Slightly long read but I hope you will find interesting about some of the problems with politics in Tower Hamlets.
I was elected in May 2014 and part of my job is to hold the administration of Tower Hamlets Council to account since in 2010 voters in TH decided in a referendum to give all power to an Executive Mayor instead of Councillors. But I quickly realised that Council officers had a different view of my job and routinely did not tell me what was happening in my ward, one reason why I always read notices on lampposts and talk to developers to try and find out what is going on.
The perfect example was the South Quay Masterplan consultation process in autumn 2014. On the Saturday I read a small advert in the back of East End Life saying that there would be a public consultation on a new plan for South Quay (I read it in a library as my building like many others did not receive the paper). I had missed the 1st event on Thursday (1 person had turned up after seeing a sign outside). You could only find the notice on the Council website by searching for the words ‘South Quay Masterplan’ and that notice was only posted 90 minutes before the 1st meeting. Nobody told me about what was going on. I told people about the 2nd event and over 20 people turned up. It was the one of the main drivers for setting up the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Planning Forum and for my spending so much time on social media. The Council are still very poor on communication and in involving residents.
After Lutfur Rahman was removed things have improved. John Biggs has been a very hard working and diligent Mayor and while I might disagree with him on priorities and some decisions I have always respected his abilities. I probably do not spend enough time highlighting the improvements but the Council has 21 Comm’s staff and the whole of the Labour party (as a reminder the GLA assembly member, 2 MP’s, the Mayor and 23 Councillors in TH are Labour) to trumpet their achievements. They should not need my help as well.
But I believe strongly that progress must be quicker and there are still huge issues within the Council. We are the fastest growing Borough in the country and need to be much better at some things like construction management and infrastructure delivery. Many of my Labour colleagues agree as they also talk about resistance to change within the Council and that the culture needs to change. Ironically one of the biggest issues we face next May is that too many good Labour Councillors are standing down depriving the ruling party of experienced Cllrs (& Labour is the ruling party in TH)
Unfortunately, things have become complicated recently and not as much progress has been made as I would like and we have gone backwards this year. In particular, there have been serious issues with;
• Children’s Services badly failing OFSTED
• Repeated attempts to build on the gardens at Salmon Lane
• Rushing through £119 million to spend on affordable homes (see below)
• Tower Hamlets schools not improving as quickly as other London schools so our schools are now average for London rather than being the best as is often claimed
• Alpha Square bribery (see below)
This creates serious issues for me. My involvement with the Neighbourhood Planning Forum means that I need to be strictly non-party political in that role and it does include Labour party members, Greens, Liberal Democrats, Marxists etc. who all make important contributions. But I was also elected to hold the administration to account and for the first time there is a conflict between my two roles. I would have preferred for that conflict not to exist as I need to have good relations with the Mayor if I want stuff done for my residents. But I cannot ignore the issues listed above either. The Council should have called the Police to investigate the bribery allegations as soon as they heard rather than wait to be told, it is not their job to decide whether something is criminal or not. For the same reason, they should have clearly informed the Commissioners (one of whom was a former police officers), they are now saying they told them broadly but the Commissioners are saying they did not know.
I think politics in Tower Hamlets (UK as well) is too tribal and that one reason why TH has not improved as much as it should is due to the dis-functional nature of politics in TH.
The £119 million affordable homes decision was issued at 7.31pm on a Friday night as an Executive decision. It did not go through the normal Cabinet process despite being the biggest single decision made in recent years. Then in the following Council meeting Labour keep bringing forward non-urgent motions so that we have less then 2 minutes at 10.15pm to discuss it before voting on it. My group call it in and it gets debated at 9.30pm the following day (I did agree it should go later on the agenda). But we only had thirty minutes to discuss and the Cabinet members spoke for so long that we miss the opportunity to ask the three senior Council officers present any detailed questions.
The issue is that we should be spending more than £119 million on affordable homes, that none of this is creating any brand-new homes only buying old homes or homes already with planning permission. Tower Hamlets Council urgently need to find some big schemes to invest in rather than trying to build on small green sites if we are to build the new affordable homes we need (I have said the same to central government). But rather then celebrating this important investment it is rushed through with no debate and almost no scrutiny.
