Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Newham and Haringey demand equality with Hackney for schools cash

Two days ago Haringey MP Lynne Featherstone wrote about a campaign to equalise pupil funding with Hackney.

Today Newham joined the fray. The Newham Recorder said the borough receives £5,071 per head of pupil compared with boroughs like Hackney and Tower Hamlets which get £6,170 and £6,289 per student.

The paper said: "The Newham campaign, 4in10: The End Child Poverty London Project has handed in a petition to Ministers signed by close to 1,000 supporters, calling for the review to deliver a fair deal for Newham's children."

Some boroughs are also complaining that Hackney has more than its fair share of policemen.

Could this be a dilemma for Hackney politicians? Tone down the success stories on crime and education to encourage more funding - or tone them up to encourage more voters? Here Mayor Pipe discusses the cash gathering game... at least when there isn't an election around the corner: The message must be clear not true

Nationwide: Hackney house prices up 22% in 12 months

According to a story in the Evening Standard, research by Nationwide Building Society showed:

"Prices rose faster in Hackney and Hammersmith & Fulham — both with 22 per cent increases — than anywhere else in the country. Property experts said the dramatic recovery in the London market was down to foreign investors cashing in on the weakness of the pound combined with higher salaries and bonuses in the City and a shortage of homes up for sale."

Undiagnosed autism and Asperger cause of disruptive Hackney kids

Update April 3 - The research was carried out in Hackney -
According to this piece, the lead researcher said: "“Our research shows that many children who get into trouble at school are being labelled ‘disruptive’ or ‘aggressive’ by their teachers and peers, when in reality they are displaying behaviours that are consistent with traits we see in clinically diagnosed autism. The children involved in our study have been recommended for appropriate treatment and their educational needs should now be recognised and adjusted accordingly.

“Teachers should be supported to identify these children before they are unfairly excluded from school and they miss out on the education and learning opportunities they deserve.”

Old story:

A study on persistently disruptive primary school children found 35% met criteria for atypical autism or Asperger syndrome. (35% = 9 children)

An excerpt of the report from a google search said: "All 56 mainstream primary schools in the London borough of Hackney and the local pupil referral unit were invited to participate in the study."

" Many persistently disruptive children have undetected disorders of social communication, which are of potential aetiological (causal) significance."

Social communication deficits in disruptive primary-school children
R. Donno, G. Parker, J. Gilmour, and D. H. Skuse
BJP 2010 196: 282-289.
[Abstract] [Full Text]

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Bloggers and tweeters vs Hackney Gazette: History

Tweeter Northsixteen (any relation to N16?) and blogger Raggydeeann chart the misdeeds of the Hackney Gazette and crime reporting. As far as I can tell, the Gazette tried to credit the source for a story - but got it wrong. This looks like it might be an improvement on the bad old days:

Dave Hill had a run in with the Gazette back in 2008 - "It was all about bloggers and how they're a bunch of nutters who have no business complaining if, by some miracle, they publish something of interest that a newspaper - such as the Gazette - helps itself to without acknowledging its source."

Reading between the lines

Does it mean anything if the business minister chooses Hackney to launch a consultation into debt relief.

According to Insolvency Service to help vulnerable people trapped in debt: "The consultation was launched by Business Minister, Ian Lucas who attended Citizens Advice Bureau in Hackney on Tuesday, where he heard first hand the problems that those in debt are facing."

The problem being consulted on is that people with tiny amounts of pension cash saved are not eligible for Debt Relief Orders - a low cost and effective way of avoiding bankruptcy.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Hackney gets too much cash for schools

Some boroughs complain Hackney has more than its fair share of policemen. Now here's Haringey complaining about Hackney schools: "Our children get £1318 less per head for their schools than neighbouring boroughs like Camden, Islington and Hackney. We have now reached the point where the Government is finally consulting on the funding formula for schools to start in 2011."

Could this be a dilemma for Hackney politicians? Tone down the success stories to encourage more funding or tone them up to encourage more voters? Here Mayor Pipe discusses the cash gathering game... at least when there isn't an election around the corner: The message must be clear not true

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Hackney hustings desert: report from the Lib Dems

Here's Lib Dem candidate Keith Angus' view of the first Hustings of the election: No longer a Hustings virgin.

Keith says Diane Abbott turned up 15 minutes before the debate ended and then joked that she'd blame the people of Hackney if she looked flustered on This Week (which she did - could this explain the last two posts? Diane to publish her medical records and Observer: Diane Abbott has dangerous attitude)

There's other interesting stuff in Keith's report but the final punch line is that the people of Hackney should be demanding more debates from their prospective MPs:

Keith wrote: "There was one thing all four of us agreed on (me, Diane, the Tory and the Green) after the meeting had finished. It’s pretty poor that this is the only hustings we have in our diaries at the moment."

Anyone know who or how these hustings are organised?

I was also wondering what happened on Saturday with Meg Hillier's visit to Leabank Square and Hackneywick.blogspot

Observer: Diane Abbott has dangerous attitude

Barbara Ellen writes "MPs are in no position to sneer" in the Observer - referring to Diane's rant at Esther Rantzen last week:

"It rather looked as though Abbott's definition of "diverse" was her, and any other MPs, who had come up through similar channels, and therefore "knew what they were talking about". Indeed, Esther was a red herring here. One got the feeling that if you scratched Abbot's attitude to the likes of Rantzen, it might all too quickly extend to ordinary members of the public also "not knowing what they're talking about". Now there's a dangerous attitude for dangerous times.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Diane to publish her medical records?

Diane looked a bit unstable on This Week. Is she ill?

May be we'll find out soon.

At the end of an unhappy exchange with Esther Rantzen, she said it would be a good idea for MPs to publish their medical records - and their tax returns - apparently something US politicians do. So will Diane be publishing hers before the election?

Rod Liddle had another pop at her yesterday. This time over a video of school kids singing - literally - her praises. The scene, according to Liddle, would not have been out of place in North Korea.

This might be unfair but Diane is no less crude. Her treatment of Rantzen was polite compared to an interview of Nick Robinson, the BBCs political editor, she did for the Guardian. She thought his appearance was the most important topic for discussion.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Hackney unemployment breaks 10,000

Hackney is still the London borough with the highest proportion of its working-age population claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA).

Figures released on March 17 2010 ( Regional Monthly Data - March 2010) - and which refer to February - show that there are now 10,044 JSA claimants in the borough. In February Hackney saw another 139 people sign on compared to 162 signing on in January.

This now means that 7% of the borough's working population is claiming job seekers allowance.

In addition, the Office of National Statistics reports a nationwide decrease in employment levels and an increase in economic inactivity (highest since 004). Also the number of people unemployed for more than 12 months also rose and is at its highest level since 1997.

The figures do not break down these changes to local authorities or constituencies so it is not yet clear what may have happened to Hackney's economic inactivity levels.

Will levels of 'worklessness' in the borough have changed dramatically since June 2009 when 24.2%, or 34,000 of borough's working population, were economically inactive?

Levels of long-term unemployment in Hackney fell from 47,100 in 2005 to 26,900 in 2007 - a much faster rate than neighbouring boroughs.

