Archive | May, 2016

The Tudor Court of Sir Robin

19 May

Guest post by Ken Taylor

I have just listened to a recording of Monday night’s Newham Labour Group meeting. This was the biannual meeting where standing order rule amendments and reports by Group officers are considered and, most importantly, elections by Labour councillors of group officers for the next 2 years.  

A long-serving retired Newham Councillor, in his autobiography, described the Council under the control of Sir Robin Wales, as resembling a 16th century Tudor Court. Last night’s Labour Group AGM certainly did nothing to counter that impression. 

Tammany Hall Politics

Firstly, there was a series of biased and clearly manipulated elections. Labour Party rules quite rightly state that the chair of a Labour Group cannot be a member of the Council cabinet. Group officers are supposed to be a brake on the power of the Executive, part of the necessary check and balances. In Newham there is no significant difference between Cabinet members and Executive advisors – some cabinet members are part-time, while some advisors are ‘full-time’ and receive substantially higher allowances. The current chair, Clive Furness, is paid £34,000 on top of his £10900 councillor earnings by the mayor as his advisor on Adults & Health. Obviously, he has to support the wishes of the mayor or he will be sacked. A majority of councillors are either on the Mayor’s pay roll, or want to be. It was little surprise that Cllr Furness was re-elected, although 23 out of 56 (41%) of Councillors voted for his opponent, John Gray, via secret ballot.  Always remember that Newham residents, who are some of the poorest in the country, pay for the Mayor’s financial favours for his supporters through their Council tax; it does not come out of Sir Robin’s own pocket.  

While it was good news that two independent-minded councillors were elected to chair individual Scrutiny commissions, it was not surprising that a former Mayoral advisor was elected as the chair of Overview and Scrutiny by the votes of other paid Mayor advisors. So the councillors who the Mayor decides to pay huge amounts of money to be his advisors decide who should scrutinise them? This is no-one’s idea of accountability.

Safely re-installed as chair, Clive Furness then went on to wreck a motion calling for paid Mayoral advisors not to be allowed to vote in future elections for his position by only allowing 2 speakers on the motion. He then insisted only the Mayor should have the final word and refused the proposer of the motion the right of reply to the Mayor’s venom. The Chair obviously earned his money that night. Well done!  

Bragfest

In his AGM report the Mayor went on his usual ego trip, bragging that Newham was so far ahead of all other Labour councils in the land, who he thinks are all useless, incompetent and badly led. Such a contrast to Newham under his leadership!

He attacked the motion on preventing his paid advisors controlling Labour group officers by claiming it was undemocratic and wrong for anyone to restrict the choice of who to vote for. It would lead to the destruction of the Party and the end of all civilised life as we know it. This is despite national Labour Party rules which restrict who can be cabinet members and vote in Scrutiny elections. He also seems to have forgotten that he agreed last year to a convention that East Ham Labour Party would exclude all councillors from being branch officers.  

What would be laughable, if it was not so serious, was Sir Robins boast to Group that he had introduced secret ballots for Group elections! This is of course a blatant untruth. You have to wonder why he makes such preposterous claims. Why the constant need to feed his ego? Who knows.

Trigger Ballot

In the next 12 months or so there must be a “trigger ballot” of Labour Party members and affiliates in Newham on whether the current Mayor is automatically the Labour candidate for Mayor in 2018. If you think that, regardless of the many talents (and faces) of Sir Robin Wales, after more than 20 years of his rule we need a choice in Newham, then you will vote for an open and transparent election process. It may turn out that Sir Robin is the best candidate, but members should surely take the chance to consider alternatives. I hope members will vote to give themselves a real choice.

OMG. I have been invited as a guest to the formal Newham Council AGM tonight (Thursday). The mayor promised at the Group meeting that there will be even more bragging about himself. I must bring earplugs – and a large hip flask.

