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Bonkers Blog May 2011

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6 May (Part 4) - Where feeble men fear to tread

Teresa Pearce MPTeresa Pearce MP is a very dangerous woman. She may be putting me in grave danger of being persuaded to vote Labour for the first time in my life. I clearly remember being slung out of a Labour hustings (now there’s a term you don’t often hear) in 1959 for heckling and the experience more or less fixed my political views ever since.

I know that MPs are instructed to act against constituents who don’t agree with them; “At times a constituent’s demands may conflict with party policy and an MP will have to decide where their first loyalty should lie”: if that isn’t a veiled threat I don’t know what is. Perhaps it explains why our Conservative MPs are so loathe to speak their mind about Bexley council and face the inevitable wrath of their (de)selection committees stuffed with Conservative councillors. The depressing thing is that if the political parties all changed places probably nothing would change.

Meanwhile the only real chance we have of seeing Bexley council tackled politically is fearless Teresa who represents Erith & Thamesmead. I think it is fashionable to call ladies who speak their mind ‘feisty’ not fearless, but you never did expect to see political correctness on Bonkers did you?. So what has fearless Teresa been up to? Bringing up the subject of Nick Johnson, ex-Bexley council CEO and fat cat par excellence in the House of Commons, that’s what.

In the House she and her colleague the MP for Hammersmith said yesterday afternoon…( cut down with some comments)

“The chief executive of Notting Hill Housing (Ms. Kate Davies), who featured in the popular press along with her partner (Mr. Nick Johnson), who was director of housing and regeneration for Hammersmith and Fulham, earns £200,000 a year and he earns £260,000 a year as a consultant.

Their jobs have been to run the two main social landlords in Hammersmith & Fulham and they are also advisers to the Conservative party. Mr. Nick Johnson, has been paid more than £830,000 as consultant and director of regeneration in Hammersmith & Fulham.

Is it true (said Teresa Pearce) that the contract was given to Mr. Johnson under a corporate vehicle so that national insurance on those payments was not paid by Hammersmith & Fulham? Yes. (was the reply.) But this is an extreme case so let me read what the Minister for Housing and Local Government said. I should point out that Mr. Johnson retired on a permanent ill-health pension as chief executive of the London borough of Bexley with a £300,000 lump sum and a £50,000 a year pension that was payable immediately. Within three months, he had taken up his £260,000 a year job, first running Hammersmith & Fulham Homes and then as director of housing and regeneration in Hammersmith & Fulham. The House can imagine my views on this.

When I raised the matter in the House, the Secretary of State appeared to take Mr. Johnson’s side. The council (Hammersmith & Fulham) has certainly taken his side, as the Daily Mail reported this week, “the council defended the move, saying Mr. Johnson was ‘excellent value for money’.”

I want to praise the Minister for Housing and Local Government, who said: “Town hall pensions cost every council tax-paying household over £300 a year. Hard-pressed taxpayers cannot afford to foot an ever-growing bill. It’s not justifiable to have healthy employees working in local government and claiming an ill-health benefit at the same time. Councils have power to stop such payments and should use them.” What is Mr. Johnson being paid to do that means that he is such good value for money for the London borough of Hammersmith & Fulham? How is Mr. Johnson earning his money? As director of housing and regeneration he was in charge and is still, because even though Hammersmith & Fulham has now appointed a director of housing and regeneration on about £170,000 a year, Mr. Johnson is still retained as a consultant to help him out.”

You tell ‘em Teresa and keep reminding the country of the tricks that Bexley council played around the time Nick was so unfortunately unwell. The Bonkers team has put in a Freedom of Information request about Mr. Johnson’s time at Bexley in an attempt to uncover some of the cover-ups that are costing us £50,000 a year.

The full transcript of Ms. Pearce’s speech and that of her colleague Andy Slaughter is available in Hansard and begins at ‘column 862’.


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