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Ahead of Wednesday’s full council meeting, this is a guest post by Cllr Oliur Rahman, leader of the 12-strong Tower Hamlets Independent Group (formerly known as Tower Hamlets First). Discuss…

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 21.25.21

Much has been made of the dawn of a new kind of politics.

With the bitterness of last year behind us, it is our hope that we can work constructively across parties to put Tower Hamlets first.

Our group would be the first to admit that Mayor Biggs’ administration has had some successes, based on the Mayor’s ability to look beyond party politics and continue to implement much of former Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s progressive agenda. Mayor Biggs is not the only one to admit that Tower Hamlets was generally a “well-run borough”, as he put it, under his opponent.

The Municipal Journal, the National Association of Care Catering, Keep Britain Tidy and a range of professional bodies have celebrated the former Mayor’s legacy – while figures across the spectrum as diverse as an Anglican canon, the Conservative former political editor of the Spectator and centre-left Guardian writer Zoe Williams have cast doubt on the merit of the court judgment that saw Lutfur barred from office.

We must now move forward and this new age of conciliation has seen some big wins for the people of Tower Hamlets. Mayor Biggs has defended our administration’s landmark education grants for young people. After some regrettably costly delays, he has gone ahead with our plans for the regeneration of Whitechapel, the creation of a new civic centre and a multi-faith burial ground that between them will create 3,500 new homes and 5,000 jobs while preserving dedicated space for culture and small business.

Biggs is pushing ahead with plans for landlord licensing, school places and new social and affordable housing developed by our previous administration, along with our proposed policy of mayoral question times. The current administration have developed our plans with an Affordability Commission to investigate what kind of genuinely affordable housing we should provide – which we welcome, but believe should not have property developers and social landlords with poor service records sitting on it while no opposition spokespeople are invited onto the panel.

Mayor Biggs’ drive for transparency is also an important one, which can now progress freely in a less contentious environment. His Transparency Protocol and whistleblowing procedure will facilitate a more open culture at senior management level – but he would be well advised to go further. The lack of transparency over a grant to the Rich Mix of nearly a million pounds, made by executive order behind closed doors with little real rationale rings dangerously of patronage politics.

 

His decision to scrap East End Life, again by a secretive executive order and in spite of overwhelming support from members of the public for the paper, is also questionable. There seems little other way currently for Tower Hamlets to communicate with vulnerable and digitally excluded residents about the services they should be aware of. Setting up a Transparency Commission chaired by his own aide John Pierce was also questionable.

In the Mayor’s defence, he, like all politicians, has powerful interests pressuring him – in his own party, in Town Hall politics, and in the form of Eric Pickles’ commissioners who were recently accused of a complete lack of transparency by a leading voluntary sector organisation. We hope that in spite of all that he is able to stick to the pledges he was elected on: getting tough on waste, creating a more open council, delivering decent housing and strengthening our communities. There are many things we disagree on, but those aims we can get behind.

Looking ahead, the first budget by Mayor John Biggs is imminent. The Independent Group has consistently opposed cuts to the most vulnerable, particularly those which affect frontline services and increase charges for critical services or to succumb to “false” savings just to balance the books without considering the overall impact and wider picture.

Mayor’s budget proposals include cuts in funding for incontinence laundry service for the most vulnerable and elderly, youth services, free home care for the elderly, voluntary sector grants, children’s school history trips to Gorsefield, bursaries for university students and PGCE training for BAME teachers, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), East End Life, introducing new charges for adult care and deleting the posts of 10 THEOs (environment/waste cleaning), as part of the Mayor’s £18m of cuts now, with £63m cuts over three years. We feel this approach lacks a vision and is simply managerial.

Independent Group highlighted this, by way of just one example, at the Scrutiny meeting on January 4, that to get rid of 10 THEOs would not contribute to the cleaner streets that were among the Mayor’s top priorities. The large volume of food outlets, small businesses and markets that are a core part of the local economy generate a considerable deal of waste, which coupled with fly-tipping, graffiti and other associated issues present a considerable challenge to delivering cleaner and greener streets.

