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Archive for August 10th, 2017

The following is another guest post by Chris Dunne, the former head of Langdon Park School and now fighting to save the acclaimed Tower Hamlets Youth Sport Foundation. His first post on this blog can be read here. In this article he attacks Labour councillors for their failure to attend a public meeting on the issue. One, Cllr Abdul Mukit (MBE, lest we forget) – the cabinet member for sport – was apparently sitting in a cafe around the corner while it was going on. Given his record of claiming questionable expenses at Spitalfields Housing Association, I’m not surprised.

[As an aside, and in other news, Rachael Saunders, the deputy mayor, has quit. She, like Josh Peck, Amy Whitelock-Gibbs and Shiria Khatun, has also decided her time is now up in Tower Hamlets politics. None of them are standing for re-election next May. And these were the sensible ones. Mess? Certainly. More on that in a separate post.]

By Chris Dunne (pictured)

governance-sub_01When Mayor John Biggs was asked in the council meeting on July 19 if he had a seconder for his motion – to dismantle the Tower Hamlets Youth Sport programme – I thought he was just being facetious when he claimed, “I think I’ve got 20 seconders”. Given the deafening silence coming from the ranks of Labour councillors, both then and since, it seems he wasn’t kidding.

As a former headteacher I have always tried to behave well in public, but the shameful way the matter was subsequently treated in the Chamber I believe fully justified my telling the Mayor and his ‘seconders’ on the Labour benches that they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

It wasn’t the mayor’s fault that council rules barred councillors from asking me questions, but he certainly took full advantage of it. With no possibility of our countering his statements, Trustees and staff of the Foundation were forced to sit and listen to the mayor grossly distort the truth about the Tower Hamlets Youth Sport Foundation and in many cases to say things that were totally untrue.

Which is why we organised a public meeting and debate on the evening of Sunday July 30. Everyone, especially the mayor, was invited. The Opposition parties were well represented. Cllr Rabina Khan and Cllr Ohid Ahmed both attended and spoke very supportively of the programme, as did Elaine Bagshaw, representing the Liberal Democrats. The meeting was very well attended, including by many youngsters, and dealt exhaustively with all the issues. It had been scheduled to finish after an hour and a half at 7.30pm, but instead ran over two hours, when we had to call a halt only because the Foundation’s manager Chris Willetts and our Cricket Officer, Jahid Ahmed, had to leave to take a busload of youngsters to the West Midlands for a cricket residential.

You can imagine how disappointed everyone was that not one single Labour councillor thought it was important enough to attend the meeting. The mayor had had to pull out during the day because of family commitments, but not one of his ‘seconders’ was apparently ready or willing to take his place and defend the Labour decision to dismantle the borough’s youth sport programme. Not even Cllr Abdul Mukit, in whose own ward the meeting was taking place and who is the Cabinet Lead Councillor for sport!

I have to say I share the outrage felt by some Labour Party members who told me they encountered Cllr Mukit in a café round the corner from the meeting when they were on their way home. For not one Labour councillor to turn up was, I believe, simply disrespectful to the thousands and thousands of young people who are going to have their life opportunities severely curtailed by the mayor’s disgraceful decision, a decision publicly supported by all Labour councillors in the Chamber on July 19.

It is simply not good enough either for them to hide behind the excuse that the meeting would have been used to play party politics.

Abul Hasnath, who presents a community affairs programme on a British-Bangladeshi TV channel, independently chaired the meeting. He and I both asked everyone to focus their contributions on the provision of life opportunities for young people (many of whom were present to help them do just that) rather than on personalities or parties.

I made a point of saying that THYSF has operated under two administrations, two mayors, three chief executives, and very many directors/officers. I said clearly that I did not believe politicians of any party, nationally or locally, stood for election in order to do bad things for their electors.

I also specifically said that I did not believe John Biggs would deliberately say things that were untrue. As a hard-working mayor he relies on many people to give him accurate information about issues like this. I said that somewhere along the way he must have been given the inaccurate impressions referred to in our evidence folder or told things that were not true and, understandably, may have believed them to be true.

