Haringey Council finance chief quits

So – Charles Adje is finally going. As the Ham & High reports:

CONTROVERSIAL finance chief Cllr Charles Adje has sensationally quit his cabinet position after months of fending off attacks from the public and opposition parties.

Cllr Adje, who was leader of the council in 2004 and 2005, has faced months of mud-slinging including:

o a Standards Board hearing which found him guilty of disclosing confidential information

o criticism in two official reports about his actions as chairman of the board at Alexandra Palace

o questions on how he dealt with council finances after £37million was lost in failed Icelandic banks…

Cllr Robert Gorrie, Lib Dem leader, said: “In recent years Cllr Adje has been part of a Labour administration that has cost residents millions and left Haringey with one if the highest council tax rates in London.

“It has taken the bungled sell-off of Ally Pally, £37million lost in Icelandic Banks and massively overspent IT projects for the Labour group to realise that this list of failure is too long for local residents to endure any longer.”

Labour councillor Alan Stanton, who has often criticised his colleague’s actions, said: “He should have stepped down yesterday and stepped down from the council altogether. He has proven beyond any doubt that he has no judgement and carries on making mistakes, one after the other.

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.”

Alexandra Palace update

On The future of the birthplace of regular TV at Alexandra Palace is under threatThursday it was the meeting with Cllr Charles Adje (Haringey Labour councillor and Chair of Alexandra Palace Board) and Mr Firoz Kassam (of Firoka Group – who are purchasing a 125 year lease on Ally Pally). Cllr Wayne Hoban (ex Ally Pally board, Lib Dem Deputy Leader of the Opposition and ward councillor for the Palace) came with me.

The meeting was not exactly a resounding success in terms of agreeing any changes ahead of the signing of the contracts on Tuesday to protect the historic TV studios. Being so close on the deadline for signing the contracts it was clear that the long delays over signing since last May had exasperated those involved in the process and so there was reluctance to make any more changes at the last moment.

In my view – in that case it should have been dealt with earlier and anyway it is important to get everything right if you are signing something over for 125 years! As to why it hadn’t been dealt with earlier – well, when the issue was originally raised and proposed by the two Liberal Democrat members on the Ally Pally board and minuted – it was voted down. So this was a last (and unsuccessful) pre-contract signing attempt to change things.

However, Mr Kassam recognises the importance of the history of the birthplace of television. The contract provides for a museum of television history and until the deal is signed and sealed this remains the state of play. As a businessman there is also no doubt that he recognises that the historic site is a unique selling point and that he will want to maximise that advantage.

Mr Kassam seemed open to discussions on the museum post-contract signing. One point made during the public kafuffle over the last couple of weeks was the issue around the BBC expecting the Firoka Group to put up the funds to preserve the artefacts and create the television museum and the BBC not being able to put money in itself. I am hopeful that given Mr Kassam’s willingness to look at these issues with interested parties that the BBC and Mr Kassam will be able to talk the issues over.

So, we’re back to where we were a few days ago before this meeting was arranged – that is, the Charity Commission consultation that will run for one month – and remains tremendously important in terms of any issues anyone wishes to raise. Therefore, I would encourage everyone to put in their views during the consultation period by emailing the Charity Commission at enquiries@charitycommission.gsi.gov.uk

As always the emails that work best with this sort of lobbying are short, temperate but clear messages that include your full name and postal address. It would be handy if you could also copy your email to me at lynne@lynnefeatherstone.org

Ally Pally progress – and conditional cautions

First – another update on Ally Pally. I’ve had a call to say can I meet Firoz Kassam (the new owner) and Cllr Charles Adje (Labour councillor and Chair of the Ally Pally Board) this Thursday (more quickly than I had suggested last Saturday when I met them at the Ally Pally firework display). The reason give is that the contract will be signed next week.

There is provision for a museum of television in the contract – but it doesn’t preserve the studios. So my proposal is to offer them a draft clause to be inserted in the contract which will save the historical parts of the old BBC studios – though with flexibility as to exactly what the rooms are used for.

I’ve got a couple of experts on the case to draw up the draft clause for me to offer to the Firoka Group and the Ally Pally Board. I hope their bringing forward of the meeting means that they want to show willing prior to the Charity Commission consultation and appear good altruists.

