Where does lottery money go?

Lynne Featherstone at Alexandra Palace Park playgroundWent out after surgery yesterday to visit two of the local projects funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

First off – the makeover for Alexandra Palace Park – where there is a real transformation. Now we have views along the axis – like a mini (very mini) Champs Elysees. Landscaping and renewal around the rose garden. The children’s playground is now a delight and the views no longer screened by scary clumps of growth where mothers with toddlers used to fear strangers might lurk. The skate part and the graffiti wall are doing just fine. The fishing decks and revamp of the cafe make an afternoon or morning boating or walking, playing or fishing a delight. It was really great to see the park blossoming and fulfilling its potential in a way that it always should have – but never did.

Thank you Lottery Fund! And thanks too to the staff whose enthusiasm and commitment have seen it through from concept to completion.

The second of our visits was to the George Padmore Institute in Stroud Green. This was a treasure where the history of one man’s vision and drive (John Le Rose) led to the birth of the fight for rights in black education and arts. Black history is now far more to the fore – but this is the man who drove the agenda forward and somehow knew the path to force intellectual, cultural and artistic change. Lottery funds have and are supporting the archiving of the documents that give testimony to this history. This was a real treat of a visit – and thank goodness for the funding for without it such important and transforming history might not be preserved and archived.

Alexandra Palace: what next?

Alexandra PalaceLast week Nigel Scott (Liberal Democrat by-election candidate in the Alexandra by-election) published his plan for the future of Alexandra Palace:

  • Establish a new board with independent, expert trustees representative of local and national interests, with an independent Chair.
  • Ensure proper consultation with residents about the Palace’s future.
  • Refurbish the ice rink, make the Victorian theatre fully usable and multi-purpose, make the historic TV studios an educational visitor attraction and support the organ society’s restoration work.
  • Protect the CUFOS community centre and its valued activities.
  • Make getting to the site via public transport easier (such as Oyster at Alexandra Palace rail station).
  • Provide the trading company with the room and encouragement to thrive, so that expanded charitable activities can be fully-funded.
  • Actively seek funding sources appropriate to the charitable status of the Trust.
  • Clarify the financial contribution of Haringey Council by an annual grant to the charity to cover the costs of maintaining the public road and park.
  • Retain ultimate public control in the interests of public benefit.
  • Fully recognise the increasingly unique value – as London gets ever denser – of Alexandra Palace and Park to local people and Londoners.

A good plan! Alexandra Palace is a cultural and historical icon that needs to be raised above the quagmire of Haringey Labour’s financial and political bungling. As Nigel said:

“Alexandra Palace is a community treasure. Labour’s shady and incompetent dealings with the Palace’s have been fully exposed this week. This must now stop.

“We need a plan that will really engage with the people of Haringey, a plan that will provide independence from Labour’s incompetent meddling with strong independent leadership. We need a restored building that cherishes the Palace’s historic uniqueness and protects the good work carried out by CUFOS.”

Damning report into Alexandra Palace deal published

Press release is pretty self-explanatory, so here it is:

Haringey’s Liberal Democrats are calling for the resignation of Labour’s finance boss and former Council leader Cllr Charles Adje following the publication of a damning report into how, as Alexandra Palace Chair, he pushed through the controversial licence for Firoka to operate in the building. The Liberal Democrats say the revelations in the report show he can’t be trusted to run the boroughs finances.

The report into affairs at Alexandra Palace was published late last week for consideration at an emergency Alexandra Palace board meeting this Friday. Among the most scandalous of many revelations in the report is an assertion that Cllr Adje pushed the controversial licence through for political reasons, so that he could tell the Haringey Labour group’s Annual General Meeting it had been achieved – at which time Cllr Adje was bidding for the job of Labour finance boss.

Whilst Cllr Adje claims to have had limited involvement in the process, the others interviewed for the report indicate that it was he who was driving the ill-fated process forward.