We have given the mayor and every councillor a fat folder of hard copies of the evidence to demonstrate the distortions and untruths I spoke of earlier.

In essence we are saying to the mayor and his councillors that:

  1. He was totally wrong to claim there has been a serious decline in the number of schools subscribing to our service. We are working with almost 60 schools in the borough, not the 34 the mayor claimed.
  2. The Mayor’s claim that we have been running deficits (plural) is flatly contradicted by the 4 years (out of 5) that we in fact ran small surpluses, which we have itemised year by year.
  3. The Mayor’s claim that the Trustees of the Foundation had refused to produce a Business Plan is untrue. We submitted a lengthy and detailed Business Plan, but this was rejected by the council.
  4. The Mayor claimed in the Chamber to have an ‘alternative plan’, and all the Labour councillors supported it. No one has yet seen this plan, or at least if they have they haven’t shared it with us. It certainly won’t be based on a borough sports strategy, because the only one of those that exists we wrote ourselves. 

 

There Is Still A Way To Solve This Problem – If There Is The Political Will

It is important to note at this point that the clock is ticking pretty fast. The redundancy process is already under way –  conducted unsurprisingly by Council officials at the Town Hall, despite the mayor’s repeated attempts to hide behind the excuse that “it’s the school that’s making them redundant”.

There is however, despite the lateness of the hour, an honourable way forward if the mayor and his councillors want to grasp it.

The mayor has repeatedly claimed he had appointed a consultant to help us write a Business Plan. That of course was not true. What is true is that both I and another Trustee had separately written to him to ask him to do exactly that. Neither of us received any reply to this request.

The consultant the mayor is referring to has however now had the opportunity over the last two months to learn exactly how our operation runs and how it is financed and would as a result be in a very good position to give such sound advice to the mayor.

In a face-to-face meeting since the Council meeting, I asked the Mayor to honour that original claim of his ‘retrospectively’, by asking the consultant to advise him directly on what he regards are the feasible options, if any, for saving the core of our youth sport programme. I am pleased to say that he firmly agreed to do just that. We now await confirmation that this has happened and to consider the outcome.

What is already clear of course is the advice of another consultant, commissioned by the council, has given on the question of youth sport provision in Tower Hamlets. Asked to compare expenditure on youth sport with other similar boroughs, his report said (my emphasis)

Local authority finance outturns for sports-related functions suggest that LBTH maintains expenditure comparable to other boroughs. Given that as of 2012 responsibilities for delivery of youth-focused sport programmes has been distributed across LBTH and the newly formed THYSF, benchmarking data suggests therefore that LBTH has relatively higher spend for the more limited sports functions it delivers (primary focus of adult sport and physical activity) when compared to other boroughs.

This context suggests that where there is any amendment to functions and budgets for delivery of youth and adult community sport functions across LBTH and THYSF, consideration should be made of the apparent relative high spend on a more limited sport remit compared to other boroughs – and therefore future delivery should consider appropriate allocation of funding to community work as currently delivered by THYSF. Future delivery may therefore be through either taking back functions or commissioning services as appropriate.

Or to put it even more simply, “you spend most of the money you do spend on sport on adults, because you have devolved responsibility for youth sport to THYSF, and if that organisation doesn’t exist you will need to either start doing it and paying for it yourselves or you will have to pay someone else to do it for you”.

My question to the mayor is a simple one – about value for money, or ‘bang for your buck’ as the Americans would have it. It’s this:

“Since this issue will cost the Council whatever happens, why not spend the money positively, attempting to save a hugely popular and highly successful organisation, rather than waste it negatively on staff redundancies, giving money back to schools that they have already paid for this financial year, and then trying to provide, and pay for, a third-rate patching up exercise after you’ve watched it die?”

That wouldn’t be getting value for money for borough residents. It’d be hugely wasting it. And people like me would be reminding everyone of that – at every opportunity and right up to the next elections.

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