Archive for January, 2012

James Frankcom, who used to be a Tower Hamlets Labour party official, writes for that strange phenomenon, East London News. He has a curious writing style, but his account of last Wednesday’s Tower Hamlets Council meeting is enjoyable and informative. He has asked me to publish it as a guest post, so here it is:

By James Frankcom

Those of you who have never been to a council meeting need to know one thing above all others; Tower Hamlets is not a ‘normal’ council and the behaviour you will find in the council chamber is not typically what you find in other chambers of local government in this country.

The full council meeting on January 25th had all the elegance and profundity of a squabble in a school dinner queue.  The issues discussed were rarely, if ever, things the council could actually do something about or ones with real relevance to the lives of the people outside the debating chamber. Worse still, with embarrassing regularity the meeting descended into a cacophony of vicious bickering as allegation and counter-allegation were bandied about.

The meeting began with several motions moved forward in the agenda. A highly partisan Support Ken Livingstone’s Fair Deal For Transport motion was proposed by Cllr Rabina Khan (Independent, Shadwell) and seconded by Cllr Shafiqul Haque (Labour, St. Katharine’s & Wapping) and despite an amendment tabled by the Conservatives – described as “a load of guff and wind” by Cllr Marc Francis (Labour, Bow East) – it was passed by a large majority.

However, what did this motion actually do to help the people of Tower Hamlets? Entirely nothing; neither doing anything to assist Ken Livingstone in his re-election nor reducing the cost of transport for the people of this borough.

Another motion titled Sexual Exploitation, which righteously condemned the trafficking of people “for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic slavery and organised crime” was proposed by Cllr Rania Khan (Independent, Bromley-by-Bow) and seconded by Cllr Ohid Ahmed (Independent, East India & Lansbury).

It resolved to “express support” for a charity “promoting the rights of children” and “acknowledged” that more people will enter the UK during the Olympics and some of these may be the victims or the exponents of this vile trade.

All very noble, but what does this actually do in real terms for the people of Tower Hamlets struggling with the worst economic circumstances in eighty years? Arguably, not a lot.

There was a motion condemning the Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of the Olympics (as if anyone from the IOC even opens letters from LBTH) and then yet another motion about the London mayoral election.

Good politics as these issues are I could not help wonder in what tangible ways did their discussion in this forum make the lives of Tower Hamlets residents any better.

During a debate where everyone took turns to say how much they hated racism (usually more so than the last speaker) and what little the council can do to combat it, Cllr Ohid Ahmed, the Deputy Mayor, shouted “by true Labour – not like them in front of me!” implying the Labour Group were not serious about fighting racism, or worse, were complicit in it.

Given that the context of this discussion was the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence this was an extremely serious allegation to make.

Cllr Josh Peck, the leader of the Labour group, immediately took issue with him and raised a Point of Order condemning the “unacceptable allegation” he had just made.

Peck, waving a piece of paper in the air containing what he called “a weak three line apology for the last time he [Ahmed] made similar remarks”, the Labour leader duly demanded that the Deputy Mayor’s comments be recorded verbatim in the official minutes.

This proposal was seconded by Cllr Peter Golds, the Conservative Group leader, who also called for action to be taken against the recalcitrant Deputy Mayor should an apology his “outrageous slur” not be forthcoming. As he spoke howls of derision erupted from the public gallery from people Cllr Golds eruditely described as “the bussed-in Lutfur fan club”.

I then watched with a mixture of depression and disbelief as councillor after councillor berated their neighbour in bile-laden vanity speeches and, to be honest, the only party which came out of the meeting with any semblance of dignity was the Liberal Democrats; but that was a relatively easy task because they have just one councillor – Stephanie Eaton – who wisely kept her head down.

By way of contrast, the small and truculent group of independent councillors allied to the mayor repeatedly disgraced themselves by bitterly attacking their former colleagues in the Labour Group with all the hatred and spite of a recently divorced couple arguing over the division of their CD collection. This was a fight made all the more sad, if I may continue the analogy, because the CDs were the well meaning and sincere gifts of friends whom both partners once shared but now each sought to claim as their own.

The Tories, for their part, appeared to take a certain pleasure from goading the Independents in much the same way naughty boys enjoy poking angry cats with sticks. Frequently that evening they rather incongruously supported Labour motions against the Independents in circumstances which reveal far more about Labour’s poisonous relationship with their former colleagues than they do about the Tories tactics in minority politics.  

Labour, in all this, appear to have found themselves in a situation made all the more bitter by having lost the power which once seemed so assured to them and now reduced to contriving ways to frustrate the Independents, and failing that – just heckling. 

