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Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 20.27.42Shortly before Ramadan in 2008, then Lib Dem councillor Stephanie Eaton fired off a complaint to those in charge of council committees about a memo they’d sent out asking members to change their eating habits. Back in those pre-austerity halcyon days, councillors were given free snacks to help them endure the messy business of part-time democracy: biscuits, tea and coffee were served at the side of the room. It was all very civilised.

But the memo in August 2008 requested committee members to refrain from gorging on food until the breaking of the fast during the forthcoming month of Ramadan. This, the memo said, was out of respect for Muslim councillors who may be fasting.

Stephanie, who I think later regretted speaking out (for the fuss it caused nationally) but not the point of principle, said on behalf of her group at the time: “We fervently believe that the rules of any one religion should not be imposed upon others.”

Many, including Muslim councillors, applauded her. It was seen as a mistake by do-gooding non-Muslim council officers.

I think it’s fair to say that there’s no other borough in Britain that is more sensitive to observant Muslims than Tower Hamlets.

A quick glance of the calendar of council meetings, for example, shows that many have been scheduled to start earlier during this past month of Ramadan.

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Yet there remain those who wish to exploit whatever perceived or minor insults they can for sad political reasons. Or even create insults for the same end.

Next Wednesday, it is Mayor John Biggs’s first proper full council meeting and the list of papers for it has just been published. They include a list of tabled questions to him from councillors.

This is what Cllr Ohid Ahmed, Lutfur Rahman’s former deputy mayor and someone who fancies the main role for himself in 2018, wants to ask.

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Throughout London and elsewhere these past four weeks fasting Muslims and non-Muslims and others have shared offices without even the slightest hint of tension or friction or breakdown in “basic etiquette” as people have simply got on with their daily lives. Some have fasted, most haven’t. Some in the latter group will have politely asked their colleagues if it’s ok to eat in front of them. The replies are likely to have been ‘Of course! Thanks for asking.’

Indeed, this has undoubtedly been the case in Mulberry Place itself.

AMOhid-AhmedBut there will always be those wanting to whip up or fabricate friction. I suppose someone or some people must have moaned to Ohid for him to learn about this meeting, but his language – is the stuff of parody.

“I believe morning breakfast [what other breakfast is there?] was offered…with much pomp and grandeur [what?? was it served by Royal butlers??] to the behest [I think he’s picked the wrong word here] of those who were observing their faith and those who felt left out and demotivated and somewhat belittled by the event taking place when they are obligated to fast.”

It’s the kind of stuff you see in exaggerated whip-lash claims. Or OTT constructive dismissal cases.

So what was this event that “belittled” people anyway? Well, it was work. More than 1,000 employees were asked to turn up to work.

As it has been explains to me, it was the Senior Management Development Conference. Lutfur used to hold it for fewer people in Mile End but this year Biggs and the council top team switched the venue to the Troxy and extended the invitation to 1,000 staff members, some 20 per cent of the workforce. It was aimed at informing the staff about developments at the council and listening to their feedback.

It lasted from morning until late afternoon, apparently and simple food was served for those who wanted or needed it. Sandwiches during the breaks/lunch, and tea, coffee, orange juice, biscuits and other snacks on arrival.

I was told speeches from Sir Ken Knight, the chief Commissioner, and John Biggs went down well. The latter was apparently cheered when he said there would be no more chauffeured mayoral car.

And I was also told (but I haven’t checked) that there was also an 80 per cent satisfaction rate from a survey at the end of the meeting.

Earlier this week, I was at the Arbour Youth Centre for an Iftar hosted by the committee there and by St Dunstan’s Church in Stepney. Many of the congregation of that church, as well as the rector, the assistant priest and the wardens, attended having themselves fasted throughout the day so they could share the breaking of the fast with their friends in Stepney’s Muslim community. (At one point John Biggs turned up to say hello before moving on to another Iftar elsewhere).

It was harmonious, sharing, respectful and friendly. I wish Ohid had been there. I suspect many in the Muslim community will find his cheap attempt at entrenched identity politics embarrassing.

In the meantime, below are the other questions for next Wednesday’s meeting. They are the usual mix of sycophantic, silly and sensible. I’ll let you decide which is which.

TO RECEIVE WRITTEN QUESTIONS FROM MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL

And Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim readers. Don’t hoot your horns too wildly tomorrow…but then again why not!

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Apologies for the lack of posts: I’ve been settling into a new job.

