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The following is a guest post by Mayor John Biggs who wants to put his side of the argument on the youth sport funding row. It follows two previous guest posts (here and here) by Chris Dunne of the Tower Hamlets Youth Sports Foundation whose future is under threat due to funding problems.

This guest post is interesting because whether you agree with the mayor or not, you can see a logical and reasoned approach to decision-making – an insight never seen with his predecessor, Lutfur Rahman.

Doesn’t mean he’s right, though.

For those desperate for more politics, gossip, accusations of sexism and just general bitching, as well as the serious policy issues like this, take heart – I will report back soon.

 

By Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets mayorI should start by welcoming Ted back to the world of Tower Hamlets politics: your absence has been noticed and it is good to see you return to the fold. In a healthy democracy people should always feel able to question, quiz and disagree with decisions politicians make, I have no doubt you will do all three and keep us on our toes.

I know you ran a post from Tower Hamlets Youth and Sports Foundation (THYSF) and I wanted to set out my case for the decision the Council has made as a right of reply.

The 2012 Games promised a lot and whilst the Olympics have delivered some incredible economic regeneration results it’s fair to say the sports legacy from the Games has fallen below expectations.

This is in no small part due to decisions by the Coalition Government to slash funding to school sports and abolish the ring-fenced funding given to School Sport Partnerships like the Tower Hamlets Youth Sports Foundation.

Contrary to some assertions Tower Hamlets Council is not cutting the THYSF. It is not a council-funded service but we have provided them with emergency funding when they faced budget challenges. In fact over the past year we have provided around £150,000 to help cover their deficit..

The problem facing THYSF is that they have always been primarily funded by the schools they provide services to; aside from the small amount of funding the council gets from Sport England which we gave to THYSF to support their programmes.

As Chris Dunne rightly stated in his first article Michael Gove’s scrapping of funding for Sports Partnerships made this model far harder to work. The decision over following years to squeeze school budgets tighter and tighter made things more problematic for THYSF as school funding has reduced.

As a result the THYSF ended the 2016/17 year with a deficit of around £150k.

Valuing the service THYSF provides, the council agreed to underwrite those costs but asked that THYSF produce a business plan that addressed the financial concerns and demonstrated that THYSF can cover all its expenditure from the income it receives, whether by way of the agreements, called SLAs, with the schools to provide services, or from community activities from which additional income can be raised.

In addition to the financial support provided by the council, we offered officer support to better understand the challenges facing THYSF.

This work forecast a further deficit of up to £190k later this year and highlighted the overall challenge facing THYSF, that its costs are fixed, staffing etc, but its income fluctuates significantly.

Furthermore, the analysis found that school subscriptions have been falling for the past three years which has resulted in reducing income at the same time as there has been an increase in the charity’s cost base.

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Chris Dunne, of the Tower Hamlets Youth Sport Foundation

In 2012 I understand there were 87 schools buying into THYSF services. In 2017 there are only around 37 with Service agreements with THYSF. That has hit THYSF’s income despite costs staying broadly stable. I appreciate that THYSF dispute these figures and may have others paying for some of their services via other means, but clearly they are facing an existential crisis because of reduced income.

I cannot speak for why schools chose to withdraw from THYSF however it is clear Government cuts have made school budgets far tighter over that time.

Whilst THYSF are not a council service, we have supported them by covering their deficit last year.

The Council has not withdrawn any of its existing funding sources, nor were we proposing to. In fact we have given THYSF more money than ever over the past year to give them time to come up with a new business plan.

Currently the organisation’s staff are formally employed by Langdon Park School. Given the increasing concerns about THYSF’s finances the school no longer wish to host them as they could end up liable for any deficit.

Sadly, we are left with limited options.

Why doesn’t the Council just fund THYSF?

The answer put forward by some that the council just take over THYSF and make them a council department is fraught with risk for taxpayers – it would mean assimilating a service with staffing costs in the region of £600,000-650,000 a year. It would mean adopting a service for which funding does not exist in our budgets and it would not be fair on existing employees who are facing tough choices and restructures.

Central Government cuts mean we have to save 1 in every 6 pounds we currently spend – that’s £58m over this and the coming years with yet more cuts looming on the horizon.

It may be easy for other political groups to play politics about this issue; however my administration has had to clear up the mismanagement of the past at the same time as facing devastating cuts from Central Government.

There is also an urban myth circulating that the council spends £3.8m on sports already and all we need to do is reallocate some of that. This just simply is not true. The actual budget for our sports team is around £1.1m which achieves excellent value for money providing services such as:

  • Our weekly Disability Sport Programme enabling 10,000 mainly young people with disabilities participate in activities at Mile End Park Leisure Centre.
  • Community programmes in the borough’s parks including a free health & fitness programme targeting approximately 2,000 inactive people, the majority of which have been women and girls.
  • Our Summer Sports Programme in Parks, leisure centres and the community which last year saw over 13,000 people take part in a diverse range of sports and activities for young people ranging from athletics and BMX/cycling to canoeing and kayaking.
  • Programmes like the Young@Heart for the Over 50’s, The Women and Girls Swim Programme, Sport4Women and Disability sport programme, free swimming on Fridays and Saturdays and under 16 swimming for just £1. These all make sporting activities accessible and affordable for residents of all ages.
  • On top of that our Sports team has generated over £4 million in external funding from organisations such as London Marathon Trust, Sport England, The Premier League and FA Facilities Fund. Without this work, the improvements to the borough’s sporting infrastructure, particularly those in our parks, would cease. The Stepney Green Astro-turf, the refurbishment of the borough’s tennis courts, the replacement of the astro-turf at John Orwell Sports Centre and Mile End Stadium, the resurfacing of the athletics track at Mile End Stadium. All were made possible by the council’s investment in sports.

Much of this work would be at risk if we cut funding from the current service in order to reallocate it to THYSF. These are improvements which benefit the whole community including our young people.

What we are planning to do

THYSF’s future is in their own hands. The council has supported them for a year to give them extra time but we cannot do so forever as we just do not have the funds, much like the schools who are choosing to no longer buy their services.

Like any organisation THYSF must produce a plan which balances its income with its costs. They have to do so now as Langdon Park School have decided to  end the relationship with THYSF.  The Foundation either have to choose to employ its staff directly or to close.

