Mayor attends Overview & Scrutiny Committee shock

Newly elected Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs has attended the very first meeting of the new Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC).

A mayor attending an oversight committee would not be news anywhere else but in Tower Hamlets.

The previous mayor only ever attended one Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) – on April Fools Day, 2014. His removal from office explains his desire to avoid scrutiny.

Mayor Biggs attended the later part of the meeting on Tuesday, 7th July in order to answer committee questions on an executive decision. 

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets

Effective scrutiny

“I’m committed to a culture of openness and transparency and it is vital for executive members to attend meetings of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee,” said Biggs. “This is a crucially important committee that scrutinises decisions and we must do everything possible to facilitate effective scrutiny.”

Biggs also said that he was happy to attend OSC meetings whenever requested. “I am equally committed to answering questions during council meetings – we need to discuss issues openly and fairly if we are to truly work for the benefit of our residents.”

The previous mayor refused to answer questions during council meetings on the grounds that being forced to do so would breach his human rights.

That democracy thing

Attending meetings? Answering questions? Discussing issues? What is going on in Tower Hamlets? Oh yeah – it’s that democracy thing!

You can read the council documentation of the OSC meeting on the Tower Hamlets site. 

Before you do that you will probably want to lie down in a dark room and compose yourself. If this culture change continues there is a distinct possibility we might have a council that works for everyone.

One thought on “Mayor attends Overview & Scrutiny Committee shock

  1. It is only right that the Mayor or his lead members should attend O&S as and when requested. However upon this occassion, let’s not forget that the only item of real discussion was the very secretly kept report of the Rich Mix centre which was called-in by the Independant Group on the grounds of process, rather than content? It was impossible to call it upon content which is usually the case simply because we were gagged from seeing the content! How can it be properly scrutinised if the content of the executive decision of the Mayor is kept Top Secret? I am not surprised this was the case here for reasons herewith;

    Firstly, the report was about litigation action against Rich Mix to repay a long outstanding loan to the council of £850K. Although officers advised a 70% probability of winning the case, which was to be heard next month, Mayor Biggs decided behind closed doors in secrecy to effectively write-off this loan. Not only this, he also decided to hand them a cash windfall of over £1.5 million pounds. Questioned against the backdrop of a Labour chair of Scrutiny committee who obviously would not want to embarass his own party political Mayor, I challenged Mayor Biggs to explain how an organisation with a proven track record of failures be given so much more public money without any reference to the report giving details of either a business plan, nor any details of how Rich Mix would want to use this money? Apparently the commissioners are also not questioning these funds which any other organisation would rightly have to make a grant application for, and go through the usual marking process. This is what was stated a few weeks ago when the Baishaki Mela asked for funding. On that occassion, the commissioners and Councillors Rachael Saunders and Peter Golds stated such remarks yet upon this occassion, Cllr. Peter Golds voted for this money to be released without any business plan or defined use of funds – Double standards.
    It is obviously friends of Labour are being repaid for their support to get Biggs elected. More shocking was the fact Cllr. Denise Jones, a ling-standing board member of Rich Mix was allowed to listen to the entire sensitive discussion whilst a clear conflict of interest exists? The frontpage of the report made it particularly clear that the report should not be shared with Rich Mix or its close associates. Now if anyone believes Cllr. Jones is gonna keep her lips tight on what was said and not share with her board member colleagues, I am definitely living in cuckoo land! If anything for the avoidance of doubt, she should have withdrawn herself away but I guess the temptation to see and hear what happens to millions of pounds was too much too risk missing? This saga has proven it is one rule for them, and another rule for others. Not a positive start in my opinion.

    If Biggs is such a believer in openess and transparency, he should disclose this report and his decision in public. As he has decided to withdraw litigation action, and the report has no commercially sensitive information, I see no reason why this should continue to be gagged? It is in the public interest to know why and how all this public mobey is being secretly siphoned to nothing more than a cinema, licensed bar, office space and cafe disguised as an arts venue. I very much doubt the existence of Rich Mix has given me the opportunity of watching ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, having a pint, or grabbing a latte. These already exist in the borough such as the Genesis Cinema at Mile End and it is unfair they have to compete against publicly subsidised enterprises.

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