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Archive for July, 2012

As we all know, the politics of Bangladesh are never far from Tower Hamlets and it was interesting to interview the country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday. I spoke to her for about 35 minutes at her hotel, the Renaissance in St Pancras, where she has been staying for a few days for engagements at Buckingham Palace and at the Olympic Stadium on Friday to cheer on the country’s five-strong Olympic team.

We covered a wide range of topics (including why the team only had five members: she blamed the “failed policies” of the previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party government) and I will publish an edited transcript of the full interview in a separate post soon.

But here’s the news piece I wrote for today’s Sunday Express here. Sheikh Hasina, whose niece Tulip Siddiq is a Labour cabinet member at Camden Council (and who is tipped as a future MP), also gave an interview to the BBC News channel’s Hardtalk, which will air tomorrow night.

THE Prime Minister of Bangladesh has warned of possible terrorist connections among the thousands of Muslim refugees trying to enter her country from neighbouring Burma.

Sheikh Hasina said in an interview with the Sunday Express that her government had passed on concerns about a number of unidentified “incidents” to the authorities in Burma where there have been clashes between Buddhists and Muslims.

The recent fighting, which has seen dozens killed, has been taking place in the western Burmese state of Rakhine.

Thousands of Rohingyas, whom the UN describes as a persecuted Islamic minority group in Buddhist Burma, have tried to flee to Bangaldesh, a secular country of 160 million mainly Muslims.

Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government has been turning them away at the border, angering campaign groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.

However, she told the Sunday Express that the international community should investigate why so many are fleeing.

She met Foreign Secretary William Hague earlier today to discuss the situation.

In her interview with the Sunday Express, she said she was concerned about the activities of Jamaat e Islami, an Islamic fundamentalist political party that has a powerbase near the border with Burma and which has previously been accused of terror links, allegations it denies.

She alleged: “Jamaat e Islami is very much involved in terrorist activity, there’s no doubt about it and everybody knows that.

“As for refugees, we have a large number trying to get into our country, which is already over-populated.

“How many can we take it? We don’t want any refugees coming to Bangladesh.

“The international community should try and find out why these refugees want to come.”

Asked if she was concerned that Jamaat e Islami might be encouraging some refugees, she said: “We have some intelligence reports about it. 

“My government has talked to our ambassador in Myanmar (Burma) and they have informed them about some incidents and our intelligence people and law enforcement agencies are enquiring about it. 

“We are trying to find out the reality.”

Sheikh Hasina, who attended Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremony, also praised Britain and Scotland Yard for helping in the fight against terrorism.

She came to power in 2008 after several years of rule by the military and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, whom she accused of being soft on terror.

She said: “Our position is a zero-tolerance to terrorism. Many people were killed between 2001 and 2006 but since we formed our government we will not allow anybody to use our soil to launch any type of terrorist activity.”

“But once a previous government encouraged them or nursed them, you cannot stop them overnight. 

“We have good relations especially with the British. We have a Joint Task Force on Counter Terrorism and they are training our people and that is really very helpful and I really appreciate that.”

She also thanked UK taxpayers for the £250million of foreign aid sent from Britain every year, cash she says is helping her vision to make Bangladesh a “middle income country” by 2021.

She already has a large-scale infrastructure improvement programme in the country and is also working with neighbouring Nepal, India and Bhutan about a massive tourism drive in the region.

She said: “We have the world’s longest naturally sandy beach (at Cox’s Bazar). 

“We want to develop that with lots of beautiful tea gardens areas, so there is a very good possibility to develop this.”

In her meeting with Mr Hague today, the Rohingyas crisis was raised alongside other issues, including trade, migration co-operation and climate change.

Mr Hague said: “The strong roots between our two countries are reflected in our trade relationship where the UK is the largest cumulative investor in Bangladesh. 

“I welcome our co-operation on a range of international issues not least climate change, where Bangladesh plays an important role.” 

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This is the first of two posts this morning that are slightly off the Tower Hamlets beat. I’m on Olympics duty for the Sunday Express over the next fortnight (like Mayor Lutfur Rahman, I was at the opening ceremony on Friday and we both agree–again!–it was a wonderful atmosphere).

Here’s the first piece, on the brilliant Olympic volunteers, many of whom, such as my lovely neighbour, Ray Gipson (he’s a steward at the Aquatics Centre), come from Tower Hamlets.

AFTER months of duff lines, angry stares and furrowed brows in front of Parliament and Lord Justice Leveson, David Cameron finally struck the right note last week. Basking in 80-degree heat, the PM addressed a pack of journalists at the heart of the £9.3billion Olympic Park in east London.

Questions were for later, he said. “I just want to set out three things you’re going to see over the coming weeks.”

Over the next few minutes, he outlined how “Britain was delivering” and spoke of the “spirit of the Games” but he was at his most passionate when eulogising about the “real sense of community” in the Park.

With all the rows over security, the Army and corporate sponsors, the real likely saviours of the 2012 Games had been hitherto largely overlooked. It was left to the PM to pick them out: the volunteers.

“The success of these Games is about our people and the welcome they give the world,” he said. “We want this to be the friendly Games and we are seeing that.

“When the call went out for Olympics volunteers, a quarter of a million people came forward; 70,000 of them were chosen. On top of that, 8,000 Londoners are acting as ambassadors for this city. Between them they are volunteering for eight million hours. So this is not a state-run Games, it is a people-run Games.”

He was right. Without them, the event simply would not run.

They may look a bit silly in their purple, red and beige Adidas tracksuit bottoms and tops (their uniforms even come with a little red plastic watch and shoulder satchel) but they are what the Olympics is all about.

Like all good amateurs, they work for free (those eight million hours would cost at least £50million if paid) but they deliver everything with the pride of top professionals. Quite frankly, I do not know how they do it, especially when confronted by a moaning ticket-holder.

