Saturday 29 May 2010

The curious silence of Councillor Marie Pye

Not a transport issue, but nevertheless worth reproducing here for what it indicates about a leading member of the local Labour group on the council.

Local resident Nick Tiratsoo has been a tireless investigator of the council’s missing millions. Singlehandedly he exposed a can of worms for which no heads have rolled , no disciplinary action has been taken, and no criminal prosections have (yet) been initiated.

I sent this letter to Councillor Marie Pye back in January, but for some reason she has not responded.

22 January 2010

Dear Councillor Pye

The NRF-BNI fiasco

In the light of recent debate, and particularly comments that were made at the Leytonstone Community Council on Monday night, I am curious to know what degree of responsibility you accept for the NRF-BNI fiasco.

Let me remind you of some facts, based upon the relevant documentation.

Your portfolio

You joined the Cabinet during mid-2006, holding the portfolio for communities and housing. At about the same time, the BNI was coalescing, and there was some discussion as to who would be the Cabinet member responsible. This was rapidly and conclusively concluded, as the minutes of the Better Neighbourhoods Project Board demonstrate:

Meeting on 30/05/06

'JW [Jan Wickham] advised that Neighbourhoods came within Cllr Marie Pye’s portfolio of Communities and Housing, with Cllr Terry Wheeler’s portfolio of Investment and Enterprise covering Regeneration'.

Meeting on 12/06/06

'Page 1, item 5 – Member engagement – there’s still a need for political clarity regarding present confusion on Portfolio responsibilities. Agreed that the Chair will speak to Cllr Pye asking her to clarify responsibilities amongst the other relevant Portfolio Leads...Noted that the Leader wishes to be informed rather than involved. Cllr Pye is currently concentrating on Housing but is aware of her BNI responsibilities'.

Meeting on 24/07/06

'Page 1, item 2 – discussion with Cllr Pye – CM [Colin Moon] advised he’d had a meeting recently with Cllr Pye; all BNI issues regarding other Members should be channelled through her.

Page 1, item 2 – meeting with the Leader – CM advised he’d spoken with the Leader who has confirmed he’s happy for all BNI issues to be referred to Cllr Pye'.

Thereafter, right up to the present, your Cabinet portfolio has remained unchanged in this respect, as the Council's constitution makes clear - see Table 3 at council/ about/lbwf-constitution.htm.

Your actions in relation to the BNI

Many of your actions in relation to the BNI are well documented. Two stand out. First, in late 2006 and early 2007, you were heavily engaged with Councillor Loakes in determining how to address a serious under-spend crisis, in order to avoid the ignominy of clawback, and this bore fruit in the shape of the BNI 'community cohesion' projects - an entirely new departure for the programme as a it then stood. Second, in January 2008, you appeared in the pages of the Waltham Forest Guardian defending your decision to 'withdraw' Peter Musgrave's mildly critical report on BNI operations in Wood Street and Hoe Street - a decision that the newspaper itself considered was 'offensive', 'short-sighted' and '[lacking in] any hint of humility'.

The BNI programme 2006-08

During 2006-08, the BNI spent c. £7m on over 100 different projects. When PricewaterhouseCoopers later surveyed these for LBWF, it found that

• in about a third of cases, no project file could be found;

• in all but three cases, procurement had been contrary to LBWF rules;

• in over half the cases, there was no signed contract in evidence; and

• in the overwhelming majority of cases there had been no audit.

The BNI community cohesion projects were particularly disastrous. None were procured according to the rules, monitored, or audited. A good proportion were clearly questionable, for example, the £66,011 that was paid to a man on the Isle of Wight, which the Council later claimed was a misprint, and the £24-26,000 spent on a one day conference for perhaps 50 local teachers, fair enough if the venue had been in the Seychelles, but puzzling to say the least given that it was in fact at Leyton Orient.

It must also be noted that when, after the intervention of MPs Harry Cohen and Iain Duncan Smith, knowledge of this 'mess' finally became public, you and your Cabinet colleagues commissioned a series of expensive inquiries by outside consultants which were subsequently revealed to be flawed, indeed so inadequate that when the current Chief Executive reviewed them, he felt it appropriate to appoint the Independent Panel.

In conclusion

Any fair minded person who is familiar with the evidence knows that many people bear some degree of culpability for the NRF-BNI fiasco. As regards yourself, in my view the record is clear. You held the relevant Cabinet portfolio throughout the key period, and have to accept ultimate responsibility. I am interested to know whether you agree, and if not, why.


Nick Tiratsoo

Reproduced from the Archipelago’s Comments here.