Showing posts with label legal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label legal. Show all posts

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Hackney Council only breaks the law 15% of the time?

Judging by the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests being dealt with by Hackney Council it's not surprising there's a bit of a backlog. There have been 237 requests via alone.

According to Hackney Council there were 883 requests over the 12 months up to September 2010 (assuming it relates to the date the request was made: September 2010.)

By it's own admission Hackney Council says people are interested in using the service. (The council said: "An increase (in FOI requests) in the lead up to national and local elections was expected, but has continued as a result of interest in the Council’s reaction to cuts in spending and as a result of increased awareness of the legislation. The number of complex requests also appears to be increasing.")

But is the council setting its targets illegally low when it comes to how long it takes to answer these FOI questions?

The council's performance has been improving but it has set itself a threshold allowing it fail to respond within the legal time limit in 15% of cases.

In an FOI request on Jed Keenan asked: "I notice that the target for requests being replied to within the statutory standard of 20 working days is set at only 85% rather than the statutory standard of 100%. Is this because this is considered the minimum that this local authority is capable of achieving?"

The Council replied: "The council's target is to provide information requested under the Freedom of Information Act within 20 working days. 85% is the Council's minimum."

Keenan (who has been criticised for bombarding Hackney with FOI requests - currently 59) said that this response "seems to imply that the Council’s minimum target is to break the law only 15% of the time" as the FOI Act is legally binding.

Ultimate responsibility for FOI in Hackney lies with the borough's head of legal services, Gifty Edila. Hopefully she's got enough staff to check whether or not the council is acting within the law - unless of course they're busy doing other bits and pieces.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Mosque dispute: legal paperwork is "disgrace" and "appalling"

A Stepney mosque faces massive legal costs as its management committee attempts to exclude opponents from the premises.

The management of the Shah Jalal Mosque on Duckett Street in Stepney intends to sue the same worshippers for libel and has initiated further legal proceedings in order to take full control of the mosque's bank accounts. The potential costs could be enormous and put an end to the new mosque plans.

As the number of hearings and bundles of paperwork mount the defendants claim that the mosque has spent £90,000 of charity's £600,000 on its solicitors.

At the hearing on Tuesday a number of technical details were discussed.

The presiding Judge, Justice Elizabeth Slade heard the claimants’ case for excluding 11 worshippers. But the hearing was held up several times by inconsistent paperwork provided by the claimants’ Stratford-based solicitors Bowling and Co.

At one point in the hearing Judge Slade said: “This is a disgrace, that the documents haven’t been properly serviced and that counsel (for the defendants) is meant to be dealing with this case without the same documents that others are dealing with in court.”

The judge later described the situation as “an appalling state of affairs” and demanded that the claimants representatives get their paperwork in order. One of the claimants’ junior solicitors was asked to help the defendants’ barrister identify the documents the court was considering.

Both parties claimed to be trying to minimise costs.

A number of allegations have been made by both sides in the dispute. The claimants say that the 11 defendants have used violence, intimidation and defamation to take control of the mosque.

The allegations against the claimants include theft, fraud and having abused their positions of responsibility within the mosque.

One of the key issues concerning Judge Slade was that the claimants' case was not specific to each defendant: “I’m concerned about the lack of specificity even if the 25 July meeting is taken as authorised, the word ‘associates’ is an extremely broad term."

She asked the prosecution to provide individually identifiable evidence at the Wednesday hearing.

Both sides have consulted Muslim clerics to substantiate their claims about the use of the mosque.

At one point the Judge said: “Are you saying that members of the congregation who express a view that they have lost faith in those who are running the organisation warrants the banning of these individuals from the premises?"

Mr Cakebread, barrister for the claimants said: "No. If I’m inclined to take the view that my priest is not a good priest or the arch bishop of Canterbury (is not a good bishop), then I’m entitled to express that view.

"But am I entitled to go into that church and explain this view from the pulpit? My submission is that no, you are not and not entitled to put up notices that are highly defamatory of my priest or the ArchBishop of Canterbury.

“Members of the congregation are entitled to express their view but what we say is that they are not entitled to express their views inside the mosque."

Counsel for the defence, Mr Al Mustakim, pointed out that the mosque's imam, not its trustees was the equivalent to a priest.

