Tag Archives: robinwales

The Enforcers

4 Sep


Contrary to what what you might think at first glance, this is not a picture of four police officers. It accompanies a double page spread in the latest Newham Mag (issue 257) disturbingly headlined “Power to the Enforcers.” These ‘Enforcers’ are, in fact, Newham council staff.

The article explains the role of these 52 new ‘law enforcement officers’ (formerly known as the anti-social behaviour team) who will “work side-by-side” with the 66 extra Metropolitan Police officers the council already pays for to target anti-social behaviour and other ‘low level’ nuisances in the borough.

While the article takes great pains to explain what the powers of these ‘enforcement officers’ are and how these differ from the powers of real police officers it says nothing about why the mayor and council find it necessary to dress them up in police-like uniforms.

As we know from previous experience with Newham’s “Community Constabulary” if you dress people as police officers and have them patrol like police officers they will start to believe they are actually police officers, and they will behave accordingly (and not in a good way).

Dressing relatively untrained civilians as police officers does nothing for public safety and may even put the enforcement officers in physical danger. It certainly puts them at risk of committing offences under section 90 of the Police Act 1996. I wonder what, if any, legal advice the mayor asked for before ordering the uniforms? It would have been foolish in the extreme to go ahead without any.

Given what happened with the Community Constabulary I don’t understand why we are going back down the same path. Why is the Mayor so intent on running his own private, uniformed police force?



Rotten Boroughs

29 Aug

I see that the latest issue of Private Eye (no. 1321) again features a story about Newham in its Rotten Boroughs section. This one focuses on the re-uniforming of the council’s anti-social behaviour officers in a manner that harks back to the dark days of the ‘Parks Constabulary’.

As you can see from the picture on Mike Law’s blog, which is reproduced in the Eye, the ASBOs look exactly like real police officers, except that they’re not:

It is an offence to impersonate a police officer. What, I wonder, are the real police going to do about it?

Sir Robin Wales on ‘The World at One’

15 Aug

Newham’s mayor talking about employment and the Olympic legacy on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One today:

Cannes Update

30 Apr

The Newham Recorder has published the list of sponsors for the Mayor’s trip to Cannes.

These were:

  • Bougyes Development
  • Strand East
  • Westfield Stratford City 
  • Countryside Properties 
  • Swan New Homes
  • the Ballymore Group 
  • Capita Symonds
  • the Cathedral Group 
  • the University of East London
  • Ardmore Construction
  • Urban Initiatives, and 
  • Savills

According to the Recorder, all “have denied any suggestion that their involvement in the trip would mean they received favourable treatment when it came to future development opportunities.”

They’re all just very generous, public-spirited people… obviously.


Big Brother

11 Apr


As reported in today’s Newham Recorder, there’s more CCTV cameras in Newham than Waltham Forest and Barking & Dagenham boroughs combined.

We have an average of 16 cameras for every square mile of the borough.

And, not content with this, Sir Robin wants to take over the fleet of mobile enforcement cameras being deployed for the Olympics.

Residents of Newham are the most spied on citizens in our supposedly-free country.

Newham’s Debt Timebomb

28 Feb
Last year I wrote about the enormous debt racked up by Newham council in the ten years since Sir Robin Wales was elected as executive mayor.

As the result of recent correspondance with a local Labour party member, I thought I’d revisit the issue and explain a little more why it makes me feel so uneasy.

Of course public debt isn’t like personal debt, much as the Tories may try to persuade us otherwise. But equally local government debt isn’t like national government debt either. National debt for a country like the UK, which has a sovereign currency, is always ultimately repayable through creating new money (this is what the recent rounds of quantitative easing basically involved – creating new money to buy back old debt). Obviously it’s a last resort and can go disastrously wrong, as Mugabe demonstrated in Zimbabwe, but it means the UK can never go bankrupt and will never default on its debt.

But the same does not apply to Newham. We can’t print new money to pay off the debt, so the only options are taking on new loans to pay off the old ones or ensuring revenues exceed expenses and using the difference to pay down the loans. This latter option means raising taxes, cutting costs or a combination of the two. The former option will only work for so long, as eventually your line of credit runs out or the interest payments on the debt swell to an unsustainable point.

And it’s really the question of the interest that bothers me at this point. Sir Robin has been extremely fortunate to have been able to borrow and spend at a time of record low interest rates. If you look at the council’s accounts you will see that the cost of servicing the debt today, in cash terms, is the same as it was ten years ago despite the fact that there’s almost twice as much of it. But only a fool would believe that today’s historically low interest rates will last forever – or even for as long as the life of Newham’s loans.

So when interest rates start to go back up, the cost of servicing the debt goes up.

Where are those extra interest payments going to come from? Either more borrowing – which would be extremely foolish – or from revenues. Either council taxes have to go up sharply, or services have to be cut yet further. In Newham neither looks an attractive option: make some of London’s poorest people pay a lot more tax, or cut the services they rely on.