We will see. I gather that the Firoka Group’s current view is that they don’t feel they should spend money on it when the BBC hasn’t. A completely spurious argument as the BBC is hard pressed to spend public money in a building that isn’t theirs and has had a cloud over its future – and has a debt ridden history. And, Firoka are going to have to spend money on the building anyway.

(UPDATE: I’ve put the text of the Early Day Motion I’ve put down in Parliament up on in the news section of my website).

Hopefully, I will be able to persuade Mr Kassam to see the preservation of the directors’ gallery and the other fine parts of the structure as an asset (which it is) rather than a nuisance.

Later – the Police Justice Bill came back to the Commons in the ping pong it is having with the Lords. Ping pong is when the Commons and Lords vote for different wording to be in the Bill – so it goes back and forth until agreement is reached. The last two issues being battled out are extradition to the USA and conditional cautions.

I lead on the cautions – and the Government had tabled some improving amendments in the Lords which the noble Lords had accepted. So my job in my speech was to accept them but flag up all the remaining problems – of which there are many. However, the battle continued on extradition – and it may well be that this goes to the Lords and returns again on Tuesday to the Commons. We will have to see.

More pong than ping – I should say!

Birthplace of TV at Alexandra Palace to be lost?

Another The future of the birthplace of regular TV at Alexandra Palace is under threatlocal issue that has blown up is the danger that the Ally Pally TV studios are in as the Ally Pally Board, headed by Haringey Labour councillor Charles Adje, has now confirmed that there is no long-term protection for the studios (the birth place of television) in the proposed sale of the Palace to the Firoka Group on a 125 year lease.

The television studios at Alexandra Palace were occupied in 1935 by the BBC, and in 1936 the first television broadcasts were made from the site. The lease that could be signed with the Firoka group only requires that the group provide a space for a museum somewhere within the building, not the maintenance of the original studios.

My Lib Dem councillor colleague, Bob Hare, who is Lib Dem Alexandra Palace spokesperson put it very well I thought – “This is the equivalent of losing Stonehenge and replacing it with a fibreglass replica. The television studios are of vast historical importance not just locally but nationally and internationally. It is a crying shame that in their rush to complete the deal with Firoka, there has been no thought given to their long-term survival. We must do everything we can to ensure that our children do not regret the hasty decisions that are being made about the future of Ally Pally.”

The Charity Commission will soon start a short, one-month public consultation on the proposals to sell the Palace – so here’s your chance to have a save and help save the TV studios by emailing the Charity Commission at enquiries@charitycommission.gsi.gov.uk

As always the emails that work best with this sort of lobbying are short, temperate but clear messages that include your full name and postal address. It would be handy if you could also copy your email to me at lynne@lynnefeatherstone.org

(It would also help the campaign if you can mention this lobbying campaign, such as by linking to this blog posting, on any appropriate website or blog you have).

I am also tabling an Early Day Motion in Parliament – so if you don’t live in my constituency you can contact your MP asking them to sign this EDM when it comes up for signature.

UPDATE: You can read about the latest state of play here.

Northern Line and Blanche Nevile

Briefing on the Northern Line. My poor old local tube line – so much trouble in running reliably. So – London Underground and Tubelines put together a presentation to brief the interested in what they are going to do. Basically two main things are happening – short-term and long-term. Firstly – reliability during off-peak hours. They are tackling this by changing the pattern of running between the different line options. Without boring you with details – the outcome should be reliable trains every three to four minutes (I think) through the day – which is good news. No more 8 or 12 minute gaps. Hurrah! And that should come in this September. No change at peak times – but they say that better running during the day will mean that problems in the day that would have knocked on into the evening rush hour will be mitigated before the evening and so will benefit the rush hour too.

In the long term – work on the infrastructure, track and signal. This will mean the by 2011 we will have about 25% more capacity with more trains running and lots of stations upgraded – sadly not Highgate yet (personal interest).

The bad news – as ever it was – is that this increase in capacity that we are paying through the nose for (fares on the tube being amongst the highest in the world) will only cope with the projected increase in passenger numbers as London’s population grows over coming years. So – the overcrowding will not get better at peak hours despite all this improvement. This was one of the arguments I had many times with the Government when the PPP was coming in. It was always the way it was contracted by the Government. So – in true tradition – I told you so.

Evening sees me going to Blanche Nevile (the deaf school that Labour were threatening to close) for a meeting with governors, parents, officers of the council, deaf children and assorted interested parties. It was a fascinating meeting to attend as the mingle of deaf and hearing exactly replicated proper integration – rarely experienced, but what Blanche Nevile is all about.

