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Archive for July, 2011

Peter Golds, the leader of the Tory group on Tower Hamlets council, has asked me to post the following statement on this blog in response to anonymous criticisms by various commenters.

This is the first time I have ever posted on this blog.

I post on other blogs but always under my own name. For those in public life to abuse others anonymously on blogs can have serious consequences – as can be seen by the current implosion of the career of Johann Hari.

As for Ash [comment number 5 here], you may study contributions but your woeful contributions suggest that you fail to understand any of them. As your jokes have been read, Cllr Maium Miah indicated who you actually are. Listening to the name he gave, it certainly falls into place, but then he might not be telling the truth.

I have never met Labour group leader Cllr Josh Peck outside of the town hall/civic environment.

Despite allegations of meetings, I have exchanged just two words with Rushanara Ali: “Good evening,” in November 2008 at the borough fireworks event.

So Ash, your “understandings” are mere trash.

Steve [comment number 3 here] seems more plausible, at least until you read him. Steve claims to be a loyal helper and worker. So loyal that he does not even know the surname of Shirley Houghton or first name of Phil Briscoe, or as we all knew last year, that they had moved in the summer and were celebrating the birth of their first child.

As for the Spitalfields by-election, I was helping Matt Smith as recently as last Thursday afternoon, as I now know, at the time of the “press conference” following up issues that we had discovered in that very by-election campaign.

Then Steve says I should be “trying to broker a deal with the Mayor”.

Well, Steve, as a loyal and hard working Conservative supporter, plugged into meetings and events, surely you were around when Tim and I reported back that we had been approached by Shiraj Haque, asked to visit his Clifton restaurant (where we accepted a glass of tapwater) and were offered a cabinet and adviser post in the Lutfur administration.

You will remember how this was greeted, you will recollect Cllr Miah, who was also present at the Clifton but having lunch, warning us to say no, and everyone else agreeing this. You will also remember that we all laughed at what Eric Pickles would have said had we accepted.

Perhaps you just were not around; perhaps you are not even Steve.

It is very sad that there is little comprehension by commenters on this blog that politics is confrontational, that elected people will have different views and opinions to other elected officials.

Is Ash or the rest saying that the Labour group in Westminster or Wandsworth should shut up shop and support the local Conservative administrations?

I hope not, for that is not what politics, either local regional or national, is about.

It is ridiculous to expect the entire borough should await every missive from Mayor Rahman because of his mandate of 23,500 votes. Yes, he has been elected, but he is accountable and contributors should understand that some support him, many do not and others will question his actions.

That is called democracy. 

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On July 4, I reported here that then Tower Hamlets Tory councillor Maium Miah (Millwall) had joined Mayor Lutfur Rahman and his supporters for an away day to Leicester. The next day, he sent a begging email to his concerned party bosses in Mulberry Place. Yesterday, I said he had explained his actions by telling Peter Golds he’d been duped and that it had all been a big mistake.

Well, here is that email, the explanation straight from the horse’s mouth:

To be honest,

Few friends mislead me and took me with them,  saying that they are going to a trip to Leicester so I went.  When i saw Lutfur & co I was shock myself but couldn’t do much.  

But i can assure you i did not take any part what so ever campaigning  for labour.  I and other few stayed away from campaigning, instead we went to the local mosque & shopping area,  not to the mosque Lutfur visited. 

I heard from people that time, kith vath made a comment about Tory Cllr defected to labour.

I made a mistake trusting someone which myself and the party paying the price for. It was a complete set up. From the event to the blogs comments. 

But i did not defect that time or intend to defect in the future. 

The reason I kept quite all this time I thought no one will believe me. 

Peter I support the party and will. I always supported the group during all council agenda & will continue to. 

There has been lots of pressure from the bang community to support Lutfur for the last budget but I still supported my group, and intend to continue that. 

I have been tricked by them to Be expelled so that I join there group which I have no intention to do so.

It’s very hard to explain  by email, soon as i return will talk in details 

The “kith vath” he refers to is Labour MP Keith Vaz.

It’s difficult to know where to begin with this email. I’m told that while a Tory councillor he was diligent with his surgeries and casework, and that he was also popular on the doorstep. I’m also told that his fellow Tory councillors were very supportive of him: as the lone Bengali Tory member, he had been put under serious pressure by some in the Bengali community.

It could be that that pressure has eventually told. Certainly, Lutfur’s backer Shiraj Haque, who owns the Clifton restaurant and supermarket on Westferry Road on the Isle of Dogs, is known for throwing his weight about (and much more besides).

It could also be that Maium is the latest in a long line of Tower Hamlets politicians who don’t give a hoot about the traditional party system and the policy making process; yet quite happy to pretend otherwise to get themselves elected and pocket the councillor cash.

