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Archive for November, 2014

Below is a letter that Labour’s John Biggs has sent to a few local papers in which he criticises Ken Livingstone’s support for Lutfur Rahman.

John lost of course by some 3,000 second round votes in May to Lutfur. He remains a London Assembly member for the City & East constituency.

He is also likely to be called and cross-examined as a witness for the Tower Hamlets election petitioners in the forthcoming court hearing.

That hearing, by the way, is likely to start at the end of January. It could well last between two and three months, which would mean any mayoral election re-run taking place after May’s general election.

It’s not at all certain, of course, who would contest such a re-run. Were Lutfur to lose the hearing he might be barred from office. It could be, however, that the judge rules the actual count unlawful, but that it was not Lutfur’s fault. In that case, Lutfur might be free to stand again.

Would John Biggs want to contest a re-run anyway? Would the party locally or regionally want him to?

Would Lutfur want to stand again?

He seems to be trying to raise/improve his national profile at the moment as a darling of the Left. He’s changed his Twitter photograph to show a more workmanlike down-to-earth image: tie loosened, shirt sleeves rolled up.

lutfur rahman, twitter

And the people who write his Tweets for him are concentrating far more on national, as opposed to local, political and social issues.

I’ve written on here a few times about the internal battle within his Tower Hamlets First party over who might stand against Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Bow next May.

Speculation has previously centred on Abjol Miah (who still encourages people to “vote Respect” on Twitter), Rabina Khan and possibly Ohid Ahmed.

But I wonder whether Lutfur himself might be interested?

[He has wanted to become an MP for many years. It was during his campaign to become Labour’s PPC for the seat in 2007, when Rushanara eventually triumphed, that he fell out with his “friend” Helal Abbas. Here’s a letter he wrote to my former paper, the East London Advertiser in March 2007.]

Lutfur Letter March 2007

Were Lutfur to stand next May, it would mean campaigning during the period of the Election Court…when his expensively assembled legal team could be making headlines for him.

Curious and curioser…

Anyway, here’s Jogn Biggs’s letter:

I have great respect for the achievements of Ken Livingstone, and was proud to have worked alongside him for eight years at City Hall. His vision for London is, in my view, unmatched.

The Olympics, massive transport investment, and a focus on policing which helped to restore public confidence, would not have happened without him.

His focus on the plight of those on low incomes, and on helping people to get the skills they need for employment and to help themselves, was a vital part of his work too.

While not everything he did was right, a lot was and his successor, Boris Johnson, has coasted on his achievements, unwisely reversing some while, as with the Olympics, Crossrail and police numbers, brazenly trying to claim credit for others (even while, in some cases, undermining them).

Ken’s genuine passion for our City made him, in my view, a great and visionary London Mayor.

And I pay great respect also to his work while at the GLC. In particular he will be remembered for his work on equalities, challenging discrimination and disadvantage faced by many simply because of their race, gender, sexuality, physical ability or the disadvantage or poverty of their background.

At the time he was attacked as dangerously left wing and ‘politically correct’. Nowadays those views are generally seen as part of proper mainstream thinking – not about a free lunch, but about a greater fairness.

Again, not everything he did was right but his legacy is solid.  

However, he is absolutely wrong in his recent comments about Tower Hamlets politics.

Politics is about passions, strong opinions and different priorities. However, his representation of Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman as a victim of a stitch up is just plain wrong.

I and others am proud to have played a part in helping East Enders from different backgrounds and cultures to have access to power.

But we are in a different age now – people who are in power have a duty to act properly, and high standards apply to everyone.

The local Mayor, who has, I am sure, many positive qualities, has seriously failed the East End and Ken does nobody a service, in any community, by pretending it is someone else’s fault.

While Ken Livingstone and a small minority of those who claim to be on the Left, believe Lutfur Rahman is a victim, in my view, and that of many, many others, it is the people of Tower Hamlets, including in the Bengali community, who are the victims of his misuse of power in the Town Hall.  

I am proud to have worked with Ken but disappointed that he is unwilling to see this. He is at risk of the classic error of the Left, of fighting internal battles and living in the past.

We need to move on from this.

John Biggs AM (and 2014 Tower Hamlets Labour Mayor Candidate)

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At the weekend, The Sunday Times reported that Tower Hamlets council has started to encourage parents and teachers in its schools to report “concerns about young people’s safety, including racist or extremist behaviour”.

Its article added this:

The appeal by Tower Hamlets council will coincide with the publication of damning reports by Ofsted, the schools watchdog, this week, which will brand at least four schools in the borough “inadequate”.

They include Sir John Cass’s Foundation and Redcoat School, a Church of England state secondary under the control of Tower Hamlets council, and three private Islamic schools: Al-Mizan primary, the London East Academy and Jamiatul Ummah secondary for boys. The first two are run by the East London Mosque Trust.

Inspectors who examined Sir John Cass are understood to have been alarmed at the slow response to claims about a Facebook page created by Muslim sixth formers that linked to an extremist speaker.

None of the schools responded to requests for comment but Robert McCulloch-Graham, corporate director of education, social care and wellbeing at Tower Hamlets council, said: “There is simply no room here in Tower Hamlets for racist or extremist behaviour from any quarter.”

The Ofsted reports will be published on Friday morning and they follow a number of “emergency inspections” over the past couple of months.

Sources in Westminster have told me that Sir John Cass, in Stepney, will definitely be going into special measures because it has failed the “safeguarding” aspect of the inspection. A failure on that automatically triggers special measures, as I understand it.

This will be devastating for the school, both for its students and staff.

It genuinely is a “flagship” school. Its results are at the top end in the borough and it has in Haydn Evans a headteacher who is regarded as one of the best. He was awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List for services to education and the last time the school was inspected it was rated “outstanding”, the highest ranking available. I hope he remains in place.

And let’s be clear what this is not.

It is not a failure by the council (whose senior managers, Anne Canning and Robert McCulloch-Graham, are also considered excellent).

Neither is it a failure by or the fault of Mayor Lutfur Rahman: he’s understood to be angry at how the problems have come about.

And nor is this Trojan Horse 2. In Birmingham, there was a said to be a subversive plot by governors to change the ethos of schools. At Sir John Cass, the apparent problems are rooted in the activities of some sixth form students themselves.

The failures at Sir John Cass have arisen through a lack of governance oversight, or “grip” as they say in the Civil Service. Processes, and checks and balances are important, as PwC underlined in their report on council grants.

