Hounslow cabinet members’ lack of grip on their portfolios exposed in overview and scrutiny call-in

Hounslow cabinet members’ lack of grip on their portfolios was exposed in overview and scrutiny call-in.  The cabinet decision was referred back on all four grounds of the call-in. Members of the committee noted cabinet’s imaginary consultation, non-existent change management, absence of evidence of need for the schemes, no consideration of outcomes relative to actions, and that equalities were ignored.
 
In a damning set of recommendations, Hounslow’s overview and scrutiny committee has criticised the cabinet for the way it made its decision on phase 3 of its Streetspace programme. If implemented, it will turn Chiswick into a network of low traffic neighbourhoods without any evidence of need or, as Hounslow has done no traffic modelling, with no attempt to assess the effect of each one on neighbouring areas and on Chiswick as a whole. The same applies borough-wide.
 
The three Conservative councillors who are members of the overview and scrutiny committee made strong interventions during the committee meeting, on Monday, 30th November, exposing the extent to which cabinet members are not on top of their briefs and had failed to serve the borough’s communities well.
 
Cllr Khan, cabinet member for transport, repeatedly referred to existing Streetspace schemes – which were not the subject of the call-in – and provided further evidence that he does not know Chiswick well enough to make such dramatic decisions about its future and the way its residents live their lives. He repeatedly deferred to his cabinet colleagues when he lost his way.
 
Chiswick Homefields councillor John Todd was, as usual, well-researched in delivering his evidence highlighting the serious consequences of road restrictions on residents, shops, businesses and livelihoods – and the council’s leaden-footedness in not responding swiftly to obvious failings.  He shared comments about the effects of road closures on health care practices and services provided by staff of the Chiswick Health Centre. Nurses and doctors delivering essential daily care, such as to dialysis patients and people receiving end of life palliative care, are significantly affected. Current schemes provide examples of the impact on their ability to deliver services, or treat patients, because of gridlocked traffic and delays.
 
It was clear that Cllr Richard Eason (Osterley & Spring Grove), unlike some of his Labour colleagues, had understood the strength of feeling in Chiswick about the imposition of Streetspace schemes in the heart of Chiswick and an LTN in Grove Park. He called for the resignation of Cllrs Khan and Dunne saying, “They have lost the confidence of members and residents and in my view they should resign from the cabinet to create space for this programme to be reshaped and delivered with the support of residents”.
 
During the committee’s questions, Cllr Joanna Biddolph was repeatedly interrupted. Cllr Kuldeep Tak (Feltham North) was patronised when he spoke of the council lacking agility. Cllr Ron Mushiso noted the fact that Cllr Khan was “giving us fiction”. Cllr Khan also gave the committee waffle firmly rooted in the past with repeated references to “panic” at the start of the pandemic which, as Cllr Biddolph pointed out time after time, was irrelevant to the call-in about future schemes.
 
Cllr Khan repeatedly confused consultation with informal conversations, mixed-up the representatives of the wards in Chiswick, confused the three Chiswick Riverside councillors and the South Chiswick Liveable Neighbourhood scheme with the changes that have been imposed in central Chiswick. There also appears to be some confusion in his mind between a process that consults and a process that informs. He muddled-up Cllr Biddolph’s head movements saying she was nodding when in fact she was shaking her head in disagreement. However, he did a big thumbs up when reminded that Hounslow’s Chiswick is made up of three wards.
 
The lack of change management best practice in the council, highlighted by Cllr Gabriella Giles at a recent meeting of borough council, was repeated by Cllr Eason in his presentation. Cllr Katherine Dunne said a consultation is not a referendum, perhaps to excuse the council’s inexcusable interpretations of recent surveys which acted on the views of a tiny minority, ignoring the vast majority in a nanny-knows-best approach.
 
“The Labour cabinet’s ability to play smoke and mirrors is legendary,” Cllr Joanna Biddolph said after the meeting. “Its members don’t listen, leaving us in doubt about their arrogance, amplified by the fact that they prefer not to consult professionally.” If she had been giving evidence, rather than listening to others’ evidence, Cllr Biddolph would have said that the current administration had lost the trust of those it serves and damaged the reputation of Hounslow council perhaps irreparably. “Only a wholesale and sustained change in attitude towards residents and business ratepayers will shift that,” she said.  She added that “any policy changes to local areas must be made with the consent of the majority of residents and businesses in the area in which they are being made.”
 
The full decision of the Hounslow’s overview and scrutiny committee is here:
 
The call-in reasons
The committee found there were failings in all four grounds of the call-in:
Inadequate consultation with stakeholders prior to the decision
Inadequate evidence on which to base the decision
The action is not proportionate to the desired outcome
A potential human rights or equalities challenge
 
Residents’ voices denied
Relevance to the topics that could be discussed by the call-in is a sensitive issue in Chiswick as, on Friday afternoon, residents were told their views would not be passed on as they did not relate to the call-in. Cllr Joanna Biddolph took this up immediately and forcefully, emphasising the link between the impact of existing schemes and future schemes, but was told she was wrong. There were at least 143 emails; the pack published for members and as part of the papers for the meeting, included only 24 extracts. One resident sent a video and that, too, was excluded. The video showed members of the committee who don’t know Chiswick the consequences of closing roads by illustrating how to get from A to B (one end of Turnham Green Terrace to the other) when a road is closed.
 
The importance of professional and reputable consultations
References to consultation being conducted by members of the Market Research Society are because of the blunt tool, self-selecting, digitally exclusive systems operated by Commonplace and Hounslow Have Your Say. A full analysis, done by members of the local campaign group OneChiswick, revealed: 
  • Turnham Green Terrace: 97% of respondents are against the closure
  • Fishers Lane: 95% of respondents are against the closure
  • Chiswick High Road: 95% of people oppose the so-called temporary C9
  • Devonshire Road: 82% are against the closure.
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