Indeed, at one point during the meeting Cllr Bill Turner appeared to ‘take one for the team’ by apologising to the Speaker for his heckling during a rambling speech by Cllr Shahed Ali.

Things became especially fractious during a recess when an ignoble exchange of words took place between Cllrs Rabina Khan and Peter Golds. This was later regurgitated by Golds in the form of a Point of Order wherein he claimed she had called him “a sexist”.

Throwing any dignity to the wind Rabina Khan erupted in the way you would expect a teenager to respond to someone throwing chips at them on a school bus. In a worryingly aggressive ‘yeah-but/no-but’ style tirade, Little Miss wagged her finger, rolled her eyes and quite ridiculously proclaimed she felt “threatened” by the ageing Conservative councillor.

Indeed, throughout the entire meeting the pugnacious Rabina Khan behaved quite appallingly; spitting self-righteous venom and dragging the council chamber down with her as she repeatedly bickered, hectored and swaggered with all the dignity and restraint of a guest on the Jeremy Kyle Show.

I look up during one of her repeat performances and my eyes momentarily catch those of an ashen faced, sad older man at the side of the room. I look down and read his name plate – he is Commander Ludgate, the Deputy Lord Lieutenant and Her Majesty’s high representative to the borough.

Now all but a relic from a bygone era of civic duty and national service he has, without any compulsion, come to observe these dismal proceedings and I cannot help but wonder what thoughts are going through his head. I return to my note-taking suspecting his private thoughts are not enthusiastic ones.

Sharing that same dais was Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, whose countenance during the meeting was quite different. For he observed all this with the self-satisfied smile of man watching a fight between two people he doesn’t like over a rumour he started.

Indeed, at the only point where his participation was really needed, nay expected, he made the astonishing decision to refuse to answer almost all the questions put to him by councillors – questions actually printed in the order of business and which he would have had ample time to prepare for.

This risible decision which strikes at the heart of formative democratic accountability was weakly defended by the legal assistant on the basis that to force the mayor to speak would “breach his human rights”.

This bizarre excuse, when announced, struck all as an absolutely extraordinary thing for an elected public official to proclaim and thankfully not an excuse either David Cameron at PMQs or Boris Johnson in City Hall has ever used.

Responding to the Mayor’s obvious act of distain, Cllr Motin uz-Zaman asked him directly why he would not reply and was told, “because you’re just a councillor and I’m the mayor!”

Not very long after this, the Mayor completed his snub by wandering out of the council chamber and disappeared for nearly 15 minutes without an explanation or by your leave.

However the abiding memory for me was the pantomime of the Independent Group proposing an Emergency Motion – written in pen like motions are at a joke student union conference – that “condemned the Labour and Conservative Parties for their time wasting tactics and blatant disregard for the public who have come to listen to council business that affects their lives”.

The motion was quite predictably defeated so then the Independents decided to do some really special time-wasting of their own by raising of point of order after point of order and amendment after amendment all of which were defeated and thus further delaying any council business from being made.

Eventually the Labour Group with the tacit support of the Tories moved a procedural motion to speed things up but this was of course opposed by those erstwhile opponents of time-wasting and the moribund meeting finding its life unnaturally extended staggered on until almost midnight.

It would be very unfair to condemn all the councillors alike. The names which stand out among the few who can walk away with any notion of pride were Rachael Saunders (Labour, Mile End East) and the harassed Speaker of the Council, Mizan Chaudhury (Labour, Bethnal Green South); both of whom remained calm, eloquent and dignified throughout.

Many other councillors maintained their dignity by hardly speaking at all and despite their best efforts very little useful business was given much discussion that night and examples of excellence in local government were instantly inundated in the squelching ordure of hate-filled political fractiousness.

As for the “public” who had come to “listen” to “business which affects their lives”, it is fair to say a substantial portion of this public were a political rent-a-mob who happily encouraged the bluster and vitriol in the chamber by heckling from the gallery but a minority of them, myself included, left that place saddened and troubled, wondering why anyone really bothers to vote in local elections at all.

But then it occurs to me – it is precisely because most people don’t bother to vote in local elections that we get what we’ve got – a substandard charade at local democracy containing aspects of a non-specific Carry on Film where at any moment a fight might break out or someone’s trousers might fall down.

Quite frankly, the people of this borough – a borough which has produced true working class heroes such as Millie and George Lansbury, Nellie Cressal and John Scurr – deserve much better. All of the aforementioned were councillors on Poplar Borough Council and were jailed in 1921 for defending East Enders against unfair local rate hikes – and for the record while imprisoned one of their number died.