But the reasons for this
large drop in economic inactivity remains unexplained (Worklessness miracle). In addition to last months rise in national economic inactivity levels there are some other reasons to suspect that worklessness levels may be picking up. Some of these are discussed here: 42% of Hackney households on benefits

Hackney JSA claimant count:

February: 10,044 (7%) - next highest is Tower Hamlets with 6.7%
January: 9,905 (6.9%) - next highest is Tower Hamlets at 6.6%
December: 9743 (6.7%) - next highest was Tower Hamlets at 6.5%
November: 9,795 (6.8%) - next highest was Tower Hamlets at 6.7%
October: 9,827 (6.8%) - equal highest with Tower Hamlets.
September: 9,884 (7%)
August 9,826 (6.9%)
July: 9550 (6.7%)

Divided into constituencies: - Diane Abbott (North) and Meg Hillier (South) -
Meg Hillier Vs Diane Abbott on unemployment (I did ask where Diane got her figures but have had no reply)

Hackney North
May - 4,081
June - 4,118
July - 4206
August - 4,331
September - 4,338
October - 4365
November - 4386 (6.3%)
December - 4331 (6.2%)
January - 4,402 (6.3%)
February - 4,450 (6.4%)

Hackney South
May - 5,296
June - 5,190
July - 5,344
August - 5,495
September - 5,546 (7.8%)
October - 5,462
November - 5,409 (7.5%)
December - 5,412 (7.5%)
January - 5503 (7.6%)
February - 5,594 (7.7%)

Hackney unemployment deteriorates fastest
Minister: Hackney unemployment nothing to complain about.

Monday, 22 March 2010

"To be brutally honest I've got better things to do with my time than answer questions like that" Meg Hillier

Blood and Property posted an interview with Meg Hillier on Monday morning. It is long. But is it dull?

Meg Hillier on Religion: "I don’t really want to talk about my personal situation. It’s not relevant to my job."

Meg Hillier on Ghosts: "To be brutally honest I’ve got better things to do with my time than answer questions like that."

So, did she answer any of the questions Blood and Property put to her in this interview?

Find out here: Meg Hillier answers Blood and Property questions.

Meg Hillier answers Blood and Property questions

Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch and Under-Secretary of State for Identity talks to Blood and Property.

Blood and Property
: How does your job as a minister fit in with your job as a constituency MP?

Meg Hillier: There’s quite a lot of overlap with Home Office issues and concerns in Hackney and it’s helpful to have the experience of being a Hackney MP for my ministerial work and vice versa.

In terms of the time I spend in Hackney, it is much the same as it was when I wasn’t a minister; a lot of an MP’s time is spent in Parliament during the week.

The difference is that I can’t speak about issues in the chamber of the House of Commons that aren’t related to my ministerial portfolio or department.
So I can’t ask questions in the House on certain issues but that’s not necessarily a problem because there are other ways I can raise them. For example, on the Crown Estate proposals, which is a big issue in the constituency, threatening to sell off its property in Victoria Park, I’m working very closely with the other MPs involved who are not ministers. We’re working together but they’re speaking and I’m supporting.

Blood and Property: When I tried to get in touch with you about Brian Pead (Hackney child therapist caught in polic sting), the initial response was that I couldn’t talk to you about it without going through the Home Office press office.

Meg Hillier: In my Parliamentary office my staff are funded to deal with my Parliamentary work, not my Home Office work and don’t field any Home Office phone calls. The staff there deal with Hackney, not the Home Office.

Blood and Property: So you couldn’t talk to me about that stuff?

Meg Hillier: I couldn’t talk to you about an individual case.

Blood and Property: But if there’s an issue in your constituency that is brought up by a constituent, do you find out about it?

Meg Hillier: If any constituent raises an issue with me, I take it up. There’s nothing stopping me taking anything up.

Blood and Property: It just sounded, from your description of how you have to deal with the Crown Estate Issue, that you are limited in what you are allowed to do.

Meg Hillier: No, I can’t speak on another minister’s portfolio because I’m a member of the government. But I’m not silenced. There are many ways of raising issues. And realistically, you don’t always get to speak about the issues you want to speak about in Parliament. There are constraints on what is spoken about and you have to queue for your space.

So I’m still very active dealing with my constituents. I’ve dealt with 11,000 since I was elected (although that number includes some who have come back on other issues). I do all the things that I did in Hackney when I wasn’t a minister. Nothing has changed there at all.

Blood and Property: It’s just that that doesn’t sound realistic. Your ministerial job must involve a lot of time.

Meg Hillier: Yes, but as I say to my office, my main job is as a constituency MP. What I mean by that is that my time spent in the constituency and on Hackney issues is priority.

Blood and Property: How many people do you employ and, in the Home Office, how many people are specifically dedicated to you?

Meg Hillier: 2.8 - two full timers and one person working a four day a week, that’s for Hackney and Parliament. (In terms of the Home Office) there’s a private office and that has four people and those four people shadow the work that I do and part of that is about Home Office continuity.

Blood and Property: Do you think that you get enough scrutiny from your constituents? There seems to be an unhealthy level of disinterest.

Meg Hillier: Constituents contact me on a whole range of issues but one issue is the timing of that engagement. Influencing policy is better the earlier you get into that process. The earlier people get involved the more likely it is that any individual MP or group of MPs can influence policy. Part of the challenge is how people find out about what is going on. I try and write a report every month to say what is coming up in Parliament and what’s been going through (with the aim of getting feedback and having consultations) Essentially I welcome that earlier discussion.

Blood and Property: But do people come and speak to you about what’s going on in Hackney rather than what’s going on in Parliament?

Meg Hillier: It’s a fair mix of both. There is a level of misunderstanding still. People think that I work for the council. And although councillors in Hackney are very active, a lot of people don’t know what a councillor is. If you come across an issue that affects you or that you are passionately interested in, at that point you have to engage, and if you have never engaged before then the system probably is a bit confusing. We need to do more to explain what happens and how to engage and make it easy for people to find things on the website or in the literature.

Blood and Property: In comparison to Islington, is Hackney a lot less sophisticated?

Meg Hillier: People have stereotypes about places. I spent my first two years in Parliament taking every chance I got to speak about Hackney and to raise issues like poverty in the borough. But people have a negative impression and I felt that part of my job was to say some of the good things about Hackney too, to challenge the stereotypes.

Blood and Property: One issue that pops up every now and again is that some communities don’t seem to have any political representation. Like the Vietnamese community.

Meg Hillier: The Vietnamese community did have a representative, Than Vu who was a Hackney Councillor.

Blood and Property: How big is the community?

Meg Hillier: I don’t know off the top of my head but it is significant. We talked about having a Viet Town in Hackney. There is Bangla Town and China Town and Hackney has one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the capital.

Blood and Property: Any idea why they don’t have a representative?

Meg Hillier: Well he (Than Vu) was but the Chinese community as well has never been massively represented. It’s an issue I have discussed with the Chinese Association. It’s partly cultural, but certainly there’s a level of engagement.

I have to say diverse representation is not a big problem in Hackney. If you look at the diversity of Hackney council it is the most diverse council of anywhere, I would say in the country. So something is going right in Hackney.

It’s not a pick and mix, it’s not as if you have to have someone from every group, to make it representative. A council is elected for four years and if you look at it now I’d say it’s pretty genuinely mixed.

Blood and Property: Do you expect communities to be self-interested for a multicultural system to work?

Meg Hillier: We have a party system in this country and people will look at what policies work for them. People don’t necessarily vote down ethnic lines. They wouldn’t necessarily vote for a Vietnamese councillor because they are Vietnamese or for a Turkish councillor because they were Turkish or African councillor because they were African. People tend to vote more for the party of their choice and I think that’s healthy.

