At last week’s council meeting, Tower Hamlets First was blamed for causing the PwC report that cost the borough over £1million. One wonders whether they should do a “Best Value Inspection” on their own inspection, as to whether it was in the best interests of the borough to pay for it – however in the current climate, who has £1million to throw away? Apparently, Tower Hamlets council does.
Just over ten days after John Biggs won the mayoral election he published a restricted document titled “101 Rich Mix Litigation”, all 18 pages of this decision unavailable to view by the public and councillors. No rationale, no value for money and no business report. Since a date has been set for the litigation to go ahead on July 20th, without knowing what is inside this document means if Biggs has decided to not continue legal proceedings, then the £850k owed by Rich Mix will be written off.
The Independent group have called-in the mysterious contents of the decision, and an Overview and Scrutiny meeting will take place on July 7th – although all they will be able to do is challenge the secrecy of it. As we know the chair of the OSC is Labour Cllr John Pierce – whose ward, Weavers, is where Rich Mix lies. What with the very conception of Rich Mix pertaining to the Labour Group, it could be said that it is highly contentious for Biggs to be secretive about his decision, and for scrutiny to be handled by his comrade.
On the lead up to the mayoral election, London Labour published this (alongside a pretty outdated picture of Biggs *snort):
“Labour candidate John Biggs has today committed to putting openness and transparency at the heart of his campaign to be the new Mayor of Tower Hamlets – saying for too long, people have been ‘pushed out of the decision making process.’”
Rich Mix initially set out to be a cross-cultural hub, attracting all members of the community to come together in their mutual appreciation for arts and culture. What it has achieved in reality is a cinema that plays mainstream films, a bar with live music and a cafe. There are art pieces that line the walls on your way to see Jurassic World, so it’s sort of an ambient art experience.
Rich Mix has made an information pack, seeking to appoint 2 board members for their governing board, claiming “We are going through an exciting period of growth”. Looking at their turnover or £2.7m and net assets of £15.2m, it seems that they have established a good business model. They do also provide work spaces for local creatives and rehearsal rooms for musicians – in short, hipsters. Not to say there is anything wrong with that, it is clear that Rich Mix has helped emerging artists and it’s not easy to serve the interests of a broad group of people.
An arts centre that serves the interests of another group of people, is the Kobi Nazrul Centre, as it says online: “the council’s flagship Bengali arts and cultural centre”. Looking for their annual turnover isn’t available, but their net assets are £1.5k. It may not be a business, but not all community value should be measured by money in crude terms.
Tower Hamlets Labour group proposed at this years budget meeting a £100k reduction of funding for the Kobi Nazrul Centre. It appears that Tower Hamlets Labour group are not only seeking to remove funding from a genuine community arts centres but are bank rolling a flourishing business.
Without any information as to why this decision has been made, it means that other council funded services, like Kobi Nazrul Centre, have no understanding as to why Rich Mix gets preference; nor can the opposition contest it.