So I recommend you come and watch your councillor at work and then make an informed choice at the next elections about who to vote for because there are fifty-one of them at Tower Hamlets and, excluding expenses, each of them is paid at least £10,000 per year from our hard earned council tax contributions – that’s more than half a million pounds. Are you angry yet? I know I am.

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The commenter “Konnu” on my last post about the Clowns of Tower Hamlets has pointed us all in the direction of Ross Lydall’s blog on the Evening Standard website. It was Ross who broke the story about Speaker Mizan Chaudhury’s taxi bills. On his blog, he provides the detail of the claims Mizan has made since last September when he felt forced by Mercedes Mayor Lutfur Rahman to take taxis to official events.

The amounts are quite mind-boggling and as another commenter, “You couldn’t make it up!”, also noted on the last post, they raise serious questions about who signed them off and why.

Clearly, these could not have been ordinary black cabs the Speaker was taking to events such as the “Sultanate of Oman’s National Day reception in west London” on November 18 (cost £128.10), or to a “Citizenship ceremony in Hampton Court” on October 25 (cost £258.80); or to a “Reception for the Ethiopian Ambassador in Redbridge” on October 31 (cost £146.69); or even to the “Speaker of Hackney’s Charity Event in Mare Street” five miles away from the Tower Hamlets Town Hall on September 28 (cost £145.80).

And not even to the “Mayor of Brent’s Charity Tour of Wembley Stadium” on September 22 at a cost of £205…

Surely not? So what kind of cars cost that? Why was the meter left running?

Some of these events suggest there is some kind of cross-borough ceremonial mayoral racket going on with taxpayers picking up the tab.

Perhaps we should all fork out for a new vehicle for Mizan that would safely allow him to carry his chains. Here’s an idea:

They’re outside Thames Magistrates’ Court every day…

In the meantime, download the full details of the claims here:

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I was too busy with the latest developments in the Dow Chemical affair yesterday to blog about the new developments in the war between the two Tower Hamlets mayors. I first reported on their schoolboy spat here and the Evening Standard updated us all here yesterday.

As Ross Lydall reports:

The ceremonial head of Tower Hamlets has gone to war with the borough’s top politician after running up a £9,000 taxi bill.

Mizan Chaudhury, who is the council’s independent “speaker”, says he has been forced to take minicabs after directly-elected mayor Lutfur Rahman scrapped his official car.

He claims this puts him at risk of being robbed while wearing his diamond-encrusted ceremonial chain and has made him a laughing stock among other mayors who ask whether he has come by bus.

Figures seen by the Standard show that Mr Chaudhury, 35, spent £3,913 on taxis in four months attending engagements across London.

He also took Addison Lee minicabs to two events in Birmingham, costing £845 and £875 respectively.

The total bill since the Labour councillor became ceremonial mayor in May – the job was renamed speaker in November – was £8,972, including the cost of a chauffeur-driven Chrysler between May and September.

But Mr Chaudhury told the Standard he was the victim of a plot by Mr Rahman, elected an independent after being ousted by the Labour party, to discredit him.

Mr Chaudhury said: “Lutfur had his own taxi bill and he wanted me to exceed that. The way he did it was to remove the car I had, which we were paying £600 a month for.

“It was all a set-up. It was never to save money. It was to undermine the civic office.”Every other borough has a civic car. I go to events and don’t get the same respect because I’m not using the borough crest because I don’t have an official car. It’s become the talk of every event I go to. People joke: ‘Did you not take the bus today?'”

Mr Chaudhury claimed that Mr Rahman had also evicted him from the mayor’s parlour so he could claim it as his own office.

Mr Rahman attracted controversy last year when it emerged he had leased a £1,500-a-month chauffeur-driven Mercedes to take him to meetings rather than taking the Tube.

The borough of Tower Hamlets is one of the most deprived in the country.

A council spokesman said: “As part of the efficiency drive at Tower Hamlets we have sought to support councillors in discharging their duties in a cost effective manner.

“As such the speaker of the council was offered the use of a Toyota Prius to conduct his civic and ceremonial duties.

“This offer was declined and instead the Speaker chose to use more expensive taxi transport.”

I don’t know when the next cage-fighting event is on at The Troxy, but these two clowns should just battle it out there. As I’ve said before, Lutfur’s decision to strip the Speaker of his dignity and his car was lamentable, particularly when he is busy self-aggrandising leasing his own Mercedes Lutfurmobile. His was a silly childish act that belongs in the primary school playground.

At the same time, Labour leader Josh Peck needs to have a word with Mizan about how to play politics, how to keep the moral high ground; it seems his temper and his ego has got the better of him.

There can be no event that is worth a £900 taxi bill to Birmingham. What was that event? He needs to understand that it is not his money that he is playing hard and fast with, but ours. I’m sure it must be an ambition of his to run a cabinet portfolio one day, but this kind of spendthrift mentality reflects poorly on him and his party.