First the officers presented – well nothing. Ian Bailey told us that because of the local elections he couldn’t really say anything. Except he was quite clear there were ‘no proposals to close Blanche Nevile’. And a note from Charles Adje – Leader of the Council (for the moment) read out that there were no plans to close Blanche Nevile. So – you might have wondered why we had all bothered. Why did I write my column in the Ham & High to spark this off? Why the Ham & High’s news story – deaf school to be axed? Well, I had based my column on a leaked letter from the Director of Children’s Services at Haringey Council – Sharon Shoesmith – to the Chair of Governors, Judy Downey. In black and white it states that the school is no longer viable and goes on to say that there may be a proposal to close Blanch Nevile.

I am long enough in the tooth to know that despite the protestations of officers and Labour Leader Charles Adje – saying ‘there are no proposals’ does not mean there are no proposals. What it means in Haringey speak is that there are no finalised proposals that we are prepared to put on the table in an open way and discuss with parents, governors and staff. I have been told before there were ‘no proposals’ to sell off residential care homes like Honeywood. And then Honeywood is closed and sold.

So – the reason I ‘outed’ Labour’s secret machinations – is to make sure they are put in a position where they cannot close this wonderful, wonderful school by stealth. And the meeting was fantastic – from Chair of Governors, to Head, to Staff Governor, to parent, to teacher governors to deaf children – they all made the resounding case for keeping and loving and being proud of this exemplar school.

So – my hope is – that now the Council will start talking properly and honestly to the school. The cat is out of the bag – and we are all there to fight for the best future for the children – as that is what really matters.

Luis Pilau

Evening at a dinner for Luis Pilau, the evangelist. I’m not evangelical myself but I had promised Pastor Nims Obunge (who is just the finest pastor you will ever meet and truly one of kind and originator of the Peace Alliance) that I would come to the dinner as he asked.

Needless to say, it was pretty evangelical. I was sat next to Pastor Agu on my left and Labour council leader (for now) Charles Adje – and had a really interesting evening. Pastor Agu had been a lawyer before he saw the light. I was expounding to him the difficulty I have with making a leap of faith. Can’t do it. Not my thing. But having been to a couple of black evangelical church services – you have to say they have something engaging. You can almost feel the spirit move – even if you are not religious like me. Anyway – Pastor Agu was telling me about his conversion – and how he had had a misspent youth. A young lady (later to be his wife) invited him to one of these churches. Being keen on her he went. And after a few visits thought he would give it the same try that he had given to all the vices when young. He tried them – so he would try this. And it happened for him. I understand from Nims that Pastor Agu can hold 30,000 people in his thrall when he gets going. Very charismatic guy.

Not so struck with Luis Pilau himself. He spoke for over half an hour and it’s just not my thing – but the whole evening was quite interesting and thought provoking.

On the tube on the way home, had a thought about my estate agents idea – instead of having 17 different premises in Highgate Village taken up with estate agents I had speculated about having them share premises. In fact, there is an office block to rent at the bottom of the village. They could all get in there and share service. It would be fabulous for the punters and fabulous for their expenses! Anyway – the point I was mulling over is that there are actually places where different firms share premises already – e.g. in airports – where space is at a premium too! So – not so far fetched after all!

Sports facilities for Haringey children

Rush up to New Scotland Yard for meeting with Sir Ian Blair. I accompany our Shadow Home Secretary – Mark Oaten – as I am Police Spokesperson for the Lib Dems and worked with Sir Ian for 5 years on the Metropolitan Police Authority. The meeting was private, not unnaturally, but it wouldn’t be talking out of school to say that it covered the ground you would expect in terms of the terror bill, Sir Ian’s ‘debate’ with the people over the future of policing; the shooting of Mr de Menezes and the proposal to merge police forces. (My latest newspaper column has more on all this).

Then literally dash back to the constituency to go to the opening of the new facilities at the New River Sports Centre. Barclays have put in £600,000 as part of their program for sports spaces right across the country. Although they will undoubtedly get great advertising out of it – you have to be impressed with the re-invented tennis and football and track facilities. I hope we get at least one kid who comes from Haringey through this system and into the Olympics in 2012!

