Cllr Peter Golds is Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council
The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has had more than it’s share of controversies over the past fifty years as did the three formation boroughs in the period between 1900-65. The Lutfur Rahman regime, which arrived in 2008, due splits in the Labour Party and compounded by the 2010 Mayoral election took these problems to a completely new level.
Fear, intimidation, secrecy and threats coupled with the vicious mis-management of officers resulted in an authority which became utterly toxic. Amazingly, some council officers were actually present at the High Court escorting the Rahman witnesses. Truly the Stockholm Syndrome had arrived in local government.
That Rahman and his main enforcer should be expelled from office for corrupt and illegal practices was scarcely a surprise to locals, an intrepid band of investigative journalists and determined ministers. It does, however, appear to have taken certain organisations, such as the Metropolitan Police Service and the Electoral Commission, by surprise.
Within the past year the government commissioned a forensic audit into the conduct of Tower Hamlets which made devastating reading. The result was the appointment f commissioners to oversee aspects of the running of the council, including the allocation of grants, disposal of properties and the appointment of senior officers.
Last Monday, just as our Conservative Government was taking office, I was selected as Mayoral candidate by a packed hall of enthusiastic workers in my borough. These included many members who had campaigned from Thurrock to Finchley, and many others including in Yorkshire, and are already hitting the streets of the east end of London with dedication and enthusiasm.
I will be fighting hard, day be day until June 11 to bring promoting a positive and Conservative programme for this borough.
Rahman’s town hall secrecy must go. As Mayor I will relish answering questions and responding to debates. I will not shelter behind “human rights” because I am frightened to answer an unscripted question. I will travel the borough and meet residents and take their questions, where and when necessary.
The only reason we have a ten member Cabinet was to pay money to his supportive councillors. Cabinet will be half the size. However the opposition party leaders and chair of Overview and Scrutiny will be ex officio members, entitled to see all papers and take part in discussions and decisions.
However it is in the direction of policy where there will be a new broom. We cannot have uncontrolled housing development without the resulting infrastructure. Council officers now, with Rahman gone, warn us that there is a serious shortage of school places. The development framework will be reviewed and there will be an emphasis on managed housing. I will sort and promote local planning forums. Many in the private sector want family homes, many of those qualifying for social and affordable housing want two bedroom accommodation. There is an overwhelming need for school places. I will welcome free schools and academies to the borough, not attempt to hinder them. This is what parents want and their views matter, not the recycled failures of decades ago which emerge every Easter during the teaching union conferences.
I will meet and work with the NHS and Transport for London to ensure that there is adequate health and transport provision provided for in new development. At a planning meeting last year, Tower Hamlets First poured scorn on a request by the DLR for Section 106 assistance in improving a station close to a development of several thousand homes. The DLR was seen as rich, along with the potential residents. Instead money was diverted to one of Rahman’s favourite organisations, some distance away, but favoured. This must and will stop. The Mayor serves residents across the borough, not a tiny supportive clique.
I will bring in sound finance and seek to reduce the council tax year on. Tower Hamlets will work with other councils instead of fearing them. I will seek to reduce costs by sharing services with other authorities. An audit of the council landbank, which I know to be substantial, will produce funds for essential services.
I will change the relationship between officers and the executive. The executive decides policy and officers implement policy. It is not the job of the executive to micro-manage officers or officers to be part of the executive process. Rahman used every inch of the mayoral power to interfere with day to day management of officers. This will stop on day one.
There will be no cult of the personality, no photographs on dust carts and the notorious East End Life will cease publication as soon as is practical. Lord Northcliffe once said “News is what somebody, somewhere, wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” It is not the job of a local authority to run a so called newspaper, let alone one that makes one yearn for the political diversity displayed by Pravda during the soviet era.
The proposal to spend millions on a new town hall, based in the former, listed Whitechapel Hospital, will cease. After all, we no longer need to invest £100milion in offices a couple of streets away from one of Rahman’s four properties in the borough; all acquired under right to buy!. Instead, I will seek to build new municipal offices, the lease on the existing civic buildings expires in 2020, on a much cheaper site. We own two potential sites, and both are available subject to planning. I will sell on the hospital building which is hopelessly impractical for a modern town hall, but likely to provide housing gain close to the new Crossrail station.
Finally, resources once mis-directed by Rahman will be used to revitalise our parks. We are a small, congested borough and our parks and open spaces are vital for residents. Tower Hamlets First Councillors have actually made race and class attacks on residents who have protested at Rahman hiring out our parks in midsummer for revenue purposes. On another occasion Rahman proposed to hire out the area surrounding the Tower Hill Merchant Seaman’s War memorial, commemorating over 40,000 seamen whose lives have been lost in conflict, for Christmas and New Year parties. He only stopped after an international outcry. Our parks and open spaces will be protected and enhanced.
This is a blueprint to revitalise and promote our borough. In defeating Tower Hamlets First, voters have an opportunity have an opportunity to elect a Mayor who is progressive, outward looking and in tune with all residents. A new start will also see the emergence of this council from the current governance involving commissioners into a mainstream and confident local authority.
If you wish to make a financial contribution to the campaign, it can be done here.