I’ve said it many times before but the Tories in Tower Hamlets are, in terms of having an eye for what really grabs as a good story that resonates with ordinary taxpayers, a cut above the rest in this borough.
That’s in no small part down to their leader, Peter Golds. No wonder the likes of legal chief Isabella Freeman and allies of Mayor Lutfur Rahman have been so keen to pursue pointless complaints against him.
In the first of a number of posts on their latest findings, below is a table they have compiled from Freedom of Information requests and from leaked town hall documents detailing the taxi fares claimed by the mayor and several of his cabinet members since October 2010.
You’ll remember that midway through 2011, the mayor became fed up of hiring cabs and leased a Mercedes for himself, billing us taxpayers about £70 a day.
You’ll also note that Tower Hamlets has more transport links than most other boroughs: the DLR, the District/Hammersmith and City Line, the Central Line and the Jubilee Line, the London Overground/East London Line, and a whole range of bus routes.
Granted, getting from Bethnal Green to the town hall in Mulberry Place, Docklands, is a bit of a pain, but few of us can can afford the luxury of cabs.
Unless you’re in Lutfur’s administration, that is. Because then all you have to do is say you’re “very, very busy”–and important, of course–and the taxis are on us.
Last week, I asked the council’s press office what the policy was on the mayor and cabinet members booking cabs. Takki Sulaiman, the chocolate teapot “head of communications”, refused to answer and instead insisted the question was treated as a Freedom of Information request. That seems like an abuse of process and council resources to me and I wonder if any councillor will ask him to explain himself.
For a couple of days earlier, Peter Golds had asked the same question of the council’s head of paid service, Steve Halsey, who replied within hours thus:
Each individual request to book a taxi for a councillor must be agreed by the Service Head, Democratic Services or, in respect of Cabinet Members only, by the Head of the Mayor’s Office. In all cases when considering a request the Service Head/Head of Office will apply the following rules which have remained consistent for a number of years:-
In normal circumstances, the basic allowance is expected to cover travel within the borough. The Council will not pay for a taxi unless public transport is (a) not available, (b) is inappropriate (e.g. late at night) or (c) impractical in a particular case due to urgency – e.g. a Cabinet Member’s diary means they cannot otherwise get from one engagement to the next in time.
Mr Halsey’s answer is illuminating.
First, if the £10,065 a year basic allowance to councillors is meant to cover their travel in the borough, then that must also apply to the extra £13,325 a year that cabinet members are paid for their additional work and travel. The deputy mayor, Ohid Ahmed, gets a special responsibility allowance of £15,518. And you’ll see that he rather likes his taxis.
And secondly, we learn that the person signing off all these cab fares is Murziline Parchment, the head of the mayor’s office. Now, she really does have form when it comes to signing off dubious spending by Lutfur’s cronies.
And to think she wanted to be our borough’s chief executive!
If you still think I was unfair in her about that, take a look at the taxi fares below. All the annotations have been done by the Tories.
I don’t think I need to explain much further. I asked the council’s press office why Lutfur claimed a £28.56 cab from McDonald’s in Commercial Road to the town hall on May 18, 2011, but answer came there none.
When scrolling through this list, bear in mind Lutfur lives in Old Montague Street in Spitalfields. That’s a few minutes walk from the East London Mosque.
And also bear in mind that the House of Lords is at Westminster…on the Jubilee Line from Canary Wharf. It’s quite a short journey actually.
And also remember that City Hall, the venue for a London Council meetings on May 10, 2011, is a short stroll from London Bridge station, which is again on the Jubilee Line. A number of other council leaders have confirmed they would never dare take cabs to such or similar business, if ever in fact.
His last cab on May 26, 2011, was for £121 from Mulberry Place to the Tower of London. Maybe it was a helicab.
