Archive for February 15th, 2012

Mayor Lutfur Rahman has received a late Valentine’s gift: front page billing on the Evening Standard today. I’ve been waiting for the figures on his team of mayoral advisers, but the Standard has beaten me to it.

Here’s the detail of their story and I’ll add my bits underneath.

By Tom Harper and Simon Freeman

15 Feb 2012 

One of the poorest boroughs in London today came under fire for spending £1,000 a day on a personal aide for its mayor.

Tony Winterbottom is an “executive adviser” on regeneration and development to Lutfur Rahman, the mayor of Tower Hamlets who was ousted from the Labour Party over alleged links to Islamic extremists.

Local government secretary Eric Pickles accused Mr Rahman of wasting taxpayer money. He said: “It is astonishing that one of the poorest boroughs in the country sees fit to squander such colossal amounts of public cash in this way.

“Tower Hamlets seems to be living the ultimate champagne socialist lifestyle, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab. I fail to see the business case for shelling out this money, which should be diverted towards protecting frontline services.”

Tower Hamlets has the worst child poverty in the UK, with 52 per cent of children below the breadline. Campaigners warned planned £70 million cuts to the local budget could cause an “economic and social disaster”.

Mr Winterbottom, 67, insisted he was not overpaid and was “embarrassed to be charging so little”.

Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, said: “At a time when Tower Hamlets is being buffeted by cuts from central government, every penny is precious and a £1,000-a-day contract seems to be way over the top.” London Mayor Boris Johnson said: “I’d better investigate the circumstances but it sounds like a lot of money to me.”

A former adviser to Labour mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, Mr Winterbottom won the contract to advise Mr Rahman last October. An investigation by the Evening Standard found the £1,000-a-day deal is with LDP Projects, run by him and his wife, Kathleen, based at his home in Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire.

The consultant works three days a month for Tower Hamlets.

Emma Boon, campaign director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Deals like this for consultants should not be allowed at a time when the rest of the public sector is taking a pay freeze.”

Mr Winterbottom was previously a senior official at the defunct London Development Agency. He was criticised in 2008 after he left on a year’s sabbatical, followed by a £75,000 pay-off and £160,000 top-up to his pension fund. An investigation into the LDA, ordered by Boris Johnson and headed by former financial journalist Baroness Wheatcroft, found a string of failings including “ineptitude” and “massive misspending”.

Mr Rahman became the first directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets in 2010. He originally stood as a Labour candidate, but was deselected amid claims about his links with fundamentalist group the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). He has denied the allegations. He won the poll as an independent backed by Mr Livingstone, and controls a £1.3 billion budget.

Mr Winterbottom, who has also advised Tottenham Hotspur on stadium development, said: “I’m embarrassed the Standard knows I am charging so little. My company has done work in the private sector for a lot more than £1,000 a day.”

He claimed he would not ask for the full amount: “I tendered a bid for £1,000 a day. In reality, I get paid £125 an hour but I have not yet put in an invoice. I wanted them to respect me as an individual so I asked them to pay me a proper price but I’m not going to charge them.

“I’m absolutely squeaky clean. This is not a money-making operation. This is about fighting for Lutfur Rahman who’s trying to do good work.”

A Tower Hamlets spokesman said: “We do not comment on payment of individual employees unless the information is on the council website as part of our responsibility towards transparency.”

I don’t know who’s more arrogant here – the Mayor for allowing this to happen, or Winterbottom for his “Because I’m worth it” comments (no, he’s not).

Both are out of touch, and, I have to say, so is Eric Pickles. He’s been warned repeatedly that the directly elected mayor system of government can have unintended consequences, yet he is still pushing ahead with Super Thursday this November when 11 other authorities will follow the likes of Tower Hamlets and Newham.

Since becoming Mayor, Lutfur has spent a fair degree of time converting himself to semi-royal status. Among other things, he has spent more than £100k on an office revamp, moved the Speaker’s office to a shoe-box and hired a luxury Mercedes for £70 a day.

