The men who failed the voters

From the Evening Standard:
Two men, above all, bear responsibility for the failure to halt Hackney’s descent into chaos: Jules Pipe, leader of the council, and managing director Max Caller.
Mr Pipe is a journalist who moved to Hackney in 1993, became a councillor three years later and was elected leader of the Labour group in February 2000. He is a committed Blairite and when the Labour group took control in May last year the council adopted a New Labour stance.One of his goals is to stop Hackney being an embarrassment to the Government, but success is proving elusive. He has tried to plug gaps in the council’s shaky management structure and appointed new teams to take over key functions, including the administration of housing benefit, a continuing source of difficulty after an experiment with a private contractor ended in disaster.

He says he needs time to sort out Hackney’s problems, but many residents are unimpressed by what they have seen so far and Mr Pipe’s majority of five may evaporate in this May’s elections.

His popularity took a sharp dive when he personally intervened to halt a sit-in by parents at two popular nursery schools threatened with closure in a round of spending cuts. One parent said: “He gave us to understand that the schools would not be closed and we called off the occupation.” Soon after, both nurseries were shut and offered for sale.

Mr Pipe has given stalwart support to Hackney’s managing director Max Caller, known widely throughout the borough as “Mad Max”. Mr Caller was the former chief executive at Barnet and applied for the Hackney job after reading an advertisement which warned applicants that Hackney had “an absence of coherent political leadership, a disconnection between strategy and operation, poor financial management and a lack of focus on basic services”.

Mr Caller, who earns £150,000 a year, says he is doing his utmost to tackle these problems, although many feel his best is not good enough. When he turned 50 last summer, a group of Hackney residents arrived at the town hall with a birthday card that suggested he take early retirement.

According to town hall lore, he is preoccupied by concerns over his personal security after a number of threats. He has a secure car parking space and an elaborate alarm system at his home that is said to have cost the council £40,000.