At the Olympic opening ceremony next July four of England’s directly elected Mayors will be in pride of place. As well as London’s Mayor there will be the three Executive Mayors for Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets.
One would expect to see civic leaders at such an event but one must ask why have these Mayors and the local authority chief executives, been given VIP passes with “access to all areas”. What event is going to require the Mayor of Tower Hamlets to be at the Velodrome in his £72 per day hired Mercedes, at 9am on a Monday morning? Why will these six be given privileged access to the final of the 100 metres, the most sought after event at the games?
The government, and Labour opposition, have decided that executive Mayors are the future model for local government. Having introduced this system for the London region, it has been duplicated for local authorities who have very different powers. An Executive Mayor can exercise virtually all decision making in a council, in the case of Tower Hamlets, down to deciding office moves and allocating £120,000 to refurbish an office suitable to receive “foreign dignitaries”.
Councillors need a two thirds majority to block or revise the Mayoral budget, apart from that they can decide planning and licensing applications and ask the Mayor to think again on policy. In Tower Hamlets, when the Mayor was invited to reconsider throwing £1.5million a year on his vanity newspaper, he simply rejected the request, it took literally ten seconds of his time. At the last full council meeting Mayor Lutfur Rahman sat for three hours, smirked at the opposition and said not a single work.
In Newham, where all 60 councillors are Labour, a staggering 40 of them receive special payments, including “the Secretary of the Labour Group”. Mayor Sir Robin Wales used his powers to spend £111 million on a magnificent new office adjoining the Royal Docks, and in case that was not expensive enough, £18.7 million was spent on fixtures and fittings.
In Hackney the Mayor has spent £48million on a new building called the Hackney Service Centre.
Tower Hamlets Council already has its mega office close to Canary Wharf, but as I said above there is room to spend money on a vanity office suites.
With this power concentrated in a pair of hands, why do these councils have so many councillors, Hackney with 57, Newham with 60 and Tower Hamlets with 51. Each could be reduced by one third by making each ward return two as opposed to three members. Why, when power is in the hands of the Mayor, do members receive inflated allowances to be named Cabinet members, when they have no executive decisions?
In the United States, where the Mayoral system is long established, there are far more checks and balances. Executive Mayors, in local as opposed to regional authorities must be subject to these checks and balances. What we have seen in east London is a method whereby a single person can make long term decisions without question or discussion. This week the Mayor of Tower Hamlets will consider a report to grant the organisation of the annual Baishaki Mela, which has the potential to make millions for the recipient, and is attended by over 100,000 people each year, for a nine year (yes nine year) contract. The beneficiary of this little favour will be his main political fixer. A millionaire businessman, who is so modest that he lives locally in social housing whilst ensuring that the swimming pool in his other home is up to standards.
So if you didn’t get an Olympic ticket, and can’t get a lucrative council contract, don’t worry somebody will.
This level of politics makes Tammany Hall seem modest and self effacing.