Archive | April, 2016

Official error

25 Apr

From the council website:

Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, has wished The Queen a happy 90th birthday as she celebrates her official birthday today (April 21).

Sir Robin said: “On behalf of all of the councillors and staff of Newham Council and all of our residents I would like to wish Her Majesty The Queen a happy birthday.”

If you are going embarrass yourself by kissing the royal arse in public, at least get it right.

April 21 is the Queen’s actual birthday; her official birthday is in June.

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Evasion and avoidance

15 Apr

A leading campaigner against the use of LOBO loans by local councils has accused Newham of operating a deliberate policy of delay and frustration in relation to Freedom of Information requests.

Joel Benjamin submitted a request to the council back in early February asking for details of financial disclosure forms submitted by Sir Robin Wales:

Dear Newham Borough Council,

  1. Please confirm if Robin Wales submitted a Members Financial Interest Disclosure form and/or party transaction disclosure for each of the years he was a councillor 1995 – 2016
  2. Please provide copies of Robin Wales’ Disclosure Forms for the 1995-2016 period and related ‘party transaction disclosures’ (which are related but not identical to the disclosure of interests forms members complete) which are required to be completed every year by the elected members.
  3. Please confirm the number of occasions upon which it was recorded Robin Wales withdrew from a Newham meeting, declaring a conflict of interest?
  4. Please confirm the dates upon which Newham Council has audited Members Disclosure forms and ‘party transaction disclosures’ between 1995-2016 to ensure member compliance.
  5. Please confirm on how many occasions, 1995-2016, Newham members have been cautioned, disciplined or otherwise sanctioned for failing to fill out a disclosure log, or for failing to disclose personal financial interests and potential conflicts?

Yours faithfully,

etc.

At the same time he submitted an identical request relating to councillor Lester Hudson, the cabinet lead for finance and chair of the audit board.

Despite reminders, these requests remain unanswered. This prompted a request for internal review (my emphasis added):

I am writing to request an internal review of Newham Borough Council’s handling of my FOI request ‘Disclosure of Newham Register of Elected Members Interest Forms – Robin Wales’.

I note that a formal response from Newham Council to this FOIA request is now approaching 20 days overdue, and is set against a backdrop of unexplained delays, refused requests and opaque decision making, which increasingly casts Newham Council as a FOIA non-compliant outlier for local authorities contacted for information regarding LOBO loans.

Mayor of Newham Robin Wales has staunchly defended the use of LOBO loans by Newham Council, which have been shown to cost Council taxpayers a £10m interest premium over the past decade, to say nothing of the LOBOs taken out by Housing Associations indirectly under Newham control.

It is therefore important to establish if conflict of interest forms have been formally lodged by Robin Wales and monitored by Newham Council and its auditors PwC for the period 2002 – 2011 when £653m of LOBO loan borrowing was negotiated.

A review was also requested, in the same terms, of the unanswered questions about Cllr Hudson. 

And again today, in relation to another FOI request, another request for internal review (my emphasis added):

I am writing to request an internal review of Newham Borough Council’s handling of my FOI request ‘Correspondence regarding Newham 2014/15 account objections re: LOBO Loans’.

I note that a response to this FOIA request is now 2 weeks overdue, and joins 3 additional requests left unanswered by Newham Council, whose FOIA policy is clearly to defer, delay, frustrate in the hope that requesters will not bother with an internal review and subsequent ICO referral.

Given failure to answer these FOIA requests is clearly part of a deliberate Newham policy and pattern, I will be referring the entire suite of unanswered FOIA requests to the ICO, and will let them determine the appropriate course of action to ensure that Newham Council administration acts in the public interest and the FOI officer observes the appropriate legal guidance timeframes.

I know from my own experience that Newham has no regard for the law when it comes to freedom of information, and no respect for the public who are simply exercising their right to know what is being done in their name. They will delay, refuse or simply ignore any request that might result in political embarrassment for Sir Robin or his circle of friends. It is long past time that the Information Commissioners Office intervened.

Goblin closure

11 Apr

On the subject of local rail travel, the Goblin – the Gospel Oak to Barking line on the London Overground – will be closing in June for eight months. This will allow Network Rail to electrify the route. 

Once the work is done TfL plan to introduce new four-carriage electric trains to replace the existing two-carriage diesel units. This will double passenger capacity and relieve the dangerous overcrowding we currently endure during peak times, though not until early 2018. When the line re-opens it will initially be served by the existing, inadequate trains. TfL claims retraining drivers to use an alternative type of electric train for “just 11 months” until the new ones are delivered is cost-prohibitive.

