Risk of democracy outbreak in Spitalfields & Banglatown scares Tower Hamlets town hall

LW never has enough time or resources to cover what is really going in Tower Hamlets but some issues are so important that they do need proper coverage. The proposal for a Spitalfields & Banglatown Parish Council, currently in its consultation stage, is such an issue. We are dividing our initial coverage of the Spitalfields & Banglatown Parish Council into four parts.

Table of Contents

  1. Overview of Community Councils and the inevitable Tower Hamlets nonsense
  2. Establishing a Community Council in your neighbourhood – the technical stuff
  3. Current issues by James Frankcom, Spitalfields & Banglatown Steering Group
  4. Spitalfields & Banglatown Parish Council – Analysis and Comment

The reason this matters is because the creation of a Spitalfields & Banglatown Parish or Community Council could be one step towards the restoration of democracy in Tower Hamlets.

Khan still keen

Another step would be the abolition of the role of Directly Elected Mayor. At least one local councillor is still keen to see the end of the Directly Elected Mayor post in Tower Hamlets – Rabina Khan (Lib Dem, Shadwell).

“The proposal for a Parish council in Banglatown and Spitalfields ward is evidence that residents are deeply unhappy with the way things are been delivered in terms of service by the current Labour administration.

I pledged when I stood as a [Mayoral] candidate in 2018 that if elected I would run a referendum on the Directly Elected Mayor issue. I have not found any reason to change my mind on this,” says Khan.

“I like the concept of a Directly Elected Mayor and I’m sure some Tower Hamlets residents still do but we should not ignore the views of the people of the borough and should give them a choice of how the borough should be run.”

It is not known if Cllr. Khan will run for Mayor again in future.

The other steps would be for every ward in Tower Hamlets to take back control of their area by each becoming a parish council and so allowing local residents to look after their own neighbourhood.

Because it seems nobody else is doing the job.

The term ‘local council’ is commonly used interchangeably with ‘parish council’, ‘town council’ or ‘community council’ which is a recipe for confusion.

When most people think of ‘local council’ they think of a monolithic borough or county council. We will be using the term ‘community council’ as this is clearer.

LW also thinks that the term ‘parish council’ has specific religious connotations and with a sizeable Muslim population this is just plain daft. (But that’s just us.)

Here is a YouTube video from the BBC Sunday Politics London programme from a few weeks back with a short report on the Spitalfields & Banglatown Parish Council plan. We will return to this video later in case you can’t be bothered to watch it now.

 

What is a community council?

According to the government community councils are the ‘first level of government’ which provide communities with a democratic voice and a structure for taking community action.

Queens Park Community Council in W10 is the first of it’s kind in London.

How do residents create a community council?

For fuller details of this process please see the next story but essentially local people in a ward have to get a petition together which at least 7.5% of electors need to sign. If this is valid then it goes to the consultation phase and if it passes that then a community council is formed.

How is a community council funded?

Community councils are funded by a small ‘precept’ (cost of a Mars bar per week apparently, other chocolate bars are available) plus a percentage of the planning permission fees Tower Hamlets Council gets from all those rich property developers who like to build things in the borough.

What powers does a community council have?

Community councils do not have that much power but what power they do have they can use properly. The community council, made up of local residents of course, gets involved with issues such as planning, ASB, managing open space, campaigning for and delivering better local services and facilities without this having to go through the filter of local political party politics.

Spitalfields and Banglatown Parish Council campaigners consider some of the main things a community council could provide are better local representation, stronger community identity, better financial oversight of local events, Mother-tongue classes, help for struggling businesses in Brick Lane and coordinated booking for community facilities.

“Political expression getting in the way of the issues”

The best explanation of why community councils are good thing is given by Rupert Wheeler of the Spitalfields Society: “We are sorting issues out, the point is that the political expression is getting in the way of sorting out the issues.”

Well done Rupert, you summed up the problem with Tower Hamlets in one sentence.

Tower Hamlets would not be Tower Hamlets without all sorts of odd things going on in relation to any voting procedure. Even something like the Spitalfields & Banglatown Parish Council.

Moley has been keeping an eye on this for some time but has not published anything until now – so nobody would know Moley was on the case! (If you think about it this may cause consternation to some people in our borough…)

And you know how Moley does like surprises!