It’s full council tomorrow night and it’s likely that the two commissioners, Sir Ken Knight and Max Caller will be there for a bit of midweek comedy. I’m sure everyone will try to be on their best behaviour but at some point councillors are bound to visit the playground.

One subject which might provoke a reaction is Rich Mix, which is based in what traditionalists call Bethnal Green but which is increasingly known (incorrectly) as Shoreditch.

Rich Mix opened as a £26m arts and cinema centre in 2006 with a specific remit to tap into artistic interests in the Bengali community. From memory, I think it launched with a working display by an artist from Dhaka who was assembling an old car in full view of the public. Art can be a bit like that..

Rich Mix relied on various strands of public funding, including from Tower Hamlets council and the Arts Council. It was very much a Labour project, driven by the likes of Oona King, Michael Keith and Denise Jones…and a certain Mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

One of the early board members in fact was a certain Lutfur Rahman when he was cabinet member for culture under Denise. I don’t remember and I can’t find any record of him ever opposing or being critical of the project back then.

I did. The place was a management disaster in its early days. Its business plan was flimsy and it had bosses who loved spending other people’s money.

In fact Rich Mix was the subject of one of my early posts on this blog in 2010 when I quoted an article I’d written for the East London Advertiser in January 2006 about the initial teething problems.

It’s worth reading that piece from nine years ago again because it provides some background for a row that I think will feature tomorrow.

Here’s what I wrote in 2006:

SERIOUS concerns have been raised about the financial viability of a major new national arts centre that is due to open in the East End later this year.

The Advertiser has obtained a secret report revealing that the Rich Mix Cultural Centre, which is being built in Bethnal Green Road, needs extra taxpayers’ help to meet soaring costs. Tower Hamlets councillors have been asked to top up loans to the project and some are now deeply worried the borough’s £3.5m investment in the £26m centre is at risk.

They are angry that costs have spiralled and are concerned more money is being sucked into what could become a huge white elephant draining the public purse for years to come. One councillor has branded the project ‘scandalous’ and a ‘bottomless pit with no proper business plan’. But his claims have been angrily rejected by the centre’s bosses.

The prestigious arts complex, whose board members include former Bethnal Green and Bow MP Oona King, is seen as crucial for the regeneration of the deprived area around Brick Lane. Concentrating on ethnic cultural projects, it will house BBC London, a three-screen cinema, art galleries, a Sunday market place and music and dance studios.

Ms King dubbed it the East End’s ‘very own Tate Modern’ and it is Mayor Ken Livingstone’s flagship arts project.

With most of the six-storey structure completed, designers are currently working on the internal fittings with the centre due to open in the spring. However, the project, run by the Rich Mix Cultural Foundation and funded by backers including Tower Hamlets council, the Arts Council, the London Development Agency and the Millennium Commission, has been dogged by delays and cash problems.

A new management team was put in place last year and since then cost controls have improved markedly, but some councillors still fear a future financial crisis.

It is expected that by the time the centre opens, Tower Hamlets taxpayers will have paid into it some £3.6m. The council has also pledged a further £300,000 to contribute towards the annual £4.6m running costs in the first three years of operation.

Bosses at the centre are currently trying to attract sponsors but if crucial income from the centre’s cinemas fails to materialise, a council loan of £850,000 could be at risk.

In a confidential report for last week’s council cabinet meeting, Chris Holme, head of resources, wrote: “It will take robust cost and income management to prevent the centre falling into deficit on an annual basis.

“Failure to generate levels of income identified will have a significant impact on the sustainability of the centre.”

However, Lib Dem councillor John Griffiths said: “The whole thing makes me want to cry. Because the foundation itself is the accountable body for the project, there’s no proper scrutiny of the spending. They keep coming back to us asking for more money, but I’m really worried we’re walking right into a debt trap here.”

But Nick Kilby, chief operating officer for the centre, described the councillor’s remarks as political posturing. “There are no substance to them at all. This is a well-run project, costs aren’t out of control and there is no crisis. This is a terrifically exciting project and we look forward to persuading the councillor how it will benefit the East End.”

I’ve changed my mind about Rich Mix.

I suppose it was inevitable that such a politically driven project would become a political football but there does seem to be something spiteful and illogical in the way that Lutfur’s administration appears to be hounding the organisation to a point where closure is a real risk.

For the past four years, the council has been pursuing legal action (at an undisclosed cost: maybe we’ll be told tomorrow night how much) to try and force Rich Mix to repay that initial £850,000 loan. In that legal process Rich Mix argued it was in fact owed another £1.6million by the council as part of an agreed s106 planning gain fee from a nearby development.

