Archive for August, 2013

isabella_freemanIt is with great sadness that I must report the impending departure from Tower Hamlets council of Isabella Freeman, the town hall’s esteemed head of legal services and monitoring officer.

In an official announcement at 3.41pm today, a senior press officer at the Homes and Communities Agency confirmed she had been successful in her pursuit of the soon-to-be vacant ‘head of legal services’ section there (the current incumbent is retiring). She will also be its ‘company secretary’.

What a fine addition to their team she will make (one of them, Richard Ennis, the head of corporate services, is, like Isabella, an alumni of Slough council).

Among the few who have been in the know about this, there’s been a mixture of delight and astonishment. The HCA is the regulatory body for housing associations and it’s an important government quango.

As such, the most senior appointments at least used to need approval from the Department for Communities and Local Government. And given what the current and recent crop of ministers there think of Ms Freeman, it’s difficult to see how they would have given their blessing.

But – and some might add ‘alas’ – the HCA tells me DCLG approval is not needed. They say they’ve had approval to recruit to “business critical” posts…and head of legal services for a regulatory body is deemed pretty critical.

What her new salary will is yet to be revealed: she’s currently on £115k.

So off Isabella goes. She’s resigned, so no payoff and no more of her threats and badly spelt emails of legal intimidation. I’ll miss them. And so will a few senior councillors.

And it’s also probably case that she’s deprived us all of what would have been the most fascinating employment tribunal the council has ever defended. You’ll recall she was suing her own employer – for what, we don’t know. And we may never know because it’s probable, though not definite, she’ll let that one quietly drop.

If I were the boss of the HCA, I think I’d have had a quiet word with her about it. It’s interesting that a law firm called Pinsent Mason, which has previously acted as a solicitor for the HCA, has been conducting research about her on the web. Whether that was connected to the appointment, I don’t know.

But who next for Tower Hamlets council? An interim appointment beckons while the search for a long term successor begins.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman would love to have his own person in the job, but given the debacle and failure in getting Aman Dalvi into the chief executive’s post (a fiasco in which Isabella played a significant part), he will have a battle on his hands.

The monitoring officer role must be agreed by the full council. And getting them to agree on anything has been pretty much impossible since 2010.

Anyway, to those reading at the HCA…..good luck!


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I changed the photo at the top of this blog a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t just because Len McCluskey and his Unite union were then hot news nationally. I was also intrigued about what he was up to in Tower Hamlets.

Just why was he beginning to hang about with Mayor Lutfur Rahman (and the lovely champagne prosecco socialist/millionaire housing association tenant/champion of workers’ rights Shiraj Haque)?

Yes, I’m sure Len was 100 per cent sincere when he felt compelled to visit the East London Mosque to express solidarity with the Tower Hamlets community in the wake of the Lee Rigby murder, but once a deal-maker, always a deal maker.

Perhaps Lutfur had the answer.

In February, a Lutfurite cabinet member Oli Rahman proposed an amendment to the budget that would divert funds from council reserves to a new community centre in Shadwell.

Here’s the text of that amendment:

This Council Resolves:

1. To allocate the one-off funding in the following areas allocated from funding already set aside in the budget for third sector grants :

This Council Resolves:

1. To extend provision in the borough for those without formal qualifications and effected (sic) by welfare cuts by committing £65,000 to the establishment the new Unite Community Centre in St George’s Town Hall.

2. This is a partnership between the council, Unite – Europe’s largest trade union and Barclay’s (sic) Bank.

3. The Unite Community Centre will offer:

• Education courses, employment and welfare advice services and community events.

• It will run three Skills for Life courses a week, and each will hold three sessions a week.

• Over the course of the year it aims to have 300 learners take Skills for Life courses.

• Based on this, and the provision of non-accredited ESOL, art and photography courses, and cultural events, the centre expects 50 unique visitors a week.

The minutes of that meeting show that Lutfur accepted this amendment and that it formed part of the overall deal between Labour and the Independents. The minutes also show that no councillor declared any interests. Presumably, this means that no councillor is a member of Europe’s largest trade union…

And the next we hear of this little proposal is on April 30. Hidden away in the murky and unsearchable section of the council website that details the mayor’s executive decisions (isn’t it interesting that Lutfur uploads only scanned documents there, unreadable by Google…), we are told that £64,000 of our tax money has indeed been given to Unite, a political organisation that is overtly campaigning to bring down the Coalition government, and, as some would have it, covertly manoeuvring against Ed Miliband as well.

But it surely can’t be legal to transfer public money to political outfits, I hear you cry. Well, Tower Hamlets council insists it’s all entirely acceptable.

The full details of the background to this decision are here.

We learn that it is for a new “community centre” in the basement of council-owned St George’s Town Hall in Cable Street, Shadwell. We’re also told that the money is part of a matched-funding deal between Unite, Barclays and the council. Unite is contributing £140,000, the council £64,000 and the public-spirited bank £60,000.