He also said: “What in effect these trustees are trying to do is bypass the other 15 trustees on a point which is so fundamental it goes to the very heart of the purpose and function of the mosque. It goes against the teaching of the Koran which forbids people from excluding fellow worshippers in undertaking their prayer and flies in the face of what a mosque is all about."

A crowd of about forty people filled court five apparently in support of the defendants.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Did senior Hackney lawyer have two jobs?

Did Michael Sobell, Hackney's principal lawyer for property and regeneration from 2006-2009 have two jobs? And did his role at the borough include the olympics legacy?

These were questions that Blood and Property put to the council earlier this week.

No answer was supplied as to whether Sobell had responsibilities for the borough's Olympics work load.

Whether or not he dealt with the Olympics, Sobell was in his post during a difficult time when the borough's legal team was massively under-staffed.

During this period he appears to have been responsible for a parking debt recovery business - a suggestion that has been partially confirmed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Blood and Property left messages with two call centre staff at Sobell's law firm Graham White but has not yet received a reply.

On August 17 Blood and Property asked the council:

1 What was his (Sobell's) role at the council was it full time or part time?
2 Was it acceptable for him to run a separate legal business while working for the council?
3 When was the council first made aware of his non-council work?
4 Do any other council solicitors run legal businesses that are not related to the council?
5 Did the council ever investigate Mr Sobell's activities beyond his role in the council?
6 Did his work outside the council breach any of the terms of his contract with the council?

In its first response Hackney Council said:

“Michael Sobell worked as an interim agency employee for Hackney Council on a full-time basis between November 2006 and June 2009. He was an Interim Principal Lawyer for Property and Regeneration. As this individual no longer works for Hackney Council, it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further.”

This week Blood and Property asked:

1. Did his role cover the olympics? This council document suggests that Mr Sobell might have had something to do with this.
2. Was Hackney council aware of his extra curricular activities?
3. Also, does Hackney Council check on the non-council commitments of its employees?

Hackney Council said:

“Michael Sobell performed his duties adequately. There is no evidence to suggest that he breached the terms of his engagement through the agency, while working for Hackney Council.”

“Permanent employees of Hackney Council must seek permission to conduct any secondary employment. This does not apply to agency staff. Michael Sobell was agency staff.”

These links suggest that Sobell had work commitments beyond his role at the council.

According to this message board, ( a letter was sent to the mayor last month to complain about him.

This early mention of Sobell (Oct 2007) notes that he works for Hackney Council:

More links to discussions :

Discussion about Graham White coincidence: and here -

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Is a mosque a corporation? £90k legal battle to find out

A High Court hearing on Tuesday will decide whether the management committee of an East London mosque can exclude worshippers they don't like. This appears to be uncharted legal territory.

If the Shah Jalal mosque's management committee are allowed to exclude worshippers, the power will be based on UK corporate law rather than Sharia law.

This is the latest escalation in a bitter dispute over a cluster of prefabricated cabins on the Ocean Estate in Stepney, one of the UK's most impoverished communities. These cabins serve as the Shah Jalal Mosque.

Despite the poverty, worshippers managed to raise £900k in order to build a new mosque. But concern over the management of these funds flared into allegations of corruption and confrontation (East London Advertiser story from 2008).

In response the mosque management committee has hired lawyers to exclude its opponents. These lawyers have been paid with money that was collected to build the mosque - with £90,000 already spent on legal fees in less than a month.

The mosque's management committee claims that the Charity Commission is aware of its action. The Charity Commission would not comment on the case until it received a letter from a defendant yesterday. A spokesperson for the Charity Commission told Blood and Property: "The Charity Commission is aware of concerns about Stepney ShahJalal Mosque (charity number 1079423). We will now assess the concerns to establish what, if any, regulatory role there may be for the Commission."

In the most recent High Court hearing - Friday 6 August - Mrs Justice Nicola Davies refused to grant an order to exclude worshippers. She said she found a number of issues "unsatisfactory". These included the lack of legal representation for 8 of the 11 defendants and a lack of primary documentation. She was also not convinced that the split between the mosque's trustees over the expulsions was irrelevant, as had been claimed by the mosque's barrister, Mr Cakebread.

Judge Davies also expressed concern at charity money being spent and acknowledged the level of support for the defendants (the 11 who face expulsion from the mosque) - the court heard that the 20 to 30 mosque users present were there to support the defendants.