The parties went to court and a judge ruled partly in favour of the council late last year on what some might say was a technicality. Because the wording of the s106 agreement deal was so vague, it was unenforceable.

The upshot is that Rich Mix has offered to repay the £850k in instalments. For whatever reason, Lutfur has demanded it be repaid in one go.

The East End Review, an offshoot of the Hackney Citizen, wrote a decent piece about the issue here.

That article was based on an interview with Rich Mix’s chief executive Jane Earl. Jane is a former chief executive of Wokingham Borough Council who has strong views on good governance. She’s the reason I’ve changed my mind about Rich Mix (and I’d have her as one of the Tower Hamlets commissioners).

She’s made Rich Mix sensible, popular and relevant.

The area has changed massively and maybe this part of the problem. As I said, it’s no longer regarded as the old Bethnal Green; this is now hipster country and it will eventually spread into the southern stretches of Brick Lane. Maybe it’s better to embrace and accept than be a bunch of King Cnuts.

Here’s one event that’s worth seeing next month, for example.

Rich Mix

Perhaps Lutfur should attend.

Or perhaps his “cabinet member for culture”, Cllr Shafiqul Haque (another former Rich Mix director when he served under Denise), should go. He’s paid an extra £13k a year on top of his £10k a year basic allowance for doing that job.

But apart from pocketing his cash and posing in the odd photo looking at a book, I have absolutely no idea what he does or what he’s done. I can’t wait to see him explain that tomorrow.

Culture? What culture? Is there actually a council culture strategy?

Here’s a thought for the council: get Rich Mix to write one for the borough. I bet they could easily do it for £850k… .

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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 Count

WHEN even the Great David Dimbleby starts sighing live on the BBC about a “shambles” in the Muppet land of Tower Hamlets, we know we have a problem.

The Guardian journalist James Ball tweeted in the early hours of this morning: “There’s always one. And it’s always f***ing Tower f***ing Hamlets.”

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament was understood to be irritated.

Today, broadcaster Iain Dale devoted an hour of his LBC radio programme to it.

Delaying the results of the European Parliament elections by five hours last night wasn’t the best of PR moves.

A borough that had already been branded by some as a byword for sleaze is now (perhaps a little unfairly) a byword for incompetence.

If Eric Pickles was in need of any extra camouflage for a form of intervention when the PwC auditors hand him their report by June 30, he now has it.

There will be many reasons for the counting shambles of the past few days, but the most basic is that we have a dysfunctional local authority at a political level.

John Williams, by day the head of democratic services at Tower Hamlets (a job in which he largely excels, given the circumstances), is a very decent and straightforward man.

But I’m not sure he was the most senior employee available to act as Returning Officer.

My understanding is that he was thrust into the role because other more qualified individuals may have ducked the job or could not be trusted by some of the political parties.

And the reason the parties felt they couldn’t trust some of these candidates is because of previous political shambles.

The chaos and dysfunctionality that some of us have been writing about for years manifested themselves right at the heart of the democratic process at the weekend.

Clearly, we are now at a point where serious action is needed.

Which brings us back to the election and the results.

Maybe the words spoken in the aftermath of election war aren’t the best guide to future thinking, but they can reveal innermost thoughts.

At his press conference in the early hours of Friday morning, Mayor Lutfur declined to say John Biggs wasn’t a racist. I think that was a mistake and perhaps Lutfur also knows this.

Some time later, he tweeted this to John:

 I extend my thanks to ‪@johnbiggs4mayor for the work he put into his campaign and hope we can work together to better Tower Hamlets.

 John replied:

‪@MayorLutfur I am happy to repeat best wishes & offer support for nxt 4 yrs. Non-sectarian partnership always possible.

This was conciliatory and professional.

John, having been baited by Lutfur’s supporters, also tweeted these messages over the weekend:

3 tweets: 1 Thanks for the support. Pleased many know I’m a good guy. Not a racist. Proud to be here and of what we have achieved together.

2. & I don’t mind the abuse – it helps understand the polarised, dishonest, and often quite racist thinking behind the Mayors party.

3. Finally most of us in East End want to live together. We must continue to fight those who try to divide us. From right, or pretend left.

The more learned in Lutfur’s camp believe John was wrong to react to the thugs, but I disagree. I think he was quite right to take them on and he probably should have done so in similar language during his election campaign.

A worrying race-fuelled frenzy was whipped up by the Tower Hamlets First campaign. In the same way they believe the EDL came banging on the borough’s doors due to errant words and inaccurate labelling, they must now recognise similar dangers by their own words.