Blood and Property: And if they weren’t doing that, would you say it was unhealthy?

Meg Hillier: Lots of people vote for parties, but of course a lot of people don’t have parties, they float, and there are many factors in their decisions. There are lots of people who will vote for the same party, not necessarily mine, for years and years. Others vote for one party one year and another the next and they have different reasons for voting. Rarely is it a personality decision. My view is that there is very little personality voting and it is more on the big issues and wider concerns.

Blood and Property: Does it matter if you have large, politically active communities, that do act with a certain level of self interest – or promote issues that affect this community?

Meg Hillier: That’s what politics is about.

Blood and Property: But if that’s all happening in the North of the Borough, and you’re south, does it mean that the political attention of the council is drawn up there.

Meg Hillier: I have no indication or worry that the political attention of the council is being drawn away from my area on important issues.

I have no concerns there at all. The divide in the borough is artificial. One of the things about Hackney is that it’s multicultural, it’s diverse and that is very healthy. You don’t get the same divides that you get in other boroughs where perhaps you don’t get that level of diversity. Why is it that the BNP doesn’t get a grip in Hackney? Part of that is because it is so diverse.

Blood and Property: How important do you think religion is in terms of understanding Hackney? Is it a big issue or not really?

Meg Hillier: Well there are lots of people of different faiths, are you talking about the political influence of religion?

Blood and Property: It’s just that there seems to be a stark divide between Hackney politicians, a very atheist secular side and a very religious side.

Meg Hillier: But that’s what you get in society, a mix of different faiths and different views. Hackney council is no different to the rest of the world in that respect. There are certainly plenty of different faith communities that are very active in Hackney so it has a place as much as elsewhere. I engage with people of all faiths and none.
Blood and Property: Are you religious at all?

Meg Hillier: I don’t really want to talk about my personal situation. It’s not relevant to my job.

Blood and Property: What about a question I asked other Hackney politicians – do you believe in ghosts? (Do Hackney Politicians believe in ghosts? )

Meg Hillier: I’m an MP and I talk about what I do in Hackney as a politician. To be brutally honest I’ve got better things to do with my time than answer questions like that.

Blood and Property: There was an issue back in 2005 about child abuse, exorcism and witchcraft in Hackney which put this stuff on the political radar.

Meg Hillier: Diane and I put out a joint press statement at the time. The story came from one line in a metropolitan police report where one person who had been interviewed said something. That one line was played up. Diane Abbott and I were both annoyed that it had been played up that way. That’s why we put out a joint statement saying that we did not believe there was ritual sacrifice going on in Hackney.

Blood and Property: Diane said some quite strong things about some of the churches ( Ban these witchcraft churches).

Meg Hillier: That’s all pretty old stuff now.

Blood and Property: It’s just to show that issues about religion do come up.

Meg Hillier: I didn’t say I didn’t talk about religion, I said I engage with all groups on an equal basis. I visit mosques, churches of all denominations, faith groups and groups who I don’t know if they’ve got a faith commitment or not. I don’t question people on that basis. And if people want to lobby me on particular issues they need to know they can do that without fear of favour.

Blood and Property: Do you think that Hackney has seen the worst of the financial crisis?

Meg Hillier: I don’t think I could say one way or another at this stage. It depends what happens nationally, it looks like we’re coming slightly out of recession. One of Hackney’s challenges and one of the things I’m keen to pursue further is the issue about skilling up the population.

In Hackney you get hundreds of people applying for checkout jobs in places like Sainsburys. And that’s partly because the level of skills required in those jobs means that they are open to a lot of people.

Hackney’s got a very fast turnover of population. If you talk to the local bus company, they will tell you they take people on as bus drivers, skill them up and they move up to become managers then very often move out of Hackney.

That’s my biggest concern, that we are working with schools and colleges, and that we are skilling people up to take jobs in and around Hackney. And Hackney doesn’t have that many big employers at the moment other than the NHS and the council.

Blood and Property: Have things got much worse though, since the financial crisis?

Meg Hillier: I went to the Job Centre recently to ask them what they are doing and who they are seeing. Certainly there have been some changes. A slight increase in unemployment as you would expect although I’m not complacent about it.

And I go back to the skills thing. The best way to deal with this is to make sure that the people offering advice and training are doing their jobs properly. So that in bad times Hackney residents are in a good position to do well.

So the fact that Hackney schools are improving is a real welcome step because Hackney school children will be the workers of tomorrow and the better equipped they are to take on jobs available, the better equipped they are to compete.

Blood and Property: How seriously do you think Hackney would be affected if a Conservative government came into power?

Meg Hillier: If you look at the investment that’s gone into Hackney both from central government and from the council – the government has been pouring money in. We’ve got, five new secondary schools, 12 new Sure Start centres, other school improvement work, work at the Homerton Hospital and new GP surgeries. That investment is not an accident, that’s because Hackney has not had that investment for a very long time and the government prioritise that. For instance Decent Homes. When I started out in politics in the 90s I used to have to say to people I’m sorry, I have no idea when your window will get replaced. It was awful, people would have problems in their properties with no likelihood for improvement and now that work happens. But I don’t think it will be Conservative priority to focus on areas like Hackney.

Blood and Property: But is there much that can be done about that if the Conservatives do get into power?

Meg Hillier: Were the Conservatives to get in they would be bored of the word Hackney because I’d be bringing it up so often. I’d be looking endlessly at the Parliamentary end of things, looking at the detail of everything going through, every funding formula, any slight amendment or tweak that could benefit Hackney. Whether or not we could ever change it is another question but we would have to be ever vigilant.

Blood and Property: You and Diane seem to have very different views and styles, does that ever cause a problem? For example you seem to be on opposite sides on issues like the DNA database and Yarl’s Wood.

Meg Hillier: We actually get on very well. She’s been a great support as a fellow working mum. Her experience has been very helpful and she’s happy to share that with me. We are separate MPs representing different constituencies but sometimes there are issues that are Hackney-wide and we work together on those things. Even on the issue of children and detention there are areas of overlap, we actually share some views on that even though it might seem that we come from different positions. We work more together behind the scenes than people might appreciate.

Blood and Property: Do you think that in places like Hackney, or Tower Hamlets, that council departments and staff become politicised?

Meg Hillier: I deal with them on a very factual basis. If I’m dealing with a licensing issue then I’m dealing with them in relation to a licensing issue. But I think it’s right that council employees should follow the policy mission of the council. They should also be able to change course if the leadership changed. But I don’t think there’s any likelihood that the leadership will change.

Blood and Property: Do you think that concern over Hackney’s communications department, with Hackney Today for example, is fair? Do you think there are safeguards to prevent these becoming political tools?

Meg Hillier: There are safeguards because there have been councils in the past that have been taken to court when they’ve put something in the paper that’s been seen to be political. If anyone has an objection they should raise it and it should be investigated. But I don’t deal with Hackney Today at all beyond updating surgery details. I do publications from Parliament and I have to make it very balanced and not party political. There are very strict rules for all of us in public life.

Blood and Property: Back in 2005 when you were the parliamentary candidate for Hackney you were working in Tower Hamlets council press office which I think the Lib Dems had an issue with.

Meg Hillier: I wasn’t employed by Tower Hamlets council.

Blood and Property: No you were employed by an agency but you had a job in the press office.

