This is a guest post by Mohammad Rakib, who many Shadwell residents will know as he was born on the Tarling West Estate and has lived there all his life. He attended primary and secondary school and sixth form college in the borough. For the last five years he has been a committee member of the Tarling West Estate TRA, an active Tenants & Residents Association. Mo has also chaired the committee for 2 of those 5 years.

Mo will be moving out of the borough due to care concerns for his mother and due to affordability. He kindly agreed to share his personal thoughts on Tower Hamlets and the changes he has seen in the last 30 years.

Take it away Mohammad!

Introduction

In my 30 years, I’ve seen the highs and the lows. I’ve encountered the best and the worst that this borough has to offer. I am a proud East Londoner. I love our history, the people and everything that makes us unique and a community.

Unfortunately, I am of the opinion that those who should know better and who sought positions of privilege and authority, are among the worst offenders and are some of the worst this borough has offer.

I committed my time to helping my neighbourhood and my borough, to be the best that I know it can be. It is a battle made harder by the powers that be. They seek to destroy and profiteer. I seek out local people who wish to preserve what we have and to share prosperity.

For the past five years, I took an active role in organising and working with resident groups in Shadwell ward and I hope to be of some assistance to other such groups in the borough.

I am determined to work with neighbours, from all walks of life.

“What obstructs all of us in achieving great things for local people, is the power and authorities in this borough.”

It is also those who enjoy privilege, who care very little for their neighbours.

This is the unifying factor, for the many communities that call Tower Hamlets Home.

My 30 years here has shown me that local people must introduce accountability and a local authority that is by the people, of the people and for the people- that is a cause, regardless of background, that we can all get behind and one we will all benefit from.

A breakdown of ethics and duty in local government

As someone who has known no other home but one council estate, it became important for me to contribute and to give back to the estate and the community I have considered my own for 30 years.

Growing up on my estate has been a memory I will always cherish. It may not have looked like much, but there was a community and it was home.

As I grew up, I realised how lucky I was to have been shielded from much of the violence of the 90’s, between gangs from two wards.

It was pure geographical luck that my estate bordered both and the local youth on my estate did not have to choose sides in these matters, so we were left alone.

15 years ago, my estate had just gone through major regeneration works. Along with the rising economy, progress in technology and opportunities, life looked hopeful. Then came the crunch and slowly but surely the tide began to change.

As opportunities became few and far, as education became more unattainable, as services deteriorated- so did morality, decency and standards. It would seem that the same can also be said of duty and service in local government.

Over the last 10 years, cuts to Policing and local services have seen our borough, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, return to the days of widespread crime, overt antisocial behaviour and violence.

This is the same story in so many parts of the capital and the country… but in Tower Hamlets it has been aided by a breakdown of ethics and duty in local government.

For 10 years the managing body [Tower Hamlets Homes], who was made responsible for the upkeep of my estate, squandered their inheritance of the regeneration investment.
From a complete lack of responsibility to pure stupidity. From allowing outside parties to abuse and trespass, to not lifting a finger as part of our estate was sold out from beneath us… The estate was going to the dogs.

After years of complaints, the estate formed a Tenants & Residents Association (TRA). I began working with the TRA as an administrator and then as acting Secretary. The following year I was elected Secretary and I also worked as acting co-chair. For the past two years I have worked for my community as elected chair.

It may be a little community organisations- but it shows the relationship officials need to have with those they serve. I know my local issues but I know my neighbours better than I ever had. It is a position of trust- never a position of authority. That is what is lost at Mulberry Place.

Mo. Rakib patiently explaining to Mayor Biggs the reality of life.

In five years, we have confronted many issues and have had to deal with a conveyor belt of problems – an unfortunate reality of having a managing body which often gives incompetence new meaning.

At times we asked why they couldn’t do the simplest of things or act with common sense? They would go on about procedures or tell us that they were learning or that there had been staff changes.

