Three great local organisations

On Friday, a woman came to my advice surgery. Odiri started and runs and inspires an organisation called Kori. Kori works with young people – mainly from ethnic minorities – to improve their skills, language, vocabulary and general education – but extending this help on through to their performance and artistic activities.

I was really impressed with the work they do – it is about creating leaders and inspiration and aspiration. But it is such a struggle for genuinely excellent groups like Kori to keep going and to get bits of funding. That’s what makes me mad about Ken Livingstone and the London Development Agency. All these excellent groups who could really benefit from assistance – and who would in return really benefit our communities – and yet the LDA has sloshed around so much money with so little control – and with Ken Livingstone repeated refusing to take seriously complaints about lack of control or wrong decisions being made.

Later in the day Marlon came to see me. Marlon has been running an outfit called Kush. It’s about getting young people involved in black film making and so on. Marlon wants also to get funding – but he said that ultimately he didn’t really believe funding was such a great thing as when it runs out – you are in trouble. He would rather make Kush self-sustaining – a small business really. He seemed to be fanatical about black film and about going into schools to inspire young people to get involved. So good luck to him too.

And then it was more inspiration. Off to give out the medals to the winners from Whizz Kids’ obstacle course races organised by Burk Gravis at White Hart Lane Community Sports Centre. Judging by the noise levels the kids certainly seemed to be having a fantastic time!

Great fun was had by all – but I was somewhat shocked to find that the Centre only gets £32,000 per year to develop sport for young people in Haringey. So it was a day of three organisations – all doing great work – and all on close to a shoestring budget. And yet you turn to other areas and there’s so much badly spent and wasted money. It’s not a matter of saying spend, spend, spend (though I’m happy to defend the need to have reasonable spending levels) – but rather saying we need to cut the waste, and remember the worthy causes that miss out because of waste and carelessness elsewhere.

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.

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 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.

London Development Agency: trying to spin its way out of trouble

Up for a 6:15am pre-record with the Today programme this morning – about the allegations of corruption and misappropriate funds hanging over the London Development Agency. It’s turning into quite an involved saga, with a whole host of allegations – but the latest twist is very simple.

The LDA carried out an investigation, but it wasn’t thorough – and was then misrepresented in the LDA’s own press release as giving the body a clean bill of health.

The LDA’s press release on the results of its internal investigation doesn’t leave any room for doubt as to what they wanted people to think: “Allegations of LDA Corruption False” and the first paragraph is equally bullish: “The report has been issued of the review of allegations of LDA corruption and collusion in improperly awarding funds made by the journalist Andrew Gilligan in the Evening Standard in a series of articles in December 2007. The review finds these to be unfounded.”

Now, if only that was the case! In fact, three of the allegations were passed to the police to look into, a fourth is already under police investigation and it looks like a fifth will end up with the police too. That’s not the picture you’d expect when phrases like “unfounded” are being used, is it?

Then there’s the case of Brenda Stern – who lost her job after speaking out. Was she sacked for whistle blowing on financial scandal? That’s an episode that needs serious investigation – but the review didn’t even interview her.

There’s more in today’s Evening Standard, including this damning quote from her:

“The schedule of allegations published with the review claims I never complained of losing my job for raising concerns about one of the projects. I most certainly did make that complaint and I am very surprised indeed that the LDA claims to have investigated this project without even trying to contact me.”

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The thing that gives me the most pleasure as an MP

Am really cross that despite best efforts cannot find time to meet up with Jenny Gillies. She’s the South African women that I met when I went to look at AIDS projects in South Africa. Jenny left a message on my phone – and as good as her word – the roof of the terrible shack I visited has an interim replacement which will keep the rain off of him during the rainy season and will be replaced with a proper roof thereafter – and going that extra mile – the walls are to be built of brick! Thanks Jenny – and see you next time!

Lunch yesterday was with the High Commissioner of Cyprus to the UK – Georgios Icovou. Well – what an interesting man (was Foreign Minister in Cyprus for 15 years). I learned so much of the history (obviously from his perspective).

It seems to me that there were many lost opportunities along the road to where we are unhappily now. I have both Greek and Turkish communities in Hornsey & Wood Green – and it seems to me that our Government does not take a really pro-active role in trying to move the impasse. In the end – it is the people (both communities) who suffer and whilst there are certainly barriers to achieving the breakthrough – there must be a way through.

In the evening was the long-awaited ‘workshop’ by the London Development Agency at the Chocolate Factory. The open session was to show the current tenants and other creative businesses in Haringey what is intended for the future for the creative industries, what the development plans for Haringey Heartlands are, what support there is available to creative businesses and so on. I think the audience appreciate the workshop and found some of the plans very exciting.

Not going to raise all the issues here as it was a closed session. However, the crux of the issue for the current tenants was the closed session where they got to question the LDA on their investment and monitoring. It was clear however, that the LDA is not going to get involved in the key issue – which is the 50% hike in rents by Collage Arts for their studio licenses – as that is a legal and contractual matter between individuals and Collage.

All I would say though, is we all hope that Collage and the tenants can find a better way forward where the tenants are not fearful the whole time and where they feel that the future envisaged by the LDA includes them rather than gets rid of them in favour of new businesses. The existing colony of artists – the artistic jewel in Haringey’s Crown – could be in jeopardy if they cannot afford the 50% hike in rent. It will be a crying shame if any of the artists have to go.

Of course – the area will be worth a fortune when Heartlands kicks off!

Last stop of the day – speech night at St Thomas More School. This is a Catholic secondary school in Wood Green and this was its first ever speech night and prize giving. I was absolutely thrilled to be there to give out the prizes and make the keynote speech.

There is nothing, quite frankly, in my role as MP that gives me more pleasure and satisfaction than seeing young people get rewarded for effort. The Head, Mr Hickey, is clearly completely committed – as are the staff. And that spirit of enthusiasm is echoed as each ‘winner’ came up shyly or boldly to receive their award – proud of themselves.

St Thomas’s has not always had the reputation of saints – but it seems to me as if there is a real ethos of achievement being instilled throughout everyone at the school – students, parents and teachers – and it’s not just academic, but it’s about creating thinking, respectful individuals who try their best. Way to go!

The Chocolate Factory

I haven’t really blogged much about the dreadful time the tenants of the Chocolate Factory – the wonderful artist colony – have been having (though see previous posting here). I won’t lay out the whole story – but the long and the short of it currently is that the tenants have been issued with new licenses for their tenancy which must be signed within seven days. If not they will be booted out.

I don’t know if this is the result of a panic because of the workshop with the London Development Agency scheduled for November 8th being almost upon us. It is almost as if Collage Arts don’t want the tenants to talk to the LDA whilst the contracts are not signed. Given that the meeting is partly to provide the tenants with an opportunity to inform the LDA of their unhappiness with the events at the Chocolate Factory – this seems very strange to me.

I have advised them to contact their solicitors as to whether it is legal and whether they can be bounced into signing by threats.

Haringey Heartlands

I attend a report back on the Haringey Heartlands regeneration project consultation at Haringey Civic Centre. This was chaired by Cllr Makanji. And boy was cross. Whenever the residents said anything he didn’t like (which was often) he would shout and browbeat them into submission – threatening to close the meeting rather than let them speak.

There is a real battle to be fought to stop residents suffering at the hands of the Mayor, Council and LDA who seem intent on going ahead with a poorly designed scheme which will not deliver the jobs, infrastructure or homes needed.

Perhaps Richard Rogers, who is involved, can steer this right – trouble is, he appears to be advising the developers. Is that a conflict of interest? Must find out!