Tag Archives: Sir Robin Wales

Not just a river in Egypt

8 Sep

My blog post yesterday prompted a flurry of media interest, which resulted in the following statement being issued (my emphasis added):

A Newham Council spokesperson said: 

“The Council’s draft accounts for 2016/17 were first published on our website on 3 July and were then open to the normal period of public scrutiny until 11 August. These draft accounts are currently with our auditors for their review. The finalised accounts are due to be considered at a scheduled meeting of our Investment and Accounts Committee on 20 September.” 

“Our draft accounts, which are subject to change and approval, show a prudent, responsible and regulatory compliant treatment of a Council loan related to the London Stadium. 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.”

The draft statement of accounts, which I linked to in my post, says on page 12 (again, my emphasis added):

“These charges are subsequently written-off to the Capital Adjustment Account.”

If Newham don’t want people thinking they’ve written things off they should probably avoid using the words ‘written-off’ in the accounts.

But let’s not split hairs. Let’s accept that the loan is indeed, as that spokesman says, “‘impaired’, or damaged, due to the current financial performance of the Stadium.” And then compare that to what Sir Robin said when the loan was first taken out (my emphasis added):

“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.“

Just one season into the operation of the stadium and it turns out that not a word of this true.

The Investment and Accounts Committee meeting on 20 September is a joint meeting with the Audit Board. It is public and details are on the council website. I predict the public gallery will be busier than usual.

UPDATE (13/09/2017): The meeting has been moved to Wednesday 27th September. Same venue: Committee Room 2, Newham Town Hall, East Ham, E6 2RP.

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Down the drain

7 Sep

Sir Robin Wales is about to flush £40 million of council taxpayers’ money down the toilet.

Detail hidden in the draft accounts due to be signed off by cabinet tonight shows that the ‘loan’ made to help transform the 2012 Olympic stadium into West Ham United’s new ground is being written off.

Newham Council ‘invested’ £40m via a special subsidiary company called Newham Legacy Investments Ltd.

At the time, Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales stated:

“Our investment of £40 million secures that legacy by transforming the Olympic Stadium into a world class attraction […]. This will provide us with a share of the profits generated over the long-term and a range of community benefits for Newham residents.”  

After just one season of operation as a football stadium the council is now ‘writing off’ that £40m investment. A line in the Draft Statement of Accounts 2016/17 states:

“Impairment totalling £44.4m of a Long Term Debtor in one of the Council’s group undertaking, Newham Legacy Investments Ltd” (page 12, item 7) 

and 

“The company’s 2016/17 financial results disclosed a loss of £2.5m (2015/16: loss of £41.6m), and net liabilities of £44.4m (£41.9m of net liabilities as at 31 March 2016).” (page 88, item 39)

Newham Legacy Investments Ltd has had a number of directors over the last five years including senior council officer Zoe Power (Head of Projects and Programmes, Newham) and Cllr Lester Hudson (deputy Mayor, Cabinet member for Finances and Chair of Audit board). Given that the audit board should scrutinise decisions made by cabinet, council and council-owned subsidiaries this combination of roles was a massive conflict of interests.

While Newham handed over £40m to convert the stadium, West Ham United themselves only contributed £15m, despite being owned by two multi-millionaires and the Premier League being the richest in the world.

The £40m being written off is double the amount of ‘savings and efficiencies’ being made this year. Residents were promised the investment would provide Newham with a share of the profits generated over the long term. It turned out be a gift to Messrs Sullivan and Gold. The money, borrowed by the council from the Treasury, will now have to be re-paid by local taxpayers.

This blog has regularly cast doubts on whether the other commitments including local jobs and tickets for residents have been delivered.

This is not Newham’s first Olympic investment to back fire. In 2012 it also had to write off more than £3m invested into London Pleasure Gardens. With additional liabilities added on, taxpayers were left close to £5m out-of-pocket.

All-in-all, Sir Robin’s track record on finance (under the ‘scrutiny’ of the double-jobbing Cllr Hudson) is not impressive.

