Archive | November, 2015

More cuts, less scrutiny

23 Nov

Three Wise Monkeys 2010

The mayor’s vision for scrutiny in Newham

Every cloud has a silver lining and Sir Robin Wales has found a very shiny benefit to the £50 million of cuts he has to implement: the excuse to slash funding for Scrutiny.

The seven scrutiny committees, which cover all aspects of the council’s activities, from health to crime & disorder, are now supported by a single officer.

As a consequence, the number of scrutiny meetings has been severely curtailed. Some committees, including the Health and Social Care Scrutiny Commission, haven’t held a public hearing since June. This is despite the many pressing health issues facing the borough, fundamental changes in the funding and delivery of Adult Social Care and serious concerns over the quality of services delivered by our local hospitals.

Councillors who actually want to do the only real job they were elected for – scrutinising the executive and holding the mayor to pubic account for his decisions – are becoming increasingly frustrated. The lack of support means things that members want to look at have to be ‘prioritised’ as part of an overall ‘work programme’- a mysterious process that is managed by the chair of overview & scrutiny, Tony McAlmont. As Cllr McAlmont owes his position and the significant ‘special responsibility allowance’ that goes along with it to the mayor, his view of ‘priorities’ may not be entirely independent.

Even when work gets ‘prioritised’ it has become nigh on impossible for committee chairs to schedule public meetings. The mayor’s new, legally dubious ‘scrutiny protocol’ (which councillors obediently nodded through in September) requires all requests for witnesses to be made via the mayor’s office, with at least 15 working days notice. The mayor then gets to decide if the requested council officer or Executive member will attend or provide only written answers. Witnesses can suddenly become ‘unavailable’ at very short notice, or substituted with someone of the mayor’s own choosing, rendering the hearing pointless.

One scrutiny commission chair has written to the council’s chief executive and Cllr McAlmont to express their concern:

We are all trying very hard in scrutiny to work within the new regime, forced upon us by government cuts, but I feel that we are being blocked at every turn. When scrutiny of the council’s business is now more important than ever, our capacity to do our work is very constrained through lack of resources.

I must urge you to […] do everything in your power to support scrutiny before we lose all but the statutory minimum of functions.

Nothing will come it. Sir Robin hates scrutiny and holds the entire process in contempt. 

At last week’s Cabinet he threw his toys out of the pram when a scrutiny report suggested his pet ‘Every Child A Musician’ programme might have some issues with variable quality in delivery. He blasted the committee for the ‘markedly lower quality’ of their research (compared to well-funded, full-time professional academic researchers he had previously paid for!) and rejected out of hand a recommendation that the aims, objectives and expected outcomes of the programme be reviewed, saying this would be a waste of money.

If Kim Bromley-Derry and Tony McAlmont want to keep their jobs they’ll say nothing – and do even less. For the mayor, defunding scrutiny is a dream come true.

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Another one bites the dust

10 Nov

Rohima Rahman

Suspended from the party

On the Newham Recorder website today:

An Upton Park councillor has been suspended from the Labour Party.

Cllr Rohima Rahman, who represents the Green Street East ward, was placed “in administrative suspension” according to a letter sent to Newham Labour Party members and seen by the Recorder.

In the letter, sent out by Labour party secretary Cllr Susan Masters, it states that despite the suspension Cllr Rahman will “continue in her role as a Newham Councillor” and will still be able to attend Labour branch meetings.

But it adds that “for the time being”, she will no longer be part of group communications nor attend East Ham CLP (Constituency Labour Party) meetings.

There is no indication as to when the suspension will be lifted or why it has been imposed.

A council spokeswoman said: “Responsibilities for the Mayoral Adviser for Community Care and Personal Assistance have been transferred to Cllr Clive Furness, Mayoral Advisor for Adults and Health.”

The reason behind the councillor’s suspension remains unclear.

Cllr Rahman told the Recorder that it was a “personal matter” and declined to make a comment. The Newham Labour Party has been approached for a statement.

This story broke last night on Twitter but still no-one seems any the wiser as to the reason.

It isn’t quite clear from the Recorder story, but this is a suspension imposed by the national Labour party. It’s not Sir Robin getting his knickers in a twist about someone saying no to him or failing to put two sugars in his tea. Whatever she’s alleged to have done has brought the weight of party HQ down on her.

