Tower Hamlets and the Councillor Achievement Awards 2012

Posted on | Monday, 27 February 2012 | No Comments

The venerable Mayor Rahman was reported in the 23 February edition of Docklands & East London Advertiser to have nominated one of his close Cabinet allies, Clltr Rania Khan for a prestigious LGiU award. 

On the day, she didn't win any award. The national winners are shown here http://bit.ly/yvSYxD

That this nomination happened at all just doesn't sit well with me. For a start, anyone - Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all can submit a nomination. I'm not sure the general public are aware of this. If they were, maybe we would have seen more nominations from among the 50 Councillors representing Tower Hamlets. But as it was, Lutfur Rahman decided to single out just one Councillor, from his own Cabinet and a close Independent ally, for nomination. (With only a small Independent team to choose from he should count himself lucky he didn't choose the jailbird).

Did he announce and justify his nomination to the full Council? Was his chosen one selected for work in the community or to give kudos to his own political image? 

He certainly made sure his personal nomination was gazetted in the local press. East End Life splashed news of the nomination across the page coupled with a column headed, 'Councillor up for Award'. The Docklands & East London Advertiser took a more cynical approach with 'Politician up for Anti-Sex Club Award'.




Why was Jailed Cllr Shelina Akhtar allocated Social Housing

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Tower Hamlets' Cllr Peter Golds has quite rightly raised the question of how a woman with no known housing need could jump approximately 23,000 other claimants on the local housing list. The list is based on the Housing Act 1996 and managed through a 4 Band system of prioritisation (http://bit.ly/zlpfrm). It would also be helpful to know which Band Cllr Akhtar was registered under.

Cllr Akhtar, who is now classified as a criminal, is still officially a Tower Hamlets Councillor and member of Lutfur Rahmans inner circle of Independents members.

Like Cllr Golds, we are waiting for a response. The longer we wait the graver becomes our concern. The response needs to come from the Mayor himself. I would press Cllr Golds and other Councillors, to raise this issue regularly until it is answered to the satisfaction to the constituents in Tower Hamlets.

Minister Calls for Enquiry into Tower Hamlets' Electoral Role

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The news that a local Government Minister has called for a new enquiry into Tower Hamlets' electoral roll is encouraging for those who have been demanding an investigation into vote rigging. Absent from those calling for action has been - guess - Tower Hamlets Council. Now that's worrying, when the Government Minister responsible, both local MP's, the London Assembly Member, and local Labour and Conservative party leaders all join resolutely in airing their concern. The Council for its part responded by saying that it refuted suggestions that voter fraud is rife. One would have thought that a Council whose reputation had already been seriously damaged by the fraudulent antics of ex Councillor and Deputy Council Leader Manzila Uddin, and jailing of Councillor Shelina Akhtar for fraud, would adopt a somewhat more circumspect position. Not so, their attitude is defensive where it ought to be grave concern and agreement with those calling for an investigation. The Council's failure to robustly acknowledge that there is an issue further erodes our trust in the integrity of their current leadership.

Mind you, calling for an investigation is still some way short of getting it underway. All those united to see this happen need to ensure pressure is maintained on Central Government as a matter of urgency as local elections are only months away  

