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Archive for October, 2013

A couple of years ago I highlighted the the spending by Tower Hamlets council on a fairly useless communications tool called My Tower Hamlets. It was designed by Captive Minds, a company that has had a long and fruitful relationship with the council’s head of communications, Takki Sulaiman, both during his time at the town hall and previously when he worked for Cafcass.

It sends out thousands of text messages to people…at a cost to the people.

This one has just been sent tonight.

Message from Mayor Lutfur Rahman: Take care during the stormy weather.

See [link] for info, contact number and advice on council services.

The link takes you to this message from the Dear Leader on the council’s website:

Weather

Of course, there’s no harm in the council issuing warnings and advice like this…but why does Lutfur feel the need to personalise it?

Can you imagine a Mayor John Biggs have the brass neck, the lack of humility to do something similar?

If there are storms, expect Lutfur out and about in his Merc tomorrow. With an East End Life photographer in tow.

Truth is Lutfur is a bit of a drama queen.

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A change of address

Dear readers,

Like several councillors in Tower Hamlets, I’ve decided to move out of the borough.

But unlike those members for Ilford (shall I name them?), I now live much closer to the town hall—one DLR stop away from it in Canning Town to be precise.

And fear not, because like them I retain a qualifying interest in Tower Hamlets (not that I need one), so I’ll continue to write about the lovely place.

Yours,

Ted

PS I grew up in the Principality of Wales, and I now find myself living in the Kingdom of Wales…where the national colour is also red. I’m hoping there will also be plenty of leeks. Newham councillors are sure to understand.

 

 

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I was told the Labour party selection process for next May’s Tower Hamlets council elections is currently something of a “bloodbath”.

The London region held interviews for all those who applied last weekend after which a long list was drawn up. Those who failed to make it have the right to make an appeal next weekend. After that, the party will start the tricky process of picking the 45 candidates to stand in the 20 newly drawn wards.

Labour recognise they have a problem.

I’ve been sent an internal party report that shows that of the 108 applications received, a heavily disproportionate number were from Bengali men. Only 23 women applied.

Here’s the commentary on that fact from the report (which is called ‘Equalities, Employment Status and Trade Union Analysis of the Applications received for the Tower Hamlets Panel of Local Government Candidates 2014’):

The breakdown can best be described as disappointing but not unexpected. While the membership of the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets is substantially male, the number of women applicants does not even reflect the proportion of women members, let alone the population of the borough as a whole.

The report then concludes that for LGBT and disability representation, the applications are in line with averages.

Around 60 per cent are in full time employment, some 25 per cent are part-time workers, while about seven per cent are unemployed.

Just over 50 per cent are members of trade unions, with Unite, the GMB and Unison dominating, while, according to the report:

The group with the lowest propensity to be a member of a trade union are Bangladeshi men.

On age, the majority of applicants were aged between 30 and 49, while about 20 people aged between 18 and 29 also applied.

But then we have the most interesting section of all–ethnicity.

The report first states the latest census data for the borough, that ‘whites’ comprise 53 per cent of the population; 43 per cent are classified ‘White British’. Bangladeshis are 30 per cent, Chinese 3 per cent, ‘Other Asian’ are 5 per cent, and Blacks are 7 per cent (within that Somalis are 2-3 per cent).

Here’s the breakdown of applicants:

Labour report

 

And here’s the report’s commentary:

It can therefore be seen from the above chart that the applications received from members of the Bangladeshi community far outstrips that of the population as a whole or indeed the percentage of the local Labour party membership.

Taking into account the disproportionate numbers of applicants from the Bangladeshi community the relative numbers of applications from other communities are reasonably representative of the ethnic make-up of Tower Hamlets.

It should, of course, be stressed that far from the numbers of Bangladeshi applications being unwelcome, the best way to achieve a range of applications would be to increase the number of applications from people of other ethnicities. Indeed the desire on the part of the Bangladeshi community to serve the community should be applauded.

It should be noted that there are no applications from other south Asian backgrounds despite there being established Pakistani, Indian and Sri Lankan communities–of which are reflected in the membership of the Labour party.

Finally, no applications were received from the Chinese community–unsurprisingly given the lack of Chinese members of the local party.

What is the significance of all this?

Well, the lack of female applicants, particularly Bengali women, has to be a real concern. The likes of Shiria Khatun have been excellent standard bearers and I know she has been working hard to encourage others to follow her lead. But while Labour has just two Bengali women (Zenith Rahman being the other), Lutfur’s much smaller group has three.