If I were him, I’d repay those large taxi fares from the Speaker’s special responsibility allowance, ie the extra £8,400 he gets for wearing the chain.

Together, Mizan and Lutfur have reinforced the reputation of Tower Hamlets as a laughing stock, not a clever thing to do when the borough is trying to persuade the Queen to confer it city status.

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Another odd piece from the weird and wonderful world of East London News

Shelina Akhtar: Will The Truth Emerge?

James Frankcom: As the rumours surrounding the position of Tower Hamlets Councillor Shelina Akhtar circulate, East London News has spoken exclusively with Cllr Shelina Akhtar herself.

Cllr Akhtar explained that legal advice has prevented her from countering the negative presumptions and false rumours that are currently being spread in the media. She told us that she will be in a position to explain some of the misunderstandings presented as fact in the press soon. She also indicated she may well resign her council seat after the case has concluded, because of the stress caused by the media frenzy.

Press reports allege that Cllr Akhtar has twice been convicted of benefit fraud, had sublet her housing association flat while claiming benefits on it and had even changed her name from Akhtar to “Aktar” in an alleged attempt to hide her past from the public. ELN has discovered that there are explanations for Cllr Akhtar’s actions.

Shelina Akhtar was elected to represent the people of Spitalfields & Banglatown in May 2010 and for council purposes gave her address as 37 Toynbee Street, E1 in that same ward. ELN now understands this is in fact the home of her mother, who is in poor health. Within two months of being elected, Cllr Akhtar was standing in Thames Magistrates’ Court charged with three counts of benefits fraud and fraud by false representation relating to a Swan Housing Association property leased in her name in Blackwall Way, E14.

ELN understands that the Blackwall Way flat was always Cllr Akhtar’s main abode, but because she wanted to avoid the social stigma in her community which would attach to a single woman living alone, she recorded Toynbee Street as her official address. With her mother unwell and since the death of her father, Cllr Akhtar had been de facto head of her family and, as such, had to spend much time at the family home.

It has since been reported that whilst she was “living” at Toynbee Street, Cllr Akhtar was also allegedly subletting her social housing property at 112 Blackwall Way while – it has been claimed – receiving Housing and Council Tax Benefit for it.

What is true is that Cllr Shelina Akhtar was found guilty on three counts of defrauding the public at Thames Magistrates Court in July 2010 and sentenced to 100 hours community service. She was also made to pay £250 costs.

At some point during 2010 the spelling of her surname began to be changed in official documents from being spelt “Akhtar” to “Aktar”. In a motion tabled to the Council and in a letter written to the chief legal officer of the council, the Conservative Group claims this was “a ruse” to avoid public association with her July 2010 conviction under the name “Akhtar”. Cllr Akhtar has told us that she will explain what happened after her court case concludes on 6th February.

Cllr Akhtar received the standard backbench councillor’s allowance of £10,065 per year from Tower Hamlets. She also worked part-time work at Tower Hamlets College. According to Tower Hamlets Benefits Calculator, it would appear the councillor (even without her part time job being taken into account) would not have been eligible to receive any benefits. Cllr Akhtar has told us that she claimed only benefits which she believes she was entitled to. We expect the councillor to be able to give a full explanation after 6th February.

The hearing in February will deal with a second round of charges, that Cllr Akhtar failed “to notify changes to her circumstances” – also in relation to receiving benefits at the Blackwall Way property. Earlier this month, Cllr Akhtar pleaded guilty to the new charges against her. She is now awaiting sentencing. If she is sentenced to three months (or more) imprisonment, it follows that under the Section 80 of the Local Government Act (1972) that her council seat would become vacant and a by-election must be called. If the sentence is non-custodial or for less than three months, then there is no legal obligation for her to vacate her seat.

Political leaders in the Borough have called on Cllr Akhtar to resign her seat, regardless of her sentence – thus forcing another winter by-election on the people of Spitalfields & Banglatown.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman commented: “As I have consistently made clear, elected politicians and public servants have a moral and legal duty to abide by the highest standards of personal conduct. The council takes a tough stance against the misuse of public funds. That is why despite the fact that Cllr Aktar is not part of any official group I have asked her to resign her seat as a councillor as well as to return the benefit overpayment.”

Cllr. Peter Golds, Leader of the Conservative councillors, has formally written to the Council demanding that Akhtar is immediately suspended from the council because her continued involvement is “bringing the council in to disrepute.”