60 kids from Broadwater Primary School are joining us for the cameras and events etc – but their coach has broken down and they are late and having to come on public transport the rest of the way. Luckily the day is gloriously sunny (though cold) and they eventually arrive and the ceremonies begin. I am there, as is Charles Adje, Council Leader, and we obligingly do as we are told for the photo ops. Two Tottenham Hotspurs players (both Michaels) are there as is a chap from GMTV. Celebs or what!

A great day and great hopes for the future.

Then – dash, dash, dash, via my HQ to do signing and reading back up to Westminster for debate, meetings and discussions. We vote at 7 and 10pm on climate change and then home.

Problems at the Whittington

Surgery all morning meeting residents who wanted to raise issues – with a pause for a live radio interview right in the middle of it. Our Shadow Home Secretary Mark Oaten was otherwise engaged – so I had to just take it there and then. ASBOs – need I say more. I will. There has been something like an 86% increase this year – and still it doesn’t (according to the radio presenter) stop or deter anti-social behaviour. Shock! Horror! Of course it doesn’t. Banning people from doing anything rarely works in any real or sustained way. Tougher would be to really tackle those youngsters as with Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (pioneered in Liberal Democrat run Islington with the Met) where parents, the young person, teachers, police, local authority, social workers, or whoever is necessary sit down and work out an agreed program – and come back to it – week after week after week. Sustained interest and effective mentoring works – but it is truly tough liberalism.

Then the presenter meanders into the territory of whether policy should support marriage and the nuclear family (probably following on from the Tory leadership debate last night). I say that’s a difficult one! The world has changed – and I don’t know that you can change it back even if the ‘wholeness’ of a two-parent family unit were proven to be ideal. So I opt for the important thing – which is loving and caring for your children whatever the surrounding construct.

Afterwards surgery I make a home visit to an elederly lady who wants to talk to me about people not listening to old people and trying to get rid of them. Her son is there when I arrive – and I sit down and have about an hour’s chat with her. She highlights the recent treatment of herself at the Whittington – and cites the dismissive way in which old people can be treated and worse. I totally agree. I have some terrible tales from the Whittington – and I have been there and met with the Chair and the issues I raise have been batted away on the whole by generally suggesting that the complainant is a difficult person etc.

I will regale you with one tale from my own experience to exemplify what my constituent and I are on about. My daughter was admitted to the Whittington overnight a while back. From A & E she was put in the womens’ geriatric ward as the only place with space. She told me this tale. During the night an old lady in a bed not far away was calling for the nurse for quite a while. The nurse kept walking past and not responding to the woman. Eventually, my daughter got up and went over to the woman to see what was wrong. She wanted to go to the toilet. My daughter went and found a nurse and told her that the old lady in the bed needed to go to the loo. The nurse basically said that the woman was a nuisance, always wanting something and she would just have to wait. The old woman wet herself in the end.

It is a terrible tale – but I have other similar ones. When I have presented them to the Whittington – as I say – they are batted away one way or the other. We are currently waiting for an apology for the way another of my constituents was treated and have been told one will be forthcoming. We will see on that one. I appreciate that nurses do a great job under incredible strain and stress. Nursing care – not the clinical medical side – but the caring, motherly side of nursing – is what is needed as well as the clinical and medical excellence. How to make time for nurses to give that care alongside the tablets is where I want to head. It can only be (or I hope that the reason is) that nurses have no time for any real degree of that side of nursing anymore. And my constituent old lady was voicing just that need, particularly from an older person’s perspective of being treated so poorly. I will continue to work on this issue.

Then back to my constituency office to meet with a foster care expert who is concerned over the gap in the care that is given to those leaving foster care. Government is meant to be funding people to do this job. But the system isn’t working as it should – another one to pursue.

Then last job of the day is my quarterly meeting with the Labour Leader of Haringey Council, Charles Adje. We run through an agenda of local issues and council business and whilst there are no major issues on the table, it is a useful regular meeting – as we are all working for Haringey’s benefit – whatever our political persuasion and whatever our different roles.

David Warwick's departure

Commons all day with a variety of business to take care of – but leave at 4pm to go to the Chief Executive of Haringey’s leaving do at Ally Pally. Held in the Palm Court – it is thronging. The Palm Court is so named because it is a vast space akin to a greenhouse with huge plants and glass roof – so the greenhouse effect is present and we are all melting.

Speeches begin at 6pm with Charles Adje, Labour Leader of Haringey Council. He starts by saying he is going to read a letter from Peter Forrest (a former Tory councillor, who was leader of the opposition for a few years before the Liberal Democrats stared winning council seats in 1998). Now – given there are no Tories on the council and haven’t been for several years – it does make me wonder about the cosiness we often see between Labour and Tories in Haringey …!