Perhaps what we’re witnessing here is the disintegration of that system in Tower Hamlets. Lutfur and his followers might well feel they can forget tradition, that maybe they’re in the vanguard of a new grassroots movement that can go it alone. Funding? No problem, we’ve got the likes of Shiraj Haque to help us, might be the mentality. This new crew maybe a Respect Mark II.

How should the main parties respond? Well, here’s a radical thought: clean themselves up, refuse to play these games, stick to consistent and coherent policies, and retain some sort of higher moral ground by making sure those they select for office genuinely believe in what they’re saying. In fact, it is arguable that some who have defected are more principled than the ones they left behind.

The Tory party was desperate for a Bengali face on its council benches to counter the smears thrown at them from the other side of the chamber. In that desperation, the party clearly didn’t vet Maium enough. It would be fascinating to know how much he was grilled at the selection procedure.

Almost every single sentence of Maium’s July 5 email is a bare-faced lie.

Here’s a couple of them again:

…i did not defect that time or intend to defect in the future. 

The reason I kept quite all this time I thought no one will believe me. 

Peter I support the party and will. I always supported the group during all council agenda & will continue to. 

Is a liar fit to be a councillor or be rewarded with a job in the cabinet (at some stage) when he will control millions of pounds of spending?

Here’s another thought: why not force councillors who defect to stand again in a by-election? Yes, there would be costs, but perhaps the shame of billing voters for those costs might be the deterrent.

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The merry-go-round of Tower Hamlets politics continues: another allegedly loyal party member who was elected in May last year by promising he would deliver official manifesto pledges has thrown all his words back in his voters’ faces.

This time it’s not a Labour member who has defected to Lutfur Rahman’s growing group of independents, but a Tory: Cllr Maium Miah.

To be honest, it’s not surprising: three weeks ago I reported here that Maium travelled with Lutfur Rahman and other supporters to campaign for the by-election victory of Ed Miliband adviser’s, Jon Ashworth, in Leicester South earlier his year.

I was told by one witness that MP Keith Vaz, who was compering the victory celebrations, even hinted there would soon be a Tory defection….but Vaz apparently thought the switch would be to Labour.

No, it doesn’t work like that in Tower Hamlets. Labour is not in control of the political patronage – Lutfur is.

Expect some form of “special responsibility allowance” to end up in the defector’s pocket sometime soon.

By the way, when quizzed about his coach trip to Leicester, he assured Tory boss Peter Golds that he had been duped. Maium, an ex-Labour party member, told him he thought he was just going there for “a community visit to a restaurant and a mosque” and that when he realised its “true purpose” he made himself scarce from Lutfur’s group and “went to have a look around the city”.

If so, that seems a bare-faced lie.

Here’s the email he just sent to Cllr Golds:

Dear Councillor Golds
I write to inform you that from henceforth I resign from the Conservative Party from immediate effect.
Regards
Councillor Mohammed Maium Miah

UPDATE – 4.50pm, July 28

Lutfur is now very close to controlling the magic 17 councillors required to block any budget amendments by Labour (that’s a third of the 51 councillors).

He now has eight original independents, plus the five recent “whip defectors” from Labour, plus Maium. That makes 14, but he also has almost guaranteed two Respect members, so that’s 16. So that leaves the lone Lib Dem Stephanie Eaton in an extremely interesting position. So far, she’s been happy to side with Lutfur on several issues, but now she might just extract a higher price for co-operation. Of course, Lutfur could trump her by securing another floor-crosser from Labour.

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Well, that didn’t take long did it. No sooner was Stephen Halsey promoted to Deputy Chief Executive of Tower Hamlets Council than a wearily inevitable report appears under his name for the borough’s cabinet meeting on August 3.

I’ve seen quite a few cabinet reports in the past few years while watching Tower Hamlets Council, but this has to be one of the most extraordinary.

Last September, in the run-up to October’s Mayoral election, I predicted that in the event of a victory for his friend Lutfur Rahman, millionaire housing association tenant Shiraj Haque would be determined to wrest back control of the annual and lucrative Baishakhi Mela festival.

Here’s what I wrote then:

Was this one of the reasons why he backed Lutfur Rahman’s bid to become the first directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets? Time will tell. 

Well, time is beginning to tell. Last month, I reported here that Mr Halsey had been holding meetings with the businessman (then positing himself as the head of a so-called Baishakhi Mela Advisory Board) about how he could “advise” on the running of the three-day event.

And now, thanks to this latest council report, we now know how Shiraj could be helped. For in agenda item 6.5 on p261 of the pdf here, there is the quite remarkable proposal to privatise the lucrative Mela because “there is a strong wish within the community to return the management to a local organisation”. (Oh yeah? From who “within the community” exactly?)

