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Posts Tagged ‘tower hamlets homes’

Apologies for the lack of posts recently; I have a funny feeling I’ll be making up for it over the next few months.

Lutfur’s finance man Cllr Alibor Choudhury has always been a man to watch. He has a colourful past and in his younger, (even) more fiery days he had a battle or two with gangs on Stepney’s Ocean estate.

He then saw the light and channelled his considerable energies (and passion) into community politics and became a prominent figure with the Ocean New Deal Communities multimillion pound funding well.

All this brought him to the attention of Labour’s John Biggs, who took the little cherub under his wing and prepared him for councillor stardom. Everyone knew Alibor was John’s protege and during Labour’s selection contest for the parliamentary seat of Bethnal Green and Bow in 2007 (eventually won by Rushanara Ali), Alibor was John’s biggest cheerleader. (Well, that’s what he told me at least.)

How times have changed. At full council meetings now, Alibor positively hisses hatred towards his former mentor sitting in the public gallery.

Politics is such a nasty business and I’d have thought it wiser not to upset those who know where the bodies (and current skeletons) lie.

That said, I’ve always quite liked him and I wish him luck in his new quest: to get elected in the newly drawn ward of Stepney Green. He’s deserted his current patch in Shadwell to return to his homeland where he’ll be standing for Tower Hamlets First alongside Oliur Rahman.

Here’s their leaflet:

Alibor has also been getting out and about, knocking on people’s doors telling them “We’re bringing the council to you”. It’s extremely thoughtful and let’s hope he’s been making it clear he’s a councillor and not a council officer doing the rounds.

Because I’m sure he knows the distinction and I’m sure he knows how things are done properly.

Or does he?

Two months ago, Tower Hamlets Homes had something of a crisis moment when its chairman Barry Simons–a highly respected housing expert who had been director of housing at Newham, Redbridge and Hammersmith before his THH appointment in 2012–suddenly quit.

And in his bombshell resignation letter to the Mayor (whom he described as “an exceptional man”), he put the blame squarely at Alibor’s door.

He said Alibor had “made it impossible for the Board to function properly” and that “trust has broken down between Cllr Choudhury (and possibly other council nominees) and some other non-council Board members”.

The row centred on plans for a massive review of caretaking services by Tower Hamlets Homes. At the moment, they are too expensive and they fail satisfaction surveys. The way these costs are then allocated to leaseholders and tenants is a hugely controversial issue and it seems Lutfur has told THH to stop penalising leaseholders so heavily….and that’s fair enough.

But when Mr Simons wanted to stick to best corporate practice and discuss a report on the matter, Alibor threw his toys out of the pram and walked out. Maybe he had a more satisfying engagement elsewhere, I don’t know.

Trouble at Tower Hamlets Homes is becoming a traditional New Year message for this blog. The title of my first post in 2012 was “Lutfur’s putsch at Tower Hamlets Homes” when I warned that his takeover of the board with his own councillors was bound to cause trouble.

This is the trouble with Lutfur’s administration: they just seem like a bunch of cowboys.

Here’s Barry Simons’ resignation letter:

barry simons

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Here’s an interesting insight into the mindset of Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

On December 7, Giles Broadbent, the editor of The Wharf newspaper, wrote a strongly worded opinion column detailing his exasperation with Lutfur’s refusal to answer questions from either members of the public or councillors at full council meetings.

At the previous meeting, opposition councillors fired a whole series of allegations his way, questioning whether council resources had been misused to help his re-election campaign. The council also voted to launch an investigation into claims by the Love Wapping blog that people purporting to work for Tower Hamlets Homes were canvassing for Lutfur during the day.

On each of these questions, Lutfur, though visibly reddening and seething, remained silent. Instead, he exercised his “right” to delegate the answers to his cabinet councillors who then stumbled and mumbled their way through the explanations.

Giles quite rightly thought this shameful.

Here’s part of what he wrote:

And what did the man himself have to say about all this at a recent council meeting when challenged? Furious denial? Tearful apology? The mayor said nothing. Being made to answer to the people “is contrary to his human rights”.

To the rest of the world, this continuing policy of silence is a joke, a punchline to a risible tale of East End lunacy. To the residents of Tower Hamlets, it is a serious and barbarous insult that damages their prosperity.

