12 Labour councillors write open letter to Mayor Biggs

It’s not often Moley gets sent interesting letters, especially not ones that are an open letter to Mayor Biggs from 12 of his very own Labour party councillors expressing their unhappiness at the way the council budget has been created and by extension questioning Mayor Biggs’ competence to run the council.

Councillors Abdul Mukit, Ayas Miah, Ehtasham Haque, Gabriela Salva Macallan, James King, Lemma Qureshi, Marc Francis, Mohammed Pappu, Shad Chowdhury, Shah Ameen, Tarik Khan and Victoria Obaze have signed the letter which is reproduced in full below.

George Lansbury & the Poplar Rates Rebels

Apart from the detail of the budget the most telling part of the letter is the reference to this year being the centenary of the Poplar Rates Rebellion.

George Lansbury

The Poplar Rates Rebellion was a tax protest that took place in 1921.

It was led by George Lansbury, the previous year’s Labour Mayor of Poplar, with the support of the Poplar Borough Council.

The protestors defied government, the courts, and the Labour Party leadership by refusing to collect rates which they believed were too high.

Thirty councillors were sent to prison indefinitely but were released after six weeks. George Lansbury would later go on to be the leader of the Labour Party.

A mural celebrating the Poplar Rates Rebellion can be seen near Tower Hamlets Parks Department depot on Hale Street, E14.

Poplar Rate Rebels mural, Hale Street E14

Here are three extracts from the full letter which is reproduced below.

‘We, the undersigned, would like to raise our concerns of the serious democratic deficiency of this year’s budget making process’.

‘We believe that refusal to hear budget amendments by Labour backbench councillors, directly contravenes our ability to carry out our role as councillors, and points to the issue of democracy in the budget making process and in wider Labour Group decisions.’

‘This year marks the centenary of the Poplar Rates Rebellion where our predecessors stood against the inequitable mechanism of local government funding and were jailed for refusing to set a budget which would have placed an undue burden upon local residents in a time of economic hardship.’

Speaking to the Enquirer Cllr. Rabina Khan (Liberal Democrat, Shadwell) said that the open letter to Mayor Biggs and Cllr. Candida Ronald included some of the work she had been undertaking on an amendment to the budget.

Detail of Poplar Rate Rebels mural, Hale Street E14

Open letter to Mayor John Biggs and Cllr Candida Ronald

Friday 19th February, 2021

Dear Mayor John Biggs and Cllr Candida Ronald,

We write following our Tower Hamlets Labour Group meeting on Monday 15th February 2021. We, the undersigned, would like to raise our concerns of the serious democratic deficiency of this year’s budget making process.

We ask that as Mayor and Cabinet Member for Resources and the Voluntary Sector, you call for a meeting of Labour Group Councillors, to allow us to consider the below detailed amendments to the budget, as set out in Monday’s unheard motion and the motions due for discussion at Poplar and Limehouse CLP and Bethnal Green and Bow CLP.

We believe that the additional £7 million from the New Homes Bonus (NHB for 21/22) should be used to mitigate the impact of cuts upon residents, services, and the staff of the Council. We are in the midst of a public health emergency and economic crisis, which has already fallen disproportionately upon the Tower Hamlets residents we have been elected to represent.

Officers’ significant underestimate of next year’s NHB allocation also calls into question the estimates of £3.8 million in 2022/23 and nothing at all in 2023/24, which seem to be the driver for further cuts to frontline services in those years. If those are as badly wrong as next year’s estimate, Labour Group will have cut those services for no reason at all.

We believe that refusal to hear budget amendments by Labour backbench councillors, directly contravenes our ability to carry out our role as councillors, and points to the issue of democracy in the budget making process and in wider Labour Group decisions.

The Local Government Act of 2000 states clearly that it is the legal responsibility of elected councillors to set a budget, and by forestalling discussion of the budget within Labour Group, we are left with little constitutional means to put forward and agree what we believe to be vital amendments to the budget. If, as was suggested by the Executive and yourselves, we as Labour councillors are no longer able to add to the budget then we effectively agreed the full budget on the 15th December 2020. Therefore, we are unable to complete our duty to reflect fully upon the budget public consultations and the findings of the Overview and Scrutiny Budget report.