She was not swayed by the claimants argument that their decision to exclude worshippers was backed by law:

Cakebread: If argument has been put to court that there is a legal entitlement for people to (attend) then I’m not aware of it. It’s like barring someone from my house. It is the same, there’s nothing different about it.

The Judge pointed out that some of the mosques trustees supported the defendants.

Cakebread: It is irrelevant because it is a majority in company law, the majority of the company can make the decision.

Later in the hearing the Judge said: "A history where you clearly have dissenting trustees, I don’t just dismiss, as you have, as irrelevant…I can tell you I am not making the order you seek this afernoon."

A date of August 24 was set for the next hearing.

Here's a report of a court hearing on July 29th which covers some of the other issues being discussed: Mosque worshippers face £45,000 legal fee over management dispute.

A court has been told that £300,000 of the Shah Jalal Mosque’s cash had inexplicably disappeared, that official documents had been falsified, and that the Mosque’s treasurer was illegally removed from his post.

The presiding judge, Mr Justice Griffith Williams, commented on the seriousness of the allegations but said that he was not in a position to say whether or not they were true. However the allegations allowed him to revisit an earlier court order in which he had ordered the treasurer to unfreeze the Mosque’s bank accounts.

The judge said: “I can understand your claim. These are serious allegations and it seems to me that there are matters that should be litigated at the earliest possible opportunity. I’m not in any position to direct whether there’s any truth or otherwise in any of the allegations but if there is then clearly the defendant’s decision is understandable vis-à-vis the bank.”

After hearing the allegations he issued a new order giving instructions on how the mosque’s accounts should be handled during the management dispute. But this still included payment of a £35,000 legal bill of one side in the dispute.

Whether or not these legal fees should be paid by the mosque dominated the end of the hearing. Stratford-based Bowlings solicitors faced the prospect of not being paid after taking instructions from the allegedly corrupt Mosque management.

During the hearing Justice Griffiths Williams said that the £45,000 bill “does seem rather a lot of money” and pointed out that the claimant’s barrister had, at one stage in the hearing, said the bill was between £40-£45,000 and that Bowlings had then fixed it at £45,000.

The judge said: “It’s unseemly for lawyers to be arguing about fees and it is certainly not something with which a judge should be involved.”

At first the Judge was minded to unfreeze the mosque’s bank accounts and to exclude legal expenses from any future payments. Then, after arguments were made, a compromise was reached which saw £35,000 of the bill being paid from the mosque’s funds,

Friday, 9 July 2010

Credit Union and Citizen vs Council

Hackney Credit Union closure is discussed at length in the comment section of this blog post: Hackney Credit Union suspended on Paul Stott's I intend to escape...and come back.

Including such highlights as: "There are rumours of this being precipitated by £100,000 or some such sum going walkies. If there's any truth in that (not saying there is) it's likely to mean people have to wait even longer to get their money back"... and "Who has taken our money from what was in essence an empty charity-shop incredibly licensed to take people's deposits? Who was running this apparent 'ponzi scheme' openly operating on our high street? And who allowed them to prey on investors?"

On Thursday the Hackney Gazette suggested a less extreme scenario saying HCU "collapsed after its running costs outstripped money coming in with more and more people unable to repay loans."

The paper also reported concerns that the HCU collapse would cause a resurgence in loan sharks.

Commentators on I Intend to Escape didn't hold back on council bashing but the top prize for this goes to a guest spot on Hackney Citizen from Jack of Kent: "The improper and disgraceful conduct of Hackney Council" which exposes the council's daft threats against the Citizen as well as its failure to inform the Citizen that it had no intention of pursuing the issue any further.

Jack of Kent picks the council's legal arguments to pieces but could the catalyst for the council's course of action have come from its communications department? In comparison to its well-oiled and fully staffed comms team, the legal department is a Cinderella. (also see Hackney Legal department's recruiting crisis confirmed) and the council's claim that it was defending a junior member of staff looks more like an excuse to bully a critic (one that the Mayor happened to have publicly attacked)... meanwhile the legal team seems to fire wherever it is pointed.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Hackney legal team trips again AND Will budget spark Hackney exodus?

Blood and Property missed this story in the Telegraph: Apparently Hackney Council was forcing volunteer groups to pay £1000 for liability insurance before allowing them to work in Hackney parks.

