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Cheeky Nando’s

8 Oct

Canning Town library

Newham council’s local development committee is the unlikely focus of controversy, as it considers an application for change of use for the old Canning Town library. If the change is agreed the ground floor of the historic building will be converted to into a Nando’s restaurant.

The proposal is controversial because campaigners claim that the building once hosted speeches by the like of Keir Hardie and Sylvia Pankhurst and gave birth to the GMB, one of Britain’s biggest trade unions. In fact, that all happened next door, in the old public hall which is now occupied by Community Links.

The proposal has been denounced on social media by councillors, local Labour members and residents. The Evening Standard picked up the story and even the Morning Star has chipped in:

“This bird-brained move by Newham Council shows an utter disregard for East London’s proud history,” GMB regional secretary Warren Kenny said.

“GMB understands local authorities have been driven to the wall by the Conservatives’ austerity project.

“But we had been in talks with Newham about turning the library into a learning space – which GMB would have had offices in.

“Instead they’ve chosen to feather their own nest and allow GMB’s birthplace to become yet another chicken shop.”

The local Labour Party in Canning Town North argued the library in Barking Road should remain open to the public due to its historical importance.

A Labour spokesman said: “The library is a Grade II listed building has been owned by the council and used as a public library since around 1894.

“We aren’t against Nando’s as such; we simply believe that the proposal is in the wrong place and should be in empty properties. It would enable the old library to continue with its original function of serving the public.”

The Newham Recorder reports that the mayor has been surprised by the proposals

Ms Fiaz [asked] why no GMB councillors approached her about the issue when she was elected in May. The mayor, who is also a GMB member, said she only found out about the proposals in an article published last week.

So how did we get to this point?

Newham council decided way back in April 2011 to move the library into a new ‘community hub’ space within the Rathbone Market development. The minutes of the cabinet meeting record a decision

to make an allocation within the capital programme for the purchase of the space from the developer, for the fit out of the whole 12,000 sq ft of space and for fixtures, fittings and equipment for the new Library Plus service operated by Customer Services.

They go on to note that

Councillor Furness said that this was warmly welcomed by local ward Members.

Then councillor, now London Assembly member, and GMB stalwart Unmesh Desai was at the meeting, as was Lester Hudson. Did no-one realise that moving the Library out would leave the building vacant and in need of an alternative tenant?

The change of use for the Rathbone Market building to a library was formally agreed in 2016, by the Strategic Development Committee, chaired by councillor Ken Clark.

Subsequently, an external specialist was instructed to market the old library building and find a suitable tenant to take a lease on commercial terms with a use that would provide an income stream for the Council and provide vitality and footfall for the area.

In December 2017 the then-mayor, Sir Robin Wales, received a report on the future of the Canning Town Library building

…which sought approval for the letting of the former Canning Town Library, Barking Road E16.

The former Canning Town Library building was vacated in September 2017 when the services moved to new and improved facilities at Canning Town and Custom House Community Neighbourhood Centre.

A number of restaurant and bar chains had expressed an interest, but Nando’s was the preferred bidder, “reflecting a strong covenant with a community use.”

The report identified number of benefits, in addition to the significant commercial revenue

[Nando’s] propose to make Canning Town the London hub for their project to help the UK emerging creative community as they feel this is a place where they can really make a difference. Their own research concludes that young creatives need access to resources, to extend their creative network to reach an audience that will embrace their talents. This is something they think they can help with by providing resources, skills and experience they need. It is the intention of the prospective tenant to make part of the property available for community activity in a way that they have already delivered on other restaurant sites

Sir Robin approved the recommendation. It was also agreed that

the Director of Asset Management, in consultation with the Mayoral Advisor for Commercial Property [Cllr Ian Corbett], be authorised to finalise negotiations with regard to the Heads of Terms and to have delegated authority to conclude all matters arising from this decision.

Among those present were Canning Town councillor Ann Easter, as well as Ayesha Chowdhury, Lester Hudson, Mas Patel and Quintin Peppiatt. They, along with Ken Clark and Unmesh Desai, are all now signatories to an open letter calling for Nando’s application to be rejected!