If the Mayor and his colleagues decide to cut Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMH) services, alongside cuts to youth services, it is likely to both exacerbate the situation and create issues. Deprivation is often linked to poor mental health, and in Tower Hamlets, one in two children live in poverty, so it is vital to provide safety and therefore continuity with CAMH services. Speaking to people who work in youth services we know they provide support and safe spaces, which contribute to a young person’s sense of wellbeing and provides the opportunity to have the life-skills needed to prosper.

Unemployment is another burgeoning problem in Tower Hamlets. Canary Wharf provides thousands of jobs but predominantly filled by finance specialists from outside the borough. Therefore we believe that any cuts to the current system of paying wages to those on internships and bursaries for teacher training courses from BAME groups is following the Tory government suit by forcing the poor to disproportionally shoulder the cuts. Public sector jobs, such as teaching, provides a sixth of the borough’s jobs and therefore a system that provides opportunities for citizens to be a part of the workforce is worth protecting.

It is well documented that cuts to youth services, as proposed by Mayor Biggs, coincides with a rise in crime and antisocial behaviour – coupled with this administration’s proposal to remove the safety net for the police budget – will undoubtedly create disastrous results. Safety in the community is not a privilege but a necessity, and a child lost to the criminal justice system is both costly and tragic.

miliband-2.jpgIt would be remiss of me not to talk about the proverbial elephant in the room. Many have speculated we are simply looking for a route back into a renewed Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn. This is nothing new: most of our group were Labour people exiled from the party either by the disastrous decision to go to war in Iraq, or by the rigging of a mayoral selection in Labour that even election judge Richard Mawrey agreed was indefensible. We were drawn from all ranks of Labour – Lutfur was a Progress member and David Miliband supporter at the time of his expulsion!

But we are here first and foremost to serve the people of this borough – and when the current administration is considering weathering austerity with cuts to teaching bursaries, library closures and the sacking of council staff who keep our streets clean (following a pledge to get tough on waste), it is our duty to stand up for residents’ interests. We have a crippling housing crisis, severe pockets of poverty and a range of social problems that we have a responsibility to help fix. That’s what we were elected for – and in 2016, we hope to be able to perform that duty constructively and positively across civil society organisations, political parties and communities.

May I take this opportunity to wish your readers and residents a peaceful, prosperous and happy 2016.

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east end life

Bundles of East End Life left in the rain at the Bow distribution depot in 2012 (copyright Ted Jeory)

Is the end in sight for East End Life? It’s been predicted many times before.

But last Friday, Eric Pickles’s Department for Communities and Local Government quietly announced its latest move against 11 councils which continue to publish freesheets more regularly than the Government would like.

Not surprisingly, Tower Hamlets council’s weekly version–which has been the prototype for so many others, which costs far more than the council claims, and which drains vital funds from frontline services–is one of the top targets.

Ministers have given the council until October 9 to respond to their demands the paper should be published no more than four times a year. After that, the department will consider legal action.

Let’s quietly note that the deadline comes the week before Eric Pickles is due to stand up in the Commons and announce the outcome of, and any action arising from, the PwC report into ‘best value’ spending at Mulberry Place. East End Life was part of PwC’s remit.

The letter sent out by DCLG last week is scathing. It says Tower Hamlets is failing to abide by the local government Publicity Code. The council strongly contests this and claims East End Life is popular and serves a public interest. The council says EEL reaches hard-to-reach groups.

DCLG, on the other hand, maintains there are other ways of communicating with such groups and notes the council’s own boasts that broadband access in the borough has risen to 85 per cent.

The government also wants a “flourishing…independent and politically free local media” and argues East End Life works against that. It effectively says East End Life is biased towards Mayor Lutfur Rahman (as it was to the former Labour administration until October 2010).

It says other councils manage perfectly well with quarterly news-sheets, and were there to be any special circumstances in Tower Hamlets, these would justify no more than a couple of extra “special editions” in any year.

The London boroughs of Enfield, Greenwich, Hackney, Hillingdon, Lambeth, Newham and Waltham Forest, as well as Luton, Medway and North Somerset councils have received similar letters.

This is what Local Minister Kris Hopkins says:

Frequent town hall freesheets are not only a waste of taxpayers’ money but they undermine the free press. Localism needs robust and independent scrutiny by the press and public.

Councillors and political parties are free to campaign and put out political literature but they should not do so using taxpayers’ money.