Here’s a bit of background. Up until 2008, the Mela was organised by a “Baishakhi Mela Trust” controlled by Haque. in the run-up to the 2008 event, there were a number of quite serious allegations levelled against him, including ones made by then MP George Galloway that he might have been using the festival to smuggle Bangladeshi artists into the UK. Haque strongly denied these claims.

However, he was found guilty by the council on one issue: of running a trust riddled with financial irregularities. A report in 2007 by auditors Deloitte found they could:

‘provide no assurance that the financial practices and controls adopted by the BMT are sufficiently adequate and effective to enable robust financial management of the trust’s funds’.

Haque’s trust was therefore shunned by the council, which was led at the time by Labour’s Denise Jones, and the Mela was run in-house from 2009 onwards.

Despite all this, history is being whitewashed and rewritten in Lutfur Rahman’s new Mulberry Place. Shamefully, Mr Halsey seems to be going along with it: there is not one mention of that Deloitte report or the financial irregularities in his new cabinet paper.

Instead, in section 5.2, he writes:

During this period [2002-2007] there was growing disagreement within the community as to who should run the Mela, with two groups contesting the right – the BMT and the New Banglatown Baishakhi Mela Trust. In 2008 the issue came to a head when both organisations sought to run the event on Weavers Field on the same day. The 2008 Mela was again organised by BMT without financial support from the Council.

Mr Halsey now says Haque’s Baishakhi Mela Advisory Board has now proved itself clean and capable. He says it’s now time for the council to bow out.

Except it won’t because even in these hard-pressed times, when every penny spent is a penny less for social care for example, the council will continue to provide a public grant to this commercial event. Mr Halsey has even agreed to fast-track an unspecified amount of Section 106 planning gain money to help (cash that could be spent on cultural programmes in schools).

So who will be in charge of spending our money then? Fear not, Mr Halsy says. Why? Because there’s going to be an “Independent Panel” who will interview and recommend a “preferred applicant” to Cabinet to decide.

Quite who will be on this Independent Panel, who chooses who will be on it and who picks the shortlist for interviews is not clear. Let’s hope all this done in the open. Perhaps they should consider webcasting the interviews. I’m sure it would generate a decent audience at no cost.

And, amazingly, this new contract will be for nine years.

Here’s some of the more interesting elements of the report

6. BODY OF REPORT

6.1 During the development and implementation of the 2011 Mela there was increased engagement with  the community, primarily through the voluntary Baishakhi Mela Advisory Board, but also through a more localised Mela Parade which involved a number of local organisations. There was a strong desire shown to return the Mela to community management and this report sets out a process for achieving this that relies on the community forming its own management arrangements rather than the Council trying to undertake this process.

6.2 It is proposed to undertake the following processes to allocate the right to hold the Mela in Weavers Field/Allen Gardens/Brick Lane:

· Cabinet approve the approach to return the Mela to the Community

· A specification will be produced (see headlines below)

· The opportunity to manage the Mela will be advertised widely

· Responses will be shortlisted (if necessary)

· Representatives of shortlisted organisations will make a presentation to/be interviewed by an independent panel who will recommend an applicant to Cabinet

· The Mela Selection Panel will be formed of suitable independent representatives. The Panel will, with the support of officers, examine detailed documentation and negotiate final arrangements with the preferred applicant

· A report will be submitted to Cabinet on 5 October recommending that the responsibility for the management of the Mela transfer to that organisation

· Cabinet approves the final arrangements

· Paperwork finalised and the right will be awarded for a period of nine years, with reviews at the end of one, three and six years. The review will be undertaken by the Independent Panel.

· Board members will be selected by the Trust, but the Council would, to protect its own reputation, expect them to comply with the highest standards (i.e. people without criminal records).

· The Council would expect sponsors for the event to be acceptable (for example no cigarette / alcohol companies)

The Council will, in 2012, passport remaining S106 (Balleymore) funding that it has secured for the Mela and which has to be used forparticipatory elements of the event.

And who is the cabinet member in charge of culture? Ex-SWP member/Respect, Labour and now Independent councillor Rania Khan.

Here she is with third from left at this year’s Mela with Shiraj (her mother, fellow ex-SWP member Cllr Lutfa Begum is on the far left).

And at 58 seconds on this video here, you can see her hugging Shiraj Haque (when Lutfur was temporarily declared Labour’s candidate last September):

After a row on Facebook about that video last October, she claimed this:

Rania Khan: By the way for ur info Siraj is my mama meaning my mums brother who saw ne in my nappies.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Rania is Shiraj’s blood niece, just that their families are very close. I wonder if Rania has declared this relationship to council officers? I’d imagine it would rule her out of any official discussions, either with Shiraj or around the appointment of members to the Independent Panel.

Either way, the dots in Lutfur’s administration are beginning to join…

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For what it’s worth, here’s my take on the countdown to the Olympics, It was published in the Sunday Express about two weeks ago. And I did NOT write the headline, by the way….