It is clear that Government cuts have made it far harder for schools to afford the THYSF service; particularly if similar organisations offer it for less money. That is a decision for schools. It is a challenge that is facing schools across the country.

I have said all along that we would support THYSF to step out on their own should they wish to set up as a new social enterprise. They would still need a solid business plan and the council would probably commission them to run some of the services they offer. That is why the council is funding a consultant to work with THYSF to help them work up this kind of proposal. What we cannot do is take their organisation into the council without the finances to pay for it.

Should THYSF close, the council will use the funding we receive from Sport England, which we currently give to THYSF, to help us step-in and support the running of the inter-borough and School Games. Similarly, we will continue to support the borough’s participation in the London Youth Games, as we are committed to ensuring young people do not lose out on these opportunities.

We would also ensure schools are offered a core package of sports by other high-quality providers including specialist cricket, hockey, cycling, football and other sports in conjunction with national sport governing bodies and organisations like Middlesex Cricket, England Hockey and professional football clubs who run these programmes in many other areas. It is however important that we act quickly, to ensure our young people have continuing support in the new school year.

I have considered the information that THYSF have sent through and wrote to Chris on 3rd August setting out the support we have offered at each stage of the process. Whilst I sympathise with THYSF’s position, it simply isn’t the case that without them there would be no sport provision for young people. We have worked with them to support and underwrite their costs over the past year.

I also understand why in times of financial challenges Langdon Park School view their current position of directly employing all the THYSF staff as unsustainable. I would be more than happy to see THYSF spin themselves off as a charitable enterprise, and I have been clear the council would support that. What I cannot do is cut other vital services the council provides in order to save a model which has hit financial challenges and will continue to do so, as a result of schools choosing to pull out from funding the organisation.

Chris is entirely right that, with a few sad exceptions, politicians don’t go into public life to ‘do bad things for their electors.’ This is a tricky situation and not one which is anywhere near as simple as some have tried to make out but like Chris I believe in the power of sports to transform lives. That is why whatever happens to THYSF we will continue to ensure that young people in our borough have the opportunities to participate in high quality sports and inter-borough and London-wide games.

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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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I’ve not been very successful at updating this blog on a regular basis over the past couple of years. Partly this is due to time, and partly it’s due to the energy to keep it flowing.

During the Lutfur years, the overriding whiff that there was something rotten in the Kingdom of Rahman meant it was much easier to invest that time and effort.

Since then, that same stench of maladministration has dissipated. The Government Commissioners gave their seal of approval and have been gone for many months.

But that’s not to say they were right to do so and that there isn’t anything to see.

Tower Hamlts Momentum

This from the Momentum Tower Hamlets Facebook page seems to back up suggestions they’re not exactly representative of the borough’s population

The politics are as nasty, complicated and divisive as ever — exacerbated in part by the growing strength of Momentum and the SWP newspaper sellers over the Tower Hamlets Labour party (not to mention the fall out from Shiria Khatun’s sacking as deputy mayor by John Biggs).  More on that in another post, soon.

But rather it’s the Grenfell factor that acts as a spur to blog again. The ‘dull but worthy’ stuff needs doing. Except that the guest post below is by no means dull.

In a borough so historically split – or perceived to be split – on race grounds, there are few better unifiers among us all, but particularly schoolchildren, than sport. Invest in sport and you get so much more than the odd medal or rosette.

Over the past decade, one of the great success stories in inner city Tower Hamlets has been the huge improvement in the borough’s schools – and that’s so much more than exam results. The borough’s attitude to sports, especially as there are relatively few playing spaces, has been great.

In many ways, this has been down to the leadership of a few individuals. Former councillor Abdal Ullah deserves credit for his promotion of football, that’s for sure, but it was the ex-headteacher of Langdon Park School in Poplar, Chris Dunne, who has been the real visionary (he was Ed Miliband’s English teacher and he once taught me a lesson after he rightly challenged me over one of my pieces years ago).

His championing of the borough’s school sports partnership made it one of the best in Britain. But as he spells out below, all this is now at very real risk of being undone.

He blames John Biggs and Labour. Well, more than blame…his anger boiled over to such an extent on Wednesday night, that he was escorted out of the chamber by council officers. (I’m now in good company…).

The mayor and Labour, meanwhile, will no doubt say this is all about austerity and government cuts. Let’s hope they’re not playing politics.

OK, take a breather, sit back and enjoy this really excellent piece by Chris Dunne (pictured below).


By Chris Dunne

governance-sub_01Mayor John Biggs and Labour councillors on Wednesday night did to the children of Tower Hamlets what Michael Gove did to the children of the country. Just days before the fifth anniversary of the London Olympics they voted to make the staff of the most successful youth sports partnership in the country redundant and wind up its operations.

Why am I so angry with this? Well, first let me admit it is personal (I Chair the Foundation that supports its work), but also because I passionately believe that when we make promises we should mean what we say. As a country we won the right to stage the Olympics because we said we would use them to establish a lasting legacy for all young people. One year before the London Games the Coalition Government trashed that idea in public when Gove, representing the Coalition Government, dismantled the school sports partnerships that were already making such a huge and effective impact across our country.

On Wednesday night the Mayor of a Borough that is still proudly claiming to be ‘Olympic’ trashed the only partnership left in the country still providing all the opportunities we had promised to the world – and providing them not for well-off children but for some of the poorest and most deserving children in the nation.

What do I know about it? Pretty much everything, having been involved from the start 12 years ago.

I was Headteacher of Langdon Park secondary school from 1992 to 2013. In 2005 we became the first Sports Specialist College in the borough. As such we were designated by the Government to run one of the 500 School Sports Partnerships in the country. It was one of the very few times in my life when I can remember a Government both setting schools some hugely ambitious targets and providing them with the resources to reach them. In essence the SSPs were designed to do the following:

• Increase (to a specific percentage each year) the time spent weekly by children on sport and physical activity
• Increase substantially the number of different sports on offer to all children
• Each secondary school to release a trained PE teacher for half the week to work in a cluster of local primary schools helping to train primary colleagues to deliver quality PE lessons
• Create clear pathways for children to pursue their involvement in sport beyond the school gates and after they leave school, through links to local clubs

I was responsible for making this happen in 45 schools in Tower Hamlets, and the Government sent me the money to do it.