Meg Hillier: I didn’t actually have a job in the press office. I was employed by my employer who then sent me on an appointment and they took me on because of the skills I had and my politics was really neither here nor there. If I hadn’t been able to do the job I wouldn’t have got the job.

Blood and Property: Yes, but its just an example of having people who are clearly political in roles that may be shouldn’t be political.

Meg Hillier: But there are rules about that. You can’t do that in jobs of a certain level.

Blood and Property: But you were able to do that job in Tower Hamlets because you worked for an agency instead of being a council employee.

Meg Hillier: I was employed by someone to do a job and I was not there to do any spin for any particular political party. In my job before I was very professional and you don’t last very long if you are partial. But equally, if you work in any local government environment you have to follow the policy that your political leadership sets. And that’s the job of a non-politically aligned administrative body.

Blood and Property: So if someone like Andrew Boff won and became Mayor you wouldn’t see a huge exodus of staff at a certain level?

Meg Hillier: Well. I don’t know. I don’t see it happening. But really there a lots of examples of people being councillors from one party or another and they wind up being chief executives of a council of a different political hue and it’s not an issue because they’re good at their jobs.

Blood and Property: What about crime?

Meg Hillier: Crime has definitely gone down massively in Hackney. When I speak to people on doorsteps they recognise that.

Blood and Property: Is that because of the number of policemen?

Meg Hillier: Well there are record numbers of police in London compared with what we’ve had. Neighbourhood policing has played a fantastic role in that, as well as building people’s trust in the system and reducing fear of crime because people are seeing bobbies on the beat. It’s an example of how the public can be right, they wanted more bobbies on the beat which has reassured people as well as making a difference.

Blood and Property: Do you think that these improvements are reversible?

Meg Hillier: Certainly, if there was a dramatic reduction in police officers across London that would be challenging. But normally, in a recession, we see crime increase and we haven’t. Although figures are all very well, if you’re a victim of crime you’re 100% a victim and you wouldn’t care about us saying that it’s all great. But you’re far less likely to be a victim now than you ever were – I think since the 50s. But if you are the victim it’s horrible for you. But that’s why we make sure that there’s victim support, that we catch the perpetrators and we let people know what’s happened to them. If someone’s done something wrong, you need to know, as a victim, that that person’s being held to account.

Links to Diane Abbott interview and Jules Pipe interview.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Debate: Darren Caplan Vs Diane Abbott on Thursday

Darren Caplan, Conservative candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, is asking for questions he can put to Diane Abbott on Thursday.

According to his website:, he will be taking part in a debate with Diane on Thursday. I couldn't tell where.

Diane, meanwhile, is also due to take part in "The Great Education Debate" at the Round Chapel on Powerscroft Road on Tuesday 23 March - latest details in the Hackney Citizen.

And some background here:

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Hackney class war declared by Times and Mail

A Hackney Sure Start play group has become the battle ground for a media-driven class war.

On Tuesday 16 March Rachel Sylvester wrote this piece for the Times: "It takes more than play doh to plug a deficit" about the group attended by her kids.

She wrote: "The group will be closed down because the Learning Trust, which is responsible for education in Hackney, has decided that it is too middle class."

Back in 2008 she wrote a similar piece: "The brilliant art club where my two-year-old learns to make spider's webs out of dried spaghetti and elephants from milk cartons (in the middle of one of Hackney's grimmest council estates) has had its funding cut because its clientele is not diverse enough."

Last night the Daily Mail joined in: "Paint potty! Council zealots close down under fives' art club because children are too middle- class"

In 2008, writing for the Times, Rachel Sylvester, said: "Of course it's important that Sure Start reaches the people it was originally designed to help. But it would be ironic if the policy designed to reduce social exclusion ended up building up class barriers in another way. It was, after all, social segregation that in part led to the fate of Baby P and Shannon Matthews. Middle-class parents send their children to Sure Start activities because they are good. It would be a tragedy if they were turned into ghettos for the poor."

In 2010 she wrote: "If you want to raise a generation in which the middle-class children are as socially excluded as the poorest children, then this is the way to do it."

In the Daily Mail's: "Paint potty! Council zealots close down under fives' art club because children are too middle- class", the play group's director, Ella Ritches discovered that the Learning Trust had scanned all the post codes of the parents using the school and decided the users were not sufficiently vulnerable.

She said: "Sure Start services are supposed to be available to everyone. Middle-class mothers struggle with work, sleep deprivation and post-natal depression just like any other mother.

She told the Mail: "The Learning Trust officials concluded that 68 per cent of all users were white. I told them that just because they are white does not mean they are middle-class. But they said you could work out their properties’ value from the postcodes."

Rachel Sylvester on Hackney:

Telegraph 2006
: "Where I live in Hackney, the biggest problem with noise comes not from "neighbours from hell" but from the police helicopters that hover overhead, lights blazing, for hours on end at night. I presume they are looking for drug dealers, although we have never been told. Whatever the explanation, my two-year-old son learnt to say "copter" long before he could identify a "cow".

Telegraph 2005: "What about drugs? This week, Sir Ian attacked middle-class people who took cocaine at dinner parties. Is he about to raid the Georgian terraces of Islington as well as the council estates of Hackney?"

Telegraph 2004: Shortly before I went on maternity leave at the end of last year, I had lunch with a minister who has impeccably Blairite credentials. The conversation turned, naturally, to schools in my area of London - Hackney. Diane Abbott, the local MP, had just said that the secondary schools there were so bad that she felt obliged, despite all her Left-wing principles, to educate her son privately.

What would the minister advise me to do, I asked, if my soon-to-be-born child were about to reach his 11th birthday? 'Oh,' he replied without a second thought, 'you'd have to move.'

Later in the same article, she wrote: "Of course, politicians have every right to do what they believe to be best for their sons and daughters. The problem is that most people cannot afford to do the same. In Hackney, 17 per cent of parents send their children to private schools, but what about the rest, many of whom live on council estates and are struggling to make ends meet?

"And not everyone has the money to move house to be near a good state school when, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, property prices are 12 per cent higher in the catchment areas of the best. 'Let them move house' is rather like Marie Antoinette declaring 'let them eat cake."

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Guardian: is Meg Hillier "a dreary knuckle-dragging authoritarian?"

Hackney's MPs have been bathed in an unfavourable light in the last 24 hours.

First Diane Abbott was targeted by the Daily Mail.

Then a Guardian blog about ID cards asked if Meg Hillier was a: "bright New Labour high-flyer... or a dreary knuckle-dragging authoritarian"...

Meanwhile an independent candidate for Hackney South and Shoreditch - 36-year-old Denny de la Haye, who lives in Hoxton/Shoreditch has a piece in Open Democracy: Why I'm standing to be an e democracy MP.

Yesterday you could have seen his story in more than a dozen versions of Daily Mail "localpeople" sites from Ely People to Exmouth People - including Dalston People and Stoke Newington People - (some background on these sites from Stokey Talk:

Denny's story was also in a blog called Virtual Economics by Seamus McCauley. Seamus, in his own words, is the: "Head of Publishing for localpeople, part of FTSE-250 listed Daily Mail and General Trust. My work for localpeople involves managing the Community Publishers who do the actual work of researching and writing the news in each town."

His piece ends with this: "Disclosure: I know the candidate personally, a bit"

Daily Mail says Diane used public cash to silence employees

A story in the Daily Mail claims Diane Abbott spent £1,300 of public money on legal advice to impose a 'gagging order' on a former employee. The paper claimed she had taken similar action with three other former employees.