The Telegraph's Public Policy Editor recently updated the story: "I am delighted to be able to report that Hackney’s officials appear to be having a change of heart on this matter. At a meeting on Friday, officials reported that Jules Pipe, the Mayor of Hackney, had been “in touch” with the legal department and the council’s lawyers had found a way round the problem"

Does Hackney Council have a policy on inhibiting green fingered residents?

It is certainly a reminder that all is not well in the borough's understaffed legal team which seemed to spend most of last month pursuing The Hackney Citizen into a PR disaster for the council.

Now at least Bambos Charalambous, in-house lawyer for Hackney Council is no longer responsible for running Enfield council as well. Following the elections in May he was made acting leader until Enfield's Labour Party could "find someone with a less demanding day job" (from The Lawyer)

That changeover seems to have happened and Bambos Charalambous is now Enfield's Cabinet Member for Young People, Culture, Leisure, Sports...

Budget: Hackney singled out by Channel 4 FactCheck blog:

In relation to this part of the budget: “We will for the first time introduce maximum limits on housing benefit – from £280 a week for a one-bedroom property to £400 a week for a four-bedroom or larger.”
George Osborne, Budget 2010 speech

"Labour MPs warn of a housing crisis in London and the South East, where rents are higher. For example, in parts of Hackney, the maximum housing benefit is £1,000 a week for a four bedroom house. Losing £600 a week would mean families currently claiming housing benefit would have to move to cheaper parts of London."

For a more in depth look at Hackney and the budget here's the Hackney Citizen's analysis

Monday, 17 May 2010

Blog across the border, some law stuff and a new weapon in Hackney

If you like your politics raw and dripping with blood then you'll enjoy the world of Tower Hamlets council as portrayed in Ted Jeory's new blog Trial by Jeory. Find out here why Hackney residents have a few things to be grateful for.

But, in Hackney, how are things settling down after the election?

Disappointingly in the legal department. Bambos Charalambous, in-house lawyer for Hackney Council was the unsuccessful Labour ­party candidate for Enfield Southgate (he lost to the Conservatives - 14,302 votes to 21,928). According to the Lawyer: "He was one of those who experienced the deflation of returning to the day job on Monday morning."

But, as the Lawyer explains, Bambos will still have his political hands full for a while to come: "For Charalambous, the night was one of mixed fortunes due to his local Labour group winning back Enfield Council from the Tories after eight years in opposition. The result means Charalambous has become acting leader of the council until the party can find someone with a less demanding day job."

A relief considering the problems facing Hackney's understaffed legal team. Hopefully his time in the legal department will be spent doing something useful... (possibly not pursuing a local community newspaper, as suggested in a comment at the bottom of this piece in the Citizen)

No doubt he'll be getting the same flexi-time deal as all those Conservative council leaders working in Hackney Council.

A new weapon used by Hackney kids: If you can make it past the claim that the whole of "Hackney has become known as murder mile" you'll find there's a new weapon on our streets. An interviewee told the Daily Star: "Beware if you see a big group all on crutches - they're the new weapon of choice."

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Hackney PR disaster

One of the less terrifying entries on this spiky conversation about law on Stokey Talk provided a link to Private Eye's defence of the Hackney Citizen.

If you have a look you'll notice that Private Eye has published the conversations that Hackney Council is trying to censor - an issue which is discussed in

What is Private Eye's circulation? About 250,000? Is this what Hackney Council might call a PR disaster?

Monday, 10 May 2010

Is Jules Pipe behind legal feud with "lying little rag"?

The Hackney Citizen's decision not to buckle to Hackney Council's legal threats over a telephone conversation posted on its website has been reported by

Hackney Council told that it was concerned about how the recording was made. Hackney Citizen replied: "We take the view that it is in the public interest to disclose the way the Council was dealing with the issue, as evidenced by the audio clips."

The last time the Citizen clashed with the council was when it reported an alleged £40m hole in the council's budget. This, combined with Lib Dem criticism of Hackney Today (the council's free newspaper) prompted Mayor Jules Pipe to publicly attack the Hackney Citizen in a full council meeting in which he called it a "lying little rag".