Now the Alpha Square bribery case is embarrassing for me as well. I have spoken against many planning applications and on the Council website there are many examples of this. But I am not a NIMBY, I am not against all development and sometimes I feel I need to prove that, as it would be easy as a politician to simply say I hate it all. I have spoken in favour of two applications. One was to complete the half-built building by the Hilton hotel. The other was that I spoke in favour of the new primary school, community space, GP offices and the preservation of the North Pole pub at Alpha Square at the Council and GLA. I was not happy with the height and density. But so many planning applications had been approved nearby with no infrastructure attached i.e. Wardian, South Quay Plaza, 2 Millharbour, The Spire, Landmark Pinnacle etc. etc. that I was worried that I would only end up with the one primary school at 3 Millharbour, no extra GP space and would lose one of the few historic buildings left. You can read exactly what I said on page 18 of this link
Fortunately, I now know that in this case the developer did not pay any bribes but I am sure people will say that the final decision was still corrupt. But does this mean that no Councillor can now speak in favour of a planning application in case we are considered corrupt? This is what is so damaging about the Alpha Square bribery is that we cannot be sure anymore that bribery is not there especially as the Police have failed to investigate.
But I met somebody once at a coffee shop in Canary Wharf to talk about local issues, he used to be involved in Tower Hamlets politics and he bought me a hot chocolate, cost about £3.50. But later he was involved in the Alpha Square development. Since then when I meet people I either do not drink, pay for drinks myself or where I cannot avoid it i.e. Canary Wharf Group events make a donation to Mudchute Farm for the value of food and drink received. But to find out what is going on I still need to speak to people and that is best done at coffee shops.
Separately another person running against me next May has started calling me Islamophobic although she has deleted her most recent Tweet. It is typical of TH politics that you use lies to smear your opponents. But in 2010 Phil Woolas, a former Labour minister lost his seat after a court agreed that he had lied in an election. There are rules about lying in the Representation of the People Act 1983.
She said I was Islamophobic because I said that a publicly owned building built on public land should not have separate male and female entrances. This is because I believe that government and religion should be separate. I did tell her that separate entrances in a mosque were acceptable if privately built but that increasingly in Europe there are Muslim prayer groups where men and women pray together which I think is the right solution. There is a lot of online material proving that I am not Islamophobic and I have many Muslim friends willing to testify in Court that I am not Islamophobic in case she wants to lie again. As an example, I am on record at the GLA asking to ensure that new community space is also appropriate for Muslim prayer as well as other community wide uses. I am an atheist who believes in freedom of religion.
Top of page 8 https://www.london.gov.uk/…/gla_-_former_westferry_printwor…
But with elections approaching on the 3rd May 2018 we will see more of this. I will be standing to be elected again as the Councillor for Canary Wharf ward in May. If people think I have done a good job I hope they will vote for me but if I am not elected I can go on a proper holiday for the first time in 4 years :)
Following the Sunday Times exposure of corruption in the planning process, Tower Hamlets Conservatives call for Commissioners to be re-instated and oversee planning applications and for a full and proper police investigation into this scandal.
The Sunday Times exposure that a “fixer” with close connections to the local and national Labour Party requires immediate answers.
There is more large scale development in Tower Hamlets than anywhere else in the country and this development dominates the Isle of Dogs. In the last seven years Tower Hamlets Council has approved residential towers of 75, 68, 67, 60, 55 storeys in height plus many more between 40 & 50 storeys high, most within walking distance of Alpha Square.
There has long been a belief locally that the system has been corrupted by fixers and middle men with connections to councillors. Now we have overwhelming evidence that the system may have been deeply corrupted through influence peddling and even the bribery of Councillors.
We therefore find it astonishing that this was all kept secret and that Labour’s Mayor John Biggs did not report this issue immediately to the police on the 26th November 2015, five months after his election, when he was told about it and demand that the police fully investigate.