The Mail said: "Four members of her staff have left in the past two years, and Parliamentary sources say she used taxpayers’ money to ensure the silence of three of them. Some Westminster officials believe the use of public money for this purpose should not have been allowed by the fees office."

This comment, which appears later in the story, makes the claims look a little less sinister: "A Commons source tells me: ‘She uses compromise agreements as a formality. Staff agree to sign them because they would get a good reference from her and to prevent any bad-mouthing."

In case the story isn't easy to access later (it doesn't seem to have a web address of its own)- here's Diane's response published by the newspaper:

"Diane, a mother of one, denies any impropriety and, blaming disgruntled former employees, adds: 'MPs' offices commonly have a high staff turnover given that many people wishing to work in an MP’s office are straight out of university.

"Many of my staff have been with me and serving my ­constituents for as long as 12 years, and all MPs' staff sign confidentiality agreements as a matter of course."

Lawyers claim Meg misled parliament

According to Morning Star newspaper, a firm of human rights lawyers representing women at Yarl's Wood detention centre have accused Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, of misleading parliament.

It is not a new claim. Some of the issues are discussed or linked to in this piece: Meg Hillier defended by the Telegraph.

I interviewed Meg Hillier on Monday and will post something later this week. We didn't talk much about Yarl's Wood though - more about whether her ministerial responsibilities impinge on her role as an MP and other Hackney related subjects.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Cameron rally in Hackney South - why?

Tory blog: London Spin, then the Hackney Post (the newspaper of City University post graduate students - which is now back in action after a year off?) and Press Association - reported the appearance of David Cameron in Hackney South.

But why Hackney South? The last time David Cameron and Hackney were so closely linked was back in January when when some of his giant posters were defaced: Hackney responds to David Cameron

Otherwise, as far as I can see, Hackney's Conservative group hasn't got any South Hackney-based councillors and its been a Labour seat since it was created in 1974.

May be it has got something to do with Hackney South Conservative candidate Simon Nayyar: or was it just a suitable venue?


Thursday, 11 March 2010

Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney, answers Blood and Property questions

Blood and Property:
What would happen to Hackney if the Conservatives win the next election? How much less money would the borough receive?

Jules Pipe: Whoever wins the general election, the next public sector spending round will be tight. From the noises Conservative shadow cabinet ministers have been making, I think that it’s clear it will be far worse under the Conservatives. The experience of the 1980s and 90s suggest that the Conservatives have a great capacity for taking decisions that are particularly tough on communities such as Hackney. Over the last 4 years of the last Tory government there was a 7% cut in real terms in local government spending, but in Hackney it was worse with a real terms cut of more than 20% which saw absolute cash reductions in total grant.

Over recent years, Hackney has made huge efficiency savings that have been recycled into covering cost inflation (pay and prices), demand-led service growth (eg adult community services), service improvements (eg street cleaning, recycling), and capital projects (eg Lido, Clapton Library, schools) so avoiding borrowing, cuts, and having to transfer additional costs onto the taxpayer – allowing us to freeze council tax. Naturally, if reductions were made in funding, backfilling such shortfalls in grant would have the first call on funds generated by future efficiency savings.

The progress made so far with medium term planning forecasts for the end of 2011/12 to 2013/14 show prudent, cautious assessments of current and future spending pressures. These regular assessments will of course continue, and continue to be revised as the situation becomes clearer in time.

Blood and Property:
Do you think that the main opposition in Hackney is the Conservative Party or the Orthodox Jewish councillors who make up its majority?

Jules Pipe: The Conservative Party. As well as in Hackney North, they are also the main electoral challenger in the mayoral and both parliamentary contests, as well as council seats in Hackney South.

Blood and Property: You had a run-in with Councillor Steinberger last year over his actions as head of scrutiny, do you believe that he put the planning needs of his community above the financial needs of the rest of the borough? (Reference: 23,000 Hackney tenants used as bargaining chip)

Jules Pipe:
I believe that it was the adopted principle of the entire Hackney Conservative group to oppose the Council’s clarification of planning policy regarding residential extensions. In my opinion, in attempting to negotiate the removal of the item from the Cabinet agenda in return for his acquiescence to allowing an urgent item that lowered council housing rents, he put furthering his group’s political position above operating correctly as Chair of Overview and Scrutiny. I believe that Cllr Steinberger has offered a different explanation of events.

Blood and Property: How do you react to claims by some members of the OJ community that the Labour Party in Hackney is anti semitic?

Jules Pipe: I would refute such claims entirely, whether this is a reference to the political party in the borough, or the Council’s political administration.

Blood and Property: Do you think it is odd that Orthodox Jewish councillors so rarely stand against each other - would it matter if there was some kind of agreement within the community not to do this? (Reference: Democracy problem in Stamford Hill)

Jules Pipe: As you have acknowledged, it is not completely unknown for members of the Orthodox Jewish community to stand against one another. Hackney Labour wants all political parties in the borough to be representative of all of Hackney's diverse communities. We have reached out to the Orthodox Jewish community (as we do to all communities) and that's why Cllr Joseph Stauber joined us.

It's a matter for the individuals and communities concerned whether they stand as candidates and how they vote, but personally I think communalism is very unhealthy. People should be looking at the manifestoes and candidates of the different parties and voting for the ones who seem to have the best ideas, qualities and relevant experience. It is unhealthy for democracy if people vote for candidates from their own community for that reason alone and not on merit. It is also unhealthy for community cohesion – whilst there are specific communities within Hackney, we are all part of one wider civic community.

However, it should be noted that the maths of recent borough election results suggests that the Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill must have been perfectly happy to vote for Muslim candidates (and vice versa) and I think that is very healthy and says something very positive about community cohesion in Hackney.

Blood and Property: How important do you think religion and an understanding of religion might be in Hackney. Do you think that it will become more or less of an important factor in Hackney politics in the future? (Reference: Hackney Christians: Money, power, demonic possession) and the orthodox jewish community is said to be growing fast and has specific requirements.

Jules Pipe: As I’ve said before, this is a proudly diverse borough and a place where government surveys have consistently found that residents are of the view that people of different backgrounds in Hackney get on well together. I don’t think it’s up to local politicians to talk about religion in any other context than that we welcome the diverse mix that people of all backgrounds bring to Hackney and the contribution they make to life here. Of course, the elected members of a council should reflect the population it serves, and so in that respect I’d welcome more people of different backgrounds standing to become local councillors. Hackney has a pretty good record on this, but there’s always room for improvement everywhere – here, in parliament, and in council chambers across the country.

Blood and Property:
Do you think it is healthy that so many of the boroughs schools are now academies - and does it matter that these schools are not subject to the freedom of information act? - (Reference: Hackney academies: too good to be true?)

Jules Pipe: My priority and that of local parents is that the standard of education for Hackney school pupils keeps on improving, and that they can access better training and jobs than a number of years ago.

In Hackney, we have a range of secondary schools, Voluntary Aided, Community and Academies. The fifth new Academy will open in September 2010. The five mixed, non-denominational, non-selective academies will provide 1,800 new secondary school places in the borough. Mossbourne Academy, rated by Ofsted as 'outstanding in every respect', was the first to enter pupils for GCSEs in 2009 and saw 84% of pupils gain five or more good grades. Nearly all of our secondary schools are now graded as good or outstanding by Ofsted and the significant improvement of results from our existing schools, together with the first set of GCSE results from Mossbourne Academy, have all contributed to Hackney's outstanding GCSE results of 2009, which are now above the national average for the first time ever.