The governance failures also raise some extremely interesting questions about freedom of expression, British values, religion and religious identity in state secondary schools.

The Ofsted report will centre on several issues, but I suspect the headlines on Friday will centre on two things: the activities of the school’s sixth form Islamic Society (which uses school premises for meetings and which has been innocently raising cash for a charity under investigation for its activities in Syria); and the fact that the school allowed segregated playgrounds for boys and girls.

On the second issue, which sounds disturbing, we’ll await the school’s explanation.

On the first, Islamic Societies (ISOCs) at sixth form colleges and universities have been a headache for educational authorities and beyond for several years.

Radical outfits such as Hizb ut-Tahrir see them as fertile recruiting grounds. Perhaps most notably, Ed Husain, one of the co-founders of the Quilliam Foundation counter-extremism think tank, was radicalised in the Nineties via the Islamic Society at Tower Hamlets College, Poplar.

But I had no idea there were ISOCs in state secondary schools. However, I now understand this has been the case in Tower Hamlets for a few years. As far as I can make out, Mulberry School for Girls in Mile End also has one.

One Bengali Muslim councillor in Tower Hamlets told me this week there was a concern that sixth formers were increasingly being encouraged by imams and Arabic teachers at after-hours supplementary schools to organise themselves this way.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with ISOCs at school. Many schools have Christian Unions and Jewish Societies.

It’s the activities that matter; and that’s why there needs to be good oversight by school authorities.

At Sir John Cass, the ISOC set up its own Facebook page and as I understand it, at least one link was posted on it to an extremist preacher.

Apparently, the school bosses, who are responsible for the safeguarding of all students, failed to deal with this properly.

It may well be there was other material on that Facebook page which also alarmed Ofsted’s inspectors.

The Facebook page has now been deleted, but you can still find archived material for the SJC ISOC Sister’s page in Google’s cache.

Here:

SJC ISOC Facebook

On that page was a poster for an ISOC event at the school’s Great Hall earlier this year. Here:

SJC ISOC EVENT

There’s nothing to suggest any of the speakers were, or are, of concern.

The ISOC also has its own YouTube channel, which is still live:

SJC ISOC youtube

So three innocuous videos and 57 views as of 5.30pm today. Hardly popular or dangerous.

The ISOC also had a Just Giving Syrian charity appeal, which was linked via Facebook. The details of that appeal for Human Aid are here:

SJC ISOC charity

Human Aid, which is based in Whitechapel, is one of five UK charities operating in Syria that are currently under statutory investigation by the Charity Commission. Human Aid denies any wrongdoing on this.

The ISOC’s Just Giving page no longer exists:

SJC ISOC charity 2

So that’s just a flavour of some of the potential problems faced by the school’s bosses when you have an active Islamic Society operating among impressionable teenagers in such a volatile climate for foreign affairs. They will probably seek guidance from ministers at the Department for Education.

That all this is happening at a Church of England governed school, where 80 per cent of the pupils are Bengali Muslims (and where there is no religious assembly but a “thought for the day” broadcast over the tannoys, makes it more interesting.

This was no subversive governors’ plot. The governors include(d) highly respected names. The Bishop of Stepney has a representative on the board.

David Pascall CBE, a City financier, was until very recently the chair of governors. He has decided not serve another term and The Rev Trevor Critchlow, the Rector of the wonderful St Dunstan’s Church across the road from the school, has taken over.

I would imagine action has already been taken in the relevant areas and I hope the special measures aren’t in place too long.

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A High Court judge today rejected Tower Hamlets council’s long running legal challenge to Eric Pickles’ decision to send in inspectors to the town hall.

Mr Justice Goss refused the council permission to proceed to a full judicial review of the legal basis for the inspection, which culminated in PricewaterhouseCooper’s highly critical report of the town hall last week.

Today was the second rejection of the council’s legal bid by a senior judge and its costs are in the region of £50,000.

In August, Mr Justice Kenneth Parker in a written ruling (here and here) had described the application as “hopeless” and “unmeritorious”.

Undeterred, the council, led by Mayor Lutfur Rahman and advised by Interim Monitoring Officer Meic Sullivan-Gould, then requested today’s oral at the Royal Courts of Justice.

However, the council’s barrister, Jonathan Swift QC, lost his argument.

The council’s legal costs on this case alone are at least £40,000.

Today’s judge also ordered the town hall to pay DCLG’s legal costs of £8,500.

When Eric Pickles announced the inspection in April, the council issued a statement “welcoming” the chance to prove it spent taxpayers’ money in a “best value” way.

The council was then criticised by the Government for dragging its heels during the inspection and while it contested its legal basis.

Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins said after today’s hearing: “We are pleased that the courts have thrown out Tower Hamlets’ legal challenge for a second time.

“However, it is disappointing that local taxpayers are having to foot the bill for the Mayor’s legal costs.

“This reflects a culture of denial in the local authority about the dysfunctional governance of the mayor’s administration.”

Mayor Rahman said: “Our case challenged the £1m cost of the audit and raises fundamental questions about the legal relationship between local and central government.

“We are disappointed that the judge refused permission for us to proceed to a full Judicial Review hearing. We are now fully engaged with responding to the Secretary of State’s proposals and will continue to do all we can to ensure that our residents interests come first.”

…………

This was Mr Justice Kenneth Parker’s written ruling from August:

3 - Tower Hamlets Judicial Review Judgement 3a - Tower Hamlets Judicial Review Judgement

Today, Mr Justice Goss said he could not do any better than his colleague. He read out ground three again in its entirety.

The first ground (on timing) was not considered again today as it was regarded as “hopeless” first time round, and Tower Hamlets decided not to put it forward.

……and two days ago, Ken Livingstone at the Water Lily rally urged Lutfur to hire the best lawyers and challenge Eric Pickles’ proposal to send in Commissioners.

Ken did not say that he would personally fund such a challenge. Funny that.

It’s always easier with other people’s money.

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One veteran of the Respect party said to me as I was leaving last night’s rally at the Water Lily centre in Mile End: “It’s just like the old days again.”

Depressingly, in many ways he was right. Lots of pretty tedious and predictable speeches, a few cheap and several offensive jokes about Eric Pickles’ weight. It’s strange how the so-called Left get off on making these remarks about a man’s appearance.

But how the audience giggled! …And then cried racism against the man one not-so-svelte union official called “the fat controller”.

They also mocked DCLG’s spending on limousines. But failed to mention Lutfur’s four years of travelling around the borough in a chauffeured Mercedes.

