When I first started reporting on Tower Hamlets council in 2005, two councillors in particular caught my eye, both of them impressive in their own ways. Back then, Simon Rouse, the lone Tory, was most talented debater in the chamber, while Oliur Rahman, the lone Respect member, was its most pugnacious.
Curiously at times, the pair fed off each other as they trumped the tired, declining Lib Dem opposition and gave the dominant Labour administration (remember those days?) a bit of a fight.
After the 2006 elections, Oli became a leading member of the 12-strong Respect group but within a couple of years he had fallen out with his former friend George Galloway and broke away to form a SWP-backed mini group of four councillors alongside Rania Khan, her mum Lutfa Begum and Ahmed Hussain. These four soon realised they were in political no-man’s land and while Ahmed completed his odyssey by defecting to the Tories, the other three joined Labour.
And then in 2010, they had the Lutfur dilemma and by backing him, they effectively expelled themselves from Labour.
Oli is currently the cabinet member for schools and families, a role for which he is paid about £13,000 on top of his £10,000 annual basic allowance. He has been one of the loudest critics of Government cuts and of the need to extract value from every penny.
In his day job, he works at a Job Centre Plus in Tramway Avenue, Stratford. It is 2.8 miles away from the Tower Hamlets town hall in Mulberry Place. Door to door by car, it takes about 10 minutes. By public transport, the journey takes around 25 minutes if the DLRs at Stratford High Street and Canning Town are being kind. A standard minicab quote for a late afternoon fare is about £13.
The Tories have broken Oli’s taxi bookings into two types: those that start or end at his workplace, and those to and from the fraudster-dominated Bengali television station, Channel S, in Walthamstow.
Between February 2011 and June 2012, Oli’s fares to and from Stratford cost taxpayers £851.
|4.3.11||£25.69||Stratford||St Paul’s Way School|
|4.3.11||£15.58||St Paul’s Way School||Stratford|
|18.8.11||£28.46||Stratford||Belgrave St, E1|
|25.5.12||£27.14||City Edge Training||Stratford|
When I first challenged Oli on this, he explained he had tight schedules and that making late afternoon cabinet or other management meetings at the town hall was not easy while holding down a job. He realises now his claims were wrong and his full statement and apology is below, but at least there was a semblance of a rationale argument there.
However, when it comes to his fares to Channel S, a TV station dominated by insurance fraudster Mahee Jalil Ferdhaus and the feature of an Evening Standard article today, he has no choice but to throw up his hands.
Channel S is based in Clifford Road, Walthamstow, and it isn’t the easiest to get to by public transport. But appearing on a dodgy TV channel is not council business; if he wished to big up his personal profile, then he had no right in billing taxpayers for it.
I now understand that these bookings–signed off by Murziline Parchment remember–were largely booked via ComputerCab, which is a black cab company. The 11-mile fare from Mellish Street on the Isle of Dogs to Channel S is about £45 one way (minicabs charge about £30). So you can see how five or six trips back and forth add up to the £541 uncovered by the Tories.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a black cab, watching the meter tick away is one of London’s most uncomfortable experiences. It seems incredible that a councillor could fail to see what fares were building up. It’s particularly hypocritical when that councillor is one of the loudest critics of Government cuts and of the need to extract value from every penny.
The fares are here:
|14.4.11||£103.00||Mellish Street||Channel S, E17, return to Mellish St|
|5.5.11||£42.95||Mellish Street||Channel S, E17|
|5.5.11||£48.38||Channel S, E17||Mellish Street|
|26.7.11||£43.19||St George’s Town Hall, E1||Channel S, E17|
|26.7.11||£52.86||Channel S, E17||Mellish Street|
|1.3.12||£47.44||Mellish Street||Channel S, E17|
|1.3.12||£55.46||Channel S, E17||Mellish Street|
|26.3.12||£36.82||Mulberry Place||Channel S, E17|
|21.6.12||£61.36||Mellish Street||Channel S, E17|
|21.6.12||£49.56||Channel S, E17||Mellish Street|
I wasn’t at last week’s full council meeting, but I’m told that councillors Rabina Khan and Ohid Ahmed were most indignant that their cosy little travel arrangements, at our expense (here and here) were being questioned. Absolutely no humility and no apology, I’m told.
Well, at least Oli has had the grace, and political nous, to realise he was wrong.
Here’s his statement:
In recent days, I have been criticised in some quarters over my former use of taxis in connection with my public duties as an elected Councillor and Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Families for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Serving as a Councillor and Cabinet member is a substantial commitment on top of looking after my young family and a busy job outside of the borough, and I frequently have to attend and speak at back to back meetings.
In order to fulfill numerous appointments in various places, I used to take taxis. I should have been more aware the fares which are so outrageously high. The taxis were booked through the council and I will be investigating with the taxi firms why taxpayers were charged so much money. My understanding is that substantial charges were levied for any waiting time whether authorised or not, and I have since discovered that one of my Councillor colleagues lodged a complaint with the taxi company at the time. I will be asking the officers to review the contract of the current taxis company and to look into making savings which could be spent on the services provided to the residents.
I have since bought a car. I do not take taxis any more and I do not claim for petrol money or sundry travel expenses from the borough.
I sincerely apologise for my earlier use of taxis, which I am sure will upset many residents. In recognition of that concern I shall be making donation to CTC, the National Cycling Charity, and in furtherance of its campaign to make our roads safer for cyclists.