Ansar Ahmed Ullah:
Tower Hamlets Labour announced its amendment to Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s budget proposals for 2023/24 at a press conference on 23 February held at the London Bangla Press Club office. Chaired by Tower hamlets Labour Party’s Chief Whip, Cllr Sabina Akhtar, Tower Hamlets Labour Group Leader, Cllr Sirajul Islam Cllr and Shadow Cabinet Member for Resources and Cost of Living, Cllr Marc Francis briefed the journalist in attendance. The press conference was called prior to this year’s budget proposals to be debated at the Full Council meeting on 1st March.
Tower Hamlets Labour pointed out that in the budget proposals put forward by the Executive Mayor, £1.4 million has been allocated to recruit 27 new staff members in the Mayor’s Office, including political advisors. Mayor Rahman has also allocated £114,000 for Aspire Councillors to receive personalised diary support in their role as Chairing Committees.
They said that if these ill-judged plans are agreed upon, nearly £5 million will be wasted on expanding his office during this term. So instead, labour proposes to delete the additional funding to the Mayor’s office and use the money saved to fund a £1.25 million package of support for those at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis.
Labour’s comprehensive package would provide the reopening of the Bow and Poplar One Stop Shops three days a week, double the value of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), introduce a bespoke tuition programme for children at Key Stage 3, increase in funding for Social Care to reduce Homecare charges disabled people pay, top-up to the Discretionary Housing Payment funding pot, award one-off grants to local voluntary food banks and an additional sum to the School Uniform Grant funding.
Tower Hamlets Labour councillors also called for a reduction in the Mayor’s plans to increase council rents next year, saving tenants between £150 -£500, and this funding to be used to invest in Tower Hamlets Council’s homes and estates, with the £12.5 million removed by the Mayor from the Housing Revenue Account Capitol Programme used to fund new security doors, front entrance doors, double-glazing and action to tackle damp and mould. They said their budget prioritises helping the most vulnerable residents in the face of the current devastating Cost of Living Crisis, ensuring money is spent on vital public services across the borough rather than wasted on a massive and entirely unnecessary expansion of the Mayor’s private office. Shadow Cabinet Member for Resources and Cost of Living, Cllr Marc Francis said, “The Cost of Living Crisis is the most pressing issue facing Londoners at this time. As elected representatives, we have a duty to put our residents first and provide a safety net in these challenging times. Mayor Rahman and his Aspire Party made many promises in their Manifesto last year. But now they are in power, they are prioritising an extravagant and self-indulgent expansion of the Mayor’s Office and a coterie of advisors rather than help for our most vulnerable residents.” Leader of the Tower Hamlets Labour Group, Cllr Sirajul Islam said, “When we are in power, Labour put forward a budget which aimed to protect those poorest in our borough, including a 100% Council Tax reduction for those who need it and additional money to support residents with the rising costs of energy bills and food poverty.” Other councillors present and responded to questions were Rebaka Sultana, Cllr James King, Cllr Leelu Ahmed, Asma Islam, Asma Begum and Cllr Shubo Hussain.