The lack of self-awareness and introspection was and is frightening.

The audience was huge. I’d guess easily upwards of 500.

The theme was “Defend Democracy in Tower Hamlets”, but that was a bit of a smokescreen. In reality, it was an election rally of the Left against the Tories.

I understand that Cllr Abjol Miah orchestrated it. The former leader of the Respect group and a serial failure in his attempts to become MP wants another crack at Westminster. He wants to challenge Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Bow.

So too do Cllrs Rabina Khan and Ohid Ahmed.

Galloway, whose aides used to rail against Lutfur when he was in Labour, warned that if Tower Hamlets First didn’t field a candidate, Respect would. Some interpreted that as he would stand again but even he knows he’d be laughed out of the borough again.

His underlying message, I inferred, was he’d endorse Abjol as his candidate. Rushanara is said to be anxious but I think she’s safe.

As for Ken’s input last night:

1. He said he and fellow Labour NEC member Christine Shawcroft (who made the most boring speech of the night, and that’s saying something) would submit a motion at their next meeting calling for Lutfur’s re-admittance into the party. (He really does have a dry sense of humour, doesn’t he?)

2. He called on Lutfur’s hot-headed supporters to find the home addresses of the three Government Commissioners when they arrive in Tower Hamlets, and then protest outside “to make their lives intolerable”.

That remark prompted this response today from Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins:

I am appalled at Ken Livingstone’s comments which run the risk of stirring up a lynch mob mentality in Tower Hamlets. 

The borough is already riven by the politics of intimidation and division, and stupid remarks like his will only worsen community tensions. 

We will not be intimidated from taking any action necessary to ensure a free and fair democracy operates in the borough.

As for the PwC report, the only person to make more than a passing reference to it last night was in fact Lutfur. He said he would learn from the process failures and that the council would “embrace the Commissioners” when they arrive.

Well said, but let’s see.

Radio 4’s Today programme was there last night as well. Their reporter Zoe Conway broadcast this excellent report this morning.

Listen to how she puts Ken on the spot, how he flounders; how she puts Galloway on the back foot; and how she reduces Lutfur to robot mode, monologuing his usual mantra about all things One Tower Hamlets.

A nice hat-trick.

listen to ‘Tower Hamlets, Mayor Rahman rally’ on audioBoom

//

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When the Press and Journal newspaper broke the story yesterday that Takki Sulaiman had been named as Aberdeen City Council’s preferred candidate for a newly created post as communications boss, there were a few raised eyebrows.

Councillors who had been on the appointments committee there claimed they’d been unaware he’d been a member of Haringey Council between 1998 and 2006. They’d been supplied a version of his CV but there was no mention of that illustrious period in his life. I understand he had notified the council at the “application stage”.

The omission has caused something of a row in Aberdeen.

The Press and Journal’s political editor Dave McKay reports today:

Aberdeen City Council’s chief executive has been asked to suspend the controversial appointment of a London-based PR chief amid a row over his background as a Labour politician.

Takki Sulaiman yesterday confirmed he had accepted an £80,000-a-year post to help fix the public image of the local authority, which has taken a battering in recent years.

As exclusively revealed by the Press and Journal, Mr Sulaiman was chosen as the preferred candidate to fill the position, which has been described as a “spin doctor” or “happiness tsar”.

Mr Sulaiman, who is leaving a head of communications post at crisis-hit Tower Hamlets Council in East London, is expected to begin his new role early next year.

However, opposition SNP group leader Callum McCaig has called for the process to be halted pending an inquiry.

He said Mr Sulaiman’s CV did not mention the fact that he was a Labour councillor for Haringey, and members of the appointments panel were not informed.

Four councillors who were on the nine-man panel said they were not aware of his political past either.

Last night, Labour finance convener Willie Young, who said on Monday that he “did not know” Mr Sulaiman had been a councillor, insisted the authority’s human resources team had in fact been told at the application stage.

Mr McCaig said: “Given that this is a politically restricted post, we need some clarification on this point.

“We need 100% assurances that this post holder’s loyalty is to the city of Aberdeen and not to the Labour party.”

Ross Thomson, a Conservative councillor who was also on the panel, said he was aware that Mr Sulaiman had worked as a fundraiser for Labour.

However, Mr Thomson added: “I did not know that he was a councillor, but I knew there was a connection with the party.

“Would I declare that? I would say yes, but I don’t think it should impact upon him getting the job or not.”

Labour group secretary Mr Young, who was also on the panel, accused the SNP group of “playing politics”.

He said: “Four out of the nine members of the appointments panel were SNP councillors, they had the majority on the committee.

“It is my information that (SNP councillor) David Cameron definitely knew. If they had any problem with this guy I am sure the four members would have flagged it up.”

So Takki’s job at Haringey is yet to be ratified is being challenged, but his departure from Tower Hamlets council was confirmed by head of paid service Stephen Halsey yesterday. (UPDATE: Takki has accepted his offer at Aberdeen so were that council to withdraw it he would have a legal claim against them.)

It may be that Takki had included his political career on a standard application form that headhunters or HR in Aberdeen then redrafted into a CV. I don’t know.

He refused to tell me when I asked him this afternoon. He told me it was “none of my business”.

For the record, here are two articles that reference his time as a councillor in Haringey during the Sharon Shoesmith/Victoria Climbie era: here and here.

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Further to my last post (and the council’s failure to answer my questions), here’s why Lutfur Rahman failed to attend the solemn Remembrance Sunday event in Tower Hill on Sunday:

Lutfur rahman, george gallowayHe was in Bradford for a “young people’s educational awards ceremony”. It was, according to Takki Sulaiman’s press office, a “longstanding commitment”.

But it actually took place on Saturday lunchtime: there are tweets from the event timed at 2pm that day.

Bradford is less than a four hour drive away from Tower Hamlets. I presume he stayed overnight in Bradford on Saturday rather than returning.

It’s his call, of course, but he does invite some pretty justifiable criticism with decisions like this.

The awards at the Shapla Community Hall were hosted by a Bangladeshi organisation called BEAP (Bangladesh Education Achievement Project).

From the video it seemed a reasonably small event, but clearly Lutfur is something of community leader in the wider Bengali community and not just east London. His audience would have been grateful for his attendance.

The video below is fascinating.

George Galloway is the warm-up act for the Tower Hamlets mayor and makes a speech defending him as some kind of ex-Labour/real Labour blood brother.