Nothing appears to have been done until at least five months later when external consultants Ernst and Young were brought in sometime during April 2016, who then recommended calling in the police. During this entire period Councillor Shiria Khatun, named in the Sunday Times, was Cabinet member for Community Safety which involved her dealing with the police on a regular basis.
The Councils own anti-bribery policy says:
‘Rigorously investigating instances of alleged bribery and assisting police and other appropriate authorities in any resultant prosecution’1
and its anti-fraud and corruption strategy says
‘We expect our Directors and Heads of Service to deal firmly and quickly with anyone who is responsible for fraud or corruption. Head of Paid Service/Director of Resources in consultation with the Corporate Anti- Fraud Manager may refer matters to the police if there is suspicion of any criminal activity having taken place.’2
Calling in Ernst and Young after five months as opposed to the fraud squad does not satisfy the Councils own policy requirements.
Were other developers approached by this individual after meetings set up by the former Deputy Mayor for Tower Hamlets? Was the Mayor concerned about donations made directly to the Labour Party?
Councillor Andrew Wood, deputy leader of the Conservative Group said:
“Whilst this story maybe one of a businessman close to the Labour Party trying his luck the delay in reporting this to the appropriate authorities and the resultant secrecy we believe is extremely damaging at a time when the Council was trying to emerge from the cloud left by Lutfur Rahman. It suggests nothing much has actually changed.”
Councillor Peter Golds, Conservative Group leader is calling on the Secretary of State to;
The Conservative Group are also calling for full disclosure by Tower Hamlets Council on:
Finally in the public interest, we call upon;
1. New Homes Bonus for building the most new homes in the country
2. Council Bribery Policy https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/Documents/Risk-management-and-insurance/Anti-Fraud/anti-bribery-policy.pdf
3. Council Anti-Fraud & Corruption Strategy https://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/Documents/Finance/Financial-transactions-management/Fraud/Anti-Fraud-Strategy.pdf
Link here to the full detail on the planning website
As many of you are aware the demolition of Westferry Printworks has caused considerable problems in the surrounding area. I raised these issues with Tower Hamlets Council back in April and was disappointed by their response. But it proves locally that we have to pay attention to what are called the Construction Management Plans where the developer agrees with the Council how construction will proceed. Like you I have learnt a lot of lessons about demolition and the creation of large concrete waste piles.
Mace have submitted to Tower Hamlets Council a construction management plan for the next phase of construction which is due to start in October. It only covers the next phase of construction not the whole programme. It mainly covers the preparation of the site, moving utilities and the construction of a common basement. The deadline for agreement is the 19th September. You should have also seen an invite from Mace for a meeting on Tuesday 12th September at Stafford Street Friendship Club, 40 Stafford Street, E14 8LT at 6.30pm (you need to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday)
As a reminder, this is what is being built;
• Ten residential buildings, tallest up to 30 storeys, retail, restaurant and office space; a community centre, a health centre, basement car parking and a crèche.
• Facilitation of a plot to enable the construction of a 1,200 pupil secondary school which will be constructed by somebody else. Tower Hamlets Council have not yet committed to building the school so it maybe built at a separate time.
• A new energy centre will be built to serve the development
I provide a link to the Construction Management Plan above.
You can tell the Council what you think by emailing them at email@example.com please cc me in at firstname.lastname@example.org quoting PA/17/01954 Westferry Printworks
Some of the key points are;
This is only a summary so I recommend reading the full document. Please also email the Council, it will help me to apply pressure on them to do a better job of supervising what happens. They have a habit of just approving whatever the developer submits.
Conservative home article 'Tower Hamlets Council must put the interests of children ahead of political correctness'
I wrote this article about the recent story about a five year old girl fostered by Tower Hamlets Council
counter response to the Tom Pride article about ‘How the press lied about the little girl staying with Muslim foster parents. Here are the facts.”
This is a counter response to the Tom Pride article here about ‘How the press lied about the little girl staying with Muslim foster parents. Here are the facts.” it has been widely shared online and needs countering as does not fully reflect the facts.
