One of Damian Hockney’s boasts when he was a London Assembly Member was that he and his colleague Peter Hulme-Cross in the One London Party group voted against Mayor Livingstone’s measures more than any other group – he opposed the Olympic bid, opposed the Tory-supported extra resources for Mayoral advisers. Above all, he was scathing about the LDA and at one point called for it to be scrapped entirely, although he believes that a reformed LDA could offer great possibilities. So why is he so supportive of the former Mayor over the Forensic Audit Panel which has just reported its findings on waste at the LDA?
On 10th May, just after the appointment of the Forensic Audit Panel, I
wrote on this site: “Something serious must come at the end of this
audit. It would be extraordinary if we were to hear vague comments when
the time comes about systems not being right, and the accompanying
promises to ‘improve monitoring…achieve better reporting
Whatever you think of the former Mayor, and however partisan you might
be about the Lee Jasper affair, there is little new from this panel of
Conservative Party grandees and nothing that justifies lurid headlines
which are not simply a repeat of their election campaigning. Mr Jasper
said he was “gobsmacked” to listen to the Panel skirt the issue of his
own involvement – the excuse of leaving it to the police is an
effective admission from a ‘Forensic Panel’ that it has found nothing
in its forensic study to implicate him. Or that it was not forensic.
Take your pick. This is no surprise to any of us who were the first to
investigate these matters, long before they became an election issue.
It is indeed a scandal that millions may have been frittered away, but
how many more times must the same thing be said? It’s action we need
not re-hashed political campaigning.
The idea that apologists say “ah but he is under investigation by the
police” is increasingly hollow. If the forensic panel had uncovered
anything, its members would undoubtedly have informed the police and
publicised the fact, even if through leaks. What they have ‘uncovered’
is inefficiency in government. Welcome to the real world campaign that
many of us have been fighting for years. And thanks for nothing for
inexpertly setting the cause back a decade by using it as a political
pawn and allowing those who might be responsible to be able to simply
claim that it is all a put-up job.
LANDFILL THE CARCASS
The Panel talk about “massive misspending” and “ineptitude”, but these
and other comments are almost a carbon copy of what the London Assembly
Economic Development Committee said nearly two years ago. The Panel
have also effectively discounted corruption and said that those who did
what they did acted using the powers they had. All this and more were
already known. As this is a piece of advertising for the new Tory
Mayor, “where,” as the old US ad slogan would have it “is the beef?”
It’s a tired old piece of much-chewed carcass. It needs to be
landfilled, not constantly recycled.
Even the press release on the GLA website is misleading and political spin.
Savings of £7.7 million do not represent 10-15% of the ‘overall’ GLA
Budget. That is a percentage of the smallest part of the GLA family,
the spending on the GLA at City Hall. The ‘overall’ GLA family Budget
is well in excess of £10 billion. The release barely mentions the City
Hall aspect and refers mostly to the LDA part of the GLA family (whose
budget alone is around half a billion).
GANG OF FOUR
The former Mayor issued a letter about the Panel which, if accurate in
every detail, is a very damaging blow to its credibility. Only a dyed
in the wool Tory apologist howling about Red Ken and “millions spent on
disabled gay and lesbian fill in the rest” can miss the point: it lacks
credibility for a Gang of Four Tories to look into a highly charged
political area like this and pronounce guilt of some form or another.
It may appear to be a wizard wheeze in a world where the media lines up
on one side or the other and ‘scandal’ and ‘police’ are used in the
headlines. But it really is also very dangerous and irresponsibly
And the use of high sounding words like ‘forensic’. Forensic? Really.
Was this really intended as irony of the old East European school? The
audit was a breakneck canter through a few figures and media comment
since December 2007, with a report at the end featuring little new.
Suggestions about giving the London Assembly more power are all very
well, but did any of the Panel ask why their fellow Tory colleagues
failed to support moves by others to introduce these when we all had
the chance during the review of GLA Powers recently? The Tories even
opposed us when we forced a vote to try to scrap an increase in
spending on mayoral advisers. They actually voted against a simple
motion, thus supporting the increased spending on them and adding to
the powers of the Mayor. No doubt the Panel knew all this, as a
forensic study would have revealed it.
Those who say this report is an important step in making things right
at the LDA are living in a partisan dreamworld populated by nightmare
diversionary Red Ken headlines. You are in power now, not Mr
Livingstone. Get on with the job. This report is the first diversionary
step in clearing the way for much more spending on just a different
type of waste/investment.
