What is funded by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets ‘Special Projects’ unit?

Payments in excess of £1m via a ‘Special Projects’ unit within Tower Hamlets council have been revealed by examination of Open Data and responses to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. The payments of £1,176,874 over four years have all been paid to Comensura Ltd, a recruitment agency managed services provider based in Luton. Tower Hamlets council has been using the services of Comensura for some time.

The response to FOI 11397 states that £25,000 of payments were made to Deadlinepundit Ltd in 2014 for 50 days of work via Comensura. Here is the text of FOI response:

FOI 11397 Payments to Deadline Pundit Ltd (via Comensura)

FOI Request
I kindly request information on how much Tower Hamlets Mayor’s office paid consultancy firm Deadline Pundit Ltd for services in 2014 and in 2012. Payments were made through Comensura and billed under ‘Special projects’.

Particularly, I would like to know how many hours or days were billed and how much was paid.

I would appreciate if you send this information via electronic mail.

FOI Response

No Payments were made to Deadline Pundit Ltd in 2012.  Payments have been made in 2014 totalling £25,000 and covering 50 days of work.

All nice and clear.

Deadlinepundit Ltd

According to its website Deadlinepundit is a UK registered public affairs media consultancy which specialises in advising a wide range of clients on political and media strategy with offices in New York, the UK and Brussels.

Ian Williams is the founding partner of Deadlinepundit and Mark Seddon is as an associate. Both Ian Williams and Mark Seddon are now based in New York.

Before moving to New York Mark Seddon was paid as a Mayoral Advisor to the directly elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman. Details of payments to Mayor Lutfur’s advisors including Mark Seddon have previously been reported by Ted Jeory in his Trial by Jeory political blog in this post and this post.

It is unclear what services Deadlinepundit provided to Tower Hamlets council for the £25,000 payment via Comensura.

While there is no suggestion that any of the parties involved in these transactions have been involved in any illegal activity it can be argued that Tower Hamlets council is not a model of transparency when it comes to spending public funds.

London Olympics 2012

It seems that Deadlinepundit may – or may not – have done other work for Tower Hamlets council but this seems impossible to verify. The headline London Gateway Borough Media Relations Success! on the Deadlinepundit website makes interesting reading.

“Two members of the team recently returned from a highly successful contract in London for the duration of the Olympics. Working for a London “gateway” borough for the Olympics they helped generate thousands of positive media mentions in the international media for one of the poorest districts in Britain. More details available on request.”

Love Wapping has asked for more details and will share them when available. It might be that the London “gateway” borough is Newham. Or Hackney maybe? Or Barking and Dagenham. Or Waltham Forest. Or even Greenwich. But Tower Hamlets seems more likely.

The only glitch in our guess work is that the FOI 11397 response above clearly states that ‘No Payments were made to Deadline Pundit Ltd in 2012.’ Our problem is that as residents we cannot rely on the so-called Open Data in the Payments to Suppliers information provided by Tower Hamlets council being, well, open. Because if Deadlinepundit did undertake this work for Tower Hamlets and it was, like the other work, classified as ‘Special Projects’ then it would be hidden inside a payment to Comensura.

It might be more transparent for Deadlinepundit to be named as a supplier of something called ‘London Olympics media consultancy’. Not original perhaps but crystal clear. The costs for two media consultants would be probably be around £500 per person per day plus travel, accommodation, etc.

1,477 varieties

The main question is why Tower Hamlets council has the need for a ‘Responsible Unit’ entitled ‘Special Projects’?  Current Payments to Suppliers data shows 1,477 different Responsible Units which range from Alternative Provision and Animal Warden Service to Youth Service Management via Poplar Mortuary. Would not one of these 1,477 categories do for whatever work Deadlinepundit carried out?

Another question is if a payment of £25,000 can be obscured in the Tower Hamlets finance system what else is buried there? Hopefully the PwC auditors who have been examining the books at the Town Hall will be able to tell the residents of our borough – and quite soon too. Again there is no allegation of any wrongdoing or illegal activity by any of the individuals or organisations mentioned. But why the need for secrecy?

Why are only payments to Comensura so special?

Based on current analysis of the Payments to Suppliers data it would seem that all the Special Projects payments have been made to Comensura and no other organisation. You can see the payments data in the table below. The £25,000 payment to Deadlinepundit is buried in here somewhere.

