Archive | September, 2013

How to get an iPad mini for just £130

27 Sep

Apple’s iPad mini is one of its best selling products. In the UK these retail at prices starting from £269, going up to £529 for the top of the range. Huge demand and Apple’s wholesale pricing policy mean even the high street chains won’t offer discounts.

But you can get one at a knock-down price if you just follow these five easy steps:

  • Get elected mayor of Newham
  • Go on a trip to China to visit possible investors in a new business park in the Royal Docks
  • Receive an iPad mini as a gift from your hosts, Advanced Business Park (China) Holdings Group Ltd
  • Return home and declare the gift, stating it has a value of just £130
  • Announce you wish to keep the gift for your personal use and that you will reimburse the Council to the equivalent value – that’s the £130 you told them it was worth.

And now the iPad mini is yours. Easy!

Snouts in the trough – 2013 edition

24 Sep

Last week, without fanfare, Newham council finally published the report on councillors’ expenses and allowances for 2012/13. As the year in question ended at the start of April and the report is dated May 2013, I’m not sure why it took so long to put it into the public domain.

The report shows that last year the 61 elected members of Council – the mayor and 60 ward councillors – trousered a total of £1,204,422 between them.  But although all animals are equal, some animals are more equal than others.

While all 60 ward councillors picked up £10,734 each in basic allowances, 31 of them got to top that up with ‘special responsibility allowances’ that totalled a whopping £479,353. The most equal animal of all, the mayor, received £81,029.

Average household income in Newham is around £27,000 a year. Thirteen members of the council received more than that in allowances last year. Public service can be so rewarding!

The top ten recipients of council tax cash last year were:

  • R A WALES – £81,029
  • L T HUDSON – £ 45,528
  • I K CORBETT – £ 42,811
  • R J CRAWFORD – £ 42,811
  • A R BAIKIE – £ 41,776
  • U DESAI – £ 41,776
  • C MCAULEY – £ 41,776
  • C W FURNESS – £ 41,028
  • A KELLAWAY – £ 37,635
  • E H SPARROWHAWK – £ 33,499

Nationally, the Labour party is rightly committed to getting more women into senior positions in politics. So it is worth noting that this list is entirely male. The only woman in Sir Robin’s senior team – his cabinet and ‘executive advisors’ – is Kay Scoresby and she is joint 12th on the money list. The next highest ranked woman is Forest Gate North’s Ellie Robinson. She chairs the council’s scrutiny commission and collected £23,197 last year – making her the 19th biggest earner.

Among the 20 most senior councillors, with responsibilities that attract the largest allowances, just two are women. When people talk about ‘jobs for the boys’ that is quite literally true in Newham.

It’s not easy being green

13 Sep


A couple of days ago the Independent published a story headlined Newham: The borough that’s Britain’s greenest – without any effort by its residents. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research had calculated that the carbon footprint of the average Newham resident was the lowest of any municipality in the UK.

The footprint – defined as the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere as a result of the goods and services used – comes to 10.21 tonnes of CO2 a year. It includes emissions generated by the manufacture and transport of products such as iPhones, even if they have been made abroad.

Newham’s footprint is 18 per cent below the national average of 12.5 tonnes and a third less than the 15.51 tonnes emitted in the area with the highest carbon footprint – the City of London.

Cue champagne corks popping at Building 1000 and much tweeting of this fantastic story by councillors and the 2014 cohort of Labour candidates. Even the council’s official Twitter account got in on the act.

Sadly, these muppets had fallen into the classic social media trap – retweeting a link and a catchy headline without actually reading the story behind it.

Had they done so they would have kept quiet. For the reasons behind Newham’s green status are no cause for celebration:

The research… showed a strong correlation between the amount people earned and their carbon footprint, with each additional £600 in weekly income resulting in an extra tonne of annual C02 emissions.

The carbon footprint is also correlated to car ownership, partly because private vehicles produce more emissions per capita than public transport and also because car ownership “is likely to capture broader aspects of lifestyles”, the report noted.

The report also found that, everything else being equal, the more educated a person the greater their carbon footprint will be, although it could not say why this was.

