“Staggering incompetency at the highest level”: Mayor responds to RMS overspend

PUBLISHED: 14:05 21 December 2018 | UPDATED: 14:12 21 December 2018

Rokhsana Fiaz, the Mayor of Newham. Pic: Rokhsana Fiaz

Rokhsana Fiaz, the Mayor of Newham. Pic: Rokhsana Fiaz

Rokhsana Fiaz

The Mayor of Newham has given her take on last year’s vast overspend in council repairs, as highlighted by the Recorder. Here, we have published her response in full.

My thanks to the Newham Recorder (19 December) for giving a wider public airing about the scale of issues that have emerged with the Newham Council’s repairs and maintenance service (RMS). Like many of your readers, I was similarly shocked when I was told back in March 2018 at a meeting of the Council’s Audit Board when I was a ward councillor for Custom House under the previous administration.

At that closed session of the Audit Board, I raised a series of hard questions about the scale of financial mismanagement being revealed alongside the astonishing failures of system controls within RMS. I expressed my concern that as members of the Council’s Audit Board, we had been given no prior knowledge about what had emerged in RMS following the revelations made by whistle blowers in 2017; and I subsequently learned that the previous administration choose not to bring it to us any sooner.

The scale of mismanagement in RMS was a clear sign that the mess could only be sorted out under a new administration. So since I became Mayor I have put in place a raft of measures to enhance openness and transparency in decision-making and good governance.

In line with my agenda for transparency I’m asking legal officers to advise what material relating to the RMS investigation can be put into the public domain; and in the New Year the Audit Board will consider making public the reports it received and which were discussed in private session to avoid jeopardising ongoing investigations.

When I became Mayor, what my administration inherited regarding RMS was staggering incompetency at the highest level and frankly, a shambles. I can say this because as a former councillor I had lots of casework relating to delayed repairs and maintenance requests by residents, including one women in Custom House who had an agonising 12 months wait just to get some replacement cupboards for her kitchen done. It was embarrassing.

However, I want to reassure residents and councillors that we are on top of this and putting things right. Since stepping into office, under my administration the Council has been proactive in resolving the financial mismanagement in RMS and taking clear action. I have instructed the new management team at RMS to implement a whole series of measures designed to offer reassurance on the effectiveness, governance, and efficiency of management, performance and compliance. As a result the 2018/19 financial forecast for the service is a breakeven position. While there are some legal issues that still need to be resolved, which means there is a limit to what more I can say publicly at the moment, I will be making more information available as soon as those are sorted out.

That aside, some serious questions about how the RMS situation was allowed to happen in the first place need to be answered and already experts from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) have identified similar concerns after I asked them to come in and give this Council a complete financial health check.

What is clear is this: there is a culture of system weaknesses and my administration is getting to grips with it. I have already started the process by calling for further inquiries to be undertaken by the Council’s Audit Board and Scrutiny Committee into the Council’s flawed investment into the London Stadium. I have already changed what is known as the ‘scheme of delegation’ which means the decision-making power in Newham that was held by the directly elected executive mayor – in other words me –- is now shared with all members of my Cabinet.

Sound financial management and control is fundamental in ensuring that the Council is fit for purpose to serve Newham residents. In the new year I will also be making a major announcement about what we propose to do next in relation to many of the issues that have featured in RMS and other matters relating to financial good practice at the Council.

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