The truth behind Ken Livingstone's financial claims

The BBC report on Ken Livingstone really says it all:

London’s mayor knew there were financial problems with some community projects before he publicly denied it, it has been revealed.

London Development Agency (LDA) chairman Manny Lewis said he told Ken Livingstone there were “discrepancies” in some of the projects’ accounts. The mayor subsequently stated publicly that all finances could be accounted for.

If, say, a Conservative MP had been caught out in the same way do you think Labour MPs would just turn their backs and ignore it, or would they be demanding blood, resignation and 1001 other punishments?

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.

Will Ken Livingstone put his money where his mouth is?

That’s the question I ask in my latest column – this one for the local Highgate Handbook:

Just imagine Highgate Village on a summer day – with no bus stand! A beautiful pedestrianised area with no noisy, smelly buses with engines idling – and local people able to stroll happily – stopping to chat with friends and neighbours.

In order words – will Ken’s fine words about improving our environment mean action in our community, or will it only be the grand schemes in central London that he pays attention to? Read on in the full piece

And Ethnic Mutual makes it five police investigations

Today’s Independent brings news that the fate of money given to Ethnic Mutual is now the subject of a police investigation – bringing to five the number of bodies funded by the GLA / London Development Agency which are being investigated by the police over allegations of financial irregularities.

And – once again – the LDA’s press operation doesn’t seem to be telling us an accurate story:

In a statement, an LDA spokesman said: “We referred Ethnic Mutual to the police last year and they are now investigating it.” But this was contradicted by the Metropolitan Police yesterday, who said that Ethnic Mutual had only been referred to them this month.

As our Mayor, Ken Livingstone has a responsibility to ensure that our money is spent well and wisely. So far from his reaction to the mounting pile of allegations, that seems to come very low down his list of priorities – if indeed he has actually got his head round the fact that there are real, substantive questions about misuse of money, which simply mouthing off about “right wing smears” doesn’t address at all.

Ken Livingstones faces libel action

Well – today’s Evening Standard has brought the news that Ken Livingstone is going to be sued for libel by Brenda Stern. She’s the whistleblower who highlighted a series of concerns over financial management during Ken’s reign and was sacked, raising the obvious question of whether she was sacked because she’d raised those concerns.

Mayor Livingstone has laid into her, saying, “we had to get rid of after complaints she was intimidatory to the staff working for her.”

But as the Evening Standard reports:

A complaint of bullying was made against her but in a letter seen by the Standard, LDA chief executive Manny Lewis says the allegation was investigated and was “not founded”.

Tsk tsk Ken. Not really much of a surprise that a libel action looks likely to be the outcome of this spat – but there’s also this very worrying footnote to today’s news:

The Mayor’s office hit back, threatening that if Ms Stern sued, the GLA would investigate “other matters” apart from her stint at the LDA, including her past life and previous employment.

What on earth is all that about Ken? Oh, and will it be London taxpayers’ money you’ll be spending on digging into the past lives of your staff?

Once again, it's the cover-up that gets you…

It’s one of the greatest cliches of politics that, when it comes to scandal, it’s the cover-up which gets people rather than the original offence. It’s become a cliche because it is so often true – as we’ve seen again this week with Rosemary Emodi.

The scandal about one of Ken Livingstone’s advisers taking a free trip to a luxury resort in Nigeria has cost her (Rosemary Emodi) her job – but the trigger for going wasn’t the original story, it was her denying she had ever made the trip – and then the BBC presenting evidence that she had.

Denying you made a trip which will have involved air flights, many people seeing you, a large gap in your diary of events in the UK and so on is a very high-risk strategy. I guess as the other investigations and allegations continue to play out we will see whether there was anything more behind this high-risk approach, or whether it was just a very foolish decision in the heat of the moment.

Ken Livingstone and Dispatches

I guess a lot of people watched the Dispatches program on Monday night – Martin Bright’s the Court of Ken! I watched it myself at about midnight on Monday. Hadn’t realised when they interviewed me (for an hour) that I would have such a starring role! Usually when you do these things (or my experience anyway) is that you end up on the cutting room floor.

What is quite interesting is the atmosphere that surrounds all of this as well. I gather that many people won’t speak on the record of what they know – for fear of reprisals. (If you find me in the Thames with concrete boots…………..). However, I am relative small fry in this. And I’m glad in that Ken is being put under the spotlight for the things he does. My view in general is that if there is evidence – which it appears there is – then appropriate authorities need to take action to bring the villain to account – be that Ken, the LDA, Lee Jasper or whoever – or clear them if the charge can’t stick.

