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Thursday, 7 July 2011



The Supreme Court majority decision that K&C does not have to provide a helper for stroke victim and former ballerina Elaine McDonald so she might live in dignity in her own home, raises numerous emotional issues. Clearly savings have to be made. Whether this particular one is right or fair is not something I want to address here.
I want to go off at a slight tangent and pick upon the dissenting judge's reflections upon dignity.
The press have once again given the Council a beating up: it really is an accident prone council and, considering the size and vast cost of the PR department, one wonders whether they give any value for money. The answer in my mind is indubitably no. If the cost is, as mooted by the Dame, something close to £3 million a year  it should be closed down and a PR agency bought in at a fraction of the cost. The Council, fairly or unfairly, came out of this affair very badly. The PR Dept really missed opportunities for the Council to press its case.
My concern is this. K&C is slammed time and time again for extravagance. Residents pay considerable chunks of  income on council tax.The fact that the Council is sitting on £170 million plus of reserves is proof that it has all come through excessive over taxation:there is no other way such a spendthrift council could have built such reserves.
The real question is whether it is more important to maintain the dignity of residents hit by the vicissitudes of life, or whether taxes should be splurged on projects and services seemingly more aligned to puffing up the corporate dignity of the Borough and its Leader.
Perhaps one explanation is Cockell’s very different perspective on dignity.  I remember when I first saw the gleaming new Bentley I wrote to Cockell questioning the judiciousness of spending over £100,000 on such a vehicle (and from what I understand it was much against the wishes of the Conservative Group). He replied in a quite fractious manner, justifying it by saying it was required, “to maintain the dignity of the Royal Borough”.   So his view of his dignity is being driven round in a Bentley, perhaps some explanation of the Council’s treatment of Elaine McDonald.  We now know that it was much more to do with his enjoyment of using it-something he denied-however later, under pressure, admitted.
But it is not just about silly baubles such as limousines. This council has been engaged in a vast spending programme: one which seems to have little benefit to the local taxpayer and all to do with the ego of the Leadership. Just a few examples....
·         Holland Park School. A perfectly good school is being knocked down at huge cost and the   loss of the playing field. The cost has now soared to £100 million
·         Exhibition Road. Another £26 million 'hit' and likely to cause massive congestion
but what really riles is this. Yes, we know that spending has to be cut but there is precious little evidence of leadership by example. Cockell arrogantly boosts his allowances at a time when he could make some token gesture of restraint. The same goes for Derek Myers and his senior team. All are on salaries they could never hope to achieve in the harsh world of private enterprise.
The same goes for councillor's expenses. First class travel and entertaining are all retained with no thought of the negative perceptions engendered. But in the words of the Leader, "it is necessary spending for the dignity of the Borough"

Small wonder this council is under relentless attack from the press, particularly from True Blue papers, such as the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Standard......


  1. You have it in a nutshell Hornet: Dignity 'for us' = a Bentley
    Dignity 'for them' = nappies at night

    There can be no clearer symbol of this callous and uncaring Council -or at least of the 'Leaders' who set the tone. Despicable.

  2. Expect to hear shortly about proposals to reduce the role of the Mayor and to cut the numbers of councillors. Expect also to hear the howls of anguish these suggestions will provoke - clearly to be couched as being in defence of the dignity of the Royal Borough.

  3. I feel desperately sorry for Elaine McDonald and do believe she has been forced to lose her dignity. (Though I can't understand why the Council can't pay for the equivalent of an old fashioned commode next to her bed if they refuse to pay for a night carer. ) How can it ever be justified in a civilised society for dignity to be the preserve of the leaders and to be 'out of bounds' for those further down the food chain.

    In hard pressed times such as these the public can understand that Councils need to make cuts but when K & C is spending exorbitant funds on wholly unnecessary projects and its leaders have hijacked the word 'dignity' to justify spending to boost their already inflated opinions of themselves - god forbid they should be asked to make a sacrificial gesture such as cuts to their personal expenses or salaries - it is time for the residents of K & C to show they will tolerate it no longer. The question is HOW? And WHO?

  4. £170 million in the bank; but RBKC can't 'afford' to help a disabled lady. But is the Dame being fair to RBKC's PR Department? However hard they try, PR cannot suppress all the facts from all the public all the time. Just look at Murdoch.

  5. The decision in the McDonald case was made on the grounds of safety, but for the Royal Borough it was not about safety it was about £22,000. We live in very hard times and to many this is a lot of money, there are others who think that disabled people are over catered for. Neither of these is true, in the Royal Borough carers of disabled people save the council millions of pounds every year, and in doing this they work tirelessly 24/7 in many cases putting their own health at risk.

    The royal Borough with the blessing of the highest court in the land can now act inhumanely and leave Ms McDonald to lie in her own bodily waste all night; if this happened in a local hospital or care home there would be disciplinary action. You can also be sure that any care home contracted to the Royal Borough to provide services would be severely sanctioned if they allowed residents to lie in their own waste all night. So why the double standards, the sort answer is £22,000 the cost of Ms McDonald’s carer.

    Needs assessments and care plans referred to in the court case are there to provide support and eliminate risk. In Ms McDonalds case her needs assessment identified a need for support to go to the toilet during the night and to meet this need a carer was employed. Kensington then wanted to replace the carer with incontinence pads so that Ms McDonald would not have to get out of bed to go to the toilet thereby eliminating any risk or so they think.

    Ms McDonald is described as a very determined lady, I do not believe that she will use the pads she has been given, I have no doubt that she will still try and get to the toilet during the night. The pads do not remove the Royal Borough’s responsibility for Ms McDonald safety during the night, they may argue that their responsibility is discharged by giving Ms McDonald the pads, but that in my humble opinion this is not a reasonable argument, they still owe Ms McDonald a duty of care. Above I referred to Ms McDonald as a very determined lady and by all accounts this is well known to the Royal Borough. The Borough owes Ms McDonald a duty of care and because Ms McDonald is a very determined lady it is reasonably foreseeable that harm may befall her, as she has rejected the pads already and will no doubt try to get to the toilet on her own. This could give rise to action under the common law tort of negligence as could any harm that may befall her from being left for long periods in her own bodily waste.

    It is also possible that if Ms McDonald Suffered a fatal accident we could see Council officers or councillors in the dock on corporate manslaughter charges.

  6. Having been in the PR industry all my life I have to say the quality of the RBKC in house team is highly questionable.
    But the driving question is this? Should a Council be wasting money on an in house capability....
    I can tell you that a reasonable external agency would charge the council no more than £150,000 a year-so an huge saving would be made and the saving deployed to prevent the taxpayer being sacrificed upon the alter of Cockell's huge and quite unjustified ego. I would certainly scrap the ludicrous and unread Royal Borough and save another £400,000 a year.But of course, Cockell loves to have pictures of himself looking busy to rationalise his £70k or so allowance for a 2 day week.
    It's not rocket science-just common sense.

    Justin Downes


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