Cllr Josh Peck, Leader of the Labour councilors, has said, “In most local authorities it would be inconceivable that she didn’t resign on the first occasion.” Cllr Peck has not commented on Labour’s role in selecting Cllr Akhtar as a candidate in the first place.

Cllr Akhtar was elected as a Labour Councillor in May 2010. She was vetted by a team from the Greater London Labour Party and was deemed to be a suitable candidate. Usually Borough Labour Parties select their own candidates, but London Labour Party bosses pulled rank over the Tower Hamlets Party and chose all its candidates in the Borough – insisting that it was more competent to do so than local members. This is the second time that a candidate who received a positive vetting from the London Labour Party has come a cropper. Although there has been no sign of a rethink on procedures at Labour Party HQ, the Regional Director who supervised the process, Ken Clark, was exiled to Scotland some months ago.

Cllr Akhtar resigned from the Labour Party in September 2010 and now sits as an Independent councillor.

As the dust from the Cllr Akhtar affair settles down, ELN is asking the question: if one councillor is able to conceal past convictions from the local authority – could there be more? We believe the people of Tower Hamlets have the right to know if their elected representatives are the recipients of social housing and whether they are receiving any benefits from the authority that is also paying their allowances.

We have written on your behalf to each of the 50 other councillors at Tower Hamlets, asking a series of simple questions that put on record their domestic circumstances and help bring closure to the media speculation.

We asked each councillor:

Are you the authorised tenant of either a council or housing association property?

If so, are you or have you ever sublet that property to another person?

Have you claimed either Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit while serving as a councillor at Tower Hamlets?

So far we have received responses from about a quarter of the council. We shall print their responses to these questions and expose those who refuse to be open with their electorate in the next issue of the East London News.

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Well, it took our Dear Leader eight days, but Mayor Lutfur Rahman has at last called for his friend and benefit fraudster Cllr Shelina Akhtar to resign as a member of Tower Hamlets council. Why he didn’t do it sooner is a mystery and it again underlines both his reactive nature to events and also the ineptitude of his army of highly paid political advisers.

Here’s the full story from the East London Advertiser, which ran an excellent front page editorial last Thursday calling for her to go (let’s see if they dress this up as their victory tomorrow…).

The mayor of Tower Hamlets has demanded a councillor convicted of benefit fraud earlier this month resign from her position immediately.

Despite counting independent Cllr Shelina Akhtar among his circle of supporters since she defected from the Labour party to work with him, Lutfur Rahman finally heeded calls from the opposition to take a tough stance in his condemnation of her.

He announced yesterday he had “asked her to resign as well as to return the benefit overpayment.”

He added: “The council takes a tough stance against the misuse of public funds.”

Cllr Akhtar admitted three counts of dishonestly failing to notify a change of circumstances when claiming housing and Council Tax benefit for a property in Blackwall Way, Poplar at Snaresbrook Crown Court on January 9.

She was convicted of similar offences in July 2010.

Immediately after her recent admission, Cllr Josh Peck and Cllr Peter Golds, leaders of Tower Hamlets Labour and Conservative parties respectively, called on the mayor to demand she quits.

Meanwhile as the mayor’s announcement came in, politicians accused the town hall’s standards committee of ineffectiveness after it insisted it is powerless to suspend Akhtar.

A council spokesman confirmed the councillor has been reported to its internal standards team but said because she is not due to be sentenced until February 6 the case is officially still waiting conclusion and it cannot take action.

This means Akhtar, who represents Spitalfields and Banglatown ward, is still free to claim her councillor’s expenses and vote on decisions.

Cllr Golds said: “Why has she not been put before standards? It puts the whole system into disrepute. People are incensed.”

Just a few weeks ago Labour Cllr Helal Abbas was suspended for complaining about the conduct of a council officer.

Mr Peck said there appeared to be an “unevenness” in the way his case was dealt with in comparison to Cllr Akhtar’s.

The council spokesman said that because Akhtar is an independent she “is not subject to the rules of any political party or group.”

He added: “Constitutionally the mayor has no power to force Cllr Akhtar’s resignation.”

Despite continued attempts to contact Akhtar, the Advertiser has not been able to get a response from her.

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This from today’s Independent. If anyone has more details on what happened, let me know.

Students attending a debate about sharia law were told they would be “hunted down and killed” by a man who burst into their lecture theatre and filmed them on his phone.

A man in a dark hooded top said he knew the identities of the 40 guests present and knew where they lived, before claiming that they would be tracked down if anything negative was uttered about the Prophet Muhammad.

The incident took place on Monday evening at a meeting organised by the Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society at Queen Mary University in London.

The society’s president, Jen Hardy, said when the man left the room, two members of the audience applauded.