Then, at the full council meeting last month, he refused to answer any questions put to him by other councillors because he seemed to think he was above such accountability. (Actually, advice was also given by John Williams, the council’s usually excellent head of democratic services, that Lutfur didn’t have to answer questions because there were “human rights issues”. The council has confirmed to me that John said that but it has refused to elaborate what those issues are.)

And in his 16 months in charge, he has also built an army of advisers, with Winterbottom now being the star attraction. Tory leader Peter Golds has been looking into this for quite a while.

I was sent a full list of names a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been waiting to put some numbers against them.

Here’s the list with local government grades, salaries and job descriptions:

1.    Permanent staff or temporary staff covering permanent established posts:
– Murziline Parchment (Head of Mayor’s Office)  – LPO8 30 hours p.w. (£57,111 to £59,982 p.a. pro rata)
– Shazid Miah (Mayor’s Community Liaison Officer)  – PO6 (£42,258 to £44,910 p.a.)  
(1 vacant post – Mayor’s Political Advisor)  (PO1, statutory bar at £34,986)
2.    Secondees:
– Ger Francis (CLC)  – (Comensura temp, PO2 equivalent, £32,532 to £35,055 p.a.)
– Kerry Geeves (D&R) – (PO2) 
– Saiful Ahmed (CLC)  –  (Comensura temp, SO2 equivalent t.b.c.)
– Mazerul Alam (CLC)  – (Comensura temp, SO2 equivalent t.b.c.)
– (Ellie Kuper Thomas based in SPP team)
3.    Work experience student (2 week placement)
Name removed by TJ to protect identity of under-18 year old .
4.    Mayoral Advisors (NB these are not Council staff but contractors engaged on a part-time basis)
– Tony Winterbottom – Advisor on major projects, enterprise and development for approximately three days per month at a cost of £1,000 per day.
– Steven Beckett –  Advisor on surgeries and community consultation for two days per week at a cost of £150 per day  
– Gulam Robbani – Advisor on adult social care and health for one day per week at a cost of £40 per hour 
– Mark Seddon – Advisor on media and communications strategy for one day per week at a cost of £200 per day 
– Mohammed Jubair – Advisor on community media matters for one day per week at a cost of £175 per day.
– Amirul Choudhury – Advisor on small businesses, Olympics and enterprise for a maximum of 40 hours at a cost of £25 per hour
– Suroth Miah  – Advisor on sports and sports participation and improving the quality of life for a maximum of 40 hours at a cost of £25 per hour
– Michael Ambrose – Advisor on youth engagement and sponsorship of youth engagement for a maximum of 100 hours at a cost of £25 per hour
– Shahid Malik – Advisor on equalities matters for one day per week at a cost of £200 per day.
Some of these names are very familiar. Andrew Gilligan write about Murziline Parchment, Winterbottom and Mark Seddon here last year.
Ger Francis is also familiar: he was a leading light in the SWP and Respect: see here.
And Mohammed Jubair is the Mayor’s part-time media adviser. Yes, despite having an expensive press office and East End Life, he also hires his own consultant. So who is Jubair? He’s a reporter for that notorious TV station, Channel S. So, for a couple of days a week he takes briefings from Lutfur and for the rest of his time, he goes and plays at being Chief Reporter on his favourite and most important media outlet. Now, if that’s not a conflict of interest, then I’m not sure what is. It’s almost like hiring Andy Coulson and letting him edit the News of the World at the same time…
I blogged about Gulam Robbani here last week.
If anyone has more information on the other names above, do let us all know – but there is one more personal adviser working for Lutfur…a chap by the name of Axel Landin.
He’s from Camden (for his sins) and he and his similarly politically active brother Conrad believe themselves to be the new Miliband brothers, I am told…
Axel is, I understand, the chap who writes Lutfur’s blog and whose Cambridge undergraduate email address is occasionally copied in on official Mayoral correspondence. Anyway, he’s also picking up some pocket money for his work in Tower Hamlets. Here’s how officers list him:
Axel Landin  – Advisor on boundary review matters at a cost of £8.39 per hour.
Good luck to him, I say – he’s probably the only one of the bunch providing value for money. I’ll deal with the boundary review work later this week.

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