Archive for March 19th, 2012

It seems that barely a week goes by now without an advert appearing in East End Life asking for people to join Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s growing army of advisers.

I blogged about his last list here but he’ll soon have two another names to add if p36 of East End Life is anything to go by (and apologies for the poor quality of the photo – I blame Blackberry’s crap camera):

The positions are being advertised here but for those who can’t quite make out the text in the picture, he thinks he needs a “communications and media” adviser and someone to guide him on “branding”. The annual budget for each (probably part-time) position is £30,000, £60,000 a year.

Now, how on earth did the council manage in the days before the Great Enlightened Era of executive mayoralty? Granted, its press and communications office wasn’t that great but that’s probably because they were overstaffed and overpaid. Cuts should have been the order of the day, but more is better in the Land of Lutfur. Well, more of his own anyway. It’ll be fascinating to see who wins this supposedly rigorous and open contest.

At the same time as he spends more of our money on these non-jobs he also seems to be winning his battle to cut the number of councillors in the borough from 51 to 45.

The Local Government Boundary Commission has just agreed to undertake a public consultation on his suggestions for that reduction. The Labour group want to maintain the status quo, the Tories suggested a cull down to 42 while the Lib Dems wanted 38. Respect didn’t make any submissions, probably because they didn’t know how to. Funny how the scale of the reductions is correlated to the current group sizes…

The Commission’s letter announcing this review last week is here:

Dear XX

Yesterday the Commission decided to undertake a public consultation on council size for Tower Hamlets. This consultation will start on 27 March 2012 and end on 8 May 2012.  Please do let councillors know.

Having considered the proposals for council size of 51 (LAB GROUP), 45 (MAYOR), 42 (TORIES) and 38 (LIBERAL), the Commission have decided to consult on a council size of 45. 

The Commission was of a view that the evidence provided supports the case that the number of councillors could be reduced, and that 45 may be an appropriate number.

The Commission carefully considered the arguments made in regard to the representational role of councillors, the scrutiny arrangements, and the delegation of functions within Tower Hamlets Council. Given this, the Commission has agreed to consult on whether a council size on 45 is appropriate for Tower Hamlets Council, and welcomes further submissions during this period of public consultation.

I should stress that the Commission has not made a final decision, and that the decision made after this public consultation may be for more or fewer councillors than 45. 

This consultation period is an opportunity for councillors, political parties, and members of the public to look more closely at the submissions which were originally made, and make additional submissions.  All the original submission are on our website at http://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/south-east/greater-london/tower-hamlets-fer.

A further letter will be sent to the Chief Executive on 27 March and copied to political groups and other stakeholders.

All the submissions can be found here. Lo and behold Lutfur tells the Commission that his measures will save the council £60,000 a year (hmm, doesn’t that figure sound familiar?) He also says that as a result of the new system of government, councillors have less work to do (so do his cabinet members but they’re still given an extra £13,000 a year – pretty much the same as under the previous system).

Here’s an extract of his submission:

(c)…over recent years the number of committees in the local authority, the number of members per committee and the frequency of meetings have all reduced, reflecting the lower member workload in this

area. Further reductions in the committee structure have recently been proposed by the Council’s Constitution Working Party.

(d) The demands of other functions have also reduced, such as attendance by councillors on outside bodies, reflecting new approaches to this work.

Labour say the growing electoral population, particularly among the younger age groups means extra workload and the need for more intense representation. They say:

Our view is that the current Council size of 51 councillors should be retained because of the increasing demands on councillors in their roles as community leaders, community advocates, and in establishing appropriate levels of scrutiny and holding to account of the elected Mayor.

The Tories say:

The structure of decision-making in Tower Hamlets has not been revised or considered for revision since the introduction of the Executive Mayoral system. Each committee which existed prior to October 2010 still exists, the number of councillors on each committee has not changed, and the frequency of the meetings of each committee has not changed. How those committees undertake their work has, essentially, not changed following the change to the Executive Mayoral system. In some cases we feel this has led to committees becoming a “work creation” scheme.