“The same man then began filming the faces of Society members in the foyer and threatening to hunt them down if anything was said about Muhammad, he added that he knew where they lived and would murder them and their families,” she said.

“On leaving the building, he joined a large group of men, seemingly there to support him. We were told by security to stay in the Lecture Theatre for our own safety.”

The meeting, where Secular Europe Campaign supporter Anne Marie Waters was due to give a speech, was cancelled.

“This is the first time this has happened, it’s really very frightening and you don’t know what else it’s going to turn into,” she said.

“I’m not worried about repercussions, but I’m worried about it happening again.”

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association condemned the “shocking” intimidation, saying: “Free expression, the free exchange of ideas and free debate are hallmarks of an open society; violence and the threat of violence should never be allowed to compromise that, especially in our universities.”

Queen Mary Students’ Union said: “Our students’ safety is of absolute priority and we take such reports very seriously. We are confident our processes have been followed in organising the event and will be supportive of any investigations carried out by the Police or Queen Mary, University of London.”

Enquiries by Tower Hamlets police are ongoing. A Scotland Yard spokesperson said: “Police were called at approximately 19:00 on Monday 16 January to a building on Mile End Road following a report of a man being threatened by another man. Officers attended and the victim was spoken to.”

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For those following the Shelina Akhtar affair, it seems that the Tory group will have at least some of its way with the motion it wants to submit for the full meeting of Tower Hamlets council on January 25.

John Williams, the council’s head of democratic services, seems to have said that all is OK apart from the call to suspend her, an action he appears to have said is not currently possible. The full text of Peter’s subsequent letter to legal head Isabella Freeman is copied below. It will be interesting to see if this motion is brought forward in the agenda on the 25th so that debate is guaranteed; equally, it will be fascinating to see how Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s band of independents vote. Who knows, Shelina herself may even turn up (if she’s not sick of course….).

Here’s the letter:

Dear Ms Freeman

Re: Shelina Akhtar (Aktar)

I am writing with regard to the motion to council submitted by myself and Cllr Archer on behalf of our group. Mr Williams has spoken to me and I have agreed an amendment, merely calling for this corrupt and disgraced individual to resign her membership of this council as I was told that as a council “we cannot suspend her”.

Shelina Akhtar was elected Labour councillor for the Spitalfields and Banglatown ward in May 2010 giving her address as Toynbee Street, E1. During April 2010, after her selection, the number of electors at Toynbee Street increased and subsequently all voted in the election.

Following her election she demanded that her name be changed on council records to Shelina Aktar and quickly left the Labour Party, joining the Independent group supporting the candidature of Cllr Lutfur Rahman as Executive Mayor.

In July 2010 Shelina Akhtar of Blackwall Way, E14 was convicted on three counts of benefit fraud. Of course, had anybody merely researched the name Shelina Akhtar she would might have escaped public scrutiny as she had insisted all entries on her regarding council information be changed to Aktar. Luckily for the public this ruse failed. 

In April 2011 she was charged on three counts of failing to notify a change of circumstances, which would have affected her entitlement to benefit.

Shelina Akhtar of Blackwall Way is the same Shelina Aktar of Toynbee Street. She currently appears to occupy two properties. In one case receiving a councillor’s allowance and in the other being convicted for fraud, whilst varying the name to, hopefully, prevent discovery.

In January 2012 she pleaded guilty to further charges of benefit fraud and is awaiting sentence.

She has without a shadow of doubt, brought this authority into disrepute.

I am therefore surprised that our existing Standards process has made no recommendation about her position. They currently have the power to suspend her membership of this council, indeed a councillor has recently been suspended for reasons which seem, somewhat arcane. I know for fact that there are at least five current investigations being undertaken by Standards which are vexatious and driven by malice on the part of councillors from the Independent members of whom Shelina Akhtar (Aktar) has been an active member as late as December 2011, attending Mayoral engagements and “group” meetings on a monthly basis.

The fact that she has been found guilty on two occasions (the first within two months of being elected) should have ensured that the Standards Committee met and considered her situation.

There are concerns amongst councillors and residents that her position will be supported to provide a prop for the Mayor in the budget process. How will this show Tower Hamlets if the Mayoral budget is approved on the vote of a convicted benefit fraudster?

She is convicted. This information is public; surely the Standards Committee could meet and take action before January 25th. After all they cannot change the verdict as she admitted a plea of guilty. They have also had eighteen months from the first conviction to consider her bringing the council into disrepute.

One reason the Standards regime has been fallen into disrepute nationally are the number of simply vexatious complaints which have seen councillors suspended for misplaced remarks or foolish “tweets”. Here we have a law breaker, who now appears to be permitted to take part in the budget process of an elective body spending over £1billion of public money.

