It’s been more than 18 months since I had the regular pleasure of looking in detail at the press section of Tower Hamlets Council’s website. It retains its comedy value, I’m happy to report.
A section I’d not seen before is here, Setting the record straight. The introductory blurb explains that it exists because “in spite of our best efforts, media reports are not always completely accurate”. It goes on to say that all information provided by the council is subject to a statutory code of conduct and that “this means we are bound by the highest standards of propriety and accuracy in providing information”.
The section was developed under the regime of former assistant chief executive Lutfur Rahman Ali. Remember him? I first wrote about him in the East London Advertiser here. This was a man who back in 2002 had to resign as a councillor just a few days after he was elected because he failed to realise he held a politically restricted job at the London Fire Authority. Doh! This was a man who conveniently forgot to mention that fact from his error-riddled CV when he applied for the £125,000 a year town hall post in 2008. And this was a man who was effectively sacked when, following Andrew Gilligan’s Dispatches documentary in March (declaration: I was involved with that), the council realised he had been moonlighting at another organisation. See Andrew’s report here.
Yes, this was a man with “propriety and accuracy” at his core.
So let’s look at some of the things that Mr Ali and his communications/press department “set straight” during his tenure.
Golly, what’s this on October 3, 2008? A demand to the Evening Standard that it apologise to Mr Ali for reporting the doubts over his CV and appointment. “We want to make it absolutely clear that Lutfur Ali is not facing any investigation concerning his recent appointment as Assistant Chief Executive,” the council wrote. If only they had, they may have saved us Tower Hamlets taxpayers (Lutfur Ali isn’t one, of course) the best part of £200,000.
The latest entry on March 2 this year (two weeks before Ali’s departure) was a rather hastily cobbled together statement about the Dispatches documentary. The statement said the programme “presented a picture of Tower Hamlets which many who live and work in the borough fail to recognise” and that “supposition and innuendo replaced the facts”. What’s striking about this statement is that no name is attached to it. As it’s not attributed to a councillor, it was likely written by Mr Ali or someone senior in his team, none of whom actually live in Tower Hamlets. Instead, they work in a marble decorated office on a private estate in the middle of Docklands and as far removed from the streets of Tower Hamlets as is possible. Perhaps if they spent more time away from their palace asking searching questions like the journalists they try to discredit, their dubious attempts at rebuttal might be more credible.
There’s another entry in the council’s comedy vault of “accuracy” here on September 17, 2009. “Despite recent reports to the contrary, the cost of East End Life has not gone up and remains at 2.3p per copy.” That’s a lie. And a senior accountant at the council has admitted as much to me. Not only does the council include ghost advertising revenues to make the cost appear lower, but it also excludes the cost of its team of press officers who spend much of their week writing for the rag.
Those press officers include £55,000-a-year “acting communications manager” Kelly Powell, who is named as the contact point for anyone wanting to “set the record straight”. With massive public spending cuts on the way, if I were Kelly I’d be wanting very much to set the record straight and tell anyone who’d listen how much East End Life really costs. Because if it is really so cheap, they won’t cut there will they….