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Archer sets sights on the silly season

PUBLISHED: 16:28 11 August 2008 | UPDATED: 13:30 05 October 2010

Spot anything wrong with this sign? ...see footnote

Spot anything wrong with this sign? ...see footnote

AUGUST is usually termed the silly season in the newspaper industry, the month when stories appear about great white sharks hunting off the Cornwall coast, giant cats roaming

Ted Jeory puts East End politicians in the dock

AUGUST is usually termed the 'silly season' in the newspaper industry, the month when stories appear about great white sharks hunting off the Cornwall coast, giant cats roaming Bodmin Moor, or David's Milichance of becoming Prime Minister.

Some even thought our piece last week about council workers getting an extra day off, on top of the existing 35 they already get, for doing their jobs "well" was also a spoof. It wasn't.

But August is also the month when Cllr Tim Archer, the Tory deputy leader and parliamentary candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, also springs into silly season action.

As a banker, he has a wandering and forensic eye for the numbers, and a good instinct for what gets up people's noses. Last week, he once again highlight how Town Hall bureaucrats were paying for stamps to post letters to the Town Hall; he has since sent us a new instalment of what he believes is council comedy.

Cllr Archer has discovered that Tower Hamlets Homes, the council's new 'arm's length management organisation' established to run the borough's housing stock, spent £320,000 to set itself up. Included in this total (that will eventually be borne by tenants and leaseholders) are £11,200 to advertise for a new board and chief executive (likely to be the council's former housing director Maureen McEleney); £50,500 to popular market research outfit MRUK on "independent" resident surveys asking people what they thought of the idea for an Almo; £21,000 on a new logo and repainting signs; £154,200 on consultants' advice on how to set up the organisation; and £19,500 on leaflets and producing a DVD explaining what an Almo is.

Tower Hamlets Homes declined to comment on Cllr Archer's findings. Perhaps they were too embarrassed. The organisation is clearly an easy target and it's also very much under the microscope from the public and politicians. But it's important to realise that being "separate" from the council gives it greater scope for efficiency. My hunch is that there will also be greater transparency of costs, allowing managers to provide a fairer deal (in strict billing terms) to tenants and leaseholders.

In fact, the real onus, as Tower Hamlets Homes quite reasonably equips itself with the right personnel to operate properly, should be on the council to cut costs.

As I've mentioned before, although Tower Hamlets Homes is hiring a communications manager to handle the work previously done at the Town Hall, not a single penny is to be cut from the council's communications budget. If that attitude is replicated in all the other council departments that used to do work for the housing directorate, all taxpayers will end up losing.

Finance chief Cllr Josh Peck should be pulling out all the stops to demand those savings now before the likes of Tory Tim hone in...

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'HONEST JOHN' FOR PM!

I KNOW this column is meant to be devoted to just local politics, but as all who've ever come across me realise, I have a big gob as well as a big nose. So allow me a couple of reflections on the national scene.

Firstly, Alan Johnson, and not David Miliband or Gordon Brown, should be Labour leader. As a plain-speaking, rock music-loving ex-postman who grew up on a council estate, he's the only person in the current Cabinet who will strike at Cameron's Achilles heel: his poshness. New and core Labour voters can connect with Johnson, not Miliband.

And secondly, is it just me or is anyone else puzzled by the irony of the public's seemingly unstoppable demand to place the Tories in charge of the economy?

Everyone knows Gordon Brown isn't responsible for the credit crunch; that was caused by financiers and bankers-exactly, in fact, the kind of people (like Shadow Chancellor George Osborne) who are traditionally Tory. And we really want them in charge of our economy??

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MORE DESERVING PRAISE FOR ELENA

IN JANUARY, I dished out praise to Elena Noel-Beswick, the council officer behind the groundbreaking and successful trip for Muslim schoolchildren to visit Auschwitz.

This week, I was sent an email from an Australian woman who'd read the article on our website.

"I wish there were more people out there like Ms Elena Noel-Beswick to open the eyes to all children of all walks of live and all religious backgrounds to be able to see the 'real truth' of this world," she wrote.

Tower Hamlets may be a small world in which to work, but the ripples are clearly far-reaching.

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POINTING WAY TO 'SHORDITCH'

LAST month, Government watchdogs awarded Tower Hamlets council "four stars" for services. Judging by this council road sign in Old Ford Road, Bow, (pictured) the auditors obviously didn't set a spelling test.

I know the council doesn't like to think that any of Shoreditch belongs in Tower Hamlets, but they should at least spell the area's name right...

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