Tag Archives: Robin Wales

The curious case of the governor of Brighton College

4 Sep

Brighton College

Even by the standards of Sir Robin Wales, this is distinctly odd.

At the Mayoral Proceedings of 29 March 2012 the mayor declared a personal interest in item 6 on the agenda. This concerned the proposed letting to the London Academy of Excellence of Broadway House in Stratford.

LAE is a sixth form “free school academy” aimed at the “academically ambitious” who aspire to get into a Russell Group university. It is a partnership between seven leading independent schools, including the likes of Eton and Roedean.

One of those partners is Brighton College, which the Sunday Times named as England’s Independent School of the Year 2011-12. Sir Robin’s personal interest was, as the minutes of the meeting put it, “by virtue of being a Governor of Brighton College.”

Notwithstanding his declared interest, Sir Robin approved the deal to rent Broadway House to the London Academy of Excellence on terms that included an initial 12 months rent free.

According to the the register of interests on the council’s website, the mayor had declared his connection to Brighton College in November 2011.

To the casual observer, this might look a bit peculiar. Fees at Brighton College are £27,000 a year, which is much the same as the average household income in Newham. What would the Labour mayor of one of London’s poorest areas be doing on the governing body of such a school? How could it possibly benefit the people who elected him and who pay his generous salary? And given that this was in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics Sir Robin was already pretty busy, what with being executive mayor of the main host borough and a board member of LOCOG. How would he fit it in?

Sadly the Brighton College website provided no enlightenment as to the extent of his new duties. It made no reference whatsoever to Sir Robin’s appointment and his name appeared in none their publications. Again, rather strange. Having the mayor of the Olympic borough and the host for their new 6th form venture join the governing body would surely be something they would mention?

The Charity Commission website was no more helpful. Charities are required to publish an annual report, including a list of their trustees. Like most independent schools, Brighton College is a charity and their governors are the trustees. Again, Sir Robin’s name was not mentioned.

Perhaps they just hadn’t got round to it. The last annual report was for the year ending 31 July 2011, so Sir Robin had not yet been appointed when it was written. I put it to the back of my mind.

Then a couple of weeks ago something – I’m not sure what – prompted me to check back. There was still no mention anywhere on the Brighton College website and a Google search for “Sir Robin Wales + Brighton College” yielded only two useful results – the Newham council register of interests and the minutes of the Mayoral Proceedings.

The register of interests had been updated and the list of changes showed that at the end of May 2012 the entry for Brighton College had been removed. That was just six months after it had been added and a bare two months after Sir Robin had declared his personal interest at Mayoral Proceedings. It appeared that his term as governor had been a very short one.

The Charity Commission website had a new annual report for Brighton College covering the year ending 31 July 2012, the period in which Sir Robin had declared his interest as a governor. The report listed all those who had served as trustees during the year, but his name did not appear.

Had the school made a mistake and submitted an inaccurate report? That would be an embarrassment and quite possibly a breach of their legal obligations. I contacted them to confirm that Sir Robin had indeed been a governor and point out that his name had been omitted from their annual report.

On Monday I received a reply from the clerk to the Governing Body:

I can confirm that Sir Robin Wales has never been a governor of Brighton College.

So why on Earth had he ever said he was? Why had Sir Robin registered an interest he did not actually have and why had he declared it publicly at Mayoral Proceedings?

There may be a sensible or rational explanation, but I am at a loss as to what it might be.

It is a very curious business indeed.

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How much does ‘free’ really cost?

20 Aug
The headline act at Under The Stars - every night

The headline act at Under The Stars – every night

The Newham Recorder dutifully reports that a total “around 35,000 people” attended the four nights of live music Under The Stars over the past weekend.

This was the 14th outing for Newham Council’s “musical extravaganza,” which aims “to entertain residents and visitors alike.”

Despite proclaiming that this year was “the best one ever,” the mayor was in strangely defensive mood:

Some people have asked why we continue to spend money on events like this. I say it’s important to keep investing in the things residents tell us they like and make a difference to their lives.

This year 35,000 people have told us they like it. That’s why we will continue to bring the whole of Newham together. And best of all, it’s free.

Well, let’s take a moment to unpick that.

First of all, 35,000 people have told you nothing of the kind. You offered them four nights of entertainment with no tickets or admission fees and, on a warm summer weekend, they took you up on it.

As for bringing ‘the whole of Newham together,’ the total population of the borough is somewhere north of 300,000. Allowing for a number of visitors from Tower Hamlets, Redbridge, Waltham Forest and elsewhere among the crowd, barely 10% of Newham residents attended these events. While that’s a decent turnout, it’s a very long way from being ‘the whole of Newham’.

And finally no, Sir Robin, these events are not free.