The audit has rightly attacked waste, but has not really identified how
this could be avoided in future. If those people had “the powers” to do
what they did with public money, what is to stop others doing the same
again. The idea that it’s all OK “because our man would never do
something like that” is patronising and lacks credibility. If it is
serious, the administration must now ask government to surely change
the law and grant it less power. Make it completely autonomous from the
Mayor. Fat chance. It is indeed what I suggested over two years ago
during the review of GLA powers.
Labour’s Deputy Leader on the London Assembly John Biggs rightly points out that
high risk projects are just that. Is the new Mayor saying he will not
use LDA funds to undertake any of these high risk projects? One Mayor’s
waste is another Mayor’s investment and job creation. If the Mayor is
not going to use LDA money on high risk projects, then he needs to come
clean about it. If he is, what further procedures will be used to avoid
the misspending of money? If the vague suggested shift of focus of the
LDA is to have any meaning, then it must include moves to strip it
legally of the powers which the Panel says have permitted perfectly
legally officials to use money in a way which they categorise as
misspending. They must propose an amendment to the Acts relating to the
LDA and GLA. And specify it.
But the main problem with all this is actually for the inquisitors
themselves and for the new administration, and for what they claim to
be there to do. It is clear from attending Assembly meetings that the
new Mayor and most of his advisers are not adept at handling
opposition, accountability structures, comment or criticism. That might
just be early days and some confusion about what the job entails. With
the interesting exception of Kit Malthouse who clearly understands
administration and the democratic process, they are uneasy with being
challenged. The Panel has obscured by its blatant political nature the
real need to hold to account, and has simply confusingly bypassed the
institutions which are supposed to be there to do so. I have always had
the greatest admiration for Patience Wheatcroft. Her piece on the
London Olympics not long before she left the Sunday Telegraph was an
outstanding summary of the situation – it was one of those rare columns
that actually forced me to write and say thank you. But this is a
missed opportunity for all involved.
On the Assembly, I was often criticised for my stance on scrapping the
LDA. It was for me the nuclear option for a body which was clearly
disfunctional for much of its life. The truth is that it is a misshapen
device for dealing with the issues it could tackle. But it could be
made to work very well if clearly directed and the detail (but not the
direction) divorced from politics. The Panel has effectively reinforced
the politicking at the LDA at just a time when it could be a major
agent for tackling (for example) the serious issues of the five
disadvantaged boroughs and the stubbornly high unemployment rate for
London. It could outside of politics attempt to find out why this
situation exists. And propose solutions. There is a lot of breast
beating about these problems among politicians but no serious work ever
seems to be done on finding out the reasons.
Millions are ‘misspent’ by local authorities of all colours and it is
here where the really dangerous impact of this supposedly forensic and
independent panel may have a corrosive political effect on government
everywhere in the UK. Any single new administration in any town hall
can watch and see this thinly disguised bit of partisan politics
dressed up as a ‘forensic audit’. With accompanying cheerleaders in the
Using this precedent, are we now going to have these “independent”
panels packed with the new party in power’s cheerleaders everywhere
else, appointed after the town hall election night clamour has died
down and the speeches about working together have been read out
staccato? Using public money on advisers who have been handpicked
outside the rules of procurement (the very type of thing which inspired
the appointment of a Panel in the first place)? Why not set one up now
about the decision by the current Mayor to appoint, in headline jargon
“illegally” a firm of auditors who are (again headline jargon)
“cronies” of members of the Panel. Why not set one up about Poole Tory
council’s disgraceful waste of public money spying on its council tax
payers in the recent “sickening scandal” (headline jargon)?
It’s like we adopted a new currency in London on May 1st – One Old
Mayoral Crony = 1 New Mayoral Contact…you use the terminology of your
tribe to describe each other’s.
Following the International Court example over Milosevic, had the
former Mayor and LDA officials deigned to appear before the Panel,
would the microphone have been switched off by the judge/chair when
they made inconvenient points during the show trial? Would the info be
leaked by the Tory Panel to smear them in compliant media…”Exclusive
– Red Ken and cohorts confess in independent fair hearing”?
Had I been in the former Mayor’s position, would I have gone along to
be quizzed by the Gang of Four plus hired hand of same. Frankly, I
should think I might be worried that I would be shot “while trying to