In any other body, she would have been suspended. Why not here?

Yours sincerely

(Cllr) Peter Golds

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The Conservative group in Tower Hamlets has submitted the following motion to be debated at the next council meeting on January 25. (However, they fully expect council legal chief Isabella Freeman to block it even making the agenda.)

Motion on Cllr Shelina Aktar (AKA Shelina Akhtar)

Proposer: Cllr Peter Golds

Seconder: Cllr Tim Archer

This Council Notes:

  • That incidents of fraud and dishonesty in public life in the United Kingdom are relatively rare and that when proven both political parties and the relevant body, whether it be national or local take appropriate action, as was seen in the recent expenses scandal where all parties suspended recalcitrant members.
  • That Councillor Shelina Aktar, who as a matter of record altered the spelling of her name following her election to the council in 2010, was in July 2010 convicted of benefit fraud, under the name of Shelina Akhtar.
  • In January 2012 she pleaded guilty to further fraud and is to be sentenced in February 2012.

This Council Believes:

  • That it is wrong for such a person to vote on matters that would affect the lives and well being of the overwhelmingly law abiding citizens of this borough.
  • That according to time sheets and other information, that Cllr Aktar is a regular attendee of group meetings involving the Independent mayoral supporting members and regularly attends “mayoral engagements” including six hours of such engagements in December 2011.

This Council Resolves:

  • To suspend the membership of Cllr Aktar for this meeting and all other meetings until she is sentenced and further consideration of appropriate action can be made in light of the judicial sentence.
  • To call upon the Mayor to disassociate himself from Cllr Aktar and confirm publicly that she will not be invited to join him on further “mayoral engagements”.

For the record, the Tories have also submitted the following questions for the Members’ question time section:

Cllr Peter Golds

Does the Mayor support the government’s announcement that it will seek to criminalise sub-letting of socially rented property?

Cllr Zara Davis

Why has the Mayor ignored the motion agreed by Full Council in September 2011, which resolved that “Sir John McDougal Gardens, Millwall Park and Island Gardens will remain solely for the use of residents and community groups for the purposes of recreation, leisure and sports?”

Cllr David Snowdon

Will the Mayor please outline what measures he is taking to promote the teaching of history in Tower Hamlets schools?

Cllr Gloria Thienel

Considering the rising incidents of metal theft from public memorials; how many incidents of metal theft from a public memorial in Tower Hamlets has taken place in the last year, will the Mayor please inform the Council what measures he has taken to ensure that war memorials are protected in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets?

Cllr Craig Aston

Will the Mayor provide an update on energy efficiency in the Town Hall building?

Cllr Tim Archer

Will the Mayor provide an update on the progress of the motion agreed by full council on 15 September 2010, to bring the Henry Moore statue back to the borough and explain to the council  why this is taking so long, what meetings/discussions have taken place and will the statue be back in time for the Olympics?

Cllr Dr Emma Jones

How many people sacked from Tower Hamlets employment have accidentally continued to be paid in the past year?

The Tories have also submitted the following other motions:

Education in Tower Hamlets

Proposer: Cllr Zara Davis

Seconder: Cllr Dr Emma Jones

This Council notes:

  • That the Secretary of State for Education has recently approved the creation of three new free schools in Tower Hamlets which will be run by The Constable Education Trust, the Wapping and Shadwell Secondary Education Trust and City Gateway, all of which will open free schools in September 2012
  • That the severe shortage of school places in Tower Hamlets is such that:
    • According to the borough’s own projections, at primary school level an additional 16 form entries are required in Tower Hamlets primary schools between the academic year 2011/12 and 2012/13 to cope with the projected increase in population in the borough[1]
    • At secondary school level, the number of students will increase from 12,987 (2009/10 roll number) to 16,314 by 2020, thereby requiring an additional 110 form entries.[2]
    • It is already the case that for 301 children in Tower Hamlets, the nearest school available to them is so far away that the Council has to provide them with Home-School transport. [3]
    • The number of children requiring Home-School transport on distance grounds has trebled in the last two years, and it is forecasted to increase to 500 pupils in the next three years.[4]

This Council believes:

  • That giving schools independence helps to raise standards, as recognised by a recent OECD report which states: “where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better”[5]
  • That free schools will therefore help to raise standards in Tower Hamlets, both in the free schools themselves as well as in neighbouring schools which will be spurred on to achieve higher standards
  • That free schools will increase the choice available to parents and pupils, with the three new free schools in Tower Hamlets going far beyond the National Curriculum, e.g. the Constable Education Trust Primary School with modern foreign languages; Wapping High will offer an extended school day with 34 hours of teaching a week and the opportunity for a variety of enrichment activities etc.
  • That free schools will also help to alleviate some of the pressure on school places in Tower Hamlets

Therefore, this Council resolves:

  • To welcome and support the creation of free schools in Tower Hamlets, which will be attended by hundreds of pupils from our borough
  • To actively co-operate with and support free schools on matters such as finding premises.