House-size was the other main determinant of people’s carbon footprint, with emissons per head falling as household size increases and relative energy bills declined.

But if The Independent’s trip to Newham is anything to go by, income is by far the biggest determinant of carbon footprint.

So we emit less carbon because we have lower incomes and are less well-educated; we are more likely to live in crowded households; less likely to own a car; and less likely to own electricity-hungry devices like flat-screen TVs and smartphones.

In short, Newham is green because its people are poor.

Next May Sir Robin Wales, who has led the borough for the best part of 20 years, will be asking residents to give him another 4 years in office. We should be asking him why on god’s green Earth he thinks he deserves it, given this dismal record.

The curious case of the governor of Brighton College

4 Sep

Brighton College

Even by the standards of Sir Robin Wales, this is distinctly odd.

At the Mayoral Proceedings of 29 March 2012 the mayor declared a personal interest in item 6 on the agenda. This concerned the proposed letting to the London Academy of Excellence of Broadway House in Stratford.

LAE is a sixth form “free school academy” aimed at the “academically ambitious” who aspire to get into a Russell Group university. It is a partnership between seven leading independent schools, including the likes of Eton and Roedean.

One of those partners is Brighton College, which the Sunday Times named as England’s Independent School of the Year 2011-12. Sir Robin’s personal interest was, as the minutes of the meeting put it, “by virtue of being a Governor of Brighton College.”

Notwithstanding his declared interest, Sir Robin approved the deal to rent Broadway House to the London Academy of Excellence on terms that included an initial 12 months rent free.

According to the the register of interests on the council’s website, the mayor had declared his connection to Brighton College in November 2011.

To the casual observer, this might look a bit peculiar. Fees at Brighton College are £27,000 a year, which is much the same as the average household income in Newham. What would the Labour mayor of one of London’s poorest areas be doing on the governing body of such a school? How could it possibly benefit the people who elected him and who pay his generous salary? And given that this was in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics Sir Robin was already pretty busy, what with being executive mayor of the main host borough and a board member of LOCOG. How would he fit it in?

Sadly the Brighton College website provided no enlightenment as to the extent of his new duties. It made no reference whatsoever to Sir Robin’s appointment and his name appeared in none their publications. Again, rather strange. Having the mayor of the Olympic borough and the host for their new 6th form venture join the governing body would surely be something they would mention?

The Charity Commission website was no more helpful. Charities are required to publish an annual report, including a list of their trustees. Like most independent schools, Brighton College is a charity and their governors are the trustees. Again, Sir Robin’s name was not mentioned.

Perhaps they just hadn’t got round to it. The last annual report was for the year ending 31 July 2011, so Sir Robin had not yet been appointed when it was written. I put it to the back of my mind.

Then a couple of weeks ago something – I’m not sure what – prompted me to check back. There was still no mention anywhere on the Brighton College website and a Google search for “Sir Robin Wales + Brighton College” yielded only two useful results – the Newham council register of interests and the minutes of the Mayoral Proceedings.

The register of interests had been updated and the list of changes showed that at the end of May 2012 the entry for Brighton College had been removed. That was just six months after it had been added and a bare two months after Sir Robin had declared his personal interest at Mayoral Proceedings. It appeared that his term as governor had been a very short one.

The Charity Commission website had a new annual report for Brighton College covering the year ending 31 July 2012, the period in which Sir Robin had declared his interest as a governor. The report listed all those who had served as trustees during the year, but his name did not appear.

Had the school made a mistake and submitted an inaccurate report? That would be an embarrassment and quite possibly a breach of their legal obligations. I contacted them to confirm that Sir Robin had indeed been a governor and point out that his name had been omitted from their annual report.

On Monday I received a reply from the clerk to the Governing Body:

I can confirm that Sir Robin Wales has never been a governor of Brighton College.

So why on Earth had he ever said he was? Why had Sir Robin registered an interest he did not actually have and why had he declared it publicly at Mayoral Proceedings?

There may be a sensible or rational explanation, but I am at a loss as to what it might be.

It is a very curious business indeed.