Compare Tower Hamlets to Newham. Both struck by terrible social and structural problems. Yet Newham – far from perfect – is at least outward looking and positive. It has embraced the Olympics and the Docks in order to share the dividends of growth.

Mr Rahman’s Tower Hamlets is backward, self-indulgent and dim. It is ripped apart by factionalism and stymied by cronyism. And the mayor, who sits atop this stinking pile, has nothing to offer but a sulk – truly a slap in the face for the residents who crave a future, not a
fiefdom.

It is to be hoped in the 2014 election the man who has tried so hard to undermine the principle of democratic accountability will feel the potency of its sting.

Lutfur took this rather badly and feeling the sting of The Wharf’s right to free speech in an opinion column based on the events of a full council meeting, Lutfur penned a letter of reply, which has been added to the original article. Here it is:

“Your column, ‘Spiral Notebook’; ‘Rahman’s insult to Tower Hamlets’, contains a series of gross inaccuracies and unfair innuendoes.

Surely, The Wharf has a responsibility to report and comment fairly? On the basis of this particular column it would appear that neither you nor your newspaper intends to do so in the run up to the Mayoral and local government elections in May.

You made no attempt to contact this council’s communications department or me, before publishing what amounts to a series of gross inaccuracies and innuendoes.

You have made direct allegations relating to the use of branded letters.

Such allegations are very serious and potentially imply a breach of electoral law.
The actual complaint relates to unbranded, council acknowledgement letters sent pursuant to casework.

The allegations that bogus representatives from the social housing company were using their access to residents in Wapping to flog [my] re-election bid are also completely untrue.

Cllr Alibor Choudhury categorically refuted these allegations, also made by the local Labour Party, in Full Council on 27 November. I also categorically refuted these claims in Cabinet on Wednesday 4 December. My rebuttal and that of Councillor Choudhury were carried in the East London Advertiser on Monday 2 December.

How, in these circumstances, you could run with these heavily contested and baseless allegations, let alone print them without putting them to me, is beyond me.

Similar claims have been made before, and the resulting police investigations have consistently found them to be baseless and a waste of police time.

Your comparisons between Tower Hamlets and Newham are insulting and inane. You may be interested to learn that not a single question has been asked of Mayor Sir Robin Wales, in any meeting of full council in the past seven months. In Tower Hamlets most of the political parties are represented. In Newham, all sixty councillors are from Sir Robin Wales’ party.

Perhaps The Wharf prefers a ‘one party borough’ solution?

I have never claimed that answering questions would ‘breach my human rights’ as you claim. I simply delegate the business of council to lead councillors, as is common-place in other local authorities.

I attend hundreds of public meetings where I am directly accountable to electors (rather than to opposition parties who were roundly rejected at the last election but by mere virtue of the electoral cycle continue to boast a majority in the chamber) and hold frequent press conferences where you and other journalists are welcome to hold me to account.

As a regular contributor to The Wharf, I had come to expect a whole lot better from your newspaper. I do hope that normal service may be resumed shortly.

Some who have read that last paragraph believe it’s an implied threat to withdraw his frequent offers of editorial magic. I’m not so sure it is, but if so…how the editors of the Bengali press must quake…

And as for his statement he holds frequent press conferences, does he? I don’t think I’ve ever been invited to one.

Anyway, let’s all applaud Lutfur’s determination to hold himself to account and also his championing of free speech.

I mean, free speech without intimidation and threats is a good thing right?

So what was Lutfur’s response to Anjem Choudary’s trip down Brick Lane last Friday when his Shariah Project groupies handed out mock-legal leaflets warning Bengali restaurateurs they faced hellfire or 40 lashes (take your pick!) for selling booze?

The East London Advertiser reports him saying:

We strongly believe in the right to free speech and association, and I am pleased that, with the police’s support, this group were able to exercise that right whilst upholding respect for our communities, which is the hallmark of our ‘No Place for Hate’ pledge.

He has to be kidding, right? Exactly what respect was Anjem showing to those he wants burnt in hell? Let’s remember that included in Amjem’s band of supporters are those convicted or terror and hate-related offences.

Only nine days ago, Anjem was reported in the Standard as saying the Muslim Patrol thugs who were convicted this month for abusing and attacking non-Muslims in Tower Hamlets deserved a “pat on the back”.

So isn’t Lutfur effectively saying, ‘You’re welcome to come back to protest and intimidate in Tower Hamlets any time you like?’

