Archive | March, 2015

Greetings

26 Mar

Absolute Cock

I’ve just been given some samples of a new greetings card produced by a local artist. The inside has been left blank for your own personal message.

They’re on sale now via his website at very reasonable prices – just £10 for a pack of 5.

That’s Easter sorted!

More scrutiny

25 Mar

I was live tweeting from the oversight and scrutiny commission meeting on the East Ham Town Hall campus and Newham 6th Form Collegiate last night.

You can read the stream, plus some additional commentary, on Storify.

Maternity blues

23 Mar

More embarrassment has been heaped on the mayor and his fellow councillors over the expulsion of Charlene McLean.

The Evening Standard covered the story under the headline Councillor ‘dumped’ from authority over time off after giving birth prematurely.

The story says local party members are outraged and quotes one ‘angry member’:

“This is a working class mother who had time off during a very difficult pregnancy and was then caring for an unwell, premature baby.

“Despite that, she was injudiciously dumped from the council. Charlene is a dedicated Labour member committed to her residents but not seen as a leadership loyalist. That’s valuable on a council with no opposition.”

The normally supine Newham Recorder also got in on the act, headlining their story New mum dropped as Stratford councillor in maternity leave dispute.

Both stories include the council’s claim that then-councillor McLean was misadvised by an unnamed officer and that neither senior officials nor the executive were aware of this.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Newham Council said: “In this case, an officer provided incorrect information to another member regarding statutory maternity leave and it appears this advice was passed on to Ms McLean.

“Neither the council’s executive or the council’s monitoring officer were aware that incorrect information had been provided to Ms McLean.

“Had the council officer or Ms McLean informed the monitoring officer or the council’s executive, steps would have been taken to agree an extended period of absence for Ms McLean.”

But documents released under the Freedom of Information Act throw this claim into dispute. Mike Law asked last year for details of the amount of individual casework allocated to councillors between June and September. The reply he got in October includes this:

McLean Maternity Leave 1 

He then asked a follow up about case work in October, November and December. That was answered last week:

McLean maternity leave 2

The information governance team knew she was on maternity leave, but we are supposed to believe Sir Robin and none of his executive did.

One of Charlene McLean’s fellow councillors in Stratford & New Town is Richard Crawford. Aside from being a long-standing friend and drinking buddy of Sir Robin’s he is also the full-time, 5-days-a-week mayoral advisor on ‘resident experience’. Odd that he either never noticed Cllr McLean’s absence nor thought to mention it.

Equally odd is that the other councillor who was on maternity leave at the same time had the fact announced on her profile page on the council website:

McLean maternity leave 3

Both of Farah Nazeer’s fellow ward councillors are members of Sir Robin’s inner circle of full-time advisors. They knew she was pregnant and was on maternity leave, but apparently failed to spot Charlene McLean was in the same condition.

The council’s executive are not the only ones who were selectively inattentive. I am told Labour chief whip Steve Brayshaw called two other councillors in – Sheila Thomas and Amajit Singh – to make sure they remained legal whilst ignoring Charlene McLean’s absence.

There is something deeply rotten in the state of Newham Labour. Claims of mayoral and executive ignorance are transparently an attempt to cover that up.

The Casual Vacancy

20 Mar

Charlene McLean

There is going to be a council by-election in Stratford & New Town ward.

Charlene McLean has been removed from office under section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972: 

if a member of a local authority fails throughout a period of six consecutive months from the date of his last attendance to attend any meeting of the authority, he shall, unless the failure was due to some reason approved by the authority before the expiry of that period, cease to be a member of the authority. [emphasis added]

The circumstances in which the by-election has been triggered and the timing – so close to the general election – reflect very badly on the leadership of Newham Labour party, which has done nothing to support a young mother in exceptionally difficult circumstances.

As (now ex) councillor McLean explained in a letter sent to all ward members last week, before her removal was confirmed:

Last August, I gave birth to my baby daughter Esme two months prematurely. Prior to that I had to go on sick leave due to serious pregnancy complications, which risked both my life and that of my baby. Following her birth, I spent over three months monitoring her care at the specialist neonatal intensive care unit at the Royal London Hospital, and then at Newham General. Once she was allowed home, I had to provide specialist care for her, which required my full and uninterrupted focus. 

That is why I believe that what has happened to me warrants a full and urgent discussion among Council Members concerning the Council’s maternity leave policy for expectant Members, and those who have become new parents. 

