Rich Mix “still running up losses”

There appears to be a sudden media blackout on the Rich Mix debt write-off gifted by Mayor John Biggs, and nary a post of previously concerned local bloggers parroting the outcry of Labour members – pressing for Tower Hamlets to wave off the £850k debt with no-questions-asked.

The clamorous drama between Tower Hamlets council and Rich Mix has in an instant become a silent mystery. So quiet that one felt compelled to check that this entire episode of the borough’s history even ever existed.

Ted Jeory, east London’s very own Danger Mouse, wrote an article in 2006 for the East London Advertiser about a leaked report exposing financial problems with Rich Mix. A report he chided was “deemed too confidential and sensitive to be scrutinised in public – so really, Ted has been documenting developments and conflicts surrounding Rich Mix for almost a decade. Back in 2010, Ted was very skeptical of the arts centre calling it back then the “who’s who of the east London Labour Party” and generally critical of the remit to serve a broad community – as Cllr Denise Jones hoped to attract “the white working class from the Isle of Dogs and the Bengali boys from the Boundary Estate.” Ted observed at the time that Rich Mix was filled with “Shoreditch types” with Apple Macs and lattes – and expressed shock and outrage that the borough still hadn’t claimed the £850k debt owed by Rich Mix and at the time “had gone begging to the council” for more money. Ted concluded that Rich Mix was in a cycle of debt and cash dependency due to “the total lack of proper scrutiny by Labour councillors which caused the mess in the first place.” You can’t fool Danger Mouse.

Almost a complete parallel to our Battle of Tower Hamlets blog entry that documented a confidential report that led to a call-in at the overview and scrutiny meeting with members voicing concern about value to the community and its financial solvency.

Ted U-turned in 2015, writing he changed his mind about Rich Mix: “this is now hipster country and it will eventually spread into the southern stretches of Brick Lane. Maybe it’s better to embrace and accept than be a bunch of King Cnuts.” With this rather meagre rationale of don’t-be-a-spoil-sport combined with utter resignation makes me wonder what happened to the old Danger Mouse?

Even if Ted Jeory made a deal with the devil – since he expressed strongly his feelings against the Tower Hamlets V Rich Mix litigation – where is the jubilant “hurray Biggs saved the day!” blog post? Equally, where are the back-slapping tweets from Labour councillors cheering “woo-hoo we saved Rich Mix!”? Where in the local press is there any announcement of this even happening? Is there no duty to the age-old convention of storytelling to have an ending? As revelatory the story of Lutfur Rahman’s desk was, for local bloggers this surely is second in significance? 

Apparently Danger Mouse and his sidekick Ernest Penfold (strange parallel here; people often mistake Mark Baynes for a mole when actually, like Penfold, he’s a hamster) were invited by Cllr Pierce to attend an Overview and Scrutiny meeting to give their opinions on how the council could stop being career fodder for local bloggers.

Speaking of U-turns, Ken Livingstone who once backed the creation of Rich Mix, made a comment on LBC (audio provided) about his disappointment on its outcome and subsequent decision to give £1.5m, he said: “I find it breathtaking because, it started back in 2000, here we are 15 years on and it’s still running up losses”. I suppose you are now wondering why you never heard of this public condemnation from Ken Livingstone on the handling of Rich Mix – join the club.

A rather entitled response from Mayor Biggs, who defended the secrecy of the decision, he said: “there was confidentiality because there was legal actions, which I wanted to stop because I felt they were unnecessary and that’s my right” – perhaps one day Mayor Biggs could educate the rest of us as to why he felt it unnecessary to pursue a debt owed to the community and also why he is giving away more of their money – we shall await to see if we have that right.

A spokesperson from the Independent Group, formerly Tower Hamlets First, Cllr Shahed Ali was also interviewed on LBC and gave this statement, he said: “I have no doubt in my mind that every media outlet out there would have been talking about how Lutfur is literally handing out money to organisations that haven’t even applied for it”.

Organisations that did apply for grants attended workshops earlier this year, seeking advice and information on how to make applications in order to meet requirements for funding. Once their applications were received they were marked against a 10 point criteria, if approved the organisation then receives money in segments and are expected to provide evidence of meeting targets and value for money with quarterly check-ins and reports in order to continue receiving the grant.

Half the applications made for charity grants were rejected for not meeting the criteria, while Rich Mix is awarded £1.5m in a secret document authorised by John Biggs, evading any scrutiny and monitoring from the commissioners. The yearly budget for third sector grants is £3.2m, these include local services such as educational support, lunch clubs for the elderly, improving employability and advice centres. This means that Rich Mix has received almost half of this years budget without applying for funding through commissioners at the council who oversee the grant allocation process.