A Call for Action Following the Defacement of Brick Lane

Posted on | Sunday, 26 February 2012 | No Comments

Tower Hamlets' Council, as we now all know now, have defaced Brick Lane. We are not going to let it rest.
The issues are threefold; (1) an autocratic decision by Lutfur Rahman to tarmac Brick Lane in the face of local opposition, (2) a partisan publication promoting the political agenda of Tower Hamlets’ executive management, whilst excluding the voice of those opposing the Council’s actions, and (3) – linked to (2) – the lack of any cohesive representation to spearhead and publicise public objection.
Let’s firstly address the total lack of editorial integrity shown by the Editor of East End Life, Ms Loraine Clay in gazetting the pro tarmac articles by both Rahman and Rennie in the same issue, while omitting any reference to significant local objection. This, coupled with her refusal to respond to my own request for an explanation illustrates the paper’s shabby editorial oversight. We should not be deceived into believing this pretence for a newspaper is ‘by the people, for the people’; it is not. It is in reality simply a political vehicle for Tower Hamlets Council which as we know is itself a conduit used by the Mayor, Lutfur Rahman to promote his political aspirations and agenda. Until there are major changes to the editorial staff we can pretty much assume East End Life won’t effectively represent the views of those objecting. To the contrary, the paper can be expected to give bad press to any efforts made in challenging the Council’s tarmac decision. So we can assume East End Life will not be covering our endeavours in any supportive way. Better the devil you know as they say.
I don’t underestimate the great work everyone has done so far in objecting through blog comments, but we need to be a great deal more proactive, on and off the Internet. For example, I recommend we make better use of social networking to promote our cause as we’ve established that we don’t have the luxury of a tax payer funded sycophantic publication to support our case. Consistent use of Twitter, Facebook and a raft of complimentary social networking tools to publicise our case and gain support will potentially be more effective than the occasional item in the local press anyway – it simply needs organising in a disciplined way.
That being said, what other avenues are available to us to represent our cause? Well, we should formally approach the Councillors for the Ward of Spitalfields and Banglatown. Regrettably with one in jail, that only leaves two, namely Councillor Helal Uddin Abbas (Labour) http://bit.ly/zVNXBy and Councillor Fozol Miah (Respect) http://bit.ly/zwxSKo. I recommend we write an open letter to both expressing our concern and outlining our argument for reinstating original cobbles in Brick Lane.
Next we should arrange for a Petition to be signed by residents and businesses in Brick Lane and this petition formally handed to both Councillors, ideally with photographs of the event to publicise the presentation through our social networking channels.
Last but certainly not least important will be a public show of strength, and this means an orderly demonstration in Brick Lane with the consent of residents. Again photographed and networked. We can make this work without, or in spite of, the press.
To summarise I’m recommending:
(1) Build an effective Social Network presence branded as, e.g., #BrickLane
(2) Write to Spitalfields and Banglatown Councillors
(3) Organise and present a Petition
(4) Make a public show of strength to support our case
No progress will be made unless we push ahead with these or similar actions. My time is available to help. If others are prepared to step up to the line and get involved, please do so and let’s set the project up in a constructive way.
On a final note, regarding John Rennie, we oughtn’t to hold our breath for him to honour his promise. The last entry he made to his own web site, which few, if any read – eastlondonhistory – was on 7 December 2011!

Tower Hamlets’ dismantled democracy – where the majority is the opposition

Posted on | Saturday, 25 February 2012 | No Comments

Events that unfolded during the Council’s 2012/13 Budget review, on Wednesday 22 February 2012, revealed the blatant misuse of power and the depths we have blindly allowed ourselves to sink to in accepting a dysfunctional democratic process.

Midway through the proceedings, shortly after the leader of the Conservatives, Peter Gold raised an issue of probity which challenged the council’s adherence to the Nolan principles of transparency, a surprise request for an ‘Emergency Amendment’ was tabled by the Independent member Cllr Alibor Choudhury  (Cabinet Member for Resources).  It proposed cutting the Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) provided to Peter Gold, by some £5,000 pa. A paltry amount you may think, when the council was deliberating a £1.3billion budget.

Below is a copy of the Motion, with my notes added in italics. It refers repeatedly to the ‘Report from the Independent Panel on the Remuneration of Councillors in London’, published October 2006.

Motion – Independent Amendment: Additional savings and income opportunities
Proposer: Cllr Alibor Choudhury
Seconder: Cllr Aminur Khan

This Council Notes:

1. On SRA’s:
a) There are currently two levels of SRA’s for the leaders of groups with over 6 Councillors: The leader of a group with 6 members receives £5,531 pa, whilst the leader of a group with 7 or more councillors receives £10,174 pa (These arrangements do not include the leader of the majority group, who receives an SRA at the same level as a Cabinet Member).
         