The mayoral election result and the campaign that went with it underlined the racial divisions in the borough. I’m fairly sure they’re mainly at the political level at the moment, but there’s a serious risk of that becoming part of a wider mindset.

Community cohesion, a phrase that has for so long been associated with Whitehallspeak, now has to take on real meaning.

Even many in Lutfur’s own camp, and in the Bengali media, recognise his victory was too narrowly based. He has a strong mandate, but mainly from one community. His Tower Hamlets First group has, at the time of writing, 18 councillors, all of them Bengali, 17 of them men. Just one woman.

He now has to show he can truly lead for the whole borough.

So how does he do that when there are so many dynamics at play?

 

My greatest criticism of Lutfur in his last term were his disregard for scrutiny and an insecure appetite for trappings of power.

With a bigger group behind him in council, I suspect we’ll see him become more confident and address some of these criticisms. In the council chamber, I think he’ll start to take more questions and I suspect he’ll ditch the chauffeured Merc and hire an eco car instead.

And wouldn’t it be lovely if he issued a call for reconciliation, a plea for everyone to work together to draw the poison from Tower Hamlets politics? He could ask Labour to supply members to his cabinet, he could form a group of resident advisors to act as a monthly sounding board; he could have public question times every six months.

But I think his overriding desire for readmission to the Labour party (on his terms) will drive him more than anything else. On Channel S TV tonight he said his door is open to the Labour group if they would like to cooperate.

He has a cabinet to pick by June 11, the date of the Annual meeting of the council. I’m sure he’d love to have the likes of David Edgar and Marc Francis serve with him, and quite possibly Rachael Saunders.

Whether Labour would allow that so soon after the election is doubtful. Personally, I think they should just get on with it and give him a go. Nothing wrong with a trial period.

But what would be Lutfur’s price…and also the cost to him?

He has a much larger group to please now, including a certain Abjol Miah, the former IFE-aligned Respect leader, who doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to getting along with party colleagues. Those who served with him in Respect remember him as a rather malign influence in group meetings, someone who shouted at women members. Personally, I’ve always found him courteous, but there’s certainly a risk he could cause internal trouble for the mayor: I understand they’re not best buddies.

Lutfur could of course try to do what Sir Robin Wales is said to do in Newham and placate his group with artificial new committee/advisory positions that pay generous allowances. But because he doesn’t have a controlling majority of 23 councillors, that might be tricky.

Some Labour members might defect of course; but then again, those who lose out under Lutfur may be dangled a destabilising carrot back into the Labour stable.

So among the soft and fuzzy ideas of peace, a complex and hard-nosed game of realpolitik poker is about to be played.

On Lutfur’s side, he has many cards to play. He’s shown what a superb grassroots organiser he can be and he’s devastated Labour while even using many of their policies for his campaigning. What now worries them is whether he can suck in more of their councillors and whether he can mobilise his support in next year’s general election against Jim Fitzpatrick and Rushanara Ali.

His sole female councillor, Rabina Khan, is said to be keen to take on Rushanara in Bethnal Green and Bow. That would be a close fight. In Poplar and Limehouse, Jim is probably safer, but the danger is there. Lutfur could offer to call off this potential war in return for his re-admittance, but he would no doubt demand all his councillors go with him. I think that would be too much for Labour to stomach. Could Lutfur agree on a certain number going with him? I doubt it; he’d be branded a traitor by the rump.

On the other hand, Lutfur may also overestimate his own victory. He’s very popular personally among Bengalis but his success was also due to a collective Bengali ‘patriotism’: many voted for him, not necessarily because they thought he was particularly good, but because they felt he had been wronged and he was fighting a non-Bengali in John Biggs. Had Labour fielded a popular Bengali in Biggs’s place, the story might be different today.

Labour’s post-mortem on its defeat is going to be painful. Next week, they have to elect their new group leader and this will give us an indication on their thinking.

But here’s one last thought. In a recent pamphlet of essays from the think tank, Demos, Max Wind-Cowie, a policy wonk, suggested Tower Hamlets was now so dysfunctional that it should be abolished as a local authority. He said it could be absorbed in parts by neighbouring Hackney and Newham.

I’m not sure Jules Pipe or Robin Wales would be thrilled at that prospect, but is there some merit in that kind of idea?

After all, Tower Hamlets as an authority is a fairly artificial entity, having existed only since 1965. Before that we had the boroughs of Bethnal Green, Stepney and Poplar.