As you can imagine to now have to deal with this situation is agonising, but with the support of Ward Members, my fellow Councillor colleagues, Terry and Richard, and the wider Newham Labour Party; I am hoping that I can come through this. 

I am in the process of discussing next steps with the national Labour Party and London Region, as well as the Chief Whip of Group, if a by-election has to be called because of the mistakes made by the Council. As such, I do intend to seek selection as the Labour Party Candidate for Stratford and New Town ward if such a situation arises. 

Charlene McLean was led to believe she was on approved leave – as the Local Government Act allows – but she wasn’t. And no-one bothered to tell her.

Although she points the finger at poor advice from unelected officers, the real culprits are her own comrades. The mayor, the Labour group chair, the chief whip and other leading councillors knew what was going on and did nothing. 

I am old enough to remember a time when Labour whips in parliament carried dying MPs through the lobbies on stretchers to ensure the government survived. This lot couldn’t be bothered to organise a babysitter and a taxi.

Backbench councillors and ordinary members need to ask why not. If Labour chief whip Steve Brayshaw doesn’t offer his resignation, councillors should demand it. Others within the leadership group need to take a long hard look at themselves too.

A borough as diverse as Newham needs a council made up of people from a wide range of backgrounds and at different stages in their lives, not just middle-aged men. The council has a moral responsibility to ensure that people are not excluded from taking part just because they are starting a family.

But as it is led by a mayor who thinks it’s okay for his Equalities lead to do her work unpaid that is not a priority in Newham.

Members in Stratford ward passed a motion last week calling for Charlene McLean to be immediately reselected as their candidate.

Last night, on direct instruction from Labour’s London regional office, the Newham local campaign forum voted unanimously to do just that. It is overwhelmingly likely she will be back on the council before the end of April.

Nonetheless, local Labour party members are furious. Or as one person put it to me, they are “going fucking mental.” They’ll have to spend time and resources fighting a council by-election when they should be out campaigning for the general election. Nearby Ilford North is a key Tory-held marginal. If Ed Miliband wants to be prime minister it’s a seat Labour must win.

They also know how embarrassing this is. Residents are being asked to go to the polls two weeks before the general election to re-elect a councillor they only voted into office 10 months ago. All because the overwhelmingly white and exclusively male cabal at the top of Newham Labour party failed to support a young working class black woman facing immense personal difficulties.

It would be harsh on Charlene McLean but if voters decided to punish Newham Labour for this, who could blame them?

Sir Robin talks immigration, diversity and cuts

19 Mar

The Mayor was interviewed on Nick Ferrari’s LBC show on 17 March 2015 about the impact of immigration on the local community and services.

Inadequate

17 Mar

 Whipps X CQC

The Care Quality Commission has published its report on the quality of care provided at Whipps Cross University Hospital.

As you can see, it is pretty damning.

The report identified a number of very significant weaknesses, in particular poor leadership, low staff morale, insufficient numbers of staff, and an over-reliance on agency and temporary staff. As a result proper protocols and procedures were not followed, patient information was not tracked and monitoring was inconsistent.

Large scale job losses, pay ‘down banding’ and ‘a culture of bullying and harassment’ were all contributory factors. The NHS trust that runs the hospital – Barts – has been put into special measures.

For those of us living in the north of the borough Whipps is far easier to get to than Newham General. So, despite being in Waltham Forest, it’s our local hospital. 

And it’s nowhere near good enough.

UPDATE: According to councillor Dianne Walls on Twitter, Newham’s health and social care scrutiny commission will be taking evidence from both the CQC and Whipps Cross management in April: “We need to know what it means for Newham residents when one of our main hospitals is deemed inadequate, even though it is in Waltham Forest.”

The civilised thing to do

10 Mar

An excellent piece by Zoe Williams in the Guardian about the Green party conference and why delegates remain upbeat, despite recent difficulties.

This bit in particular caught my eye:

being outside acceptability has allowed the party to slough off the accepted wisdoms that both shackle and amalgamate the other parties. Tax is the obvious example: today the deputy leader, Amelia Womack, promised to axe all tuition fees, and to pay for it from general taxation: yup, that old chestnut. Not a graduate tax, or a fee-based system that was really a tax, but an actual, progressive tax, asking the people with the most to pay for something that would improve the entire country – not because they benefited from it themselves (though, in likelihood, they did), but because it’s the civilised thing to do.

Tax is the price we pay to live in a civilised society. It really is that simple.