Troubled Families

Proposer: Cllr Tim Archer

Seconder: Cllr David Snowdon

This Council Notes:

  • The Coalition Government plans to deal with Troubled Families is a much welcomed step in the right direction.
  • Currently the government spends £9 billion a year on Troubled Families, with only £1 billion a year going to turning Troubled Families around.
  • Each Troubled Family costs £75,000 a year.
  • The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has 1,120 Troubled Families, the highest of any London Borough.
  • This means £84 million is spent each year on Troubled Families in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

This Council Believes:

  •  The creation of a new Troubled Families team at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

This Council Resolves:

  • To support the setting up of a national network of Troubled Families ‘Trouble Shooters’.
  • To work with the Coalition government on this plan and to start to turn around the lives of London Borough of Tower Hamlets residents who live in Troubled Families.

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As I said, we were expecting a strong statement condemning from Mayor Lutfur Rahman his ally, Cllr Shelina Akhtar, the twice convicted benefit fraudster who faces a possible jail sentence….and we got a statement:

Here it is:

Everyone who represents the interests of this community must abide by the highest standards of personal conduct in public life. The council has procedures to follow and I understand that it will await the outcome of the sentencing before deciding what if any further steps it will take against the councillor concerned.

Interestingly, sentencing for Akhtar’s latest crime is on February 6. If that is delayed, or if she receives a sentence that is less than that required to see her automatically disqualified from Tower Hamlets Council, she will be free to vote at the crucial council meeting on February 22 when Lutfur will need all the support he can muster to see his spending plans approved.

Again, if she receives a jail term, which is very possible, I fully expect Lutfur to ask her to stand down. Of course, it’s still up to her…

In the meantime, the council has put out a separate statement:

The course of action open to the council depends in part on the outcome of the sentencing hearing and any appeal. The Local Government Act 1972 (section 80) states that councillors sentenced to a three month custodial sentence or more automatically lose their seat.

And in the background, Tory group leader Peter Golds has been asking Swan Housing what action they will take against their criminal social housing tenant.

Here is what Swan told me:


We are aware of the judgment relating to Councillor Aktar and are considering its implications. However, issues relating to the tenancy agreements that exist between Swan and its tenants are confidential and we are not able to discuss these publicly.

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Here’s a press release and two photos issued by Rushanara Ali this evening:

For immediate use

Labour Party Leader, Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, joins Bethnal Green and Bow MP, Rushanara Ali, on visit to Bethnal Green Academy

Leader of the Labour Party, Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP and Rushanara Ali MP visited Bethnal Green Academy this morning to talk to teachers, staff and students.  They discussed the Shoreditch Citizens’ campaign for a Living Wage, opportunities for young people in Tower Hamlets, and the challenges facing schools and colleges in Tower Hamlets and across the country.

This morning, Rushanara Ali MP, spoke to BBC London about the latest child poverty figures released by the End Child Poverty Campaign, which showed that Bethnal Green and Bow has the highest child poverty figures in the country at 51%.

Rushanara Ali said: “On the day it was announced that Tower Hamlets is suffering the most severe levels of child poverty in the country, both Ed Miliband and I were highly encouraged by the ideas and enthusiasm of local people working and studying at the Bethnal Green Academy.

“Ed has consistently pressed the Conservative-led Coalition on the important issues of opportunities for young people and the squeezed living standards of hard working families.  Our visit to the Bethnal Green Academy has covered extremely positive ground, and I was pleased that we were able to talk about solutions such as the Living Wage campaign and investing in the futures of our young people to ensure we don’t create a lost generation of talented young people.”

Speaking to BBC London about the latest child poverty figures, Rushanara Ali said:

“These figures are very disappointing.  Under the last Labour Government, we reduced child poverty by almost 1 million.  Labour put in measures to tackle child poverty, but now it is creeping back.  It is not acceptable that a generation of children are going to be condemned to poverty because of this government’s policies.  David Cameron’s constituency has 7% child poverty, Nick Clegg’s has 5%, but Bethnal Green and Bow has 51%.  My constituency epitomises this Government’s failure, they are not taking the actions needed to tackle child poverty.  The Government needs to take responsibility and business needs to take responsibility.  This is a call to arms to the business community to work with me to alleviate child poverty in Bethnal Green and Bow.”

Well, at least Ed doesn’t look “too ugly” there, at least.

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