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Archive for August 26th, 2014

Remember these invoices I was sent by Tower Hamlets council under the Freedom of Information Act?

Panorama Champollin Invoices2 Panorama Champollion Invoices3

They were submitted by Champollion, the PR specialists hired by the council’s £100,000 a year head of communications, Takki Sulaiman. They were brought in because he and colleagues felt they were incapable of producing a media strategy to deal with the Panorama programme in March. They needed help.

The invoice totals were redacted because the council felt it had to protect its own and Champollion’s commercial interests.

Well, thanks to the wonderful Audit Commission Act, which allows people to investigate how their taxes are spent, I’ve been able to obtain the non-redacted copies.

Here:

Champollion invoice Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 21.21.00

So £26,970 + £14,174 = £41,144.

Actually, there was a third invoice from Champollion but because that was submitted after the financial year end on April 30, it falls outside the scope of the Audit Commission Act. We’ll have to wait until next year for that.

Still, not bad for a few weeks’ work. I’ve also obtained the contract between Champollion and the council. The contract commenced on February 14 and was signed by Kim Catcheside, a Champollion director and formerly the well-known BBC education and social affairs correspondent.

The brief sent out in January by the council to PR companies intending to bid for this goldmine stated:

A documentary is being made about Tower Hamlets and the Mayoral system by an investigative team commissioned by the BBC. The programme has been in development since at least June/July 2013 but we first became aware of the project in October.

It has proved hard to engage with them and the council is keen to ensure accuracy and balance in the final product. It appears the team want to make their documentary and add on an interview with the Mayor at the end. The precise focus of the documentary is being gleaned from other organisations rather than the documentary team. An interview is likely in mid to late February and a tour has been offered and accepted.

At the back of the contract is a schedule of Champollion’s proposed fees.

Here:

champollion fees

Kim Catcheside was the director assigned to the project. The proposal was that she would be charged to the taxpayer at an hourly rate of £250, or £1,750 for an eight-hour day. That’s about £455,000 for a 270-working day year. (That’s not Kim’s salary, of course.)

My new documents show that part of Kim’s £250-an-hour work was to spend some time coaching and preparing Mayor Lutfur Rahman for his interview with Panorama’s John Ware.

Here:

champollion briefing

And how very kind of them, you’ll notice, to offer a “Champollion graduate” to the Tower Hamlets press office…at the rate of £500 a day. £500 a day equates to a fee of £135,000 a year. They must have some pretty talented graduates on their books. Maybe Takki should sign up for a job there, if he has a degree.

You’ll also see that part of Champollion’s brief was to attend meetings with the council’s legal team.

Well, that team, headed by Meic Sullivan-Gould, had also decided it didn’t have the expertise to handle Panorama and ensure what the BBC is required to do anyway, ie adhere to its own charter.

So Meic commissioned City lawyers Taylor Wessing. Their brief also included handling the so-called Panorama “whistleblower”, who is now under criminal investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office. They also spent many hours examining the dossier she “obtained” from Panorama and which she passed to the mayor’s office in (probably) late January.

Thanks to the Audit Commission Act, I’ve also obtained the invoices from Taylor Wessing, its contract with LBTH and various other incredibly interesting back-up details.

Here are the invoices:

So that’s £36,922.72 + £40,170.74 + £3,179.72 + £1,651.52 = £81,924.70.

Here’s part of the brief Meic supplied to bidders in January (after they’d been handed the leaked dossier, of course):

TW brief

But Taylor Wessing were ever so kind when it came to costs.

Here’s a section from a letter sent by their Trademarks, Copyright and Media Partner, Niri Shanmuganathan, to Meic.

TW costs

So the partner charged £408.76 an hour; Tim Pinto, the “trademarks copyright and media senior counsel” charged £330 per hour; and the trainee was charged at a mere £156 per hour. All plus VAT.

They even charged LBTH for reading my blog! Which is free. At least someone’s making money from it.

I write all this, and there’s more to come, because any Tower Hamlets elector has the right to object to the council’s accounts. You have the right to dispute these invoices if you feel they are not valid or properly commissioned in some way.

In summary, the council paid at least £123,068 to Champollion and Taylor Wessing to try and stop/limit the damage from a half-hour Panorama documentary.

The council’s Audit Committee meets on September 16 when the external auditors will meet officers and councillors to discuss the draft accounts. Any objection should be raised then. I’ll dig out the email and post it here tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the wait for the PwC report into LBTH continues (at a cost of £1million…).

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