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Posts Tagged ‘takki sulaiman’

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

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

The omission has caused something of a row in Aberdeen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The video below is fascinating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And so the creatures begin to leave the ship.

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

Takki Sulaiman, aberdeen

The paper’s David McKay reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone tempted by the role?

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On April 16, 12 days after Eric Pickles sent PwC to Mulberry Place, Takki Sulaiman, Tower Hamlets council’s £100,000 a year head of communications and marketing (and publicity), wrote this in an email to me:

Maybe those who followed your lead may regret they rushed to judgment about LBTH and our processes? Meanwhile we get on with the business of running services – and working with the auditors.

I’ve been looking forward to publishing those words today.

It’s always easy to jump to judgment with Tower Hamlets council. Some of the “damning report” headlines that appeared across the media this morning were quite probably pre-planned.

I said in my last post I’d reserve judgment until I’d gone through some of the details and listened to the exchanges in the Commons.

Well, the exchanges among Tory and Labour MPs were universally damning, there’s little doubt about that. My prize goes to Ealing MP Steve Pound, who can always be relied upon for vivid language. He said the mayor’s office was responsible for a “foul, fetid, reeking stench” emanating from wonderful Tower Hamlets.

Eric himself was also up there. “There can be no place for rotten boroughs in 21st Century Britain,” he said…(to which Tim Minogue, the editor of Private Eye’s Rotten Borough column, tweeted: “Is that a threat?”)

But what of the substance of the report itself?

There was no knockout blow, but I have to say, the more you read the details, the more damning it is.

The tone suggests the PwC auditors were shocked by what they found.

The council and Mayor Lutfur Rahman are today trying to downplay its importance. They claim “no criminality or fraud” was found and that council processes had already picked up much of the PwC findings.

Pull the other one.

To paraphrase Takki, maybe he and Lutfur may regret they rushed to judgment about the journalists investigating and reporting on Tower Hamlets.

Lutfur, whose hopes of returning to Labour are now dead, may also regret the day he decided to “reform” the way grants were decided at the town hall. One of his early decisions as mayor was to abolish the Grants Panel, an open committee of councillors that published in full the background papers for their decisions, and replace it with a behind-the-scenes committee of mates and officers…with himself having the final say.

I warned at the time this was a mistake and I included it in a lecture to delegates at the Centre for Investigative Journalism in 2012. It was also the area I advised the Panorama team to go hunting when we first met in the summer of last year.

As it happens, the PwC report is a full vindication (not that one was needed) for the Panorama programme.

It’s worth noting this statement today from the BBC and Films of Record, the production company behind the Panorama programme:

We welcome the findings of the report. Panorama’s investigation uncovered serious concerns about the use of public money, and today’s report vindicates the strong journalism we have continued to defend amid inaccurate commentary and misinformation surrounding the programme. 

John Ware, Panorama reporter, said: “Even before transmission of Panorama, the Mayor insisted there was no merit in any of the very serious questions I and my colleagues at the BBC and Films of Record raised over his approach to governance. He said our motivation could only be explained by racism and Islamophobia. This was manifestly never the case and today’s report shows our journalism was 100% justified.”

Before we get into the detail of some of the report, let’s get a few other statements out of the way.

From John Biggs:

This is a shameful report that shows a disregard for proper, transparent, accountable decision-making by the current administration. If money has been allocated to preferred organisations or areas of the borough then it follows that others have missed out.

The Mayor cannot dismiss this damning report by independent auditors as an attack by his political opponents as he always has done until now. He now has nowhere to hide and should think very carefully about whether his actions are compatible with remaining Mayor.

Labour group leader Cllr Rachael Saunders:

Cllr Rachael Saunders, Leader of Tower Hamlets Labour Group said:

“Labour demands the highest standards of probity in our elected representatives, and this damning report vindicates the decision to expel Lutfur Rahman from the Labour Party.

Councillors in Tower Hamlets have been fighting unjust grants allocations and opaque, rotten decision making since Lutfur Rahman was thrown out of the Labour Party and stood as an “independent” Mayor.

Earlier this year we sought to start a recruitment exercise for a Chief Executive – we do not currently have one. Lutfur Rahman has chosen not to co operate.

Now PwC has called into question the adequacy of the council’s governance arrangements. It is a cause of sorrow and shame for this great borough that Luftur Rahman as Mayor has taken us to the point of government intervention.