I’m puzzled by the accusation that this rise in results should be the result of the disproportionate use of equivalent vocational qualifications at Academies. Not only am I sure Mossbourne would be willing to provide evidence to the contrary, it is the first and only Academy to contribute results to the aggregate figure. Furthermore, Mossbourne results contributed to the aggregate for the first time this year – the previous year-on-year increases in results have relied entirely on Hackney’s existing VA and community schools.

The Freedom of Information of Act should indeed apply to Academies. They are not currently subject to the FoI Act, however, under section 5 the Secretary of State has the power to designate as a public authority a body that appears to exercise functions of a public nature, or that provide public authority services under contract. A consultation last year considered to which bodies this should apply. Academies are now being proposed for inclusion, along with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial Ombudsman Service, and UCAS. The Ministry of Justice has consulted with these organisations about their potential inclusion and is considering their responses.

Blood and Property: Although crime in Hackney has fallen, other boroughs complain that Hackney has more policemen. On top of that, Hackney seems to be able to rely on outside agencies like Operation Trident. Do you know how much support Hackney's police get in fighting crime and whether this might no longer be available either if the conservatives win or if the government has to cut police budgets? References: Hackney has too many cops say Waltham Forest and Croydon and Hackney is second biggest customer of Operation Trident

Jules Pipe: Hackney Police are able to draft in services provided by serious crime operations such as Operation Trident and Operation Blunt, but they don’t get any extra funding or long-term resources for these operations to keep down crime. Support from the two operations are triggered by serious incidents in Hackney, which can then allow Hackney Police to access short-term resources and support from officers of other London boroughs, as and when we need it. Rather than budgetary constraints resulting in reduced support, it is the fact that serious crime is on a downward trend in Hackney – and therefore may no longer meet the requirements to get extra support from these operations – which might result in a reduction.

Blood and Property:
The BNP wants to stand in the Hackney Mayoral elections this year. How do you think this will affect the elections in the borough? (Reference: BNP to stand in Hackney mayoral elections)

Jules Pipe: Hackney is one of the country’s most ethnically diverse boroughs, and also one that is renowned for how well its residents get on together. Without the community tensions that the BNP would seek to prey upon, neither they nor the National Front have contested Hackney for many years. If the BNP were to field a candidate in 2010, overwhelmingly Hackney residents would see through their pretence at respectability, and reject their racism at the ballot box. An enthusiasm to reject the BNP may lead to an increase in turnout, with or without a specific campaign, but this is likely to be masked by any increase resulting from the council and general elections being coincident.

Blood and Property:
How much has the borough changed in the last 10 years - demographically (Reference: 50% of people in Hackney North have degrees) - do you think this will change the make up of the voting patterns in the borough?

Jules Pipe: Hackney North and Stoke Newington has a high density of people with degrees, at 50.5%, but according to the ONS Annual Population Survey in 2008, Richmond Park is the highest in the country, with 63.6%. Regardless of the level to which someone was educated, and as I inferred previously, I would hope that they will vote for who they think has the best vision for an area and can continue to improve local services. (This answer contained a long list of parliamentary constituencies showing what percentage of residents had degrees. If it would be helpful to see this, please let me know.)

Blood and Property: To what extent do you think that changes in the borough are related to property prices and new people moving here - how easily do you think that this process could be reversed (i.e. do you think that many hackney residents see their homes as investments or just as homes?)

Jules Pipe: Hackney is a very popular borough for a variety of reasons, including its improving transport links, its vastly improved schools, popular leisure facilities such as London Fields Lido and its many parks, its status as a vibrant arts and cultural hub, amongst many other reasons.

The Council’s research suggests that many of those moving into the borough since 2003 have been young, childless households on higher incomes than the current borough average, who rent privately. The impact of rising property prices in Hackney - as for London and the whole country - means that while owner-occupiers who bought during the past few decades will have benefited considerably from capital gains or opportunities to rent out their homes, the market has become very expensive for first-time buyers. This would suggest that the driving factor for today’s incomers is the desire to live in the borough, rather than seeking investment opportunities.

The Council is committed to ensuring high quality, affordable housing for all Hackney residents. Right now across Hackney construction work is taking place to build hundreds of new social-rented and affordable homes, including council housing, after the Council lobbied the Government and received a total of over £43million in Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) funding since last September.

For almost 30 years, affordable housing across the country often only got built as a spin-off of new private developments, and the downturn in the housing market threatened to bring even that to a halt. The commercial marketplace cannot be left as the only force to drive how housing is delivered. The Council has been working with the Government and its agencies and has successfully strengthened their confidence to give Hackney their social housing investment directly, so that we can deliver homes that are much needed by local residents.

Blood and Property: Do you think that Hackney has suffered the worst effects of the financial crisis? Why is Hackney's employment situation improving more slowly than other boroughs? (References: Feb 2010: Hackney Unemployment deteriorates fastest Jan 2010: Hackney slowest employment recovery )

Jules Pipe: I think it’s very difficult for anyone to say with confidence whether we have suffered the worst. There’s a very diverse mix of people living in Hackney, whose employment prospects in a recession can be affected to different degrees and at different times. The fluctuation of employment rate will naturally be determined by the nature of the work (part time, casual, employment sector etc) and when that sector experiences the effects of the downturn.

The figures to which you refer are relatively short-term and relate only to those claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance and should be seen in context of the Office of National Statistics data, which shows that employment has risen from 55.4 per cent in 2005 to 68.7 per cent in 2009, putting Hackney very close to the London average. Nevertheless, Hackney has been putting significant resources into getting the long-term unemployed into work, from job-readiness programmes through to apprenticeships. In the longer term, Hackney has concentrated on preventing a future skills gap in its young population by prioritising investment into schools and raising educational attainment.

Blood and Property: Can you rule out speculation that you might stand for a parliamentary seat in the next general election?

Jules Pipe:
I can rule it out entirely. I have never approached a parliamentary constituency, or even expressed an interest in standing in a parliamentary constituency. I can say the same for the European parliament, the GLA (both list and constituency) and the London Mayoralty. I have absolutely no intention, desire or even vague thought of doing so now, and have no plans to do so in any future election. I am personally committed to continue leading the Labour administration in the borough in which I live.

Blood and Property: How many Hackney Labour councillors are in the process of trying to become labour parliamentary candidates in the next general election? And if there's more than Nargis Khan and Sophie Linden - it would be great to know who they are.

Jules Pipe:
I am aware that both Nargis and Sophie have entered constituency contests. Beyond the Cabinet, there is no expectation for councillors to keep me informed of such intentions, so I wouldn’t be aware of a definitive list. Furthermore, if there were any, it would be a matter for them to disclose to you directly.

Blood and Property:
Do you think it matters that Hackney's legal department was 25% understaffed during a major development period - Olympics, Bishopsgate Goodsyard, Dalston development. (Reference: Hackney legal department recruiting crisis)

Jules Pipe:
All major and high profile schemes have been fully supported by Legal Services with appropriately experienced lawyers advising as necessary. There have been no instances of work being externalised because Legal Services has not had the capacity to deal with it.