Former Labour councillor Kevin Morton tweeted last night that David Owen, who lives in Narrow Street in Limehouse, once suggested a London Borough of Docklands. Kevin said it was perhaps time to revive that idea…a borough that took in Canary Wharf, the Isle of Dogs and parts of Poplar and Wapping.

Perhaps not as daft as it at first sounds.

In fact, I think a certain Ken Livingstone thinks we have far too many boroughs in London. Maybe he can help drive that campaign.

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This is a guest post by TIM ARCHER, who is standing down as a Conservative councillor tomorrow after eight years in the job. He was elected in 2006 and formed part of an exceptionally strong trio at the top of the local Tory party, along with Peter Golds and Simon Rouse. I asked him to write a piece reflecting on his time at the town hall. He sent it to me last week; I should have published it then, but I was on holiday…

CON1223

They say a week is a long time in politics… I was elected to Tower Hamlets council 8 years ago but it seems like only yesterday!

I’m ‘retiring’ from being a local councillor in Tower Hamlets. We’ve recently moved house, I’ve got a busy day job and with a young family it’s time for someone else to have a go. But it’s with a mixture of pride and sorrow that I look back at my time on the council.

Pride at some of the things we’ve got done. In 2010, I led a scrutiny review into the causes of childhood obesity; the borough had one of the poorest records in the country on this measure. And why should we care? Well because it can lead to a myriad of other illnesses and complications and is one of the key determinants of success, opportunity and health in life. Our key recommendation from that review was the introduction of free school meals for all primary school children in the borough, something that all parties in the council (and the government) are now supporting.

To be frank, it’s not something that I ever thought 8 years ago that I’d be a supporter of. But having led the review and seen the facts, I know it’s something that stacks-up for Tower Hamlets and not just economically.

I worked with councillors from across the chamber to get agreement for the independent review of leaseholder charges. I got the future of the Council owned Henry Moore statue ‘Old Flo’ debated in the chamber and beyond. I’ve exposed waste and held the council to account, from eye-watering housing benefit payments to excessive use of consultants. And I got the council to put up a portrait of the Queen in the town hall, as virtually every other council does – a daily reminder of what good leadership looks like in a building where it is often lacking.

As a Conservative on the council I’m proud of the way that our small team has punched above its weight. It has shifted the debate budget after budget, and I’ve lost count of the number of our initiatives, which, at first were voted down to cries of indignation by the members of other parties, have then been quietly adopted. Examples range from the tens of thousands spent on pot plants in the town hall (scrapped this year), to saving millions from moving out of rented office blocks like Anchorage House (moved out of last year); alongside reductions in contractor spend, reductions in councillors’ allowances and the scrapping of free food for councillors to name but a few.

Sorrow too though. Sorrow at no longer having the privilege of representing Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward and, more widely, the residents of Tower Hamlets. Sorrow at the way certain aspects of politics work in Tower Hamlets. I’ve witnessed the unedifying sight of councillors, elected to represent people suffering some of the worst deprivation in our country, brawling in the council chamber.

Erroneous and unfounded accusations of racism being made – invariably when the debate gets too uncomfortable/accurate for some. And, sorrow that, despite all my, and my Conservative colleagues, hard work, so much more still needs to be done to make Tower Hamlets deliver the services, value for money and transparency deserved by its residents.

During my 8 years I’ve held many roles: deputy leader of the opposition; deputy group leader; chair of health scrutiny; and scrutiny lead for the chief executives department. I’ve also served on many committees and outside bodies. But being a councillor isn’t about collecting job titles. It’s what you get done that really makes a difference.

The things of which I am most proud are the cases where I’ve been able to help people – individuals – the unspoken achievements that make a real difference to people’s lives. Like the housing association who I convinced to let a family stay in their home when they were actually, needlessly in my view, taking them to court to turf them out. Or the lad who got into his first choice school after I pointed out that the council had incorrectly calculated how far he was from the school gate (they’d missed the small matter of a bridge over a dock that just ever so slightly changed the total distance to walk to the school). The alternative school being offered was 4 miles away…Or perhaps the saplings that I got planted on a street that did not have a single tree.

Of course, my 8 year stint is very much a tale of two halves, with the introduction of a directly elected Mayor in 2010. It was a move I was sceptical of at the time, but having been introduced we’ve all had to try to adapt to the new reality. Sadly, the council’s wider structure hasn’t really changed, when it must – full council must now be more about holding the mayor to account, and in that sense needs to work more like the GLA. The reduction in the number of councillors is a step in the right direction and recognises that councillors have less responsibility under a mayoral system but what is the point of Overview and Scrutiny when the Mayor decides he can simply not bother attending?