This is the eleventh hour for 11 councils who we consider are clearly flouting the Publicity Code. They have all now been given written notice that we are prepared to take further action, should it be necessary, against any council that undermines local democracy – whatever the political colour.

And here are some extracts of the letter to Tower Hamlets council, the full copy of which I’ve attached below:

The basis of the Secretary of State’s proposal 

Information available to the Secretary of State indicates that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets does not attach sufficient importance to ensuring the lawfulness of its publicity. In January 2013 Ofcom concluded that an advertisement, showing the Mayor associated with the house building programme in the borough, was a political advertisement rather than a public service announcement and so breached section 321(3)(g) of the Communications Act 2003 and the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising. The Secretary of State is not aware of any subsequent acceptance by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets of the unlawfulness of this publicity or any firm public commitment of the Council to ensure the lawfulness of all its future publicity and accordingly is proposing the Direction above in relation to the specified provision on lawfulness. 

The balance which, with the approval of Parliament, the Publicity Code strikes is that the newssheets etc. of principal local authorities should be published no more frequently than quarterly. Moreover the Secretary of State recognises that the great majority of councils already publish their newssheets no more frequently than quarterly, notwithstanding the wide range of groups that display protected characteristics in the areas of many councils. 

Officials from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets wrote to the Secretary of State arguing that following a review of ‘East End Life’ in 2011, the publication was redesigned, TV listings were removed and the publication was made shorter. They also argue that ‘East End Life’ is the most cost effective solution as the weekly publication aims to run on a net-nil budget.

The Council notes that cost effectiveness in one of the seven principles in the Publicity Code, and that advice taken by the Council in 2011 and a finding by the then District Auditor indicated that the decision to proceed with weekly publication was lawful and justified having regard to the provisions of the Publicity Code. The Secretary of State’s provisional view is that these arguments do not sufficiently outweigh the case for as far as practicable maintaining an environment as conducive as possible to the flourishing of an independent and politically free local media, which is an essential element of any effectively operating local democracy. 

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has not drawn to the Secretary of State’s attention any other special circumstances that could justify a departure from the frequency recommendations of the Publicity Code nor is the Secretary of State aware of such circumstances. Moreover, in any event, the Secretary of State considers it likely that were there to be any such circumstances, these would only justify one or two extra ‘special’ editions each year.

Public sector equality duty 

In considering the impact of any direction on the London Borough of Tower Hamlets’ public sector equality duty, the Secretary of State has noted that the Council consider that a printed weekly newsletter is “particularly important amongst those seeking work, older white residents and BME residents”.

The Council also state that there is reliance upon ‘East End Life’ by “key demographic subgroups in the Council’s area which, if there was no weekly publication, would otherwise have limited access to relevant information”. The Secretary of State also notes that the Council state that broadband access in Tower Hamlets has increased to 85 per cent and that the Council “would willingly negotiate a manageable timescale for transition to digital delivery”. 

The Secretary of State recognises it may be the case, as the London Borough of Tower Hamlets have commented, that some groups in the community that display particular protected characteristics, such as age, disability or religion/belief will less readily be able to obtain the information currently circulated in ‘East End Life’ and hence all other things being equal could be adversely impacted.

However, the Secretary of State believes that it is open to a council having such protected groups to effectively communicate as necessary with them about the services and other matters which are the responsibility of the council without publishing newssheets more frequently than quarterly.

The Secretary of State recognises that the great majority of councils already publish their newssheets no more frequently than quarterly, notwithstanding the wide range of groups that display protected characteristics in the areas of many councils.

Moreover, even if there is an adverse impact the Secretary of State’s provisional view is that the proposed Direction would be justified because of the Government’s overriding policy of maintaining across the whole country an environment that is conducive as possible to the flourishing of the independent and politically free local media. Such media is an essential element of any effectively operating local democracy and hence the pursuit of this policy is a high priority.

DCLG explains that publicity by local authorities should:

  • be lawful
  • be cost effective
  • be objective
  • be even-handed
  • be appropriate
  • have regard to equality and diversity
  • be issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity

It does not inhibit publicity produced by political parties or councillors at their own expense.

And it says, “On appropriate publicity the Code states that:

Where local authorities do commission or publish newsletters, news-sheets or similar communications, they should not issue them more frequently than quarterly, apart from parish councils which should not issue them more frequently than monthly.