Last Wednesday evening, some 50,000 spectators poured into the Park to watch the opening ceremony’s last rehearsal.

On the hottest day of the year, fans who had been ordered to discard water supplies at the security gates were getting a little thirsty. The Park’s PA system was telling them to refill bottles at the water fountains but where were they? Ask a steward, the announcer said.

I sat on a bench near one of these stewards, an engineer who was taking two weeks off work to stand by a stadium telling people where to go.

More than once, he must have been tempted to tell some of them really where to go: it wasn’t his fault the nearest water point was a good five-minute walk away and at which hundreds of others were already queueing.

I tried asking him about the negative reactions he’d received but this volunteer was a good boy. He looked at my pass, saw the word “journalist” and said only: “Oh, they’re just hot.”

The volunteers have been told to be wary of the media. I know this because I was warned to look out for “sneaky reporters” during the first two minutes of my volunteer training session.

When the call went out for Games Makers volunteers last year, I was one of the 250,000 who applied. Having watched the Olympic Park take shape from my home, 800 metres from the main stadium in Bow, east London, I just wanted to be part of the Games themselves.

In my interview (conducted by a volunteer personnel manager), I was open about my day job, so I was a touch surprised when they offered me a role as a chauffeur for Olympic VIPs.

Bless them; such a trusting lot but that is the way it should be.

I attended only one training session  (after that, Games organisers Locog realised I also had press accreditation) but that itself was an uplifting experience. Many of those there were wealthy retired businessmen, who were all keen to work unpaid throughout the day and night as glorified minicab drivers.

About 150 of us, all eager pupils, were told to drive carefully, to be polite to our “clients” (sponsors), not to carry their luggage, not to accept tips (as if!) and never to leave our BMWs unattended.

Several were unfamiliar with London’s roads, a few had not driven manual gearbox cars for decades, some were going to travel more than an hour to start their 10-hour shifts and all of us would have to work past midnight.

Some were worried about insurance issues and others were concerned how they would get home in the early hours. Yes, there were a few groans about some of the logistics but there was universal anticipation about the big task ahead.

In the Olympic Park press centre last week, thousands of journalists from all over the world arrived and were treated with perhaps undeserved respect.

A problem with the computer connection, sir? No problem, we’ll sort it out.

How do I get to the Athletes’ Village? This bus here takes you direct, sir.

All of them volunteers.

There should be signs across the Park to let fans know that so many people are working for free to ensure their enjoyment. Very few volunteers will get to see even a single event yet it is upon these people that the reputation of the Games, and their sponsors, now rests.

For that, they all deserve special medals.

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It’s not often I’ll say this but it looks like Mayor Lutfur has trumped Mayor Boris.

A couple of weeks ago, Lutfur promised a small meeting of residents in Bow (I was among them) that he would look at investment opportunities to improve the area. He promised he would write about it in East End Life and he has kept his word. His latest column is pretty much devoted to Bow, talking firstly about the history and the importance of the Roman Road and then about the impending upgrade of the nearby Malmesbury estate.

I wrote about that meeting here when I also highlighted an application made by another group of residents (the Roman Road Town Team) for Government funding under the Mary Portas pilot scheme, an initiative being driven by Local Government Minister Grant Shapps (quite possibly the Government’s best “blue-sky” thinker) to reinvigorate a selection of run-down British high streets.

Today, Grant Shapps announced the 15 latest winners of that bidding process, with the three London winners picked by Boris Johnson. Roman Road appears on the list…but not in the way many had expected.

The Roman Road Town Team had wanted to appoint a town centre manager who who would try to bring in new cafes, renovate existing shops and even initiate a good quality night-time economy to make it feel more lively.

However, that bid has failed. Instead, Boris picked a rival bid involving those two well-known pioneers of careful spending, the NHS and the Idea Stores. It has secured a pot worth £100,000.

Here’s an extract from the official press release from the Department for Communities and Local Government:

London Borough of Tower Hamlets – Chrisp Street, Watney Market, Roman Road

The Town Team will use the strength of their highly innovative ‘Ideas Stores’  – combining the best of traditional library and information services with activities programmes  – exploiting their high visitor numbers to run a series of programmes including NHS driven healthy food initiatives.

These 15 pilots will now receive:

  • A share of £1.5 million to make their ideas a reality;
  • A dedicated contact point in Government to provide advice and support to encourage greater local business growth;
  • Free support from retail industry giants led by Boots, as well as Mary Portas’s team; and
  • Opportunities to meet and discuss lessons learned and experiences with fellow Portas Pilots

I’ve asked DCLG for the details of this application but on the face of it, it does sound as inspiring as a wet lettuce, which is probably what shoppers on the three market roads will be told to eat by the new NHS shop barons.

If the £100,000 pot is divided between the three markets, that’s about £33,000 each. I’m not quite sure what can be done with that kind of change, apart from printing a few thousand happy clappy leaflets telling people what they already know.

There’s another interesting bit of contorted logic to this. When the Idea Store programme was launched way back in 2003, they were deliberately built next to supermarkets and shopping centres so they could take advantage of high footfalls. It’s curious that the Idea Store programme is now being cited to say its high footfall can drive a shops regeneration. It just goes to show you the bubble they live in.

When I have more details from DCLG, I’ll post them here, but this really is a chance for Lutfur to show he can push something else through with flair and imagination, two characteristics some associate more with Boris.

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The Office for National Statistics today released the first tranche of the 2011 census statistics and they confirmed what we already knew–that the numbers living in Tower Hamlets have gone up.

In fact, this borough had the largest rise in population of anywhere in England and Wales over the past decade (Newham was second).

No doubt there will be much froth about this and the borough’s Conservatives were first off the mark when it came to the party political press releases today, calling for a moratorium on housing development.