IN 1983, budding athlete Michael Spinks was what he now describes as “training fodder” for an Olympic champion by the name of Sebastian Coe.

He was one of a group of runners who helped prepare the international star for even greater heights in Los Angeles in 1984. Three decades later Coe is the chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and, with the opening ceremony a mere leap year and 10 days’ time away, Spinks is going to sue him.

Spinks is now managing director of Essex Flour and Grain, a catering supplier on the edge of the Olympic Park that risks going bust amid a huge security lock-down during next year’s Games. “I’ve sent a message to Coe,” he says. “It’s you and Locog [the London 2012 Organising Committee], Seb, versus me and EFG. May the best man win but you haven’t got a prayer.”

Spinks may be angry, but he’s not bitter. He is a businessman of the more generous mould and, instead of shunning the Olympics, is helping to make a once miserable area a better place.

Literally a stone’s throw from the Olympic Park across the River Lea, he’s allowing a group of artists led by Marek Wasniewski to use his depot to inject life and fun into the under-used waterways and even into nearby concrete slabs. Wasniewski pays tribute to Spinks: without him, he says, his boat building project (he takes people on short canoe tours of the river) would not be there.

Neither would the arty Folly café and open-air cinema, run by young architects on the towpath under a road flyover, which will delight hundreds of families every weekend throughout the summer. Spinks provides their electricity and water and has set aside a strip of his depot as the artists’ creative hub.

It is Spinks’ struggle against the corporate Olympic machine and Wasniewski’s dream to create a sustainable area which locals can be proud of after next year’s jamboree, that sum up my own love-hate marathon with London 2012.

For me it will be the climax of several years of fluctuating emotions. I’ve lived in the same place in Bow since 2002 and was all too familiar with the area where a new mini-city now stands. It was previously an industrial wasteland of filthy marshes whose main attractions were thousands of scrapped cars.I live just 800 metres from the Olympic Stadium (1min 41 seconds in Coe-time) but, thanks to the disgraceful ticketing process, like thousands of other neighbours on July 27 next year I will have the dubious pleasure of listening to the opening ceremony through my sitting room windows while watching it unfold on my TV screen inside.

For most of those nine years I’ve also been a journalist and have watched the Olympic journey more closely than most. While Seb Coe’s organising team spewed out its propaganda, I’ve covered those who have lost out and those who were simply concerned.

I’ve reported on the bulldozing of businesses, the burial of radioactive waste, how official records show an unexploded Nazi bomb under the main stadium, the invitation from a nearby housing estate to Barack Obama for tea and scones when he attends the Games and how the site once housed a PoW camp for German soldiers.

Our reporting also improved the conditions for the hundreds of ex-Gurkha soldiers who guard the perimeter of the park. Yet despite all those articles, and despite the £9.3billion cost, I have a growing pride for the area; an excitement and admiration for what has been achieved.

I was among a coach load of political journalists from Westminster touring the park a couple of months ago. All were equally impressed. Locals are also warming to the project: the chat down East End pubs is where they’ll put the Olympic flame (my own hunch is on top of Anish Kapoor’s Orbit installation; you read it here first).

Last Sunday I cycled the canal and river towpaths on the edge of the park with Alberta Matin, an amateur triathlete who grew up in the East End and who now works in architectural design. A few years ago those pathways were muddy, neglected and uninviting. Now they have come alive with families on days out and with other cyclists and walkers admiring the wildlife on one side of the water and the Olympic venues on the other.

Marek Wasniewski and his friends from the Folly café were also there, bringing a buzz to an area that simply didn’t exist before. Alberta told me: “We’ve had two major regeneration projects in this part of London, but whereas Canary Wharf was for businesses, this is for real people. It’s a massive chance for us.”

She’s right. In September a huge Westfield shopping centre will open in Stratford, right next to the Olympic Park. If anything it could be a bigger catalyst for change than the Games itself.

There are worries about the ugly houses in the Athletes’ Village but overall, despite my sympathy for Michael Spinks’s lawsuit, I think Seb Coe could have been right: this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to regenerate, to bring the centre of London east.

So, as we enter the home straight, let the Games end and let the Legacy begin.

PS Can I have a few tickets now please, Seb?

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As predicted, Mayor Lutfur Rahman has appointed ambitious regeneration director Aman Dalvi as the new interim chief executive of Tower Hamlets, while communities boss Stephen Halsey (the man who was asked to help Lutfur’s friend Shiraj Haque with May’s Baishakhi Mela) has been picked as his deputy.

Lutfur is absolutely delighted with the dynamic duo. As the position of permanent chief executive is not his gift to give but that of the 51 councillors, it could well be that he tries to keep these “interim” arrangements going for quite some time.

 

Here’s his statement:

Mayor Rahman has today (July 26) revealed a new interim management team along with a new management structure.  This follows the announcement that Kevan Collins will be leaving to join the Education Endowment Foundation.