And at 7.20mins, you can see Lutfur arriving with his kitchen cabinet from Tower Hamlets, ie Cllr Gulam Robbani, Cllr Aminur Khan (Rabina Khan’s husband) and Cllr Maium Miah. If there are others, I’ve missed please let me know.

You then see Galloway embracing Lutfur. It seems Lutfur isn’t that bothered by Galloway, that he’s somewhat embarrassed by him.

They spend a few seconds posing for the cameras and Lutfur barely looks Galloway in the eye as George fawns over him. I was half-excpecting George to lap up some imaginary Lutfur milk.

It seems Galloway is now desperate for Lutfur’s approval. Is it Lutfur who has now become the Real Deal?

Here’s some of Galloway’s speech to the event:

Mayor Lutfur and me and Ken Livingstone have some things in common. One of them is that we were all expelled from New Labour for standing up for principles and standing up for real Labour values. We all three of us then defeated New Labour in election after election.

..I campaigned for a directly elected mayor in Tower Hamlets. We started the petition that created this position and I was proud to work with Mayor Lutfur in both of his successful elections. We should be proud of his victories and his mayoralty in east London.

The authority that he has built is a beacon throughout the country in educational and in other social and political achievements. There are no academies in Tower Hamlets…

I wish we in Bradford had a council like Lutfur Rahman has in Tower Hamlets.

What he has now been subjected to is nothing short of a racist attack. They hate Lutfur because he has proved that Bengalis can win elections and can carry out their promises made to the people.

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During my three years at the East London Advertiser, I spent a fair amount of time with George Galloway’s aides in the Respect party.

I’m fairly confident in saying that had the PwC report been written about the Labour administration in Tower Hamlets back then, they’d have milked it for all its worth.

They were as scathing about the then council leader in 2008, Lutfur Rahman, as they were about his predecessors, Denise Jones and Michael Keith. In particular, they disliked what they believed to be the whiff of cronyism…in both the awarding of grants and also the appointment of useful mates to political positions.

In fact, Respect’s decision to organise successful petition that heralded the directly elected mayoral system in 2009/10 was an attempt to end such a culture, they argued.

So it’ll be interesting to see if Galloway, or Glyn Robbins, the former chair of Tower Hamlets Respect, or John Rees, a founding father of the party, refer to any of this when they address the following rally the Water Lily centre in Mile End tomorrow tonight:

george galloway, lutfur rahman

Lutfur has sent this email to his Tower Hamlets first supporters:

Dear supporter,

You’ll probably have heard by now that Secretary of State Eric Pickles has ordered officials in to undermine local democracy in Tower Hamlets, and it’s local residents that are paying for it (sic). You also may have heard that despite Pickles’ decision to send in the attack dogs, the report he ordered found no fraud or corruption in Tower Hamlets. 

He’s seized on any flimsy excuse he can find to shut down the 37,395 voices that voted for Mayor Lutfur Rahman and for a council that stands up to the cuts and invests in education, affordable homes and our future. 
 
This is Pickles versus the people. And it’s up to all of us to stand up to him. 
 
Here’s some simple things you can do
 
– Sign the petition to stop the witch-hunt of Lutfur
 
– Join me at a rally with Ken Livingstone and other national leaders at the Waterlily, 69 Mile End Road on Weds 12th November at 6pm to discuss how we can stand up for democracy. (link to event page)
 
– Tweet and facebook your own opinions about all this under the hashtags #towerhamlets and #respectourvotes
 
– Get in touch with any ideas you have
 
Thank you so much for your help. We haven’t got big banks or corporate newspapers on our side, so every little thing you do really does count.
 
In solidarity, 
 
Tower Hamlets First

The petition they refer to is here, and at the time of writing has 675 votes.

Note its name: ‘Respect our democracy and treat councils equally!’ And note the Twitter hashtag supporters are being urged to use: #respectourvotes.

The word ‘respect’ is popping up a lot.

So of course Galloway won’t lash out at Lutfur for his policy and process failures: they’re merely “flimsy excuses”.

Lutfur is now a convenient “Pickles versus the People” general election tool. Convenient for Lutfur, too, of course: posing the bigger question acts as a smokescreen for the criticisms.

But that’s politics.

There’s even some talk among his supporters that Lutfur may call a mayoral by-election to re-establish his authority. I’m not convinced he would press that nuclear button and in any case, I’m not sure when he would press it.

The Election Court hearing is due to start in mid-late January and it could last until March. Even then, the verdict may be reserved for some weeks.

If he emerges from that victorious, I’m not sure why he’d want or need to hold a by-election (although he could emerge victorious but tainted and damaged).

Who knows what his priorities are.

Certainly, he didn’t prioritise Remembrance Sunday again this year.

He was again a no-show at the wreath-laying ceremony at Tower Hill on Sunday, when there were huge crowds in the area observing the ceramic poppy display in the Tower of London moat across the road.

Lutfur’s reserved seat next to the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of London, Commander John Ludgate, remained empty.

I asked the council’s press office for an explanation and this was their reply:

The Mayor was regrettably unable to attend the Merchant Navy Memorial Service on Sunday due to a long-standing commitment to attend an (sic) young people’s education awards ceremony outside London. In his absence the Mayor asked Mickey Ambrose, former footballer and Duke of Edinburgh Awards ambassador to represent him and lay a wreath on his behalf.

‪Mr Ambrose said: “I was honoured to be a part of such a moving service and pay my respects to the courageous men and women who have served our country.”

‪The Mayor attended a Remembrance Service on Friday at City Hall with other Mayors and Council leaders, and is looking forward to the Armistice Day event on Tuesday at the Town Hall. The Mayor will also host a reception for war veterans after the event.

Mickey Ambrose stood and lost as a Tower Hamlets First candidate in Bow East in May. Quite why Lutfur asked him to deputise and not any of his elected councillors is a mystery.

I also asked the council what this longstanding awards ceremony commitment was, when it actually took place and where it was held.

They’ve declined to reply.

Anybody know?

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And so the creatures begin to leave the ship.

The Press and Journal newspaper in Aberdeen has this as the main story on its website:

Takki Sulaiman, aberdeen

The paper’s David McKay reports:

Council leaders in Aberdeen last night revealed that a PR chief at a “rotten borough” English authority is the man they want to transform the city’s public image – even though he has yet to accept their £80,000-a-year job offer.

Takki Sulaiman is currently employed at Tower Hamlets in East London, which has been at the centre of “cronyism and corruption” allegations in recent weeks.

