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Lyn Rokhs

9 Mar

Oops!

2 Mar

I’ve written before bemoaning the shoddy state of record-keeping and a generally lax attitude to quality assurance at Newham council.

But a paper going to cabinet next week just about takes the biscuit.

This report seeks approval to the correction of the Minutes of the Cabinet Meeting on 20 February 2014

Yes, you read that right. They need to correct a four year-old set of minutes.

Why? Because the minutes of that meeting omitted to record a key decision in relation to setting up Red Door Ventures, the council-owned private rented development vehicle. That decision was to

Agree that the company be provided with funding through state aid compliant loans and grant facilities

So the council has been lending money – A LOT OF MONEY – over the past four years to Red Door Ventures without any properly recorded authority to do so.

Cabinet will undoubtedly agree to

correct the minutes of the Cabinet meeting held on the 20th February 2014 and ratify decisions made under the purported delegated authority, made in good faith, pursuant to the omitted recommendation.

But this is, to say the least, an embarrassing oversight.

On its face, this is an administrative cock up rather than Sir Robin over-reaching his legal authority (in contrast to the Collegiate 6th Form, where he did something he had absolutely no power to do). It is reminiscent of the unapproved £10 million overspend on the East Ham Town Hall campus project. That was also blamed on unnamed officers. The politicians, who should ultimately be accountable, just shrugged it off.

It all reflects extremely poorly on someone who is seeking a fifth term of office, claiming to the candidate of experience and competence.

And another one

17 Feb

This time it’s Cllr Frances Clarke, cabinet member for financial inclusion and health promotion:

Dear All

I have decided not to stand again as a councillor. I shall instead be focussing on community issues including safety in  tower blocks nationally. This year is the 50th anniversary of the collapse of Ronan Point and once again we are seeing evidence of similar blocks in other parts of London with serious structural defects. This is an issue I was involved in the past and particularly in light of the Grenfell tragedy it has become a priority again. In Newham in the 80s a joint campaign of tenants and Newham council successfully led to the demolition of 9 unsafe 22 storey blocks. We went on to work nationally campaigning to make blocks safe or get them demolished.

Thank you to everyone I have worked with, it has been a privilege; thank you to Robin for giving me the opportunity to lead on MoneyWorks and the promotion of early diagnosis of cancer.

Standing down

17 Feb

Beckton Cllr David Christie is standing down. He has written to his comrades and colleagues:

I wanted to let you know that I have decided not to stand as a councillor in May. It has been a difficult decision but I think it is the right one.

It has been an honour to represent Beckton ward for the last 8 years. I grew up here and I am so proud to have been able to represent this area and to make a difference to my community.

I am very grateful for the support that many of you have offered me and I wish you all good fortune in the future.

Running Newham council is such an important role and touches everyday life in so many ways. For me, this job has always been about making a difference to individual’s lives and this council has been able to do more than any other because of a single minded focus to support people on low incomes and to build opportunities for them and their families. That is why I have supported Robin over the last few years and hope that he will be Mayor for one final term in May. However, I am choosing to stand down now, at a time when I am proud of my achievements and can take this chance to pursue new opportunities in my career and in politics.

Given the situation we have been in over the last few months, it is a matter of much regret that I have not been able to properly discuss manifesto ideas with many of you in the way I would have wanted. I hope that whatever happens over the next few weeks, that I can contribute to the future policy agenda in Newham.

We were all elected under a Newham Labour brand. Don’t forget that, Look out for each other and see you out on a #labourdoorstep very soon!

Do over

4 Jan

The acting regional director of the London Labour Party has emailed Newham members:

As you may be aware, an affirmative ballot to determine the re-selection of the sitting directly-elected Mayor Newham was held in December 2016. This ballot, which was administered by the Local Campaign Forum (LCF), confirmed that Sir Robin Wales was selected as Labour’s candidate to fight the Mayoral election in May 2018.

Following the completion of this process, the party received complaints from a group of members with concerns over the eligibility status of some affiliated organisations who took part in the process. The complainants made it clear to the party that they intended to seek legal judgement on these matters in the courts.

