Stephen Timms MP answers your questions

I met up with MP for East Ham Stephen Timms and put some of your questions to him.

We spoke about some of the most common and pressing concerns that businesses in Newham have with regard to the Olympics – having to change delivery times, transport problems, lack of communication from the council, and a relaxation of Sunday Trading laws for example.

He told me that he’s pushing parliament to allow businesses located near the Olympic Park who have incurred costs to be able to claim compensation.

Click below to find out how and to watch our discussion…..

‘If the ground goes, we go’ – the family business that wont survive without West Ham

Nathan’s Pie and Eels Shop is a family run business that’s been in East Ham for over 75 years. And it’s been at it’s current location on Barking Road with the Boleyn Ground just behind it since 1974.

Photo: Rosebud 23/flickr

The shop does most of its trade on football days when West Ham United play at home. And hungry fans queuing for an hour to sit down to traditional pie and mash or jellied eels is a sight to behold.

Upton Park Stadium, as it is otherwise known, has a total capacity of over 35,000. That’s a lot of hungry customers!

Photo: Not Forgotten/flickr

But West Ham might be leaving the grounds they’ve been in since 1904.

Owner Richard Nathan

They are among 4 bidders seeking to move into the Olympic Stadium in Stratford after the Games are over. The club had looked set to seal the deal last year, but this fell through after talks with prospective partners Newham Council collapsed in October, following complaints from Tottenham, Orient and another anonymous bidder. This time OPLC, the Olympic Park Legacy Company has offered the stadium on a 99 year lease basis rather than a permanent one.

Owner Richard Nathan told me that if West Ham goes, Nathan’s is going too. He said that the area has changed dramatically over the last few years. And with most of his regular customers moving away, it’s the match days (20 in a year if West Ham is doing well) that provide the bulk of his trade.

He has other sites in mind – but they’re definitely not in Newham.

When I asked him how the Olympic Games will affect his business, Richard told me that he thinks that despite serving up quintessentially East London fare, he’s too far away from the Olympic Stadium to benefit from increased footfall.

But for Richard and other businesses on Barking Road, the West Ham move is a much bigger concern, and they’re watching the progress of the bid with baited breath.

Forced labour at the Olympics – a different kind of business

In my last blog post, I looked at the possibility that there could be an increase in sex trafficking in East London during the Olympics.

But UK based human rights charity Anti-Slavery International thinks that the problem is more wide ranging than this. They fear that unscrupulous bosses and even criminal gangs could use the Olympics as a cover for exploitation of all kinds.

Paul Donohoe is from the organisation and had this to say….

Photo: vividbreeze/flickr

The Olympics has attracted a lot of investment to East London. And as we get closer to the event itself, there will be an increased need for construction workers, restaurant and hotel staff and casual labour. Paul Donohoe says that people from poorer parts of the world will be attracted by the prospect of earning a decent wage.

They know there will be an increased demand for casual workers and they might believe people who will offer them jobs at good wages and conditions. But he says…

Unfortunately in many cases people are exploited and instead of receiving their promised wages, they are paid a lot less. That wage may then be offset against a transportation and accommodation cost which they have to pay to the employer. This means that people who work are actually paying off more than they earn and end up with no cash at all.

It is not uncommon that at the end of their working time, they are still in debt to their employer which forces them to go home empty handed, if they can return home at all.

He explained that this type of ruse is really common. And the charity’s concern is the risk that the Olympics has in increasing the extent of this problem.

The charity believes that the government is not doing enough. But what is Anti-Slavery International doing to combat the problem?

The charity predicts this could affect other parts of the UK too. Paul Donohoe called it a ‘weird pull factor’. As jobs seemingly become available in East London, people might move from other areas of the country and this could in turn have a vacuum effect. So trafficking and forced labour could increase elsewhere too.

Could the Olympic Games become a breeding ground for human traffickers?

A Scene from ‘Act Like It Never Happened’ (Photo courtesy of Dominic Hedges)

A new play by a young East Ham playwright exposes a seedier kind of business that could benefit from the Olympics.

Act Like It Never Happened by Dominic Hedges tells the story of a human trafficking ring set up in London to benefit from the mass market the Games could provide.

Dominic Hedges wants the play to expose the international nature of the problem. He says that the Olympics can have a positive impact on the area.

But he worries that this means that these ‘very real issues are in danger of being swept under the carpet’……

The play is supported by Stop the Traffik. The anti-traffiking charity says they have uncovered evidence of gangs moving women to the East End in the hope of capitalising on an increased demand for sexual services during the 2012 Olympics.

The government estimates that 4,000 sex workers are illegally trafficked into the UK each year. And for a long time anti-trafficking campaigners have been warning that those figures could increase sharply over the Olympic period. Just last week, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper renewed calls for the government to take a tougher stance on the problem as the Games approach.

‘Act Like It Never Happened’ (Photo courtesy of Dominic Hedges)

Dominic Hedges says that past Olympic games and the World Cup in South Africa attracted increased human trafficking.

However evidence of trafficking, based on past sporting events is often disputed. And the assertion is contested by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who say they have found no link between sporting events and sex trafficking. They even claim that focusing on the link between the Olympics and sex trafficking could actually harm the victims. Because as the police crack down on the practice, those victims may be less likely to come forward.

But charities say its not just sex trafficking- its a problem of human trafficking as a whole, whether that means sexual exploitation, street begging and pickpocketing or forced labour. Dominic Hedges agrees….

Act Like It Never Happened is on at The Space until the end of the week.

We’ll be exploring this further when we talk to Paul Donohoe from Anti-Slavery International.