ON 5th MAY, London’s voters will be going to the polls. All local council seats are up for election – as are Directly Elected Mayors, in those boroughs which have them. We’ll be looking at all the mayoral candidates in Tower Hamlets – starting with the Party of the incumbent Executive Mayor: Labour.
The official Labour Party candidate for Executive Mayor is the sitting Mayor: John Biggs, who seems to be taking a leading role in the campaign, which is based on his record rather than on promises for the future. For example, the Tower Hamlets Labour Party website is still displaying the 2018 Manifesto. Perhaps the Mayor thinks that this was such a good manifesto that he is recycling it.
There are three further clues to what John Biggs’s policy platform may be – all based on past performance.
The current Executive Mayor has released four little flyers that are circulating on social media and which list past achievements. Most points are vague, and there is no indication of whether these “achievements” will continue.
●Helping with the cost of living This refers to freezing the Council Tax and paying full rebates to those entitled to Council Tax Reduction (i.e., absorbing the 10% not funded by the Government); providing Free School Meals for all primary school pupils (a policy begun by the previous Directly Elected Mayor, Lutfur Rahman); and tackling poverty and providing support with energy bills (to whom? how much?).
This states that the Mayor reduces Council Tax for the poorest. It is not clear if this is selective charging or, more likely, that those entitled to a rebate under the Council Tax Reduction scheme receive it.
Again, it is not clear whether these are achievements from the past or promises for the future.
Labour Party Press Releases
Since the Council decided its budget on 2nd March, Tower Hamlets Labour Party has published three press releases covering parts of the budget, which refer to the Executive Mayor’s “announcements” on local spending. They seem to refer to elements of the Council’s budget rather than being new funding decided since the Budget
●The first covers extra funding on waste and recycling. It is not clear whether the extra money is to meet an expansion of the service or is necessary because the costings done when the Mayor brought the service back in-house were too low.
●The second announces that the Council budget includes £500,000 to be spent on “initiatives” to help children who missed out during lockdowns.
●The third announces that the Council Budget includes spending of £370,000 to keep the Council’s food distribution hub operating for another year.
The Council’s record: what’s in and what’s out
Finally in our hunt for clues about what a further term for Executive Mayor John Biggs would offer, we turn to the Tower Hamlets Labour Party press statement praising the Council’s record, which was set out in a motion passed by Labour councillors at the last Council meeting. The motion singled out three main policies:
●supporting residents with a Tackling Poverty Fund which spent £6.6 million over the last four years (in June 2019, the Council announced that £15 million would be spent on the “Liveable Streets” scheme);
●providing Free School Meals for all primary school pupils (i.e., continuing the policy of the previous Mayor, Lutfur Rahman);
●funding a 100% Council Tax discount for the poorest in the borough (does this mean operating the Council Tax reduction scheme at 100%, even though the Government only covers 90% of the cost?).
Referring to his achievements, Executive Mayor John Biggs comments “We have done great work in tackling poverty.”
Cllr Asma Begum, one of the Deputy Mayors, commented, “We have transformed our Children’s Services for the better.” This is just as well. In 2015, Executive Mayor John Biggs inherited a Service which had been found, by Ofsted, to be “good with outstanding features”. Some 18 months into John Biggs’s Administration Ofsted inspected again: they ranked the service “inadequate”, criticised the Cabinet Member for not attending important meetings and sent in supervisors to oversee the service. Many residents would be surprised that Cllr Begum describes this as “better”.
Tower Hamlets Labour Party has not referred to several policies which have been part of the John Biggs Administration but have been less popular. These include:
●“Liveable streets”, designed to move rather than reduce traffic, this policy is often cited as the one which lost Labour the Weavers Ward by-election. John Biggs paused the implementation of the policy and then reinstated it, largely unchanged.
●Cuts in education services such as halving the number of specialist staff who support children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and closing the Council’s day nurseries and the Community Language Service.
●Unilaterally changing the employment contracts of Council workers – a policy condemned by Dave Prentis, General Secretary of Unison (one of the largest trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party).
●Refusing to host a bike riders, who had been raising money to aid Palestinian children, in a Tower Hamlets park; and then refusing to back a commitment to “free speech on Palestine” in the Council.
●Cutting Meals on Wheels for vulnerable adults – and charging them for home care.
Voters will decide on 5th May whether to back a further four years or to support change. If any Labour Party members would like to draw attention to further policies or have found the Labour manifesto and can tell voters where it is, please comment below.
●The candidates for Mayor of Tower Hamlets are:
John Biggs, Labour & Co-operative Party
Pamela Holmes, Independent
Rabina Khan, Liberal Democrats
Hugo Pierre, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Lutfur Rahman, Aspire
Elliot Weaver, The Conservative Party
Andrew Wood, Independentc
●Read more about the Biggs Administration:
Executive Mayor John Biggs
●Read more about the Tower Hamlets mayoral election:
And they’re off!
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