LAMBETHWATCH OPINION: “WHY DO WE NEVER GET AN ANSWER?”*
The continuing reluctance of Lambeth council and its Labour councillors to answer – or completely ignore – questions in the forlorn hope said questions will just go away has come back to bite them on their collective backsides this week.
Back on July 7th Peoples Audit Lambeth issued a damning 22 page document on the council’s “extensive financial mismanagement.”
One of the many, many MAJOR issues it raises relates to the costs of ‘Their New Town Hall’ and why costs had rocketed from £50 million to £104 million.
Lambeth didn’t bother answering any of the points raised. They just dismissed the report as a “pack of lies”.
The issue – and others arising from the Peoples Audit report – have now raised themselves nationally with a mention in the Rotten Boroughs column of this week’s Private Eye magazine which features Theresa May and Boris Johnson on its front cover.
At last Thursday’s meeting of the council’s corporate committee, almost three months after Peoples Audit Lambeth issued their report, Conservative opposition leader Cllr Tim Briggs queried a comment in a report that the new town hall was “being managed to budget.”
Nisar Visram, assistant director, corporate finance said the £50 million construction cost was from 2012. It did not include other costs such as freehold purchases of adjoining sites, moving etc.
“I’m not sure in what context the figures were given out” he said.
Straight question. Immediate answer.
News From Crystal Palace is used to not getting a reply from Lambeth council’s Labour councillors.
Over the past years these have included:
CLLR MATTHEW BENNETT
On Tuesday Jun 16, 2015 at 12.41 pm and 12:42 PM pm News From Crystal Palace emailed Cllr Matthew Bennett,the then cabinet member for housing, (and cc’d to the council press office) asking if he had any comment to make on two items posted on the Save Central Hill website on May 22nd 2015, one which began “Another Lambeth Community is finding itself under threat of demolition under Lambeth Council’s regeneration plans….” and another headed: “Cllr Bennett and the mystery of the financial models…”
101 questions based on the Peoples Audit Lambeth report sent to EVERY cabinet member on July 13th at 3.05pm – with a copy cc’d to Lambeth council’s chief executive who is still on indefinite leave – after three months.
No reply. From any of them.
This week News From Crystal Palace sent the folllowing questions to one of those cabinet members Cllr Imogen Walker, Lambeth council’s deputy leader responsible for finance:
At Thursday’s meeting of Lambeth council’s corporate committee it was stated that Lambeth council are receiving advice from Capita on their ‘borrowing strategy’.
Please could you say:
When was this agreed and by which council committee?
How much is this costing Lambeth? Where has the money come from to do this?
Why aren’t Lambeth using their own staff – such as its director of finance – for such advice?
Will Lambeth council be challenging the bill for the estimated £30,000 from KPMG for rechecking the figures queried by Lambeth Peoples Audit?
If not, why not?
And we got a reply.
“Thanks for getting in touch, our press team handles press enquiries and I’m copying in Lawrence Conway who will do his best to help you. Regards, Imogen.”
So far, no reply back from Mr Conway. Or anyone else on the press team.
Lambeth council’s reluctance to answer questions also extends to some of the consultants and other companies they do business with.
This week, in the wake of the Lambeth council corporate committee item which said KPMG would be charging Lambeth council around £30,000 for rechecking the accounts following the Peoples Audit Lambeth report, News From Crystal Palace emailed KPMG’s press office to ask:
Last Thursday I attended a meeting of Lambeth council’s corporate committee which one of your partners Neil Thomas, accompanied by a colleague, addressed.
How can KPMG justify charging an estimated £30,000 which, on the face of it, is just to recheck some figures?
Please could you state how many employee hours this entailed?
Some people would just consider this to be naked corporate greed given that many people in this country don’t even earn £30,000 a year. What would be your reaction to that please?
I look forward to your replies.
(Back in July KPMG were also asked to comment on our story headlined People’s Audit Ten – ROLE OF THE EXTERNAL AUDITORS: “RIGHT FROM THE START WE FELT THE COUNCIL’S EXTERNAL AUDITORS WERE NOT TAKING OUR
OBJECTIONS SERIOUSLY”…. No reply.)
News From Crystal Palace have also emailed Greenwich Leisure questions in the past without getting responses. These included several in the wake of last year’s occupation of the Carnegie library, Herne Hill.
In April last year News From Crystal Palace asked Greenwich Leisure – and again in September via a different arm of Greenwich Leisure who forwarded the questions on to “colleagues who will respond accordingly” (they didn’t) – the following:
Given last night’s occupation of the Carnegie library and the perceived threat by many to both the Carnegie and Minet libraries, please could you tell us:
How much floor space will you be allocated at the Carnegie – and what percentage of the ground floor that would be??
How much floor space will you be allocated at the Minet – and what percentage of the ground floor that would be?
Whether you will be installing a gym in the new library which will replace Durning and Tate South Lambeth Libraries?
Why have you not sat down with the Friends of Carnegie Library and discussed your plans with them?
Why have you not sat down with the Friends of Minet Library and discussed your plans with them?
Have you any comment to make on the occupation of the Carnegie? Any other comment you wish to add?
This week News From Crystal Palace also emailed Greenwich Leisure and its managing director Mark Sesnan a series of questions after Lambeth council mentioned – almost in passing – in Monday night’s report to cabinet that “following a number of discussions, the provision of a healthy living centre is not being pursued at this time.“ (Healthy living centre being Lambethspeak for gym – Ed.)
Our email said:
Greenwich Leisure appear to have backed out of plans to use the Minet library in Knatchbull Road SE5 for one of their unwanted gyms.
A report to tomorrow’s (Monday’s) Lambeth council cabinet meeting on the future of the borough archives, currently based at the Minet, states: “2.45 Following a number of discussions, the provision of a Healthy Living Centre is not being pursued at this time. “
Please could you say why?. And do Greenwich Leisure have any plans for Durning library and Tate South Lambeth library?
Amazingly, Greenwich Leisure came back and answered the Minet question: “Greenwich Leisure has not been involved with Minet for over a year, so therefore any queries would need to go through Lambeth council” – but not the others.
Whether this means Greenwich Leisure have plans to put gyms in the Durning library and / or the Tate South Lambeth libraries or not we cannot say.
Maybe Lambeth council will. After next May’s council elections. In passing.
*Question – Moody Blues