But let’s look at the numbers. The population went up by some 53,000, from 201,000 to 254,000, a rise of 26.4 per cent. That’s equivalent to 5,300 people moving here every year.

For a better context, that’s 14.5 people a day, or about one person a day for each of the borough’s 17 wards.

I don’t think the numbers in themselves are huge and in some ways it’s thumbs up that so many people want to live in Tower Hamlets (they clearly don’t follow the politics here). But the Tories are right to ask questions about infrastructure. In Bow, where I live, there has been a noticeable strain on public transport, schools and doctors’ surgeries over the past decade. I know it’s the same in other parts of Tower Hamlets.

As well as the rise in population numbers, there’s another interesting fact in the ONS report, which can be read in full here. Table 7, which I’ve copied below, shows the borough has also experienced the largest growth in the number of households, at 28.2 per cent. Others can help me out here, but doesn’t this indicate we’re coping with population boom on a housing front?

However, we do need more homes of a decent build quality…built with proper consultation with residents so their concerns about overcrowding and creaking services can be properly addressed (the latest being in Bromley-by-Bow last week, as reported by the East London Advertiser here).

Here’s the Tory press release,,,and I’ve copied the various ONS tables below that.

PRESS RELEASE

Tower Hamlets Population grows by 26.4% in ten years and the Borough is now the fourth most densely populated in the country.

The preliminary census results for 2011 show that Tower Hamlets, Britain’s poorest borough, is now the fourth most densely populated in the country with a population of 254,000 people living in just 19.78 square kilometres. Nationwide, the UK population has surged by 3.7 million people, an increase of 7.1%, whereas in Tower Hamlets it has increased by 26.4%, in an area that was already overcrowded and faces health and social issues relating to overcrowding.

Overall England is more densely populated than any of the G8 countries and parts of Tower Hamlets have a higher density than Hong Kong and Singapore.

Councillor David Snowdon, Conservative deputy leader and spokesman on resources said:

“Tower Hamlets is facing the problems of an ever expanding population without investments being made in transport infrastructure, schools or healthcare. As an Isle of Dogs councillor I regularly meet parents whose infant and primary age children are being sent to schools as far away as Aldgate. However, Mayor Rahman persists in wanting ever more housing development without considering the consequences.”

“This week more housing schemes were announced for the Isle of Dogs, but no additional school places.”

“One scheme by a company called Chalegrove, who are based in Jersey, is for yet another skyscraper and then some distance away, a family sized housing development. Amazingly this company are holding a consultation exhibition on one day, Thursday 19th July, between just 10am and 7pm. To make matters even worse, thousands of residents have yet to be notified about this consultation exercise.” 

“Tower Hamlets needs a development breathing space before the strain on health and education facilities becomes intolerable.”

Table 2
Local and unitary authorities with the highest growth in population, 2001 and 2011
England and Wales local and unitary authorities
Local or unitary authority England region or Wales 2001 population (000s) 2011 population (000s) Change since 2001 (%)
Tower Hamlets London 201 254 26.4
Newham London 249 308 23.5
Manchester North West 423 503 19.0
Hackney London 207 246 18.9
Hounslow London 216 254 17.6
Greenwich London 218 255 17.1
Milton Keynes South East 213 249 17.0
Leicester East Midlands 283 330 16.7
Peterborough East of England 157 184 16.6
Waltham Forest London 222 258 16.3
Slough South East 121 140 16.3
Swindon South West 180 209 16.2
South Derbyshire East Midlands 82 95 15.8
Boston East Midlands 56 65 15.8
Brent London 270 311 15.4
Redbridge London 242 279 15.3
Haringey London 221 255 15.2
South Holland East Midlands 77 88 15.1
Uttlesford East of England 69 79 15.1
Islington London 179 206 14.9
Table 5          
Highest population density, 2011
England and Wales local and unitary authorities
Local authority  Region Land (km2) Usual residents (000s) Population density 
  Per km2 Per hectare1
Islington London 14.86 206 13,875 139
Kensington and Chelsea London 12.12 159 13,087 131
Hackney London 19.05 246 12,930 129
Tower Hamlets London 19.78 254 12,845 128
Lambeth London 26.81 303 11,305 113
Hammersmith and Fulham London 16.40 182 11,129 111
Westminster London 21.49 219 10,211 102
Camden London 21.79 220 10,112 101
Southwark London 28.86 288 9,988 100
Wandsworth London 34.26 307 8,959 90
Haringey London 29.60 255 8,611 86
Newham London 36.20 308 8,508 85
Lewisham London 35.15 276 7,849 78
Brent London 43.23 311 7,199 72
Waltham Forest London 38.81 258 6,654 67
Ealing London 55.54 338 6,093 61
Greenwich London 47.33 255 5,378 54
Merton London 37.62 200 5,308 53
Barking and Dagenham London 36.11 186 5,148 51
Portsmouth South East 40.36 205 5,081 51
[1] One hectare is approximately the same size as an international standard rugby union pitch
Source: Office for National Statistics


Table 7    
Local and unitary authorities with the highest growth in the households, 2001 and 2011
England and Wales local and unitary authorities
Local Authority Region Percentage change
Tower Hamlets London 28.2
Hackney London 18.3
South Derbyshire East Midlands 18.2
North Kesteven East Midlands 17.9
Swindon South West 17.9
Kettering East Midlands 16.8
Rugby West Midlands 16.4
West Lindsey East Midlands 16.4
Fenland East of England 16.0
Milton Keynes South East 16.0
Shepway South East 15.6
South Cambridgeshire East of England 15.4
East Cambridgeshire East of England 15.3
East Northamptonshire East Midlands 15.2
North Dorset South West 14.8
Watford East of England 14.7
Ipswich East of England 14.6
Dartford South East 14.6
Corby East Midlands 14.5
Manchester North West 14.5
Source: Office for National Statistics

UPDATE – 6.25pm, Monday

I’ve just been looking at the Census statistics for population by each five-year age bracket and created a lovely little table for you. It shows the numbers for each age segment for both Tower Hamlets and Hackney, whose population is about 8,000 lower than ours. The table also shows the per centage of the total population for each age…and the difference between Tower Hamlets and Hackney in absolute terms.