The Labour Party maintains that all rules and procedures were applied correctly and that officers of the LCF acted in good faith with the information they were provided with.

However, a court case to determine that matter would be costly to the party and be a massive distraction away from campaigning to elect a Labour Mayor for Newham. Therefore, we have agreed to re-run the affirmative nomination process for Newham to determine if Sir Robin Wales is re-selected as Labour’s candidate for the election. The process will be administered by the Greater London Labour Party.

The ballot will be run with the same freeze date as the original process, 25th October 2016. This means that only members with six months membership at this point will be eligible to take part in any branch meetings where the affirmative vote will take place. If you are an eligible member then the party will be in touch with you to give you notice of this meeting.

We aim to complete this process as soon as possible to ensure everyone in the party can come together to play their part in delivering a successful campaign in Newham.

The local campaign forum is not being trusted to run a fair contest, so the regional party will supervise. And there will be a pre-agreed list of affiliates allowed to submit votes, which rather evens up the playing field.

Game on!

Data breach

22 Dec

Branch secretaries across West Ham Labour party have received an email today from Josephine Grahl, the vice chair for membership, about a serious data breach in Green Street West:

Dear Branch Secretary,

I am writing to draw your attention to a recent incident in which personal membership data of individuals may have been misused or accessed by an unauthorised person.

In September 2017, following the third attempt to hold a branch AGM in Green Street West, a number of members in that ward reported to the CLP Secretary and to myself that their Labour Party membership had been resigned without their knowledge ahead of the AGM. Emails were sent to the National Membership team purporting to be from these members, quoting their Labour Party membership numbers and home addresses, and stating that they wished immediately to resign their Labour Party membership.

Most of these members have now been reinstated with their continuity of membership preserved as the National Membership team recognised that the emails were sent maliciously from email addresses which were not the addresses on record for those members.

This has been reported to both the police and the Information Commissioner alleging illegal misuse of personal data. The matter has also been referred to the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit.

This is a cause for concern as in order to make these fraudulent resignations someone must have had access to the name, address and Labour Party membership numbers of the affected members. I am therefore writing to all officers with access to personal data to make them aware of this breach and ensure that they are aware of their responsibilities.

Branch Secretaries should be aware that their access to the personal data of members is governed by the Data Protection Act, and that misuse of this data may put the Labour Party in legal jeopardy. On no account may membership data be used for purposes other than that for which access is granted. If you are aware of any breach, you should contact the National Membership team on labourmembership@labour.org .uk or 0345 092 2299.

For more information the Labour Party’s data protection guidelines are available on Membersnet at https://members.labour.org. uk/rules-and-procedures [ registration required]

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about the above.

With the obvious caveat that I am not a lawyer, it appears that whoever did this has committed not just an offence under the Data Protection Act but also under the Communications Act 2003. Section 127(2) of that act targets false messages intended to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, they “shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine or to both.”

Someone should be feeling very nervous.

Newham’s Red Door Ventures to buy Collective Old Oak

7 Dec

EGi – News Article – Newham’s Red Door Ventures to buy Collective Old Oak:

“The Collective Old Oak is close to being bought by Newham Council’s PRS developer Red Door Ventures.

“The arms-length development company, which uses council funding to build rental schemes around London, is understood to be paying close to £120m for the co-living scheme.”

And where is this £120 million investment located? NW10. The London Borough of Ealing.

Correction

The original version of this post said that the Collective Old Oak was in Brent. Although parts of NW10 are in Brent, the specific postcode for the development is in neighbouring Ealing. Thanks to Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent council, for pointing this out.

Not meeting expectations

5 Dec

By Iain Aitch

Those attending Newham’s full council last night (4 December) may have been expecting fireworks, given that the loss of £52m of public funds in the London Stadium debacle had just been confirmed. But, in the end, any protest by councillors was limited to a whimper, rather than a bang.

In truth, it was all over bar the shouting by the time the meeting began. Only there was no shouting.

A cowed Labour group had, prior to full council, voted against instituting a judge-led inquiry by a margin of 34 to eight. And, with no elected opposition in the one-party borough, only a few Labour councillors dared to mutter any disquiet in public.