Aman Dalvi, OBE who is the current Corporate Director for Development and Renewal will be Interim Chief Executive.  Given the challenging financial climate created by government cuts, the Mayor is proposing to strengthen the interim arrangements.  Therefore, Stephen Halsey, the current Director of Communities, Localities and Culture has been asked to work alongside Mr Dalvi as the Deputy Chief Executive.

A report will be made to full council at its meeting in September.  The Mayor has written to the group leaders to keep them updated about the interim arrangements.

The council announced on Friday that the proposals for the interim Chief Executive appointment would be announced this week and would be drawn from within the existing Corporate Management Team following consultation.

Mayor Rahman said: “Kevan Collins has done a fantastic job for the people of Tower Hamlets for which I will always be grateful.  I wish him well in his new national role and I know that the children of England will greatly benefit from his expertise.

“I am fortunate to have a very strong Corporate Management Team and I am proposing that Aman Dalvi take the position of Interim Chief Executive supported by Stephen Halsey as his Deputy Chief Executive.  They are both exceptional managers with a proven track record of delivery in this great borough.  I have no doubt they  will accelerate momentum towards the delivery of my objectives of more and better social housing, tackling crime and drugs on our streets, improving access to jobs for local people and a better quality environment.”

As I’ve noted before, Mr Dalvi was until 2002 the chief executive of Ujima Housing Association. Let’s hope there’s no repeat of what happened there if he ever quits Tower Hamlets.

Within five years of him leaving Ujima, it had collapsed amid a major corruption scandal. (Let’s be clear, there is no suggestion he was involved.)

Six people have so far been charged or convicted of fraud and money laundering in two separate cases, the most recent less than three weeks ago. According to Inside Housing:

A woman has been found guilty of laundering £42,000 stolen from Ujima Housing Association.

Rosalinda Avwunu, 55 of Purley in Surrey, was found guilty of money laundering and transfer of criminal property by a jury at Isleworth Crown Court today.

The trial concerned £42,000 stolen from Ujima Housing Association which was paid in to Mrs Avwunu’s bank account in 2007.

The prosecution alleged that Mrs Avwunu knew or suspected that money transferred into the account was the proceeds of alleged crime by her husband. She denied any knowledge of or involvement in the fraud.

Her Hon Judge Molyneaux told the court: ‘That money was stolen from a housing corporation [Ujima Housing Association] by which her husband Mr George Avwunu was then employed. The money left her account in fairly short order from when it was paid in and then used on various expenses.’

Mr Avwunu was the finance director of Ujima. He absconded from bail in 2009 and has not been seen since.

In February, a consultant received a jail term. Again, according to Inside Housing:

A consultant at the centre of a £208,000 alleged fraud at the failed Ujima Housing Association has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Paul Campagne, 47, of Coulsdon, Surrey, was found guilty at Isleworth Crown Court last Friday of seven counts of money laundering. He had received £208,000 from the association’s finance director George Avwunu, which it is alleged Mr Avwunu stole from the housing association.

Dr Campagne had transferred £160,000 of this money into bank accounts belonging to Mr Avwunu’s wife Rose Avwunu, and into an investment firm owned by Mr Avwunu. He denied knowing or suspecting that this money was the proceeds of crime.

Although the jury convicted Dr Campagne, it was discharged after it could not reach a verdict on Ms Avwunu, who is charged with two counts of money laundering. A date for re-trial has not yet been set.

Mr Avwunu absconded from bail in 2008 and has not been seen since.

And next January, one of Mr Dalvi’s successors and two others will stand trial as part of a separate £3.5million alleged fraud at Ujima. Inside Housing reports:

Three men accused in relation to a £3.5 million fraud against Ujima Housing Association denied the charges in court yesterday.

The housing association’s former chief executive Kenneth Keith Karl Kerr, 55 of Twyford, and Gregory Simon Causer, 40 of Chalfont St Peter, and Alan Boswell, 52 of Worthing, all pleaded not guilty to all charges at Southwark Crown Court.

They were accused of theft, fraud, conspiracy to defraud and making false instrument. The charges included stealing £350,000 from Ujima Maintenance Services and making representations to London & Quadrant – which took over Ujima Housing Association – that they knew could be untrue.

The case will be heard on 23 January 2012 at Southwark Crown Court and is expected to last for eight weeks.

A few months after Ujima’s collapse, consultants KPMG concluded the disaster was the result of “bad management and an ineffective board” at the association. It said problems should have been spotted as early as 2006.

So as the council struggles to adopt to a new system of governance in which the Mayor has so much power to place his own people in important positions, let’s hope Mr Dalvi can establish a corporate culture of strict checks and controls that last somewhat longer than four years.

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There are countless images which could be used to illustrate this post, but this one in particular stuck out when doing a Google Images search. It was taken by the Birmingham Post during an English Defence League protest in Dudley last year.