Yet the same mistakes keep repeating themselves. It’s been over 10 years since they took over and instead of being dismantled and brought back in house, the borough’s Mayor has done a complete u-turn.

From singing from the same hymn book as us, he’s now singing the praises of the managing body and rewarding incompetence with a 10-year extension! Yes, he may not wish to deal with it- but we need accountability. Having said that, accountability is rare thing- even in Mulberry Place.

“It almost beggars belief, or it would if I had not come to know how much of a joke local government has become.”

I’m happy to have stood down as Chair of my local TRA. I can finally say what I have been thinking (TRAs must be apolitical).

The last five years has become an education and a real eye opener. I went from young, ignorant and naive to aged and appalled.

“Local Government in Tower Hamlets is an absolute travesty of democracy. If there was any sense of duty and service in Downing Street today, this entire sham in Tower Hamlets would be shut down, cleansed, detoxified and put right.”

From officials acting like overzealous overlords, ignorant lobbyists being given carte blanche to trounce on local residents, common sense evading so many involved and to corrupting factors everywhere.

From Parking enforcement to Planning officers. From the Mayors office to Housing officers. From housing policy to youth policy… everything is a mess and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.

Many of those who “work” at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, if they had a shred of decency, would hand in their resignations and stay away from positions of authority and positions of responsibility.

“How it has come to be that so many imbeciles are involved with making decisions, which impact the lives of others, now that beggars belief.”

People often conflate local election results as some kind of endorsement for a mainstream political party’s national agenda. In reality we see unworthy administrations riding the coattails of their Westminster colleagues.

The result is that local politicians suffer due to the image of their party on a national level or vice versa. As far as I’m concerned, Westminster parties should not be represented in local governance. It complicates things and muddies the waters.

We have local Liberal Democrats having to defend themselves, for decisions taken on a national level. We have independents who are suffocated by the mainstream parties. We have a local Conservative party, in one of the most ethnically diverse and lowest income rate boroughs, which has as much chance of leading the council as the BNP.

Finally, we have a local Labour administration that is a joke. They rode Jeremy Corbyn’s coat tails to a landslide victory at the last local election, but have behaved more like Tories in power… What on earth did Jeremy Corbyn being Labour leader have to do with Tower Hamlets Labour? It is a conflation and one that makes even less sense when you consider that TH Labour does not follow the same brand of Labour (democratic socialism) that locals associate with Mr. Corbyn.

“Tower Hamlets Labour Party is rife with individuals riding the gravy train.”

Individuals who know the bureaucracy but have forgotten what it means to serve. Individuals who are wannabe career politicians and who are a detriment to the very communities they claim to serve and rely on to stay in power.

“The leadership is cowardly and clueless. They don’t want to address the elephant in the room… and by elephant, I mean the Citizen Khan types within the local party.”

Instead of giving way to the next generation, they hold on to some false sense of prestige. Instead of improving the borough and the lives of their constituents, it is favours for favours… and the leadership won’t dare to change the status quo, because this once beneficial block of trailblazers will accuse the leadership of racism.

It’s not just the Bangladeshi block within this party who are a hindrance and fresh out of ideas. There’s an influx of middle class (often white) privileged individuals who think they know better for the people around here. They know nothing about other people’s realities and yet they run their mouth and have the audacity to seek positions of authority.
So we get those who don’t do or say enough, nodding their heads to those who don’t know enough, but say and do too much.

This is a major problem- but it is a TH Labour problem, one that we locals should not have to deal with.

Also local politicians either feel the need to defend or look to take direction from their Westminster party. They won’t lead, they won’t come up with ideas.

Many are resigned to being dull and pointless extensions of their party policy and identity, instead of serving for duty’s sake and making changes that work on a local level. Far too many don’t actually do any of the things that residents want- these are the things that residents know will improve their lives. Far too many won’t dare to go against the party line.

Tower Hamlets Council are fresh out of ideas and of no benefit to anyone but themselves and falling back on the broad strokes of Westminster and the GLA – a luxury that does not work on a local level.