Haringey Liberal Democrat Leader, Cllr Robert Gorrie, comments:

“Firstly, it’s clear that Charles Adje must be removed as soon as possible as the Haringey’s finance chief. There are many damning revelations in the report, but suggestions that Cllr Adje was rushing this disastrous process forward, without proper procedures in place, in order to suit the needs of the Labour Group’s Annual General Meeting is an absolutely scandalous revelation. This point alone requires further serious investigation.

“This politically motivated incompetence has cost Haringey’s taxpayers millions of pounds. Why was Haringey Council so slow to take steps to bring the Palace into line? The Liberal Democrats, and local campaign groups repeatedly raised the issue from last July onwards. Cllr Neil Williams brought it to the Council, to the Cabinet, and to the media. It was raised repeatedly by Lib Dem Ally Pally board member Bob Hare, whose demands for answers were simply brushed aside.

“Following a request by council officers there will now be an action plan to ensure that this does not happen again – but this is as much about incompetence as it is about governance. No amount of procedural changes will protect the Trust from people in charge who have shown they should not be in such positions of authority. That’s why Charles Adje must step down.”

Lynne Featherstone MP adds:

“This is a flagrant abuse of power which appears largely to have been pursued because of political self-interest. This is not someone who should hold the purse strings to half billion pounds of public money through Haringey Council’s finances. Further questions must also be asked how this was able to carry on without the scrutiny of the rest of the Labour party and the Council.”

Ken Livingstone recycles his Alexandra Palace promises

Well, well – Ken Livingstone has been at it again – recycling old, broken promises just as election day nears. In this case – he’s making the same comments about Alexandra Palace that he made four years ago – and then didn’t act on in the four years since.

As the news release from my colleague Monica Whyte (candidate for the Enfield & Haringey London Assembly seat) says:

Local Liberal Democrats have exposed Ken Livingstone’s cynical bid for votes over Ally Pally, admidst Haringey Labour’s catastrophic mismanagement of the cherished building.

The Lib Dems are reminding local residents that his promises this week comes four years after Labour’s Mayor made a similar bid for votes at the last Mayoral election – since which he has done absolutely nothing to help as local Labour bosses have wasted further millions in a disastrous attempt to dispose of the site.

When the last Mayoral election was days away, Ken Livingstone told local newspaper the Hornsey Journal that the Ally Pally was a “regional resource” and a “huge financial burden” for the people of Haringey – and suggested that extra funding could be made available to it from the Mayor’s budget (Hornsey Journal, 3rd June 2004).

In the past four years however, he has done nothing to help, while the local Labour Council has orchestrated a disastrous attempt to flog the building to a developer through a failed lease that has been thrown out by the High Court – leaving local taxpayers with another multi-million pound bill on top of the £50 million already squandered.

Local GLA candidate and Haringey Lib Dem councillor Monica Whyte commented: “Ken Livingstone’s empty promises to save the Ally Pally from the clutches of Haringey Labour would be great if they were true – but this just shows that he will say anything for a few votes in this area.”

“He said he’d help save the Ally Pally last time and what did he do? Absolutely nothing. Instead, Lib Dems have had to battle another fiasco of mismanagement over the Firoka deal, which has cost local residents further millions.

“Local residents will not be fooled by Ken a second time round!”

Brian Paddick on the campaign trail in Haringey

Lynne Featherstone, Brian Paddick and Monica Whyte promote a green alternative to plastic bagsBrian Paddick came to Hornsey & Wood Green and we visited a number of hotspots. The area is becoming a bit of a regular haunt of his – he was here during the Highgate by-election too. This time I showed him Wood Green cross – which is the area that local residents in the Wood Green area are most worried about crime wise. There stands a disused and vacant and deteriorating police box. Originally conceived and procured to ease peoples’ fears by having police on the spot – it never really opened for enough hours for anyone to have the slightest confidence that there would be a police person in the box. So it failed. Such a stupid waste for what was a good idea.