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#NewhamFlytip

17 May

SitesOfNewham 2016 May 16

Photo @SitesOfNewham

I’ve knocked up a quick and dirty system for reporting flytipping in Newham on Twitter.

Tweet your report and use the hashtag #NewhamFlytip.

The report will then automatically be added to a Google spreadsheet, which is publicly viewable on the web.

As I’ve taken the trouble to help them out by putting all the Twitter reports in one easy to find place it would be rude of Newham council to ignore this, don’t you think?

 

London Elects 2016 – Forest Gate results

16 May

The London Elects website has released the results of the recent Mayoral and London Assembly elections (.xlsx) broken down to borough and ward level.

Below are the results for the two Forest Gate wards*. I posted the votes cast in Newham as a whole separately.

Mayor of London

Forest Gate North

Candidate Party 1st Prefs 2nd Prefs
Sian Rebecca Berry Green Party 272 719
David Furness British National Party 16 12
George Galloway Respect (George Galloway) 79 332
Paul Golding Britain First 35 64
Zac Goldsmith Conservative Party 507 247
Lee Harris Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 36 111
Sadiq Aman Khan Labour Party 2238 642
Ankit Love One Love Party 5 41
Caroline Valerie Pidgeon London Liberal Democrats 95 246
Sophie Walker Women’s Equality Party 65 277
Peter Robin Whittle UK Independence Party (UKIP) 79 143
Prince Zylinski Independent 15 27

Forest Gate South

Candidate Party 1st Prefs 2nd Prefs
Sian Rebecca Berry Green Party 209 531
David Furness British National Party 20 35
George Galloway Respect (George Galloway) 86 449
Paul Golding Britain First 33 50
Zac Goldsmith Conservative Party 497 287
Lee Harris Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 36 87
Sadiq Aman Khan Labour Party 2359 666
Ankit Love One Love Party 13 39
Caroline Valerie Pidgeon London Liberal Democrats 85 240
Sophie Walker Women’s Equality Party 69 248
Peter Robin Whittle UK Independence Party (UKIP) 50 127
Prince Zylinski Independent 23 27

 

London-wide member

Forest Gate North

Party Votes
Animal Welfare Party 34
Britain First – Putting British people first 36
British National Party 25
Caroline Pidgeon’s London Liberal Democrats 129
Christian Peoples Alliance 55
Conservative Party 312
Green Party – “vote Green on orange” 369
Labour Party 2138
Respect (George Galloway) 91
The House Party – Homes for Londoners 19
UK Independence Party (UKIP) 144
Women’s Equality Party 133

Forest Gate South

Party Votes
Animal Welfare Party 27
Britain First – Putting British people first 32
British National Party 16
Caroline Pidgeon’s London Liberal Democrats 106
Christian Peoples Alliance 59
Conservative Party 419
Green Party – “vote Green on orange” 304
Labour Party 2214
Respect (George Galloway) 122
The House Party – Homes for Londoners 16
UK Independence Party (UKIP) 75
Women’s Equality Party 117

 

City & East constituency member

Forest Gate North

Candidate Party Votes
Elaine Sheila Bagshaw London Liberal Democrats 149
Christopher James Chapman Conservative Party 351
Rachel Collinson Green Party 497
Unmesh Desai Labour Party 2156
Aaron Anthony Jose Hasan D’Souza All People’s Party 18
Amina May Kay Gichinga Take Back the City 38
Peter James Harris UK Independence Party (UKIP) 177
Rayne Mickail Respect (George Galloway) 90

Forest Gate South

Candidate Party Votes
Elaine Sheila Bagshaw London Liberal Democrats 144
Christopher James Chapman Conservative Party 423
Rachel Collinson Green Party 373
Unmesh Desai Labour Party 2264
Aaron Anthony Jose Hasan D’Souza All People’s Party 20
Amina May Kay Gichinga Take Back the City 55
Peter James Harris UK Independence Party (UKIP) 124
Rayne Mickail Respect (George Galloway) 110

 

* excludes postal votes, which London Elects reports as a single block not broken out by ward.

