Archive | February, 2017

Sir Robin re-arranges the deck chairs

23 Feb

KenClark

Indisputably number two

In an email sent to all councillors this afternoon Sir Robin Wales has set out his plan to revamp the political leadership of the council and re-structure the executive responsibilities.

Aside from the predictable self-justifying bluster, including the mayor naming himself Lead Member for Business and Growth, the biggest news is the appointment of Councillor Ken Clark as the statutory deputy mayor. Lester Hudson retains his deputy mayoral title, but this is largely meaningless. Ken Clark is unquestionably Sir Robin’s number two.

Dear Colleagues, 

Following my selection as the Labour Party’s candidate for Newham Mayor in 2018, I have reviewed our executive arrangements for the next few years. Our direction of travel has been clear for some time and my new arrangements will help support this. 

When deciding our objectives it must always be in the full knowledge that we face a crisis in our funding. The scale of the attack this Conservative government has made on local authorities, and Labour boroughs in particular, has been well documented. Our recognition in 2010 of the need to plan for a future which involved the complete elimination of government grant has been proven correct. 

Our Approach 

We recognise that government funding will not be re-instated. I am proud that throughout this difficult time, and unlike most other councils, we have managed to invest in the services our residents say matter most to them, protected our frontline services from cuts while continuing to freeze Council Tax. 

Supporting residents to develop resilience remains our strategic approach. None of us were elected to manage decline but rather to support all our residents to prosper and succeed. Our approach and decisions are driven by our shared Labour values of fairness, localism, reciprocity, solidarity and trust. 

With fifteen months to go to the local elections, we have delivered our shared Labour Party Local Government Manifesto from 2014. Our borough has moved from second most deprived local authority in the country in 2012 to 25th. Together we have achieved much for our residents and understand that there is much more to do.

Investment:

We currently have the capacity and ability to borrow at competitive rates of interest. We are using that power to invest in opportunities which will support our ambitions while always evaluating investments for levels of risk. Investments which further our social aims, such as buying and building homes, will have those benefits included in any assessment of risk versus return. 

Efficiency:

We have no alternative but to continue to drive our efficiency agenda forward. We have already saved considerable sums of money through our focus on efficiencies but there is more to be done. 

We have developed a new way of delivering services through a variety of small businesses based on co-operative principles. Wherever possible, these businesses will increase the participation of workers in the running and management of the company and receive a fair share of any profits arising from greater efficiency or increased business. This will help us deliver responsive and efficient local services in Newham and beyond which are fit for the future and is an effective alternative to privatisation.

Integral to this approach is to realise the benefits within the rest of the Council. We are creating a separate Commissioning Hub to identify exactly what we are buying. 

Finally, we have introduced a transformation programme to ensure we improve our customer services and maximise savings without reducing services in any way. 

Community Neighbourhoods:

A key part of our overall approach is the further development of our Community Neighbourhood programme. 

We realise that Labour Councillors – and the wider Party – should have strong roots in all our communities. The most effective way of ensuring this is to provide local councillors with real power to influence what happens in their local area.

Our individual Community Neighbourhoods are equivalent in population to medium sized towns. This devolution of power and responsibility is our strategic approach to ensure that residents benefit locally. 

A fit for purpose political organisation 

Essentially, therefore, the Council will: 

  • Focus on efficiencies to realise the savings which will protect front line services and a lower council tax
  • Drive operations through small business and our Community Neighbourhoods
  • Invest in areas which support our social objectives and deliver additional revenues. 

To support these I have decided to re-align our political responsibilities into four broad areas: 

  • Community Neighbourhoods will expand and, wherever appropriate, we will devolve operational issues to a more local level. To support this I will establish a team of Delivery Lead Councillors which will report as Mayoral Advisors to Councillor Ken Clark, who I appoint as my statutory Deputy Mayor.
  • To support this I have decided to establish a streamlined team of four Community Lead Councillors to oversee our Community Neighbourhood work. 
  • We will create a team of Resources Lead Councillors reporting to Councillor Lester Hudson, who will also act as a deputy mayor, but not in a statutory capacity. The primary task of this team will be to drive efficiencies and investments to ensure that we have the money to embark on our ambitious programme of service delivery and expansion.
  • There will also be a number of other Member posts, both at Cabinet and Mayoral Advisor level, with responsibility for relationships with schools, health partners, police, businesses and developers. 

The full details are enclosed as an attachment to this email. 

Future initiatives:

As a result of this ambitious realignment I anticipate that by 2020 we will be in a strong position with our budget and will, uniquely amongst councils, be able to invest increasing sums in better services to benefit our residents.  

To ensure we are ready to invest in services which make a difference to our residents I will be conducting a review of existing services and launching a debate within the Council, the local Labour Party and our wider community on what we want to achieve.