The EDL plan a march through Tower Hamlets on September 3. Mayor Lutfur Rahman, Glynn Robins and everyone else of sane mind are right in saying that should not happen.

After the events in Norway, I doubt that it will be allowed to take place. David Cameron will chair a session of the National Security Council and I suspect very strongly that the question of Anders Breivik’s admiration for the EDL will be discussed.

The PM will want to send a message out that Right-wing extremism will not be tolerated. I suspect there will be some discussion about whether the EDL can be proscribed under terror legislation, even temporarily so while investigations continue into Breivik’s background.

The Government has banned Al Muhajiroun and its many guises over the years and having reported on a couple of Anjem Choudary’s silly little marches through London, it’s actually quite easy to feel sympathy for him when the EDL turn up.

They are dangerous thugs who actually play straight into the hands of religious extremists by forcing moderates to sit alongside nutters and hate-peddlers.

Yes, we have some issues in Tower Hamlets, but having talked to people about them in various traditional East End pubs, it’s very clear to me that the EDL are neither welcome nor supported here.

Here’s the message from the Hope not Hate campaign:

Ban the march of hate

On Saturday 3 September the English Defence League plan to march through the streets of Tower Hamlets. They want to peddle their racism and hatred through the heart of one of Britain’s biggest Muslim communities. I would like your help to stop them.

The EDL want to whip up racism and terrorise the local Muslim community. There can be no other explanation for their provocative march. They are coming to East London looking for a confrontation and trying to provoke a violent reaction. This is the last thing the people of Tower Hamlets want or need.

We are calling on the authorities to ban this hate march.

We have shown before that we can force the authorities to act. We stopped the EDL from marching through a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of Bradford last year. More recently we forced the Home Secretary to ban the controversial US preacher, Pastor Jones, from entering Britain.

Now we need to stop the EDL from marching in Tower Hamlets in September.

Tower Hamlets has a long and proud history of immigration and resistance to racism and fascism and so we must stand up against the EDL now. We’ve made a difference before and I know we can be successful again. Please sign our petition.

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The Olympic Mayors

If you’ve ever been to the sumptuous Newham Dockside office complex by the Royal Docks, or passed by the architecturally brilliant Hackney Service Centre in Hillman Street, or marvelled at Lutfur Rahman’s spending on desks and filing cabinets, then you might be interested in this piece I wrote for today’s Sunday Express.

Here it is in full:

WHEN Sir Steve Redgrave, or whoever else is chosen for the historic task, lights Britain’s Olympic flame on July 27 next year, a quartet of fat cat mayors will be beaming smiles from their VIP seats close to the Queen.

Alongside London’s Boris Johnson, if he is re-elected next May, will be the three directly-elected mayors of the Games’ host boroughs.

Together they form a mixed bag of forerunners for a model of government that will soon spread across Britain.

As well as their powerful positions and democratic mandates, their critics believe they have another thing in common: gold medals for vanity projects and wasting local taxpayers’ cash.

On a popular pathway next to the Olympic stadium in east London stands a new sign giving tourists directions for the district of Bow. Go south, walkers are told, and stroll for one and three-quarter miles. It’s all very helpful, except for one tiny matter: the sign is already in the heart of Bow. That the calamity-prone council which approved the sign was Tower Hamlets is surprising to few.

In local government circles over the last couple of years it has become a byword for waste and arrogant incompetence. Yet its controversial leader, Mayor Lutfur Rahman, an independent who was expelled from Labour, is to be rewarded with a VIP pass marked “access all areas” for the duration of the Games. He will be driven to the venue in a top of the range E-class Mercedes, which he currently bills impoverished local taxpayers at a rate of £72 a day to rent.

The newest of the quartet, he won one of Britain’s most poisonous campaigns of recent years last October with the help of a London-based Bengali TV station headed by a convicted fraudster, and with the backing of a millionaire “curry king” who lives in a four-storey housing association home. Mr Rahman’s mayoralty has been described as a slow motion car crash ever since. Within days of victory, he decreed his council-issued Blackberry was no longer grand enough and ordered staff to buy an Apple iPhone4 for £599.

In the seven months since, while railing against Whitehall cuts and apologising for making hundreds redundant, he spent £115,000 redecorating his new suite of offices at the town hall, citing as justification the need to host foreign dignitaries, and also assembled a team of “mayoral advisers”.

Last Friday, the council’s chief executive Kevan Collins quit after just two years in the job to take up a safer role as head of a new education quango. However, while Mr Rahman, who earns £65,000 a year, may be the latest addition to the London mayors’ club, he is by no means its public waste gold medallist.

Many believe that accolade should go to Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of the Olympics’ main host borough, Newham, where all 60 councillors are Labour and which, like Tower Hamlets, is one of Britain’s most deprived areas.

