Tower Hamlets council meeting halted as members storm out over 'cuts' to mother tongue classes
PUBLISHED: 19:45 22 September 2016 | UPDATED: 19:52 22 September 2016
A heated council meeting was halted when protesters prevented members speaking during a row about 'mother tongue' classes being cut in London's East End with its large immigrant population.
The Independent opposition—all that remains of banned mayor Lutfur Rahman’s previous administration—walked out of the Tower Hamlets council meeting en mass last night after their supporters in the gallery shouted down the Tory minority group leader.
Opposition frontbencher Olli Rahman accused the new Labour administration of “disrespecting” the East End’s large immigrant community by making cuts.
“The people have been disrespected,” he screamed. “It’s an absolute disgrace.”
Campaigners filling the gallery delivered a petition with 2,000 names against changes in the language service.
But the heckling got so bad that the Speaker adjourned proceedings as the Opposition staged its walk-out.
They had just vented their fury at Tory Group leader Peter Golds who had called for “community cohesion” and had referred to Bangladesh as “a nation forged in bloodshed and death over language”.
Golds told councillors: “What went on previously (under Rahman’s administration) was not correct—the language service was badly run and badly administered. The big issue throughout the country is community cohesion.”
He referred to Rahman’s hold on the Town Hall by quoting Labour grandee Trevor Phillips who he said spoke of “self style community leaders bargaining to control local authority resources” and that “far from integration it was in their interest to preserve their ethnic groups’ isolation”.
It was enough to set off the storm in the public gallery and the Independent councillors walking out.
Labour Mayor John Biggs confronted protesters while the meeting was adjourned to try and mediate.
The mayor later told the resumed meeting: “We can’t keep things the way they were—an audit report showed an ‘overspend’ which we have to get a grip on.”
Language classes were being protected, he insisted, claiming “malicious and untrue rumours from the opposition” falsely told staff that he was planning to close down the service.
A damning report into its failings was presented to the council’s Audit committee on Tuesday—which Labour members said had effectively been boycotted by the independents by their absence.
Management failings had been allowed to foster under the previous administration which would now be dealt with by tougher supervision—and without cuts to its £400,000 budget.
The audit report rated the language service as offering ‘nil assurance’—the lowest possible rating. Concerns included poor financial monitoring of taxpayer money, no records of students attending or their performance and its failure to put child protection policies in place.
The report also found payments being signed off without procedures and tutors with criminal record checks which had expired.