Essentially, the boroughs have a very similar demographic until the age of 20. Between 20 and 34, Tower Hamlets has greater numbers, while Hackney has more over 35s.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman has also put out a statement, saying the increase is partly due to the Olympic effect…which is probably a load of hot air:

“The inclusion of Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Newham in the top 10 areas for population growth is, I believe, a reflection of the positive impact of the Olympics in bringing about vibrant new growth in east London.

“Whilst I am of course concerned about the demands of supporting a growing population at a time of Government cuts, the council has had effective plans for growth in place, using tools such as population projections for our work on planning for pupil places, for example,” he said.

“I’m committed to continuing to support growth with my plans for 4000 additional new homes and our ongoing work to support our residents, especially the borough’s younger people, into work.”

 Age Tower Hamlets Tower Hamlets Hackney Hackney Diff (TH-H) % difference
             
Total 254,100 % of total 246,300 % of total 7,800 3.2%
             
0 ‒ 4 18,700 7.4% 19,200 7.8% -500 -2.6%
5 ‒ 9 15,500 6.1% 15,400 6.3% 100 0.6%
10 ‒ 14 13,200 5.2% 13,900 5.6% -700 -5.0%
15 ‒ 19 14,600 5.7% 13,400 5.4% 1,200 9.0%
20 ‒ 24 30,800 12.1% 21,700 8.8% 9,100 41.9%
25 ‒ 29 40,200 15.8% 33,800 13.7% 6,400 18.9%
30 ‒ 34 33,000 13.0% 30,100 12.2% 2,900 9.6%
35 ‒ 39 21,500 8.5% 21,300 8.6% 200 0.9%
40 ‒ 44 15,700 6.2% 17,400 7.1% -1,700 -9.8%
45 ‒ 49 11,800 4.6% 15,100 6.1% -3,300 -21.9%
50 ‒ 54 9,700 3.8% 11,500 4.7% -1,800 -15.7%
55 ‒ 59 7,800 3.1% 8,900 3.6% -1,100 -12.4%
60 ‒ 64 5,900 2.3% 7,300 3.0% -1,400 -19.2%
65 ‒ 69 4,100 1.6% 5,300 2.2% -1,200 -22.6%
70 ‒ 74 4,000 1.6% 4,400 1.8% -400 -9.1%
75 ‒ 79 3,200 1.3% 3,400 1.4% -200 -5.9%
80 ‒ 84 2,400 0.9% 2,300 0.9% 100 4.3%
85 ‒ 89 1,300 0.5% 1,300 0.5% 0 0.0%
90 and over 500 0.2% 600 0.2% -100 -16.7%

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I’ll try and find time over the weekend to update everyone on some of the fascinating developments from the behind-closed-doors session of the full council on Wednesday night (Stephen Halsey is now the most senior council officer and the search continues for a chief executive; the East London Advertiser has the basic story here).

But for the time-being and for the record, I should point out that Labour councillor Kosru Uddin, who was arrested over alleged threats to kill Lutfurite Rania Khan at a council meeting in May, has been cleared by the police.

The ELA reports here that Labour Cllr Motin uz-Zaman has accused the police of “abusing their powers” after they went to Kosru’s home at 3am to arrest him over the incident.

Here’s what Motin said at a press conference yesterday, according to the ELA.

“Just because of an accusation, the police going into someone’s home waking them and their children up to ask questions is totally unacceptable.

“Those children will always remember that incident of the police coming in the night.

“It’s an abuse of power. He was not arrested at the Town Hall, but at his home at 3am.”

If those facts are accurate, the police do seem to have a case to answer.

Meanwhile, here is Labour’s press release on the matter in which Kosru says politics is a “cut-throat” business–a slightly unfortunate phrase, perhaps…

Labour Tower Hamlets Councillor Kosru Uddin has been cleared by the police of all allegations regarding his conduct at a Council meeting in May.

Uddin, who was accused by independent cabinet member Rania Khan of threatening violence, was told that there was no case to answer and that police would not be pursuing the matter further.

Cllr Kosru Uddin said: “This week I was officially informed by the police that they believed that there was no case to answer and therefore would not be pressing charges.

“Whilst I do not want to comment on my accuser’s motives or actions I have been clear from the start that I was innocent and I am glad that the justice system has now put that beyond doubt.

“The last few months have been extremely hard for both me and my family. I would like to thank my Labour colleagues who have stuck by me throughout this hard time. Politics is often described as a cut-throat and malicious business but I am privileged to have my fellow Labour councillors not only as colleagues but as friends.

“The residents of Mile End East elected me to stand up for them in a time of great change and uncertainty. I take that role very seriously and I am very much looking forward to putting this unpleasant matter behind me and focusing on standing up for my constituents.”

Labour Group Leader Joshua Peck said: “The Labour Party takes any allegation against a Labour councillor extremely seriously. We expect the highest standards from our councillors and we cooperated fully with the police investigation. I am pleased that councillor Khan’s allegation has been thrown out as I always knew it would be and I am glad that this difficult period for Kosru and his family is over.

“This allegation was just the latest in a number of unfounded allegations made against Labour councillors by independent  councillors. I would urge them to stick to trying to win the political argument rather than trying to destroy their opponents with these baseless claims.”

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Here are the questions that councillors will be posing to Mayor Lutfur Rahman at the full meeting of Tower Hamlets council tonight (most of them will have to rely on written responses because there is only 30 minutes available for the slot – and Lutfur never answers them verbally anyway…). The meeting starts at 7.30pm–after councillors meet behind closed doors to work out their next moves on the vacant chief executive position.