On a personal note, knowing that I was elected as a Conservative, in an area where it was said for decades that it couldn’t be done, it is with a heavy heart I step aside. I won’t miss the late night meetings and I will enjoy having more time to spend with my family. But I will miss my constituents, the many local community activists I have had the pleasure of working with, and the strong team spirit of my Conservative council colleagues, led by Peter Golds.

Finally, in an era where trust in politicians seems to be at an all time low, it is important to remember that most councillors are there for the right reasons; they work hard and are trying to build a better future. A few are not and they should be exposed but not used to dismiss the positive contributions of the rest. I maybe saying farewell to Tower Hamlets politics, but not to Tower Hamlets. I still work in the borough and after 8 years of being a councillor and many more campaigning in the area, I am sure I’ll be keeping an eye on things for a while to come (and I’ll certainly be following Ted’s blog….).

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8.15am…This has just come to me. At 8am this morning a number of specially appointed auditors from PriceWaterhouseCooopers arrived at Tower Hamlets town hall in Mulberry Place on the express orders of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Eric Pickles has heard enough and he has now put his words into action.

Officials at DCLG have been watching Tower Hamlets extremely carefully for many months, amassing their own evidence.

The BBC Panorama documentary on Monday was the final straw. Evidence amassed from that programme, and not just that relating to the broadcast itself, is also being examined.

I understand PwC’s people are taking away boxes of files relating to the grants process and the disposal of assets, probably including the sale of Poplar Town Hall.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman is due to hold an anti-Panorama rally in Stepney on Saturday. I suspect the tension will be ratcheted up.

More on all this later, but spare a thought for interim officer Meic Sullivan-Gould, who’s missing all this fun having flown to Japan…where they know what to do in these sorts of circumstances…

I’ve written a more detailed account for Express.co.uk here.

And here are the letters sent from DCLG to the council and PwC.

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Jan0700146_biggerMeic Sullivan-Gould, a Past President of the Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors, has ruffled a few feathers since becoming interim monitoring officer at Tower Hamlets council in January.

I’m told he’s a great fan of Private Eye and that he believes he’s a real bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out town hall wrongdoing.

He’s something of a travelling wilbury in local government circles. Councils queue up for his consultancy services, it seems. He must be the best thing since sliced bread. He’s an expert. In everything.

Except keeping counsel as a good lawyer perhaps should.

Within a few short weeks of of working in Tower Hamlets the white knight of local government was letting it be known there was nothing to investigate. He, Meic, had given the council and Mayor Lutfur Rahman a clean bill of health.

Nothing to be seen here, you pesky journalists and opposition councillors; run along now.

How he had managed to go through the books and processes of the council is such a short space of time, I have no idea. He must be superhuman.

And so confident was he of his thorough investigation, he took to Facebook as the Panorama programme was airing on Monday night.

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The man he is chatting to is Mark Hynes, the director of law at Lambeth Council, who, significantly, is the President of the Lawyers in Local Government. So a heavy hitter. I’m not sure he’ll be most impressed about Meic’s privacy settings.

So what we learn is that Mark Hynes is shocked by Panorama’s findings. “Where were all the officers?” he asks. “..it would seem that the Bengalis through the mayor and cabinet are doing what they want.”

I’m not sure “the Bengalis” is a term he’d like to use again. And I think the headhunters will knock no more about him moving to LBTH.

But Meic doesn’t pick him up on his use of language. Instead he berates Mark for taking a view. In fact, Meic goes further: He offers his expert political analysis. “The mayor’s support will be galvanised by their unfair coverage….chances of a free fair and credible election diminished by an unnecessarily contentious rehash of longstanding unproven allegations!”

Remember, Meic had just watched a programme proving a dubious relationship between the Mayor and Channel S. Meic thought there were Chinese walls in place surrounding Mohammed Jubair’s work for the broadcaster and as a mayoral media adviser.

So in Meic’s view, Lutfur is not the Bad Mayor, but a good guy. Clean bill of health.

Part of his job, of course, is to be impartial on many matters, and to retain the trust of members and officers. He may just have lost that. They almost yearn for the return of his predecessor Isabella Freeman. I’m not sure he can hang around too much longer.

That’ll give him time to scour the pages of Private Eye (for articles about himself.)

Or return to his thoughtful musings on Twitter..

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