There may be no tickets and no admission charge, but the cost of putting them on is met by someone. In fact it’s us, the people of Newham, through our council tax. The claim, which is repeated ad nauseam by the council and parroted by the Recorder, that events are ‘free’ makes it sound like they are provided by the mayor out of his own pocket, or funded by happy thoughts and pixie dust.

What other things that “make a difference” to the lives of Newham people could the money spent on Under The Stars have bought? A new primary school? Weekly rather than fortnightly recycling collections? More home help for vulnerable old people? Who knows.

That is the real cost of the Mayor’s ‘free’ entertainments – the things we don’t get because the money’s being spent on bread and circuses.

Sir Robin is the elected mayor and perfectly entitled to pursue his policy priorities – but he isn’t entitled to pretend they come without real costs to residents or at the expense of alternatives.

Open democracy

19 Jul

Copyright: Image by jsawkins on Flickr. Some rights reserved

On July 15th Newham council voted to amend its constitution to allow the public to film and record proceedings at future meetings. The decision was inspired by Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for local government, basically telling councils that if they didn’t let this happen he’d change the law to force them.

The Newham Recorder invited our mayor and Lutfur Rahman, his Tower Hamlets counterpart, to ‘debate’ the matter. Mike Law has blogged about this and I’d recommend reading his post and the comments on it, as well as the Recorder piece.

What follows is the comment I added to Mike’s blog, which points at what I think is Sir Robin’s staggering hypocrisy on this issue:

Sir Robin, with Eric Pickles’ gun pressed to his head, says

what does it do to build public trust in politics more widely when a clique seeks to shut the public out from decisions made on their behalf?… In the 21st century it is not enough for democracy to simply happen. It has to be seen to happen.

Despite appearances, the age of satire is not yet dead.

As Birdman [one of the commenters on Mike’s blog] correctly observes,

decisions are largely taken in Labour Group meetings, after the Labour Councillors have been told which way to vote, and no genuine debate is ever seen or heard by the public attending meetings… what is there to film?

Monday’s council meeting, at which this “historic decision” was taken, lasted just 14 minutes. And that included a set-piece speech by councillor Ellie Robinson on ‘Newham’s Wonderful Women’.

May’s annual general meeting took a massive 39 minutes; February’s was 31 minutes. The ‘extraordinary’ meeting in January occupied councillors for a mere 10 minutes. I could go on, but you get the drift.

If Sir Robin were truly serious about open and transparent decision-making Labour group meetings would be the ones that took 10 minutes and the real debates would happen in council, where the public could see and hear them.

We all know that won’t happen though.

Turn again, Robin Wales

15 Apr

Despite being on the verge of re-selection – unopposed, of course – as Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Newham in next year’s local elections, Sir Robin Wales wants to be mayor of London.

What’s interesting for Newham people – apart from the happy prospect of waving goodbye to the Dear Leader – is that the London elections are in 2016, exactly halfway through Sir Robin’s next term.

When Labour selected Ken Livingstone as candidate for the 2012 election it did so in the autumn of 2010, a full 21 months ahead of time. And this was following a 3-month campaign in which he defeated former Bethnal Green MP Oona King.

Assuming the London Labour party follows the same timetable, Sir Robin would start his campaign for the nomination barely a month after being re-elected in Newham. If he won that he’d face a long slog round London raising his profile among the voters of the other 31 boroughs.

How much time will he have left to do the job he’s being paid £81,000 a year by Newham council tax payers for?

If I were a Labour party member who’d just cast his vote in the ‘trigger’ ballots I’d be a bit pissed off to discover, just a few weeks later, that our candidate is no longer that interested in the job – that he hopes to serve just half his term before resigning in favour of something bigger and better. And that he’s unlikely to devote much of his time to Newham.

I might also wonder if we have to have an open process to select a candidate for the mayoral by-election in 2016, why not save ourselves the trouble and select someone now who will serve a full four years?

Image

Wales will go on… and on

8 Apr

Wales will go on… and on

This month Newham Labour party is holding ‘trigger ballots’ to decide if they want to run a full, open selection process to pick their candidate in next year’s mayoral election. The alternative is simply to let Sir Robin run again.

The results thus far have been depressingly predictable. Sir Robin will not be challenged.

He will be Labour’s candidate next May and he will be mayor for another 4 years.

Sir Robin loves CCTV

18 Mar

Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Politics on 17 March 2013 to explain why this borough – already the most spied on in the country – is investing in even more CCTV cameras.

There are already more CCTV cameras in Newham than in the cities of Birmingham and Liverpool combined. But the mayor is buying more and the risible ‘law enforcement officers’ (not to be confused with real police, as the BBC reporter helpfully points out) are being kitted out as mobile video units, secretly filming residents as they go about their business.

Sir Robin claims that “residents love CCTV” and admits – without even a hint of embarrassment – to cutting more than necessary on other services so he can invest in these extra cameras.

UPDATE: Mike Law has written a far more extensive analysis of the Mayor’s comments and CCTV-fanaticism. Well worth a read.