Labour’s rules mean one third of the candidates must be women, so of the 23 who applied, only eight will be disappointed. As three of the current women councillors are standing down (Carli Harper-Penman, Lesley Pavitt and Ann Jackson, as I understand it), we could well see a wave of fresh female faces in the chamber next year).

When it comes to the question of Bengali males, surely this has to be seen as a Labour success story. Their active engagement in Tower Hamlets politics has been rewarded with position and power. Those in the white and other communities have plenty to learn: those who complain about under-representation should get involved in the process.

But numbers only tell part of the story. In the past eight years I’ve covered Tower Hamlets politics, the calibre of the majority of Labour’s Bengali male councillors has been lamentable. Many have struggled to communicate in English (some of those have now been rewarded by Lutfur)–and frankly that should bar them from being a candidate.

They should be picking people who truly engage with the theme of the party’s candidate for mayor, John Biggs…One East End. When Lutfur picks his candidates for his Tower Hamlets First party, his bias towards the Bengali community will be, or should be, a source of embarrassment.

He’ll have the odd Trotskyite/SWP oddball, I’m sure, but it will be easily characterised as Tower Hamlets Bengalis First (actually, many believe that’s a vote-winner for him).

So it’s for this reason why I’m a little surprised that two of the most articulate of Labour’s Bengali councillors have failed to make the long list. I hear that Mizan Chaudhury and Anwar Khan have received rejection letters.

Mizan did make a bit of a fool of himself during his stint as Speaker, and he is a bit of a hothead, but at least he’s passionate about politics. He’d be a loss.

And Anwar, I’d have thought, is exactly the kind of councillor Labour needs: a highly educated banking accountant who is a role model of success to younger Bengalis.

I’m told both have appealed. Good luck to them.

 

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This post was updated on Saturday, October 19, following a demand from Mark Seddon, the “media adviser for Mayor Lutfur Rahman”. See bottom of post.

Robin de Peyer of the East London Advertiser has the story:

A town hall chief earned £115,000 for 46 days’ work, prompting a government minister to accuse Tower Hamlets Council of paying him “footballer’s wages”.

The council, which is facing budget cuts totalling £100million over three years, has been criticised by local government minister Brandon Lewis after it paid its interim chief executive £2,500 a day during the stint last year.

Aman Dalvi’s role ended after just six weeks, but he received his year’s salary at taxpayers’ expense. He then landed another top council job, earning an extra £119,000 as a corporate director for development and renewal.

His total publicly-funded remuneration package for the financial year 2012/13 – published in a public council document – topped £256,000 once pension contributions were added.

Mr Lewis said: “The fact that the chief executive of Tower Hamlets can be paid more in two weeks than the average household in the borough earns in a year is astounding. Paying a council official the same rate as a premiership footballer is an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money.”

The average household income is less than £30,000, according to a council-backed report. Mr Dalvi was appointed as interim chief executive after councillors could not agree on a permanent candidate for the job. The position has since been scrapped as the town hall tries to trim its £1.2billion annual budget.

A spokesman said: “The council has complied with its statutory requirements in the preparation and publication of the annual accounts. We will not be commenting further.”

Mr Dalvi could not be reached for a comment.

In fact, there’s a fair bit more to it.

The figures are taken from the council’s Audit Committee report on September 26. The relevant page is 113.

Here’s a screen grab from it.

tower hamlets council, aman dalvi

Aman, who is close to Mayor Lutfur Rahman remember, was appointed interim chief executive on September 26, 2011. Prior to that he was the director of ‘development and renewal’. When he stepped up, the council promoted someone else his development job on a temporary basis.

So in the financial year 2011/12 (April 6, 2011 – April 5, 2012), Aman was paid the best part of six months for his development job (about £64k) and a further £90k as interim chief executive, ie about £155k in total. But there’s no note in the 2011/12 accounts to explain that.

For the next financial year, it’s substantially different.

The 2012/13 accounts state Aman earned £115k as interim chief executive, a role he performed until May 21, 2012. As Robin reported, that’s £115k for 46 days’ work in that financial year. He then returned to his development job, for which he earns £131k a year.

Whereas his rate of pay for 193 days’ work as chief exec in 2011/12 was £466 a day (equivalent to about £170k a year), in 2012/13, that jumped to £2,500 a day.

It just doesn’t add up. If he’d remained on his £466 daily rate, he should have earned about £21,400 for those 46 days.

