Tower Hamlets Council: Unison slams plans to move staff café to ‘inferior space’ to upgrade mayor’s office

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The plans propose a range of work on the council’s Whitechapel-based town hall, including spending £200,000 moving the mayor’s office to the mezzanine.

Unison has slammed an east London council’s plans to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds relocating a staff cafeteria, all so the mayor’s personal office can be extended.

Tower Hamlets Council is planning on making a host of renovations to its town hall, based in the Grade-II listed old Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, despite only moving into the space six months ago.

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Submitted via a planning application, which has yet to be decided, the council intends on carrying out works including adding a new prayer/ablution space on its ground floor, and power and lighting changes to the second floor.

However, the costs, unveiled in a written answer to a question posed by Cllr Siraj Islam, leader of the Labour group, include £200,000 on moving the mayor’s office to the second floor mezzanine, and £50,000 on a new meeting room table for the mayor’s office and 30 chairs.

Unison Tower Hamlets branch secretary, Kerie Anne, said the plans to “convert the refectory staff cafeteria and mezzanine into an exclusive executive space and offices” would remove the area from general use, with the cafeteria having to be moved to “an inferior space, and fewer meeting rooms for staff use”.

“In the face of massive council budget cuts, this makes no sense.”

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Tower Hamlets Council’s town hall in Whitechapel. Credit: Ben Lynch.Tower Hamlets Council’s town hall in Whitechapel. Credit: Ben Lynch.
Tower Hamlets Council’s town hall in Whitechapel. Credit: Ben Lynch.

Cllr Islam described the costs as “incredibly troubling”, accusing Mayor Lutfur Rahman and his Aspire group of “racking up bills that residents will ultimately have to pay for”.

“It is indefensible that Mayor Rahman and Aspire councillors seem intent on only adding to the £30 million deficit they have created, especially for something such as upgrading your office in a brand-new building.”

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council told LondonWorld it “always intended” on reviewing the use of the town hall after six months, and that since moving in in January, “staff have consistently raised the issue of wanting to have more social and wellbeing space through various forums”.

However, Unison queried this point, saying it has made “repeated requests for a staff consultation on the subject, which to date has not been granted”.

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The union added some staff have mentioned wanting additional facilities, “but our understanding of the plans are that the changes will take this space out of general use, and the staff cafeteria will be relocated to an inferior space.

“This is obviously detrimental to staff, and does not support the idea it is following staff wishes.”

The Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson added the works will also improve areas of the town hall currently underused, and that they will create a “much larger space for staff”, with facilities to include an indoor space and an outdoor rooftop terrace.

“There will be no additional costs arising from these changes as they will be funded from the existing ‘Town Hall project’ budget, which anticipated adjustments would be needed after settling into the building,” they continued.

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“We will be asking staff for their views about the design and function of the new refectory spaces.”

Since he and his Aspire Party took control of Tower Hamlets Council in last May’s elections, Mr Rahman has drawn concern over the extent of his spending plans, including from the chief executive of the Chartered Institute for Public Finance (CIPFA), Rob Whiteman.

However, some of his policies, most notably providing free school meals to every child in the borough up to the age of 16, making it the first council in England to do so, have been praised for delivering essential support in what is one of the country’s most deprived areas.

To view the application online, search Tower Hamlets Council’s planning portal using the reference PA/23/01179/NC.

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