Ahead of the closure TfL staff will be holding a series of drop-in sessions to meet passengers, answer questions and provide details of alternative travel arrangements:

  • Barking, Monday 18 April, 16:00 to 19:00
  • Woodgrange Park, Tuesday 19 April, 16:00 to 19:00
  • Wanstead Park, Wednesday 20 April, 16:00 to 19:00
  • Leytonstone High Road, Thursday 21 April, 16:00 to 19:00
  • Leyton Midland Road, Friday 22 April, 16:00 to 19:00
  • Walthamstow Queens Road, Monday 25 April, 16:00 to 19:00
  • Blackhorse Road, Tuesday 26 April, 16:00 to 19:00
  • South Tottenham, Wednesday 27 April, 16:00 to 19:00
  • Harringay Green Lanes, Thursday 28 April, 16:00 to 19:00
  • Crouch Hill, Tuesday 3 May, 16:00 to 19:00
  • Upper Holloway, Wednesday 4 May, 16:00 to 19:00
  • Gospel Oak, Thursday 5 May, 16:00 to 19:00

If you’re a regular user of the Goblin it will be well worth going along.

On a related topic, the 2016 annual general meeting of the Barking – Gospel Oak Rail User Group will take place at 19:00 hours, concluding at 20:30 hours on Wednesday, 27th April in committee room 2 at Barking Town Hall, which is approximately a 5 minute walk from Barking station.

More information about the group can be found on its website.

Fair’s fare for Maryland

11 Apr

Local campaigners and Forest Gate North councillor Seyi Akiwowo are calling on the mayor of London and the managing director of TfL to re-zone Maryland station.

Maryland is the only station in the Stratford area not to have been re-zoned to 2/3 in January. Asa result residents, many of whom are on low incomes, could end up paying over £200 more this year to use their local station compared to those living elsewhere in the area.

The campaigners have launched an online petition and they say:

Newham continues to be one of the most deprived areas of the country with household incomes among the lowest in London and while the 100,000 weekly users of the eight re-zoned stations in the Stratford and Newtown ward now benefit from cheaper travel, those living in Maryland do not. We believe this is unfair and we are asking the Mayor and Commissioner of TfL to include Maryland station in zone 2/3.

As a major transport hub Stratford station can get dangerously busy at peak times and with future residential and commercial development, including the exciting Olympicopolis scheme, set to bring thousands more people to the area the problem of overcrowding will only get worse. Maryland station is less than 10 minutes walk from Stratford, meaning it can help alleviate issues with passenger numbers, but will only do so if it offers a real and cost-effective alternative for those living and working in the east side of Stratford.

A station on the eagerly anticipated ‘Elizabeth Line’, Maryland will soon benefit from a £3m ‘facelift’ as part of Crossrail works, improving the station and its surroundings while helping give a much-needed boost to the regeneration of the area. To capitalise on this, residents and businesses must be able to use the station and cheaper zone 2/3 fares should help boost passenger numbers, offsetting potentially reduced TfL revenue, which in itself would be a very small part of the overall re-zoning initiative

Lyn Brown MP has already given her support and we are looking to Newham Council to include this as one of their priorities in 2016/17. We have also written to the London Mayoral and the City and East London Assembly candidates for their backing.

By supporting this petition you are helping the hard working individuals, families and businesses who want to use their local station without being penalised for doing so.

I’ve signed the petition and would urge readers to do the same.

London elects – your candidates

1 Apr

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The Mayor of London and the London Assembly Member candidates have been officially announced.

Mayor of London

  • BERRY, Sian Rebecca – Green Party
  • FURNESS, David – British National Party
  • GALLOWAY, George – Respect (George Galloway)
  • GOLDING, Paul – Britain First – Putting British people first
  • GOLDSMITH, Zac – The Conservative Party Candidate
  • HARRIS, Lee Eli – Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol
  • KHAN, Sadiq Aman – Labour Party
  • LOVE, Ankit – One Love Party
  • PIDGEON, Caroline Valerie – London Liberal Democrats
  • WALKER, Sophie – Women’s Equality Party
  • WHITTLE, Peter Robin – UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • ZYLINSKI, Prince – Independent

 

City & East constituency

  • BAGSHAW, Elaine Sheila – London Liberal Democrats
  • CHAPMAN, Christopher James – The Conservative Party Candidate
  • COLLINSON, Rachel – Green Party
  • D’SOUZA, Aaron Anthony Jose Hasan – All People’s Party
  • DESAI, Unmesh – Labour Party
  • GICHINGA, Amina May Kay – Take Back the City
  • HARRIS, Peter James – UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • MICKAIL, Rayne – Respect (George Galloway)

 

Londonwide Assembly members

  • Animal Welfare Party
  • Britain First – Putting British People First
  • British National Party
  • Caroline Pidgeon’s London Liberal Democrats
  • Christian People’s Alliance
  • Conservative Party
  • Green Party
  • Labour Party
  • Respect Party (George Galloway)
  • The House Party – Homes for Londoners
  • UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • Women’s Equality Party

The candidates on each party list can be found on the London Elects website.