This is based on the actual facts as known and reported publicly not a selective selection. I am a Councillor in Tower Hamlets. Part of the difficulty with this story is the paramount need to protect the child from further harm so it is possible we may never know exactly what happened as we cannot reveal all details.
But I am concerned that Tom’s article is part of an attempt to de-legitimise the press and to paint this story as purely Islamophobia. It is not, it is a serious issue and needs to be properly reported as the paramount aim of children’s services is to protect the child.
It appears as if Tom Pride did not read the original reports published by Andrew Norfolk in The Times newspaper (they are behind a paywall) which renders his analysis incomplete. Other newspapers simply read The Times reports and copied them. The issue Tom should be raising is why if any discrepancies exist between the original report and the copies.
Andrew Norfolk, Chief Investigative Reporter of The Times is an award winning journalist who helped to uncover the Rotherham sex abuse scandal where for years local authorities, the Police and other bodies ignored what was happening in part it is believed on the grounds of political correctness. He was right to uncover that scandal and I believe based on what is known so far to publish this story as well. It is in the public interest.
The reports mention that he had access to internal Tower Hamlets Council reports provided to him by an employee of the Council. They appear to include contact centre reports written by an employee of the Council who was supervising meetings between the child and her birth mother in a secure contact centre. The supervisor would be able to hear the conversation as part of their role is to ensure that the mother for example cannot coach the child nor find information she is not entitled to like the location of the foster family.
Therefore much of the information published was originally written by employees of the Council and is therefore known to them.
I have only compared his ten alleged falsehoods to the original The Times reports, the BBC R4 Today programme on Saturday 2nd September and the court documents, all except the BBC programme were available when Tom wrote his piece. In red are the points Tom made, below each one is my response, in Italics are excerpts from other reports.
1) According to court documents, it was the police not the local authority (as stated by the tabloids) who decided the child should be put into foster care:
Irrelevant to the story about the choice of foster parents. The Times just says that the foster placement decisions were made by Tower Hamlets Council which is correct. They made no comment about who made the original decision that the child should be placed in foster care.
The foster placements were made, against the wishes of the girl’s family, by the scandal-ridden borough of Tower Hamlets.
2) According to court documents, the foster family criticised by the tabloids was a temporary placement.
The Times made no specific comments on the length of fostering except to say that it had started this year. Foster placements by their very nature are temporary (even if they may extend for years) which is why we have adoption as a permanent solution.
To protect the child, The Times has chosen not to identify her or the unusual circumstances that led to her being taken into care earlier this year.
3) According to court documents, the child herself is from Muslim heritage and her Muslim grandmother has now been cleared by the courts to look after her. This fact is only disputed by the girl’s mother but none of this was mentioned by the tabloids as it would obviously totally destroy their narrative:
Islam is a religion not a heritage.
The court document says
Documents including the assessment of the maternal grandparents state that they are of a Muslim background but are non practising. The child’s mother says they are of Christian heritage.
The child is described in the reports as white Christian English speaking five year old girl who wears a cross and has long blond hair (as per the photo from The Times). One set of grandparents may have a Muslim background but were not practising so technically are not Muslim. In our society it is not uncommon for mixed families to be very different from each other. A good example is Boris Johnson, white, British Christian but with a Turkish grandparent.
As a reminder this is what the regulations say about foster placements (the United Nations - Convention on the Rights of the Child 1990 has similar wording)
(b) before making any decision affecting a child placed or to be placed with a foster parent
due consideration is given to the child’s--
(i) wishes and feelings (having regard to the child’s age and understanding), and
(ii) religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background.
Her religious persuasion was Christian. The law says nothing about matching based on family history and only one set of grandparents are of Muslim background.
The foster parents did not appear to match based on religion, race, possibly home culture (eating on the floor) and possibly linguistics in the home environment. That is not to say that the foster parents were not good or loving foster parents but the law is clear on placements.
