Boris with unimpressed residents in Tottenham (Photo by Zimbio)
Boris Johnsons Mayors 2008 election manifesto was very clear and resolute in stating the Mayors determination to “work night and day” to tackle the “scourge of gun and knife” crime. Boris strode forth like a Greek God promising to provide both hope and opportunity to disaffected young people across our great city.
It was a heartfelt commitment by the Mayor and both his apparent sincerity and public commitment to get something done, moved many to vote for him believing as they did that Boris really did care.
Under his blonde haired, blue eyed watch the city would be free of gangs and violence. London he opined will be a city where young people would feel safe. A city that ensured all our young people have the opportunity to fulfil their God given potential. A city where young people committed to work hard regardless of their race or faith would be able to live their dream. This would be a city where a person’s background would be no barrier to success.
A Mayors fund would bring in millions money secured by a Boris shake down of his old Eton and Bullingdon Club connections in the Square Mile. Philanthropy and corporate social responsibility of the city of London would provide generously for such a noble cause. And with it he would build new schools, youth clubs, boxing clubs, and provide scholarships for the poor and disadvantaged. In short Boris promised to strain every sinew, working with missionary zeal to deliver this promise.
Sweet words eloquently delivered with steely determination by a benevolent celebrity millionaire Mayor. Many bought the dream.
To deliver his grandiose vision the Mayor announced in November 2008 a strategy to bring forward and implement his vision for the future. That ambitious plan was called Time For Action a Mayoral blue print for a safer city. Three and half years later that vision, so full of vibrant ambition and dynamic hope has become a Mayoral nightmare, a political graveyard signposted by acute failure, inaction and cronyism.
Yesterday saw the annual appraisal of this once great Mayoral policy. The Greater London Authority members questioned the Mayor’s Office about the Mayors failure to deliver initiatives that were initially welcomed by all even his most ardent critics. Watching the web cast of this meeting now, is like watching a serious slow motion political car crash.
The GLA Time for Action Panel began to ask some excruciatingly tough the questions following an in depth investigative news piece broadcast by the BBC Politics Show.
They began by questioning City Hall officials about the Mayors mendacious use of, what we know now to be fictional reoffending figures for ex offenders. The second item on their agenda was the potentially politically catastrophic debacle that is the Mayors flagship project: 1000 black men mentoring 1000 black boys.
|Appearances can be deceptive: Boris mentoring scheme seemed impressive|
To get the correct context for this important GLA inquiry it is important that we have a summary analysis of Boris Johnson term of office as it affects London’s black communities and by extension London as a whole.
London has seen horrific levels of increasing youth violence, massive increases in contentious and suspicious deaths in police and prison custody, a 300% increase in stop and search for black youth, huge cuts to London local authorities that have resulted in the closure of frontline youth facilities, youth workers being sacked and thousands of voluntary sector projects closed down.
|Disproportionate use of Stop & Search on black youths in London|
We have seen increases in University fees making higher education completely unaffordable and withdrawal of the Education award Grant that enabled some of London’s poorest families to send their sons and daughters to college.
Deaths in police custody have reignited the historic fault line of police black community relations setting relations back years.
|UFFC annual march against deaths in police custody 2011 - photo: Dee Constantine-Simms|
The GLA panel explored the circumstances in which the Mayor was caught out lying to the Home Affairs Select Committee and Londoners about the reoffending figures for one of his flagship, first time in custody, rehabilitation projects: the Heron Unit at Feltham Young Offenders Unit.
The public gallery, unusual for such meetings at city hall, was packed with an audience eager to ask questions and to hear answers and explanations about the Mayors failure to tackle youth violence.
In relation to the failed mentoring project the GLA members gave no quarter and the result was that despite the deployment of Head of Paid service Jeff Jacobs, GLA Officers and a phalanx of middle and junior GLA Officers, it was clear that there were major inconsistencies in their version of events surrounding the award of a grant for £1.5 million pounds.
They confirmed that the winning bid to deliver the mentoring was the University of East London (UEL) who had won despite the fact that they have no experience in working with black boys, gangs or mentoring and bizarrely came third on the GLA panel scoring.
A total of four bids were shortlisted. The GLA panel were also able to ascertain how the bids were initially scored: two black consortiums bids came first and second with UEL a poor third. No surprise as both consortiums are hugely experienced in working with black young people at risk.