The commercial letting of the Library building hasn’t appeared out of nowhere  – it was literally years in making. Relocating the library inevitably required a new tenant be found for the old building. If Nando’s make good on their promises to build a hub for the creative community that will be a huge benefit to Canning Town.

And it ill-befits people who have been party to the decisions that got us here to be complaining now about the proposal and its supposed lack of sensitivity to Labour history. Especially as none of that history happened in the library.

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Conference pairs

25 Sep

Jess Shawcroft Buxton 23 Sept 2018

West Ham CLP delegates posing with former NEC member Christine Shawcroft (picture via Newham Momentum)

It’s party conference time and it seems like half of Newham council has trekked up to Liverpool.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz had a prime slot to address conference on youth violence as a public health issue and various councillors have appeared on fringe platforms and in the media. Stratford’s Josh Garfield featured on BBC 2’s Victoria Derbyshire show and Canning Town councillor Rohit Dasgupta was interviewed on BBC Asian Network. East Ham North’s Daniel Blaney spoke at the Labour CND fringe meeting.

Other councillors attending either the official conference or Momentum’s parallel ‘The World Transformed’ gathering include James Beckles, Terry Paul, Susan Masters, John Gray, James Asser, Sasha Das Gupta, Shaban Mohammed, Hanif Abdulmuhit, Mohammed Muzibur Rahman and Suga Thekkeppurayil.

Despite the vast number of them, none of these councillors are actually delegates. West Ham CLP is represented by Tina Jess and Carel Buxton (pictured above), while East Ham has no official representation. It seems odd that a CLP for a seat with one of the largest Labour votes and majorities in the country doesn’t have a delegate. But that is a consequence of it being essentially non-functioning. Which is itself a consequence of Sir Robin’s approach to party management.

Hopefully, for the sake of ordinary party members, that is something that can quickly be put right.

Let’s not take a backward step

21 Sep

By Josephine Grahl

In May 2018 a record number of woman councillors were elected in Newham – 28 in total – as well as a woman Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, who then went on to appoint a majority female Cabinet and a woman Deputy Mayor, Charlene Maclean.

This was achieved thanks to a Labour party selection process which determined that, where a council ward was already represented by two female councillors, or where a male candidate was stepping down and creating a vacancy, Labour party branches would be asked to select at least two women for the three available seats.

Essentially this meant that eight of the twenty council wards would have all-women shortlists (AWS) for two of the three available seats, with the remainder having to select at least one woman.

The exception was Royal Docks, where the three incumbent men were reselected; if a vacant seat becomes available in that ward, one would hope it would be filled through AWS.

Boleyn was a ‘two-women ward’, where the suspension of Cllr Obaid Khan from the Labour party created a vacancy and the local Labour party selected sitting councillors Veronica Oakeshott and Harvinder Singh Virdee and new candidate Genevieve Kitchen to contest the ward.

It was a surprise, therefore, when Labour party members in Newham were informed that the candidate selection for the Boleyn ward by-election – where Cllr Veronica Oakeshott is stepping down – would be open to both male and female candidates. Historically, open selections in Newham have almost always led to the selection of male candidates, so it looks all too likely that this will be a backward step for gender balance in Newham Council.

When asked why the selection was not an AWS, the London Regional Labour party cited the party rulebook, namely Appendix 4. B. i. b: “In winnable wards with two or three members at least one candidate must be a woman.” But there’s nothing in the letter of that rule which suggests that an all women shortlist can’t be used in Boleyn – and the spirit of that rule is the encouragement of wider participation by women in standing for elected office, here being undermined.

Newham Council has had a solid Labour majority for decades, often with sixty Labour councillors out of sixty, and with only minor and short-lived incursions by other parties. This makes the Labour party’s selection process for council candidates key to the make-up of the Council. It’s disappointing, therefore, that the party has opted not to require that an outgoing woman councillor be replaced by another woman – and will be even more disappointing if the Boleyn by-election leads to a reduction in the number of women holding local office.