This year marks the centenary of the Poplar Rates Rebellion where our predecessors stood against the inequitable mechanism of local government funding and were jailed for refusing to set a budget which would have placed an undue burden upon local residents in a time of economic hardship.

Our requests are within our duties as councillors and are made upon our own Labour administration. We firmly believe that a fair budget and policy framework process must include the ability to put forward amendments in light of the public consultation, scrutiny of the budget and the significant additional funding which has been awarded for 2021/2022.

Your sincerely,

Councillor Abdul Mukit
Councillor Ayas Miah
Councillor Ehtasham Haque
Councillor Gabriela Salva Macallan
Councillor James King
Councillor Lemma Qureshi
Councillor Marc Francis
Councillor Mohammed Pappu
Councillor Shad Chowdhury
Councillor Shah Ameen
Councillor Tarik Khan
Councillor Victoria Obaza

As expressed by the Budget Motion which was ruled out of order at the meeting on Monday 15th February, and by the motions submitted to Poplar and Limehouse CLP and Bethnal Green and Bow CLP for consideration, we ask that the following budget amendments are put forward for democratic consideration to a meeting of Labour Councillors:

  1. Remove the new £1600,000 saving from the Ideas Store and Library Services (SAV/RES 003/21-22)
  2. Half the proposed saving of £569,000 from the re-provision of the existing day centres (SAV/HAC 003/21-22), including continuing to deliver services at Riverside, Stepney Way and Pritchard’s Road
  3. Half the saving of £226,000 for VAWG, Hate Crime and Community Safety (SAV/HAC 005/21-22 so that there is no reduction in the quality of services available to those suffering these crimes
  4. Postpone the decision to decommission the Community Safety Response Team (SAV/HAC 006/21-22 and reinstate the budget of £512,000 for this service for the next two years
  5. Postpone the £450,000 Substance Misuse Service (SAV/HAC 008/21-22) savings for at least one year, until a full impact assessment is drawn up and presented to members.
  6. Delete the Review Telecare model saving of £71,000 (SAV/HAC 014/21-22)
  7. Delete the proposed end of the Health E1 Drug and Alcohol Service saving of £102,000 (SAV/HAC 015/21-22)
  8. Postpone to £650,000 saving previously proposed for the Support for Learning Service and accompanying loss of key teaching staff to minimise the disruption to children with Special Educational Needs at a time when their schooling has already been severely disrupted by the pandemic
  9. Award one-off grants of up to £100,000 to the voluntary food banks operating in Tower Hamlets so that they are better able to ensure no-one goes hungry in the East End this year
  10. Add a one-off top up of £150,000 to LBTH’s own Residents Support scheme pot to help those who are unable to afford essential white goods, utility bills or who are in other priority debts
  11. Reduce the level of Council Tax increase in 2021/22 to 1.5 per cent instead of 2 per cent, making a total of 4.5 per cent, with a cost of £500,000

Detail of Poplar Rate Rebels mural, Hale Street E14

The Enquirer, and Love Wapping before it, has never been sent a letter such as the one above in which 12 Tower Hamlets Labour councillors publicly state their disagreements with the Directly Elected Mayor.

We had no knowledge of this letter before it was emailed to our Editorial Team late this afternoon.

That the councillors decided to write an open letter and distribute it to the media is a sign of their frustration with the Mayor and the public confirmation that they serve the people of Tower Hamlets, not the whims of any one individual.

Detail of Poplar Rate Rebels mural, Hale Street E14

The added significance of the letter is that it comes in the run-up to the Mayoral election in May (if we are going to have a Mayor that is) and Mayor Biggs is doing all he can to retain his grip on power but he is by no means certain of being allowed the chance.

It will be interesting to see if this is the first move in a wider fracture in Tower Hamlets Labour to push Biggs to one side.

In the meantime well done to the councillors who signed the letter, it is a refreshing change to see Labour councillors demonstrating that they can think for themselves.

Oops! Forgot to mention that we have not emailed either Major Biggs or Cllr. Ronald for their response to this letter as for many months now Tower Hamlets Council has been refusing to reply to any requests for comment. So there.

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