Friday, March 07, 2008

London Drivel Agency

But paid for by you

Boris has made me really angry. No, I mean really, REALLY ANGRY.

Yesterday, I went along to his splendid blog lunch, and like others was hugely impressed by what he had to say: he still had a few jokes, but he is much more focused than we've seen him before, made a punchy speech, and left us with some weighty policy papers on crime and transport (see here for Mr Dale's take and links to other reports).

In fact, I was so impressed my main thought was how can I help Boris get inside the testicle? I decided to take a look at the London Development Agency.

How would that help? Well, the LDA is centrally involved in the Lee Jasper scandal, having doled out millions to various "enterprises" run by Jasper's mates. And the LDA either knew - in which case it should be closed down - or it didn't know - in which case it should be closed down. Either way, with the LDA this year spending a thumping £750m, I thought I'd certainly find some money for Boris to offer back to hard-pressed London Council Tax payers.

My starting point was the chair of the London Assembly's economic development, culture, sport and tourism (EDCST) Committee, who called in Deloittes to investigate the LDA, and later told Accountancy Age: "I don't think criminality is an issue; I think it's breathtaking incompetence.'

Well, incompetence would do. Until I noiced that the Chair of the LDA, Mary Reilly, is... er... can this be right? A senior partner of Deloitte & Touche LLP.

I clearly needed to probe further.

And that's when my blood began to boil.

Britain's many development agencies are supposed to "do" economic development. But this is how the LDA's Corporate Plan summarises its purpose:

"The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has a vision of London as an exemplary, sustainable world city based on the underlying principles of strong and diverse economic growth, social inclusion to allow all Londoners to share in London’s future success and fundamental improvements in environmental management and use of resources. This vision inspires our mission."

Gushing sycophancy on that scale would have been considered nauseating in Ceascescu's Romania, but not apparently at the LDA.

And the LDA's key priorities turn out not to be economic growth, but climate change and "equalities". Here's their summary of what they describe as their "output targets":





Who set these targets?

Ken did.

And what do they mean?

Most are wibble. For example, what does "employment support" mean? The LDA says it will do 30,000 of them, but what are they exactly? Does it mean simply phoning someone up and wishing them well in their job? The Major and I could do that (for a small fee).

And how come white male Brits don't get any of it- whatever it is? 50% has to go to Black and Minority Ethnic (BME, now including "Irish" and "Other white" according to the footnote), and 50% has to go to women. But what about we white British males? Don't we get any? Ditto all that other mysterious stuff. Why have we been excluded?

And what about that target for "creating" or "attracting" 3,600 businesses (only 35% BME here, and a derisory sexist 20% for women)? What is creating a business? I could "create" the whole load in a couple of days (for a suitable consideration). Particularly since there doesn't seem to be any requirement to net off subsequent business failures.

The entire shooting match is the worst kind of box-ticking naivety. Can we wonder that so much money has gone walkabout on all those Jasper "businesses" that don't actually do any business - the LDA wouldn't recognise a real business if it sidled up and bit them on the bum.

And consider this: if you were serious about developing London's economy, wouldn't you want to hire people who knew something about business? Now look at the people who run the LDA:

  • CEO- Manny Lewis- has spent his entire career in local government, mainly HR
  • Deputy CEO- Sarah Ebanja- has spent most of her career in local government
  • Group Director, Resources and Risk- Andrew Travers- career in local government
  • Group Director, Corporate Services- Ruth Pearson- career in quangos

Etc.

The LDA provides masses of other info about its 429 staff- whole tables of it:

  • Pay- in 2006-07, 12 got over £100,000 and 2 got over £200,000
  • Sexuality- 4% are gay, and 2% are bi; but only 1% are lesbian and a disgracefully low 0% are transgender
  • BAME (that's Black and Minority Ethnic to you)- ranges by division from 22.6% to 45%... yes, that's right, in the Resources and Risk Division 45% of the staff are BAME with a further 10% who prefer not to say
  • Gender "origin"- ranges from 38% to 71% female
  • Religion- no Jains and no Jedi

So that's £750m pa I've found for Boris to cut from the Mayor's annual bill.

Hurrah.

Except... you're going to love this... because of the irresponsible way local government finance works, it turns out none of this money comes from the Mayor at all. It all comes direct from central government.

Which means that even if Boris took the entirely sensible step of abolishing the LDA on Day 1, he would not be able to get his hands on any of the money. London would simply lose it.

The complete divorce of income and expenditure. The perfect recipe for waste, irresponsibility and incompetence.

I'm very angry indeed.

PS Mrs T says she's appalled I'm angry at Boris. But if it hadn't been for Boris persuading me he should be Mayor, I'd have never looked into the LDA and so I wouldn't have got angry about it. See? Out of sight out of mind. But Boris can easily make it up by getting elected and gripping Ken's crony empire firmly by the spondooliks.

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