In particular, we will be reviewing 

  • Our local skills offer
  • How we deal with non-statutory vulnerability
  • Adult care – both residential and in the home
  • Health investment – particularly in primary care linked to Community Neighbourhoods
  • Our offer for people with mental health issues 

We have one of the most effective policy, research and public affairs teams in the country and we will use this resource to inform our debate within the Council. 

We can be rightly proud of our achievements as a Labour Council in recent years. Together with the plans we are putting in place to safeguard our financial independence for the coming years means we can drive a radical left agenda here in Newham. It is time for a fundamental change and I mean to drive it together with you as my Council and Party colleagues. 

Best wishes,

Robin

Newham’s political leadership – February 2017

Mayor and Lead Member for Business and Growth: Sir Robin Wales

Deputy Mayor (Statutory) – Strategic Delivery and Cabinet Member for Community Neighbourhoods, Regeneration and Planning and Public Affairs: Cllr Ken Clark

Deputy Mayor – Resources and Cabinet Member for Finance: Cllr Lester Hudson

Cabinet Member for Strategic Policy: Cllr David Christie

Cabinet Member for Financial Inclusion and Health Promotion: Cllr Frances Clarke

Cabinet Member for Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour, Sports and Leisure, and Deputy Cabinet Member for Community Neighbourhoods: Cllr Forhad Hussain

Cabinet Member for Children and Young People: Cllr Quintin Peppiatt

Cabinet Member for Work & Skills and Domestic Violence: Cllr Lakmini Shah

Cabinet Member for Transformation and the Small Business Programme (and Equalities): Cllr Rachel Tripp

Mayoral Advisor – Adults & Health – Cllr Clive Furness

Delivery Lead Councillors

Mayoral Advisor – Neighbourhoods Support – Cllr Ayesha Chowdhury

Mayoral Advisor – Neighbourhoods Support – Cllr Ann Easter

Mayoral Advisor – Environment – Cllr Pat Murphy

Mayoral Advisor – Housing – Cllr Terry Paul

Resources Lead Councillors

Mayoral Advisor – Place Commissioning – Cllr Andrew Baikie

Mayoral Advisor – Commercial Property – Cllr Ian Corbett

Mayoral Advisor – People Commissioning – Cllr Richard Crawford

Mayoral Advisor – New Media and Finance – Cllr Tahmina Rahman

Community Lead Councillors

Mayoral Advisor – Community Neighbourhoods Lead Councillor (and Adult Care) – Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit

Mayoral Advisor – Community Neighbourhoods Lead Councillor (and Mental Health) – Cllr Idris Ibrahim

Mayoral Advisor – Community Neighbourhoods Lead Councillor (and Regeneration) – Cllr Mas Patel

Mayoral Advisor – Community Neighbourhoods Lead Councillor (and Children & Early Years) – Cllr Salim Patel

Civic

Chair of Council and Civic Lead – Cllr Joy Laguda

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Uncooperative

17 Feb

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A forest of arms raising points of order (picture via James Beckles’ account of the meeting)

Last Monday (13th February) I attended the annual general meeting of Newham Co-operative Party. It’s the third AGM the party has had in the past year. The first one had to be re-run after serious concerns about the conduct of the meeting, which resulted in the second just seven months ago being conducted under the auspices of the national party.

Judging by what went on, it won’t be too long before there’s a fourth and the national party will almost certainly need to be involved again.

Things got off to a bad start, even before the meeting began. Cllr Patrick Murphy, mayoral advisor and the ‘procedures secretary’ of Newham Labour party who had overseen the trigger ballot process before Christmas, left after being informed he wasn’t actually a member of the Co-operative Party and therefore couldn’t speak or vote. He was invited by the chair to attend as a visitor and perhaps assist with the vote counting, but he refused.

Nonetheless there was a large turn out of councillors, most of them on the mayoral payroll or closely associated with his faction.

The chair, Gill Hay, took the opportunity to remind the meeting of the code of conduct and insist she needed no help from the floor in chairing the meeting. Nonetheless, ‘helpful’ suggestions abounded, mostly from councillors who took objection to her attempts to give everyone who wanted to the chance to participate, even if it meant the meeting starting slightly later than the advertised 7:30.

A 7:30 start means a 7:30 start, they said repeatedly. We have homes to go to, they said. I have a childminder booked but only until 8:30, another complained. And with each intervention the clock ticked slowly on. The tone became ever more hostile.

Things finally got underway at about 8:00. Cllr Neil Wilson, the party secretary announced there were 67 members present eligible to vote and a further four new members who could attend but not vote. The chair invited the new members (including me) to stand up and volunteer to be tellers for the elections. Cllrs Tahmina Rahman and Paul Sathianesan also stood.

As soon as we sat back down Cllr Rahman, who was sat four seats along from me, went into a quiet huddle with the mayor. He then walked across the room and took Cllr Sathianesan outside for a chat.

