Sunday 7 February 2010

Socialists Defy Free Speech Ban In Scandal-Ridden Waltham Forest

Great news for free speech in Walthamstow - campaigners from the Socialist Party and the Greens have defied an attempt by Waltham Forest council to ban political stalls in the town square without first seeking 'prior permission'.

For years, religious and political groups have set up stall in the square without any problem. Then last week, socialists calling for a public inquiry into council mismanagement were told to move on: a council jobsworth turned up, said they were in breach of a 105-year old bye-law and threatened them with the prospect of a potential £500 fine.

The council claims that it has only now managed to recruit enough 'enforcement officers' to work weekend shifts and catch people breaking this local ordinance. However, this seems like an excuse: its claim that "any person or group wishing to operate in these areas needs to have the correct permission, in the form of a signed agreement, and have paid the appropriate fee" is undermined by the inability of both the local newspaper and the Socialist Party to obtain any information about the size of this alleged fee or the terms of any agreement.

So why now? Perhaps because, in an election year, Waltham Forest council doesn't want local people reminded that it has finally been caught out publicly after years of mismanaging funds. As Private Eye Rotten Borough's column pointed out in late January, there have already been numerous previous investigations by the council's own auditors, which unsurprisngly found no evidence of criminality. In February 2009, Labour's Lord Harris accused the leadership of the Labour Group in Waltham Forest of "hoping that the problem would simply go away" and claimed that he had been approached by a 'senior councillor' to keep questions 'in the Party'. Finally in March last year, a panel including the chief executive of the London Development Agency Peter Rogers was brought in to head a new independent investigation. It found that million of pounds in central government Better Neighbourhood Initiative funding for deprived wards was unaccounted for or had been diverted towards the borough's spending on the Olympics, that rules to prevent fraud were routinely ignored and that files had been doctored or were 'incomplete'. Four senior council officers resigned before the investigation was published in December 2009.

None of which has proved a problem for the career of Cllr Clyde Loakes, who was the chair of the Local Strategic Partnership and responsible for monitoring regeneration spending when the mismanagement took place. The Labour Party has selected him as it parliamentary candidate for Northampton South.


Anonymous said...

How strange! Having lived in Walthamstow for 3 years there were always stalls in the centre, like most town centres hubbub of political activity. Yes, it sounds like it is 'cos of there's an election coming up but it also exposes further encroachment on civil liberties and privatisation of public space. Good on the Greens and SP for defying this stupid policy.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you will do a piece on the pink sign board appearing all over Newham. This is not nothing but election propoganda.

They fix a pavement and claim they are improving the area. In one area, I did not notice anything, expect that they put 20mph signs on roads that already had speedbumps!

I get distressed as every month I have to pay Council tax bills, but I am not sure how Newham Councillors can sleep at night putting these pink Sign boards up all over the Borough. Do you know how much they cost?

Kevin said...

The pink sign board... yes I've seen it!

How much does it cost? I feel a Freedom of Information request coming on!

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