And the speed with which the mayor acted to sack her as his advisor on community care and have all details of her portfolio expunged from the council website suggests it’s a serious matter.

But however hard he tries to distance himself, Sir Robin has to confront the fact that two of his councillors – both of them reliable and compliant allies – are now suspended from the party. Plaistow’s Ahmed Noor remains on ‘administrative suspension’ following his property troubles back in May.

Is this the kind of party the new post-Corbyn influx of members thought they were joining? I very much doubt it.

A bluffer’s guide to Boleyn

9 Nov

Boleyn map

History 

Boleyn ward came into existence in 2002, following a major reorganisation of boundaries in Newham, which reduced the number of wards from 24 to 20. The newly created Boleyn ward was made up from bits of the old Bemersyde, Castle, Central, Greatfield and Plaistow wards.

Greatfield ward, from which the southern part of Boleyn comes, was once a stronghold of the Residents & Ratepayers. They held the ward at every election from 1968 to 1982, when the SDP-Liberal Alliance won. Labour took all three seats in 1986, but lost two of them in 1990 to the Conservatives. The ward went back to Labour in 1994 and stayed that way.

The northern part of Boleyn mostly comes from Castle ward, where Sir Robin Wales first cut his teeth in Newham politics. He was elected there, as plain old ‘Robert A Wales’, in 1982. He replaced ‘Margaret D Brown’, who is better known these days as councillor Dianne Walls OBE.

Although Respect came close to causing an upset in 2006 Labour has won Boleyn ward at every election since it came into existence.

At the 2014 elections there were 9,689 voters on the electoral roll in the ward. Turnout was 44% – slightly above the Newham average – and the three Labour candidates cruised home.

Candidate Party Votes
Obaid Khan Labour 2658
Charity Fiberesima Labour 2505
Harvinder Singh Virdee       Labour 2425
Jamal Uddin Conservative 869
Yasir Asif Conservative 823
Yaseen Farmer Conservative 756
Ben Robinson Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition        342
Barbara Chukwurah Christian Peoples Alliance 270
Stephen Williamson Christian Peoples Alliance 259

Population & Demographics*

Population:

  • Total: 15,932
  • Male: 53%
  • Female: 47%
  • Average age (mean): 31
  • Median age: 29

Households:

  • Total: 4,928
  • Avg HH size: 3
  • One-person HHs: 24%
  • Deprived HHs: 77%
    • Single deprivation: 37%
    • Multiple deprivation: 40%
  • Owner-occupied: 42%
  • Private rent: 31%
  • Social rent: 26%
  • Overcrowded HHs: 33%

Religion:

  • Christian: 35%
  • Hindu: 10%
  • Muslim: 40%
  • Other: 3%
  • No religion/not stated: 12%

Ethnicity:

  • White British: 13%
  • Other white: 9%
  • Asian/British Asian: 55%
  • Black/Black British: 16%
  • Mixed/multiple: 4%
  • Arab/other: 4%

Place of birth:

  • Born in UK: 46%
  • Born in EU (ex. UK): 8%
  • Born other countries: 47%

Time in the UK:

  • In the UK less than 5 years: 35%
  • In the UK 5 – 9 years: 20%
  • In the UK 10 years or more: 45%

Economic activity (16-74 yr olds)

  • Economically active: 49%
    • In employment: 32%
    • Self-employed: 7%
    • Looking for work: 9%
  • Economically inactive: 51%
    • Retired: 23%
    • Looking after home/family: 7%
    • Long-term sick/disabled: 14%
    • Other: 5%
    • Students: 3%

* Based on 2011 Census. Figures may not sum due to rounding.

2015 candidates

Labour’s Veronica Oakeshott is a campaigner for Save the Children UK. She has an MA in political campaigning and was the subject of a brief profile in the Newham Recorder in 2011.

Emmanuel Finndoro-Obasi is chairman (sic) of the East Ham Conservative Association. In the 2014 local elections he stood as one of his party’s candidates in Beckton, finishing sixth.

David Mears was UKIP’s candidate for mayor in 2014, when he came third with just over 6% of the vote. Three months later he stood as the party’s candidate in the Beckton by-election and again he came third, this time with 11%.

Diane Ofori is an independent film and TV producer. Her showreel on YouTube includes an election broadcast for the Christian Party.