After an analysis of how the committee structure could be reformed, the Tories add:

We have concluded that the number of councillors in Tower Hamlets may be reduced by an amount between one-fifth and one-seventh, and that convenient and effective local government would still be secured subject to a rearrangement of the committee structure. This leads us to propose a membership between forty-one and forty-four.

And then lone Lib Dem Dr Stephanie Eaton gives her own scientific analysis, which because she often talks sense on such things, I’m going to copy in full here:

Submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission

Review of London Borough of Tower Hamlets Councillor Dr Stephanie Eaton (Liberal Democrat)


1. The disparity between the numbers of electors in individual wards in Tower Hamlets clearly demonstrates a need for a review of electoral boundaries. The recent move away from a Leader and Cabinet model of executive decision making to a directly elected Executive Mayor in Tower Hamlets has also changed the way in which the local authority and its elected representatives operate and allows for a reconsideration of the number of Councillors in the new arrangement.

2. Councillors work for and with electors and non-electors in the Borough. The numbers of both have risen since the last boundary review. This might suggest that more Councillors are required to take decisions and represent the community. However, the changes in Council structures in Tower Hamlets over the past decade, from a Committee system, to a Leader and Cabinet model, and now to a directly elected Mayor mean that the role and responsibilities of Councillors have altered. Although I regret aspects of these changes as they have led to a concentration of power to a small group and ultimately one person, the changes do mean that fewer Councillors are involved in executive decision making.

3. The roles of the Mayor and Councillors are vital as the decisions of the Mayor and Council affect the well-being of many individuals, businesses and organisations in the borough. In any review of the number of Councillors it is crucial to take into account the varied work that Councillors do, both in supporting the executive Mayor in his/her decision making; in scrutinising, challenging and improving decisions of the executive, and the performance of the Council; undertaking advocacy on behalf of residents and business; and, representing the Council and the Borough’s interests on outside bodies.

4. The work of a Councillor is demanding and time consuming, and it is important that there are sufficient Councillors available to fulfil the roles detailed in 3. above, and to provide the electorate with a range of Councillors that reflect the community. While it is my belief that most Tower Hamlets Councillors are willing and able to represent people who are different to them, I know from experience that residents sometimes come to me for support because of my gender, ethnicity and/or expressed values. We do not want to risk a reduction in the diversity of age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, business and voluntary experience etc. of the Council by significantly reducing the number of elected Councillors.

5. Notwithstandingmyconcernaboutalossofdiversity,Iwouldsupporta reduction in the number of Councillors in the authority. I would consider a reduction from 51 to 38 (i.e. a decrease of roughly 1⁄4) to be reasonable. Any reduction below this would risk a diminution in the diversity of representation as outlined in paragraph 4. and a failure to have enough Councillors to fulfil the roles outlined in paragraph 3.

6. A reduction by 13 in the number of Councillors would provide a substantial saving in Councillor’s allowances and reduce the pressure on officers in the Member’s Services department in relation to the support provided to Councillors. A reduction of this order would still enable Councillors to support the Mayor in decision making; to fulfil the Council’s quasi-judicial functions; to scrutinise, challenge and criticise executive decisions and Council performance; and to represent constituents and the Council on outside bodies. Moving away from having all 3 member wards to a mixture of 2 and 3 member wards would help to even out electoral representation within wards and enable ward boundaries to better relate to physical boundaries such as highways and waterways.

Leadership and governance:

7. WhilethepresentexecutiveMayorofTowerHamletscurrentlytakesall decisions not reserved to full Council, the present Mayor and any future Mayor may decide to share executive decision-making with a Cabinet of Councillors. Even with the current arrangements, the quantity and complexity of the Council’s business requires the Executive Mayor to be supported by Cabinet members who are Councillors. Officers can and do provide essential technical and administrative advice, but the role of elected Councillors to reflect the interests and concerns of residents is crucial to ensure informed decision making by the Mayor. Therefore I believe that there needs to be a sufficient number of Councillors to assist the Mayor in decision-making. This should comprise at least one Cabinet post for each directorate of the Council – at present this would comprise 6 although the ‘Adults, Health and Well- being’ and ‘Children, Schools and Families’ directorates are merging which reduces the number to 5. With the legislative requirement for a Deputy Mayor to deputise for the Mayor in the event of the incapacity or unavailability of the Mayor, my view is that the minimum number of Cabinet positions ought to be 6 (1 Deputy Mayor and 5 Cabinet posts).