Special Projects payments to Comensura Ltd by Tower Hamlets council

directorateservicedivisionresponsible_unitexpense_typepayment_datenet_amountsupplier_name
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff01/12/2010£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff08/12/2010£6,360COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff22/12/2010£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff12/01/2011£6,580COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff14/01/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff19/01/2011£4,440COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff09/02/2011£12,100COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff09/02/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff09/03/2011£3,900COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff09/03/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff08/04/2011£3,920COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff08/04/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff09/05/2011£2,620COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff13/05/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff08/06/2011£4,060COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff10/06/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff08/07/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff20/07/2011£3,380COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff10/08/2011£3,200COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff10/08/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief Executive ServicesCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff28/09/2011£3,400COMENSURA LTD
Chief Executive ServicesCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff28/09/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief Executive ServicesCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff07/10/2011£2,780COMENSURA LTD
Chief Executive ServicesCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff07/10/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff25/11/2011£2,660COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff25/11/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff16/12/2011£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff16/12/2011£2,460COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff03/02/2012£1,680COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff03/02/2012£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff10/02/2012£2,640COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff10/02/2012£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff19/03/2012£2,620COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff19/03/2012£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff11/05/2012£2,880COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff11/05/2012£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff18/06/2012£1,680COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff18/06/2012£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff20/06/2012£1,760COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff20/06/2012£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff13/07/2012£2,400COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff13/07/2012£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Childrens ServicesCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff13/07/2012£2,400COMENSURA LTD
Childrens ServicesCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff13/07/2012£37,917COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff07/12/2012£19,906COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff07/12/2012£5,982COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff07/12/2012£10,735COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff07/12/2012£17,163COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff11/02/2013£10,457COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff27/02/2013£14,864COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff08/03/2013£17,038COMENSURA LTD
Chief ExecutiveCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff18/03/2013£12,184COMENSURA LTD
Chief Executive ServicesCorporate & Democratic CoreDemocratic Representation & ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff Admin Charges17/07/2013£16,853Comensura
Chief Executive ServicesCorporate & Democratic CoreDemocratic Representation & ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff18/09/2013£17,486Comensura
Chief Executive ServicesCorporate & Democratic CoreDemocratic Representation & ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff29/11/2013£19,468Comensura
Chief Executive ServicesCorporate & Democratic CoreDemocratic Representation & ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff09/12/2013£17,966Comensura
Directorate of Law, Probity and GovernanceCorporate & Democratic CoreDemocratic Representation & ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff17/03/2014£13,463COMENSURA
Directorate of Law, Probity and GovernanceCorporate & Democratic CoreDemocratic Representation & ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff26/03/2014£19,588COMENSURA
Directorate of Law, Probity and GovernanceCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff02/05/2014£15,067COMENSURA
Directorate of Law, Probity and GovernanceCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff02/05/2014-£13,004COMENSURA
Directorate of Law, Probity and GovernanceCorporate & Democratic CoreDemocratic Representation & ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff17/06/2014£12,052COMENSURA
Directorate of Law, Probity and GovernanceCorporate & Democratic CoreCorporate ManagementSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff04/07/2014£18,254COMENSURA
Law, Probity and GovernanceChildren's Social CareOther Children's and Family ServicesSpecial ProjectsAgency Staff05/12/2014£17,259COMENSURA
This data is extracted from Open Data available to all residents in the 'Payments to Suppliers' section of the Tower Hamlets council website: http://bit.ly/1fo2iNe

Question to be answered

Whatever the wrinkles of this story the simple question that needs to be answered by the council is why would media consultancy costs be termed ‘Special Projects’?

What is special about the work?

If a media consultancy can be deemed ‘special’ then what else is?

‘Special Projects’ is listed in the payments data as a ‘Responsible Unit’. Is Special Projects a unit of people or just a way of categorising certain payments?

And why is it that only payments to Comensura, a recruitment company are classified in this way and none other of the 6,436 other suppliers Tower Hamlets council made payments to between 2010 and 2014?

Love Wapping asked Tower Hamlets media office some questions but they did not have the answers. But they did turn our email into a FOI request for us. In fact an SFOI – a Special FOI! Here it is.

SFOI 11480 Payments to Suppliers ‘Special Projects’ Category

Looking through the Payments to Suppliers information published on your website (http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgsl/800001-800100/800043_transparency/payments_to_suppliers-1.aspx) I notice that there are several payments which have the ‘Responsible Unit’ as being ‘Special Projects’. The vast majority of these payments seems to be to ‘Comensura Ltd” (see IGT_FOI_04_2933_Procurement of Recruitment Agency Services Managed Service Provider Used)

One example is below:

Chief Executive Corporate & Democratic Core Corporate Management Special Projects Agency Staff 09/02/2011 5470730 37917 COMENSURA LTD

I was wondering if you could provide me with answers to the questions below please?

1. Why is there a need for the Chief Executives office to have a ‘Special Projects’ category?

2. Why are payments to a recruitment company categorised as ‘Special Projects’?

3. Are any other payments made under the ‘Special Projects’ category?

4. If ‘Special Projects’ is a ‘responsible unit’ can you provide any more details of the roles and responsibilities of this unit?

According to your FOI response FOI 11397 Payments to Deadline Pundit Ltd (via Comensura) in 2014 £25,000 of payments for 50 days of work were made to Deadline Pundit Ltd through Comensura.

5. Can you state what if any connection Deadline Pundit Ltd or Comensura Ltd has to any current or previous Tower Hamlets Mayoral advisers or employees?

6. Can you confirm that Ian Williams, founder of Deadline Pundit (http://www.deadlinepunditltd.com/ian-williams/) is or was a  Tower Hamlets Mayoral adviser?

7. If the answer to (6) above is yes is Ian Williams still employed as an adviser to the Mayor or any other part of Tower Hamlets Council?

Waiting for answers again

Let’s wait and see what the answers are shall we?

Many thanks to Ted Jeory for his assistance with this post.

For further information: