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Archive for June, 2013

This is the moment 71-year-old Tower Hamlets Alzheimer’s ambassador John Wright was asked to stop filming a segment of last Wednesday’s full council meeting.

It demonstrates the confusion caused by Eric Pickles’ announcement a couple of weeks ago that residents had the right to film their councillors in action.

Just hours before the meeting was due to start, Tower Hamlets council’s most senior officer, Stephen Halsey, wrote to councillors telling them the Communities Secretary’s opinion appeared to be wrong. In a letter, which I reported here, he said the council’s constitution specifically barred filming of full council meetings. This advice was then repeated to everyone in the council chamber by Speaker Lesley Pavitt at the start of the meeting.

However, John, one of the borough’s most colourful campaigners, was convinced Eric was right. So, during a segment in which Lutfur’s cabinet member for housing, Rabina Khan, rose to her feet to give her opinion on social landlords, John, who is a longstanding council tenant, got out his camera and pressed start.

Just prior to that, I’d tweeted that town hall security guards seemed to be getting twitchy. And so they were. They clocked John and surrounded him. A council civil enforcement officer, one of the £40,000 a year THEOS, flashed his “warrant card” and told him he would call the police. I later saw an officer hovering outside with the chap who runs the council’s CCTV control room.

The video lasts for 15 minutes and it’s well worth watching it all. This is a man who clearly thought a senior Cabinet minister had given him the green light. Following a couple of minutes discussion with the Speaker, who later told him she would try to get the constitution changed, the meeting was suspended until he decided to back down.

For about 10 minutes, a series of people talk to him, including the veteran East London Advertiser journalist Mike Brooke, who wrote this report. Commendably, Lutfur’s finance chief, Alibor Choudhury, someone more used to provoking a verbal fight in the chamber, intervenes to calm things down.

There are some memorable lines in the exchange: too many, in fact to type out now. But here’s a flavour of John’s quotes:

My Government is filmed, the London Assembly is filmed: why is your council not allowing me to film, or are you hiding something?

Why are you not allowing me to photograph when Eric Pickles says I can?

This is England–we are democratic.

Why are you hiding? Are you all corrupt?

In response, Speaker Pavitt tells him they are not hiding anything, just that they need to have procedures in place because there might be some people who do not wish to be filmed. I think she means people in the public gallery.

John, who has published the video on YouTube, is for many a local hero and I think his actions will be seen as a tipping point. The council will be urgently looking at ways of allowing filming next time round.

Here’s the video.

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Mayor Lutfur’s decision to commit £3million of council money to paint domes, polish signs and refurbish faith-based community centres has caused a bit of a stink within the Labour party.

Many members are deeply unhappy that scarce public money is being spent to fund religious activities, particularly given some of those religious activities do not promote the kind of equality at the heart of their party’s values.

I asked them for a statement on their position on Tuesday and they sent it yesterday evening.

This is it:

Cllr Sirajul Islam, leader of the Labour group, said: “We strongly support our many faith communities and the good work that they do in supporting local people. Many organisations will have applied for this funding in good faith to continue the work that they do which strengthens our communities.

“We do not want any of our faith organisations to be stained by the grubbiness of the mayoral administration.

“There is a strong perception that this funding is being used to put pressure on people to support the Independent Mayor at the next election. It is wrong to seek to buy an election with local people’s own money.

“The Mayor does have a duty to explain to the people he is meant to serve how he has balanced these needs against the many other pressing needs in our community, as families face a lack of school places, social care budgets are squeezed, street cleaning cut and local people badly need help with getting jobs. There are many unmet needs in Tower Hamlets.

“We would not seek to reverse these decisions unless there was clear evidence of any corruption or wrongdoing.

“Labour Group have expressed our concern at the Mayor’s profligate approach to the Council’s finances and with this decision coming only days before the Conservative led Government announces further destructive cuts to the Council’s budget, we would urge the Mayor to ensure he is taking every step possible to safeguard the core services residents rely upon.

“If, however, anybody has evidence of wrongdoing or misuse of resources they should of course take this immediately to both the local audit service and the police.”

I then asked Labour’s John Biggs, who will challenge Lutfur for Mayor next year, whether “not seek to reverse these decisions” meant he would guarantee the entire £3million committed to this scheme.

This was his reply:

“It means what it says. We are committed to the decisions the mayor has made this week. We don’t give him a blank cheque. We consider each decision he makes and weigh it up against his commitments and justifications and other priorities.”

So that’s not a guarantee.

This is a tricky issue in Tower Hamlets.

In March 2008, a couple of weeks after Canon Michael Ainsworth was beaten up in the grounds of St George-in-the-East church in Shadwell, the East London Advertiser carried a front page editorial backing his call for “the council to to play its part” in improving security at the borough’s churchyards.

ELA.2008-03-27.MAIN.ALL.001.COL

Lutfur was council leader at that point and while there were mumbles of “things must be done”, I don’t recall anything actually happening. Some of these historic churchyards remain vulnerable to violence and anti-social behaviour.

As Canon Michael’s call was about securing churches from violent elements in the borough, the money that he wanted used would have come from “community safety” budgets. That’s very different from paying for the running costs of churches and mosques etc.

Incredibly, £2,400 of the £15,000 Lutfur has given to the Aberfeldy mosque is for “sessional staff, management, ie Meetings, minutes, diary, letter…and £595 is for refreshment/volunteer cost/travel cost”.

So this means our council tax is being used to fund that mosque’s own salaries and expenses. Again, that’s very different from painting and decorating.

This is the danger of this policy: it creates a link between the state and religion, and in Tower Hamlets that really means between the council and Islam and the Council of Mosques. It sets a precedent for more money.

Another recipient of Lutfur’s largesse is the Shoreditch Masjid Trust in Redchurch Trust, just north of Brick Lane. It’s been awarded £25,000 to fund “improvement works”.

The Shoreditch mosque is listed as following the Deobandi tradition, which is closely linked to the Saudi Wahhabis’ outlook on life. And for a flavour of that, let’s have a look at an objection they made last night at the council’s licensing committee.

The committee was hearing an application for an alcohol licence for the small Burro e Salvia Italian deli opposite the mosque. The deli, which sells pasta, ham and cheese, and has seating for 12 people, wanted to sell wine until 7pm when it closes.

But this outraged the members of the mosque, which submitted two letters and a petition against it.

This is one of their letters:

Burro E Salvia Appendices Only

Isn’t the language depressing? That a small, innocuous Italian deli could be accused of driving up levels of crime and racism…well, it’s the kind of argument you’d hear in Islamic republics.

And we’re giving them £25,000. Bit sickening really.

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A fortnight ago, Roy Greenslade, the Guardian’s media commentator and professor of journalism at City University, reported here the view of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles that members of the public could film council meetings.

Pickles said:

I want to stand up for the rights of journalists and taxpayers to scrutinise and challenge decisions of the state. Data protection rules or health and safety should not be used to suppress reporting or a healthy dose of criticism.

Modern technology has created a new cadre of bloggers and hyper-local journalists, and councils should open their digital doors and not cling to analogue interpretations of council rules.

Councillors shouldn’t be shy about the public seeing the good work they do in championing local communities and local interests.

His comments came as he issued new guidance on what councils should do to make their meetings more transparent.

Here’s the relevant section from that guide on filming:

Can I film the meeting?

Council meetings are public meetings. Elected representatives and council officers acting in the public sphere should expect to be held to account for their comments and votes in such meetings. The rules require councils to provide reasonable facilities for any member of the public to report on meetings. Councils should thus allow the filming of councillors and officers at meetings that are open to the public.

The Data Protection Act does not prohibit such overt filming of public meetings. Councils may reasonably ask for the filming to be undertaken in such a way that it is not disruptive or distracting to the good order and conduct of the meeting. As a courtesy, attendees should be informed at the start of the meeting that it is being filmed; we recommend that those wanting to film liaise with council staff before the start of the meeting.

The council should consider adopting a policy on the filming of members of the public speaking at a meeting, such as allowing those who actively object to being filmed not to be filmed, without undermining the broader transparency of the meeting.

Just a few hours before its full council meeting tonight, the most senior officer at Tower Hamlets, Stephen Halsey, has just given the minister a two-fingered rebuff.

Here’s a letter he’s just sent to senior councillors:

Dear Mayor Rahman & Group Leaders

Council Meeting 26th June 2013

I thought it would be useful to clarify a couple of points where questions have arisen in relation to Wednesday evening’s Council meeting.

Monitoring Officer advice

Some Members expressed concern at the April Council meeting that no officer was present with delegated powers from the Monitoring Officer to advise on a potential amendment to the Constitution.

The Monitoring Officer is currently on leave and will not be present at Wednesday’s meeting.  A senior legal officer will be in attendance with delegated powers to advise on legal matters but this does not include power to agree any changes to the Constitution.

This is in line with the requirement in the Constitution itself, that such changes may only be made by the Council after consideration of the proposal by the Monitoring Officer.  Unless the proposed change is considered to be ‘trivial’, some time will be required for this consideration.  It would be helpful if  Constitutional changes were not the subject of late motions moved with little or no notice.  If such changes are moved, it may be necessary for officers to take the proposal away and report back to a subsequent meeting.

Late items

More generally, the submission of late motions or other items without notice to the Council meeting does not promote considered decision making or transparency.  The rules around giving notice of proposals are there for a reason, and all proposals put to the Council should be subject to appropriate officer advice.

I would therefore ask all Members to refrain from moving late items on any subject unless it relates to a genuine emergency.

Filming

I am aware that there are comments circulating on the web suggesting that Wednesday’s Council meeting will be filmed, presumably by someone in the public gallery.  These follow a statement issued by Eric Pickles MP in which he apparently indicated that the Government has changed the law so that Councils must allow people to blog, tweet and film meetings.

I should clear up a misapprehension in this regard, in relation to the Council meeting nothing has changed and there is no obligation for the Council to allow members of the press or public to film the meeting.  The Council’s Constitution provides that ‘No photography or video or audio recording of any kind by Members, guests or members of the public may take place at any Council meeting without the express permission of the Speaker’ (Council Procedure Rule 27.1), and this remains the case.

Where requests have been made to previous Speakers to give such permission, officers have advised that this should not be agreed and this remains my position for a number of reasons.  These include possible reputational damage to the authority – or worse, action against individuals – resulting from publication of material that may be a partial record of events, presented out of context or even edited to be misleading; and the potential infringement of individuals’ rights to privacy, including members of the public and officers who have not given their permission to be filmed.

Officers have therefore advised the Speaker that, in their view, she should not agree any request from a third party to film the meeting and I understand that the Speaker has supported that position.

Looking forward it may be possible to agree arrangements for the Council’s own video service to address the above points in a considered way and promote the transparency that we all support.  However I do not consider that allowing unregulated and potentially damaging third party filming is the best way to achieve this, particularly as there is, in fact, no requirement to do so.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Halsey

Head of Paid Service & Corporate Director Communities, Localities & Culture

Reputational damage?? To Tower Hamlets council??

So, he’s saying the council’s constitution specifically bars filming. And any change to the council’s constitution would need the consideration of the Monitoring Officer. But because she (Isabella Freeman, who is in the middle of suing her employer, remember) has been allowed to take a holiday on the night of full council meeting, any proposed amendment would not likely see the light of day.

And with that decree (sent, ironically, just a few hours before proceedings), our highly paid officers have ensured darkness remains over the monthly disgrace that is our full council meeting.

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Stephanie Eaton, the sole Lib Dem councillor in Tower Hamlets, and probably the borough’s deepest thinker (ok,ok, I know it’s not a high bar..), has this to say on the Community Faith Buildings Scheme:

Thanks for offering me a chance to comment on the Mayor’s decision to allocate £595,000 to the improvement of faith buildings in the Borough. I’m going to come at this topic in a slightly oblique way but I hope you’ll see the point I’m making.

In Perth, Western Australia, where I was born, the Swan River holds great significance to the Noongar aboriginal people. The water is sacred because a dreamtime spirit in the form of a snake called the Waugal created the river on its journey to the sea.

The Swan River is ‘sacred’ for me too, but not in the same way that it is for the Noongar. For me, a non-believer and member of no church, I feel a similar sense of attachment to faith buildings in Tower Hamlets, and that’s why I support the policy of the Council contributing to their upkeep.

Of course, all Council spending has to be justified, and especially so when there are reductions in government grant. Last year Tower Hamlets Council had a reduction of 7% of its net revenue budget. But even after cuts we are a Council that spends £1,327 million per year. This year, we are increasing the level of general reserves by £11.7 million to £38.1 million. Unlike some other Councils, Tower Hamlets Council’s finances are in good shape. However £595,000 is a significant amount and could be spent in other ways. Some people will think that it should be spent elsewhere – because to spend it on faith buildings is to privilege religious groups at the expense of others.