There had been whispers of calls for Mayor Sir Robin Wales’s resignation and even a #RobinWalesMustGo campaign on Twitter, backed by some councillors. Rumours abound that the Mayor was asked to step down at Labour group, but he ignored the question and moved on.

So the Mayor was able to read his prepared statement without so much as a heckle. One councillor even fed him an easy “Sir, sir, please, weren’t Tories to blame, sir?” question to calm his nerves and the room. The Tories were, of course, to blame, said the Mayor, as he waved away the losses with the casual air of someone who had just lost 50p each-way on a Grand National bet.

Judges cast aside, Wales announced a ‘forensic inquiry’. One imagines this is to be led by the Mayor and his close team, with the head of the inquiry appointed by the same. Expect the answer as to where blame lies to begin and end with everyone but the Mayor or Newham’s Labour administration.

The meeting was inexpertly chaired by Councillor Sathianesan, whose handling of the room made Theresa May’s conference speech look like an example of measured competence. Councillors at least felt brave enough to openly laugh at his endless cock-ups, but there was no air of rebellion or anger in the room about the London Stadium. It was palpably absent.

Whether the opposition to the Mayor had blown itself out in Labour group meeting is hard to say, but Councillors John Gray (who appeared visibly upset) and Rokhsana Fiaz did at least pose questions about the £52m loss and the competence of the council in matters financial.

Sadly, these questions were never incisive enough to rouse the spirit of rebellion whispered about earlier in the week. Wales batted away Gray’s questions with put-downs about his drafting abilities, while Fiaz was timed out by the Chair.

Wales consistently spoke about how well council tax-payers had done from the deal to lose £52m, citing housing wins, jobs and legacy. This raised some smiles from Wales loyalists, despite these figures not adding up. £52m could, after all, have built 250 council homes.

But most of the chamber stayed silent on the issue. Councillor Corbett seemed more concerned that a greener London initiative may allow middle class tree-huggers to stop the building of homes for the working classes. And they said irony was dead.

Many Newham council tax-payers will be angry that their elected representatives seemingly did nothing when they had the chance to speak up in public about their concerns over the loss of £52m in yet another failed investment (this one was a ‘sure thing’). They are, it seems, too cowed by the Mayor, too guarded of their salaried positions in the Mayor’s cabinet or too worn down by the dominance of the Wales and his loyalists.

Even MPs Lyn Brown and Stephen Timms have not spoken out about the Mayor’s £52m drop. Don’t expect that to change any time soon.

The Mayor wound up his proclamations on a bright note, promising ‘more to come in the week’ from his signing away the £52m investment. He couldn’t say what it was, but hinted at benefits for Newham residents.

Every Child A West Ham United Season Ticket Holder anyone?

Iain Aitch is an author and journalist who lives in Newham. He has written for the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times and Financial Times.

The Olympic Stadium Debacle

4 Dec

Cllr Conor McAuley

Councillor Conor McAuley has written to all members of the council about the Olympic stadium disaster.

Prior to 2014, Cllr McAuley sat in Sir Robin’s cabinet as Executive Member for Regeneration & Strategic Planning. He was also on the planning committee of the Olympic Delivery Authority and the planning decisions committee of the London Legacy Development Corporation.

Colleagues,

I cannot be the only Council member appalled at the loss of £52.2 million invested by this Council into the Olympic Stadium.

To make matters worse, the statements and press releases from Newham Council on the matter have only sought to mislead both elected members of the Council and the public.

Mayor Wales tells us that he is “angry that the deals and decisions made by the former Mayor of London and his administration have left the stadium finances in such a dreadful mess”. 

This is an outrageous attempt by Robin Wales to wash his hands of responsibility for his role in this mess. The E20 LLP company was established in 2012 as a joint vehicle for the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and Newham Legacy Investments to “deliver the post-Olympic Games transformation and operation of the Stadium.”

Newham Council were partners in this disaster with the LLDC. In the years since the incorporation of this partnership Newham members or officers have, as board members, jointly signed off the E20 LLP accounts. (Robin Wales in 2014, Kim Bromley-Derry in 2015 and Cllr Lester Hudson in 2016).

