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Archive for June 20th, 2013

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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