To my knowledge there are no places that are “atheist only” in the Borough. But as an atheist, I have enjoyed concerts in St Leonard’s Church, discussed books in the lovely Nelson Street synagogue, seen history exhibitions in the London Muslim Centre. I love hearing the bells ringing out from St Anne’s Limehouse and am moved by the annual service to remember the victims of the Bethnal Green tube disaster at St John’s Church.  Like many residents, religious and otherwise, I also sit in Museum gardens, use the Idea Stores, cycle around Victoria Park, and go to events at York Hall. All of these places have been developed with public funding and are supported by Tower Hamlets Council. Secular buildings and spaces that are welcoming to all enrich our Borough. Religious buildings can do so as well. I appreciate that not everyone wants to visit a church, mosque, synagogue or temple. I will never use the Mile End skate park but I’m happy for it to be there and to make my contribution to its costs.

Places and buildings are important to different people for different reasons. I do not believe the Waugal lives in the Swan River. But the river is a mystical place for me in my own way. There are faith buildings and secular buildings in Tower Hamlets that are special or sacred for one person or another. I think it’s good that the Council helps to preserve and enhance faith buildings as it does secular buildings and places. To do otherwise would be to deprive us all.

It would make a good Church sermon, this.

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The latest edition of East End Life is most interesting for what’s not in it. While on p6 there’s a report on the latest round of cash handouts to various community groups (more of that in another post), there’s nothing about another tax-funded vote buying exercise which was announced on the same day last week.

I’ve no idea why Mayor Lutfur or his legion of highly paid “communications” advisers don’t make more of the edicts known as “mayoral executive decisions”; maybe he wants to keep them quiet.

But last Thursday, two months later than planned, he slipped out via this section on the council website his latest re-election campaign move.

I first wrote about his “Community Faith Building Scheme” here last November when Lutfur’s cabinet agreed a budget for a £2million programme. His cabinet then added a further £1million to this pot in February. The programme is being funded from supposedly precious council reserves (this in a period of cuts, remember) to “offer assistance to faith communities to repair, adapt and improve buildings in Tower Hamlets in which faith-based activities occur”.

The money is being doled out in three tranches and three types of grant were available. Type A had an initial cap of £75k per application for actual repair and revamp work; Type B was for more substantial works with a cap of £300k; and Type C had a cap of £10k to help with professional fees such as architectural advice needed for Types A and B.

According to the council’s website earlier this year, 42 bids totalling £2,995,880 had been made. So Lutfur and the officer in charge of the project, the regeneration director Aman Dalvi (who some senior councillors have said is too close to the Mayor), decided to reduce the cap on Type A bids to £25,000 so more groups would get something.

So all 42 applications have been at least partially successful and a total of £595,000 of our money has been handed out.

Here’s a table that summarises the breakdown by faith. It also shows the 2011 Census results for people who identified themselves by faith. The council said it would use this as a key driver of how it awarded the grants. The Equality Impact statement in Appendix 5 of this document says: “The figures show that the two faiths with the most people according to the 2011 Census (Muslim and Christian) have submitted the most applications, requested the most funding and have been recommended the most funding.

The breakdown by faith is:

No successful bids £ % 2011 Census – % identifying as:
Muslim 24 383,000 64.4 34.5
Christian 12 140,000 23.5 27.1
Sikh 1 15,000 2.5 0.3
Hindu 1 20,000 3.4 0.8
Buddhist 2 12,000 2.0 1.1
Jewish 2 25,000 4.2 0.5
No religion 0 19.1
Religion not stated 15.4
42 595,000

So who’s won?

Well, the East London Mosque, which is sitting on a cash pile a mile high (its latest accounts show it had £2.7million in its account last year), has been awarded £10,000 to install a new sliding glass door, repaint the dome and minaret, and to clean and polish the signage. You’d have thought it would have been a little more charitable and let a smaller outfit take the money.

A few churches have also been successful: the Rev Alan Green, of the Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum, will be chuffed that £25k has been given to refurbish his community centre at St John on Bethnal Green.

And the borough’s two main synagogues – the East London Central Synagogue in Nelson Street, which is chaired by Leon Silver of the Inter Faith Forum, and Congregation of Jacob Synagogue in Commercial Road – have got £25k between them.

The Gudwara Sikh temple in Harley Grove, Bow, which re-opened last week after being destroyed by an arson attack in 2009, gets £15k for, among other things, solar panels.