We went to Alexandra Park station (Oyster needed / on the way); Ally Pally – to show Brian the historic building which Labour Haringey first built up a debt (for which we locals had to pay) and then tried to sell on in a highly controversial deal – stopped at the moment by a local group taking Labour Haringey to court; then off to the 603 bus route in Muswell Hill where Brian pledged to extend the operating hours of this much loved route.

In Crouch End he promoted the Crouch End Traders ‘Bag for Life’ and posed in front of the Clock Tower whilst he did various interviews with the local press. He tried to squeeze in Weston Park Post Office – but in the end Monica Whyte (GLA candidate and local councillor) and David Winskill (local councillor) went there to meet a disabled lady whose life will be ruined if Labour’s proposed Post Office closures go ahead.

And I went to visit Bonnie – living with husband, two children and sister in two rooms in terrible state – but more of this story in a while. I am on the warpath for this one.

£182,000 spent by Haringey Labour on PR firm

Sigh … this is the story from the Ham & High:

More than £182,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent on employing Lexington Communications since 2005 – money that critics say could be better employed combating the Palace’s asbestos contamination.

Lexington Communications, employed by the charitable trust which is administered by Labour-lead Haringey Council, also has Labour links. Founding partner Michael Craven has acted as chief media spokesman for the Labour Party.

Mr Craven was accused of waging a “massive disinformation campaign” by the Corporate Europe Observatory website when managing director of the Market Access PR firm in 1998.

Lexington Communications, which describes itself as “London’s fastest-growing public affairs and issues management company”, charged Haringey Council £108,000 in 2005, £33,200 in 2006 and £41,000 up to November 2007.

The total sum would come close to covering the £225,000 needed to clear the palace of asbestos contamination.

Clive Carter, secretary of Stroud Green Residents’ Association, said: “Shouldn’t the policies of the majority group be defended by the elected politicians responsible for them, rather than getting one of London’s most expensive PR companies to put a gloss on what is going on?

“We need spokesmen who do not need to speak through PR firms at great public expense in order to persuade us.”

You can read the full story here.

Alexandra Palace: Labour loses even more money

Alexandra PalaceHaringey Lib Dem council group leader Neil Williams tells me that he is increasingly worried about council tax payers being taken to the cleaners by the current goings on at Alexandra Palace.

As ever with Ally Pally, it’s a complicated story – and one to which neither Haringey Council, nor the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (also, alas, a Labour councillor) will give full and frank answers, but it goes like this.

When the Trust (and for this we must sadly read Haringey Labour in practice) thought they had a ‘done deal’ with their chosen developer (Firoz Kassam and Firoka), they (the developer that is) were allowed to start trading in the building, to get their feet under the carpet, as it were. It’s a bit like thinking you had sold your house, and then giving the potential future owners the keys before the deal was signed.

However, the deal on the lease was thrown out by the High Court – as the Charity Commission was found to have failed to consult the public properly on their plans for the Palace. The whole process now has to be done again. This could take months, if it happens at all.

In the meantime, as the Trust had no ‘plan B’ to cope with this cock-up, Firoka is now running the trading business at the Pally – and pretty much pocketing the profits coming in, from events and exhibitions, and so on.

Previously, some pretty tidy contributions from trading have always been used to bring down the cost of the Palace to the Haringey taxpayer, possibly up to about £2 million a year – but this pot of money is now essentially in the hands of Firoka, who show no visible signs of passing it on.

Haringey Council describes this situation as “unfortunate” and blames the Save Ally Pally campaign as well as the Lib Dems – i.e. anyone other than themselves, even though it was they who came up with the flawed sell off and they who let Firoka in to start earning money before the deal was finalised. Indeed, they have employed blue-chip PR advisers, Lexington Communications, who are helping them say so – all being paid for by the Haringey taxpayer, just to rub salt into the financial wounds of this all.

Not good!