Chris Willetts

Chris Willetts

I advertised for someone to manage this project and was fortunate to secure the services of a young man called Chris Willetts who, since 2005, has with a highly committed team quite simply transformed the sporting landscape for the youth of our Borough.

A second SSP was established at the Council to do the same thing with the other half of the Borough. It rapidly became obvious to us that it made sense to combine the two SSPs and to let Chris manage both. He and all the staff we subsequently appointed were employed by my school, but on behalf of the Borough in whose schools they all worked.

Between 2005 and 2010 Chris worked tirelessly (at one point I later discovered he was sleeping in his car while he sorted out somewhere to live) to make this one of the most successful SSPs in the country. In 2005 the percentage of children in the Borough getting two hours or more PE / Sport a week was 25%. By the time Gove did his work five years later that figure had increased to 90%, and we had exceeded Government targets every single year.

The number of sports on offer was rapidly increased to 25, where it still stands – though not for much longer. Sports specialists were appointed in a range of sports, both to work in schools skilling up pupils and enthusing them to enjoy their sport, but also to establish after-school borough-wide clubs, identify talented children and link them up with clubs to develop their prowess. The year before Chris started work there were 2 inter-school sports competitions in the borough. Chris and his team set themselves highly ambitious targets and in very little time that number of competitions had increased to 70+ a year, where it stands to this day – though not for much longer.

Currently 12 of our sports have borough squads or academies. Two examples:

• In 2005 there were no judo clubs in Tower Hamlets. Our newly appointed coach Marius, rapidly established three clubs in the borough, still attended by hundreds of youngsters, many of whom compete at a high level. Along the way he spotted a very young boy called Leo in one of the primary schools who he believed had exceptional talent. Leo, now 18, fights up and down the country and abroad and has been identified for Junior Team GB, and Marius is still at his side.

• In Tower Hamlets many youngsters are very keen on cricket, especially among the borough’s large Bangladeshi community. Tower Hamlets has no cricket club. Chris Willetts is a serious cricket player himself and soon after arriving here joined Blackheath Cricket Club in Greenwich. The first youngsters from Tower Hamlets went to Blackheath in Chris’s car, more joined them in other staff cars, and more still could follow when we bought a minibus and appointed Jahid, an ex-Essex County player to lead the sport’s development. Dozens of our youngsters now play at Blackheath as members, some of them have progressed to county level, and one became the first young Bangladeshi to win a contract with the MCC. A couple of days ago we played the fifth of our annual matches against the MCC, where our youngsters, mostly Asian, get to play against (and have lunch and tea with) some very talented adult, and incidentally mostly white, cricketers.

Hope you’ve spotted the most important factor here. Our coaches are not just coaches in their sport – for many of our youngsters they become mentors, surrogate big brothers / sisters, personally involving themselves in overcoming many of the obstacles that our youngsters in particular often face. When one of our young cricketers was told by his family that he could not stay overnight on a tour of the West Country Chris Willetts drove him back to his house in Bow then picked him up the next morning to drive him back to Somerset.

When Gove destroyed the national SSP scheme, in Tower Hamlets we decided that this was too important to lose. Headteachers agreed to pay subscriptions to a new organization (we set up a Foundation that became a company and then a charity), Langdon Park agreed to continue to employ the staff, and the Council agreed to underwrite potential future redundancies, to passport the money they spent on the London Youth Games to the new Foundation and to commission services from it wherever feasible.

For four years of the past five the Foundation operated in surplus, but it was becoming apparent that things needed to change if we were to secure the future. Firstly, Langdon Park (I retired as Head in 2013) quite understandably did not want to employ the staff ‘ad infinitum’. Secondly, schools’ budgets were coming under increasing pressure. Thirdly, the Council had not only commissioned no services from us; they had not even paid us any money for schools to enter the annual London Youth Games. Indeed, a report commissioned by the Council itself showed that by comparison with similar boroughs they spent far less on young people, not least because of our Foundation’s existence. In reality everything that was happening in youth sport in the borough was being managed by us and paid for largely by the schools, together with some corporate sponsorship raised by the Foundation.

Trustees of the Foundation (by then I was the Chair) alerted the newly elected Mayor John Biggs to this in Autumn 2015 and sought his urgent intervention to construct a plan with us to secure this work for future generations of children. Apart from one conversation about taking the staff into the Council’s sports department almost nothing happened for a full year, which I wrote to the Mayor to point out. By the time any real discussions were being had a number of unforeseen factors had led to a small deficit being accumulated for the financial year 2016/17. We made it clear however that not only was this a blip (after four years of operating with a surplus) but one that could be easily remedied if the Council had the political will, and in particular was prepared to share the funding of this work with their schools.

dunne and miliband

Chris Dunne with his former pupil, Ed Miliband

This blog is not the place for a detailed account of the discussions between us. In essence, in our proposed business plan we asked the Council to transfer the staff from Langdon Park into the Council for an interim period while we examined the feasibility of setting up an independent trust (transferring staff to the Council was their own first suggestion, and would cost them nothing since they already underwrite redundancy costs). The Council declined, insisting instead on the transfer of all the staff (with their existing borough terms and conditions of employment) directly and pretty much immediately to the Trustees of the Charity.

Furthermore, they insisted that we produce a second business plan both to reflect this and to remove everything from our programme that was not school-based. Or to put it more clearly, to remove everything that I have already described in this article, and much more like it.

No more squads and academies. No more competitions. No more talent identification and nurturing. No more mentoring. No more children playing sport at the highest levels possible. No more county. No more national. No more Junior Team GB.