Aberdeen’s deputy council leader Marie Boulton confirmed that Mr Sulaiman, a former Labour councillor, is the preferred candidate to take on a new head of communications and promotion job in the granite city.

The role was created as part of a restructuring of the council, but prompted complaints from opposition members who argued the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Senior members of the Labour-led administration argued that the appointment would help boost the outward perception of an authority which has been dogged by controversy in recent years.

A divisive battle over the future of Union Terrace Gardens was followed by an attempt to ban First Minister Alex Salmond from all council property in the city.

Criticism has also been levelled at the leadership over the £107million Marischal Square revamp of the former council headquarters.

Mrs Boulton, who convened an appointments panel to fill the post, said she was “hopeful” that Mr Sulaiman would accept the job, but played down the media storm surrounding the London borough council.

She said: “We went through a rigorous interview process, we had stakeholder groups involved throughout, the corporate management team interviewed him and he came in front of elected members and the chief executive. All of the groups recognised that he was the preferred candidate.

“We are aware of the criticism that has been levelled at Tower Hamlets, but based on the conversations we had with the chief executive, she was confident and happy to proceed.

“Aberdeen is obviously quite a tough environment to work in, in terms of the media. The city went through problems with Audit Scotland under the previous administration, we have also had our difficulties.”

Mr Sulaiman, who is understood to be earning about £98,000-a-year in his current role, has not yet accepted the job and did not respond to inquiries from the Press and Journal yesterday.

Mrs Boulton pointed out that he had impressed panel members with his experience during the London Olympics and the regeneration of the Tower Hamlets area as a result.

Labour group secretary Willie Young said he was unaware that the top candidate for the new post was a former Labour councillor for Haringey.

He said: “That never even came into it. This was a guy who we were looking at purely on an employment basis, and he came across as by far the best candidate.

“It was a unanimous decision by a cross-party panel, including opposition members.”

With reference to the ongoing troubles at Tower Hamlets, Mr Young added: “I think there is a huge difference between the political administration and an individual, and this individual went through a rigorous process.”

However, Callum McCaig, leader of the opposition SNP group, said: “The very fact that this person who has been offered this spin doctor position at Aberdeen City Council is coming from somewhere branded as a rotten borough begs the question of who in their right mind thinks that this is a good idea.

“When you add the irony of the fact he is a former Labour councillor and Tower Hamlets has been described as a hotbed of cronyism – it would be funny if huge amounts of public money were not being spent on a position that we don’t actually need in the first place.”

Aberdeen City Council’s media team did not respond to a request for comment last night.

Journalists and SNP members in Aberdeen can research some of Takki’s record here.

I was told on the night of the Tower Hamlets election count in May that Takki was looking for a new job, so his job search seems to have been going on for a good six months.

He may be many things but he’s not that stupid (although his refusal to engage with critical elements of the press has been dumb): he can see which way the wind is blowing.

Eric Pickles is on a war footing with East End Life, which Takki oversees as head of communications. It’s almost certain the DCLG Commissioners will also take some control of Takki’s department when it comes to council publicity planning.

If he didn’t think his position was actually under threat, he’ll know it’s going to become less enjoyable.

But if he does leave, this might be a good chance to start the much-needed renewal of the borough’s reputation. Slashing the role’s £98k salary would be a first step.

Anyone tempted by the role?

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Predictably, there seems to be a rearguard action among Lutfur Rahman’s supporters to try and downplay the PwC report.

We can sum up their arguments thus:

1. PwC found no evidence or fraud or corruption

2. What about other councils such as Newham, Basingstoke and Dean, and Timbuktu (ad nauseam): why not investigate them, why pick on Tower Hamlets?

3. How dare PwC lecture Tower Hamlets taxpayers on the best value of public money when it ‘creams’ off millions in Government contracts.

4. It’s a Tory plot.

Numbers 2, 3, and 4 are the arguments of student common room (where 9/11 truthers might even find a home).

On Number 1, the report says it was made aware of nine cases of suspected fraud involving grants and contracts during its inspection, but it agreed to leave these alone as further questioning might jeopardise police/council investigations.

We can assume that money linked to the Brady Youth Forum was one of those nine and, as I pointed out in this post here in April, the council has some explaining to do on that.

The report, when you read it in detail, is excellent. As I’ve said before, the PwC auditors were clearly shocked by what they found.

And from the tone of the report, you can see where they believe the problems lay. I suspect they had some (probably more than some) sympathy with most council officers (although there are one or two significant exceptions to that).

On the other hand, they seemed wholly unimpressed with certain elected members and their powers of recall to remember important facts and details. The Mayor himself, lawyer, suffered from that problem, but he is much busier than his underlings.

The devil is in the detail, as they say. There was unjustifiable political interference in decision-making. Grant awards could easily have been made on the back of an envelope.

What I’d like to see is much more evidence on how the grant monies were/are actually spent. Which salaries are b eing paid for, what do they do etc etc?

When, in 2012, I highlighted the questionably invoices submitted by Gulam Robbani for his work as a mayoral adviser, there was outrage across the political spectrum, including from inside Lutfur’s camp.

Those invoices, which ‘detailed’ some pretty dodgy timesheets for his work, were signed off by the head of Lutfur’s office, Murziline Parchment. Did she check work done against his invoices? No. He may well have done work to justify his contract but those invoices didn’t show it.

There was no financial or management control in place. And when there are no such controls, you create an environment where wrongdoing can happen. Or where you don’t get the best value for public money.

That’s what PwC have highlighted. How many of these groups receiving grants are submitting solid invoices to back up their original applications?

Surely Lutfur’s supporters can see this? You wouldn’t run a business with your own personal money in that way, so why should a council be any different?

As for Number 2: let’s not forget that the politics of Tower Hamlets have been a nationally known basket-case for many years. It’s reputation become increasingly poisonous. You only have to watch to the video of Alibior Choudhury labelling former Labour councillor Ann Jackson a fascist-type ‘black cardigan’ (when she was in mourning for her ex-husband) to see how low it has stunk.

The dysfunctional politics (together with the challenging transformation to a mayoral system of governance) has caused real problems at officer level. The lack of a strong chief executive and a decent monitoring officer is both a symptom of that, and a contributory factor to the reputational chaos.

On Number 3. This is another form of whataboutery. Shoot the messenger. There are of course concerns about corporate lobbying of government and Whitehall waste. The latter has been something of a political mantra for Eric Pickles himself. But banging on about the bigger macro picture does a disservice to the actual cause.