Here are some (but by no means all) of the things Moley has found in his burrowings.

What could possibly go wrong?

In true Tower Hamlets fashion it seems something quite unusual has been going on with the consultation.  There are two ways residents can express their opinion on the Spitalfields & Banglatown Parish Council proposal. One is by filling out an online form, the other is completing a paper questionnaire.

Wrinkle is that it seems groups either for or against the proposal can quite legitimately create their own paper forms. They then distribute them to residents, take the completed forms back and then give them in at the town hall.

Then council officers add up all the online responses and paper responses and come up with a result for or against the proposal. Local democracy at work.

Pass the gladioli

Then various people write various things and publish a document, the Tower Hamlets Council Community Governance Review Consultation Phase 1 Consultation Findings Report which is complete and utter nonsense because it is based on completely unreliable data.

It’s like adding a haddock and a desk chair together and deciding that chess is a good angle of gladioli.

Here is the relevant data from the relevant council document (PDF) which is full of so many tables they all blur in one. Transparency fail.

Let us concentrate on just one table, second from the top of page 55. You will see on the first row of the table that in the online survey 38.90% of respondents were against the proposed Parish Council and 61.10% were in favour. So far so normal.

But then the second row about the paper questionnaires handed in at the Town Hall reception (yes, you read that right) were 97% against the proposal and not any percent whatsoever in favour.

 

Huh? That makes no sense whatsoever. It seems it did not even make any sense to the council officers running this. Have a look at the second paragraph (underlined in red, LW emphasis) of the Executive Summary of the same document on page 10.

 

Let’s look at that paragraph a little more closely.

“It is also noteworthy that 100% of the 358 responses handed in at the council reception oppose the creation of a parish council.”

LW Comment: No sh*t Sherlock. What do you think that might mean?

“The most likely explanation is that these were collected and submitted by campaigners against the proposals in the petition. “

LW Comment: Yes… and… and… you know the words…..

“The council is aware that there are groups campaigning actively both for and against the proposal to create a parish council.”

LW Comment: Yes, that’s how these things work. Now what can you conclude from that? Huh? Huh? 

Oddly enough – in a Tower Hamlets oddly sort of way – whoever wrote this Executive Summary did not manage to draw any conclusions from the huge disparity between the opinions expressed online and the opinions expressed in the paper responses dumped in the Town Hall one day by some person. (Wonder who that was?)

What’s the point of an Executive Summary if it does not provide a summary?

It would be very sensible for any council, especially a council such as Tower Hamlets which has had one or two historical issues with voting processes, to keep the original paper responses just in case there were any queries about the consultation process.

The Disappearing Box of Leaflets

Moley also heard about a very odd story involving Whitechapel Post Office. LW can neither confirm or deny the truth of actually what happened but it does seem that on or around 2nd November 2018 there was a box consisting of 5,000 leaflets that the Spitalfields Town Council Parish Council had designed and printed which disappeared into thin air.

And no we do not think the Wapping Squirrels stole these leaflets as they tend to do with most consultations. The Whitechapel Squirrels? Maybe.

We did hear that the Metropolitan Police had started an investigation into the alleged theft of the leaflets, although the Post Office Investigation Team may now be dealing with it.

As is normal practise I emailed Tower Hamlets Council with some basic questions about the above and giving the council right to reply. That was on Sunday 24th February 2019.

Three months later LW has not received a reply.

You can see a screen grab of the email below (date in red).

Email from LW to Tower Hamlets Media Office sent on Sunday 24th February 2019
Email from LW to Tower Hamlets Media Office sent on Sunday 24th February 2019

Why no reply you may ask? Simple. When LW asks questions of Tower Hamlets Council that might cause some embarrassment it is standard practise for them to not respond to my email. Think ostrich and sand.

Ostriches sticking their heads in the sand
Ostriches sticking their heads in the sand

LW has encountered this behaviour on many occasions. And we have another email containing questions about a potentially awkward issue which has also been ignored for many months, but that’s another story which we will be telling quite soon.

Odd that, innit?

In the meantime we have asked the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government if they know what is going on with the Spitalfields & Banglatown Parish Council consultation. Because something is.

Which is why there is lots more to tell about this particular story.

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