The Council surely can’t have been surprised when the Trustees told the Mayor that they found this an impossible prospect. To take on the costs of employing borough staff on borough terms and conditions would in itself have been very challenging, but to do so knowing that the programme they would be offering would be hugely less attractive both to the schools that would provide the bulk of their income and to the corporate sponsors who provided the rest, made it totally unviable. To this day the one option that was / is totally viable remains on the table, unopened. It’s really very simple:

• The Council transfers these ‘borough’ workers from Langdon Park to its
own direct control – funded by school subscriptions or made redundant (at no extra cost) if the schools do not buy the service

• The Council redresses the imbalance in spending of its existing budget for sport – an imbalance pointed out in a report it itself commissioned – to focus more resources on the very high youth population in the borough, thus reducing the costs to schools, who currently face enormous pressures on their budgets

In Tower Hamlets for the last five years schools and the Foundation have been doing everything in their power to keep the best sports partnership in the country alive in this seriously deprived ‘Olympic’ borough. In addition to everything I have already described, since we started our work over 200 teachers every year are trained by our staff to deliver high quality PE to their pupils An award-winning scheme has seen 2,500 teenagers, boys and girls of every race and religion, trained to lead and coach sport for younger children across the borough. Three youngsters have made it into Junior Team GB. Since we took over the running of our entry to the London Youth Games we have improved our position from 25th (out of 33 boroughs) to 9th. This year Tower Hamlets won “most improved borough” status at the London Youth Games.

Despite all of the above the Council made the decision to close the programme down and make the staff redundant. In typical cavalier fashion it was announced in an internal bulletin for Headteachers before any of the staff concerned had been officially informed. In fact, at the time of writing this article some of the staff concerned have still to be notified officially!

In just 10 days more than 6,000 children, parents, teachers, club officials and residents had signed a petition, and many dozens of them from every part of the borough had attended a rally at the Town Hall before the Council Meeting at which the petition would be debated. Hundreds of residents, young and old, have left messages of support on the on-line petition, pleading with the Council not to allow this service to go under. Their comments, some of which are reproduced below, make heart-warming reading.

A Bengali Muslim PE teacher is rare and I’ve only managed that because of THYSF. I get to be a role model for so many young girls out there and make a positive impact to our community. 

The Youth Sport Foundation was founded in Tower Hamlets to get young kids into the world of sports. It has positively impacted many kids within the borough to pursue their interest in sports and reach their goals through the help of many talented and highly experienced coaches. The Youth Sport Foundation has now become the target of the brutal and extensive budget cuts within the borough of Tower Hamlets and I am pleading with the many out there who feel as passionately as I do about the programme. Please take a few minutes to sign the petition I have provided so that we can keep this great cause alive. The Youth Sport Foundation has also helped me to pave my career as a teacher and I would not be where I am today without the support and guidance of the programme. 

This organisation has been doing an incredible job in a very troubled and impoverished borough. It has set me on to bigger and better things in life, I am currently in the NHS as a therapist but without Tower Hamlets Youth Sports, I wouldn’t be here. 

This program is amazing, It played major part in mine and many others individuals developments and integration to UK. 

I’m signing this because the company helps a lot of people get off the streets, also it has personally helped me massively THYSF is a fantastic organisation and I would never have been able to play at the high level of hockey which I do without being introduced into the sport by them. 

The Chair of the Youth Sport Trust, and the woman who oversaw the funding of Team GB, Baroness Campbell, had written to the Mayor to express her worry and disappointment at the decision.

All the Council were being asked to do differently, since the staff of the Foundation are already borough employees, was to help schools with the cost of running these programmes, by redirecting some of the £3.8m in their sports budget to this hugely successful enterprise. The Council’s own report has already shown that they spend far less on children’s sport because of the Foundation’s existence.

Seb (Lord) Coe wrote recently about the enormous damage done to youth sport in England in 2011 by “meddling and ill-informed government ministers” when they dismantled the highly successful school sports partnerships that were already making such a difference to young people’s lives. At Wednesday night’s council meeting Labour councillors, either because they don’t care or because they had been given false or inaccurate information by their Mayor, voted down a motion to protect the Tower Hamlets Youth Sport Foundation and secure a sporting future for our children, and voted instead for an unpublished “plan” proposed by the Mayor that he must know is simply undeliverable.

The Mayor, protected by Standing Orders that clearly very few councillors understood, and that both denied them the right to ask me questions and me to have any right of reply, made a string of assertions that were either gross distortions of the facts or simply untrue.

The Mayor has apparently told his supporters that his plan will “support youth sport, including the provision of inter-borough, School Games and London Youth Games and support local clubs and elite sport”. Since he hasn’t bothered to seek the advice of the staff who have been delivering this service, including Chris Willetts, the man who has led this transformation for over 12 years, I have to assume that this “plan”, if it even exists, is just another example of the politician’s art, of saying a lot while intending to deliver little or nothing.

Those of us who have been involved with this Borough for many years know precisely what the sporting future now holds for our children and their families, as we rapidly return to the days when fewer and fewer sports are on offer, most of them without a borough squad or academy, when only a few children have the resources and connections to find their way to specialist clubs, almost all of them outside this borough, or to compete at the highest levels, leaving all that to children from more comfortably off families in more affluent parts of the country. All the while being forced to listen to ignorant and sickening drivel from privately educated politicians, bemoaning the fact that so many members of Team GB have come from independent or private schools.

Before security officers showed me to the door of the Council Chamber, and despite the best attempts of the Speaker to drown me out by banging her gavel, I managed to tell the Mayor and his supporters on the Labour benches (I’m a Labour Party member incidentally) that thousands of children and their families would never forgive them and that they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. So they should, and I intend to go on calling out this Mayor in public, to expose the lies and deceptions and downright incompetence that underlies this decision.

Let’s hope the Mayor will have the guts to face me in public rather than hiding behind the totally undemocratic ‘regulations’ that allowed him to rubbish our work and distort the facts, and not give me any right of reply. I’m not holding my breath.

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biggs2One of the reasons given for the disastrous move to a directly elected mayoral system of governance in Tower Hamlets in 2010 was it would end the inherent instability of the ‘leader and cabinet’ model.

The latter entailed the ruling party group, ie Labour councillors, voting each April for their leader. This led to endless faction fights that eventually resulted in the rise of Lutfur Rahman.

It turns out these were the halcyon days of Tower Hamlets politics. As I write, the party is again at war with itself in a tragic case of history repeating.

In most councils, I think I’m right in saying that what most people care about is the efficient running of frontline services: bins, schools, street lights, housing etc etc. In Tower Hamlets, the discussions among many politicos at least (but more widely as well) centre more on race and Islamophobia….and when will there be another Bengali mayor. Of course, these are then wrapped up as one.

