Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has today (21 December) responded to a Newham Recorder article in connection with allegations made about Newham Council’s Repairs and Maintenance Service (RMS).
The Mayor said:
“My thanks to the Newham Recorder 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 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, emerging evidence was presented to members where 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 chose 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. A vital part of that is strengthening our scrutiny measures and oversight by elected members, and involving residents as much as possible in our decision-making.
“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 earlier this year to avoid jeopardising ongoing investigations. I support this approach as it is fully aligned to my administration’s commitment to transparency.
“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.
“And I have also instructed that from this month, a full set of performance data on how the Council is performing is made open to the public. Any resident will now be able to see where we are doing well and where we need to improve. It's the first time that our performance indicators have been published in this way.
“This all contributes to the culture change going on across the organisation and supports my commitment to being open and transparent. It's another step in our journey to be recognised as a well-run organisation because 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. It is clear to me that a much broader review is required into the culture and practices within the Council that have developed over the past two decades, because these have enabled a particular type of flawed decision-making process. As illustrated by the flawed investment into the London Stadium made under the previous Mayor, such decision-making processes also highlight significant governance failings. Sadly, RMS is the latest example of another governance failing of the previous administration to emerge.
“There is still a huge amount that I intend to do to ensure the future well-being of Newham as I’m committed to enhancing transparent good governance and ensuring that the Council is open up to proper scrutiny in a way that hasn’t been done for many years. All in the service of Newham residents, who are my top priority.”