Archive | August, 2014

Beckton Green

28 Aug

The London Green Party has put out a press statement about its candidate for the Beckton by-election:

Long-term Newham resident, Jane Lithgow, has been named as the Green Party candidate standing for the Beckton by-election which takes place on 11th September.

Jean Lambert, Green Party MEP for London said:

“Jane Lithgow, a Beckton resident, will bring a strong Green voice and fresh thinking to challenge Newham’s one-party council.

“When Greens are elected, we make a difference: pushing for energy-efficient homes to cut bills and climate emissions, persuading councils to become Living Wage employers, making streets safer by reducing local speed limits.

“Even one Green makes a difference!”

Ms Lithgow commented:

“If elected as councilor I will make housing a top priority. It has been saddening having to watch Newham’s Labour Council forge ahead with huge property developments which have only served to benefit big businesses and investors, rather than Newham’s residents and the people who need housing the most.

“Many people living in Newham have been unfairly affected by reductions in housing benefit and I see daily the toll that this takes on families and individuals. I would fight for affordable housing in the area and stand-up to developers whose sky-rise developments continue to push-up the price of properties in Newham, forcing residents out of the borough they call home.” 

I am told that Jane Lithgow isn’t going to be just a paper candidate and that the Greens will run an active campaign in Beckton. A local candidate with strong messages on housing and on the local impact of London City Airport will hopefully grab the attention of voters. 

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Something to hide?

20 Aug

Back in June local resident Alan Combe submitted a Freedom of Information request asking about deductions made from elected councillors’ allowances and paid to the Labour party. He had two questions:

Between 6 April 2010 and 5 April 2014, how much, in total, has been deducted (by the Council) from the Basic Allowances paid to elected members of Newham Council and passed to funds/ accounts controlled by the Labour Group or the Labour Party?

Between 6 April 2010 and 5 April 2014, how much, in total, has been deducted (by the Council) from the Special Responsibility Allowances paid to elected members of Newham Council and passed to funds/ accounts controlled by the Mayor, the Labour Group or the Labour Party?

The request was due to be answered by 23rd July but the council didn’t get round to dealing with it until yesterday, when they informed Mr Combe that they were refusing to give the information:

Under the Freedom of Information Act we have the right to refuse a request for information held if an exemption applies. We believe in this case such an exemption applies and have decided to refuse your request.

We believe that disclosing even the total figure of deductions from the allowances of any Councillors over a specified period would contravene the first data protection principle, which requires that personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully by the London Borough of Newham.

The council has deliberately misconstrued the request in order to find an excuse to say no. Any reasonable person reading Alan Combe’s questions would understand them as a request for the aggregate total of deductions from all councillors, not a list of councillors and the money deducted from each of them.

It is common practice in local government for elected members to hand over part of their allowance to their party. It is an important source of funding and all parties do it. It’s not a secret. Newham is exceptional only in that all 60 councillors, plus the mayor, belong to the same party and therefore all the money goes to Labour. 

The amount is actually fairly easy to estimate. We know that the total amount paid to councillors (including the mayor) is a touch over £1.2 million a year. If the party takes 10% – which is a number I’ve heard mentioned – that’s £120,000 a year; a total of £480,000 over the four year period.

I’m not sure who decided to try and dodge the question or whether it was down to an order from on high, but all they’ve succeeded in doing is making it look like there’s something to hide.

Beckton candidates

18 Aug

Nominations have closed for the Beckton by-election and seven candidates will contest the vacant seat:

  • AHMED, Syed Hussain – Conservative Party Candidate
  • DUNNE, Mark – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
  • LITHGOW, Jane Alison – Green Party
  • MEARS, David – UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • SHEDOWO, Kayode – Christian Peoples Alliance
  • THORPE, David – Liberal Democrat
  • WILSON, Tonii – Labour Party Candidate

It is a small irony that local voters will have a wider choice in the by-election than they had at the full council election back in May. Then there were only three options: Labour, the Tories and the Christians.

With two new alternatives on the left and UKIP sniping from the right, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Could David Mears effectively help Labour hold a seat the Tories might otherwise have had an outside chance of winning?

The poll will take place on Thursday 11 September 2014 between the hours of 7:00 am and 10:00 pm.

Forest Gate North Blog

18 Aug

Our councillors in Forest Gate North have set up a blog to keep residents in touch with what they’re up to.

It’s early days and it will be interesting to see how it develops – if it’s going to be meaningful it needs to be honest about the feedback they get from residents, even when that’s hard or uncomfortable – but I think it’s A Good Thing and hope other wards follow suit. 

Councillor Seyi Akiwowo also has a Facebook page dedicated to her council activities.

Quarterly?

14 Aug

Screenshot 2014 08 14 11 54 31

Your new ‘quarterly’ Newham Mag

Paragraph 28 of the government’s Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity says:

Local authorities should not publish or incur expenditure in commissioning in hard copy or on any website, newsletters, newssheets or similar communications which seek to emulate commercial newspapers in style or content. Where local authorities do commission or publish newsletters, newssheets or similar communications, they should not issue them more frequently than quarterly

Issue 300, the bumper ’summer edition’, of the Newham Mag appeared at the start of June. The latest issue, number 301, bears a publication date of 8 August – an interval of just 10 weeks. A quarterly schedule would have 13 week gaps between issues.

The council’s Budget Book for 2014/15 still describes the Mag as a fortnightly publication and details the net cost for this year as £446,000. This is down from £523,000 in 2013/14, but surely a reduction from 26 issues a year to just 4 would offer than a 14.7% saving?*

Is Sir Robin hoping Eric Pickles and isn’t paying close enough attention to notice an extra issue or two slipping onto residents’ doormats?

* As an aside, an FOI response listed on page 5 of the June 2014 disclosure log states that the annual cost of the Newham Mag for 2013/14 was £388,372. This is far from being the first time that Newham’s FOI responses have been at significant variance from information published elsewhere by the council.

Hub and nonsense

13 Aug

In response to a Freedom of Information request about ‘community hubs’ and their purpose the council says:

Each Hub also holds regular coffee mornings to enable the Council to talk to residents about local issues which are of concern. In Forest Gate coffee mornings take place on the last Wednesday or every month from 10-12pm. Sometimes the Community Hub manager and councillors may arrange meetings that are open to stakeholders and/or local residents to discuss a particular issue. These will be arranged on an ad hoc basis as issues arise.

I have lived in Forest Gate for 25 years and I flatter myself that I pay some attention to what’s going on in the area, but this is news to me.

The only coffee morning I can recall being advertised is one where we were invited to ‘meet the mayor’. That was more than a year ago.

If these coffee mornings really do exist the council’s communications team is doing a shockingly poor job of promoting them. 

Save the date

11 Aug

Sometime on 6th August Newham council quietly published a notice for the Beckon by-election on its website. I noticed this the following day and wondered why this didn’t merit a story in the News section or even a tweet:

Then on Sunday morning when I was catching up on the news via my RSS reader I noticed a story in the Newham feed headlined “Date for Beckton Ward by-election”.

When I clicked through I was surprised to see it dated 6th August:

IMG 0079

Well it definitely hadn’t been there on the 7th when I looked after seeing the Notice had been published, nor when I checked again on the 8th (I know, I really should get out more).

So I checked the source code for the page:

IMG 0080

That’s just weird.

Why would the council fake the date on a news story to make it appear as if it had been published two days before it had actually been created?

No doubt there’s a perfectly simple, rational explanation for what otherwise appears to be an outright lie. I’m just too dim to see it.