London Elects 2016 – Newham results

16 May

The London Elects website has released the results of the recent Mayoral and London Assembly elections (.xlsx) broken down to borough and ward level.

Below are the results for Newham as a whole. I’ll post the votes cast in Forest Gate North and Forest Gate South separately.

There are very few surprises. Labour won by a country-mile, with the Tories a distant second. The Greens are clearly the borough’s third party. The Liberal Democrats will probably be disappointed to finish some way behind UKIP.

Mayor of London

Candidate Party 1st Prefs 2nd Prefs
Sian Rebecca Berry Green Party 3637 10321
David Furness British National Party 596 1118
George Galloway Respect (George Galloway) 2204 9509
Paul Golding Britain First 1075 1876
Zac Goldsmith Conservative Party 14165 8374
Lee Harris Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol 731 2016
Sadiq Aman Khan Labour Party 53094 16212
Ankit Love One Love Party 230 996
Caroline Valerie Pidgeon London Liberal Democrats 1863 5843
Sophie Walker Women’s Equality Party 1284 5171
Peter Robin Whittle UK Independence Party (UKIP) 2080 3675
Prince Zylinski Independent 340 716

 

London-wide member

Party Votes
Animal Welfare Party 658
Britain First – Putting British people first 1169
British National Party 595
Caroline Pidgeon’s London Liberal Democrats 2377
Christian Peoples Alliance 1365
Conservative Party 10529
Green Party – “vote Green on orange” 4472
Labour Party 52779
Respect (George Galloway) 2787
The House Party – Homes for Londoners 348
UK Independence Party (UKIP) 3303
Women’s Equality Party 1890

 

City & East constituency member

Candidate Party Votes
Elaine Sheila Bagshaw London Liberal Democrats 3264
Christopher James Chapman Conservative Party 11192
Rachel Collinson Green Party 6017
Unmesh Desai Labour Party 53419
Aaron Anthony Jose Hasan D’Souza All People’s Party 478
Amina May Kay Gichinga Take Back the City 604
Peter James Harris UK Independence Party (UKIP) 4414
Rayne Mickail Respect (George Galloway) 2887

 

Whose chair is it anyway?

16 May

One of the more important elections at this week’s Labour group AGM is for the position of chair. Labour group is the one meeting where backbench councillors can challenge the executive. The chair has huge influence in controlling the debate.

The incumbent, Clive Furness (Canning Town North), is also the Mayoral Advisor for Adults & Health – a ‘full-time’ position for which he is paid £33,735 a year on top of his £10,974 basic allowance. The post is entirely in the gift of the mayor. 

In his election statement Cllr Furness portrays himself as a modest and genial fellow, who is so keen for everyone to have their say that sometimes other items have to be left until a later meeting (not that this is in any way ever abused to ensure awkward questions don’t get asked. Oh no).

This is my second stretch in the role as Chair and I believe that I chair Group meetings effectively and courteously. Rarely are members denied a chance to speak  and then it is solely to move on the business of Group to ensure that an agenda is  completed. My fault, if it is such, is to allow discussion to continue too long meaning  that occasionally matters are deferred to a future meeting.

In terms of the specific skills that I believe I bring, I would suggest that I am  inclusive in my chairing style, I run the meetings in a business-like manner but also  with humour and an allowance for members who might struggle to get across their  points.

In terms of the unseen work I believe that I have demonstrated an ability to  marshal people together with different personalities and priorities in order to  ensure that Group Officers act in a cohesive manner. 

… In terms of my priorities in the role as Chair it will be to ensure that there is  opportunity for full debate amongst members and ensure that members are  reminded that they are part of a Group and Party that makes decisions and acts  collectively. 

