John Biggs Mayor of Tower Hamlets
It has been an exciting and extraordinarily busy time. To regain control at the Town Hall is of course a great achievement. But also hard work. Can I thank everyone who worked towards this. There will be a(nother?) party after August but now the really hard work begins.
I have appointed a talented Cabinet of 9 members. Responsibilities set out at the end of this report. This includes my 3 deputy Mayors.
I have, after discussion with the Executive and Group, appointed most of the Committee Chairs. These include Marc Francis at Development, Khales Uddin Ahmed at Licensing, Clare Harrisson at Human Resources, Sabina Akhter at General Purposes, Candida Ronald at Pensions. John Pierce is the new Chair of O&S.
I have additionally appointed some members for specific tasks: David Chesterton as my Planning Adviser and Khales Uddin Ahmed as my adviser on relations with faith communities.
I have created a small number of ‘Cabinet Commissions’ including one on the needs of the Somali Community. Led by Sirajul Islam with Amina Ali as Deputy Chair. And On Social Cohesion Led by Shiria Khatun. With possibly others on Housing Policy & Affordability, Review of the LDF including Infrastructure Needs, and on New approaches to Third Sector and partnership.
I have also appointed a number of Group Members to outside bodies, such as local landlords and health and arts organisations.
I have made savings of about £300,000 in the operating costs of the Mayor’s office, by removing unnecessary advisers. I have also reduced the physical size of the office, and created a new space for the Civic Speaker.
I have committed myself and the administration to a far more transparent approach to our work than the previous Mayor. This has included me speaking at Council meetings, attending Scrutiny Committees, attending a large number of public events. I expect lead members to do the same.
The cabinet works by ‘collective responsibility’. It is fair to say we are still finding our way of working and part of this is to properly understand how an Executive Mayor should work, and understanding the powers I have. I want the Party to better understand this and will work to maximise its potential for us, and our community.
Tower Hamlets will see a cut in our core grant from about £150m to about £90m. These are big cuts, and not yet completely worked out. We are however cushioned to a degree by our big Business Rates income and growing Council Tax base, but tough decisions will be needed. I and others will report back to you on what these might require.
Labour Group will be debating a crucial question in the next few days – how we should respond to education changes which will inevitably force more of our schools to become Academies. We have already taken a view that we need to be pragmatic, but setting high standards and expectations of partnership, with the Free Schools and Academies agenda. This doesn’t mean rolling over, but instead means maximising our hand. We will soon be discussing the Council’s proposed support for an initiative by local head teachers to establish a local foundation trust structure, in order that schools forced into Foundation status by Government have a ‘friendly’ and, more important still, locally based trust in which to fall if they choose to. The alternative is a high risk of fragmentation and a loss of the collegiate and cooperative relationships between schools, and with the Town Hall, that is a great strength in our Borough.
Commissioners (and Grants)
I have been developing a positive relationship with the Commissioners sent in by Government, and the stance is essentially to cooperate, while gently nudging them towards the door. I think we have little choice in this, but might as well make a virtue out of necessity. We want them out as soon as possible and need to satisfy them to hand back the keys to us. They were sent with a series of Directions, for example about key staff appointments, disposals of property, and grants. Most are progressing well but the trickiest one is grants.
The Commissioners have absolute control of grant making, and this week exercised this, with decisions that have left a lot of local organisations without funding. We could simply moan about this, and let me be clear that we will do some of that because some decisions are painful and wrong. However, there is a trickier requirement, and Labour Members and the Council will need to agree a forward strategy which addresses the concerns that led to the Government’s intervention. It will be easy for us to denounce this as Lutfur’s work. What will be harder is to acknowledge that we need a severe cultural change in our treatment of grant making and the third sector in future. In essence this is simple – a more professional and evidence based approach, advised by our priorities and supporting a third sector based on excellence. The reality will be considerably more painful.
Building Houses & Housing Crisis
In the Autumn we will be able to announce ( I hope, but Government policy will make this harder) a programme of Council House building. And also ‘buy backs’ of ex-Council homes. In a future meeting I want to talk about the crisis of affordability and its impact on families and individuals and homelessness and the future of our borough.