Choudhury, or his boy adviser Landin, has the facts wrong from the start. The two levels are not for groups with over 6 Councillors, the first level is for groups, ‘up to 6 Councillors’. A minor point but they need to get their facts right.

b) Currently there is only 1 group in Council with over 6 Councillors.

Technically wrong again, as there are 2, Labour (with 32) and the Conservatives (with7); whether Labour is a majority or not, it’s a group in terms of the Motion. Now this is interesting, as they do not consider the Independent Councillors a group, and are accordingly referring in b) to the Conservatives only.

c) That the leader of this group’s SRA is £10,174 over and above the basic allowance of £10,065.

Referring to the SRA being ‘over and above the basic allowance’ is provocative as all SRA’s are payments made in excess of the basic allowance.

d) This is higher than the recommended level by the Independent panel on the remuneration of Councillors in London or £2,368 to £8,852

Indeed it is, and the Council approved and adopted the higher payments through the Members’ Allowances Scheme less than a year ago - on 13 April, 2011 – 5 years after the panel’s recommendations were published. This established the following SRA’s:
·         Leader of the Majority Group on the Council: £12,658 (i.e Labour)
·         Leader of any other Group with over 6 Councillors:  £10,174 (i.e., Conservatives)
·         Leader of any Group with up to 6 Councillors (subject to having at least 10% of the Council):   £5,531

For reference, the Independent panel recommended 5 Bands and the figures given by Cllr Choudhury  are taken from Band 1 (Leader of second or smaller opposition group).

e) This is far higher than in comparative boroughs Lewisham and Newham, where the SRA is £5,275 and £3,621

Entirely irrelevant, as any comparative analysis would need to take into account a far more complex sampling.

This Council Believes:

1. On SRAs:

a. The two tiered system is unnecessary and not supported by the Independent Panel’s recommendation.

The Council applied the two tiered system on 13 April, 2011 as part of the Members’ Allowances Scheme in full knowledge of the Independent Panel’s earlier recommendations.

This Council Resolves:

1. On SRAs:

a. To bring the SRA of the leader of any group other than the majority group inline with the recommendations of the Independent Panel and other comparative Councils.
b. That this level of SRA should be the same level as for a Committee Chair, at £5,531. This would create a saving of £4,643.

Cllr Choudhury has cherry picked from the Independent Panel’s recommendations. Should the Council have applied all the Panel’s recommendations, the leader of the Conservatives, Peter Gold should receive an SRA of between £14,418 and £26,609, i.e., under Band 2 as the leader of the Principle Opposition Group. And here is the crux issue that this slimy motion has revealed. In a constitutional sense (parliamentary constitutional conventions) a party/group cannot be both in a majority and at the same time in opposition. The Council has already accepted that the Labour Party is the Majority Group in Council (63%); it cannot therefore be the Principle Opposition Group at the same time. As the Conservatives are the next largest party/group after Labour, they logically and constitutionally become the Principle Opposition Group. Hence warranting a Band 2 SRA leader’s allowance.

The cunning Cllr Choudhury has been hoisted by his own petard and in so doing has highlighted a serious constitutional crisis at Tower Hamlets’ government. This has been the installation of an autocratic Executive Mayor with the authority to overrule an elected council chamber, including his own Cabinet, (see here). It is Mayor Lutfur Rahman who has turned a majority party/group into the opposition. Tower Hamlets’ Government, if we can call it that, is where the majority party is in opposition to just one man – Lutfur Rahman. Aren’t these the politics of a third world dictatorship?

A further example of the misuse of power was demonstrated by Lutfur Rahman in his ridicule of the Conservative’s amendments to the 2012/13 Budget. After spending time explaining his reasons for agreeing to Labour’s amendments, he picked up the Conservative’s amendments, dramatically motioned as if throwing it away, and said simply non of their amendments were accepted. It’s worth noting that of the 17 Councillors who attended the earlier 8 February 2012 Cabinet meeting to discuss the 2012/13 Budget, non were Conservative.