What we now know is that the initial GLA Panel scored the black consortiums as the strongest bids. Once that initial decision was relayed to the Mayor he dispatched his Chief of Staff Edward Lister to take over what should have been an independent GLA officer process. The GLA members were told that a GLA Officer was replaced by Lister as chair of the grant award panel 2/3rds of the way the through the grant award process. This revelation was shocking as it contradicted the written report provided to GLA members that suggested he merely provided advice to the panel.
The grant award panel then remarkably changed their scores as a result of what GLA Officers say were ‘concerns’ arising from financial due diligence investigations on the black consortiums. GLA members exposed these ‘concerns’ as being of minor concerns easily addressed.
Further it was revealed that the black consortiums were subjected to additional forensic and comprehensive financial scrutiny over and above that which was the case for both University of East London and their key delivery partner London Action Trust (LAT). After having won the bid LAT went bust whilst their other key partner Ethos Consultancy had two directors both of who were struck off according to records at Company House.
Under questioning Lizzie Noels a GLA Officer retorted that there was no way in which they could have foreseen the collapse of the LAT. I find that strange given that Paul Lawrence a member of the blackballed black consortiums pointed out in an article published on my blog site in July this year, that LAT and Ethos were in trouble after a cursory look at their records at Company House.
Worryingly there were no statutorily required declarations of interest by the Mayor or his adviser Ray Lewis. This is despite the fact that both had very close friends of theirs on the boards of LAT and UEL. This is all the more surprising given the fact that the Mayor had committed himself and his administration to the highest standards of probity and transparency.
Despite knowing Steve Norris and GLA senior officer Nick Griffin and being an LAT registered patron, Boris Johnson failed to declare his interest as required by the law. Lewis who is not a GLA employee was clearly making active budgetary decisions without any of the checks and balances that apply to GLA employees and elected members. He has no register of interest declarations on the GLA register. He knew of Steve Norris and another LAT board member who is also the Board director of Lewis’s Eastside Academy.
These relationships are not casual but are intimate long-term relationships that go back many years. Why were these interests not declared as required by the GLA Act? What it looks like is the ‘old boys’ network’ in action.
This smacks of cronyism and political interference in a £1.5 million pound grant process to ensure that this important mentoring contract was awarded not to the best quality bid in the room, but instead to an inexperienced consortium stuffed with long time friends who were either political and/or business associates of the Mayor. No doubt the Mayor was seeking to ensure that an organisation of which he was patron and that was on the verge of financial collapse, survived.
The answers given by the GLA officers were long, complicated, unnecessarily verbose and largely contradictory to previous written answers given about the process under freedom of information requests.
Further it is my belief after hearing the evidence that Boris Johnson is potentially in serious breach of the GLA Act, the Local Government Act and the strict legal requirements relating to financial administration of public bodies required by the District Auditor, contravention of 1976 Race Relations Act and that is just for starters.
All these facts are bad enough but then consider the dashed hopes of a black community who enthusiastically embraced the Mayors vision for mentoring. The sad truth is after nearly four years we have seen very little but spin and media sound bites from Boris Johnson.
Since the policy was launched on November 2008 we have seen over 2000 people, mostly black men, sign up. Only 300 have been contacted two years later, 150 were given training and only 21 have been placed to date. The attrition rate is frightening: people who enthusiastically volunteered two years ago have become deeply disillusioned. Many have left and many more will fail the Criminal Records Bureau checks. The Mayor has in reality given the impending Mayoral elections next year effectively three months to deliver and that is impossible.
Massive delays, incompetence, illegality, cronyism and good old fashioned racism have combined to defeat the brave aspirations of a community who believed in this Mayor and this project. The damage is incalculable and every day that passes where there is no real delivery on the ground is another nail in this Mayors coffin. Johnson’s failure is on the same scale as the betrayal of election promises made to students by the Deputy PM Nick Clegg.
The scope of Johnson’s betrayal is profound because his promise sought to exploit the searing pain of a black community who believed in him. It is a betrayal of huge proportions made more explicit by the fact Johnson conspired to ensure his friends and cronies got the money. He has cynically exploited a grieving community in the grip of a youth violence epidemic. It is a most callous betrayal and one that will not be forgotten come the next Mayoral election.
|Boris with angry Londoners - (photo from SFbayview.com)|