Here’s the DCLG letter to the council’s head of paid service, Steve Halsey.

And here are some more pictures of council waste:

East End Life

Copyright Ted Jeory

East End Life

Copyright Ted Jeory

East End Life

Copyright Ted Jeory

East End Life

Copyright Ted Jeory

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It’s probably a legacy from my days as a member of the “accountants’ union”, but I’ve always had a respect for the worker bees in Tower Hamlets council’s over-stretched finance department. They do a difficult job in very tricky circumstances and they have to deal with all manner of politics from members and senior officers.

But they probably  won’t thank me for highlighting this piece of legislation that may well add to their workload.

Under the Audit Commission Act, every council must for a four week period throw open its books for public inspection. It’s a fabulous piece of legislation that pre-dates the Coalition’s equally excellent transparency agenda. But curiously enough you won’t find any feature about it in the £1.5m pages of East End Life.

Tower Hamlets council, like most other authorities, aren’t that keen for people to know about. However, they are required by law to place a public notice in a local paper advertising the dates when the inspection takes place in a particular year. This year’s advert, for the financial period April 2013 to March 2014, was placed in the back pages of East End Life on June 9…nine pages after that week’s restaurant review, for which a council worker was handed £40 for a nice meal.

Here’s the advert:

Inspection Advert 2013-14

Under this legislation, anyone can ask to see the details of any transaction during the financial year in question. This includes seeing copies of any contract, purchase order or invoice or other supporting documents.

So, if you were so inclined you could ask to see all transactions made for restaurant reviews in East End Life during 2013/14. You could ask for a list of all payments made for these reviews and view all invoices submitted by external contributors or expense claims submitted by staff.

Some issues might still be subject to confidentiality clauses. For example, you won’t be able to ask for individuals’ salaries. You can ask for all salaries in a particular area but you won’t see names attached to them. The Data Protection Act still applies.

However, this legislation allows for far more transparency than the both the Freedom of Information Act and the lists of payments to suppliers that councils must now publicise. So it gives us all a chance to have a look under those redacting pens.

For example, you’ll remember from this post here that when I asked under the FoI Act recently for the invoices submitted by the Champollion PR agency for its work combatting the Panorama programme, the council sent me this:

Panorama Champollion Invoices3

 

 

Under the Audit Commission Act, those black pen marks will have to be removed.

The Act is a potential gold mine of information, but you only have until July 28 to submit questions and follow ups. If you ask for information before then, the council must answer it even if that answer comes after July 28. However, the earlier you ask the questions the better.

And a plea (for the sake of the accountants), be wise and judicious in what you ask for. Fishing expeditions are of course allowed but try to narrow your searches and questions. Think about what you want. For example, you might want to see a summary of all expenses submitted by officers and councillors for “entertaining” (councillors rarely submit such claims by the way). From that summary you might want to drill down into something by asking for copies of receipts for a particular meal. Which restaurant, what did they eat and who did they entertain?

You might want to ask for copies of invoices submitted by a particular consultant or contractor.

It might be a good idea to discuss on this blog what you or someone else might ask. Let’s co-ordinate questions.

For my side, I’ve submitted an early batch of questions on Champollion, the lawyers Taylor Wessing and East End Life’s accounts. I’ve also asked for copies of invoices for Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s chauffeured Mercedes in the period.

And I’ve also asked for any payments made to The Society of the Golden Keys during the year. What’s that, you ask? In March 2012 (I saw this some time ago, but had forgotten about it), the council’s communications department paid the Society £800 for membership fees. I was told it was on behalf of Takki Sulaiman, the £100,000 a year head of communications. I was told he attended dinners/events with the society.

Here’s more about the Society, which is a membership group for hotel concierges in Britain.

The Society of the Golden Keys in Great Britain is thriving. With strict conditions of membership requiring proof of professional relationships with guests and work colleagues, approximately three hundred and thirty concierges in Great Britain now proudly wear the symbol of their status: the Golden Keys lapel pin. Each is revered for his or her professional gravitas, integrity, local knowledge and impeccable recommendations. The Society encourages friendship and camaraderie and the members meet formally each month. The Ladies’ Night Dinner and Dance and the Anniversary Cocktail Party are the social highlights of the year for many of the leading figures in the hospitality industry, as well there are many other events which the society of the Golden Keys help to promote.