4) The temporary foster mother did not wear a veil as stated by the tabloids. She wears a hijab:
The veil in the photographs published by the Mail and other comics was photoshopped onto a stock picture of a Muslim family taking a walk in a park in Dubai:
The Daily Mail did say that the photo was posed by models, they later used the same picture as in The Times which was real.
The Times actually said this
Her first carer, with whom the girl lived for four months, is believed to have worn a niqab outside the family home. The carer at her present foster placement wears a burka, fully concealing her face, when she accompanies the child in public.
A burka and a niqab are different from a hijab, I do not know where Tom got the Hijab comment from.
But The Times have pictures of at least one foster carer so would have been able to visually confirm what the carer was wearing (the pictures published are from the back and pixelated)
5) According to court documents, the child’s mother has not at any time requested the foster parents be changed:
True but the court documents also say this
8. The mother raised some concerns about the appropriateness of the placement. On 27th June 2017, the court directed the Local Authority to produce a statement to address the cultural appropriateness of the foster care placement.
11.The mother has today confirmed further concerns in respect of the foster carers.
12.The mother applied for the child to be placed in the care of the maternal grandmother at the hearing on 27th June 2017.
So the mother was trying to replace the foster parents with the child’s grandmother, the best possible carer under the circumstances
6) Tower Hamlets council have confirmed that the temporary foster parents do speak English. According to court documents, the Family Court dealing with the case has also expressed no concerns about the foster parents’ level of English. The press simply lied about that:
This is what the The Times said
In confidential local authority reports seen by The Times, a social services supervisor describes the child sobbing and begging not to be returned to the foster carer’s home because “they don’t speak English”.
A social services supervisor for Tower Hamlets in east London described the child sobbing and begging not to be returned to the foster family because “she doesn’t understand the Arabic”. The girl is also understood to have said that she was regularly expected to eat meals on the floor.
I believe that what a child says in the presence of a social services supervisor should be listened to and investigated (the mother would have had no opportunity to coach the child). The question is not that the foster parents could not speak English the question is what was the routine language used at home.
The Court says nothing about the language or otherwise of the foster parent(s)
7) According to council foster care officials, the temporary foster parents did not ban Easter as stated by the tabloids. There is also no mention of this according to court documents by either the mother herself or the lawyers representing her. The press simply lied about that.
This is what The Times report said
More recently, the girl is said to have told her mother that “Christmas and Easter are stupid” and that “European women are stupid and alcoholic”.
I do not know where Tom got the comment that the parents had banned Easter
8) There is no evidence, apart from claims by the tabloid press, that the temporary foster parents have banned crucifixes and bacon from the home. There is also no mention of this according to court documents by either the mother herself or the lawyers representing her. The press simply lied.
This is what the The Times said
The reports state that the supervisor heard the girl, who at times was “very distressed”, claiming that the foster carer removed her necklace, which had a Christian cross, and also suggested that she should learn Arabic.
A council employee heard the child say that the first foster parent, to whose care she was due to have been returned this week, had taken away her necklace, which had a cross.
It is understood that the child told her mother that when she was given her favourite Italian food to take home, the foster carer would not allow her to eat it because the carbonara meal contained bacon.
9) According to court documents, it seems the child was put into temporary foster care by the police because of the mother’s alcohol and drugs problems. There was no mention of this fact by the tabloid press, presumably as it would put a question mark over the mother’s credibility and her criticism of the temporary foster parents.
Irrelevant to the question, was the child placed with the appropriate foster parent as required by the law or not?
As a reminder The Times said this
To protect the child, The Times has chosen not to identify her or the unusual circumstances that led to her being taken into care earlier this year.
10) The foster parents have been rated very highly by independent assessors, including the child’s own independent Children’s Guardian whose job is to advocate solely for the welfare of the child:
There is no mention of the word ‘rated’ or ‘highly’ in the Court report not sure where Tom got that. This is what the Court said
The child’s Guardian has undertaken enquiries and visited the child in the current foster carer’s home and spoken to the child alone. The Guardian has no concerns as to the child’s welfare and she reports that the child is settled and well cared for by the foster carer
It is not clear which foster family the Guardian visited as there were two families at different times. The Times makes clear that one family was more of a concern.