8. Conclusion: A minimum of 6 Councillors is required to support the Mayor’s executive decision-making.

Scrutiny and Committees:

9. OverviewandScrutinyCommittee:

This important committee functions to scrutinise delivery of services, and the decisions of the Executive Mayor. It must have a membership that is sufficient to do this competently and from a range of perspectives. Ideally the committee should have identified members who shadow the directorates (as at present) but with the flexibility to have at least one representative from each political group in Council on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Clearly, as a result of this Committee’s executive and performance scrutiny function, members of the Mayor’s Cabinet should continue to be ineligible to sit on this committee. The current representation of 9 Councillors is right given the importance of this committee, the need to scrutinise the Council’s directorates, and the usefulness of a cross-party perspective.

10.Planning and Licensing:

The Council is required to have a number of quasi-judicial committees to carry out the work of granting (or not) planning permission and licensing applications. Tower Hamlets is a Borough that has traditionally proven very attractive to developers and many strategic developments have been considered for housing and major infrastructure e.g. Crossrail. Given the Borough’s location and good transport links; the vibrant business district of Canary Wharf; flourishing night-time economy in areas like Brick Lane; and the high level of housing need, it is not likely that the level of demand for development and licensing decisions will drop significantly. Therefore there will be a significant ongoing requirement for Councillors to review, amend, approve and reject applications on the quasi-judicial committees. There is little statutory guidance on the correct number for these committees but the current representation of 7 Councillors on each of the Development and Strategic Development Committees and 15 Councillors on Licensing Committee to provide a rotating pool of members to sit on the Licensing Sub-Committees is right given the workload of these committees.

11. Audit   Committee,       General    Purposes Committee,       Standards Committee, Human Resources Committee, Pension Committee, Appointments Committee, Constitutional Working Party, King George’s Charity Board, Health Scrutiny Panel:

These Committees are important, but several meet on an ad hoc basis or infrequently and therefore the membership of them can be met by Councillors undertaking multiple responsibilities. Most currently servicing Councillors are members of several committees and, with support from a system of designated deputies, manage to fulfil these roles adequately. These committees could have a slightly smaller membership and still fulfil their functions.

12.A minimum of 9 non-cabinet Councillors for Overview and Scrutiny Committee and a minimum of 7 Councillors for each of Strategic Development and Development Committees, and 15 Councillors for Licensing sub-Committees is required to carry out the functions of these Committees. This provides for 38 positions which could be filled by the 32 non-Cabinet Councillors (although the Cabinet members may of course be members of committees except Overview and Scrutiny).

13.Conclusion: The workload of the Council’s Committees could be managed by 38 Councillors (32 non-Cabinet Councillors) with each Councillor being a member of no more than three Committees on average – not including Full Council.

Representation role of Councillors:

14.Councillors have an important role in representing and advising residents and assisting them to resolve complaints, disputes and submit consultation responses in relation to the work of the Council and beyond. With the change to a directly elected Mayor and the current Mayor’s decision to exercise all executive functions, inevitably some residents will approach the Mayor directly rather than through a Councillor.

15.Nevertheless, where residents, businesses and organisations are opposed to a policy of the elected Mayor, or wish to advocate a particular policy, Councillors have a vital role in promoting, advising and justifying a position on behalf of interested parties.

16.The size of the Council needs to reflect the important role that Councillors have in representing their constituents. The reduction I am proposing in the number of Councillors reflects the fact that the Executive Mayor cannot personally meet with every constituent or group. Likewise the Speaker of the Council (in his/her capacity as First Citizen of the borough) cannot attend every function, meeting and celebration. Having 38 local Councillors as I suggest, means that the complaints and grievances of local residents and business can be heard face to face, and, just as importantly, the achievements and successes of the Borough’s residents can be recognised and acknowledged by the Council through the attendance at events of a local Councillor.