Could Pipe's wrath have had anything to do with the Citizen's apparent alliance with Pipe's mayoral rival, Andrew Boff? Keith Magnum, founder and editor of Hackney Citizen - and former Green Party candidate - told Blood and Property that this appearance was just a coincidence: Hackney Citizen: Boff-tastic or intelligence wing of the Green Party?

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.


Thursday, 11 February 2010

Diane answers Blood and Property questions:

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.

Diane Abbott: A large proportion of my constituents go to church so understanding religion is important to me. Huge amounts of money are being poured into the Christian Party here in Hackney, as your blog has pointed out. This seems to suggest religion may be on the agenda of politicians in the future but it will only really make a difference if candidates can win the support of people outside of their churches as well as within them.

Do you think it matters that Hackney's legal department was 25% understaffed during major development period - Olympics, Bishopsgate Goodsyard and the development of Dalston?

No department should be understaffed but provision was made to cover for staff as best as they could. There are long term issues about the staffing of both the legal and the planning department, and I have tried to help both private and public sector developers with these issues. I agree with you that the understaffing is a problem but I know that the council is trying very hard on this issue which is related to the difficulties of recruiting skilled legal and planning professionals at local government rates of pay.

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.

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

DA: More money has been spent in Hackney under a Labour government than has ever been spent before. We have seen millions poured into new schools and the rebuilding of existing schools. We have seen millions spent on doing up council estates and we have seen even more spent on building the East London Line which will connect Dalston for the first time to the wider tube network. All of this has been possible under a Labour government. I was the MP under a Conservative government which redirected money from the inner city to Tory rural areas. I remember desperate Headteachers having to have buckets out to catch water coming through leaking roofs because they could not afford the building repairs. I do not know how much less money a Conservative government would spend because they have not produced detailed figures. But I have no doubt that, if the Tories gain power, they would ‘turn off the taps’ on public expenditure for the inner city. Furthermore, cuts in public expenditure will hit Hackney in two ways. Firstly, planned investments in schools etc will not go forward, but also one man’s public expenditure cut is another woman’s job loss. The public sector is the largest single employer in Hackney and Tory public expenditure cuts would mean a loss of jobs in the borough.

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?

Hackney had a large number of unemployed people before the recession, which is one of the reasons it has been hit so hard. Unemployment is a big issue for all of us. It is also worrying is that it is young people appear to taking the brunt
For instance, figures released earlier this year showed that 48% of black 18 to 24 year olds were unemployed. This is very damaging for a borough like Hackney which has a large numbers of young people in long term unemployment. I am campaigning for more jobs to be made available on the Olympic site - so far only 2% of the 9000 workers live in Hackney, despite it being the biggest construction site in Europe. I will be meeting with the ODA in the next few weeks to discuss this and see what can be done.

5. 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?

DA: Crime has fallen in Hackney and I am pleased to say it is at the lowest level for 10 years. This is down to the hard work of our police force and agencies like Operation Trident and if Hackney has needed more police or funding to do this, I can only say that it has truly been worth it and the results speak for themselves. However, we musn't forget that gun crime has increased in the borough. A spate of killings in the Turkish/Kurdish community has gone someway to pushing these figures up and this is something I will be tackling alongside the police and the council. We can already see that a Conservative government would cut expenditure on fighting crime and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson is already proposing to cut 450 police officers by the end of his term.

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

DA: The recent reports of a BNP Mayoral candidate standing in Hackney are nothing but talk from the party at the moment, and we've yet to see whether they can back this up with action. I don't think a BNP candidate would have any chance of being elected in a multicultural borough like Hackney which has a proud history of fighting fascism.

How much do you think the borough has 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)

DA: There have been big changes in Hackney's demographic over the last 10 years and over the last 23 years that I have been MP. A lot more young people now live in the borough and the 2001 census showed over 25% of the population were under-18. The largest group however is those aged between 30 to 44 years which comprised 27.46% of the borough’s total population. Younger people are now more likely to go into higher education than their parents did and that partly accounts for the rise. It is also the case that Hackney has become a popular place for young professionals to buy their first home and that too contributes to the higher number of people with degrees.

Monday, 8 February 2010

New lawyers for Hackney

New lawyers for Hackney: Hackney shores up legal with double hire
That's just two. There should be a few more to come as the 50-strong legal team was around 25% understaffed back in December : Hackney Legal department's recruiting crisis confirmed

Monday, 11 January 2010

Police collusion claims in court: Seray-Wurie

Dr Adu Aezick Seray-Wurie has claimed in court that his neighbours and the police colluded in order to bring criminal charges against him.