Tom also makes no mention of the relevant fact that in April 2017 OFSTED failed Tower Hamlets Children’s Services with these comments (the childs fostering started in March)
“There are widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children who need help and protection in Tower Hamlets. As a result, too many children remain in situations of actual or potential harm for too long. Insufficient scrutiny by the chief executive, the director of children’s services (DCS) and politicians has meant that they did not know about the extent of the failures to protect children until this inspection.”
The full report can be accessed here worth reading the first two pages.
I will be trying to confirm the accuracy of the original Times reports but we owe that little girl and other children not yet fostered the benefit of an investigation to ensure that all children in the future are fostered by the best possible foster carers who will minimise the inevitable trauma of fostering.
You may have seen the news about the fostering of a five year old girl arranged by Tower Hamlets children's services
I have asked the Council to confirm whether these reports are correct or not. Newspapers often sensationalise story's but unfortunately neither do I trust the judgement of Councils childrens service since they failed their OFSTED inspection.
I have no issue with Muslims fostering Christian (in fact I have experience of this in my own wider family) although as an atheist I believe no child should have religion imposed on them especially a foster child.
It is clear that much of the information comes from contact centre reports. This is where the child is allowed to meet its birth parents in a strictly controlled and supervised centre. A social worker is present in the meetings to supervise and will write up afterwards what happened. These reports are then shared with children's services and the parents normally. It is clear the parents have shared them with Andrew Norfolk, the Times reporter. They are written by a social worker and not the parents so should be an accurate record of meetings.
To summarise what the newspaper reports say
- Arabic routinely spoken at home of first carer which child did not understand
- a necklace containing a cross was removed by the carer and not returned
- child regularly expected to eat meals on the floor (in some societies this is normal)
- Child encouraged to learn Arabic, child told mother that she needs to ask her social worker if she can learn Arabic
- "The social services employee heard the child whispering Arabic words to her mother that she was allegedly told must be said aloud to ensure that “when you die you go to heaven”.
- Both foster families, the women concealed their faces when outside
- Not allowed to eat pork (her birth mother had cooked her Carbonara with pork to take home)
- Child allegedly told 'Christmas and Easter are stupid'
- Child allegedly told 'Euopean women are stupid and alcoholic'
- Girl was always distressed at the end of each meeting
The parents are objecting to the fostering arrangement so will understandably be doing everything they can to both ensure the safety of their child but also bring the process into disrepute.
This is what the OFSTED report said about fostering in Tower Hamlets.
"Choice and availability of placements are limited, particularly in meeting older children’s needs. However, most children live within 20 miles of home in stable placements that meet their cultural, ethnic and religious needs. The fostering service is actively recruiting new carers, and it supports carers well.” page 17 of the report
The key word here is ‘most children’ not all children and this maybe the case with this child. In January 2017 we had 243 children living with foster families, of whom 81% live outside of Tower Hamlets (also from OFSTED)
I will be providing the following quote to the newspapers
"The fostering process is about ensuring the least disruption and trauma in what must be an incredibly difficult time for a child as they move between different ‘parents', homes and surroundings. It is also essential that a child can continue to develop and learn. I know many Muslim families who would make great foster parents for any child. However this case does raise some troubling questions about the suitability of at least some of our foster parents and the judgement of Tower Hamlets Childrens Services who recently received a "Requires improvement" grade for their ability to look after children in care.
The report does not suggest it was an appropriate environment for any young child regardless of faith if the home language was not English, that the culture was so alien to their previous experience and personal possessions were removed and not returned for religious reasons. Foster families also have a duty not to impose their own beliefs on a child unless they are the universal principles of good parenting. We have asked the Council for more information on this case, the accuracy of the reports and what lessons can be learnt"
But please consider fostering if you are in a position to do so, this report shows that children need you. Their details are here;
Recruitment and Assessment Team
5 Clove Crescent
Tel: 0800 279 9850
Next month I had planned to start a major piece of work on childrens social services so if you have any insider knowledge please get in contact by PM (confidentially of course)