One of the stipulations made for the allocation of funds is: “the grants should not include a profit element. Grant agreements should reinforce that payments are made on an “as cost” basis and do not include profit.” Without any scrutiny and best value applied to Rich Mix, there is no certainty that Rich Mix will meet this criteria. With half the number of lunch club applications denied, those that were agreed will be under the watchful eye of the commissioners, as stated in the Commissioner Decision Report: “There will need to be some negotiation around the outcomes with some of the providers which will be a condition of grant and robustly monitored.” As no evaluation of Rich Mix’s business plan and community strategy has been made, it is a guess game where the money will be spent and with no quarterly business reports handed over, no one will even know.

On the bright side, in a full council meeting Mayor Biggs admitted to not frequenting the Rich Mix centre on the basis that he isn’t much of a “luvvy”. So at least we can be rest assured that this decision is an entirely selfless act to serve only the interests of his Labour chums. 

How to Win Friends and Influence People


If a politician runs a campaign outlining their manifesto targets, then once elected they fulfil those pledges – does that sound like corruption?

If an elected Mayor of Bangladeshi heritage funds organisations of which, benefit some Bangladeshis – is that corruption?

If a Labour Mayoral candidate in the run-up to election, meets with an organisation run by former Labour politicians, who are undergoing litigation with the council, then becomes elected, agrees to scrap the litigation and supply further funding for that organisation – is that corruption?

Is this just how democracy works, or is there a grey area that lies between appealing to voting blocs and corruption?

In the run-up to the general election the Conservatives made a campaign to get the voting bloc of pensioners, private companies and high earners. They used their influence on the right-wing media to distort facts on the proportion of money spent on welfare and immigration, whilst omitting figures on tax evasion of big business. By making the “economy” the number one issue, their narrative of fear is possibly one of the reasons those on a lower income chose the Conservatives.

What this demonstrates is firstly how the democratic system enables politicians to create policies and campaigns targeting groups, in order to garner votes. Which makes perfect rational sense, your politics will appeal to certain groups – unless of course you’re a career politician, then your politics is all about finding votes – and your policies will be shaped accordingly.

Secondly, it shows how power influences and constructs the spread of information in the media and permeates through to public opinion.

As we have seen with the press coverage of the politics in Tower Hamlets, the right wing media has not only represented a negative perception of the previous administration but also a false one. As the acting judge Mawrey said, “there isn’t a shred of evidence linking Lutfur Rahman to extremists” – and yet he continues to be described as the extremist-linked Mayor in some of our mainstream press, i.e. The Evening Standard and The Telegraph.

Another element to the behaviour of our press is that shock-value sells and Islamic extremism is hot topic. The covert decision to write-off the Rich Mix debt of £850k with a £1.5million top-up, under a white Labour Mayor – does not play a part in the established media narrative of extremism and corruption. Even the Conservatives in Tower Hamlets are holding back on condemning the back-door deal between Mayor Biggs and Rich Mix. Corruption becomes acceptable when it is carried out in a way that supports certain values, such as allocating funds to an organisation that attracts affluent residents to the area, and restricting money to community services to those less privileged.

Looking at this political landscape shows the difficulties people of Tower Hamlets face in trying to discern the facts for themselves, especially when they are hidden from view. Regardless of your views on Rich Mix, whether you think they provide a service to the community or not, what has been concealed in that confidential report is a decision to relinquish a debt and pay funds amounting to almost £2.5million of money paid in tax by the residents of Tower Hamlets. If there are valid reasons for this, then why can’t the public see them? Surely there isn’t need for discretion – it’s a cinema, not a women’s refuge.

Mayor Biggs did attend the Overview and Scrutiny meeting, much to the applause of his supporters but I wonder if so did Labour member Cllr Denise Jones, who happens to be a board member of Rich Mix? The public are not privy to such information since this discussion happened in private. Another issue of conflicting interests is that the Chair of Rich Mix is former Tower Hamlets Labour leader, Prof. Michael Keith and former MP Baroness Oona King is it’s patron.

What we do know is that Rich Mix made a counter-claim against Tower Hamlets Council, that the council owed Rich Mix £1.5million from the initial contract between them. The High Court dismissed their claim to this money in July 2014, and the litigation continued without Rich Mix’s counter-claim. Since these contracts come with conditions, one can conjecture that the High Court decreed that Rich Mix did not fulfil the terms of these conditions – terms likely to be about providing sufficient services to the community.

If we cannot rely on our media to report fairly and accurately, we do still have a democratic system where you the public can enter questions to the Mayor and his cabinet – if you want to know why Mayor Biggs is giving this money away – perhaps pop down to the next council meeting and ask him yourself. I heard he is taking questions.

The Richer Mix

Jurassic_World - Bengali

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.