The ghost at the feast

On Friday went to the ‘thank you’ party for all those who worked on the London elections for the Liberal Democrats. Nice to see Dee Doocey and Mike Tuffrey who are two of our ongoing LibDem members on the GLA and get all the gossip about who was doing what with whom – in the sense of chairing committees and so on. All change again apparently as Liberal Democrats, Labour and Greens combine to try to make the Assembly work and really hold the Mayor to account.

However, the rules are stacked in favour of the Mayor when it comes to the budget – as it requires a two-thirds majority to reject the Mayor’s budget. The Tories have over a third of the seats – so enough to rubber stamp whatever Boris wants. Nowhere else can a budget be passed on a minority vote. Ho hum!

What was either sad or sweet – depending how you look on it – was apparently Ken Livingstone was in the gallery watching the Assembly meeting as it made its first decisions after the elections – the ghost at the feast. I can’t imagine what that felt like – to see the how going on without you – when you have been the sole proprietor for so many years. Poignant – maybe?

I’ve noticed a bit of speculation in cyberworld as to whether Ken will seek a parliamentary seat – perhaps mine or his old stomping ground in Brent. Can’t imagine why he would want to go back into the Commons – as he is reputed to have hated it. Maybe he believes he is the Prime Minister Labour never had and wants to give them another chance. No – he’s not that stupid!

Questions over £4 million grant to Bernie Grant centre

It looks as if Ken Livingstone’s chickens are coming home to roost. Not only are there police investigations now into six different grants made by Ken & co in City Hall and the London Development Agency (LDA) but we also have a damning report into a series of major grants – including £4 million which was given to the Bernie Grant centre in Tottenham.

These grants total £18.5 million – the sort of sums you would have though would have been carefully looked after! – and the report has found serious flaws in the controls put into place (or rather, not put into place) to ensure the money was spent properly.

Locally, the issue of financing the Bernie Grant Centre has been a long, and rather sorry, saga – there have been lots of issues to question, but whenever someone has spoken up, Labour’s blinkers have come down and they’ve assumed any questioning must some how be a secret plot to axe the centre and that anything and everything they are doing is perfect (as in this case back in 2004).

Well no – when there are doubts over money, it’s our duty to ask searching questions to ensure money is spent properly and effectively.

My colleague Dee Doocey – one of the Liberal Democrats on the GLA – put it very well:

Deloitte’s second – and completely independent – report vindicates the committee’s serious concerns about the processes used by the LDA to manage and monitor cultural projects it funds … It is very clear that the LDA has mismanaged public funds.

Ken’s response? A rather weak quip about how you don’t ask accountants to understand the value of a piece of art (because these grants were all cultural related) – which must misses the point. Just because the money is going on a piece of art or on a pet project of Labour it doesn’t mean you can abandon proper financial controls and scrutiny.

As for the Bernie Grant Centre case – let’s hope there were proper controls at the other end even if Ken Livingstone and the LDA didn’t take proper care of the money when they were sending it out.

Women at home

Hotfoot over to a hall in Wembley for the rally at the end of the London Region Liberal Democrat Conference.

Wembley is not easy to access at the moment with the closure of all of its stations during the construction work for the new stadium. I gave up and took my car – only to find that although easy to get to – I might never leave as there were notices of road closures all over the place for the Diwali procession.

Anyway, the rally was titled: ‘London’s Winning Women’ – with myself, Dee Doocey (our new GLA member), Baroness Sally Hamwee from the London Assembly and Sarah Ludford MEP.

I talked about Bob Geldof’s recent pronouncements about how much he enjoyed coming home to his partner doing something very feminine in the kitchen – presumably to do with food or curtains. I can’t cook and have bare windows – maybe that’s why I’m divorced.

Now Bob’s recent comments about a women’s place being in the kitchen are usually the sort of thing that makes me want to throw up. However – if you really think about it, what Sir Bob is really, really saying is – women make the world a better place (wherever they are). I couldn’t agree more.

Many of the problems I see are because the people taking decisions at the highest levels in both politics and business are still generally men – which goes a long way to explaining why the world is the way it is. But before I launch into full scale debate mode – suffice to say – we rallied our supporters and fully expect to get at least five women elected in London to Parliament when Blair calls the election. And despite the flurry of speculation in the papers that it might be February – I still think May is the safer bet.

Developments and PPP

Mayor’s Question Time at City Hall. Our main thrust today is by my colleague Dee Doocey about a big planning application in Stratford.

Mayor Livingstone is forever attacking councils who do not ensure that 50% of housing in new developments is social housing. Yet on this project … he’s accepted plans which only have 30%. A case of one rule for him, one rule for others …? He says we need to be flexible and understand where developers are coming from. Wonder if he’ll grant the same understanding to councils in future?

My own little merriment for the day is to ask him if the cat got his tongue over the huge profits made by Tubelines and Metronet in their first year (over £90million) and the bonus paid to Terry Morgan (Chief Executive of Tubelines), even though the company failed to meet 27 out of its 39 targets.

Thus far the Mayor had remained unusually silent on the matter. Historically (even hysterically) Ken is not usually silent about fat cats and obscene profits. Tempted by my question – good old Ken reappeared and he took great pleasure in letting out his spleen regarding the privatisation of the tube. I knew it was in there!