He seems to have earned some kind of bonus worth about £94,000 in 2012/13 (ie £115k – £21k). (And if that is the case, the accounts are misleading – I wonder whether this was discussed during the audit process.)

But what was the ‘bonus’?

In January of this year, Robin reported this:

A corporate director at Tower Hamlets Council has been named as the recipient of what is believed to be a six-figure compensation payout after settling a discrimination claim with the Town Hall.

Aman Dalvi, who is corporate director for development and renewal, brought the claim against the council and Labour group leader Cllr Joshua Peck in September after Labour councillors voted to block his appointment to the chief executive position at the Town Hall.

But Mr Dalvi – who earns more than £125,000 per year in his role at the council – settled the claim in December at an estimated cost of around £100,000 to the tax-payer.

A statement released by those involved said: “Following agreement between the parties Mr Dalvi’s Employment Tribunal claim against the Council and Cllr Joshua Peck has been withdrawn and dismissed by the Employment Tribunal.”

The dispute arose after Mr Dalvi failed in his attempts to replace former chief executive Kevan Collins, who left the £195k top job in July 2011.

Despite enjoying the support of Mayor Lutfur Rahman, Mr Dalvi was unsuccessful in his attempts to take the job after Labour and Conservative councillors blocked the move.

The council had then faced the prospect of intervention from Town Hall trouble-shooter the Local Government Association after an exodus of senior officers caused concern over its ability to function effectively.

But at a behind-closed-doors vote last Wednesday councillors unanimously agreed to approve the extension of acting head of paid services Stephen Halsey’s contract until after the 2014 Mayoral election.

So now we have the proof that his pay-off was about £100k.

What was the dispute? In February, I wrote this post when I reported that Aman and Josh Peck had had a private row during the process to appoint a permanent chief executive. Josh had been concerned that Aman was too close to Lutfur, that he was too malleable, particularly over nominations and appointments to external regeneration bodies.

Add in Isabella Freeman’s questionable legal advice to councillors during this appointment process (more about her delightful deal at the Homes and Communities Agency very soon) and the entire episode adds up to a costly shambles.

Over the next few months as Lutfur steps up his re-election campaign, we’ll hear a lot about his One Tower Hamlets bollocks, how he has been “progressive” and how he repelled the EDL, but the fact is he’s a terrible man manager, one who has cost taxpayers a small fortune in payoffs to senior officers.

In 2008, he effectively sacked Martin Smith at a cost of some £300,000. Aman Dalvi got a £100k bonus for being Lutfur’s failed first choice when Kevan Collins jumped ship, and then there’s all the headhunter fees thrown down the drain.

I suspect he’s wasted around £500,000 on top level personnel issues. Or to put it another way, that’s 1,250 of the £400 educational maintenance allowance grants he boasts as his proudest achievement.

PS Here are two more screen shots of the council’s accounts for your interest.

This one shows the number of staff earning more than £50,000.

accounts salaries

And this one shows the breakdown of the £8million paid out in redundancies to 320 staff over the past two years.

redundanciesScandalous, really.

UPDATE: October 19

A few people people have called or emailed to say they think this post is “unfair” on Aman Dalvi. They assure me he’s a professional, that he’s been hard-done by and he was handed a £100k payout because he merited it.

Well, he gets paid £131,000 a year, which is quite a lot of money. He was warned by those with experience of these matters that he wasn’t suitable for the job of chief executive, yet, encouraged by Lutfur (for whatever reason) he chose to apply.

He then chose to sue the council, ie the taxpayer. I haven’t seen the detail of the legal arguments, but in my view, there would have to have been an egregious slur on his integrity to warrant suing a council he admitted in his own private and public offerings was suffering from financial problems.

Greed seems to have got the better of him. He could easily have made his legal point, if there was one, then handed back the money.

I’m not the only one who will now be scrutinising his actions from now on.

One of those to contact me was Mark Seddon, the famous journalist and former editor of Tribune, who is now Lutfur Rahman’s £55,000 a year communications guru…(a fact never disclosed when he does newspaper reviews on BBC Sky News).

mark seddon

This was his email on Thursday.

The East London Advertiser has withdrawn a story which made the claim that a former chief officer of the council, Aman Dalvi OBE, had been paid £115,000 for 46 days work.

The request is that you immediately do the same.

The claim is simply untrue. Unfortunately, for legal reasons, Mr Dalvi cannot speak to you, in order for the record to be set straight.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Seddon
Media Adviser to the Mayor Lutfur Rahman

This was my reply:

Perhaps you can demonstrate how what I have written is untrue?