Seray-Wurie was charged with criminal damage in September 2009 after writing on parking signs posted in the gated community where he lives - Gateway Mews in Hackney.

Seray-Wurie pleaded not guilty to the charge despite admitting that he had written on the signs. He claimed that no damage had been done and that as a freeholder on the development he partially owns the signs.

The case, which has already had two preliminary hearings, could take two days to hear when it next comes to court - a provisional date has been set for 3 June 2010.

Initially the District Judge and the prosecution set aside two hours for the hearing but changed this to two days after Seray-Wurie demanded his right to cross examine witnesses.

The prosecution counsel asked why Seray-Wurie wanted to cross-examine witnesses if he did not dispute their evidence - that he had written on the signs - and said that the trial would centre on legal issues surrounding ownership of the property.

The Judge asked: "Do you accept that you wrote on the signs?"

Seray-Wurie: "Yes I wrote on them but they are not signs, they are notices."

The Judge said: "Your defence seems to rely on legal issues, not on a factual dispute."

S-W: "There are factual disputes"

Prosecution: "The defendant has the (witness) statement, is there anything in it which is not accepted?"

S-W. "Many things."

Prosecution: "If he agrees that it is him (who wrote on the signs), what is it in there that is not accepted?"

S-W. "Many things."

Judge: "What things?"

S-W. "These statements have no date on them. There is collusion between the police and these witnesses. I should have an opportunity to cross examine them."

Seray-Wurie also said: "No property was damaged. When this case comes to trial it will be exposed for what it is."

"Gateway mews is private housing and what the prosecution is trying to do is use criminal procedures to solve a civil process." He also said that particular individuals were responsible for the action and claimed that some of it related to a quarrel dating back to 1997.

At the hearing on Friday 8 January Seray-Wurie also called for the trial location to be moved claiming that he would not get a fair hearing at Stratford Magistrates Court. He based this claim on a dispute he had had with a District Judge at Thames Magistrates Court which led to a Judicial Review. This was in relation to an on-going civil case involving Hackney Council.

At the hearing on Friday he told Stratford Magistrates court: "I have reason to believe that I will not be given a fair trial if the case is heard in Thames or Stratford." However the presiding Judge said that although Thames and Stratford were administratively linked, the legal staff were independent and refused the request.

The case was adjourned and a provisional June 3rd date has been set for the trial.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Hackney legal dept recruiting crisis confirmed

Hackney Council has confirmed that its legal department has faced a recruitment crisis for the last three years. At least 25% of positions remained unfilled while the department had to deal with the extra work related to the Olympics in addition to its usual tasks.

In November Blood and Property asked if Hackney's legal team was 25% under-staffed and 50% outsourced?

The questions related to figures mentioned by Hackney's new legal chief in an interview with The Lawyer (links in the older story). This week Hackney Council confirmed these figures.

Questions for the council:

Blood and Property: Was the legal department about 25% under staffed and if so, why?

Hackney Council: Yes, partly due to recruitment difficulties; work previously externalised being brought back in-house, engaging agency staff to cover it pending a restructure

Blood and Property: How long has it been understaffed?

Hackney Council: has been the situation for three years.

Blood and Property: What percentage of the legal department's work has been taken up with contracts for the olympics - would it be possible to get a breakdown of what topics/issues take up most of the legal department's time?

Hackney Council: just under half the time of the five lawyers currently working on 2012-related matters (from staff of 50 including paralegal advisers). Top topics/issues taking up most of legal department’s time: host borough and ODA agreements; governance; planning; procurement.

Blood and Property: Is there a reason why 50% of the borough's work was out sourced before Edila started working at Hackney?

Hackney Council: HR matters, cannot go into further detail, plus recruitment difficulties.

Blood and Property: How much has the department's budget altered over the last few years or has it remained at around £6m? Also, does the department usually over or underspend?

Hackney Council: Budget has not altered, other than 2008/9 when small underspend, service has always been on budget.

Hopefully the council will provide a break down of other departments which are understaffed.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Did Hackney Council throw in the towel for £50m?

