from their Mayor. The appointment was made in Khan’s name, he knew that questions were coming and he owed it to Londoners to turn up sufficiently briefed to answer them.
As someone once said, being Mayor involves a lot more than having your picture taken on a succession of red carpets.
But as one those people who’ve been posing questions to City Hall on this issue in recent days, I can tell you that Khan wasn’t the only person in the building who was under-briefed.
Indeed, from the contradictory answers I received, it’s not at all clear the Mayor or his advisors even understand the nature of the appointment that’s been made. But if they do, they’ve worked very hard to spin it as something far removed from the rather timid actuality.
On November 4th Khan’s office issued a press release announcing the “hiring” of Amy Lamé as Night Czar.
After sustained questioning and challenging to the early answers given, it’s now clear that a more accurate – though less headline grabbing – announcement would have been that a contractor (Amy Lamé Limited) had been appointed to provide consultancy services to the Mayor, including drawing up a “roadmap” to secure the sustainability of London’s night time economy.
This is an important area of work – London is an international destination and it’s vital the needs of the businesses and workers which power its night life are properly understood and represented in the Mayor’s policymaking.
Under different circumstances the firm appointed could have been Deloitte or EY, in which case the press release would almost certainly not have name-checked the specific employees who would carry out the work.
But City Hall arrived at the appointment of a company – it prefers the term ‘consultancy’ – almost by accident because it had originally intended to hire an individual through a standard recruitment process.
Had the original plan been to appoint an outside firm it wouldn’t have invited applications from individuals, but would instead have asked for tenders from interested bidders.
But, as the Mayor’s office now admits, once applicants started to be interviewed it realised the combined job of Night Czar and chair of the Night Time Commission “would be much greater than originally anticipated”.
A decision was therefore taken mid-process to split the job, with the Czar role being awarded to “a consultant” (Amy Lamé Limited) and the Commission Chair to be appointed as a GLA officeholder post.
Rather than set this all out clearly in a press release or – as some people believe ought to have happened – restart the recruitment process and advertise both of the new roles again, City Hall pushed on and tried passing off the appointment of Amy Lamé Limited as the hiring of Amy Lamé.
The press release makes no mention of her firm’s appointment or the fact that this is, as Khan’s office now confirm, a “consultancy’ role rather than the officeholder post originally authorised.
Perhaps they didn’t want to draw attention to the real nature of the appointment in order to prevent anyone asking how many other companies tendered for the one year contract?
The answer, according to City Hall, is none.
On Wednesday I raised the important legal difference between appointing Amy Lamé Limited and “hiring” Amy Lamé with the Mayor’s office and asked how many other firms tendered.
I was told:
“No company was invited to tender to supply a Night Czar”
However the official position now is that Lamé is in fact a member of “the consultant’s staff” and it’s been agreed between the GLA and firm that it’ll supply “Amy Lamé, the individual” to “work on the project” for one year. Here’s City Hall’s revised position which made its way to my inbox on late Friday afternoon:
“Amy Lamé has been hired under a consultancy contract. GLA consultancy contracts require the GLA to approve the consultant’s staff who work on the project.”
So here you have it. Amy Lamé has not been hired by City Hall, her company was awarded a “one year” contract to work on the Night Czar “project” and agreed that she would be the employee tasked to the role.
This might seem like nitpicking, but having a named consultant working on a one-year project is a far cry from a “Czar” with power – as many have taken the original fact-lite City Hall press release to convey – to step in and save threatened venues.
With City Hall seemingly unclear who it’d actually entered into a contract with – it would be very unusual to have a direct contract with an outside firm’s employee – I asked whether the Night Czar contract would be published.
In response I was very firmly told: “The GLA does not publish consultancy contracts”
But this has now been contradicted. On Friday I was advised:
“The GLA shares its service for procurement and legal with TfL, so TfL provides and publishes our contracts. We’ll share the link with you when it’s online.”
In truth, I don’t really want to see it, I just wanted confirmation of who the non-GLA contracting party was because it’s not always been clear City Hall itself knows or understands who was appointed.
As of Sunday they accept this is, in fact, Amy Lame Limited.
What’s still missing from the list of answers I’ve been supplied with is whether any of the other applicants were advised that fulfilling the role as an outside consultant was an option.
It’s one of several issues the oversight committee should raise at Wednesday’s meeting.
Londoners might also expect AMs to question whether any contract should be awarded as part of a process which starts off as anything other than a clear tender invite, which this one did not, and whether firms should really be told upfront how much the Authority is willing to pay for the work being solicited.
Of course, they ought to have been able to get those answers from Sadiq last Wednesday – providing them is what taxpayers pay him £144,000 a year for.
Instead he’ll be elsewhere in the building while officials try to avoid pointing out that it was his decision to overspin a fairly routine consultancy contract which generated a week of severely negative headlines and dominated MQTs.