He should consider his position. Tower Hamlets deserves better.

And Lutfur Rahman:

We need to be clear that there was no evidence of fraud or criminal activity identified in the PwC report published today.

All governance issues identified in the PwC report have already been highlighted by our internal processes and are being rectified accordingly.

Given that Tower Hamlets Council is one of the highest performing local authorities in London, and the wider UK for service delivery to our residents, I am surprised at the Secretary of State’s comments today in the House of Commons.

I believe that there is a huge disparity between the detail of PwC’s report and the level of the Secretary of State’s comments. We will be responding to Mr Pickles in due course.

This certainly sounds as if those clever lawyers at Tower Hamlets are urging some kind of legal challenge.

I think they and their masters would be wiser to pipe down, take the medicine, and get on with the business of governance. And prove to the Commissioners who will soon arrive to oversee parts of the authority that they’re semi-competent.

So what’s actually happened?

Eric Pickles was scathing in the House today, and he clearly enjoyed himself. Politicians like taking action, no matter how much they say they don’t.

Based on the PwC findings he’s proposing to appoint three Commissioners to oversee the distribution of grants, the sales of properties and council publicity.

The Commissioners will also oversee the recruitment of three senior positions on a permanent basis: a new chief executive, monitoring officer (bye-bye Meic Sullivan-Gould) and a new chief finance officer.

None of these positions is currently filled on a permanent basis, and that, according to the PwC, has been part of the problem.

In Tower Hamlets it’s easy to become immune to some of the goings-on. We’ve seen them time and again for far too long. But for newcomers, the situation is surely shocking.

So it’s not good enough for the mayor’s supporters to downplay important process failures or to suggest similar discrepancies would be found in a £1m audit of any other local authority.

As The Guardian’s political editor Patrick Wintour reports:

Pickles plans to dispatch three commissioners to administrate grant-giving, property transactions and the administration of future elections in the borough.

The commissioners, who will be answerable to Pickles, will be in place until March 2017 and are tasked with drawing up an action plan to improve governance in the council, including the permanent appointment of three senior council officers including a chief executive.

Pickles said his direct intervention was against everything he believed in, but he said the report, conducted by the accountancy firm PwC, showed the directly elected mayor, Lutfur Rahman, had sown division and should bow his head in shame at the report’s findings. Executive power had been left unchecked and misused, he added.

…Pickles said the report painted “a deeply concerning picture of obfuscation, denial, secrecy the breakdown of democratic scrutiny and a culture of cronyism risking the corrupt spending of public funds”.

He proposed that all Tower Hamlets grant-making, property disposals and publicity functions be sanctioned by the commissioners. In an attempt to reduce the threat of electoral fraud in the 2015 general elections, Pickles also announced that the appointment of electoral registration officer and returning officer are to be exercised by the commissioners.

He added that he wanted the council’s written agreement within 24 hours that they would not appoint an officer or make any grants pending the start of his intervention package.

He said grants had been distributed without rationale, any clear objectives, monitoring, transparency and with officer recommendations systematically overruled.

He pointed out that across mainstream grants by the council, 81% of officer recommendations were rejected, and more than £400,000 was handed out to bodies that failed the minimum criteria to be awarded anything at all. He added that Poplar town hall had been sold against official advice to an individual who had helped the mayor in his electoral bid.

The report is almost 200 pages long and I’ll do a series of write-ups over the coming days.

It is also likely to have cost more than £1m to produce. I had been expecting Eric to announce DCLG would pick up the tab, but he said the burden must fall on Tower Hamlets taxpayers.

That’s surely unjust–and a mistake politically. It gives Lutfur’s team an attack line. The politics of martyrdom plays well in Tower Hamlets, after all.

Would this report, had it been published before the election, persuaded many Lutfur voters to desert him? My instinct is not many, and I do wonder whether Rabina Khan might now be emboldened to go after Rushanara Ali in Bethnal Green and Bow in May.

In fact, there are some Lutfurites pondering the possibility he himself may resign and call a Mayoral by-election to re-establish legitimacy. I doubt he would.

As I said, more on the detail tomorrow.

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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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The tragicomedy that is Tower Hamlets council keeps on giving.

Yesterday morning the Met Police issued the following statement:

On Friday 4 April 2014 the Metropolitan Police Service received three files of material from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) relating to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. These comprised of material referred to the DCLG by a member of the public and by the BBC Panorama programme.

