Public will be denied spaces at crucial Tower Hamlets budget meeting

Tower Hamlets council’s budget meeting next Tuesday will take place with restricted public access and with police still investigating allegations made at the previous meeting.

Labour councillor Shahed Ali said today that he was “extremely disappointed” that the council has taken the decision to limit public places at the vital meeting.

While saying he will still attend, he has threatened to stay away from any future meetings if the council repeats its decision to close a large seating area for around 120 members of the public and restrict attendance to the smaller council chamber.

A council spokeswoman says this will seat 50 members of the public, though that will also include the press.

The first budget meeting on February 23, at which councillors discussed a package of �56 million cuts for the next three years, took place in a hostile atmosphere with the public forced to leave during discussions.

That was after allegations of homophobia and intimidation were made against some members of the gallery, a matter which Tower Hamlets police confirmed they are investigating yesterday.

Mr Ali said: “I can understand that certain council officers and elected members may be anxious about managing members of the public due to difficulties at the last full meeting, but that is due to a very small minority of persons misbehaving.

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“The situation is tense, but this cannot be a trigger to barricade members of the public away from participation at council meetings.”

The council normally opens out a large seating area adjacent to the council chamber to accommodate interested members of the public but this will be closed off and they will not be allowed a video link which has been provided previously.

There will be no reserved seats for the public.

Tickets will be given on a first come, first served basis, the town hall will be closed from 5pm onwards and a “security sweep” will be held at 5.30pm and “any visitors present will be asked to leave the building.”

Anyone attending the meeting will also have their bags searched.

The East London Advertiser has previously raised concerns to the council about media restrictions after the press table, a common feature at local authority meetings nationwide, was removed.

The council will be making a statement later today on the arrangements being made for the meeting.