So the smear tactics that eventually led to the ousting by a court of Lutfur Rahman are once again being deployed against Mayor John Biggs. On a Bengali TV political chat show tonight (‘Straight Dialogue’), the topics due for discussion were “police brutality, harassment, racism, hate crime, Islamophobia and any other issues of concern”.

Panel members due to appear included former Labour and Respect councillor Gulam Mortuza, ex-Labour councillor Abdal Ullah and, lo and behold, Shiraj Haque, who everyone knows as ‘Curry King’ and who used to boast he was Lutfur’s main financial backer until people started to realise that accolade actually resided with the taxpayer’s grants pot.

Mr Haque is a Labour member although for how long is another question. He is currently in league with former (Labour) council leader Helal Abbas and a number of others to “stand up for democracy” and ensure there is no stitch up over who is chosen as the party’s mayoral candidate in 2018.

One of the consequences of the Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum show at Westminster has been a significant increase in party membership in Tower Hamlets. [I am also told that influential activists have been busy buying up party memberships for people. One informed source told me this “has long been the custom in Tower Hamlets” so that you have people who can turn up to branch meetings and vote as puppets. Some convince themselves this is democracy in action but the reality is that it is fraud and if anyone has any information on this please do get in touch – confidentiality guaranteed.]

Possibly because the “wrong” kind of members may have joined (legitimately and otherwise), Labour has decided to very quickly settle the important issue of who will be its candidate for 2018.

A series of trigger ballots among all the borough party’s wards and affiliates has just got underway. The intention of the party leadership is to affirm there is no need for an open election process for the 2018 candidate and that the incumbent is automatically chosen, ie John Biggs.

It’s my understanding that John has genuinely impressed the Government appointed commissioners and senior officers who oversee and run the council. The council is regaining respect in Whitehall.

But for a great many people, and not just loons, this doesn’t really matter. For them, partly because of his character (dry and sometimes blunt), but more because he is not Bengali, it’s time for another Bengali mayor.

So they are seeing this decision to “impose” him as candidate for 2018 as an undemocratic stitch up. The rallying calls have gone out. These trigger ballots must be completed by November 16. Only those who were registered Labour members before April 16 are entitled to vote.

If he loses the trigger ballot (he has to win a majority of wards and affiliates), there will be new selection process. And that will mean new hats into the ring. What is probable if that happens is that John will not win.

Who those new hats may belong to is a fascinating question in itself. I am told Helal Abbas has not ruled himself out, although he also fancies himself to take over Jim Fitzpatrick’s seat in whatever becomes Poplar and Limehouse in 2020.

But the really wild card hat is Rabina Khan, who, with her husband Aminur Khan, yesterday quit the Tower Hamlets Independent Group. This was as I predicted last month when THING and Lutfur chose Ohid Ahmed as their 2018 candidate for mayor. I am told she was subjected to a certain degree of misogyny by some of her former group colleagues, which does not surprise me. So good on her.

 

img_3718So here’s the interesting scenario. Remember she is a former Labour councillor who defected to Lutfur in 2010. She and others would like to return. Senior local figures like Abbas have made it known that the party should be “reaching out” to her and others (to Ohid Ahmed, even), to draw a line and readmit them to the fold. Some regard this as breathtakingly cynical.

But I would not bet against it happening. And if she is readmitted, there is a very good chance that the woman who lost to Biggs in 2015 could defeat him in an internal selection process next year. Even if Biggs wins the Labour trigger ballot this month, she could take him on outside the Labour tent as an independent.

Oh, the machinations, eh… . Well, they’ve only just begun. Last night, the first of the affiliates to hold the trigger ballot, the Women’s Forum, descended into farce and acrimony — and resulted in an official complaint by Shiraj Haque to Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol about the way it was conducted.

I have been sent a copy of that letter, which was copied to Jeremy Corbyn, Len McLuskey, Shami Chakrabarti, loads of others, and Christine Shawcroft. I’ve copied it below.

The facts are that 67 people signed in to vote, but somehow 80 ballots were cast (so the usual story, really). The organisers, Victoria Obaze and Catherine Overton, who are John Biggs supporters, say they had no choice but to declare the vote null and void. It is claimed by John’s opponents that the vote would have gone against him.

Over the next few days, there will be many more such ballots.

Oh, we also have the matter of the Whitechapel by election on December 1 after the demise of jailbird Shahed Ali who is serving time for housing tenancy fraud.

Labour is selecting its candidate tomorrow night. John I think favours ex-councillor Motin uz-Zaman, but Abbas, Khales Uddin and Shiraj Haque are said to be lobbying hard for Tarik Khan. (Update: Tarik denies this; at the shortlisting session on Wednesday night, Motin, Asma Islam (Wais’s wife) and Victoria Obaze were chosen: the full selection is Thursday night. This is also being viewed as a stitch up.) 

Oddly, THING is not putting up a candidate. A certain Shafi Ahmed is believed to be standing on behalf of something called the ‘Residents’ Alliance’ and THING are standing aside for him. Any more details on Mr Ahmed gratefully received.

Here’s the letter sent by Shiraj Haque and friends to Labour’s general secretary. One person who was at the meeting has told me the letter is “bollocks”.

 

Dear Mr McNicol,

Affirmative ballot for the mayoral candidate in Tower Hamlets

We write to formally inform you on behalf of a number of distressed members the Tower Hamlets Labour Party whom have been victims of intimidation, bullying, harassment and blackmailing by members of John Biggs’ campaign team; some of whom are senior and leading figures of the local Labour Party including Jim Fitzpatrick MP.

These allegations include threats of being blocked on shortlists of future councillor selections in Tower Hamlets, being expelled from the Labour Party and threatening to refuse and withhold support for community events.

Additionally, there are also serious concern of data protection violation whereby members of John Biggs’ campaign team have been seen with membership data when approaching members for support and it is unclear how such data was obtained and with which permissions.

It is quite clear that Mr Biggs’ team are clearly lobbying support for the trigger in every ward in Tower Hamlets which of course they are entitled to do, however in the process there are clear violations of due process taking place. We shall be following up this letter with evidence and affidavits which shall be sent to you shortly.