The files have been reviewed by a team of officers over the past 6 days. In addition, officers have liaised with Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP (PwC) who are conducting a full and wide-ranging audit of financial matters at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

There is no credible evidence of criminality within the files to provide reasonable grounds to suspect that fraud or any other offence has been committed at this stage. Therefore the MPS will not be investigating at this point in time and believe that it is appropriate for the material to be reviewed further by PwC and DCLG. We will continue to liaise with them should their audit uncover any evidence of criminality.

Which made Lutfur Rahman and his head of communications Takki Sulaiman crow with delight (expect ‘Mayor cleared’ headlines in East End Life and large sections of the Bengali press this week).

Takki was so bursting with joy that he turned into an eve of combat Colonel Tim Collins for the afternoon. Here’s an email he sent to fellow communications chiefs in other local London authorities:

Apologies for the mass email but as you know the battle for hearts and minds starts within the local government community itself!

A small step in restoring trust in LBTH is the announcement by the Met today that there is no credible evidence of criminality or fraud to be found in the Panorama files.

Our statement and the Met’s can be found on our (revamped) website.

http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/news__events/setting_the_record_straight/panorama/new_statement_-_bbc_panorama.aspx

Our statements on the matter over the last two weeks can be found here-

http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/news__events/setting_the_record_straight/panorama.aspx

This is a long journey and the auditors will be here for three months. Given the context of the elections we’ve also had to tone down the nature of our comms thus contributing to the challenge.

Regards

Takki

(Bless, he must be really worried about what they think of him.)

And here’s the statement he authorised his communications department to release to the wider world.

Council response to Met Press Bureau statement following BBC Panorama Programme

A statement was issued by the Metropolitan Police Press Bureau on Wednesday 16 April in relation to recent allegations made in the BBC Panorama programme on London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

A council spokesperson said: “The news from the Metropolitan Police is to be welcomed and Tower Hamlets will continue to work with the Auditors and DCLG.”

Let’s pick all this apart.

No allegations of criminality were “made in” the Panorama programme and Takki knows that full well. Yet he allowed his statement to mislead; this served the interests of his political master.

In his defence, however, the Met Police statement on which he was relying was also highly misleading. But Takki knew that was the case as well.

Here’s why.

In his interview with Panorama, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said he would be looking “very carefully” at Panorama’s evidence. So Panorama handed over two files to his civil servants who had already gathered evidence from elsewhere.

Apparently, those two Panorama files contained spreadsheet analysis and other evidence of how the Mayor overturned officer recommendations over grants in favour of Bengali and Somali third sector organisations, plus other matters.

I understand one of those other matters concerned about £11,000 of grants given to an organisation called the Brady Youth Forum.

Panorama started posing questions to Takki about this on March 7. When six days later Takki had still failed to reply (he’s a very busy man, you know), John Ware sent him a reminder with some additional questions.

At that point Interim Monitoring Officer Meic Sullivan-Gould (who was by this time convinced Lutfur was a ‘good guy’) began to take over.

Very helpfully on March 19, he told Panorama that there was an ongoing criminal investigation into the Brady issue. He told the programme makers the council had been notified about a fraud by a whistleblower in the middle of last year and that external auditors from Deloitte had reported back on the matter in January.

The Brady Youth Forum was one of several lines of inquiry which I gather Panorama felt needed more work on.

So they left it out of the programme, even though they knew a Fraud Squad investigation was under way.

So imagine our surprise when the Met said yesterday morning there was no credible evidence of fraud in the Panorama files!

I called the Scotland Yard press office for clarification. At about 5pm they called to say er, yes, there is an investigation relating to the Brady Youth Forum. Doesn’t that make your statement this morning a bit misleading, I asked? Er yes, you have a valid point, they said.

I called Andrew Gilligan to let him know. He blogged about it last night.

The police have now issued a “clarified statement”:

Here it is:

On Friday 4 April 2014 the Metropolitan Police Service received three files of material from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) relating to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

The files have been reviewed by a team of officers. In addition, officers have liaised with Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP (PwC) who are conducting a full and wide-ranging audit of financial matters at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

There is no new credible evidence of criminality within the files.