However, it is clear to me from the three people lining up to speak – that Labour has forgotten to ask me or any Liberal Democrat to say a few words, despite the fact that the Chief Executive was the Chief Exec for all of Haringey Council – not just the Labour party.

I take matters into my own hands – and circling the back of the room – I make my way to the guy who is introducing the speakers and tell him that I would like to say a few words too. Of course, I haven’t prepared anything because I hadn’t been asked to speak originally. Labour are always trying to exclude me / us from everything – but this was quite shameful.

I am then faced with a dilemma. I am furious with Labour over their ‘sacking’ of the Chief Exec. Publicly – David Warwick is leaving because he has decided to take early retirement. Pigs might fly in my view. Out of the blue – with never a mention of such an idea – and leaving virtually immediately upon announcement – this looks like a sacking, smells like a sacking and walks like a sacking.

I suspect the Labour leadership could not bear the fact that this Chief Exec wasn’t a Labour hack and that he did not simply go along with everything they wanted however mad.

So – what do I do? Say what I really think or simply say nice things? Resort to humour is my get out. I keep it brief. I say that it was an extraordinarily fast retirement. I mention that I hope that the entire management board won’t follow as Haringey needs stability (they will go – one already on her way to Hammersmith and Fulham). And I am cheeky – which I won’t go into here!

I make a hasty exit with Cllr David Winskill – not in case of repercussions but because I am speaking at a local vigil at the Crouch End Clock Tower for the victims of the bomb blasts. I had been asked to speak at the one at Trafalgar Square – but because Haringey residents were so affected personally by the attacks as four of our tube stations are on the Piccadilly Line, it seemed far more important to be here.

About a hundred turn up – which considering shortness of time is a really good show. Inevitably – and rightly – in speeches Iraq and the Middle East creep into the frame. I concentrate on unity – believing absolutely that what all of us from every faith, creed and colour have in common is so much stronger than anything that divides us by our differences. It must be ‘us’ – and us is everyone – against them – deluded and fanatical extremists who murder with no true understanding.

However, I do believe that every action has a reaction – and we certainly received intelligence prior to the Iraq war that if we went to war – we would be likely to increase the chance of terrorist activity against us. The government clearly still felt it right to go to war – I didn’t. However, it is no excuse for terrorism. It is just a fact that it would increase. And festering sores of unresolved disputes will always be a source from which politicians can drink and then poison young men’s minds.

I have to leave the vigil at 7.30pm as I have promised to speak at the NO2ID cards meeting in Haringey. I literally turn up to speak and take questions before having to run onto a meeting with Hornsey Town Hall Trust who wanted to meet me post election.

They opt to take me to dinner to do so – which on a lovely evening is extremely pleasant. The two men are reasonable and I, as I repeatedly say, would love both sides of this stupid divide to work together. But I fear they are both going to stick to their absolute positions and that therefore despite my best efforts which I wish to employ will remain divided – which is a pity for the community.

One of the problems is that the Hornsey Town Hall Trust want the site first handed over to a trust, whilst the Council’s plan has more of a role for a developer earlier in the process. The reality is that I think it very unlikely the Council (whose property the site is, and so has both a financial and a moral a responsibility to ensure that whatever happens to the site doesn’t turn out to be a disaster) will be persuaded the risks of handing over the site just like that to a trust are really low enough to justify this course.

So – my ideal would be for Anthony Westbrook and Anthony Charnley from the Hornsey Town Hall Trust to go onto the Community Partnership Board – set up by the Council – as I think they have fantastically valuable skills which the Community Partnership lack – and put their efforts into that pot so that what comes out at the other end is nearer to the vision wanted by the community.

Seems easy, hey? But the Hornsey Trust folk – although they do say that they are happy to have any Trust (not necessarily theirs) in the seat – are not willing to give up their model. And so – I guess they won’t join the Community Trust.

Impasse – but I am still going to do my best to try and bring these two sides – who are both genuinely wanting roughly the same vision – together.

Leave restaurant about 11pm – and rush home to see by-election results. Way before results come through – I get texted from Cheadle to say we’ve won. Fab! That will put paid to the endless rumours and whispering about Charles Kennedy’s likely survival. He’s not going anywhere!