As you will be aware the first trigger ballots of Tower Hamlets Labour Party was from the Women’s Forum organised trigger ballot this evening, 1 November 2016 at 7pm at St Margaret’s Hall.

There was a large turnout of members. Many have complained about a lack of organisation, transparency and being denied access to the hall, being asked for photographic ID is which was not communicated beforehand and a new requirement for these types of meetings. Many members did have identity cards in their possession in form of student photo card, driving licence and so on, but due to not presenting their Labour Party membership cards they were asked to stand to a side of the hall, treated like outsiders and entryists and made to suffer humiliation in front of other members.

Finally when members demanded the production of Labour Party rulebook evidence stating that the only acceptable identity cards has to be Labour Party membership cards, they were allowed entry. The vast majority of the members did not receive notice of the meeting to attend this women forum ballot in the first place disenfranchise many eligible to attend and vote.

Members attended the meeting after hearing this via word of mouth and as a result the attendance was high, demonstrating that this is a vote members want to participate in and be heard on.

Many will be relatively new to the Party therefore unaware of the process and some of them did not carry their Labour Party membership cards. Those that did receive notice were not informed in that notice that they needed to bring proof of identification. It has come to our attention that a member and organiser known as Catherine Overton arrived at least half hour after the closing of the door. She was allowed to canvass for Mayor Biggs, take part in the voting process and become a teller while other women who arrived at the same time were turned away. A clear example of discrimination. Members were individually counted numerous times and had to sit through three registration and verification processes before the release of the ballot papers which was done by two people running through the attendee list and yet again verifying each member present individually before issuing them a single ballot paper. The public announcement by Victoria Obaze which announced the opening of the meeting during which she categorically stated that she was delighted that at least 80 members had turned up for the meeting.

The members explains their frustration and intimidation that they had suffered from some of the women councillors during this process. They were strongly advised by some of these women councillors and the organisers to support the trigger ballot in favour of Mayor John Biggs. These members state that upon the first counting of the ballot papers most of the councillors and organisers gathered around the counting table and started gossiping. They then announced to re-count the ballot papers again, but did not explain the reasons. They finally re-counted these papers up to four times before declaring the ballot to be invalid and gave their reasoning as receiving 80 completed ballot papers when they had only 67 members registered and the “discrepancy” in numbers was too large. One councillor went as far as to say publically that perhaps the ballots were tampered with while unattended and extra ballots added to the pile sending a message to members that their presence was unwelcome or some way underhand.

It would follow that if at the start of the meeting Victoria announced the number in attendance having completed the registration was 80 members, you would expect that same number of votes to be cast as was the case. How was there suddenly a 30 vote discrepancy which allowed the vote to be nullified?

For a women’s meeting late on a cold night to have a high turnout is something to be celebrated and encouraged. The above examples show a lack of respect for the wider membership by officers and councillors and makes a mockery of the efforts many women made to attend the meeting despite work, childcare and other commitments. It is unacceptable to Labour Party values of fairness, democracy and transparency to treat members this way. The Tower Hamlets membership list is perhaps one of the most scrutinised in the country and having undergone rigorous due diligence in recent years has been confirmed as robust and on the whole accurate. To treat members this way is appalling.

It is with regret the members wish to know from you whether the process applied tonight by the organisers and some of the councillors was the process held under the Labour Party rulebook.

In addition, we seek the Labour Party to immediately suspend the trigger ballot process in Tower Hamlets with immediate effect pending an independent investigation into our concerns raised above in order to ensure a fair and just process is adhered to. In the absence of any action we shall seek legal advice on this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Apsana Begum

Shiraj Haque

Sabina Akther

CC:

Jeremy Corbyn

Chris Weavers

Tarik Khan

Ali Craft

Dan Simpson

Ann Black

Claudia Webbe

Christine Shawcroft

Darren Williams

Rhea Wolfson

Peter Willsman

Francis Prideaus

Shami Chakrabarti

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Although Tower Hamlets voted Remain by 68 per cent to 32, the numbers should have been far higher, argues Cat Overton. While campaigning, she detected fears about immigration among ‘white working classes’ and beliefs among British Bengalis that Brexit could deliver more non-EU migrants for local businesses. She says Labour needs to do far more to reconnect with its grass roots.

Cat Overton is a lawyer and Labour party campaigner. She is also chair of Wapping Labour and Treasurer of the Tower Hamlets Labour party.

This is her guest post:

Cat OvertonIt is, admittedly, not something you hear uttered very often, but the EU is close to my heart.

I attended the European School of Brussels from primary school through to sitting the European Baccalaureat leaving exam. My identity is European as well as British, this dual identity I had always felt to be compatible and complimentary.

Like so many Londoners, my cultural identity is multi-layered. So for me the Brexit vote feels like a personal tragedy as well as a tragedy for our country and our local community.

Londoners are in shock and are angry. People living here from other EU countries are variously wondering what their future holds and whether they are still welcome here. A (albeit somewhat far-fetched) petition is circulating calling for the Mayor of London to declare London independent from the rest of the UK.

City workers are fearing for their jobs, following announcements by JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and HSBC that they may be relocating thousands of jobs to the continent. If realised, this will of course have a knock-on effect on our local economy in Tower Hamlets, in addition to the more obvious impact on Canary Wharf.

[The sheer scale of the Brexit challenge is mind-boggling. We will have to see whether Boris has the guts to pull the pin from the grenade that Cameron has dutifully handed to him by triggering Article 50, or whether he will somehow find a way of wriggling out of it. There could even be a second referendum. Remember we have not yet “left” Europe, despite the loose words of pundits and politicians alike. The referendum may have been an exercise in democracy but it is not binding on Parliament.]

But turning the focus more sharply on Tower Hamlets.

In the build-up to the Brexit vote, Tower Hamlets was listed as the tenth most pro-European local authority in the country. Sociologically, this was presumably because Tower Hamlets has a very young demographic, with many young professionals, a high graduate population and many liberal-minded residents working in the creative industries. Much of the local population could be described in ‘journo-speak’ as “cosmopolitan”.

