‘Prioritise excellent public services to deliver cleaner streets, better schools and reduced anti-social behaviour’ – John Biggs’ pledge during 2015 mayoral election
What with the Tory sent commissioners overseeing operations alongside their appointed Chief Executive, Will Tuckley, (£200k per annum) it is hard to see whether Mayor Biggs has any influence on the Council at all. The cuts to public services in the latest budget shows compliance to the Conservative government austerity line. We know Biggs’ party leader Jeremy Corbyn is against cuts, but perhaps Corbyn isn’t the man who he is trying to please, and after Biggs took Rachel Saunders to meet Conservative MP and Secretary of State Greg Clark (why not Deputy Mayor Sirajul Islam?), with still no invitation from Mayor Biggs for Corbyn to visit, it does pull into question whose side are they on?
Tower Hamlets Labour have made a budget that will see redundancies, cuts to front line services, a reduction in employment opportunities previously made for impoverished and minority groups, a reduction in children’s health and education services, an end to burial subsidy services, cuts to elderly care and abolishing entire funding for Police officers.
How will John Biggs deliver cleaner streets when 10 environment officers are made redundant?
Is cutting £4.3m from Children Services, that will likely see the closure of Queen Mary Nursery, bettering schools?
Is taking £270k from Police conducive to reducing anti-social behaviour?
It is perplexing to try and understand Biggs’ politics when on the 22 February he put out a press release from his office as member of GLA City and East (his second job), complaining that the London mayor is stretching Tower Hamlets Police force into neighbouring areas, he wrote:
“The Mayor’s cuts (Boris Johnson) have meant neighbourhood police teams in Tower Hamlets have already lost 224 uniformed officers since 2010.”
What is more baffling about the budget is the unnecessary spending and lack of initiatives to raise money, as pointed out by Tower Hamlets Independent Group’s (THIG ) alternative budget, where they note that £140k on fireworks is far too much, especially when they are cutting £20k on burial subsidies, taking £50k from school trips and £41k from incontinence laundry services. The council itself owns properties and yet they’ve set aside £20k for hiring external venues, not to mention the £100k kept for catering when hosting events. How can we as a society celebrate festivities without insuring the wellbeing of everyone?
The worst of Biggs and his cabinet’s budget are the cuts to Child, Adolescent and Mental Health Services and cuts to Social Care and Learning Disability care users, our truly most vulnerable citizens. Perhaps children, the elderly and the incapacitated are not pulling their weight enough, and therefore until they have the get-up-and-go to start paying their way, don’t deserve services like everyone else.
From the £71m Lutfur Rahman kept in reserves to counter government cuts, John Biggs is using £25 million and still planning to cut £17 million of services on top of £4 million that he has already signed off. This was brought up by Hugo Pierre who petitioned at the budget council meeting, to not make any cuts to public services. In order to avoid discussing this point, the most vicious Labour councillors took the opportunity to attack Pierre for not winning local elections as a TUSC candidate (watch video).
When Biggs was campaigning for mayor, there was a lot of talk about Lutfur Rahman’s advisors and personal staff – where as Biggs has kept £605k for his office and advisors, recently appointed Head of Marketing for £100k, as well as an extra £25k for publicity. Which brings us to the scrapping of East End Life – how are the council supposed to inform Tower Hamlets residents of changes to services? Are they expecting the whole of Tower Hamlets to attend council meetings? Not everyone has the internet, nor the inclination to find out information that should be sent to them. This certainly does not feel like transparency, without the paper the workings of the council is practically invisible.
An alternative budget was presented by THIG which had found savings, fund raising opportunities and reserves meaning no one has to have their services cut, or a 4% tax increase for that matter. This might be hard to believe with all the scaremongering out there about government debt but rest assured that the Chief Financial Officer at Tower Hamlets found THIG’s budget proposal to be ‘cost neutral’ and the Monitoring Officer wrote that the budget ‘contains savings and spending proposals which balance each other out and consequently achieves the requirement for a balanced budget.’
With so much resources available to the council for innovation, planning and improvement for the future, the budget decided on for Tower Hamlets is at best uninspiring and at worst a reversal of every progress it had going.