The Corporate Director has had the opportunity to review Legal Services and a restructure is under way with recent permanent appointments made to senior manager and senior lawyer positions. The recruitment process will continue until all vacant permanent posts have been filled.


Apologies: The Mayor was answering those questions

This afternoon at 2pm today a very long reply to all of Blood and Property's questions arrived via email from Hackney Council. It is clear from the level of detail that these questions were being answered all the time. Due to the length of time it was taking I thought these questions weren't being answered at all - I was wrong.

Apologies. I'll post the full set of answers tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Will Jules Pipe ever answer these questions?

It started off so well but after months of waiting and several broken deadlines, Jules Pipe has yet to answer a set of questions sent by Blood and Property back in January.

15 October 2009:
Blood and Property asked Jules Pipe: "Do you believe in Ghosts?"

16 October 2009:
Jules Pipe replies: "I am happy to confirm that I have never felt the need to attribute any event to ‘supernatural’ causes...." (Do Hackney Politicians believe in Ghosts?)

11 December 2010:
Blood and Property asks for an interview with Jules Pipe.

22 December 2009:
Polly Rance, head of Hackney's media and external communications, wrote: "Thanks for your request for an interview with Mayor Pipe. I am sorry but things have been very busy in the run up to Christmas and we have not been able to fit this in before the holiday season. Jules might be able to manage something in the new year. Perhaps you could send over the list of topics you would want to talk to him about and we can try to find some space in the diary?"

19 January 2010:
Blood and Property sends a list of questions to Hackney's press office having been told this is the correct way to approach the Mayor.

27 January 2010:
Hackney Press Officer: "Sorry for delay in getting back to you. I'll chase this up."

12 February 2010:
Diane Abbott answers a similar set of questions. (Diane Abbott answers Blood and Property Questions).
I resend questions to Hackney Press Office. A press officer replies: "This is fine. As I said, questions are quite wide ranging so may take us a little while to get back to you. Let me know if you need any of this urgently."

19 February 2010:
A Hackney Press Officer calls to say that efforts are being made to get a set of answers by Monday 22 February.

22 February 2010:
No news.

23 February 2010:
A press officer replies to an email saying that the matter was being looked into.

24 February 2010:
Any news? A Hackney Press Officer says the answers are "nearly there".

2 March 2010:
Replying to an email, a Hackney Press Officer says: "have already chased this matter this morning for you. Almost there…" We later spoke on the phone. The answers would be ready by Friday 5 March.

5 March 2010:
I asked if there was any news: not ready.

8 March 2010:
I asked if there was any news: not ready.

9 March 2010:
I asked if there was any news: no reply.

10 March 2010
I asked if there was any news. A Hackney Press Officer said: "Sorry about this… still waiting."

Sadly the questions are hardly worth the build up. The ones about the Labour Party's relationship with the Orthodox Jewish Community were added at the beginning of February which could explain some of the delay. Hopefully the answers are coming but I can't say much more than that.


1. Do you think that main opposition in Hackney is really the Conservative Party or the Orthodox Jewish councillors who make up its majority?

2. You had a run-in with Councillor Steinberger last year over his actions as head of scrutiny, do you believe that he put the planning needs of his community above the financial needs of the rest of the borough? (23,000 Hackney tenants used as a bargaining chip, Mayor Claims)

3. How do you react to claims by some members of the OJ community that the Labour Party in Hackney is anti semitic?

4. Do you think it is odd that Orthodox Jewish councillors so rarely stand against each other - would it matter if there was some kind of agreement within the community not to do this?

5. Do you think it matters that Hackney's legal department was 25% understaffed during major development period - olympics, bishopsgate goods yard, dalston development.

6. The BNP wants to stand in the Hackney Mayoral elections this year:
how do you think this will affect the elections in the borough?

7. How much has the borough changed in the last 10 years - demographically (there's some research claiming that Hackney North has the highest density of people with degrees in the country) Do you think this will change the make up of the voting patterns in the borough?

8. To what extent do you think that changes in the borough are related to property prices and new people moving here - how easily do you think that this process could be reversed (i.e. do you think that many hackney residents see their homes as investments or just as homes?)

9. Do you think that Hackney has suffered the worst effects of the financial crisis? Why is Hackney's employment situation improving more slowly than other boroughs?

10. What would happen to Hackney if the conservatives win the next election? How much less money would the borough recieve?

11. Do you think it is healthy that so many of the boroughs schools are now academies - and does it matter that these schools are not subject to the freedom of information act? - References here: Hackney academies: too good to be true?

12. Although crime in Hackney has fallen, other boroughs complain that Hackney has more policemen. On top of that, Hackney seems to be able to rely on outside agencies like Operation Trident. Do you know how much support Hackney's police get in fighting crime and whether this might no longer be available either if the conservatives win or if the government has to cut police budgets?

13. How important do you think religion and an understanding of religion might be in Hackney. Do you think that it will become more or less of an important factor in Hackney politics in the future? (There seems to be a lot of political activity in fundamental churches) and the orthodox jewish community is said to be growing fast and has specific requirements.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Is Hackney home to academy fat cats? Debate on 23 March

The Anti Academies Alliance will be holding a "great education debate" at the Round chapel in Lower Clapton on March 23. According to its website, the key speaker will Diane Abbott.

The blub says: "With a General Election looming there is a renewed debate about the future of our schools. Come to this meeting to ask your questions about what’s best for our children... Critics of Academies argue schools are being privatised and divided, and that competition between schools will mean there are winners and losers.
Others argue that the idea of a democratically accountable local authority providing good schools is finished and that ‘trust’ schools are the solution. There is an even more extreme version of privatisation and deregulation. The Tories are talking about creating new, ‘free’ schools which will allow any parents to set up and run their own school... So what do parents really want? Come and hear the debate. Come and ask your questions."

Less than two weeks ago Diane was beside PM Gordon Brown when he announced a new accreditation scheme at Woodberry Down Primary School. Is this the roll-out of the academy programme into primary schools? The full government press release is on Anti Academies Alliance website.

Is Hackney home to Academy fat cats?

One of the stories on the Anti Academies Alliance website is a Sunday Times piece from back in January. It reports that two academy heads are earning £200,000 a year salaries with 11 earning over £150,000 with additional consultancy fees added on top. How much are Hackney heads getting and will we ever know as academies are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act?

Blood and Property recently asked Diane Abbott: "Do you think it is healthy that so many of the borough's schools are now academies - and whether it matters that these schools are not subject to the freedom of information act? - References here: Hackney academies: too good to be true?

DA: I am concerned about the lack of transparency both in relation to academies and in relation to The Learning Trust itself. But there is no question that academies are hugely popular with Hackney parents and they are all massively oversubscribed. Every year I have to counsel parents who are upset because they can not get their child into an academy. Before the academies were built, the majority of Hackney parents sent their children out of the borough for secondary education. Since the academies program started, academies like Mossbourne have produced stellar results. And the number of parents keeping their children in Hackney for secondary education has risen year by year. This must be a good thing."

Monday, 8 March 2010

All sides set for spinning

PR Week reports on the activities of Hackney's two Conservative parliamentary candidates, Darren Caplan and Simon Nayyar (may still be contesting). Both PR men. B2L Public Affairs director and Citigate Dewe Rogerson Public Policy MD respectively. Both joined another PR man, David Cameron, as he delivered his keynote speech in Brighton.

They are up against former press officers Meg Hillier and Diane Abbott. And then there's Jules Pipe, former sub editor. Does this impressive media/communications headcount mean lots of spinning can be expected?