And there are also a few which have been awarded £10k to cover the professional fees needed to explore further substantial works. These include the tiny Bow Muslim Cultural Centre in Roman Road. I wonder what plans they have.

The full list is in the documents below. A grand total of £150,000 has been set aside by the council to “project manage” this programme. Presumably, this will include ensuring the money is spent as intended.

As for the rights and wrongs of earmarking public cash for religious buildings and activities…well, the council says it’s allowed to. It’s a direct consequence of the Localism Act.

The National Secular Society is dead against it. They commented here last November

The Mayor says he is responding to a community demand. I said last November that if this money is used to improve community facilities that are open to all, ie inclusive, then it’s not a bad thing.

But that’s a big if. Many of these places ‘ain’t exactly inclusive.

As will be shown at a later date.

Here are the winners:

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Tower Hamlets Labour group has sent me its list of questions for Mayor Lutfur for next week. The meeting will be filmed so people can see for themselves how often he speaks.

There are also a batch of proposed motions, the most interesting one of which, for me, is the mayor’s continued pimping of Victoria Park. He has just proposed a commercial tender for 10 major events per year there. This, despite a council vote on reducing the number.

Councillor

Question

Mizanaur Choudhury

Referring to Boris Johnson’s proposed fire station cuts the Mayor said in East End Life recently, and I quote “its essential that we take every chance to support the campaign against these cuts”. Can he then tell the Council why he failed to turn up to the crucial public consultation on fire station closures on the 7th May and why he has consistently missed key London Councils meetings on police and fire station closures?

Khales Ahmed

Does the Mayor think it is right that after he urged the Boundary Commission to cut the number of councillors, Tower Hamlets will now have one councillor per 4,417 residents yet Kensington and Chelsea will have only 2,270 per councillor? Why should poorer areas like Tower Hamlets have fewer councillors?

Motin Uz-Zaman

Market stalls are fantastic examples of our community’s small businesses and we should be supporting them. Recently I met market traders in Whitechapel who told me you have cut pitch sizes for traders in Whitechapel and across the borough. Why have you done this?

Denise Jones

At our last ordinary meeting the Council passed a motion asking among other things for the Mayor to investigate the status of the investment made by Tower Hamlets in the Women’s Library building and to recognise the building as a community asset. We have since learnt that London Metropolitan University have appointed architects to redesign the interior of the Women’s Library so that they can use it as lecture space. Can the Mayor update the Council on what action he and his officers have taken since the Council motion in April?

Amy Whitelock

Local residents from the Longnor Estate have been raising concerns via their Tenants and Residents Association and through councillors about cars speeding round the corner from Bancroft road, which is a dangerous blindspot and suffers increased congestion from both Queen Mary University and Mile End Hospital. Can the Mayor please advise what traffic calming and road safety measures are under consideration for the Longnor Estate, given the high number of families and pensioners living in the area, in response to these concerns?

John Pierce

How much has the Mayor spent on the road works/changes on Bethnal Green Road near the junctions of Chilton Street and St Matthew’s Row? What is the aim of these works? What consultation was had with local residents and stakeholders.

Marc Francis

What plans does the Mayor have to extend the pilot food waste recycling service in blocks owned by East Thames Housing, Poplar HARCA and THCH to other housing associations and private developments?

Helal Abbas

Residents have received letters telling them that the Mayor and his deputy are taking enforcement action in Cudworth St to remove illegally parked taxis. The situation is back to normal again and therefore could the Mayor outline a long term plan for dealing with problems in this area?

Sirajul Islam

The Tory bedroom tax is now doing real harm to many of our residents, and the benefit cap will have a major impact very soon.  What real practical steps is the Independent Mayor taking to protect residents from these Tory attacks?  How many Tower Hamlets households have been moved out of the borough in the last year, and how many are in bed and breakfast accommodation?      

Rachael Saunders

The Independent Mayor signed the Time to Change Pledge.  What has he done to implement it? 

Joshua Peck

How many pubs have closed in the borough in each of the last five years?

Carlo Gibbs

What will the council do to prevent a repeat of the unlicenced “Canalival” event last month?”

Anwar Khan

How many people has Skillsmatch placed into work in each of the last five years, and what postcode areas did the people who got jobs live in?”

Ann Jackson

Can the Independent Mayor tell me what costs were incurred in putting Victoria park to rights as regards ground damage last year after Lovebox and live nation; and what costs were reclaimed from promoters.