The council told me it was important to have membership to boost tourism in Tower Hamlets. Perhaps it does. But it’s only fair that taxpayers know, and that’s what the Act allows.

 

 

 

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Pleasing TakkiTo cut a long story short, I was ejected from a Tower Hamlets council meeting tonight and frogmarched out of the town hall by two uniformed security guards on the orders of Head of Communications Takki Sulaiman.

Because I told him he was acting like a prick.

I regret my choice of word. Four letters would have been enough.

He and I have a long history. He dislikes my journalism and I dislike his attitude to press freedom.

I’ve covered Tower Hamlets for nine years now and in that time I’ve seen a gradual erosion in the access afforded to reporters wishing to cover council meetings. That erosion didn’t start with Takki’s management of the communications department, but he has contributed to its acceleration.

He frequently converts press queries to Freedom of Information requests on the spurious grounds that they’d otherwise cause his team (which produces East End Life) too much work.

A couple of years ago, I felt he tried to get me the sack at the Sunday Express by writing to my editor because he objected to me using a scanner in my employer’s office.

And in 2011, he ordered the permanent removal of the reporters’ table that had been a fixture at the very front of the public gallery in the council chamber. After that, the council started reserving seats in the front row for reporters.

This last point is relevant to tonight’s events.

The meeting started at 7.30pm. I arrived some 10 minutes earlier. The public gallery was packed. I stood in the doorway of the council chamber looking for a seat and as is often the case, councillors and others came up to me to say hello.

I saw Takki sitting in a seat not far from the front. There was a space next to him, which he said had been reserved for East End Life. I asked another officer to show me the reserved press seats. She told me Takki had given them all up to members of the public. I asked why. She asked Takki. He told her because I hadn’t responded to an email to say I was coming. I told her I don’t think I ever got an email.

Besides, the council had clearly been expecting me. Here’s the ticket that had been waiting for me in the town hall reception when I arrived:

photo

I was then told I’d have to sit at the back of the public gallery behind a large pillar that obscures the entire council chamber. I told the council officers that that was completely unsatisfactory. By this time Takki had given up his seat for a member of the public.

I then stood at the back of the public gallery in the far corner of the room where I could see (from a distance) the backs of three councillors’ heads.

I started tweeting this and remarked that East End Life had been given a reserved seat. Takki strode over with his iPad. He was logged on to my Twitter timeline. Like many others, he probably enjoys my live tweeting of these meetings. Bless him. He said Laraine Clay, the East End Life editor, was using a crutch and that’s why he’d reserved her a seat. Fair enough (and let me stress as I have on many occasions my deep respect for Laraine). I asked him when he’d sent me the email about reserved seating. He said one of his team had sent it. I said I didn’t get one and that anyway it was irrelevant. As he turned his back to walk away, in a quiet voice, one on one, I told him he was acting like a prick. He asked me to repeat it. So I did. He then asked whether I’d like to be removed from the gallery. I said, ‘Do what you want Takki, I’m trying to report.’

He then hurried off and walked into a wall.

Then a few seconds later, two THEOS (Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers) approached me. They asked me to leave the gallery. I followed them. Takki was waiting in the corridor outside. He asked me whether I’d called him a prick. I said Yes. He said I’d have to leave the building and the two THEOS walked me to the lift, got in, shook their heads in embarrassment and made sure I left the town hall.

The Evening Standard has covered this tonight. It’s another PR disaster for a council that desperately needs to improve in that department. And caused by the man who runs that department. Ours was a verbal spat between two grown adults – a hack and a spin doctor who are used to trading industrial language. And it comes at a time when there have been attempts behind the scenes to draw the poison from the political situation.

He says in a statement tonight: “This is my workplace, I have a right not to be abused in my workplace. I don’t know any other walk of life where it would be justified.”

Well, let’s try Tower Hamlets politics shall we? Over many years, both he and I have witnessed abuse hurled at councillors from the public gallery, some of it homophobic, some of it about personal appearance.

And in none of those instances did Takki or anyone else ask for people to be evicted.

In fact, the only other time I can remember Takki & Co asking someone to be marched out was last year…when the redoubtable John Wright, a 71 year old Alzheimer’s Ambassador was physically removed from the chamber for having the temerity to film proceedings after Eric Pickles had said ‘Go ahead’.