If we have more scrutiny and adherence to processes at a grassroots/micro/town hall level, then there’d be less need (and work) for the likes of PwC. PwC were brought in because there were obvious failings in that respect.

Take care of the council pennies and the national pounds will better (to some degree) look after themselves.

As for Number 4: if it’s a Tory plot, might you argue: Why hasn’t Pickles gone after the country’s biggest Labour dominated authority, ie Newham?

Lutfur was an easier target, of course, because he was no longer part of the political mainstream. He didn’t have Labour support. But again, this is all part of the dysfunctional politics.

So where are we at?

The council has given its assurance to DCLG over the distribution of further grants, as required by Eric. It has until November 18 to make its representations on the proposal to send in Commissioners.

Some in Lutfur’s team want to take an aggressive stance and examine a possible legal challenge…another misguided David vs Goliath battle.

I know there are senior council officers who would rather now just knuckle down and take the medicine. Further legal challenges would just further erode the borough’s reputation.

Lutfur should see the appointment of commissioners as an opportunity. With them there, it’ll arguably be more difficult for people to criticise him. He’d benefit, both politically and as an administrator. He’d be better able to concentrate on his messages such as housing.

And when/if the Commissioners leave in 2017, a year before the next election, he might even have a good success story to sing about.

In the meantime, I leave you with PwC’s report on how the council co-operate with the inspection team (this, remember, after the town hall had ‘welcomed’ their arrival). The penultimate paragraph, 1.46, is particularly telling. The Interim Monitoring Officer is not named: It’s Meic Sullivan-Gould.

Timing and duration of the Inspection

1.28 The Inspection commenced on 4 April 2014, the date of the Appointment Letter. Our field work was substantially complete by 5 September 2014, since which time we have focused on fact checking with the Authority and with individual witnesses (see below for more detail) and in finalising this report.

1.29 In the Appointment Letter, we were directed to report our findings from the Inspection by 30 June 2014 or such later date as might be agreed between us and the Secretary of State. This flexibility reflected the inherent uncertainties at the outset of the Inspection. Examples of these uncertainties included the

volume and ease of access of information that might need to be examined; the extent, nature and implications of any issues that might emerge; and the level and timeliness of co-operation we would receive from the Authority.

1.30 By a letter dated 27 June 2014, PwC informed DCLG that it would not be in a position to report by 30 June. This letter formalised the position that had been apparent for some time prior to that date and which had been discussed between PwC and DCLG on a number of occasions. The primary reason given in the 27 June letter for the need for an extension beyond 30 June 2014 was the failure of the Authority to provide information on a timely basis, or at all, in relation to a number of important requests made by the Inspection team. Given the inherently iterative nature of the Inspection, the delay in provision of information had a significant impact on our overall progress in pursuing our enquiries in the various areas of focus, as well as our ability to plan for and arrange interviews, which were expected in turn to bring to light further information and documents that we would need to review and consider.

1.31 By a letter dated 30 June 2014 DCLG replied, agreeing to a postponement of the reporting deadline. It was proposed that further discussions should take place between PwC and DCLG in the first half of July 2014 to determine by when PwC could reasonably be expected to report under the circumstances. Those discussions led to the conclusion that we were unlikely to report before the middle of September 2014, but that the position would be kept under regular review.

1.32 For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that by a letter dated 4 July 2014 (received by PwC on 7 July 2014), the Mayor wrote to PwC objecting to the manner in which the Authority’s level of cooperation and responsiveness to requests had been characterised in PwC’s letter to DCLG of 27 June 2014 and asserting (in summary) that such characterisation was inaccurate and partial. PwC responded to the Mayor’s letter by a further letter dated 17 July 2014. In the 17 July letter, PwC rejected the Mayor’s assertions on the basis that there were no material errors of fact in our 27 June letter, and also took the opportunity to expand on some of the aspects of the Authority’s stance that had contributed to delays in the provision of requested information and documentation.

1.33 On 25 September 2014 we received a further letter from the Mayor responding to our letter of 17 July 2014 to him. The Mayor reiterated his view that our 27 June 2014 letter did not present an accurate and impartial view of the Authority’s co-operation with the Inspection. We remain of the view that our 27 June 2014 letter presented a materially accurate and fair view of the position. We will respond formally to the Mayor’s latest letter shortly.

Approach to our work

General principles

1.34  As directed by the Secretary of State through the Appointment Letter, our primary focus throughout the Inspection has been the four areas outlined at paragraph 1.8. Our approach to each of these areas is set out in more detail in the relevant sections of this report, however, at a general level, our approach to each area has typically included the following common elements:

Fact finding meetings with relevant officers (i.e. employees of the Authority) (“officers”) to gain an understanding of the operation of the area in question;

“Walk-throughs” of relevant processes to confirm our understanding;

Requests for information, data and documentation of relevance to the Authority’s financial systems, relevant processes generally, or individual programmes or transactions, as appropriate;

Detailed analysis of individual transactions or categories of transactions targeted on a risk based approach; and

Formal interviews with selected officers, councillors and the Mayor.

1.35  The above steps are iterative and often overlapping, rather than strictly sequential. Furthermore, while each of the four areas has been the subject of a separate work stream within the Inspection, there are certain points of cross-over between them, which are brought out in the relevant sections of this report.

Selection of items for detailed examination

1.36  Within the four primary areas of focus, the selection of specific transactions or categories of transaction for detailed examination has been judgemental and risk-based rather than purely random or statistical. As intimated above, the Inspection has not occurred in a vacuum. It was instigated as a result of concerns brought to light by a variety of sources, some of which have been aired in the media. In addition, further sources, from both inside and outside the Authority, have approached us with information during the course of the Inspection. We have also had regard to matters escalated through the Authority’s own governance processes, including the deliberations of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee (the “O&S Committee”) and the work of the Authority’s Internal Audit function. Finally, we have made our own judgements about where risks might lie given the nature of the transactions in question.

Information sourced other than from the Authority

1.37  In the early stages of the Inspection, we established a dedicated and regularly monitored email address (lbth.inspectors@uk.pwc.com) through which anyone wishing to provide information in confidence could contact us. This email address was featured on the DCLG website. Over the course of the Inspection, we have received 256 communications into that email address from 38 individuals. In addition, other sources have approached us directly (i.e. other than through the dedicated email address referred to above), again with information of varying degrees of relevance to our remit. Not all of these communications were relevant to our terms of reference, but those that were have been factored as appropriate, into our approach.