So this is just a taster of what is to come…
|4.11.10||£38.82||Mulberry Place||Marsh Wall, E14||Short bus journey, Can be walked in
|11.11.10||£15.53||Mulberry Place||Canary Wharf Pier||277 Bus – door to door|
|22.11.10||£24.95||Mulberry Place||Tarling Estate||DLR, East India to Shadwell|
|23.11.10||£60.69||Fare paid but journey unknown|
|10.12.10||£77.31||Mulberry Place||Gosfield St, W1 and return journey||Apparently between journey 1pm and
4.30pm. Gosfield St is close to tube stns.
|14.12.10||£30.58||Mulberry Place||Great Queen Street|
|14.12.10||£73.60||Possibly conjoined with Great Queen
|20.12.10||£25.48||Mulberry Place||Roman Road|
|20.12.10||£25.95||Roman Road||Mulberry Place|
|21.2.11||£15.58||Home||Spitalfields Market||Can be walked in 5mins|
|28.2.11||£32.10||Mulberry Place||Bethnal Green|
|28.2.11||£30.78||Bethnal Green||Mulberry Place|
|4.3.11||£51.92||Mulberry Place||Bromley by Bow|
|7.3.11||£47.64||Mulberry Place||House of Lords||Journey direct from Canary Wharf is
|7.3.11||£51.42||House of Lords||E14 (Mulberry Place)|
|9.3.11||£25.72||Mulberry Place||St Martin’s House|
|14.3.11||£58.34||Mulberry Place||Old Montague St (Home)|
|14.3.11||£28.72||Home||Mulberry Place||£79.06 on a journey to home, can be
done by public transport
|14.3.11||£18.68||Mulberry Place||Four Seasons Hotel, Canary Wharf||277 bus goes door to door|
|15.3.11||£13.22||Home||Stocks Place, E1|
|15.3.11||£53.95||East London Mosque||Mulberry Place|
|Bank of America, Canada Square|
|17.3.11||£41.77||Bank of America Canada Square||Mulberry Place||277 Bus goes door to door|
|22.3.11||£41.30||Mulberry Place||Brick Lane|
|22.3.11||£21.71||Brick Lane||City Hall|
|22.3.11||£10.62||City Hall||Brick Lane|
|22.3.11||£4.01||Brick Lane||East London Mosque||Most extreme claim of all, this
journey takes under two minutes by foot
|22.3.11||£4.96||East London Mosque||Taxi waits|
|22.3.11||£19.82||East London Mosque||Mulberry Place|
|24.3.11||£38.53||Mulberry Place||Bethnal Green|
|24.3.11||£24.07||Bethnal Green||Mulberry Place|
|25.3.11||£5.90||Home||Dockside Road, E16|
|28.3.11||£18.64||Mulberry Place||Bethnal Green|
|28.3.11||£56.45||Bethnal Green||Mulberry Place|
|29.3.11||?||Mulberry Place||BFG School|
|30.3.11||£59.24||Oban St, E14||Taylor Place, E3|
|1.4.11||£30.52||Home||Vesey Path, E14|
|4.4.11||£26.20||Mulberry Place||Mile End Road|
|4.4.11||£23.60||Mile End Road||Mulberry Place|
|6.4.11||£36.52||East London Mosque||Mulberry Place|
|11.4.11||£71.27||Mulberry Place||Chrisp Street||Can be walked in five minutes or
|18.4.11||£22.42||Cambridge Heath Road||Ernest Street, E1|
|18.4.11||£53.41||Ernest St, E1||St Stephen’s Road|
|21.4.11||£47.20||Mulberry Place||Nelson St, E1|
|4.5.11||?||Mulberry Place||Canary Wharf|
|10.5.11||£33.75||London Councils||Mulberry Place||Jubilee line is 7 minute journey,
London Bridge-Canary Wharf
|16.5.11||£22.39||Mulberry Place||Alfred Street, E3|
|16.5.11||£55.13||Alfred St, E3||Mulberry Place|
|16.5.11||£41.60||Mulberry Place||SOAS, WC1|
|17.5.11||£46.19||Commercial St||Canary Wharf|
|18.5.11||£25.36||Home||Richard St, E1|
|18.5.11||£28.56||McDonalds, Commercial Road||Mulberry Place|
|19.5.11||£15.10||Mulberry Place||Chrisp Street||Can be walked in five minutes or
|19.5.11||£13.69||Chrisp St||Mulberry Place|
|20.5.11||£61.36||Unknown but paid for. Believe Cab
arrived and left after waiting before being cancelled
|26.5.11||£4.25||Cancellation fee for Com Cab|
|26.5.11||£121.34||Mulberry Place||Tower of London||The DLR goes door to door; East
India to Tower Hill