Tony Travers on the London elections

Have just finished doing The Westminster Hour for Radio 4. Caught a small part of the interview with Tony Travers (LSE expert on London government etc) on the London Mayor elections – and liked this bit!

Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat who was a senior police officer in the Metropolitan Police, has actually fought an excellent campaign, probably the best of the three of the leading candidates.

Hear, hear! You can back Brian on Facebook or sign up for news from his campaign on the website.

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.

DNA and discrimination

Off to do the Sunday Politics Show for the third week in a row. Added to our number this week is Tony Travers. We hash over vagaries of London’s voting patterns. After the show, Tim Donovan, Tony and I chat about the disintegration of the Labour party as it appears to descend into civil war with Brown’s henchmen turning up the heat – hoping to force Blair into going, or at least stating when he will be going.

I try and persuade Tim to do a show on DNA. I have been championing a number of issues around DNA for some years – and the Independent on Sunday runs a story using a quote from me and the answer I got to a Parliamentary Question on what percentage of innocent DNA comes from black and ethnic minorities. It’s about 24% nationwide – but the figure that no one is picking up on yet – is that in London this kicks up to 57% of innocent DNA is coming from non-whites. It’s huge – way, way above their actual representation in the population as a whole.

Transport Question Time

Rush over to Centrepoint to be part of a ‘Question Time’ panel on transport and the balance of powers between Whitehall, the London Mayor and the boroughs.

Tony Travers and Peter Hendy and a councillor from Camden (Labour) were my co-panellists. I got into a right ding-dong with the Camden councillor as I was talking about how defensive the boroughs were about their parking fiefdoms. Cat amongst the pigeons!

Actually – it was an interesting debate – and continued with a lively discussion about consultation (do people listen to the results?) and the need for more powers for the London Assembly so it can exercise proper checks and balances on the Mayor.

Rush home to paperwork and emails and then dash out to distribute leaflets to deliverers ready for the general election being called. I think there would be a number of activists from all political parties who would throttle Tony B if he doesn’t call it next week!

Hornsey Town Hall

Just a note about the Hornsey Town Hall Advisory Panel meeting on Wednesday 6th October for information.

There was a presentation from a ‘developer’ – but a developer with a difference. She had a heart and developed in partnership with the community and the needs of that community – whilst still making a living.

This was Sylvie Pierce from a company called Capital Providence. Sylvie told us about her work, specialising in the development of heritage buildings. Shoreditch New Deal for Communities Trust had come to her and asked her to look at buildings in the area. She’d identified a Grade II listed building she felt she could develop well.

The similarity with Hornsey Town Hall was that in order to make the development work, 20% of the site had been allocated for residential development. This provided the funding for making the best of the rest of the site – including both a community space and a restaurant called the Hoxton Apprentice involving Pru Leith (a bit like Jamie Oliver and his training restaurant). The restaurant profit goes to running the whole scheme. She put two super-duper apartments on the top to bring in some loot – and Bob’s your uncle.

I know I have truncated the story – but the picture painted was of a different approach to development from the usual approach of developers. It was one where the developer worked with a trust and with brilliant architects. They delivered a great project and produced something which generated the money to pay for the scheme.

Now, there’s been some questions about Haringey Council’s attitude towards the town hall. At the meeting, Judy Bax (the Labour councillor who chairs the advisory group) said Haringey’s position is “no profit, no loss” – they won’t put money into developing the site, but neither are they going to insist on making money out of the site either. Many people have campaigned against any plans to just sell-off the Town Hall, so that was good news to hear.

We then had a look at the proposed planning brief for the site. It was only tabled at the meeting and is quite long and complex relating to Haringey’s planning policies etc. It covers what sort of developments on the site would be allowed. It’s really just a framework outlining what sort of things can be done on the site.

This will be presented at the next Crouch End / Stroud Green Area Assembly. It is very, very general – and no one should get the idea that this is in any way the detail of what would be on the site.

The formal consultation on the planning brief runs from 16th October until 15th November. It will be exhibited at the library and the town hall and Haringey Council will be writing to residents most affected. The council are still discussing how far and how wide the consultation in terms of individual letters to residents will be.

It will also be more fully presented at the next Advisory Panel. It will be available on the council website and there will be adverts in the press notifying of all of this.

There was then a presentation by one group with a suggested way forward for the period when Haringey Council moves out and before the new development is ready.

In brief, there was a proposal for an interim management committee to move into the site and let what space could be let for commercial rents (offices, rehearsal rooms, meeting rooms etc) and have some artistic enterprises using some of the space so that there was no down time or loss of earnings during the 3-5 years the project might be likely to take.

Everyone thought a swift operation was necessary – but how and who should do this was a matter to be gone into further.

As for long-term arrangements – this was the crux of the matter as far as I could see. The Advisory Panel has to put a report to Haringey Council Executive in the relatively near future. This is the area which will touch on who makes the decisions, how much is developed for community and how much for commercial; whether the council retains control and chooses a developer etc or whether a charitable trust with skilled trustees carries this all forward.

Andrew Travers, who is the Director of Corporate Finance at Haringey, had made it quite clear that the council itself would not support the trust idea.

However, the clear will of earlier meetings had been for a trust and to remove it from the auspices of Haringey Council. Several people said that the trick would be to get the Labour councillors who form the Council Executive (who will make the decision) on board and that they would be scared of a trust because of their experiences with Ally Pally.

They were reminded by a member of the panel that Ally Pally Trustees were actually councillors and it was effectively still run by the council as trustees – and that this was quite different from the bulk of a new trust which would have mostly independent trustees.

This got batted around for a while. I voiced the view that we had to make a clear statement of the vision (which everyone virtually agrees on as an arts/education/community etc space with some commercial parts) and make it very clear that an independent charitable trust is the only way forward. However, there was a need for a changeover period while the long-term development got up and running.

It was also understood that Haringey Council could not simply ‘give’ a £20million asset directly and without safeguards to a trust – however brilliant that trust might be. By the same token if the trust was to have total control in the end – it too needed to have a transfer program, business plan etc. Additionally, during any transitional phase decisions that would have to be made would have to be joint so that both parties had some controls and safeguards. The third way one could even say!

It did seem that there was some forward movement on this as a way forward to move from council to trust control.

The next meeting is in a few weeks time, so I’ll update you on further progress as it happens.