MEMBERS’ QUESTIONS

27 questions have been received from Members of the Council as follows:-

8.1 Question from Councillor Motin Uz-Zaman

Does the Mayor agree with me that the Baishaki Mela should be a celebration of all that is good about Tower Hamlets and that representatives of the Mela should at all times be respectful and courteous to all involved including representatives of the media?

8.2 Question from Councillor Tim Archer

Will the Mayor inform the council as to who the current occupiers of the old Poplar Town Hall, 117 Poplar High Street, are?

8.3 Question from Councillor John Pierce

What plans does the Mayor have to support active and representative resident groups to take over the running of unused buildings in Tower Hamlets such as the Dorset Library in Weavers Ward?

8.4 Question from Councillor Fozol Miah

Is the Mayor aware of the threat posed to the future of the Women’s library in Aldgate and would he agree with me that this is an invaluable resource and asset to the people of Tower Hamlets and beyond who believe in the equality of women and their struggle for their basic human rights and would he agree to contact the library management and seek to work with them to do everything possible to secure its future?

8.5 Question from Councillor Anwar Khan

Recent statistics have shown that there are now almost 15 people chasing every job in Tower Hamlets. These figures are significantly worse than most other East London boroughs. When will the Mayor produce a coherent plan to tackle joblessness?

8.6 Question from Councillor Peter Golds

Will the Mayor inform the council in light of the third censure for political imbalance by Ofcom as to his and his staffs’ relationship with Channel S?

8.7 Question from Councillor Sirajul Islam

What is the Mayor doing to support the regeneration of Town centres in the borough?

8.8 Question from Councillor Harun Miah

Would the Mayor agree with me that there are many in Tower Hamlets and beyond who believe there has been little benefit from the Olympics in terms of sustainable employment or long-term regeneration, that there will be huge inconvenience and loss of security, that the Olympics is now completely dominated by multinational corporate interests and that such people should have the right to make their voices heard during the Olympics and would he also therefore agree to instruct officers to give permission for a peaceful demonstration to take place on the first Saturday of the Olympics, providing the police are also happy to allow it, processing from Mile End to end in Victoria Park?

8.9 Question from Councillor Khales Uddin Ahmed

Can the Mayor confirm the total cost of the 400 Olympic tickets purchased by the Council and clarify where this funding came from?

8.10 Question from Councillor David Snowdon

Will the Mayor explain why despite ongoing public concern he continues to use the Borough’s parks as a financial resource?

8.11 Question from Councillor Rachael Saunders

In his position as the Chair of the shadow Health and Wellbeing Board what is the Mayor doing to tackle increased cancer waiting times for the people of Tower Hamlets?

8.12 Question from Councillor Kabir Ahmed

Members from the Labour group have developed a reputation for bringing the Council into disrepute. Following his suspension, the last Leader of the Council refused to apologise for his conduct towards a Council staff; and most recently another allegedly threatens a fellow female member in the Council Chamber. Does the Mayor agree with me that the Leader of the Labour group has failed to take any action against his Members and has therefore lost control of his group?

8.13 Question from Councillor Marc Francis

What plans he has to extend the mandatory licensing scheme for Houses in Multiple Occupation to smaller HMOs or introduce select licensing for all private rented sector properties?

8.14 Question from Councillor Zara Davis

During the Olympic period, there are a number of activities taking place in the borough, including the Live Site in Victoria Park and the German National Pavilion at the Museum of London Docklands. These activities will inevitably cause additional disruption to local residents, in particular noise disturbance. What is the Mayor doing to ensure that its Noise Nuisance team has sufficient capacity to meet the additional demands that residents are likely to be placing on this service during the Games?

8.15 Question from Councillor Shiria Khatun

What impact does the Mayor expect the introduction of charging for bulk rubbish collection to have on levels of street cleanliness?

8.16 Question from Councillor Stephanie Eaton

What progress is being made on having a workforce that reflects the community?

8.17 Question from Councillor Carlo Gibbs

Does the Mayor agree with me that the Government’s Welfare Reforms scheduled over the coming year are the single most significant risk faced by the council? If so, can he outline exactly how much the council has set aside across all departments in order to meet the potential cost of these changes?

8.18 Question from Councillor Gloria Thienel

Will the Mayor account as to how he justifies an Olympics’ All Areas road pass when the Meals on Wheels Service can’t get to Wapping & other vulnerable people in our borough who will be suffering whilst the Mayor is driven around in his tax payer funded car?

8.19 Question from Councillor Mohammed Mukit

What measures is the Mayor taking to reduce anti-social behaviour, public urination and late night nuisance noise in the Brick Lane and Shoreditch area of Tower Hamlets?

8.20 Question from Councillor Maium Miah

At a time when families are feeling the pinch due to the failing economic policies of this government; what is the Mayor doing to recover the £850,000 loan from public funds to bankroll the Rich Mix Centre?

8.21 Question from Councillor Joshua Peck

How many visits to one stop shops in the last year were for visitors’ scratch cards?

8.22 Question from Councillor Dr Emma Jones

What percentage of pupils in Tower Hamlets schools sit science A-Levels?

8.23 Question from Councillor Amy Whitelock

Given the Mayor’s recent support for the Time to Change pledge on mental health run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, what steps is the council taking in relation to both awareness raising and service provision to reflect the commitment to this pledge?

8.24 Question from Councillor Gulam Robbani

What measures has the Mayor taken to ensure that our parks are not permanently damaged as a result of events that are taking place?

8.25 Question from Councillor Craig Aston

Will the Mayor give the cost incurred in developing the wildflower meadow in Victoria Park and the timescale for it being revealed to the public?