Interesting on Bethnal Green Conservatives

This was an interesting piece about how the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow was chosen. Public said: "Open primaries are ridiculous. I'm not saying it was a stitch-up. The same rules applied to all candidates, and most of the losers didn't appear to have brought anyone along. Khan just rounded up a few of his mates, and the gig was his. Fair dos, really. But why would the Tory party want to have their candidate elected by a non-member? IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.

2. Localism is key. All candidates are never happier than ambling down Columbia Road with a bunch of begonias bought for a fiver. It's a mere quirk of fate that has prevented them from actually buying a property here.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

More Hackney UFOs

With pictures and movies - none of which are convincing.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Hackney Council used anti-terror law to spy on staff

According to the Sunday Express, Hackney Council used anti terror laws to spy on its staff to make sure they weren't misusing disabled parking badges. The Express asked 300 councils if they had invoked the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. 33 councils said they had. One of them was Hackney.

Meg Hillier defended by the Telegraph

Meg Hillier has been under fire from a number of MPs for her denials of poor conditions at Yarl's Wood detention centre - Diane Abbott is among her critics: Did Meg mislead parliament? and Hackney MP mums battle over motherhood.

Today a piece in the Telegraph claimed that stories about hunger strikes and abuse at Yarl's Wood detention centre verged on the fictional and that Meg's stance had been correct.

The Telegraph in support: "I don’t usually support the Government’s version of events – but this time, the evidence is pretty much overwhelming. There are CCTV cameras in Yarl’s Wood, and none of them has recorded “violence, mistreatment and racist abuse” involving any of the women in the “hunger strike”. But they have filmed the “hunger strikers” buying, and eating, items such as soup, noodles, crisps and chocolate from the Centre’s shop."

Versus Diane in the Guardian: "Junior Home Office minister Meg Hillier MP is my parliamentary neighbour and a friend. But she has never visited Yarl's Wood detention centre. If she had done, then I believe that she would never have signed off the letter, sent last week to every member of parliament, rubbishing the Guardian's report about desperate women detainees currently on hunger strike there."

Friday, 5 March 2010

Hackney Labour Councillors - Budget defence by blogging

Hackney Central's Labour councillors appear keen to crush their opposition as early as possible.

According to the Hackney Central Labour blog, the Greens offer "reckless proposals" in their alternative budget that will hit the poorest hardest.

The blog criticises the Conservative Party saying: "They have shown how unprepared they are and how little effort they have made in offering the people of Hackney an alternative. Right before our elections in May - the Tories have failed before the firing gun has even been set off."

The Lib Dems got off lightly with HCL briefly saying that their policies would be annoying and unhelpful if they were ever put into practice.

Hackney Central Labour sounded unworried. This may have more to do with a historically loyal electorate than any policies. The 2006 election results (with a 32% turnout) and the 2002 election results (31% turnout) in the ward both saw Labour win comfortably.

Over at We Love Stoke Newington the mood wasn't quite so aggressive - the only criticism from its Labour Councillor authors was for an unnamed free local paper - (might that be the Hackney Heckler?)

We Love Stoke Newington said: "There have been some misleading reports in a local free newspaper about budget cuts - we'd like to reassure you that this is not the case - these are different economic times, but due to managing the Council's finances well, we're able to freeze council tax and continue to invest in key services."

(Could this article in PR Week, by Hackney's head of Communications, Polly Rance, also be described as misleading too? "Talk of spending cuts in an election climate often sends a chill through communications departments. Comms teams know full well that their budgets are a prime target for cuts in manifesto pledges. Now is the time, more than ever, for us to prove our value, not just to our organisations, but to the residents we serve.")

Labour Councillors in Stoke Newington Central face a more real threat than their colleagues over at Hackney Central.

The 2006 local elections results for Stoke Newington Central show that Labour Councillors faced a threat from the Green Party - two Green candiates won more than 700 votes each while the poorest performing Labour councillor won around 900 votes.

The results for the 2009 by-election in Stoke Newington Central - to replace Labour Councillor Jamie Carswell - saw Labour with 48% of the vote compared to the Green's 32%.

The results for the 2002 elections in Stoke Newington Central showed a more comfortable lead for Labour suggesting that support for the Green Party in the ward has gained momentum since 2002.

Hackney council in new row with Orthodox Jewish community

The Jewish Chronicle reports a campaign by Hackney's Charedi community to prevent a former school being turned into residential property. Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is among those supporting the campaign.

According to Abraham Pinter, former Hackney Councillor, headmaster of Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, 20% of Hackney's under 16s are from the Charedi community.

The dispute could reignite debate over planning restrictions in Stamford Hill. Bad feelings still linger after a personalised row - back in April 2009 - when Mayor Jules Pipe said that Conservative Councillor Sime Steinberger - head of the borough's scrutiny committee - had been prepared to "withhold money from 23,000 households" in order to push the Orthodox Jewish call for looser planning rules in Stamford Hill. Pipe described it as an "incredible abuse of his position" and that "23,000 people could have had their rent decreases delayed and you used that as a bargaining chip."

Cllr Steinberger replied: "What Mayor Pipe said is not what happened. I got a call in the morning saying what about this item. I hadn't seen any paper work and I asked officers what it was about." He said that Pipe had not returned his calls.

Blood and Property recently stole another Jewish Chronicle story: Hackney Council tells Orthodox Jew to demolish his home - which illustrates how severe this planning issue has become in some instances.

Meanwhile should there be concern about the state of democracy within the Orthodox community?

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Hackney property prices down and staying down

A story in the Times says: "In August last year the property consultancy Drivers Jonas published a blackly gloomy report showing that property prices in the boroughs of Hackney, Newham and Waltham Forest had fallen by more than 20 per cent, compared with the London average of 13.7 per cent."

A couple of paragraphs later the story says: "By January, however, prices were rising in every eastern borough except Redbridge and Hackney..."

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

De Beauvoir UFOs/unsuccessful Hackney candidate/Asians don't vote for black candidates?

UFOs in Hackney? Apparently the skies over De Beauvoir are full of them. Albert, if you ever read this, what was it you saw?


A piece from Operation Black Vote mentions Hackney Cllr Patrick Vernon's short-lived attempt to become Labour candidate for Leyton and Wanstead. According to OBV, Cllr Vernon was a favourite but didn't make it onto the shortlist. Another Hackney councillor, Sophie Linden, did make it onto the shortlist but lost in the end to John Cryer.

According to the OBV report, the fate of another black candidate later in the selection process suggested that there may be a divide between black and Asian members of Labour Party's BAME ( - which is supposed to fight for more black MPs. OBV claims that Asian Labour Party members supported a white candidate over a black candidate once their Asian colleague was ruled out of the contest.

Operation Black Vote reports that supporters of the Asian candidate, Ahmed Shahzad - who happens to be head of BAME - "proved decisive in sealing the win for (John) Cryer, provoking dismay among supporters of (Terry) Paul who had won substantial backing among a cross section of rank and file party members, but significantly failed to win the second preference vote of Shahzad’s supporters, who were mostly of Asian origin."

The OBV report quotes one anonymous Labour Party member: "It’s an absolute disgrace. Totally shameful. He [Shahzad] has got his position in the party as a result of representing Black members, and what does he do? He stops a good quality Black person becoming an MP. I think his position as head of BAME Labour is now untenable."