As you know, I’ve expanded on what the ELA wrote. I’m q happy to update the blog with your response, but I’m currently happy that I’ve simply reported what’s in the accounts with some additional fair questions.

Can I also please ask why you are acting as spokesman for Aman Dalvi? I thought you were the media adviser to the mayor. How is this your remit?

He then repeated his original email without answering those other questions.

The East London Advertiser did withdraw its article, which was, as I demonstrated, misleading, but it then replaced it with this more accurate version.

Since then, however, MailOnline regurgitated the original piece adding further inaccuracies, prompting this warning to national newspaper newsdesks today:

Information has been published in some media outlets relating to Mr Aman Dalvi an employee of the Council. The details published are not accurate. 

In particular and by example only, there is the suggestion that Mr Dalvi was paid £2,500 per day as an interim chief executive which is incorrect. 

Continued publication of the alleged figure earned by Mr Dalvi and other factual inaccuracies is damaging. This is unacceptable and the Council is seeking advice from its lawyers.

While I agree with the council sending out this warning, what is not acceptable is the threat to spend more taxpayer money on another legal fight of its own making.

Aman chose to have a gagging clause preventing him from commenting…because he bagged a large payoff. And the council’s press office failed to guide the East London Advertiser when its journalist approached them with the outline of its original story prior to publication.

They really do create their own horrible mess.

No wonder Mark Seddon felt compelled to go outside his remit and appoint himself spokesman for a poor (well, not so poor) senior council officer…

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He is a reader of this blog (I’m told), so I don’t know if it was my last post on Lutfur’s declaration of love for the Islamic Forum of Europe that prompted today’s decision, but the EDL’s Tommy Robinson claims he’s had enough.

Thanks to a tip from the Quilliam Foundation, I broke the story on Twitter this morning then on the Express website a bit later. The full piece is here.

It includes some interesting comments from the Reverend Alan Green, the rector at St John on Bethnal Green and the chair of the Tower Hamlets Interfaith Forum.

alan_green_edl_tower_hamlets

Alan is one of the main organisers of the anti-EDL rallies in the borough. I asked him for his thoughts on Tommy Robinson’s decision and whether he (and the East London Mosque through the faith forum) would be prepared to meet him.

Here’s the extract from the Express piece:

The Reverend Alan Green chairs the Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum, which has been at the forefront of organising protests against the EDL’s marches in the borough.

Its members include the East London Mosque, which has been a main target in Robinson’s speeches.

Mr Green said today that while he welcomed Robinson’s decision he wanted to know more about “what is going on”.

He said: “On the face of it, it seems a real victory for places like Tower Hamlets for the way we have represented our diverse communities in the face of what amounted to extremism with a covering of respectability.

“If that extremism has now been stripped away, then that’s a really good victory for us.

“He now needs to show he is clearly separating himself from not only the violence of the extreme members of the EDL but also from the level of rhetoric that he himself has espoused.

“If he is learning that you can’t just accuse all Muslims of the extremism that he has accused them of, then that’s a real step forward.

“It’s not just bout physical violence, it’s about physical abuse as well.

Asked if he and the East London Mosque would meet Robinson as part of the Inter Faith Forum, he said: “There could be a time when we could do that, but I would want to see far more progress from him than just the statement today.

“As a Christian minister, I’m always happy to meet anyone but I would not want to fragment the unity we have here in Tower Hamlets, so we’d need to see further steps first.”

 With some justification, Mayor Lutfur Rahman can rightly say he has helped defeat the EDL. He’s led well in this regard, especially from a political perspective.

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Tower Hamlets has a brand new political party to vote for.

Lucky us. It’s called Tower Hamlets First.

electoral commission
As opposed to Tower Hamlets Last, which is the usual strategy of the people behind this new venture….the dear Mayor of Tower Hamlets and his group.

It was registered with the Electoral Commission on September 19, with Lutfur Rahman as party leader (missed that party election vote), and Cllr Alibor Choudhury nominated as Treasurer and nominating officer.

They’ve also registered a few catchy tag lines to use alongside Tower Hamlets First.

Thus we have ‘Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s Team’, ‘Lutfur Rahman’s Team’, Lutfur Rahman’s Progressive Alliance’, ‘The Mayor’s Team’, “Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s Independents’, ‘Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s Community Alliance’ [note the use of the word ‘community’], and ‘East End Independents’.

I’m not sure he’ll be able to use the word Mayor in any official tag line during an election, but let’s see.