8.26 Question from Councillor Lutfa Begum

We are delighted with a once in lifetime opportunity to host the Olympic Games. Will the Mayor reassure residents that Tower Hamlets will not become gridlocked and grotty during the Games?

8.27 Question from Councillor Aminur Khan

Crime and community safety is a key concern for many residents; what is the Mayor doing to reassure local people that Tower Hamlets remains a safe and cohesive borough?

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On June 25, a couple of commenters on this post said the grass destroyed by Lovebox in Victoria Park would be restored within a couple of weeks. The commenter ‘You couldn’t make it up!’ suggested a post new photos of the ruined area in a fortnight’s time.

I went to the park yesterday and two men were laying strips of new turf with a spade. Hallelujah.

Here are some new photos of the site where Live Nation will soon start rigging up for the Olympics festival:

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I wonder if Live Nation are getting concerned. Tomorrow night is the full council meeting: I wonder whether any councillor will raise their own concerns.

Victoria Park isn’t the only Live Nation venue in trouble: today’s Standard reports that tomorrow night’s Hit Factory gig has been cancelled due to a mudbath following the Wireless festival there at the weekend.

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This coming weekend, Mayor Lutfur Rahman will use his column in East End Life to talk about the neglect of Bow. I know this because I asked him to at a meeting last night.

A few weeks ago, his cabinet member for resources Alibor Choudhury approached my neighbour, Ray Gipson, a former Liberal Democrat councillor, to ask what the administration could do for Bow. He asked Ray to assemble a few people for a brainstorming session with the Mayor in Roman Road last night. Lutfur seemed a bit surprised to see me there and remarked, possibly with a wink in his eye, that he had no idea I lived in the area, saying, “I thought you lived in Wapping.”…

I asked him what was his strategy for Bow, how he intended to capitalise on the Olympic legacy and connect Roman Road to the growing artistic community in Hackney Wick and Fish Island. I pointed out that it was surprising (to put it mildly) that here we are, two weeks from the start of the Games and nothing has been done to regenerate the Roman as a visitor and resident destination, particularly given that he has led the council pretty much since 2008.

For those unfamiliar with the geography, Roman Road is a famous market street that is about a ten minute walk from the Olympic Stadium. In theory, it should be beginning to thrive, it should be bustling with well-kept shops and cafes and even as an up-and-coming small business destination–much as Shoreditch was 10-15 years ago.

Instead, we have one of the highest concentrations of pawn-brokers and money lending outfits anywhere in the UK; we have had an explosion of fruit and veg shops; we have an amusement arcade that no one seems to visit; and we have the usual Tower Hamlets delicacy: a line of fast-food fried chicken shops.

A few years ago, there were five pubs on the Roman; now there is one. It has been a sad decade of decline. Much of it has been market forces, but it has also been down to a lack of imagination and desire, but there really is now an opportunity to reverse all that.

Last night was interesting on several levels. I think it was the first time I’d seen Lutfur really close up, in business mode and talking to residents about action plans. At first, he struggled and seemed a touch ignorant about the issues in Bow, surprisingly so for someone who went to school in this area. But, bolstered by the input of Alibor and Marc Francis (who was there, ostensibly, as a ward councillor but also because he is, as Lutfur put it, willing to work with the administration (and rightly so, if delivery is what counts)), he got into his stride and started to appear more managerial and decisive. He was courteous and (I hope) genuinely interested.

Of course, there are also political motives. Being seen to “do something for Bow” would deflect the criticism that he is only interested in specific parts of the borough. There is also a growing Bengali population in Bow. And having executive powers is a useful tool when there are rival politicians on this patch also trying behind the scenes to push through regeneration plans. I speak, of course, of Josh Peck, the leader of the Labour group and a ward councillor in Bow West.

More than once during last night’s meeting, he and Alibor couldn’t resist a couple of pointed digs at Josh’s expense. Take, for example, the £1.6million handed to an officer-convened “working group for Bow” set up some five years or so ago. Lutfur and Alibor said £600,000 had been allocated by the Department for Communities and Local Government and £1m by the council. The group was chaired by Josh, who was then the cabinet member for resources. Marc Francis was also a member. Barely any residents knew it even existed.

Every single penny of that £1.6million has been spent. But on what? “That’s what we want to know,” Lutfur said. “That’s why I’ve asked for an investigation.” Marc then chipped in saying some of it went on repainting some shopfronts (we don’t know which), paving part of the road, some street furniture and….consultants. Marc admitted that using the consultants had been a mistake. He said the expertise to regenerate a street didn’t exist within the council. I asked why the council’s regeneration team couldn’t do it. Because they do a different kind of work, Marc replied.

So, there we have it. No wonder large parts of the borough look shabby and run down. It seems there is not one person employed by the council who has the skills or the eye to improve the quality of our street-life. It really beggars belief. Instead of doing the obvious thing of actually asking residents if they have the expertise and the ideas, they go running for waste-your-money consultants.

Marc said lessons have now been learned. A new working group is to be set up for Bow and Lutfur is promising to deliver. He intends to go on a walkabout in the area with some officers. I’ve suggested immediate improvements could be made to the walk many commuters take each morning under Tom Thumb’s Arch to Bow Road Tube station: improve the lighting, repair the paving stones, clamp down on dog dirt, plant some flowers, get the kids involved in public art.

Alibor and Marc will run the group, but let’s hope it’s non-political. I’ve said I might get involved and I hope the group which is currently bidding for some government money under the Mary Portas pilot scheme will also be invited.

It would be such a waste of time, energy and money if there were two rival groups working on the same thing, wouldn’t it? (Josh is involved with the Portas group…)

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I’ve been banging on about East End Life for as long as I’ve been covering Tower Hamlets council and, following a meeting with him at the Tory party conference last October, I predicted here that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles would try to limit its publication by putting it under some form of statutory footing. On Tuesday, he announced he would do exactly that.