Of course Furness doesn’t mention that he was subject to a motion of no confidence two years ago, when he ruled a motion to enforce equal representation for women among group officers and mayoral advisors out of order.

He is being challenged by John Gray (West Ham). Cllr Gray was Labour group secretary from 2010 – 15 and is, along with John Whitworth and Rokhsana Fiaz, one of the few councillors openly questioning the use of LOBO loans.

I believe we need to change the way we do things in Labour Group. We have to understand that we have an Executive model which gives the Mayor great power and influence. One of the roles of the Group Chair is to help hold the Executive to account and to champion the role and contribution of all Group Members.

We need sufficient checks and balances. We need to have a chair that is independent of the Executive and not dependent on the Mayor for his or her livelihood. This is not meant as a slight on past Chairs but there is a clear conflict of interest. The Chair must be seen as independent on the Executive and should not hold any advisor position. Things need to be done properly but they also need to be seen to be done properly.

The main challenge facing the Council is Tory Government Austerity cuts. While we need to challenge and oppose these cuts we also need to encourage argument and debate on how to do this. Group members must feel listened to and their views respected. We need an independent Chair to unite us in the difficult times ahead.

So the question before councillors is whether they want group meetings chaired by someone who is a member of the mayor’s executive team, or someone who is independent of it.

The answer, sadly, is that most of them don’t care enough to think about the consequences. They will simply do what they are told.

Take it to the limit

13 May

A small earthquake happened in Newham last night. Five local Labour party branches voted for a motion to impose term-limits on directly elected mayors.

Members in Forest Gate North, Forest Gate South, Stratford, Canning Town and Manor Park (Sir Robin’s own ward!) supported a proposition put forward by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy to amend the national rule book:

The Labour Party Rule Book 2016 Chapter 5 Selections, rights and responsibilities of candidates for elected public office.Clause I. General rules for selections for public office. Sub-Clause 1. G. i. Alternative Procedures, reads as follows:

‘For any mayoral selection the NEC may consider the use of primary elections, subject to the absolute power of the NEC to cancel or amend procedure, and subject to:

a. Procedural guidelines set by the NEC.’

Amendment

Add new sub-clause:

b. If a selected candidate is elected for two consecutive terms he/she cannot apply for selection as the Labour candidate for the same mayoral post for the following third term.

Directly-elected mayors were introduced in 2000 and, from the first mayoral elections in 2002 until 2008, the Labour Party rules stipulated that Directly-Elected Mayors who were Labour Party members could not stand for re-election after having served two terms. This time limit was removed on the recommendation of the NEC Local Government Committee in 2008 – in good time to allow the likes of Sir Robin and Hackney’s Jules Pipe to be re-selected for a third term.

As we know to our cost in Newham, directly-elected Mayors have presidential-type executive powers. These are not always balanced by adequate scrutiny from councillors – in Newham they are barely subject to any at all. 

Sir Robin has been in charge of our borough since 1995. First as leader of the council and since 2002 as mayor. In the interests of healthy democratic local governance, a single individual should not hold these powers for so long. 

Visions of scrutiny

13 May

Next week sees the annual general meeting of Newham council’s Labour group. This is where elections for political positions takes place. It is also where the chair of overview and scrutiny is chosen, as the position is meant to be independent of the executive.

This year three candidates have put themselves forward: Anthony McAlmont (Royal Docks), Neil Wilson (Plaistow South) and Conor McAuley (Custom House). Between them there are sharply contrasting views as to the role of scrutiny and its relationship with the executive.

Anthony McAlmont is the incumbent and one of Sir Robin’s most reliable toadies. His election statement reads like it could have been written in the Mayor’s office – and it quite possibly was.

I am the incumbent chair of OSC. I held together and led the scrutiny chairs and the commissions in the face of what sometimes seems like an extension of group; so very often, this put at risk scrutiny’s ability to: effectively work with the Executive in terms of policy development; carry out more in-depth scrutiny inquiries into policy outcomes and resident engagement.