Which is a bit different to the message he rightly sends to that other fascist group, the English Defence League, which also claimed it merely wanted to exercise free speech.

I wonder if Lutfur, with this potential ‘one rule for one’ mentality secretly wants to provoke another visit by the EDL before next May.

By way of contrast, here are the thoughts of Labour group leader Sirajul Islam and the Muslim Council of Britain on Anjem’s visit:

Cllr Sirajul Islam, leader of the Labour group, said: “While Muslims may choose to abstain from alcohol, it is not right to forcefully push one view upon others.”

He added: “Provocative attempts to push a radical Sharia agenda will serve only to widen the divide between our communities, especially in light of the recent challenges we have faced from the EDL and so called ‘Muslim patrols’.”

Salman Farsi from the London Muslim Centre said: “While Islam may prohibit the consumption and sale of alcohol for Muslims, it is not for any particular groups to impose those views on others, nor bully other communities.”

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This motion has been submitted by the Labour group for debate at next Wednesday’s full meeting of Tower Hamlets council (declaration: I’m a Tower Hamlets Homes leaseholder).

Proposer: Cllr Marc Francis

Seconder: Cllr Carlo Gibbs

This Council notes:

  • In 2008, Full Council agreed a motion authorising the Lead Member for Housing to commission an independent audit of leasehold service charges following concerns about the two-thirds increase in the level of Management & Administration fees, numerous historic disputes over the costs recharged and a Scrutiny Review which called for much greater transparency and accountability in the calculation of service charges;
  • In 2009, a Project Steering Group (PSG) involving councillors, Tower Hamlets Homes (THH), Tower Hamlets Leaseholders Association (THLA) and other leaseholders agreed detailed Terms of Reference for that audit, commissioned Beevers & Struthers Ltd to carry it out;
  • In spring 2010, THH attempted unilaterally to introduce new methodology for the calculation of management fees and a new policy to charge to ground floor leaseholders for services they did not benefit from, which was blocked by the Lead Member;
  • In summer 2010 a draft version was produced for the PSG, identifying a series of very challenging issues for THH around the management of leasehold services, value for money, caretaking, repairs and maintenance, management and administration fees, and several Service Levels Agreements with LBTH;
  • However, publication of the final audit report was delayed by the Mayoral Election in October 2010 and not finally signed off by the PSG until May 2011, by which time LBTH/THH had already begun consultation on a “Leasehold Policy Review” which was claimed to have been based on its findings;
  • The Mayor and Lead Member subsequently established a Leasehold Action Plan Working Group (LAPWG), including representatives of leaseholders to bring together the Beevers & Struthers’ recommendations, those of the Audit Commission and THH’s own Leaseholder Service Improvement Group, and a Statement of Intent was agreed by all those involved to implement the 54 recommendations or agree an alternative remedy;
  • Over the next 18 months, just five of the 54 recommendations were implemented and in October 2012, THH sent leaseholders “actuals”, which included significantly increased charges in most areas, particularly block/estate cleaning, a 17 per cent “Overhead” fee and new SLAs with LBTH.  They were told these costs had been calculated on the B&S audit and had actually been “dampened” and so would increase further over the next two years;
  • In spring 2013, the St Stephen’s Estate Leaseholders Association published a damning scrutiny report, which exposed the failure to implement the recommendations in the original Beevers& Struthers audit;
  • In response, the current Lead Member for Housing & Development, is now proposing an “review” of the original B&S audit.

This Council believes:

  • The Mayor and THH have not implemented the recommendations contained in the independent audit in accordance with the agreed Statement of Intent and that the original aim of increasing transparency and accountability has been lost;
  • Leaseholders should be fully recharged for the costs of the services they receive, but that the 2011/12 “actuals” are not based on the methodology set out in the recommendations in the B&S audit, but are instead opaque and represent very poor value for money;

This Council resolves to call on the Mayor to:

  • Explain why only 5 out of 54 of the recommendations in the B&S audit have so far been implemented;
  • Explain why an 17 per cent “Overhead” has been introduced across most Heads of Charge:
  • Justify the Service Level Agreements between LBTH and THH and explain what action is being taken to ensure best value;
  • Instruct THH to publish a report detailing how the actions it has taken since October 2010 to achieve “savings” have resulted in reduced costs to council leaseholders and tenants.

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