In my humble view Lutfur Rahman and his ‘Independent’ followers must expect to suffer the very serious consequences of undermining the integrity and process of our constitutional system. It won’t be enough for central Government to intervene and restore a democratic Cabinet, and remove Rahman’s executive powers. Lutfur Rahman must also be removed from ever taking public office for his blatant misuse of power in dismantling the democratic process; power unwisely entrusted to him by the people of this borough. 

Update on the Controversy Surrounding Brick Lane

Posted on | Wednesday, 22 February 2012 | No Comments

Tower Hamlets Council, through there publicity vehicle, East End Life, support their decision to tarmac Brick Lane with the statement, 'The irony is that the 'traditional' surface of Brick Lane in centuries past is far likelier to have been hard-packed mud than fancy granite setts'..

Historically wrong, and dangerously misleading. This philistine act of replacing an earlier attempt to recapture the look and feel of our past with tarmac is an insult to all those who care fervently about heritage. It's extraordinary that their limited research into our heritage didn't uncover this photograph and others corroborating a cobbled surface - readily available in their own (underfunded) Local History Library and Archives. At best a sloppy oversight...

The photograph was taken in 1895

Update 23 February 2011
In response to the article in East End Life, I wrote to The Editor:


'Dear Ms Clay

I refer to the above article by John Rennie in your current edition (20 - 26 February 2012) of East End life.

It is both inaccurate and cynical. You will see that I have posted a photograph of Brick Lane circa 1985  at my blog; this clearly shows the street was originally cobbled well before tarmac was laid. Other photographs obtained from the same source - Tower Hamlets Local History and Archives - show connecting roads also laid in cobbles, corroborating the historical fact that the area as a whole was cobbled.

That your columnist was only able to refer to one photograph from Tower Hamlets Local History and Archives, and not those disproving his argument is cause for grave concern. As I have stated in my blog, this is at best sloppy investigative journalism.

Under the circumstances, I'm requesting that you issue an appropriate update and perhaps redrafting your story to account for the fact that the council recognises that they have laid tarmac on a street original laid in cobbles - and this against the wishes of the local community. Here then is the thrust of the issue - your paper, supporting the council's decision, run roughshod over local opinion and saw fit to ignore evidence contradicting the council's statement on Brick Lane's architectural heritage. It's dishonest reporting and lacks the integrity we so sorely need in our media. An apology please.'

She hasn't afforded me the courtesy of a reply; maybe she only responds to council communiques. However, my email was copied to John Rennie the journalist responsible, and here is his reply:

'Dear Grenville,
Thanks for your note. I'm not sure this is either inaccurate or cynical. My point isn't that the street was never cobbled - I don't actually say that - but that the setts that are being covered up aren't especially historical (dating from the 1990s), and that tarmac isn't especially modern. Personally, I like the cobbles, a point I make at the end of my piece ... I think it's a shame to cover them up, and my piece certainly isn't intended to be an apology for the council's love of tarmac. As for the picture - there's no great conspiracy there I can promise you, it was simply a picture I had to hand. Your point about older cobbles is of course an excellent one and well made. I have no control over what goes in East End Life but I will put your comments on the end of the piece when I publish it on my website eastlondonhistory.com.'


East London History? Draw your own conclusions. Never mind, the message here is clear, and one we already new. The paper lacks integrity - and under its present regime it's unlikely to represent the views of the community over the directives issued by the inner circle of the council.