Anyone spot a pattern here?

PS Oli Rahman was named Deputy Mayor tonight. Congratulations to him. I’ve never heard him swear in my life. Ahem.

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Where to start with updates on the events of last week?

Yesterday, Mayor Lutfur Rahman staged a mini-rally/call for canvassers outside Sir John Cass School in Stepney. I’d been helping out with some spring cleaning at St Dunstan’s Church across the road so I thought I’d pop by to see what was going on.

Here’s the male heavy crowd.

lutfur crowd

Thanks to Cllr Gulam Robbani‘s Facebook page we can see the moment I arrived.

This is a photo he took of me offering a handshake as he walked towards me.

Handshake

 

He wasn’t interested in the handshake; he just continued walking towards me, pointing his camera in my face. It was weird.

So I took a couple of him instead.

But he just carried on snapping. I’m not sure what he thought he was doing (and if you look carefully in the background, you can see Lutfur looking a little concerned about his friend’s erratic behaviour as well) so I gave him the thumb’s up.

thumb up

Someone suggested later I sign an autograph book for him.

Like little sheep following one of their more misguided leaders, a few more brave Lutfurites rushed forward to copy him. Cllr Alibor Choudhury also joined in and asked people to take pictures of us together.

Here are a couple more of my secret fan club.

Don’t you think they do look sheepish?

Standing in the background of the ‘thumbs up’ photo is Sebastian Payne, the online editor of the Spectator magazine. He thought it one of the strangest scenes he’d scene at a political rally. I mean, what kind of politician would try and intimidate a journalist? Bit sinister.

Seb, in a piece he wrote last night, also said there were a number of other more professional photographers taking photos with long lenses from the park across the way and from the end of the street.

Whether these photographers were paid by Lutfur I don’t know, but one or two were jumping to his orders.

For example, a couple of minutes after the Great Man himself arrived, one of his men (for they were pretty much all men), spotted a couple of white girls walking past. They pointed this out to Lutfur, so the mayor pounced. Smiling, he rushed over to them. They looked a bit bemused.

Lutfur and the girls

But he stood there chatting to them for a couple of minutes, just long enough for his cameraman to take enough shots to tick his “diversity” box.

lutfur girls and cameras

And then he walked back to the embraces of his 75 or so committed fans.

For the next half hour I was there, he never once more ventured beyond that crowd.

While I was watching all this, I did have a pleasant chat with his main man, Cllr Alibor Choudhury. We discussed all manner of things and I repeated an offer for Lutfur to write for this blog. He thought it a lovely idea. He also repeated a statement put out on the council’s website disputing the calculations made by BBC Panorama about the awarding of grants.

The BBC said Lutfur had diverted more than £2million of grants towards Bangladeshi or Somali groups to shore up his vote.

In contrast, the council had stated: 

In fact, in the latest grants round, £1.6million of a £9.7million programme was awarded to organisations with a Bengali or Somali chair, CEO or applicant – or 16.5 per cent to a community that makes up just under 36 per cent of the population.

I told Alibor surely the way to settle this is for the council to provide a breakdown of its figures by group. No problem, he said. So I said that’s odd because when I’d asked Takki Sulaiman, the council’s head of communications, for that spreadsheet on Thursday, he’d refused to send it. Takki said if I wanted that breakdown, I’d have to submit a FoI request. How transparent.

Alibor said Takki was “wrong”, that I should have been given it. So would Alibor send me it instead? Oh no, said the cabinet member for finance, we’ll have to let Eric Pickles’s inspectors now do their job.

He then asked me for my opinion on how last week’s events will affect the May election. I told him I didn’t really know. I said Labour seem buoyed by it and that many Bengalis had expressed deep embarrassment about the antics of Lutfur bhai and co.

Alibor said he was surprised at that and pointed to the favourable coverage the Mayor had received in the hard-hitting, ever-so-scrutinising Bengali media.

Here’s a selection of front pages from Thursday’s editions.

Bengali papers

Some of the headlines read ‘Brave Lutfur’, ‘BBC apologises over Panorama’, etc etc. It’s a free press, I suppose, but they do let themselves and their readers down sometimes with their gullibility.