Which makes this week’s news that Newham council has bought a multi-let office block in Redhill, Surrey for £25m all the more worrying.

Cunning stunt

9 Aug

Cunning Wales 3

A quiet word in your ear, Sir Robin…

If you were an electorally unsuccessful Scottish Labour politician looking to make a fresh start down south, where would you head for?

Newham might look like a pretty good option.

Certainly Barrie Cunning thinks so. He stood for Labour in the Scottish parliamentary elections last year and came in fourth, all-but-halving the party’s vote in the process. Now he lives in Canning Town and has his eyes firmly fixed on a seat in the council chamber.

As if being a white Scottish male wasn’t advantage enough, a bit of good luck has helped get him further into Sir Robin’s good books.

Back in February, Sir Robin was invited to speak at an Edinburgh Networking Breakfast event on ‘Building Partnership in Development.’ According to the mayor’s register of gifts and hospitality, his flights and accommodation were paid for by Newington Communications, the PR firm Barrie Cunning happens to work for.

And when the mayor took his trip to Cannes in March, one of the sponsors was Berkeley Group. They are clients of Newington Communications. According to his profile, Barrie Cunning works across the development and housing sectors.

So, let me be the first to say “Congratulations on your election, Councillor Cunning.”

Letter to the Editor

8 Aug

A reader writes

Dear Sir,

What on earth is going on at the Newham Mag? I had always thought it was the Mayor’s personal publicity freebie, distributed fortnightly to the adoring masses, and a snip at just £20,000 per issue.

But in the current edition there are only seven (7!)  photos of our Mayor (compared to 20 in the previous edition) and of those, in only 4 is he wearing the Mayor’s ceremonial chain of office. In one photo, he is not even wearing a tie and looking very much the worse  for wear, but possibly this photo shoot was carefully crafted to blend in with a very messy dwelling whose landlord the Council is aiming to prosecute.

And what’s worse there are more photos of the Deputy Mayor (Statutory) and Cabinet Member for Community Neighbourhoods, Ken Clark – he has eight.
Has there been a midnight coup?

Has Clark seized the Mag as part of  his own ruthless drive to succeed the man who has created his Deputy (Statutory)’s political career out of nothing? I think the people deserve an explanation before disllusion and consternation start to take a grip as election year approaches.

Yours sincerely,

Kevin Mansell

All excellent questions.

To which can be added, when will the council comply with the direction issued by the secretary of state for Communities and Local Government last December and reduce publication of the Newham Mag to just four times a year?

Holidays in the sun

2 Aug

Sir Robin at MIPIM 2017

Every March the French mediterranean resort of Cannes plays host to MIPIM, an international property event. According to Wikipedia

The event aims to facilitate business between investors, corporate end-users, local authorities, hospitality professionals, industrial and logistics players and other real estate professionals.

It is tailor-made for the big swinging dicks and wannabe Trumps of the property development racket. So obviously the mayor of Newham would want to be there.

And according to a recent FOI response, he was, accompanied by deputy mayor Cllr Ken Clark, Director of Regeneration and Planning Deirdra Armsby and Head of Regeneration Robin Cooper.

But fear not. Your council tax was not funding a penny of this.

All expenses were paid for via sponsorship from Westfield Group, Berkeley Group, Telford Homes, English Cities Fund and ABP (London) Investments

How very generous of them. 

Flights, accommodation, the conference tickets, plus feeding and watering four thirsty delegates would have set them back a few quid. Sadly, we don’t know yet exactly how much as the mayor and Cllr Clark have neglected to update the register of gifts and hospitalities with the information.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is what I wrote back in 2012 when the mayor made a similar, commercially sponsored trip to the south of France:

…if there was a genuine and compelling reason for Newham to be present at this conference I’d have no objection to the trip being funded from public money. I’m entirely prepared to believe the trip was a worthwhile way for Sir Robin and his entourage to spend their time.