 

Motion on the EDL

Proposer: Cllr Sirajul Islam

Seconder: Cllr Rachael Saunders

This Labour Group:

–        Offers its sympathies to the family and friends of Lee Rigby.  To try to use a warped view of any religion or faith to justify his murder is wrong, and cannot be tolerated.

–        Calls for unity against the EDL, BNP and others who seek to stir up hated and division.  We are at our strongest when we are united, as we must be in the face of this attack in our neighbouring borough of Greenwich.

–        Is deeply concerned about attacks on Islamic buildings and threats to the safety of individuals and communities.

–        Notes the EDL threat to demonstrate in Tower Hamlets on the 26th August 2013 and that the Labour Group immediately wrote to the Mayor and all Group leaders asking them to join with us in opposing the march. 

–        Notes that John Biggs AM, Labour Group and local MPs have written to the Home Secretary and Borough Commander raising their concerns and asking for support for a ban on any march.  

–        Supports a ban on the EDL marching through our borough.

This Labour Group resolves:

–        To ask Council to write to the Home Secretary in support of Rushanara Ali MP’s request that she take steps to ban the EDL march and ensure that our community is fully protected from the EDL and other extremists.

–        To work with community organisations, faith groups, local people and the police to maintain calm and safety in our community.

–        To call on the independent Mayor and all councillors to unite against all forms of extremism and racism.

 

4in10 campaign for London’s Overcrowded Children

Proposed by Abdal Ullah

Seconded by John PIerce

This Council notes that,

  • 391,000 children are estimated to be growing up in overcrowded conditions in London – a quarter of the Capital’s children, including tens of thousands living in Tower Hamlets;
  • This figure has risen by around 80,000 in the past decade and it set to get worse as the supply of new social housing dries up.
  • The Conservative led government has led a sustained attack on social housing, including cutting funding for building and attacking social security. 
  • Only 134 of the 1,618 applicants for four bedroom social housing in the borough were catered for in 2012, with only 16 of those in properties owned by Tower Hamlets Council directly. 
  • Research has shown that overcrowding undermines a child’s health, education and well-being, damaging their long-term life chances;The Mayor of London “Overcrowding Action Plan” sets a target to reduce the number of severely overcrowded households by just 5,500 by 2016;
  • Save the Children’s 4in10 campaign is calling on the Mayor of London to commit to halve the number of children growing up in overcrowded conditions by 2020.

This Council believes,

  • The only solution to London’s housing crisis is a significant and sustained increase in investment in new social rented housing, including council housing, for overcrowded and homeless families;
  • The 4in10 campaign is right to focus political attention on the Mayor of London as his “Action Plan” is an inadequate response and fails to make tackling overcrowding a real political priority.

This Council resolves,

  • To support the 4in10 campaign and call on the Mayor of London to make a commitment to halve the number of children in overcrowded homes by 2020;

 

Commercial Events in Victoria Park

Proposer: Councillor Amy Whitelock

Seconder: Councillor Marc Francis

This Council Notes:

  1. The motion passed by Council on the 16th May 2012 which resolved to amend the Open Spaces Strategy to include a section on Commercial Events in parks, to reflect the prior decisions of Council, that limits the number of events in Victoria Park to 6 days each year, prevents the park being used for commercial events on consecutive weekends, set a closing time for events to 10pm and a reduced noise limit for commercial events, and prevents commercial events being held in Sir John McDougal Gardens, Millwall Park, Island Gardens and the gardens at Trinity Square;
  2. That over 400 local residents signed a petition presented to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet, calling for the number of events to be reduced;
  3. That no amended Open Spaces Strategy has been presented to Council even though it is included in the list of policies reserved for Council who have expressed a will to see the policy amended;
  4. The serious damage done to the park by last summer’s commercial events and the continued degradation of the park during Field Day and AS ONE in May 2013;
  5. The Mayor has allowed an increased 50,000 capacity for this year’s commercial events, which has resulted in even more of the eastern half of the park being cordoned off from use by the public and damage to the park’s fabric and grassed areas for the rest of the summer;
  6. More than 400 criminal offences were recorded at Field Day and Lovebox events last year;
  7. The Mayor has recently authorised a tendering process to rent out Victoria Park for up to ten events each year in 2014, 2015 and 2016;
  8. The London Borough of Hackney recently decided against agreeing a programme of multiple events on Hackney Marshes each summer after a majority of residents there opposed those plans.