So, to try to pin all the blame on Boris Johnson, just doesn’t work.

Astonishingly, at the time of its launch Sir Robin was so proud of this partnership and certain of its future success that he told us “even on the most disastrous figures, even if everything goes wrong we still make a profit on this. The risk is really, really minimal.”

It is claimed that the Newham Vision for the stadium was a determination to avoid a post-Olympic “white elephant”. 

The definition of a “white elephant” is a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness.

This is exactly what we now have, the only difference is that a wealthy Premiership football club is getting a subsidised use of the stadium and we have been picking up the bill.

We can’t even claim a success in creating stadium related employment for local residents.

When Newham made the initial investment, it was claimed that up to 75% of the jobs created at the Stadium would go to Newham residents. A recent Freedom of Information response tells us that the total number of jobs created at the stadium currently is 1,531. The number of Newham residents employed on full time contracts is 15 out of 70 jobs (21.4%) and the number of Newham residents employed on casual contracts is 469 out of 1,461 jobs (32.1%). Nothing like the promised figure of 75%.

Sir Robin tells us that we can retain our “community benefits” as part of his agreement with Mayor Khan.

We don’t need a stadium to organise community events like the Great Newham Run and a few free tickets to Guns ‘n Roses concerts are a poor return for our £52.2 million.

The regeneration of the Stratford Rail Lands was always based on the Westfield and Lend Lease developments. Not the Olympic Games. The permanent new jobs have come from Westfield and more recently from the new Lend Lease developments. New homes continue to be built on the site. 

The Olympic Games accelerated the delivery of new homes in what we now call the East Village. The games also gave us a great park and world class sporting facilities in the Velodome, the Aquatic Centre and the Copper Box. The Games also focussed attention on Newham and East London generally and we benefitted from new and improved transport links and increased visitor numbers.

Some seek to defend the £52.2 million investment by attributing these regeneration benefits to the stadium, which really is nonsense.

If West Ham United had wanted a new stadium with a 60,000 capacity, they should have been asked to pay the appropriate price. Newham and London tax payers should not be picking up any of the bill. 

Over the years Sir Robin has been a regular recipient of hospitality at West Ham matches, perhaps he can convey that message back to Messrs Gold and Sullivan and Baroness Brady when he next attends a West Ham home game.

Sir Robin claims that the stadium deal unlocked the Boleyn site and enabled the Council to buy 211 of the new homes being developed at that location. The Council could have used its money to buy a similar number of new homes on one of the many other sites being developed in the borough. 

If Sir Robin had really been interested in providing affordable homes for Newham residents, he could of course have spent the £52.5million on the Carpenters estate in Stratford bringing the empty homes there back into use for social housing and helping Newham to reduce its growing list of homeless people.

There remains one thing I don’t quite understand. Why was it ever Newham’s responsibility to sort out the future of the Olympic Stadium?

I expect in the months running up to the election in May, more and more of our voters will be asking that question when we knock on their doors asking for their votes. Newham borrowed the money to invest in the stadium, so our Council taxpayers will be paying this particular bill for years to come.

How exactly can we reassure them that the Labour Party can be trusted with their money?

Yours in frustration,

Conor McAuley

Then and now

4 Dec

Then (January 2011):

“Even on the most disastrous figures, even if everything goes wrong, we still make a profit on this.

“The risk is really, really minimal.

“The debt, which costs our residents nothing, will be repaid and then we start to share in the profit.“

Now:

“…as a result of the widely reported difficulties with onerous stadium contracts, stewarding costs and the massively underestimated costs of retractable seating to support non-footballing activity, the council received a business plan from E20 in October 2016 which indicated there was likely to be an ongoing deficit including material risks to the business plan which could make it financially unsustainable in the long term.

“As co-owners of the stadium, the council had exposure to these potential future losses.”

Then (8 September 2017):

“The loan is shown, for accounting purposes, as currently ‘impaired’, or damaged, due to the current financial performance of the Stadium. It is not a write off of the loan.”

Now:

“As part of the deal, the council accepts that its original £40 million investment will not be repaid.”