What Sir Robin has created is a debt timebomb. If he’s lucky, or astute, he’ll have moved on to bigger things (Lord Wales?) before it goes off. But the people who live and work in the borough will be stuck with the consequences.


Separated at Birth?

17 Oct

Sir Robin


Johnny from the X-Factor

Newham Council’s Mountain of Debt

3 Oct

People have expressed surprise that the mayor has proposed to borrow £40 million to lend on to West Ham United FC to part-finance their bid for the Olympic stadium. They ask how one of the poorest boroughs in London can afford to take on such debts.

What they obviously don’t realise is that Newham has already has massive debts. According to the draft statement of accounts for 2010/11, the council’s “total external borrowing at 31st March 2011 was £1,186 million.”?????? Against that, “the Council had investments of £303 million.”?????? Which leaves a net position of £883 million of debt.

That level of debt is truly shocking, but what is more alarming is the massive growth in those debts during the mayor’s reign.

As at 31st March 2002 Newham’s total external borrowing was £616 million. With investments of £91m that left a net debt of £525m.

Today’s total debt figure of £1,186 million represents an increase of 93%. Even taking the major increase in investments into account, the net debt position has increased by 69% over the past 9 years.

Although the council claims that the current debt is “well within [our] approved borrowing limit” it is a frighteningly large sum. According to the 2001 census (the most recent data on the council’s website) there are 91,822 households in Newham.

That means the council owes the equivalent of £12,916 per household.


Newham Councillors Paid More Than £1.2 million in Allowances

21 Sep

Last week the Newham Recorder published a story headlined Newham councillors getting £25k each expenses, claiming that the average councillor received £24,333 to service their wards.

The story also stated that “the basic allowance for councillors newly elected last year was reduced to £9,579.”

It is a sad reflection on local journalism in Newham that neither claim is quite correct. 

The £24,333 average applies if you only count the 40 members of the council who served the full 12 months from April 1 2010 to March 31 2011. It completely ignores those who left the council at the May election and those who joined after it. This tends to inflate the average, as those 40 councillors were generally more senior. 

The basic allowance, sadly, hasn’t gone down. The reason new councillors only got £9,579 was that they didn’t serve a whole year and therefore only received a pro rata portion of the allowance.

There are plenty of reasons to attack the mayor and his cronies for their free-and-easy attitude to taking home our money, but the Newham Recorder does none of us any favours by getting the numbers wrong.

So if the Recorder got it wrong, what is the truth about councillors’ allowances?

Well, in the year ending 31 March 2011 the 61 members of the council (the mayor and 60 councillors*) collected a total of £1,221,752 in allowances and expenses. This works out at an average of £20,029 per member.

But even this doesn’t really tell the full story, as some councillors get far more than others as a result of “special responsibilities”. The top 10 earners in 2010/11 were:

  • RA WALES   80,695
  • AR BAIKIE   49,776
  • IK CORBETT   42,811
  • RJ CRAWFORD   42,811
  • U  DESAI           41,776
  • C  McAULEY   41,776
  • A  KELLAWAY   37,002
  • JH LAGUDA   33,499
  • CW FURNESS 32,231

Councillor Baikie’s allowance includes an additional special payment for serving 2 six-month terms as deputy mayor.

The full report on members’ allowances in 2010/11 can be found here: http://goo.gl/EGDP7

When looking at the above figures it is worth remembering, for context, that average income for a household in Newham is £27,600 a year.


* That is 60 ‘full-time equivalents’ made up of 39 people who served a full year, 21 who served 1 April to the May election and 21 new councillors who took over their seats and served from the May election to 31 March.


Declaring War on Council Crackdowns

24 Aug

Sir Robin Wales cracks down on bad stuff (in his dreams)

Last week Newham Council announced a new ‘crackdown’ on slum landlords; today it announced a ‘war’ on guns and knives.

It seems barely a week goes by without some dramatic new initiative designed to tackle the latest menace, usually in the form of a ‘crackdown’ on whatever it is. This generates a few headlines in the local press before disappearing off the radar, to be replaced by the latest bee in the mayor’s bonnet.

I did a Google search on Newham and Crackdown, and it returned more than 85,000 results!

So, here are a few of the things Newham Council has ‘cracked down on’ in the past few years – and I didn’t get past page 3 of the Google results to compile it:

  • Crime and anti-social behaviour in Plaistow
  • Squatting
  • Tenancy Fraud
  • Illegal Cars
  • Drugs
  • Garden Waste
  • Blue Badge Fraud
  • Truancy
  • Timeshare sales
  • Boy racers
  • Dangerous dogs
  • Landlords flouting safety regulations
  • Street gambling
  • Illegal property conversions
  • Unlicensed street trading
  • Illegal skips
  • Anti-social behaviour in Stratford
  • Crime and Anti Social Behaviour in Romford Road
  • Sale of crossbows

The thing is that with the exception of crossbows – an issue that lives solely in Sir Robin’s imagination – these are all important things that need to be dealt with. But by labelling every initiative a ‘crackdown’ you remove all meaning from the word. And you end up taking the same approach to everything – as the saying goes, if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.