Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman justifies his proposed budget

Mayor Lutfur Rahman

Mayor Lutfur Rahman - Credit: Archant

In the national context, Tower Hamlets Budget might be a small issue, but locally it means a lot to our residents. It is certainly too important to play petty politics with.

So my budget proposal meant a lot to local people, not least those with children in school. I was genuinely pleased when local Labour made a proposal to extend my existing free school meals programme. After all, I’ve always made education one of my biggest priorities: it is one of the most effective ways a borough like ours can offer young people a ladder out of poverty. Studies show that hungry children do not do as well academically and that free school meals at school help improve their results.

But when council officers looked at the Labour proposals, they immediately pointed out to me that the Opposition had not set aside enough money (which fell short by £1m) to finance the project. I offered to defer the issue while we looked at how to make sure that it could be funded. They would not compromise, and it soon became clear that their purpose was just electoral acrobatics. My suspicions were confirmed by former Labour chief Whip Anwar Khan who rounded on the Group for playing politics with a budget proposal he claimed councillors had not seen, but that the Labour Mayoral candidate had drawn up.

As soon as we finished the budget meeting, they were ready to rush out attack propaganda saying that I had voted against Free School Meals.

In reality, as I told them, the council officers are working on funding, and I am sure that we will have a fully funded proposal for our next full Council meeting on March 26.

I hope the Opposition will be mature enough to score points for kids by backing it - instead of trying to score points against me.