A number of the papers, including the once prestigious Surma, also ran headlines declaring that Jack Straw was now backing Lutfur. “Lutfur is rolling out the sort of progressive programme that I’m in favour of Labour councils initiating,” the former Foreign Secretary was quoted as saying.

Really?

In fact, these quotes were taken from a rather feeble April Fool gag on Michael Meacher’s blog, Left Futures, published here the morning after Panorama on April 1. There were so many clues this was fake, I won’t bother going into them, but the biggest one of all was the line inserted at the top of the article on Tuesday evening.

Left futures

If I were Labour, I’d be getting Jack Straw to demand an apology and the right of reply in all those papers for the next edition. Labour needs to do better getting its message out to the media.

The Bengali community deserves better journalism than this.

But Lutfur, partly due to the council cash that’s been lobbed their way, has the Bengali press sewn up.

Late on Friday afternoon, his two council-paid media advisers, Numan Hussain and Mohammed Jubair (the £50k a year adviser who also works for Channel S) sent out invites for an “emergency press conference” in the town hall. These two, remember, have been behind allegations the BBC was racist.

I wasn’t invited, and nor was the East London Advertiser. I’m not aware of any other non-Bengali hacks who were asked to come. In fact, the ELA’s Adam Barnett received a tip-off from another source and made his way to Mulberry Place. Only after he was in the building did the Mayor’s Office ring him and ask if he’d like to come!

Here’s Lutfur’s photo of the meeting.

press conference

That’s Stuart Madewell to Lutfur’s left. Many of the others in camera shot are councillors or Tower Hamlets First activists. I’m told the “press conference” wasn’t the most biting of affairs, that it was more like a campaign strategy meeting.

I’m told the first question was something like: “We’ve heard there were SAS here and you’ve been arrested. Is this all propaganda?”

Who dares wins, eh.

There have been a couple of other developments, which I’ll report on later, but in the meantime, here are a couple more photos (courtesy of Labour’s @dave___smith):

Today’s edition of East End Life:

East End Life

 

Can anyone spot what’s missing??

And a someone removing Lutfur’s name from Poplar Baths.

Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 16.33.11

Not quite the Baghdad Saddam statue, but…

 

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This motion will be submitted to the next meeting of Tower Hamlets council on November 27.

Dealing with the cost of credit

Proposer: Cllr Anwar Khan

Seconder: Cllr Rachael Saunders

This Council notes:

–       The UK-wide campaign to end ‘legal loan sharking’.

–       The outrageous interest rates charged by some pay day lenders

–       The way in which these loans trap people in spirals of unmanageable debt.

–       That as Christmas approaches these companies will seek to use public advertising to target people in our borough who are struggling to make ends meet.

–       That unaffordable credit is extracting wealth from the most deprived communities.

This Council believes:

–       That the lack of access to affordable credit is socially and economically damaging.

–       Unaffordable credit is causing a myriad of unwanted effects such as poorer diets, colder homes, rent, council tax and utility arrears, depression and poor physical and mental health.

–       That there is a need for better regulation of the payday lending sector, including a cap of the total cost of credit.

–       That until such regulation is introduced Tower Hamlets Council should work with partners to do all it can to protect people from usurious lending.

This Council Resolves:

–       That payday loan firms should be banned from setting up businesses in commercial property owned by the local authority. 

–       That pay day loan firms should be banned from advertising in property owned by the council.

–       That payday loan firms should be banned from advertising in Council publications or on Council owned advertising boards, from all public computers.

–       To promote credit unions in Tower Hamlets as community based organisations offering access to affordable credit and promoting saving.

–       To work with school, community organisations, housing providers, faith organisations and  providers of debt and money management advice to ensure that every resident of Tower Hamlets has access to financial advice and support.

–       That the Council writes to the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Sir Peter Hendy (Commissioner of Transport for London) and Vernon Everitt (Managing Director, Customer Experience, Marketing and Communications) informing them of the Council’s decision to ban payday loan advertising in the borough and asking them to consider amending the TfL Advertising Policy to include a similar ban on all London public transport.

–       Instructs the Corporate Director, CLC, to report in writing to the next full Council meeting, the steps the Council or Mayor could take to limit the proliferation and impact of high street credit outlets in the borough.

–       To call on the government to introduce caps on the total lending rates that can be charged for providing credit.

