Newham Council AGM was held last Thursday evening in the main hall of the historic Old Stratford Town Hall. I hadn't realised beforehand it was such a formal ceremonial event. Classical music from the Newham Academy of Music greeted the arrival of the 60 Councillors and some 200 guests.
The meeting started with the Chair wishing Stephen Timms MP a full recovery following the recent incident. Then to mark the deaths of former Councillors Jack Hart and Alex Thompson, we held a minute’s silence. The formal results of the Council election were noted (61-nil). Apparently one of the mass of forms I have signed since the election was an “acceptance of office”.
Then there was the re-election of Chair Cllr Amarjit Singh (a former Treasurer of Tssa) and deputy Chair, Cllr Michael Nicholas (FBU NEC member). Previous Deputy Mayor, Christine Bowden, was given an award by the Mayor, Sir Robin Wales to mark her past service. Christine spoke about how difficult it had been when she first started in politics for women and how she was still a “fighter”. An award was also given by the Mayor to Joshua Adejokun who was Newham’s second “Young Mayor” in 2008/09. He gave a lively and enthusiastic “thank you" speech. Following declarations of interest and the acceptance of the minutes there was the usual Council business (adopting policies, accepting reports and amendments to constitution).
The Mayor gave his report on his work programme for 2010/2011. Robin noted that exactly 80 years ago in this very hall the first ever Labour Party Prime Minister and coalition leader, Ramsey McDonald, was made an honorary Freeman of West Ham. Robin warned of the problems ahead due to cuts by this current Tory/Liberal Coalition and reminded everyone that it was the excess of the City that had caused this recession. We then had more reports then closed the AGM down and then went immediately into another formal “Special Joint Meeting of Committees”. Following on there was a great short video about Newham and the Olympics.
The last item was “Freedom of the Borough” ceremony where 5 people “in recognition of their distinguished service to the borough of Newham” were awarded as Honorary Freemen and Women. First was Police Commander Nick Bracken OBE, then Frances Clarke (Newham Community Links); Marie Gabriel (Newham Primary Care Trust), Michael Grier (Tate & Lyle) and Jack Petchy OBE (former East Ham fruit and vegetables delivery boy turned multi-millionaire philanthropist). Frances Clarke hoped her award will inspire young women “to overcome the barriers and crush them”. There has only been 11 Honorary Freemen created in Newham since 1965.
Although there was the inevitable jokes about whether or not being made a Honorary Freeman (or women!) entitled you to drive your livestock along East Ham High Street without paying any tolls - I think that it is very "good thing" that the borough publicly recognises the contribution of those who have served the community.