Josephine Grahl is writing in her personal capacity, not as chair of West Ham CLP.

Purge!

19 Sep

Another day, another paranoid conspiracy theory.

Labour’s London regional office has been running standard membership eligibility checks in East Ham and some members have received letters asking them to verify that they are on local electoral roll.

This is, of course, a huge Blairite conspiracy to root out supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. Because it’s only “Team Corbyn” who have received the letters.

Quite how regional office knows who’s on “Team Corbyn” is not explained. Nor how the Corbynites know that no-one else has had a letter. Believing it is, I suppose, enough.

Like their counterparts on the right, the Brextremists, Corbynites are the dog that chased the car and caught it – they have no idea what to do with it now they have it.

“You’ve won; get over it.”

Stop looking for plots and witch hunts; start leading the party.

You’re in charge now.

 

Parting gift

12 Jul

My thanks to the eagle-eyed reader who spotted that Douglas Trainer was paid £75,350.00 as “Compensation for loss of employment” when he left Newham Council in March.

In section 34 of the Draft Statement of Accounts 2017/18, relating to Officers’ Remuneration (page 79) it is stated that Mr D Trainer – Director of Customer and Strategic Services was paid the following:

  • Salary, Fees & Allowances £112,790
  • Compensation for loss of employment £75,350
  • Council’s contribution to Pension Fund £23,122

This arrives at a total Remuneration Package of £211,262.

This would make Mr Trainer the highest paid employee of the Council in 2017/18.

You will recall chief executive Kim Bromley-Derry’s email to councillors of 16 March which said:

“I would like to inform you that Douglas Trainer, Director of Customer and Strategic Services, has decided to leave us to pursue new opportunities elsewhere”

If it was his decision to leave, why was he given a £75,350 parting gift?

This happened on Sir Robin’s watch. His successor – or her cabinet member for finance – should ask Mr Bromley-Derry for an explanation. And also whether Nick Bracken and Deborah Hindson, who both resigned from senior positions after the mayoral election, have received similar payments. We shouldn’t have to wait for next year’s accounts to find out.

Rejecting Lakminism

23 Mar

Motion passed by West Ham Labour Party last night:

“Whether or not a political candidate has children is never an issue for men and nor should it be for women. It’s deeply inappropriate that anyone in the Labour Party – a party committed to equality- should make it so.

“The West Ham Women’s Forum aspires to a Newham in which a woman’s family status is never a barrier to achievement. There is much to be done nationally and locally to achieve this, whether further improving the child care offer for our residents or respecting the opportunities or private choices of party members and politicians. We urge all MPs, Councillors and Labour Party members to commit to this vision and work with us to achieve it.”

Lakmini Shah, take note.

Trainer out

16 Mar

Small beer compared to today’s other big news, but Douglas Trainer has left Newham Council.

In an email to councillors, chief executive Kim Bromley-Derry writes:

Dear Members

I would like to inform you that Douglas Trainer, Director of Customer and Strategic Services, has decided to leave us to pursue new opportunities elsewhere.

Douglas joined Newham Council in January 2011 as Head of Communications before taking up duties as Assistant Chief Executive in 2016 and most recently as Director of Customer and Strategic Services.

During his time here Douglas used his experience in public relations and public affairs to instil across the organisation an increased awareness of wider strategic, reputational, and policy matters.

We thank him for his contribution to delivering the council’s strategic priorities and many of our resident-facing activities.

Douglas’ contact details have been updated and he’s now available on [email redacted] and [phone redacted].

He is having some leaving drinks [details redacted] to which, he says, you are all invited.

This won’t come as much of a surprise, as rumours of his departure having been circulating for a while, along with lurid stories of him being marched out of the building.

It seems Mr Trainer got himself on the wrong side of chief operating officer Nick Bracken. And there was only ever going to be one winner in that fight.

All in all, not a great day for the Scottish community in Newham.