It is a place where people from all over the world and from all over Europe live and work side by side and it feels to me like a culturally open place. It is forgotten that there are also massive levels of poverty, social deprivation and overcrowding. Nevertheless, there are opportunities here that are not necessarily enjoyed by the northern Labour heartlands.

In the event, Tower Hamlets did vote to Remain. However, London lost the tug-of-war with the rest of England, partly because of unexpectedly high turnouts in Labour northern and midlands heartlands that voted heavily for Leave, but also because the Remain vote in London was not large enough to counterbalance the haul of Leave votes in those areas.

Tower Hamlets voted 67.5% (73,011) for Remain, 32.5% for Leave (35,224). By contrast, the high watermark was Lambeth where 79% voted to Remain. Turnout in Tower Hamlets was 64.5%. So turnout in Tower Hamlets was high compared to other elections, but Remain needed it to be significantly higher.

In the tenth most pro-European local authority, Leave still managed to secure a third of the votes. One in 3 people who voted in Tower Hamlets voted for Leave. Of course, many of those 35,224 Leave voters will have been Conservative or Ukip voters who could finally express their euroscepticism explicitly at the ballot box. But many of the Leave voters will also have been Labour voters.

Our two local Labour MPs firmly backed Remain, as did the Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs and the newly elected GLA member Unmesh Desai. And yet thousands upon thousands of Labour voters in Tower Hamlets voted for Leave.

The following observations are unscientific and based solely on my anecdotal experience as a campaigner who went out on the doorstep many many times during the referendum campaign:

1. Some of the white working class residents who we spoke to, typically over the age of 50, were very clear they would be voting Leave in order to lower immigration, whether immigration from outside the EEA or internal EU immigration. Time and time again I heard that their children and grandchildren had been forced to move out of Tower Hamlets due to pressures on housing caused by migrants. Others spoke of their wages being under-cut by EU migrants.

2. Again, anecdotally, there were apparently several splits in the British Bengali community. During the course of the campaign some activists spoke by way of hearsay of Priti Patel meeting the owners of catering companies telling them that if we left the EU it would be easier to secure UK visas for chefs from Bangladesh. We later heard on the doorstep that if internal EU immigration were to fall, it would perhaps be easier to bring others in from Commonwealth countries. We Labour activists campaigning for Remain (many of them themselves British Bengali) tried to persuade voters on these issues. It was unclear how successful we were being with that endeavour. [Note from Ted: Cllr Oli Rahman, leader of the Lutfurite Tower Hamlets Independent Group also voted Leave, according to his Facebook page.]

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 17.35.35

3. Closer to the day and on polling day itself, others splits appeared to be emerging. We noticed that previous Respect voters were telling us they were voting Leave. An articulate young man candidly told me that, whilst he believed that Remain was in the national interest, the economic meltdown that a Brexit vote would herald would prove to be his young family’s best chance of moving out of a council flat and buying their own home.

So unscientific as they may be, these anecdotal observations as a Labour campaigner in Tower Hamlets suggest a not dissimilar dynamic to what was happening in the working class communities in the northern and midlands Labour heartlands.

There can be no doubt now that Labour has a massive uphill battle to reconnect with its grassroots supporters. Labour is fighting for its very survival. Forces have been unleashed that appear to be out of control. But we have to carry on in the face of national despair and fight for the values we believe in and for the communities that we are in politics to serve.

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One of the accusations regularly chucked the way of Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales is that he buys off the support of his Labour colleagues by giving them all paid jobs.

In Tower Hamlets, there are 23 Labour councillors (out of 45 in total), so they control the town hall.

At Wednesday night’s full council meeting, the Labour group will nominate (and so highly likely vote through) paid/Special Responsibility Allowance posts for, er, all 23 of its councillors.

And of course, as my last piece detailed, all these will in some way receive a pay rise.

The proposals agreed at the recent AGM of the Labour group are:

Cabinet/Mayoral advisors: Helal Uddin, Dave Chesterton, Denise Jones

Chair of Development: Marc Francis

Chair of Licensing: Rajib Ahmed

Speaker of the Council: Khales Uddin Ahmed 

Deputy Speaker: Sabina Akhtar

Chair of Overview & Scrutiny Committee: John Pierce

Scrutiny Lead Members for Labour: Amina Ali (Development & renewal); Clare Harrison (Chair of Health Scrutiny); Abdul Mukit Chunu MBE (Resources).

Chief Whip and Chair of the new General Purposes, Appeals and HR Committee: Danny Hassell 

Chair of Audit Committee: Candida Ronald

Chair of Pension Committee: Andrew Cregan

And the Cabinet members remain the same, so:

Sirajul Islam: Housing management and performance (and statutory deputy mayor)

Shiria Khatun: Community safety and deputy mayor

Rachael Saunders: Education and children’s services, and deputy mayor

Rachel Blake: Strategic development 

Asma Begum: Culture 

David Edgar: Resources

Ayas Miah: Environment

Joshua Peck: Work and economic growth

Amy Whitelock Gibbs: Health and adult services

Mayor: John Biggs

That Cllr Chunu Mukit MBE, formerly the chair of Spitalfields Housing Association’s audit committee, is to be given a scrutiny lead for resources, eg examining the way money is spent and how expenses are claimed, is of particular note. Senior Labour figures are full aware of this. Watch this space.

 

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At Lutfur Rahman’s first full council as mayor in October 2010, the East London Advertiser reported the following:

Lutfur Rahman will not have appreciated that his first matter of council business last night (October 27) as the borough’s new mayor was a £10,000 cut to his salary.

Appearing at the first council meeting at the Town Hall in Mulberry Place since his election, he spoke of his pride in his new role in front of over 100 supporters in the public gallery.

Tower Hamlet’s first-ever directly-elected mayor also rewarded his campaign manager, Ohid Ahmed, by appointing him as deputy mayor but will wait until November 11 to announce his cabinet.

Mr Rahman’s joy at the occasion soon turned to dismay though as he accused the council’s Labour Group of pettiness in putting forward an amendment to cut his annual salary from £75,095 to £65,000.

The amendment to a constitutional report, which also limits the number of paid advisers the Mayor can employ, was passed by the council.

Mayor Rahman said: “It saddens me on the first day that we indulge in this kind of petty politics.