I inherited an OSC that was not fit for purpose in that the current scrutiny model is unable to adapt or respond adequately or address any emerging priorities and any additional pressures arising in year. I believe that we need a scrutiny model that is able to engage and support a wider range of scrutiny activities in areas such as commissioning arrangements, external partnering arrangements, transformational and income generating initiatives (Council Small Business Programme – CSBP and Red Doors) through more in-depth scrutiny inquiries.  

To address the above issues OSC adopted new protocol arrangements to enhance the effective working of the scrutiny process; however, I now believe that this is not enough. The new protocols must now be accompanied by a new scrutiny model. 

I do not believe that Newham’s scrutiny must be adversarial, but rather adopt a constructive partnership working which allows it to contribute to the effective running of the Council in the interest of residents, thus making Newham a place people want to work, live and stay. To this end I shall be working with the mayor, fellow members, officers and partners to scrutinise and develop recommendations which will support Executive members to transform and develop policies on budgeting and service delivery thereby ensuring that services are effective, transformational and value for money. 

That Cllr McAlmont claims the new protocol was adopted, rather than imposed by the mayor, shows how far up Sir Robin’s backside he is. Under his watch the scrutiny function has been a joke – as those of us who witnessed the ‘inquiry’ into the East Ham Campus overspend and the ultra vires opening of Newham Sixth Form Collegiate will testify. If he is re-elected the mayor will continue, confident that nothing as bothersome as scrutiny will get in his way.

Neil Wilson isn’t exactly threatening to rock the boat either.

In this post I would wish to make a clear priority the in-year performance and financial monitoring that is so crucial to ensure both value-for money and quality assurance from the realignment of budgets/services. I would encourage the more frequent use of “task-and-finish” groups to ensure that there is constructive feedback to proposals from the Executive in areas such as the Small Business Programme, the devolution of service provision to the Neighbourhoods.

Scrutiny work which aims to develop and review policy tends to constitute the bulk of work considered to be the most effective, and so I would always seek to be collaborative, working with the Mayor and Executive, and of course, the other Scrutiny Chairs.

Conor McAuley, by contrast, is up for a fight. After 34 years on the council and with his front bench career firmly behind him, he has no need to tolerate the leadership’s bullshit. 

Newham is unique as a local Council in that we, the Labour Party, hold all 60 Council seats and the Mayoralty. This places a special responsibility on us to be open in our dealings with the community we serve and in particular, open to scrutiny.

In the two years since the last election we have failed to live up to this.

In February 2015 Overview & Scrutiny started its enquiry into issues around the £11Million + overspend on the East Ham Campus. A year or more later, we still await the conclusions and sight of the report.

Many attribute this delay to the “Mayor’s Scrutiny Protocol” which he initially imposed upon the Group in July 2014. This protocol has since been assimilated into the Council’s Constitution. It now requires all scrutiny requests and questions to be routed through the Mayor’s office giving three weeks’ notice of questions and invitations to already scheduled meetings. This has been a recipe for delay.

It is bizarre that the political leader of the Council and his Executive determine when, how and even if, they will be scrutinised.

Throughout these two years I have been a member of the Regeneration & Employment Scrutiny Commission. This has not been an onerous task because the last Regeneration & Employment Scrutiny Commission meeting was held on February 11th 2015 with the Vice Chair in the Chair.

An entire municipal year has now passed without another meeting and a colleague has been paid an allowance to chair this commission. This is indefensible!

I want to re-invigorate Scrutiny in Newham and I would start with a revision of the Council’s scrutiny protocols.

Well good luck with that, councillor!

As I have said at almost tedious length in the past, scrutiny is a vital function of the council. Under a directly-elected mayoralty it is the only way that Sir Robin and his well-remunerated chums in the executive can be held to account. If councillors aren’t prepared to engage in the process properly there is almost no point at all to them being there.