1.38  In addition to the above, we have also had dialogue with a number of former officers of the Authority about their contemporaneous knowledge of matters relevant to the Inspection.

1.39  We have actively sought to engage with those sources who have come forward and who appeared to have information of potential relevance to our terms of reference and where we required further detail or clarification. Not all sources have been able to back up their concerns or allegations with tangible evidence and in those instances, where we have not been able through our Inspection to fill this evidential gap, we have been unable to give the information they have provided much, if any, weight.

Fact checking by the Authority and by interviewees

1.40  The extensive factual components of sections 3 to 7 inclusive of this report have been subject to a fact checking exercise between us and the Authority. The Authority was given a 10 working day period from 11 to 24 September 2014 to review factual extracts and provide comments and, where appropriate, any additional evidence which it wanted us to take into consideration. In parallel, individuals whom we have interviewed, and from whose interviews we were proposing to cite particular statements (with or without attribution), were given the opportunity over 10 working days to review and comment on those citations. We have received responses from the Authority and the majority of the relevant individuals, which at our discretion we have reflected as we deemed appropriate in this final version of the report.

The Authority’s stance vis-à-vis the Inspection

1.41  On 4 April 2014, the date of our appointment, the Mayor’s Office4  issued a statement welcoming the Inspection stating “I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to send independent auditors to review our grants processes. This review will demonstrate that the Council acts in the best interests of all Tower Hamlets residents ”.

1.42  On 1 July 2014 (some three months later) the Mayor wrote to the Secretary of State informing him that he had asked the Authority’s Interim Monitoring Officer to initiate a judicial review of his decision to instigate the Inspection. We note that, in refusing the Authority’s application for judicial review, the judge considered each of the grounds advanced by the Authority in its application as “unmeritorious” and the first ground as “hopeless”. We understand that the Authority has now applied for an oral hearing and that this is due to be heard by a High Court judge on 14 November 2014.

1.43  It should be acknowledged that the Authority gave assurances to us that the initiation of judicial review proceedings would not affect the on-going cooperation of the Authority with the Inspection. Notwithstanding the issues outlined below and elsewhere concerning the level of cooperation of the Authority and its responsiveness to our requests for information and documentation, it is fair to say that the commencement of judicial review proceedings did not in itself have any significant effect on the Authority’s dealings with the Inspection team.

1.44  At the outset of the Inspection the Authority established a Project Management Office (“PMO”) to oversee and manage the flow of information and documentation to the Inspection team and to assist in the arrangement of meetings and, in due course, more formal interviews. This was in principle a helpful step and created a useful mechanism for liaison between the Inspection team and the Authority, very much in accordance with our desire for there to be a clear line of communication and a single point of contact for formal requests. The Inspection team has met regularly with the PMO team to discuss the status of information requests and provide further explanation and clarification where necessary. Initially, such meetings took place on a daily basis, reducing in frequency as the Inspection progressed and the need for such frequent meetings reduced. We recognise the PMO team and no doubt many other officers have put in considerable effort to collate and provide the requested material.

1.45  Over the course of the Inspection, we made a total of 290 requests via the PMO for information or documentation. Some of these were quite broad, in some cases involving the provision of large volumes of documents or data, while others were for targeted items mentioned to us in meetings or interviews or referred to in other documents already provided to us. Inspectors are required to give three days’ notice of a request. In practice, we have not generally insisted on being provided with full responses to all requests within three days, recognising that some of our requests were substantial in scope or that the requested information or documentation might reasonably be expected to take longer to collate.

1.46  As discussed at paragraph 1.41 et seq, despite its public assertions of support for the Inspection, the Authority has at various stages raised a number of obstacles to our progress which have significantly delayed the provision of information or documentation and which in large part led to our request for an extension of the time table for the Inspection. These obstacles broadly related to the Authority’s concerns about the legality and/or scope of the Inspection. Additionally, the Authority raised issues as to whether or not we were entitled access to documents that might be covered by legal professional privilege.

Taking each of these in turn:

On 12 May 2014, we were informed that the Interim Monitoring Officer required us to “certify” a significant number of requests. There is no legal basis upon which the Authority could require such certification, and we were not prepared to do so. Furthermore, the form of words the Authority sought to prescribe in the certification defined the scope of the Inspection too narrowly and were therefore not in a form which we could accept, even if we had been prepared to do so in principle. All requests for which the Authority was taking the position that it needed individual certification were put on hold. On 13 June 2014 (just over a month later) without further explanation, we were informed that certification was no longer an issue.

On 7 May 2014 we requested access to certain legal files. This request was followed up as outstanding on a number of occasions until 4 June 2014 (almost a month later), when the Authority informed us that we were required to sign up to a number of written conditions and undertakings in relation to the requested material. These included an acknowledgement up front that all the said material was privileged, which we pointed out we could not know without seeing it first and which was unlikely in any event, given the probability that even legal files would contain material that was not itself privileged by virtue of the circumstances in which it had been created. Without our acceding to all of the Authority’s demands in relation to this material, we started to gain access to it on 16 June 2014, some six weeks after first requesting it.

1.47  One example of a request of central importance to the Inspection which was subject to very significant delay was the provision of basic accounting data covering the majority of the Period. Until 1 April 2013, the Authority used a JD Edwards Financial System, migrating to an Agresso Financial System during that year. While in discussions with the Authority about the provision of data from the current Agresso Financial System (which also resulted in some delay) we requested data from the JD Edwards Financial System on 29 April 2014. We know from discussions with relevant Authority staff that the data was extracted and ready to be provided to us by 12 May 2014. However, the Authority challenged the legality of this request, and it has continued to reserve its position on this matter, even as it finally authorized the release of the data to us on 20 June 2014, almost two months after the initial request and just ten days before our original reporting date. We have referred to the data from the JD Edwards Financial System and the Agresso Financial System together in the remainder of this report as the “Financial Data”.

 

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After highlighting Rabina Khan’s live BBC London interview on this blog yesterday, it’s only fair to point to Lutfur Rahman’s rare live TV outing last night.

He granted BBC London political correspondent Karl Mercer some three minutes at 6.45pm. That’s way too short a time to interrogate him on matters of detail….and that’s the advantage the interviewee gains doing live TV.

The clip, which is available until 6.30pm, can be seen at 18minutes in here.