Prior to this, a report was made to Tower Hamlets Police on 20 March by Tower Hamlets Council. The report concerned an irregularity with regards to money being awarded to the Brady Youth Forum, in January and April 2013, that was identified by an internal review. This investigation is being carried out by Tower Hamlets CID.

Therefore there are no new MPS investigations being carried out by the MPS as a result of information contained in the three files of material.

Spot the difference?

They’ve inserted the word “new” before “credible evidence”.

Which itself is odd.

I suspect there were two different teams in the Met examining two sets of files.

The file sent by the council regarding Brady Youth Forum was sent to Tower Hamlets CID on March 20 and I’m not sure how much work detectives there had spent on it.

And I’m guessing the files sent by DCLG were handed directly to a team based at Scotland Yard itself.

What’s not clear is whether those possible two teams actually spoke to each other, or compared notes. Had Tower Hamlets CID flagged up their file on the Brady Youth Forum?

Had a Scotland Yard team handed over information from Panorama on Brady Youth Forum to the Tower Hamlets CID team?

When I called up the Met Police press bureau yesterday, I was told they couldn’t find any reference to Brady Youth Forum on their main pan-London database.

They had to go and check at a local level.

I strongly suspect the Met as a whole was in fact in possession of credible new evidence as a result of DCLG’s actions; I suspect there was a lack of communication internally among the super sleuths.

But what’s also odd is the behaviour of the council in all this.

First of all, the Takki Sulaiman has a “setting the record straight” section on the council’s website. This is where he places rebuttals to stories he dislikes or doesn’t understand. You’d think from the title he’d at least strive for some accuracy. Yesterday morning he was very quick to publish the Met Police’s statement there.

Since then, I and others have told him and the head of paid service, Steve Halsey, that that statement has since been clarified. Has the council updated its website? Of course not (as at 5pm on April 17).

But forget for now the misleading statements because that’s just par for the course for Takki Sulaiman, but look again at the Met Police’s clarified statement.

They say they were notified by the council of the alleged Brady fraud only on March 20.

As I said above, Meic helpfully said Deloitte had reported back on the issue in January.

So why had the council waited all that time to go to the police?

It’s worth noting that some details of Panorama’s investigations into this had been contained in the ‘dossier’ taken to Lutfur’s office at the end of January by the so-called “whistleblowing” Bengali researcher.

The council presumably had sufficient evidence to go to the police, but it seems strange that they appeared to sit on it until Panorama began to hint they would be including it in the programme.

I said a couple of weeks ago that the back story to the Panorama programme might prove bigger than the broadcast itself. Watch this space.

Oh, and don’t forget…the auditors from PwC have only just started their work. This is the serious business of it all.

But you’d never have guessed from Lutfur’s latest press release.

Here:

Scotland Yard find “no credible evidence” in Tower Hamlets probe

Mayor Lutfur Rahman today welcomed the announcement by the Metropolitan Police that there was “no credible evidence” to claims of fraud at Tower Hamlets Council.

Mayor Rahman said:

“I have always maintained that there has been no wrongdoing and the Met’s decision that there is no credible evidence and not to investigate these claims is a vindication, however, the public now need to know who brought these allegations, why they were given such credence by the Secretary of State and whether the upcoming elections had any impact on the timing.”

The investigation was apparently based on documents presented to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles by BBC Panorama’s John Ware. Before the broadcast, a member of the programme’s own production team leaked production notes from the film and made accusations of political and racial bias on the part of the programme-makers. This evidence has been legally barred from publication by the BBC.

The dropped investigation is the latest of several inquiries into local democracy in Tower Hamlets that have returned no evidence of wrongdoing. In 2013, the Electoral Commission published a report into claims of voter fraud, investigating around 160 separate allegations and finding no evidence to support any of them.

Mayor Rahman added:

“There is a clear pattern in Tower Hamlets of opposition parties and sections of the media claiming everything from fraud to electoral malpractice to extremist takeovers in an attempt to discredit my administration. Once again, such claims have been shown to be lacking the critical factor of evidence. I hope that with these latest smears dispelled we can turn back to the issues that matter to local people’s day-to-day lives.”

For a lawyer, he does have a habit of talking conflated disingenuous bollocks, doesn’t he? Now even he’s trying to deny there’s a fraud investigation. Maybe his memory is failing him.

By the way, if anyone has any information about council contracts, grants, public money spent on PR and disposal of properties, they can write to PwC at lbth.inspectors@uk.pwc.com.

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