–       To call on the government to give local authorities the power to veto licences for high street credit agencies where they could have negative economic or social impacts on communities.

–       To request the Heads of Planning and Licensing to report to the next Council meeting on ways in which officers can use powers at their disposal to ensure that the Council is doing all it can to prevent the promotion, publicity or opening of payday loan outlets or providers.

 

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This is the list of questions to be posed to Mayor Lutfur Rahman by Peter Golds’. His group’s proposed motions for the council to consider are underneath.

Cllr Tim Archer

Will the Mayor please outline how his “Community Champions” were selected, and what steps were taken to ensure they were representative of the entire Tower Hamlets community?

Cllr David Snowdon

A number of new parking spaces have recently been marked out on Westferry Road opposite the Clifton Restaurant and Supermarket. Cllr Davis and I have had a large number of complaints that cars parking in these spaces have led to reduced visibility for cars turning off and onto Westferry Road.

Will the Mayor explain as to whose instigation were these parking spaces marked out?

Cllr Peter Golds

The 4th November Edition of East End Life contained on pages 16 and 17 what can only be described as a Council-paid advert for the administration.

Will the Mayor give an undertaking to pay to Tower Hamlets the commercial rate for this double page spread, not least as the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which received an unopposed second reading in the House of Commons, will soon receive Royal Assent and the Secretary of State will be legally empowered to direct the closure of East End Life?

Cllr Dr Emma Jones

Will the Mayor tell me how much was spent on this year’s Borough Fireworks display, and why once more no outside sponsorship was sought?

Cllr Zara Davis

What steps is the Mayor taking to ensure that Isle of Dogs residents do not suffer increased aircraft noise pollution as a result of the works proposed in the two major London City Airport planning applications recently submitted?

Cllr Gloria Thienel

Will the Mayor confirm for how long Social Care visits are timed within the borough?

Cllr Craig Aston

Will the Mayor indicate what actions he has taken to ensure the safety of residents and pedestrians in the vicinity of 96 Narrow Street, following the erection of hoardings across the full width of the pavement, thereby forcing pedestrians to use the road? 

Motion – Spitting and urination in public

Proposed by Cllr Gloria Thienel

Seconded by Cllr Peter Golds

This meeting of Tower Hamlets Council expresses concern at the increase of spitting and public urination which is turning many of the borough’s streets and open spaces into serious health hazards.

The council condemns those whose anti social habits damage the health and environment of our public spaces.

This council resolves that those responsible for enforcement should undertake that existing laws and by laws are observed through penalty charges and where necessary, the prosecution of offenders.

Motion – Registered social landlords

Proposed by Cllr Peter Golds

Seconded by Cllr David Snowdon

This meeting of Tower Hamlets Council supports the principles of the Freedom of Information Act, allowing the press and public to find out how Government and councils behave, and spend taxpayers’ money.

This council notes that whereas Registered Social Landlords, according to the High Court,  “work side by side with, and can in a very real sense be said to take the place of, local authorities”,they are not currently subject to FOI requests.

This council believes Freedom of Information Act should be extended to cover Registered Social Landlords.

Therefore, in the absence of current legislation, The council resolves to work with local RSL’s to encourage them to adopt the Freedom of Information Act principles on a voluntary basis.

Motion – Commercial events in borough’s public parks

Proposed by Cllr Tim Archer

Seconded by Cllr David Snowdon

This meeting of Tower Hamlets Council recognises the vital importance of public available green spaces and parks within the borough.

This council reiterates that this is a vital community asset within Tower Hamlets, where many residents do not have their own gardens.

This council reaffirms that our parks are much loved and appreciated by residents and therefore reject the unfortunate comments made by Councillors Shahid Ali and Rania Khan directed at those residents of the borough who are concerned about the preservation and enhancement of the borough’s parks.

The council congratulates residents of the Isle of Dogs who have come together to form The Friends of Island Gardens, a genuinely community based organisation dedicated to preserve this oasis, situated on the World Heritage buffer zone opposite Greenwich Palace and encourages other residents to get together to support their local parks.

The council reaffirms that primarily, parks are for people, and therefore opposes the increased use of our parks for commercial events, such as those that affect Victoria Park during the summer holidays ; and opposes the loss of park land to new developments.

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