In fact, if the mayor’s presence was so vital it absolutely should have been paid for by the taxpayer. Drumming up business for Newham is part of his job…

…If going to a global property conference is the best way to meet developers, then that’s the place to be. The fact that the event took place in the south of France is neither here nor there. Sir Robin didn’t choose the venue.

Public officials travelling on public business should have their expenses met from the public purse. That way everything’s above board and there’s no question about whose interests they’re representing.

But this trip wasn’t funded with public money. And that is extremely worrying. No-one provides hospitality on this scale without some expectation of getting something in return…

…Perhaps Sir Robin is pleased with himself for saving the public purse a few pounds, but it may end up being a poor bargain for Newham.

Until we know who paid for his trip the mayor must recuse himself from all discussions about regeneration and redevelopment in Newham and from consideration of all planning applications.

Otherwise how can we tell if he’s doing the right thing by residents or repaying a debt to his generous sponsors?

Five years on, the same concerns apply.

UPDATE

I have been sent a copy of another FOI response on a similar topic (sadly not available online), which was released in June. This says that the Cannes party included the council chief executive. If he was indeed there, the cost to the sponsors (and the implied obligation) is even greater.

It also raises a question about quality control in the information governance team. How could two virtually identical questions, asked within a few weeks of each other, result in two different answers?

It’s all kicking off

1 Aug

Virtual reality

Virtual reality (pic via @NewhamLabourWTF on Twitter)

The Newham Recorder reports that 30 local Labour members are threatening to take the party to court over the conduct of last year’s ‘trigger ballot’.

Letters sent by Irvine Thanivi Natas (ITN) solicitors to GRM Law, the firm acting on Labour’s behalf, [allege that] procedural rules were “breached” as they were applied differently to different affiliated organisations without their full understanding of what the rules were.

This meant some trade unions with several branches voted more than once, while others with more than one branch believed they only had one vote.

Claimant David Gilles said: “Reluctantly we’re having to resort to legal action to get this vote re-run.”

There’s a lot more information, including full access to the letters exchanged by the two sides’ solicitors here.

The grounds for the complaint are:

  1. The rules were inconsistently applied in respect of which Affiliated Organisations (AOs) could take part
  2. The rules were inconsistently explained; those running the trigger ballot process failed to ensure (a) that AOs were properly informed of voting rights and (b) that the process was fairly run
  3. Labour’s NEC failed to carry out a proper investigation, despite prima facie evidence of impropriety
  4. The NEC endorsed Sir Robin when there was strong evidence that process was flawed
  5. The rules wrongly applied: some AOs were allowed to vote more than once

The result of the trigger ballot was never really in doubt. Sir Robin was always going to find enough votes from among the affiliates to over-turn the results from ward parties. The fact that no agreed list of affiliated organisations was ever published, or even shared with the officers of the two constituency parties, meant the whole process was wide open to abuse.

Despite the protestations from Newham Labour and the national party that everything is fine and that rules were followed, this is not going away. Local members have had enough of trickery and deceit. To borrow a phrase, they want “straight-talking, honest politics.” 

Sir Robin should be worried. His name is not yet certain to be on the ballot paper next May.

Come dine with me

26 Jul

Meydansofrasi 2

Last night the Meydan Sofrasi restaurant on Barking Road excitedly tweeted that

THE MAYOR OF NEWHAM, SIR ROBIN WALES visited our restaurant today. 

As you can see from the accompanying picture, the mayor was taking refreshment with some of his nearest and dearest.

Fellow diners included councillors Unmesh Desai, Andrew Baikie, the Corbetts, Lester Hudson and, er, Ahmed Noor.

That’s the same Ahmed Noor who broke the council’s rules on landlord licensing, who’s currently suspended from the Labour party and who was accused by the standards committee of abusing his power to stifle complaints against him from tenants. The report to the standards committee about his conduct makes for hair-raising reading.

With councillor re-selections coming up in the autumn, is this a sign that the disgraced Noor may make a comeback? Even by Newham standards that would leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

UPDATE (13:30): the restaurant has deleted the tweet.