This Council Believes:

  1. That the Mayor should respect the democratic mandate of the Council and the wishes of residents and bring forward a revised Open Spaces Strategy which reflects the stated position of Council;
  2. That the Mayor’s failure to do so is clearly designed to circumvent the Council’s democratic process and commit this authority to contractual arrangements with commercial companies without proper scrutiny;
  3. The Mayor has no mandate to commit LBTH to a contract for the hiring of Victoria Park for commercial events beyond May 2014;
  4. LBTH should use the full force of the law to recover any legal costs incurred in renegotiating a three-year contract entered into by the Mayor and Cabinet Members from those authorising it.

This Council Resolves:

  1. That the Mayor should immediately suspend the tendering process for commercial events in Victoria Park;
  2. The Mayor should authorise meaningful consultation with residents and other stakeholders about the scale of commercial activity within Victoria Park;
  3. The Mayor should in the meantime bring forward a renewed Open Spaces Strategy to the next ordinary Council meeting, including within it the amendments set out above, to ensure a more balanced approach to commercial events while the consultation is being carried out.
  4. To publicise the campaign to local Labour Party members and residents to help raise public awareness of this problem and pressure on the Mayor of London to act.
  5. To call on the Independent Mayor of Tower Hamlets to keep his promises to local people, and deliver family sized homes. 

Motion on garment workers

Proposed  Cllr Rachael Saunders

Seconded Cllr Sirajal Islam

This Council notes the terrible loss of life in the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh. While there may be many underlying reasons for this disaster, and the Government and its agencies in Bangladesh need to continue to investigate and to hold those responsible to account, and while the rapid economic growth in sectors such as the garment industry in Bangladesh is to be welcomed, and is an important providers of wealth and employment, the event also highlights the challenging working conditions of workers in many developing economies.

This Council resolves:

1.       To support and encourage closer relationships between local government bodies in the UK and Bangladesh in order that good practice and experience can be shared.

2.       To ensure that it follows ethical procurement policies in its contracts, and to support campaign organisations and trade unions that promote ethical procurement and which can help to promote good employment practice and safe working conditions without stifling economic growth.

3.       To encourage others, more widely but in particular in our borough, and including in Tower Hamlets schools, to follow ethical procurement guidelines.

4.       To congratulate those bodies and individuals in Tower Hamlets and beyond who have helped to raise funds and support to assist those affected by the disaster.

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DSCN0278Mayor Lutfur’s office is complaining about Channel 4’s Dispatches again (for the full statement, see the update below). He thinks they haven’t told the full story of his daily use of a chauffeured Mercedes to ferry him from home to mosque, from home to work, from work to home and from function to function.

Too right. He should attach a webcam so we can take a peek at any time.

So the council, never one to shy away from bullying the media, is now threatening legal action.

The quotes from the mayor’s office in the East London Advertiser are hilarious. They seem particularly vexed that people are criticising the Dear Leader for allowing the car to hang around while he has lunch.

Bizarrely, they seem to have tried to justify this on cost grounds. They say it’s cheaper (in terms of petrol costs) for the chauffeur to “circle” around the borough than pay for parking.

That’s really odd: that chauffeured Mercedes has a special “all zones” parking permit that allows the driver to park anywhere in the borough – except in bus lanes and other banned places. More disingenuous spin. he must think voters are thick.

And note, no mention to the ELA of the environmental costs.

Here’s their piece:

Legal action is being threatened by Tower Hamlets council over Channel 4 secretly filming Mayor Lutfur Rahman being driven around Whitechapel in London’s East End in his chauffer-driven Mercedes that’s paid for by taxpayers.

The Mayor’s Office disputes points made in Monday’s Dispatches documentary on how public money is being spent by local authorities up and down the country.

A film-crew followed the mayor’s £35,000-a-year rented limo driving him from his house to the East London Mosque in Whitechapel, then to a restaurant along the Whitechapel Road where the car appears to be double parked in a bus lane while the mayor goes inside.

The sequence brought anger from Tower Hamlets Tory Opposition leader Peter Golds, who said: “What was damming was parking in a bus lane and on yellow lines.

“If the political leader of a local authority which has responsibility for parking enforcement can ignore the rules, then I suspect there will be some interesting appeals against Tower Hamlets parking tickets.”

The Mayor’s office later said the programme made a number of claims about use of the car which it “strongly disputed” with Channel 4.