A couple of industry magazines report that Hackney Council could be investigated for pushing through Hammerson's updated plans for Bishopsgate Goods Yard - Bishops Place - too quickly.

Local architect Will Willingdale is quoted in Building Design and Construction News: “It was pushed through. Hammerson pretty much dictated how this planning application was going to be dealt with. I’ve never seen anything like it.I have spent 20 years submitting applications to Hackney Council and I have never been in a position to tell them when to deal with an application.”

The stories also said: "On behalf of several other architects — who don’t want to be named for fear of prejudicing future bids for work — Willingdale instructed solicitor Bill Parry-Davies to write to the mayor’s Greater London Authority."

According to the news stories Open Shoreditch claims that Hackney Council stands to make £50 million from the site, but only on condition of Hammerson securing planning permission, and that this constitutes a conflict of interests.

I might have got the wrong end of the stick but as far as I can tell Hackney's legal department is 25-30% understaffed and was, at one stage, farming out 50% of its work to private firms. This was while the council was dealing with Olympics related contracts. Also, for the last two years, the council's legal department has been looking for a new boss, only finding a new one in February 2009. (April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.)

So it doesn't sound too unrealistic that some things may have got less attention than they deserved.

Also I've been told by a former employee of a large architectural practice that these firms have a policy of challenging every single objection and to appeal every decision against them - however unrealistic their chances of success. This is done by better paid and more specialised lawyers and it is done in the knowledge that local authorities have limited legal budgets and are usually over-worked/understaffed.

This policy keeps local authorities on a permanent back foot and if any mistakes are made they will be in favour of the big companies.

A Google search for Will Willingden produced a less than rave review from Utility Week whose journalists were concerned when he proved difficult to contact. But Willingdale's claims sound believable.

(Gifty Edila, the new head of Hackney's legal department gets a mention in Andrew Boff's EastEight magazine over the council's long-running battle with Broadway Market shopkeeper Spirit.)

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Hackney's legal team - 25% under-staffed 50% outsourced?

It's great that Hackney's new (Feb 2009) head of legal services Gifty Edila has gone public with the changes she's making to the department. But the numbers thrown around in a recent article published in the The Lawyer suggest that the borough's legal services might have been in an odd state before she arrived.

But anything that draws attention to Hackney's legal services could be a good thing. In April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.

In a recent article about Edila The Lawyer said her department was "60-strong" but also said that it had "20 vacancies looking to be filled". I don't know if this means that Hackney's legal department is supposed to be 60-strong or 80-strong but, in either case, the department is 25-33% under-staffed.

The same article in the Lawyer said: "With a legal budget of £6m there is plenty of work to be done, although Edila is keen to farm a slightly higher level of work out to external law firms and chambers.

“We’re now about 90 per cent internal,” she says. “We were out with quite a significant volume previously – about 50 per cent. That started coming in-house before I joined. Big projects do demand support from outside and I’m reviewing our external panel of barristers and the solicitors we use. The balance should be about 80:20.”

So it is possible that the legal department was 25% under-staffed and farming out 50% of its work to an expensive panel of private firms?

Hopefully all this was part of clever plan to hire the best/most expensive lawyers so that Hackney didn't lose out in any of its Olympic related contracts. Or was the department suffering during this important time?

This is not a criticism of Edila who does seem to be aiming to cut costs (from The Lawyer: "Edila is looking to get better value for money from the barristers she uses and is looking to revamp a panel that was put in place at the authority in 2006). Edila has a history of aiming for an 80:20% split in work (or is that the budget?) - as per this 2005 article in The Lawyer: "Traditionally, the borough (Kensington and Chelsea, where she was head of legal services) would have simply recruited more staff to manage the project, but, says Edila, this would be squeezing the seams. So she persuaded the council that it was more efficient in the long run to turn to external advisers. Berwin Leighton Paisner picked up the mandate for Exhibition Road. DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary and Herbert Smith are also currently engaged on K&C projects: the former has picked up the mandate for the redevelopment of Holland Park School, while the latter is advising on the development of Ellesmere, a new residential home.

"Going to external solicitors for those three projects is a new thing here," says Edila, "but I'd say that about 80 per cent of work remains in-house."

Hackney legal teams merged into two sections:

In April 2007 The Lawyer reported the departure of Hackney's legal chief - has it really taken more than two years to find a new one? Apparently yes it has.