The benefits the money will generate for the local community justify the arrangement, the council says. The document explains: “Residents from all communities will be encouraged to use the centre, as its principle (sic) aim is to reduce unemployment across all sections of the borough… . This project is of particular interest to the borough…given Unite’s experience in running entry-level courses, integration of employability skills into educational courses and given its wide relationships with employers.”

Helpfully, the report adds:

Screen shot

And the justification from legal chief Isabella Freeman:

Screen shot 2

The document says anyone needing advice can get it. And as well as advice on how to get a job, you also get advice on how to sign up to Unite.

The Unite Community Centre is also a Unite recruiting office. The staff are all very friendly, but also very enthusiastic about their employer. The office is stuffed full of leaflets on the negative effects of Coalition cuts and how to join and fight these.

Unite 1

Unite 3

One man who’s been in there said he was encouraged to join during a discussion on how the centre could help him. A “Unite community membership scheme” offers membership for those not in paid work for 50p a week.

unite 4

There’s no such thing as a free lunch is there?

I’m sure the training is great and beneficial, but why should tax money be used to subsidise a recruiting office? Perhaps the TaxPayers’ Alliance should put in a bid to train council officers how to save cash.

A second Unite Community Centre opened in Barnsley in June, but I can’t trace any use of public money for that. I understand more are on the way.

Unite gets to expand its membership and that expanded membership increases the size of its bloc vote within the Labour party.

But in London, does Unite have a different agenda? There’s been some talk of George Galloway running for London mayor and we know that Lutfur is close to Respect.

I wonder if this deal between Len and Lutfur is part of some pro-Galloway plan.

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It is surely a coincidence of almighty proportions that within months of bagging a £10,000 grant from the “Mayor’s Community Chest” fund, the Tower Hamlets Council of Mosques has been able to produce its first ever newsletter in which praise and thanks are offered to our Great and Dear Leader.

[A warning: what you’re about to read will never be reported in the Bangladeshi press because they’re also the lucky prize-winners from the Mayor’s pot of monopoly money (the London Bangla Press Club has been given a £9,000 prize to produce a “business plan”).]

The Council of Mosques has a website here and for some reason it seems to have permission from the town hall to use the Tower Hamlets Council logo. This isn’t surprising: they’re very close.

Screen shot 2013-08-04 at 20.35.33They’re also very grateful to Lutfur Rahman.

Here’s the newsletter:









Two quotes in particular on p1 stand out:

“I am extremely pleased to announce that 24 mosques and Islamic centres have benefitted from the first round of the Mayor’s Faith Building Fund. I’m sure all faith organisations appreciate the hard work of Mayor Lutfur Rahman in securing the funding for this scheme that will improve the facilities which serve tens of thousands of residents.”

“..special funding is given to the recent funding boost from Tower Hamlets council through the Mayor’s Funding scheme to support faith institutions.”

 The second quote is from Hira Islam, secretary general of the Council of Mosques.

Sound familiar? Well, Hira is, as I disclosed here a few years ago, also a heavy-hitter in the Islamic Forum of Europe.

The IFE, you’ll recall, featured heavily in Andrew Gilligan’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary three years ago when the principal claim was that the group was trying to infiltrate Tower Hamlets Council and to influence Lutfur Rahman into directing town hall grants to its pet projects.

And Hira Islam was the “Mr A” mentioned in that Dispatches documentary, the serving council officer said to be a key figure in Lutfur’s mayoral campaign.

Both claims were mocked by the borough’s large flock of ostriches.

Yet, yet, yet…
It seems Hira and his friends in the IFE have been pretty successful at lobbying Lutfur.

As I detailed here in June, 24 mosques have been given £383,000 out of a total of £600,000 awarded in the first round of the Mayor’s three-year £3million programme to renovate faith buildings with taxpayers’ money. The wealthy East London Mosque has been given £10,000, none of which is going to the needy among its worshippers but instead to polish its sign and to repaint its dome and minaret.

The IFE and the CoM were instrumental in this, holding a large meeting in March to discuss how the funds could be distributed. Helpfully, the Mayor was on hand to explain the process. All above board. See here:


Here are some more of their photos showing how the men at the Council of Mosques decide things:

Did you spot any women in any of those photos? (Maybe that’s why Tower Hamlets Borough Commander Dave Stringer policeman looked a bit miffed in one of those pictures.)

Here’s the Equalities Impact carried out by the council before the awarded the grants:

Community Faith Buildings Support Scheme 2012-2015 - Round 1

A “neutral” effect on gender in the borough apparently.

And here are the two councillors appointed by Lutfur to his Corporate Grants Programme Board, the body which “advises” which groups receive the money.

Lutfurites Alibor Choudhury and Maium Miah.

Seems they don’t much trust women when it comes to making decisions about money for religious buildings.

Surely if Lutfur truly was committed to equality (as he says he is), he’d have made it a strict condition of these grants that more women have to be involved in running the buildings?

Has he even raised these concerns during his regular meetings of the Council of the Mosques? Maybe he’s not even noticed the lack of women there.

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