His opponents there accuse him of running the borough like a fiefdom. Last year, while council staff suffered a pay freeze, he had a four per cent hike to take his salary to £81,000 a year. He also appointed 40 Labour councillors to paid roles in his administration.

While the Olympics and the soon-to-open Westfield shopping centre in Stratford will be his crowning glory, they will fail to hide what some suspect will be his lasting folly.

Opened last year, the architecturally stunning Newham Dockside, an office block beside London’s Royal Docks, cost £111.2million of council money to build. Still not fully occupied, it is the new home for the council’s back office staff and call centre. Some £9,300 was spent on five designer lights and £18.7million more went on furniture and fittings.

Sir Robin and Mr Rahman will be joined in the Olympic Royal Box by Jules Pipe, the directly-elected Labour mayor of neighbouring Hackney since 2002. He earns £76,000 a year and many observers say he is the best of the bunch having transformed his deprived borough through an affable style of leadership.

However, even he dived into the murky waters where there is a blur between fostering civic pride and wise public spending by commissioning architects Hopkins to design the impressive Hackney Service Centre which opened last year at a cost of £48million. Like Sir Robin, Mayor Pipe argues the “energy- efficient” site will save money in the long run.

Last night, a warning was made to cities such as Coventry, which are moving to a Tower Hamlets-type model. Peter Golds, leader of Tower Hamlets’ Tory opposition group, said: “There are no checks and balances. Even the President of the United States has to appear before Congress. At the last council meeting our mayor didn’t open his mouth once: there are no rules requiring him to.”

A Hackney council spokeswoman said the cost of the £48m service centre was “significantly” offset by the disposal of council sites in the borough. She added: “Bringing customer services together will allow us to recover any additional cost in a short period of time.”

Newham Council said by 2015 savings from the move to Newham Dockside will amount to £94million gross. A spokeswoman added the buildings were refurbished to a “good standard” so they can be rented out to businesses.

Mayor Rahman refused to comment on the purchase of his iPhone, while a council spokesman defended the revamp of his office, saying it will be used by support staff and for meetings, including with senior officials from key organisations. The council says it will look at cutting the cost of leasing the mayor’s car.

 

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I was in a restaurant when I had a missed call with this bombshell news last night; Andrew Gilligan reported it here first. Tower Hamlets council chief executive Kevan Collins has resigned.

Here’s the statement from the council’s website:

Chief Executive to leave Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets Council has today announced that Kevan Collins, its Chief Executive since 2009, and its Director of Children’s Services since 2005, is moving on from his post with the council.   Kevan has accepted a national role as Chief Executive of the newly created Education Endowment Foundation.

Kevan Collins said: “I’m honoured that the Education Endowment Foundation has asked me to become its first Chief Executive and I am looking forward to working with schools, local authorities and other providers to improve the education outcomes for children from disadvantaged communities.

“My career started as a teacher in Tower Hamlets and the opportunity to support a national drive to improve education outcomes for children who face disadvantage is one that I can’t resist. I leave Tower Hamlets Council with feelings of enduring affection and gratitude.”

Mayor Lutfur Rahman commented: “Kevan has given outstanding service to Tower Hamlets and whilst he will be missed we are proud that an important national body will benefit from the experience Kevan has gained in our borough.

“Kevan’s passion is education and, as a former national director for primary education and a current visiting fellow at the Institute for Education, he is returning to his roots.  We thank him for his legacy of achievement for the people of Tower Hamlets but I note that he will still keep a close eye on the borough as he remains a resident!”

An interim successor to Dr. Collins will be announced next week and made from one of the existing members of the Corporate Management Team.

Notes to Editors:

  1. Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation. The Education Endowment Foundation has been established with a £125 million endowment from the government and with income from the endowment and fundraising it will spend over £200 million over 15 years. Its mission is to improve the educational attainment of children on free school meals in poorly performing schools.
  2. Kevan has been appointed as the first Chief Executive for the Foundation. 
  3. Kevan has been with LBTH since 2005, firstly as DCS and then since 2009 as CE.
  4. Education in Tower Hamlets has improved dramatically over the past decade, with results in both the SATs tests (Key Stage 2) and GCSE examinations (Key Stage 4) increasing year on year. Last year, secondary schools across the borough achieved their best ever GCSE results and three of those schools were ranked by the Department for Education in the top 50 most improved schools in the country.
As Andrew Gilligan notes, this a big blow.
I’m sure that Kevan didn’t mull too long over the offer, despite being given a VIP ticket for the Olympics as council chief executive. It’s what happens next that’s interesting. As the press release states, a member of the council’s management team will now run the borough on an interim basis while no doubt tens of thousands of pounds will be spent on hundhunters looking for the “right” replacement.
My hunch is that Aman Dalvi, the council’s director regeneration, will be itching to take over. More than anyone else at the top of the council, he’s extremely close to Lutfur and I’m sure those long evening conversations will pay off.
Until 2002, he was chief executive of Ujima Housing Association, which collapsed six years later in 2008. From 2002 until 2008, he was the boss of Gateway to London, a regeneration project in the Thames Gateway corridor. This link here from the Chartered Institute of Housing  details some of his background:

