Archive | November, 2014

Without authority

27 Nov

From the cabinet papers for next week’s meeting:

it is apparent from the investigations led by the Chief Executive [into the East Ham Town Hall overspend and reporting failures – MW] that the Newham 6th Form Collegiate was opened without any officer delegated decision notice being prepared as expected under recommendation 5 of the Cabinet decision of 21st February 2013, and that therefore the decision was not properly implemented in accordance with Council procedures.

Further it is also apparent from an investigation into the handling of Legal advice during the development of proposals for the Newham 6th Form Collegiate that the Council has no specific statutory powers to open a Centre without formal public consultation.

Legal advice obtained by the Chief Executive from leading Counsel also indicates that the Council does not have the power to establish a 6th Form under the current statutory framework. 

Coupled with an overspend of £9.8 million on the re-building and the failure of elected members to even notice this, the whole East Ham Town Hall Campus project looks like a cock-up of monumental proportions!

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Ask me no questions

14 Nov

Could the gagging order sent down from chief whip Steve Brayshaw this week be in any way connected to the investigation into Sir Robin’s behaviour at the Newham Show and the report of the standards committee?

The last thing the mayor wants is to be publicly embarrassed by questions about the findings – whatever they turn out to be. Much better for a response to be agreed in private at Labour group, then have the report ’noted’ by council on a whipped vote without further ado.

The standards committee is scheduled to meet on 10th December – 2 days after council. The next full council after that isn’t until late February. If Brayshaw can keep his troops on message it will be all-but-forgotten by then.

Gagging order

12 Nov

At the last council meeting, in late September, two backbench councillors – John Gray and Rokshana Fiaz – took the opportunity to ask the mayor questions about the Focus E15 mothers’ campaign and the future of the Carpenters Estate. These followed on from his statement and half-hearted apology. They were doing no more than their constituents would expect of them.

In any other local authority, councillors asking questions at a council meeting, in public, would have been unremarkable. It is what should happen. But in Newham it was exceptional.

And Sir Robin has, predictably, taken exception to it.

This email was sent yesterday to all Newham councillors by the Labour chief whip, Cllr Stephen Brayshaw (via the group secretary Cllr Susan Masters): 

From: Susan Masters [mailto:xxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxx.com] 

Sent: 11 November 2014 15:02

Subject: Message from our whip  

A MESSAGE FROM OUR LABOUR GROUP WHIP TO LABOUR GROUP MEMBERS 

Dear Comrades,

Concern has been expressed among group officers relating to the growing appearance of cracks within group and the use of Council meetings rather than Labour Group as a platform for airing disagreements and debate. 

When arguments are played out in public there are only losers: The Labour Party and our constituents. 

The officers agreed that we should draw a line now and move forwards towards a more cohesive group. Disagreements, questions and motions should be put to group and discussed at group. We are one Labour Party and we should show respect for the group and our colleagues. It is polite and proper that this should be the case. 

Moving forwards; where people break the rules or behave in a way that could embarrass the group, executive, party and leadership in a public forum we feel at such a key time that we have no option but to push  for the highest sanctions possible within the rules. 

Let’s move forwards and ensure that we are working for our constituents, our party and our group. 

Best

Steve Brayshaw

It is a clear and unambiguous attempt to muzzle councillors and stop them publicly raising serious questions at Council meetings. Debate can only happen in private, behind closed doors.

The “highest sanctions possible within the rules” means expulsion from Labour Group and – if the councillor were not later reinstated – automatic deselection at the next election.

Ironically, this threat is itself a breach of Labour Party rules

Labour recognises that individual members, to fulfill their representative duties, may without consultation speak and ask questions in meetings of the council on behalf of their constituents or other community interests. (chapter 13, clause XI, sub-clause 1)

Any councillor expelled from Newham’s Labour Group on these grounds would be entitled to appeal: they’d have an unanswerable case for immediate reinstatement.

But the more important point for ordinary Newham residents is that Sir Robin and his cronies are using heavy-handed threats to stop councillors doing the one job we elected them to do: publicly scrutinise the executive mayor and hold him to account for the decisions he makes. It is undemocratic and unacceptable.

Trying to think

6 Nov

NewImage

via Wired

Sir Robin talks Red Doors

5 Nov

On Monday Sir Robin Wales appeared on Radio 4’s You and Yours, talking about Red Doors Ventures.

It was a lot of what we’ve heard before, but one new piece of information emerged: residents who like their Red Doors home so much they want to keep it will be allowed to buy. Indeed, Sir Robin will encourage them to buy. There won’t be any ‘Right to buy’ style discounts, they won’t be allowed to rent them out and, when they move, they’ll have to sell the house back to the council. I’m not sure how that’s enforceable. And I’m not sure Sir Robin has really thought it through: it looks like a sure-fire bet for the resident, who is guaranteed to make a tidy profit at the councils expense.

A litany of complaints

4 Nov

The Guardian gets an earful 

Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, published today PwC’s report of its ‘Best value’ inspection of Tower Hamlets council.

One of the things the inspectors looked at was the authority’s publicity budget: 

The value of publicity expenditure relative to the overall Authority budget is modest, however it is by definition a high profile area of expenditure and potentially controversial in terms of the demarcation between that which is genuinely for the benefit of the Authority and that which is of a party political nature pertaining to the Mayor or other elected Members as politicians.

That line of demarcation is – at best – blurry here in Newham.

As well as the Newham Mag, soon to return to fortnightly publication despite the threat of legal action from Mr Pickles, and the raft of non-news stories fed to the ever-compliant Recorder there is also a concerted effort to crack down on any whiff of bad publicity.

The Guardian alone has received over 100 complaints from the Newham officials in the past couple of months over its coverage of the Focus E15 mums. 

Obviously it’s in the job description of any modern media manager to hassle journalists if they think it will have a positive impact on coverage of their employer, especially if you think they’ve been misrepresented. But the sheer volume of complaints launched at the Guardian in such a short space of time suggests that this is more than just making the authority’s case or correcting a few facts; this looks like an organised campaign.

And in the context of PwC’s findings in neighbouring Tower Hamlets, it is worth asking on whose behalf this campaign was being waged – residents, the local authority, or the mayor personally and his reputation in the Labour party