We thank them for their service, to the trailblazers – thank you for opening the doors, but it is time to step away from the doorway and let the next generation from your communities and also other local people to take the lead.

“I would go as far as mandating exams for would be candidates and department heads.”

Exams based on their job roles, because I suspect many of them haven’t got a clue or have forgotten what their jobs entail and what their responsibilities and procedures are… how else do we explain the lack of real progress?

After 30 years of being a proud East Ender, the time has come for my family and I to leave Tower Hamlets and our estate. I am proud of the limited successes we have had on our estate and that can be attributed to the rare breed of local officials, who try to make the most of a ridiculous situation and to local residents, who give up their free time to do what others get paid to do.

The fact that we have even been able to have limited successes, is a miracle considering the push back, laziness and complacency that exists within the powers that be.

I have faith in my neighbours to keep up the fight and in the few good public servants in opposition, to assist them in that fight.

I only hope and pray that the powers that be sort out their act, in order to do what they are paid to do… to listen to locals and improve their lives, not requiring them to continuously fight for what is theirs by right and not imposing upon them what privileged individuals think will be better for them.

There’s also a second part to this story.

I read an article by Councillor Rabina Khan (one of the few good councillors in Tower Hamlets) about the government not doing enough to protect private renters. I wanted to touch on that.

Mo. and Cllr. Rabina Khan at work in Shadwell.

It’s disgusting what rogue landlords can get away with. It’s also deplorable what independent private landlords have to do to recover their properties from tenants who breach agreements and refuse to pay. Often independent landlords are left to cover costs and get very little compensation. They can be left with a massive bill to return their properties to habitable conditions.

Renters and private landlords both work hard to get to where they are. Unless the government addresses these issues, people will fall through the cracks. These loopholes exist primarily for large corporate landlords but an unequal playing field allows room for rogue landlords and inconsistencies allow for rogue tenants. It’s a vicious circle of mistrust and no mutual respect.

There has to be firmness if we are to have cohesion between independent private landlords and their tenants. On the social side a different problem exists; too many councils will opt to hand over acres and acres of public land to private developers for very little public return.

Councils have been selling off social housing stock since the 80’s but still rely on private industry to build and take the lions share,  often contributing to gentrification and social cleansing.. this destroys communities and is a great socioeconomic injustice against those less fortunate.

“As we saw recently in Tower Hamlets, private developers are not the saviours of social housing. They are part of the problem.”

New rules should be introduced to ensure that private developers retain less than 50% of properties built on public land – over 50% must go to social housing for rent and Right To Buy (RTB).

Of the less than 50% retained by the developers, at least 40% of that must be available for sale to locals only. This can work if properties are fit for purpose and made affordable, not extortionate. This will also ensure that local people benefit the most (as it should be).

The private developers need councils to allow use of public land. Councils do not need developers.

Worse comes to worse – councils can do what they were supposed to have been doing for the last 40 years- allow RTB leaseholds and use the proceeds to build new social housing, that is also eligible for RTB.

Too many councils (Tower Hamlets included) put their first duty to profit and hoarding money as if local authorities are only businesses. Local authorities have forgotten that their first duties are to their local residents, that the council must be transparent, engaging, listening and do what benefits local residents (as residents determine).

Tower Hamlets has been trying to have its cake and eat it too. To what accomplishment? To be robbed of millions for infrastructure? To be “champagne socialists” and still be looked down upon by the developer elite?

They need to stop kissing the backsides of executives and remember who it is they work for.

Mohammad Rakib
Lifelong resident, London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

EEE Comment

Ouch! Thank you very much to Mohammad Rakib for this eloquent contribution EEE. While the words above are Mo’s and his alone EEE knows from talking to residents across the borough that they are shared by many.

Mo’s questioning of the need for local political parties to mirror the policies of their national parties is extremely well observed and makes a huge amount of sense. We will return to this issue at a later date.

Good luck to him and his family in Wales. Can the rest of us come too please?

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