When this started with the Andrew Gilligan stuff in the Standard – no one probably thought that it would rumble on. But as it has progressed, there seem to be more and more evidence.

So the cross-party referral of matters to do with the LDA for independent inquiry by the District Auditor is important in itself.

I don’t think it ends here. Ken may try to diss everyone and everything and assert that there is nothing here but people with agendas against him. I don’t have an agenda against Ken. I spent the early years of the Assembly fighting shoulder to shoulder with him – for the congestion charge and against the PPP for example. But – public money is being spent – and power must not be abused.

Ken Livingstone and racism

Listened to Mayor Livingstone on Nick Ferari this morning.

Ken really does have no shame. With all the muck flying about the London Development Agency (LDA) – known colloquially as Ken’s Bank – around LDA funding and the behaviour of the Mayor’s Policy Adviser, Lee Jasper – a decent Mayor would engage properly with the allegations.

But – hey – cheeky chappy believes he is right whatever the situation. Evidence: see yesterday when he said that the investigation into the LDA funding was ‘independent’ – and then the financial officer of the LDA at an evidence session before the London Assembly spilled the beans, saying it was an internal investigation.

Anyway – Nick F was suggesting to him that the coming edition of Dispatches on TV Monday night – in which I make a brief appearance – has allegations both about his personal habits and professional ones. Instead of dealing with the issues Ken – par for the course – goes for the program’s maker, Martin Bright. Ken says Martin Bright is doing a hatchet job on him – and it is because he has an agenda about Muslims in Britain.

Ken’s cry of racism against people who don’t fawn at his feet demonstrates quite clearly why he isn’t fit to be our Mayor. This sort of politically convenient wheeling out of racist charges also does damage to the very real and necessary battle against racism – because it devalues the term. Shame on you Ken.

Scandal at the London Development Agency: latest news

As the Evening Standard reports today:

Ken Livingstone has been accused of “misleading the public” after claiming an internal probe into the City Hall grants scandal was independent.

The Mayor was attacked by MPs from all three big political parties over his claim about the London Development Agency review. It examined allegations that LDA cash was misappropriated by friends of his adviser Lee Jasper…

Today the London Assembly heard evidence from two senior LDA officials dramatically at odds with Mr Livingstone’s claims.

Andrew Travers, who led the review, told Assembly members: “The review has been conducted by a team of LDA staff supported by a team of internal auditors – the conclusions of the review are mine alone.”

LDA chief executive Manny Lewis said the review had spoken neither to Mr Jasper, nor to anyone from the suspect projects or not employed by City Hall.

Labour MP Kate Hoey, Lib-Dem Lynne Featherstone and Conservative Greg Hands accused the Mayor of misleading the public. Mr Hands, MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, said: “It is deeply misleading for Mr Livingstone to suggest that the LDA has either been cleared or that the enquiry is independent.”

Ms Featherstone said: “Ken has no shame. It is almost as if if he shouts loud enough he makes what he is saying true, but the evidence shows that what the Mayor has said is not true.”

Ms Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, said: “The Mayor has been consistently misleading the public over the status of this review. It was not independent and it did not clear Mr Jasper or the LDA. People need to wake up about what is happening.” …

Assembly members fiercely criticised a Mayoral and LDA press release issued last Friday claiming the review had given the projects the all-clear. Lib Dem leader Mike Tuffrey described it as “spin” … [See my previous blog entry on this]

Mr Travers also confirmed that the review had not spoken to Brenda Stern, the ex-LDA whistleblower at the centre of the allegations involving one of the projects.

Brian Paddick to stand for London Mayor

Got text message yesterday that Brian Paddick has won the selection for our London Mayoral candidate. This is great news – just as it was a real coup when he decided to throw his hat into the ring for this contest.

No doubt there will be lots of ‘stuff’ about Brian – but he is the real deal. And I think Londoners will be impressed with him – and for good reason. You don’t get to be Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Met for nothing and secondly – he really demonstrated the courage of his convictions in terms of fighting for better drugs policy and actually understanding the real issues around communities and policing. So – go Brian. I think this will set the contest alight. Brian is a real contender.

I read in The Times this morning that he will publish his autobiography a short while before the polling day for London Mayor. And that it will tell all. Controversial – I’m sure it will be. But the person who leads London had better not be frightened of controversy and really fighting for London. Ken Livingstone pretty much stopped fighting when he went back into the Labour Party. He’s lost his spark and his oomph. Brian Paddick is more than a match for Mr Livingstone!