There are several views on this subject and BBC London did a small item on its news bulletin two nights ago (failing by the way to broadcast the views of a single Bengali resident).

The following is a guest post by Robert Scott, a resident of Wapping, a postgraduate student at Leeds University and an activist in the Tower Hamlets Labour party:

BBC London News recently featured a short segment, which outlined Eric Pickles’ intention to limit councils to printing four free newssheets a year, which heavily featured Tower Hamlets. Eric Pickles and the residents featured in the piece raised important questions regarding motives costs and the effectiveness of council newspapers. Considering East End Life costs ratepayers £1.5million per year, I don’t think it can be accurately described as a freesheet and I have doubts  whether those costs are recuperated by advertising. [TJ: they are not and, as a senior accountant at the council has admitted to me, that £1.5million does not even include all the costs.]

Councils are required to place public notices in two local newspapers. I don’t know how much that would cost but I don’t believe we’d get  anywhere near to £1.5million a year. Anything above this basic requirement is optional and whilst it is valuable in certain instances, it ought to be reassessed in light of local budgetary constraints.  The council’s communication chief Takki Sulaiman made a really poor effort defending East End Life in the segment:

“It’s about services, it’s about community groups, and it’s about community cohesion. Local authorities have a duty to promote community cohesion, race equality, a reduced fear of crime and promote healthy lifestyles.”

Whilst local authorities ought to be doing all of those things, East End Life is not the principal way or even a particularly effective way of achieving any of them.

THEOs (Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers), useless though they are in responding to crime, play an important role in reducing the fear of crime. If you want to promote healthy lifestyles, why not look into the possibility of introducing universal free school meals for primaries like they have in Newham and crack down on the number of chicken shops in the borough?

If you want to promote community cohesion and race quality then supporting and getting involved in more community events might be a good place to start. You don’t need a weekly newspaper to do any of those things.

We need more support for grassroots initiatives rather than set peace propaganda delivered on a weekly basis and that’s only if you’re one of the lucky few who actually receives the paper: many residents don’t.

Reforming East End Life has the potential to release a lot of money that can facilitate other initiatives. The value of East End Life in its current form is questionable in the best of times, which is reinforced by the comments made by residents in the video. I think we’ve reached a point where the council ought to get rid of it altogether and think of ways to replicate some of it’s more useful functions at a reduced cost or in the very least severely reduce its publication and distribution in order to plug gaps in funding elsewhere.

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Tower Hamlets Labour party yesterday expelled five councillors for “actively campaigning” for Gulam Robbani in his successful Spitalfields and Banglatown by-election in April. Robbani was the preferred “independent” selection of Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The five expelled – Shahed Ali, Abdul Asad, Rofique Ahmed, Kabir Ahmed and Shafiqul Haque – were already in the party’s departure lounge after they had decided to break the Labour whip and serve in Lutfur’s cabinet.

Labour’s press release on the expulsion is copied below and the East London Advertiser reported the story here.

The “actively campaigning” line relies at least partly on the leaflet put out by Robbani, which contains the endorsement of the Infamous Five.

The leaflet is here:

Pretty clear.

Shahed Ali has now asked me to publish his defence. I’ve known Shahed for a fair few years and I have real regard for him, both as a person and as a councillor. But he has sadly cheapened his argument and his status by playing the race card.

He also argues that if he is to be kicked out for breaking party rules, why hasn’t Lord Sugar also been expelled for urging people not to vote for Ken Livingstone earlier this year? Ditto Telegraph journalist/Labour blogger Dan Hodges.

Shahed, who never came across to me as a religious type, also says he was kicked out for being a Muslim. When I questioned him about all this, he stuck to his line by saying Labour is “institutionally racist”.

Of course, this is a line we’ve heard time and time again in Tower Hamlets. Before the Great Split, Labour and Respect councillors regularly used to accuse the Tories of racism because they had no Bengali councillors.

Lately, it has been Lutfur and his crew who say they are martyrs of an anti-Muslim plot.

I suspect it’s a deliberate strategy. And a pretty dangerous one at that.

[You'll also see that Shahed says he couldn't have been "actively" campaigning for Robbani because he was in Bangladesh at the time (just as he was when he commented on this post during Lutfur's election campaign here), but when I asked whether he had ever complained, he declined to say.]

Here is Shahed’s defence:

As far as I am aware, I have been written to by the compliance officer of the London Regional Labour party, advising me that my membership has been terminated for the following reason:

Clause 2.1.4.B of the Labour party rules states: “A member of the party who joins and/ or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member, subject to the provisions of part 6.1.2 of the disciplinary rules.”

The letter then continues to state:

“You are, therefore, no longer a member of the Labour Party and have been removed from the national membership system.”

This clearly clarifies to me that the above clause of the party rules have been applied in order to, therefore, terminate my membership. However, I am struggling to apply the same clause in two recent examples as follows. Labour peer Lord Alan Sugar, aka The Apprentice, appeared in the Guardian on 19 April, where it was reported:

Sugar tweeted: “I don’t care if Ed Miliband is backing Livingstone. I seriously suggest NO-ONE votes for Livingstone in the Mayoral elections.” He also wrote: “Livingstone must NOT get in on 3rd May.”

It is obvious that the race for the 2012 London Mayoralty was simply between Labour and the Tories. I therefore doubt Lord Sugar’s appeal to voters could have been anything other than instigating a vote for Boris?  This is the link to the entire article.

Furthermore, Labour party member and Telegraph journalist, Dan Hodges, pledged his vote and support for the Tories against the Labour candidate, Ken Livingstone in his article on 30 April.  This is the link to the entire article.