On a proposal from Cllr Clive Furness it was agreed to take the officers reports as read and move straight to the elections. Clearly, members finding out what the party had been doing for the past year was of no interest. The chair reported on a call she had had earlier in the day with regional office regarding the procedure for voting. This was at variance with the rule book and was queried. It was agreed to proceed, but with the ballot papers kept secure in case of any subsequent problems. A fortuitous proposal, as it turned out.

When the chair announced that John Saunders would supervise the tellers, Sir Robin leapt up to volunteer to assist in the process. This was met with gales of laughter, but he wasn’t joking. 

The first election was for chair. Gill Hay was re-nominated. Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit proposed deputy mayor Cllr Lester ’Three Jobs’ Hudson, saying – with an entirely straight face – it was time the leadership of this organisation had a bit of diversity. Only in Newham can replacing an LGBT woman with a male Cambridge-educated accountant be seen as increasing diversity. In his brief speech Three Jobs claimed he wanted to see the Co-op Party meet more regularly and asserted the importance of its leadership reflecting the leadership of the Labour council.

Ballots were distributed, collected and counted. 69 votes in all. Two more than the number of people eligible to vote.

The rolls were re-checked and a 68th eligible voter found (they hadn’t signed the register). And a fifth new member was identified. Oops. But the votes still didn’t tally, so the election was re-run, with ballots handed out to individuals as the roll was called.

This time the right number came back and, by a two vote margin – 35 to 33 – Three Jobs Hudson became Four Jobs. 

On assuming his new position Cllr Hudson immediately proposed that all of the remaining elections be held at once, on a single ballot paper. To speed things along. This was rejected.

Next up were the two vice chairs. Buy-to-let queen Cllr Ayesha Chowdhury was nominated, along with sitting vice chair Jeanette Dye and Mehmood Mirza. Ms Dye topped the poll, with Cllr Chowdhury elected alongside her.

Things went completely and disastrously wrong with the election of the new secretary. The candidates were Gill Hay, the now ex-chair, and Cllr Lakhmini Shah. While voting was taking place for this position nominations were taken for Treasurer. This confused a number of people and when votes were collected a number of ballots had been cast for Cllr Aleen Alarice, who was nominated for treasurer. The vote was scrapped without being counted and fresh ballots issued.

When these were counted it was found a total of 70 votes had been cast – two more than the number of eligible voters. Again the vote was scrapped and fresh ballots issued by roll call.

This resulted in a 34 – 34 tie.

No-one seemed to know what to do next, so Cllr Hudson declared the meeting closed at 9:45. Everyone who held a position that wasn’t voted on would stay in post, he said, including the delegates to the upcoming CLP AGMs.

In a sign that his grip on power is weakening following the trigger ballot, Sir Robin was pulling out all the stops. He was clearly controlling his supporters in the room. And when he was in the kitchen area, where the votes were being counted, Cllr Ken Clark took to supervising. People showed their ballots to others to prove their loyalty, while others people were summoned for chats about what they had to do or say.

The irony is that the mayor was so desperate to salvage some semblance of authority he ended up reinforcing how much he’s lost it. I am told that Sir Robin’s conduct at previous meetings has caused significant concern to the Co-op Party, to the point that he risks disciplinary action.

He’s walking a tightrope.

Fabian update

1 Feb

The following statement has been issued by the national Fabian Society regarding the recent mayoral trigger ballot (my emphasis added):

Since early December the national Fabian Society has received a number of complaints from members regarding the process followed by Newham Fabian Society in the re-selection of the Labour Party candidate for mayor of Newham. The society has concluded that the process followed did not comply with the national society’s bye-laws governing local Fabian societies. All but one of the people involved in the decision are no longer in office, following an AGM held on 11th January.

Upon receiving the complaints, the national society contacted the (former) officers of Newham Fabians and they responded helpfully to our inquiry, providing information and justification for their actions. They told us that the nomination had been made by the society’s officers and by its delegate to East Ham Constituency Labour Party, using the same procedure used in 2013. They also said that their interpretation of the society’s bye-laws was that no process for a mayoral re-selection ‘trigger ballot’ was specified. 

A committee of the national society’s executive met on 24th January to consider the complaints. It accepted the statement from the officers that they acted in good faith. Nevertheless, the committee determined that the national society’s bye-laws require a vote of members in the re-selection of a mayoral candidate and therefore concluded that the Newham Fabians nomination had breached the society’s rules. 

The national Fabian Society has instructed the new officers of Newham Fabians to write to their members to inform them of these conclusions and offer apologies on behalf of Newham Fabian Society. It will also provide support and supervision to the new officers in their future administration of the society. 

The Labour Party has been informed of the outcome of the society’s review. Any further inquiries about the Newham trigger ballot should be directed to the party.

So the rules were broken in order to deliver a vital extra vote to Sir Robin.

The officers in question were councillors Tahmina Rahman and Unmesh Desai. But who is (or was?) the Fabian’s delegate to East Ham CLP? And, given Newham Fabians hadn’t met for four years prior to last month’s re-launch AGM, who nominated them?