Karl suggests to him that weaknesses found by PwC included £407,000 of grant money given to organisations that failed to make the minimum requirements in application assessment process. Karl also suggests that some £100k was given to Bengali/Somali groups which didn’t even apply for grants.

Lutfur, in combative mode, replies:

Absolute rubbish. That’s not the case. If someone didn’t apply for grants they would not have got a penny. The assessment that this council, our officers gave awards to organisations that didn’t apply is absolutely wrong and it’s absolutely misleading, so let me correct that for the record.

People have to apply in the first place and a [r]/vigorous assessment process which is overseen by officers then is awarded the grants.

And on it goes with more defences of council processes. He said the applications went through proper processes, “overseen by officers” and via appeals channels to his cabinet.

As it happens, his interview came immediately after his monthly cabinet meeting in the room next door. It was the first one I’d attended in a while and while they always were, even under Labour, something of a rubber-stamping exercise I was struck by the lack of interrogation and the intellectual timidity of his members.

Of those cabinet members, who get paid £12,000 extra a year for their roles, only former deputy mayor Cllr Ohid Ahmed dared to ask a question of a senior officer. Good for him.

The only other councillor to ask a question was Lutfur’s old ally, Marc Francis of Labour, who welcomed a new council housing strategy but wanted reassurances on affordable homes numbers.

I wonder how happy these cabinet members are and what powers, if any, they genuinely have. Are they there for show…and the status and money of course?

This all comes down to governance. Is too much power invested in Lutfur and his unelected advisors and mayoral office?

Does that inner circle fully respect council processes?

In the area of grants, at least, PwC found that not to be the case.

I am going to write more detailed analyses of this report, but for the time being here’s a selection from the executive summary on mainstream grants (MSG) The last paragraph is revealing…or not, as the case may be.

(By the way, I think the BBC were confused in their assertion that some grants were given to groups which did not even apply. I think they were probably referring to 32 cases where the mayor intervened directly to increase their officer-recommended grant without the group itself actually asking/appealing for a review. See para 2.35 and 2.36 below.)

Development of MSG grant proposals

2.30 Officers from the relevant directorates evaluated grant applications in accordance with agreed criteria and scored each application on a consistent basis. Based on these evaluations, which were subject to moderation through discussion amongst officers and a degree of adjustment to reflect their analysis of gaps in expected outputs or outcomes as defined in MSG grant Service Specification documents, officers put forward a set of award recommendations in early August 2012. This was later than originally envisaged, owing to the higher than expected number of grant applications, which considerably exceeded that experienced in the previous MSG round (2009-2012). The August 2012 officer recommendations were for awards to 255 organisations totalling some £8.2 million across eleven different funding streams (covering a 30-month period, equating to £7.4 million pro-rated for 27 months).

2.31 During August and September of 2012, an iterative process took place, whereby one Member in particular who sat on the CGPB [Corporate Grants Board] intervened to make significant changes to the officer recommendations prior to their being presented to the CGPB. This has been explained to us as the application of “local knowledge” to achieve a wider spread of grant monies across more organisations, as well as seeking better to address key areas of need and promote a thriving third sector across the Borough (we have also been told that there were “errors” in the officer recommendations, albeit that the nature of these has not been specified). Taken together, these aims would in principle be unobjectionable in themselves, however the process by which they were pursued lacks transparency and is inadequately documented. Further, without a record of what local knowledge was applied it is not clear how this is linked to the assessment criteria for the MSG 2012-2015 awards.

2.32 There is evidence that officers were concerned as to what the basis for the proposed changes were and, indeed, evidence of a concern that such changes might reduce the effectiveness of the use of grants in terms of securing viable services from third sector organisations. Concerns of a similar nature were also raised by the chairman of the Tower Hamlets CVS, the sole external member of the CGPB. There was also an acknowledgement by the senior in-house legal adviser considering this issue that the changes were significant and that care would need to be taken to ensure that the process and its outcome could be justified.

2.33 The result of this process was a new set of recommendations which were significantly different from those made in August. Out of a total of 431 initial applications, the updated recommendation was different in 347 cases (81% by number). This included 15 applicants who had not met the minimum eligibility criteria even to undergo evaluation and scoring by officers. These applicants were recommended to receive aggregate awards of £243,500. A further 18 applicants were recommended who had, on the basis of officer evaluation, failed to reach the agreed minimum score to qualify to receive a grant and had therefore not been recommended by officers for an award. These applicants were recommended to receive, in total, awards of £407,700.

2.34 We note one example of Member input into the decision making of MSG 2012-2015 awards whereby Members recommended £40,000 of funding to an organisation despite identified manipulation in the documents provided to support the applications of the organisation and an Internal Audit report assigning nil assurance to the organisation’s control environment in September 2012. This organisation was not scored by officers as it failed to meet eligibility criteria. In addition to this we note that three other applications to the same funding stream, were turned down for funding with the following comment “this was a reasonably good scoring project, however there was very high demand for funds from higher rated proposals which meant that this project was not able to be supported”. Given the scarce resources available and the apparently good quality capacity already in place it is not clear how seeking to build capacity within this organisation was the best use of resources within this funding stream.

2.35 The new recommendations were put forward at a Cabinet meeting (open to the public) on 3 October 2012. At this meeting, the Mayor indicated that he was minded to accept the recommendations, however he was announcing a seven-day review period, during which grant applicants could ask to have their proposed award (or lack of award) reconsidered. In the event, some 177 applicants asked for their award to be reviewed. Of these, 76 were awarded an increased grant. In addition, a further 32 applicants received increases although we have not seen evidence that they had in fact asked for a review of their award.

Degree of involvement of the Mayor

2.36 In interview, the Mayor told us that he had not been involved in the detail of awards, although he had kept abreast of things generally through occasional high level discussions with one Member in particular. This is somewhat at odds with an email dated 8 August 2012, shortly after the initial circulation of the original officer recommendations, which stated that “the Mayor has requested a vastly expanded Appendix 1”.We also note that a press statement dated 1 April 2014 put out by the Mayor’s office in response to the BBC Panorama programme included an assertion to the effect that the Mayor, acting within his powers, had intervened in 32 specific cases (details of some of which were also given). We consider it likely that the 32 cases referred to in the press statement concern largely the same applicants as the 32 applicants, included in the final award, who received an increase without requesting that their awards be reviewed. In response to our request for clarification of whether or not the Mayor intervened in the manner suggested in the press statement, neither the Mayor’s office nor the Authority has been able to shed any further light on the matter.

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