But what’s also interesting about this is that he’s now on an official footing as as far as declaring donations go. Until now, there’s been no trace of how he’s been funded, or who his backers have been.

For example, I asked his people who funded his huge iftar party to celebrate Eid in August, but answer there came none. Ditto the various leaflets and newsletters he sends out en masse.

I suppose the truth is that ever since he was elected that dark night in October 2010, he’s been gearing up for re-election. And why not?

We’ve already seen his (ab)use of the Localism Act to dish out grants to friends at the borough’s many mosques and monocultural community groups. Today, another £242,000  was handed out. It includes another £18,000 to the Osmani Trust.

The Osmani Trust is a major “youth” organisation in Whitechapel with links to the IFE. And it was a large group of mainly excitable young men from that organisation who turned up at the town hall for the last full council meeting in September when they spent the evening whooping, hollering and hurling insults in Bengali at Labour and Tory councillors.

That was also the same evening Tory councillor Gloria Thienel was insulted as “Susan Boyle” by an angry, glaring man sitting next to me.

And it was also the same meeting that at long last the cameras were allowed to roll during the debate.

You can watch it all for free here. At 50 minutes in you can even watch the single time the Mayor spoke throughout the entire three hour meeting.

Momentously forgettable.

Lutfur

But was memorable was the laying on the table of Lutfur’s IFE card. (The Islamic Forum of Europe is based at the East London Mosque and is considered a Jamaat e Islami group which favours an Islamic Republic of Bangladesh. It was this group which was the focus of the Channel 4 Dispatches programme in 2010 when accusations were made by Jim Fitzpatrick and others – I appeared in to substantiate claims made to me to this effectby serving councillors – that they had infiltrated the council and the Labour party. Ultimately these claims led Lutfur’s expulsion from Labour.)

At 1hr 25mins in, you’ll see during a motion on the recent trip to the Tower Hamlets border by the English Defence League, Lutfur’s main man Alibor rise to speak.

Alibor

He proposes an amendment to the main motion, thus:

I propose that we accept the IFE as a progressive organisation that we will aim to engage.

Well, Labour weren’t expecting that.

Deputy Mayor Ohid Ahmed then spoke:

We praise the East London Mosque stewards and we know that their organisation is the IFE.

Labour’s Rachael Saunders is a little taken aback. She can see the elephant-trap, so she says she has “no idea whether the IFE is progressive” (when she clearly believes they’re not).

Lutfurite Kabir Ahmed adds his tuppence, saying “it’s important that we thank the IFE”. He then blames Jim Fitzpatrick for portraying them as anti-Tower Hamlets Islamists. He adds:

The EDL have picked up on this and they repeatedly reference it so it’s important to state such messages were incorrect and the council hasn’t been taken over and infiltrated.

Hmm. Let’s rewind.

In 2009, I interviewed Habibur Rahman, the then president of the IFE. He confirmed Alibor was an IFE member/activist.

But Alibor failed to mention or declare that when setting out his amendment. You see, the IFE already have a man at the top of the council. We now have conformation that Dispatches and JIm were right. thanks, guys.

And then at 1hour 35mins, the wonderfully colourful Lutfa Begum (another Lutfurite) jumps out of her seat to give us more revelations:

IFE do lots of jobs for Tower Hamlets local people. They are working with local GPs, local NHS, local schools. They are working with teachers.

Working with Tower Hamlets school teachers, are they?

Remind yourself of what Andrew Gilligan wrote after his Channel 4 Dispatches:

In fact, our reporters found, the IFE is a secretive, fundamentalist political network, dedicated, in its own words, to changing the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed … from ignorance to Islam.”

Back to Alibor. A bit later on, after some goading from Labour, he also said the SWP and Unite Against Fascism were “progressive organisations that we should aim to engage”.

Respect to him. He’s come out and said what we all knew.

But they’ve now shown their election strategy. This is what they are saying repeatedly to the Bengali press and TV channels: Labour and Jim Fitzpatrick brought the EDL to Tower Hamlets and it is only the Mayor Lutfur the Martyr who is standing up to them, with much thanks to the dear IFE.

They are trying to shift the goalposts and make the IFE appear mainstream.

And it’s a strategy that’s currently working among the Bengali population.

Labour, which managed to water down the amendment to thank all groups who helped block the EDL (including the police: in Lutfur’s version they weren’t mentioned – it was if they believed the IFE stewards were the police) and John Biggs need to shape up.

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