Old Flo & Rich Mix & EECF
I have made three early decisions: to reverse the previous mayors decision to sell the sculpture ‘Old Flo’. I want a panel of members led by Asma Begum, with Denise Jones and Rushanara Ali, to help identify the best home for her. Second, I reversed the previous Mayor’s decision to attempt to bankrupt the Rich Mix cultural centre in Bethnal Green. I think it’s able to be a great cultural asset to the Borough. Third, I reversed the decision to not release funds for the Isle of Dogs Community Foundation, now part of the East End Community Foundation. The funds were secured through planning decisions. I think the Foundation forms an important part of our strategy for supporting local communities into the future and want us to think about how we can develop its work further.
I instructed that Mile End Stadium be made available for Eid Prayers, and thuis was a massively popular success. I want to build strong and respectful links, without any hint of patronage or political confusion, with our faith communities. This is the way forward.
OHG and Circle/Old Ford
We are working at the Town Hall, particularly with our Isle of Dogs and Bow Councillors, plus Sirajul Islam, on how we can better hold these two landlords to account. Both are causing considerable problems, in different ways. We need to develop my election promise of better accountability of Social landlords.
Finally, I am examining how we can best solve the new Town Hall problem. Should it be in Whitechapel or elsewhere? More on this to a future meeting.
Mayor John Biggs, Executive Mayor
Responsible for Leadership of Cabinet
Specific responsibility for Partnerships, Policy, Strategy & Performance
- Strategy & Performance
- Strategic Partnerships
- Tower Hamlets Partnerships & Community Plan
- Equalities, One Tower Hamlets & Workforce to Reflect the Community
- Member Learning & Development
- Co-ordination of Policy Development & Implementation
- Localisation & Service Integration
- Town Hall Strategy - Development of Major Projects
- Oversight of relationships with external partners
Cllr Rachael Saunders, Deputy Mayor for Education & Childrens Services & the Third Sector
Cabinet Member for Education & Children’s Services
Responsible also for Grants & Third Sector
Cllr Shiria Khatun, Deputy Mayor for Community Affairs
Cabinet Member for Community Safety
Responsible also for
- Community Cohesion.
- Tackling Radicalisation.
Cllr Sirajul Islam, Statutory Deputy Mayor Cabinet Member for Housing Management & Performance
Responsible also for
- Work with Faith Communities
- Welfare Reform Response
Cllr Rachel Blake, Cabinet Member for Strategic Development
- Housing Strategy
- Local Development Framework & Development Plan
- Regeneration Strategy & Sustainability
Cllr Joshua Peck, Cabinet Member for Work & Economic Growth
- Employment Strategy
- Employment Partnerships (including JCP)
- Economic Development
- Skills Improvement
- Employment Initiatives
- Volunteering & Training
- Support for Local Businesses
- Markets & Town Centres
Cross-cutting responsibility – work & economic growth in areas covered by other cabinet briefs
Cllr Amy Whitelock, Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Services
- Adult Social Care
- Older People
- Adults with Disabilities
- Supporting People
- Health Services & The Health and Wellbeing Board
- Mental Health
- Public Health
Cllr Asma Begum, Cabinet Member for Culture
- Arts & Events
- Creative Industries
- Idea Stores & Libraries
- Museums & Heritage
- Parks & Open Spaces - Leisure
- Sports & Physical Activity
Cllr Ayas Miah, Cabinet Member for Environment
- Environmental Health & Protection
- Street Management & Cleanliness
- Waste Management & Recycling#
- Parking Services
- Transport Services
- Road Safety & Cycling
- The Council’s Environmental Impact
Cllr David Edgar, Cabinet Member for Resources
- Finance, Budget Development & Monitoring
- Asset Strategy, Capital Delivery & Property Services
- Procurement & Corporate Programmes
- Value for Money
- Revenue Services
- ICT - Risk Management
- Customer Access
- Human Resources