AMAN DALVI – became a Corporate Member in September 2001 via the Distinguished Professional route. Now Chief Executive of Ujima Housing Association, he previously worked for the Housing Corporation for 5 years and was awarded an OBE in the New Years’ Honour List 2000 for services to housing. Aman joined the housing sector in 1986 after a career in Industry. Increasingly senior housing positions meant that he found it difficult to spare the time to study. He was excited, therefore, to become a member via the Distinguished Professional route.

Aman relies heavily upon CIH services within his role at Ujima, most notably CIH publications, guidance on legislation and the magazines and regularly uses CIH training for his staff. He is keen to develop his involvement with the CIH and would eventually like to stand for CIH National Council.

I wonder what the excellent Sara Williams, the council’s former assistant chief executive who left in 2008 to join a Government think tank that no longer exits, make of it all. I wonder if she’d fancy it: somehow i doubt it.

UPDATE – 11.30am, July 22.

Despite the impression given in Kevan’s statement above that he was “asked” to head the new body, I understand from someone close to Lutfur that he applied for the job quite some time ago. The Education Endowment Foundation is an arm of the Sutton Trust and is being funded by £125m of Government money. I’ve asked for details, but I’d be very surprised if his new salary matches the £125,000 he gets at Tower Hamlets. That will tell its own story. I’ve also asked whether Education Secretary Michael Gove approved the appointment (Kevan was a Labour party member and an adviser to Tony Blair).

UPDATE – 12.40pm

A spokesman for the Education Endowment Foundation has confirmed that Michael Gove was not consulted on Kevan’s appointment because, despite the large public funding, the organisation is “independent” of Government. The spokesman said Kevan’s salary would not be paid out of the £125m Government funding.

The Foundation is refusing to disclose Kevan’s salary because that is a “private matter”, but I’m told he will be earning considerably less than the £177k he gets in Tower Hamlets.

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Sometimes a picture just says it all.

This bin-bag is marked, “Waste enforcement investigation in progress” and has been slapped with an £80 fine.

It is outside an end-of-terrace house in Deal Street, Spitalfields.

Guess who owns it…

Yes, Mayor Lutfur Rahman, the man responsible for wasting taxpayers’ cash on iPhones, Mercs and very plush offices.

He rents it out (see his register of interests via this link), but according to neighbours, he doesn’t seem to have been the most active of landlords – because his current tenants appear to have been leaving the area like a tip.

This is what one neighbour told me:

“The property has a small garden at the front next to the pavement. Neighbours keep their front gardens tidy and use Tower Hamlets Council bins and bags for refuse and waste food collection.

“The Mayor’s tenant has persisted in throwing unsealed bags of refuse and food into the front garden which is then not collected by the council. The rubbish invariably gets blown into neighbouring gardens and attracts vermin and flies.

“They also dump waste on the pavement outside, which usually spills across the road and is a menace to pedestrians. There’s a school opposite. The question is why won’t the Mayor be a good neighbour and a responsible landlord by ensuring his tenant follows the council’s domestic waste disposal rules?

“The front garden is a disgrace with old shoes, litter and unsightly weeds. Perhaps we should report this eyesore to the council’s new Find It, Fix It scheme which is designed to combat grime in the borough.”

Here’s another picture of the house to give it a wider context:

And here’s another one for even wider context:

When is he going to get his house in order?

UPDATE – July 21, 5.45pm

Amusingly, Lutfur wrote the following letter in today’s East London Advertiser:

I am saddened, in response to the letter from Garry Wykes, by the attitude of some people towards dropping litter (“Younger generation often guilty of littering our street”, Advertiser, July 14).

We live in a great borough and it is simply unacceptable to have Tower Hamlets blighted by litter. That is why tackling littering and protecting  the public realm is a key priority of mine. The council is addressing this by providing 358 additional litter bins, stepping up enforcement activity

through the fixed penalty notices for litter as well as clearing problem areas with organised litter picking through our volunteering coordinator.

We have recently launched the ‘Find it–Fix it’ scheme which will sort out problems, whether on council or private land. We are also looking to work with schools to develop antilittering messages so that the younger generation can be taught not to litter.

All of this work is in vain if we do not all take responsibility for keeping the East End litter free.

The eyes of the world will be on us next summer with the 2012 Olympics. I want visitors to remember Tower Hamlets as a place to visit—not the litter on its streets.

Lutfur Rahman

Mayor of Tower Hamlets

Indeed.

 

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