It said in a response to the limo double-parked in a bus lane: “Lutfur taken to Zaza’s Grill was a working lunch with local residents and organisations.

“Double parks in a bus lane—clearly this is not ideal. There is no evidence that this constituted an offence under the Highways Act.”

The Mayor’s Office later pointed out to Channel 4 senior executives the Ofcom broadcasting watchdog’s code that any claims made should also carry a response.

“We made it clear to Channel 4 that a failure to carry these corrections would result in legal action,” said a statement.

The Office listed 12 points made in the documentary—half of them about the chauffeur waiting or driving round while the mayor goes inside a building, responding that the driver is on the council staff and doesn’t cost taxpayers extra.

It added: “We also believe the petrol for the time spent ‘circling’ is less than parking charges for the equivalent time.

“The Mayor also attended the funeral of the mother of a councillor colleague.”

The programme, in fact, does carry response from the council to points it makes.

UPDATE

This is the inept statement put out by Lutfur’s office:

The programme makers, Juniper Productions, made a number of claims in connection with the Mayor and the use of the council’s hired chauffeur driven car which we strongly disputed with Channel 4.

As a result, and having drawn the attention of the channel’s senior executives to the relevant section of the OFCOM code, each of the claims broadcast also carried the council’s response. We made it clear to Channel 4 that a failure to carry these corrections would result in legal action.

I am attaching below, a list of the Dispatches claims and the council’s responses.

Response to specific Dispatches accusations:

1. £71 for a taxi fare of 400m
In response to a Freedom of Information request that revealed exorbitantly high taxi costs, the Mayor ordered a review of travel arrangements. It is our opinion that the taxi company may be overcharging passengers.

2. Driver waits outside Lutfur’s house for 30 minutes (12:55pm)
The driver has been a salaried member of staff for many years, serving under several successive administrations. The 30 minutes waiting time will not have resulted in any extra cost to the taxpayer.

3. Drives to the Mosque for Friday prayers
The Mosque is a key community hub. The Mayor regularly goes to Friday prayers after which he is accessible to residents, meets with local residents and discusses their concerns.
We have examples of casework raised by the Mayor following this visit.

4. Circles for 1:30 hours
The driver has been a salaried member of staff for many years, serving under several successive administrations. The 1:30 hours’ driving time will not have resulted in any extra cost to the taxpayer.
We also believe that the cost of petrol for the time spent “circling” is less than parking charges for the equivalent time.

5. Takes Lutfur to Zaza’s grill
This was a working lunch with local residents and organisations.

6. Double parks in a bus lane
Clearly this is not ideal; however our understanding is that the car was only in the bus lane for a matter of minutes. There is no evidence that this constituted an offence under the Highways Act.

7. Waits for 1:35 hours
The 1:35 hours’ driving time will not have resulted in any extra cost to the taxpayer.

8. Waits outside house for 20 minutes
The driver has been a salaried member of staff for many years, serving under several successive administrations. The 1:30 hours’ driving time did not result in any extra cost to the taxpayer.

9. Drives Lutfur to the East London Mosque (0.2 miles)
The Mosque is a key community hub. The Mosque is a key community hub. The Mayor regularly goes to Friday prayers after which he is accessible to residents, meets local residents and discusses their concerns.
We have examples of casework raised by the Mayor following this visit.

10. Waits outside Mosque for 2 hours and six minutes before leaving (no mention of whether Lutfur goes with)
The driver has been a salaried member of staff for many years, serving under several successive administrations. 2 hours’ driving time will not have resulted in any extra cost to the taxpayer. The Mayor also attended the funeral of the mother of a councillor colleague.

11. Saturday, driver “delivered” 2 bundles dry cleaning
The Mayor’s wife transferred the dry cleaning from her own car to the Mayor’s car the previous night. The driver merely gave the Mayor this dry cleaning.

12. Waits for 28 minutes before taking Lutfur to Battle of Atlantic Memorial
The driver arrived early, taking the Mayor to Trinity Square Gardens, a significant distance from his home.

Kind regards,
Kamal Hussain
Executive Mayors Office (sic)

I’d take it more seriously if he knew how to use an apostrophe.

And have just noticed the little gem in point 12 – that Old Montague Street to Trinity Square Gardens is a “significant distance”. Really? It’s 0.9miles; that’s less than 20 minutes by foot, or 12 minutes by foot and public transport.

Significant, yes: but not in the way Lutfur means.

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