Cost of giving Newham Council the 'wow factor'

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London's most expensive council-funded festival, offices with the "wow factor" costing £18.7m and an in-house newspaper costing more than £500,000 a year.

As local authorities digest a 26% funding cut, BBC London examines the outlay in one of the UK's most deprived boroughs.

Newham Council offices One critic said the offices resembled a "five star hotel or West End nightclub"

With its reflective floor and designer bird's nest light fittings, Newham Council's new back office looks impressive.

Last week's spending review ushered in an age of austerity for local authorities, ordered to make 7.1% savings annually for four years.

But at Newham Council staff are celebrating winning a top award from the British Council for Offices.

Judges called it an "outstanding transformational workplace environment", saying the "innovative, lively and colourful design contributed to a dynamic environment".

Daniel Windor, of interior designers Sheppard Robson, who carried out the work, said: "You have to have the 'wow factor' in that environment. You need to give it a bit of sparkle or it will fall flat."

'Ultimate Champagne socialist'

But the £18.7m cost of the building and its decor is one of several spending projects highlighted by a BBC investigation.

The Local Government Minister Bob Neill criticised the figure saying it showed members of Newham Council were "living the ultimate Champagne socialist lifestyle on the taxpayer".

Light fittings The BBC was told the lights came from a designer but has been unable to track down the cost

In response a council spokesman said the building was saving taxpayers in the borough £7m a year.

Newham, where all 60 councillors are Labour, is ranked as the UK's sixth most deprived borough.

The Council's own publicity describes it as one of the poorest boroughs in London.

"Poverty intensity in Newham is high," it says.

Central government funding for the authority this year stands at £224m, more than £100m above the median London council.

The grant is based on need and takes into account deprivation levels.

Only two London councils, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, received more per head.

Like many local authorities, the council produces its own newspaper.

This is published fortnightly and last year cost the taxpayer £547,000.


The figure is the highest in London and compares with an average cost of about £140,000.

The council also funds an annual festival, formerly called the Newham Town Show.

But after Newham opted for a directly elected mayor, Sir Robin Wales, it was rebranded the Mayor's Newham Show and spending on the festival increased.

This year's show, attracting 40,000 people, cost £362,000, the most expensive festival predominantly funded by a London council.

Olympic site Newham, one of the UK's poorest areas, is the Olympic borough

The sum is higher than Westminster's West End Live show, which attracts more than 250,000 people.

Newham, the Olympic borough, has declined to confirm how much the show cost in the last year before it was rebranded.

Along with Croydon, the authority was one of only two London councils to award pay rises to three senior councillors in 2010, during a public sector pay freeze.

Sir Robin's remuneration increased from £78,844 to £81,029.

It has also emerged that departing chief executive Joe Duckworth - once the highest-paid town hall chief in England on £241,000 - may receive a pay-off.

Mr Neill accused Labour councillors of a "spending spree that would make a millionaire blush".

"This is more evidence that if you root out all the waste and wild overspend in local government you can protect frontline services," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Taxpayers' Alliance said some of the spending highlighted at the authority amounted to "needless extravagance".

'Modernist chic'

Of the offices, she added: "This glitzy refit is the sort of thing you might expect of a five star hotel or a West End nightclub, not the back offices of a local authority in one of the poorest boroughs of London.

"Any additional grants Newham receive should be spent on efforts to improve the area, not modernist chic for council officers."

But a Newham Council spokesman called the new office "an efficiency move that is saving taxpayers almost £7 million each year".

The Newham Mag cover The council says 91% of people find its magazine "informative"

He added: "These savings are being realised by reducing the cost of office buildings and introducing better ways of working for staff, such as having all back office operations in one location.

"This move has helped to achieve the lowest council tax in outer London."

He said the festival played a "vital role in bringing the community together and ensuring cohesion" and spending on the Newham magazine resulted in a publication that 91% of people surveyed found "informative".

The spokesman said increasing councillors' salaries brought the mayor into line with a recommendation from an external panel.

"We are continually looking to ensure value for money for our residents and are working hard to make our finances stretch that bit further," he said.

Additional reporting by Sarah Halls.

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