ps In the same issue, Lutfur Rahman focused his column on Brick Lane too. He also conveniently ignored the historical fact that Brick Lane was originally cobbled. Referring at times to its 'tasty curries', 'quirky shopping' and naming it 'Curry Capital 2012', he placed little value on its heritage. In stating the estimated cost of re-laying cobbles (he says bricks but I hope he meant cobbles and understands the difference) he omitted to mention that TfL had partly funded this work. He goes on to say that the cost of ongoing repairs 'would not provide the tax payer with value for money' - a 101 phrase for career politicians unable to put together a sound argument in support of unpopular decisions. So, for someone who holds his position based on 13% of the Borough's vote, and a tax payers funded allowance of  £65,000/year, he talks of 'value for money'!  And, frankly who is he to tell us what price is to be paid for retaining our heritage. Wait, there's more, 'the tarmac will ensure Brick Lane remains a safe, exciting, and attractive place to visit'. Well, I suppose we ought to be replacing our historic cobbled streets nationwide in a sort of Rahman mania as they're all, on this basis, probably unsafe, unexciting and unattractive. His final learned words were, 'the tarmac will provide long lasting improvements'. Really? so tarmac will last longer than 300 year old cobbles with equally minimal maintenance, right?  

Our Shameful 'Democracy'

Posted on | Sunday, 19 February 2012 | No Comments

Or how we meekly allow ourselves to be are governed by a minority in our community.

Tower Hamlets Council consists of 51 elected councillors, i.e.,

32 Labour (representing 63% of the full council)
9 Independent (17%)
7 Conservatives (14%)
2 Respect (4%)
1 Liberal Democrat (2%)

However, the council operates on a Cabinet form of executive decision making. This means that key decisions are made by a smaller executive - in the case of Tower Hamlets - 9 councillors selected by the Mayor from the above. However the Mayor retains sole executive power to make decisions within his Cabinet.

Now to the layman, a Cabinet selection would logically, and democratically be based broadly on the representation within the full Council, i.e., it would consist 6 Labour, 2 Independent and 2 Conservative. Am I right or wrong?

What we have in fact is a Cabinet, autocratically selected by an Executive Mayor, (himself representing only 13% of the local electorate) consisting of 6 Independent (his followers) and 4 Labour councillors!

Democracy? You decide...

Tower Hamlets - 1,000 Years of Oppression

Posted on | Friday, 17 February 2012 | No Comments

How far has the lot of the underprivileged within Tower Hamlets progressed over time? Almost 1,000 years ago, the Tower of London was built - a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon the hamlet and London as a whole by the then new ruling elite. Today, the contrast between rich and poor is no less evident with Canary Wharf being the new home of the ruling elite..

Tower Hamlets Mayor, Lutfur Rahman Sanctions £1,000/day 'Advisor'

Posted on | Wednesday, 15 February 2012 | No Comments

The contract to hire a consultant on regeneration and development raises a number of issues. Firstly, when we (that is the honest taxpayer) already pay £100,000/annum for a Head of Strategy, Regeneration and Sustainability, plus a further £700,000/annum in salaries to the combined heads of other Development and Renewal departments, why do we need a consultant? Who challenged this appointment?

Secondly, we need to look more closely at the mandate Lutfur Rahman, who we are led to believe made this appointment, actually holds. Just 13% of the electorate in Tower Hamlets voted for Lutfur Rahman as Mayor: that's right, just 13% and based on this astonishingly low level of support he was gifted the position of Chief Executive. 

On an allowance of £65,000 pa, he overseas a £1b+ annual budget without ever having to undergo the rigours of an executive selection criteria that shareholders demand in the corporate world. This is the unacceptable face of democracy.

To be fair, responsibility for this state of affairs is to shared between a dysfunctional electoral system that permits a candidate to be elected on such a small percentage of the popular vote, and 75% of the electorate of Tower Hamlets who didn't consider it important enough to go out and vote.

Under this Mayor's autocratic management style, we are left to assume the £1k/day contract to Mr Winterbottom slipped by any presentation to council; all of whom are there to represent our interests.

We must all be aware of the merit or otherwise of the person representing this Borough at the highest level, and the weaknesses of the (democratic) system that permits such an individual to assume this position of authority and responsibility without the due diligence of rigorous selection..

Change is needed to the way we run our borough. We demand a system of governance that embraces efficiency, honesty, and integrity; a system that we can rely on and trust. We owe it to our children so that they will inherit a borough to be proud of.

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