Green party candidate Frankie-Rose Taylor describes herself in her Twitter bio as a ’22 year old actor, feminist and sunshine child.’ She is a leading member of the BoleynDev100 campaign, which is calling for 100% social housing on the Boleyn Ground site, which will be redeveloped after West Ham United move out next summer.

Sheree Miller is the Liberal Democrats’ candidate. She lives in Plaistow and works as a Customer Experience Manager at the Barbican Centre.

The issues

Housing. Housing. Housing.

Look at the map. The Boleyn Ground stands at the heart of the ward. The 850 ‘luxury homes’ to be built there will have a huge impact on the character of the area. Even the small number of allegedly ‘affordable’ shared ownership homes will be far beyond the reach of local people. Labour will claim it’s pushing hard to get a better deal from Gailiard Homes, the developers, and will cite the last minute ‘offer’ (details unspecified) that led to the strategic planning committee deferring its decision last month.

But their opponents will hammer the council’s dismal record of failing to stand up to greedy developers. And the fact that the only homes Newham is building itself, via its Red Door Ventures business, are for private rent – at market rates ‘starting at’ £1500 a month for a 2-bed flat.

Boleyn latest

6 Nov

Nominations for the Boleyn by-election close at 4 o’clock, but we already know who the main candidates will be:

  • Emmanuel Finndoro-Obasi – Conservative
  • Frankie-Rose Taylor – Green Party 
  • Veronica Oakeshott – Labour
  • Sheree Miller – Liberal Democrats

Any more for any more?

The election will be held on Thursday 3rd December 2015.

UPDATE (9 November): After nominations closed on Friday two more candidates joined those above on the ballot:

  • David Mears – UKIP
  • Diane Ofori – Independent

The official listing is on the council website.

Parachutes

3 Nov

More shenanigans in Sir Robin’s personal fiefdom – East Ham constituency Labour party. And another email to Stephen Timms from unhappy members.

We are writing to you in relation to the recent election of the Chair of East Ham CLP … in our capacities as GC delegates, local branch chairs and Councillors. We are concerned that through a combination of undue influence from our local Mayor Sir Robin Wales, illegitimate nominations and a lack of transparency by some members managing and organising the AGM election i.e. Newham Campaign Organiser Carl Morris and Cllr Forhad Hussain from West Ham CLP, an unfair election process for the position of Chair has taken place.

The story starts back in August, when Boleyn councillor Obaid Khan applied to join the Fabian Society. He received an email back from Giles Wright, the national membership secretary, telling him

The Newham Fabian branch is no longer active but there is a flourishing branch based in Tower Hamlets.

So it was a surprise to find only a month later, at the East Ham AGM, that the defunct Newham branch of  the Fabian Society had nominated someone for chair. The lucky man was Femi Alese, chair of Newham’s Local Campaign Forum. Mr Alese was not a member of East Ham’s general committee and this was his only nomination. Unlike the other two candidates, not a single local ward party had put him forward. 

But a lack of member support wasn’t going to get in the way of Sir Robin having his place man elected. The outgoing chair, former councillor Paul Brickell, ruled the nomination valid and voting went ahead.

As the email to Stephen Timms continues: 

the AGM was … attended by a very large number of (unconfirmed) GC delegates, totalling 60 people who voted in the CLP election. Many of these people were unfamiliar to the active local membership. Many of whom clearly (and some of whom informally told us) that they were there at the behest of Sir Robin who was in attendance and very present with his associates Cllr Unmesh Desai, Cllr Ken Clark, Cllr Richard Crawford, Cllr Lester Hudson at the front door of the meeting. Given the context and his reputation, some could consider this ‘badgering’ voters.

Femi Alese … appears to have been ‘parachuted’ into the role by Sir Robin et al. Carl Morris and Cllr Forhad Hussain distributed the voting slips amongst GC and non-GC members. Sir Robin’s associates planned it in such a way that they sat close to the GC members to … see who they were voting for and then tell them who to vote for. This conduct, in the context gives the impression to many members that Sir Robin unduly influenced the meeting and it was not in effect a secret ballot. 

Angry members have also written individually to the CLP secretary, Mariam Dawood, asking for minutes of the meeting and a list of those who attended, with details of who they were representing. Unsurprisingly, these requests have so far been rebuffed.

There are calls for an investigation and for the election to be re-run. I doubt these will meet with any greater success.