By Sam Hearn
Few things illustrate more effectively the incompetence of Hounslow Council under Labour than the miasma of failure that surrounds Lampton 360 Ltd. This company was set up in 2012 as Hounslow’s trading arm and has with its subsidiaries soaked up millions of pounds and delivered very little.
Lampton 360 Development plans to build 844 new homes. Although a start is soon to be made on one site it has so far failed to lay a single brick. Financial viability means that less a quarter of the planned units being built on council owned land will be made available as social housing. On these developments there will be separate entrances for social housing, leasehold owners and private tenants. These so called “poor doors” are a complete anathema to Labour when private developers suggest them. One shudders to think what Momentum will have to say about this.
Lampton Investment 360 was set up amongst other things in order to acquire existing flats and houses on the open market for use as social housing. Its original acquisition target was 175 units. It has so far considered 113 properties and but only purchased seven. With a hit rate like that Lampton will need to expand its operations by over twenty times or become far more efficient. This is extremely unlikely.
The performance of Lampton Recycle 360 Ltd has also been underwhelming. It was, after only minimal research and without any market testing or competitive tendering, set up to deliver in-house recycling and waste management services. Hounslow blithely embarked on the construction of a brand-new waste collection depot. Project costs soon escalated and the project completion date slipped by nearly a year. Amazingly “someone” had forgotten to make any provisions for current fire safety standards.
By the time the new waste collection service began in June 2017 recycling rates had slumped to 26 per cent – amongst the worst in London. Only now in March 2018 are recycling rates returning to the 34 per cent first achieved under the Conservative led administration in 2010. The 50 per cent target seems as elusive as ever despite the massive investment in a new depot and a new refuse collection fleet. Many believe that the Labour Cabinet selected entirely the wrong approach to recycling.
Newly employed Lampton staff are excluded from the Council’s still generous final salary based pension scheme. Whilst this provides better value for council taxpayers it is less clear how Labour manages to square the ethical circle. The Lampton companies are all 100 per cent owned by Hounslow Council and for all practical purposes their staff are council employees. This is an exemption that was not made available to the outsourced waste contractor that previously provided the service.
Hounslow attracted much unwanted publicity when a severance payment of over £300,000 was made to the boss of the Lampton 360 empire after his role as Director of Regeneration, Economic Development and the Environment was abolished in July 2017. Conservative spokesman Cllr John Todd had long been calling for an explanation of how it could possibly be right for the same individual to be employed in both roles i.e. in effect monitoring his own performance.
So what can we conclude from Hounslow Labour’s foray into entrepreneurial trading activity? Firstly it is not very good at it and the service to residents actually gets worse. Secondly, that they create an uneven playing field that disadvantages private service providers and developers. Thirdly, risks that could be offloaded onto third parties are now born by Hounslow’s Council Taxpayers alone.
Cllr Sam Hearn is Leader of the Conservative Group on Hounslow Council.