“During my two years as council leader I was the only leader in this council’s history that took a 25 per cent pay cut for the year.

“Let me say, I don’t do this for money but let me remind you I have given up a successful legal career and a partnership in a legal firm.

“What drives me is will and the urge to serve. I am happy with whatever I am paid.”

The mayors of Hackney, Lewisham and Newham earn salaries of between £75,000 and £78,000 a year.

Speaking to the council, Labour councillor Josh Peck, chairman of the working group which put forward the constitutional report, said there had been an ‘oversight’ after the report was originally agreed in August.

At an internal Labour meeting in September, members narrowly voted to increase the salary for the full-time role to £75,000 but Mr Peck told The Advertiser today this shouldn’t have been included in the report because it was not agreed by other parties.

Last night, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem councillors all voted in favour of the amendment.

But Independent councillor Oliur Rahman, one of the ‘gang-of-eight’ councillors expelled from the Labour Party for backing Lutfur Rahman’s mayoral bid, said: “This can only be a petty and cynical response to losing an election.”

Mr Peck replied that the lower salary was set before mayoral candidates were selected and said the new mayor proposed a salary of £32,000 before he was shortlisted.

He said today: “£65,000 is the right salary, it is a good salary.”

This coming Wednesday, the full council will in Item 11 debate the pay arrangements for elected representatives over the coming year.

In an email to councillors eight days ago, Mayor John Biggs explained the proposal from the majority Labour group (which is likely to pass).

This is the proposed table of pay:

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 11.13.49

[Since his email, proposed pay rises have been suggested for the Speaker to £10,000 and for the Deputy Speaker to £5,000.]

First off, let’s have these facts in our minds: 1) deep Government cuts affecting frontline services; 2) pay for most local government employees is proposed to go up by just 1% this year; 3) councillors’ pay has remained frozen for a number of years; 4) some councillors rely on their allowances as sole (declared) income (not a good thing); and 5) very many councillors work extremely hard, while others do not.

Under these proposals, there will be inflation-busting pay rises for everyone. Basic pay for all councillors will go up by 5.3%. Oli Rahman would see his Special Responsibility Allowance for being leader of the THING go up to £11,300 (7.5%); and Tory leader Peter Golds would have a 40% jump in his SRA from £5,709 to £8,000. The total pot paid to councillors for all these roles would rise 6%.

But most of the political backlash will no doubt focus on John Biggs.

As I’m sure you’ve already spotted, the proposed mayoral salary goes back to the figure slashed by Labour more than five years ago – to £75,000. He has announced he accept only half that rise this year (to around £70k), and will take the rest next year if progress has been made. And although he’s entitled to £11,300 as a majority group leader, I think I’m right in saying he doesn’t take that.

The likes of Oli will also point out that John’s pay rise comes just a week or so after the loss of his salary for being a GLA member.
I think this is a difficult one. Pay at some levels of local government is outrageously poor; at others it’s ridiculously high. The council has just recruited a new head of communications, for example, at a salary of around £100k. Many believe that’s way too high, while others believe it needs pitching at that level to attract good candidates. But whatever the merits of that salary, should the executive mayor’s post, done properly, be valued almost a third lower?

I asked John to justify the rise in the context of cuts and value for money. His answer below is damning of his predecessor’s work ethic (something that is echoed among senior officers). This is what he told me:

Because of the stand-off between the former mayor and council there had been no proper review of allowances for some years. The proper time for such changes is in my view in the period immediately following the elections but this was missed. 

I am proposing a number of changes to committees and structures and as a part of this a short review of allowances. I have informed and involved the opposition leaders in these discussions. The main change is to update the general allowance paid to all members.  Increases are also proposed for those holding Special Responsibilities (SRAs), and for the Mayor.

If agreed the Tower Hamlets allowances will become fairly average for London and our Mayor would remain the lowest paid. If the Council agreed the change to my allowance I would only take half of it, with the other half next year provided we have made further progress in sorting the Council out.

As a further consideration for members, particularly those who rely on their allowances for a significant part of their income, it is worth noting that the Government recently banned members from membership of the pension scheme, which included employers contributions of over 10% on top of their allowance. This loss is partially also reflected in the updating of allowances proposed.

As far as the cuts argument is concerned: there is never a good time to agree allowances, but all are within or below the range suggested by an independent panel for all London councillors, whose report guided us. However, the increased cost of about £46,000 should be considered against the saving of about £300,000 in the costs of operating the Mayor’s office, and the mayors allowance compared the the scrapping of the chauffeured car, which saved about £30,000 a year.

A comparison with council staff is tempting but is based on soft foundations – whereas for example many council officers receive increments, promotions or upgrading, plus an annual increase in most years, elected members have no such opportunities and do not have secure employment as councillors, while making in most cases great personal and career sacrifices. It’s quite right that these are tough times but the proposals are a recommendation and up to the Council to agree or reject.

As regards my workload and whether I am worth a reasonable pay that is for others to judge, but I work at least 80 hours a week, am at my desk by 7.15am most mornings, getting home normally after 10pm. As an indicator, I read and respond to about 1000 emails a week, with more than this dealt with by my office. The council is in a worse state than I had expected – beyond the headlines of the misbehaviour of the previous mayor a whole number of key decisions had been missed, in an outrageous failure of leadership.  Were it not for the superb effort and commitment of many of our officers we would be in a far worse state. 

I anticipate working at this level for the foreseeable future. The previous Mayor on the other hand, as far as I can tell, rarely appeared before the afternoon, generally failed to keep appointments, never sent emails on official business and appears to have ‘kicked the can down the road’ where leadership was needed.

Those who said he was a hero should more accurately perhaps have scored him as a zero. And the borough will take some time to recover. It takes serious and dedicated effort to do that.

An executive mayor is full time job. If he had more hair, John I’m sure would say he’s a L’Oreal mayor (“because I’m worth it”.) Is he? What do you think?

He’s going to get a lot of flak for this – and as it was Labour which cut Lutfur’s pay, he knows where to point the finger of blame…

Personally, I think if he does the job well, he deserves it. I have more concern over SRAs paid to other councillors, and it will be interesting to examine who gets which posts for the coming year and then to check their attendance records thus far.

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