17.The Council and its residents and businesses also need to have a voice in organisations in the local community and across London, and Councillors fulfil an important role representing the Council on external bodies such as the Olympic Development Authority (ODA), and the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association (RFCA) for which I am the representative Councillor. The workload of these organisations fluctuates – for example the RFCA is particularly busy in the build up to HM the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – and the ODA has naturally been busy in preparation for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. Other bodies with Councillor representation include housing associations, the Council’s housing Arms Length Management Organisation – Tower Hamlets Homes, and a range of diverse organisations representing business, arts, sports, disability and other aspects of life in the Borough. While the reduction in the number of Councillors I am proposing is unlikely to mean that the Council has less of a voice on these outside bodies, a greater reduction in the number of Councillors would run the risk that the Council, residents and businesses would be unrepresented on these bodies.

18.Conclusion: There is scope for a reduction in the number of Councillors from 51 to 38 without a loss of support for executive decision making; without reducing the quality and quantity of scrutiny and challenge to executive decisions and Council performance; and without a reduction in the representative functions of local Councillors. However a greater reduction in the number of Councillors would be likely to lead to a loss of the resource which local Councillors provide to residents and businesses in the Borough.

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Of all the cynical moves by the commercial Olympic juggernaut in London over the years, the decision to drop Tower Hamlets from the marathon route was among the most disgraceful. Lord Coe had gone to Singapore 2005 using kids from this borough to persuade the IOC of the legacy benefits the 2012 Games would bring.

After we won, politicians started going all gooey about the thought of the marathon passing along the A11 through Whitechapel,Mile End and Bow. There was even talk of renaming the entire road the Olympic Boulevard before the IOC said that would be against their copyright rules. Instead, it was dubbed High Street 2012 and there was lots of talk of using the event to spruce things up.

During this time, Lord Coe was probably wondering what he’d got himself into: did worldwide TV audiences really want to see grotty Tower Hamlets buildings as the backdrop? He decided No and announced two years ago that the traffic logistics meant the route was not feasible.

Tower Hamlets council quite rightly prepared to take Coe to court under a judicial review. Coe got worried and in May last year, Mayor Lutfur Rahman announced a major deal with the Locog chairman: that in return for dropping the legal case, which the council was tipped to win, Tower Hamlets would be the first London borough to welcome the Olympic torch when it arrived in the capital a week before the opening of the Games on July 27.

Here’s what the Wharf reported last year:

The Olympic Torch will hit the capital first in Tower Hamlets after a tour around the country.

The decision was part of a deal struck in February to compensate for the loss of the Marathon route.

The agreement, reached by Lord Coe, chairman of Olympic organiser Locog, and Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman saw the borough reap a number of cultural and employment benefits from the Olympics.

Mayor Rahman, said: “It’s fantastic that Tower Hamlets’ residents will be the first in the capital to celebrate the arrival of the torch in London. It gives everybody in the borough the chance to get involved in the excitement.

“And it’s a great opportunity for us to highlight the unique character of Tower Hamlets – showcasing the borough to the world.

“We’re working with Locog to make sure that the arrival of the torch is an event to remember.”

It will arrive on the evening of Friday, July 20, with seven days to go until the start of the Games in Stratford.

Following its arrival in Tower Hamlets, the Olympic Flame will continue its journey to the other host boroughs – Greenwich, Hackney, Newham and Waltham Forest – before it visits every London borough.

Lutfur should have gone ahead with that JR.

Today, Coe announced the timetable for the Olympic Torch. The full details are on the BBC website here and here. The Torch will be run through Tower Hamlets on Saturday, July 21, at 1.50pm at the Bow Flyover–having just come from Newham and Greenwich that morning.

Hmm. A call to Locog clarifies matters. Technically, Coe is sticking to the letter of his deal with Lutfur because it will actually arrive from Guildford the night before for an evening ceremony at that venue well known for its accessibility to ordinary members of the public…the Tower of London. Not exactly what we all had in mind is it..?

Now, was the Torch, which will go to Greenwich very early the next day, ever going to land in London anywhere but the Tower? I very much doubt it.

Did Coe dupe Lutfur, or did Lutfur dupe us all when he announced that deal last year? We probably shouldn’t care about such things, but there is a wider point about politicians, including Coe, telling us the full story when they spin their lines. It just ads to the cynicism.

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