Tower Hamlets Labour group leader, Cllr. Joshua Peck, according to the article in the East London Advertiser stated as follows:

I am very pleased the party has now expelled the councillors, who have clearly broken the rules in campaigning for other candidates. This should be seen as a real signal that we are serious about applying the rules. The five expelled councillors have consistently voted and campaigned against the Labour Party. Whilst it is sad that it has had to come to this, these five councillors made their choice and now have to deal with the consequences”, councillor Peck added.”

My question to Cllr Peck is simple.  If he truly stands by his statement of this move being a “real signal about them seriously applying the rules”, does he believe that the same rules should also apply to the above two examples I have cited, or is there any reason why Clause 2.1.4.B of the Labour party rules should apply any different to them as opposed to myself?

I further note that according to the East London Advertiser, Jim Fitzpatrick MP said:

“The rules are the rules, and colleagues know that if they break those rules, there’s a possibility of sanctions, so the expulsion is fair and reasonable.” Mr Fitzpatrick also went on to reject the allegations of racism, describing them as “stupid nonsense.”

This is not the first time the Labour party has been accused of discrimination on the grounds of Race, and sadly the way things are going, it will not be the last.

It is depressingly becoming obvious to me that rules are not rules when one can either purchase them for 400K, or be excluded from the rulebook if one happens to be non-Black or non-Asian. I guess that if one also happens to be a Muslim, kicking them out of the party with no due process, unfairly, also works well with the right-wing media, hence far-right sentiment?

This is not ‘stupid nonsense’ Mr. Fitzpatrick, the rules have not been applied equally. I welcome you to educate me as to what makes my case punishable (based upon accusation) when clearly, others have not also been expelled for non-compliance of the same clause?  This is simply discrimination on the grounds of race and religion.

Finally, I would like to end by adding that I also challenge one single soul in Tower Hamlets Labour party, in particular, members of Spitalfields and Banglatown ward to produce a shred of evidence that I was campaigning for any person opposing the Labour Party candidate?  I was abroad in Bangladesh for five weeks during this period so unless I have an identical twin, unknown to me, it questions my interpretation of the words ‘actively campaigning.’

Councillor Shahed Ali

Here is Shahed’s response to my questions about his statement (I had asked him whether he was glad Robabni had beaten Labour’s Ala Uddin in Spitalfields, whether he had complained about the leaflet and whether he really wished to play the race card):

I have known both Robbani and Ala for decades. This has been mainly through the Labour party and through my time as a council employee. My relationship with Ala was also a very social one and we have shared intense hours together campaigning and supporting various party candidates for various selection battles. Those were the days when it all came down to the membership of party members making decisions.

Therefore I would have equally been glad for, and dissapointed at both outcomes because I know they would both make brilliant councillors with Labour values. However upon this occassion, Robbani will be part of Mayor Rahman’s administration therefore, in a position to deliver for his constituents and ultimately, that is what his electorate in S&BT will want more than simply a councillor not being able to deliver for his ward due to the restraints that would have been imposed upon him by a fraction of Labour group councillors who are simply opposing Labour manufesto policies for the sake of opposition rather than merit.

I have not seen this leaflet which also had my name on it. I was actually out of the country from 22 March to 29 April.  However, I have seen Labour councillors being far more sly in the role they (didn’t) play during the Lutfur VS Abbas saga which in my opinion is a far more stronger indicator of moral values.  As you know yourself Ted, I was probably the most publicly vocal face in opposition to Lutfur at the time both through live TV debates, my own written contributions in various blogs and local newspapers. This upset many people which is the reason why many current Labour councillors choose instead to stay ‘hush’ throughout.

I am not playing the race card Ted. I strongly can find no other reason why the rulebook is applied inconsistently other than the unfortunate world of institutional rascism. Let me ask you: if rules are rules, then the clause given to me for my expulsion should also apply to the likes of Lord Sugar and Dan Hodges.

Lord Sugar as you say may have had other reason not to vote for Ken but that should not exclude him or anyone from the rulebook if it is to be used as a tool to take such decisions. If individuals get to pick and choose whom to apply the rulebook upon instead of allowing it to dictate decisions, then I am afraid we live in a world where those individuals taking such decisions will at times discriminate on grounds of both race and religion. That is why in order to avoid such, the rulebook should be applied equally and consistently  to all regardless.

I have never been the type to simply obey what others instruct upon me simply to be in their goodbooks. Sadly this position does not escalate one up upon the political career ladder.  But that is me, and I would not change that nor envy many of my Labour councillor colleagues who do just that, choose to not challenge in group for sake of being punished by being given no positions in group and its wider circles, also known as a caucus.  

I hope that the Labour party seriously works towards eliminating reason for people to feel discriminated against on the grounds of race and religion. I will continue working hard to deliver whats best for my community, rather than to pander to whats best for furthering my political career at the expense of my constituents.

And for the record, here is the Labour press release:

Press release – For immediate release

Labour expel five Tower Hamlets councillors

The Labour Party has written to five Tower Hamlets councillors informing them of their immediate expulsion from the party. The councillors, Kabir Ahmed, Rofique Ahmed, Councillor Shahed Ali, Councillor Abdul Asad and Shafiqul Haque were all found to have violated numerous Labour Party rules by actively campaigning against the Labour Party candidate during the recent Spitalfields by-election. The five councillors were also reprimanded for their continued membership in the independent Mayor’s cabinet.

Responding to the expulsions Labour Group Leader Cllr Joshua Peck said:

“The five expelled councillors have consistently voted and campaigned against the Labour Party. Whilst it is sad that it has had to come to this, these five councillors made their choice and now have to deal with the consequences.

I hope that this decision will draw a line under the problems of the past and allow us to focus on the important job of holding the independent Mayor to account and battling the Coalition’s cuts regime.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

  • The five councillors were found to have actively  campaigned for independent candidate Gulam Robbani who stood in opposition to  the Labour Party candidate.
  • Labour Party rules state that “A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political  organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible.

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