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…..

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‘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.

A night at Newham Town Hall

Last month, Newham Council decided to freeze council tax for the fourth year in a row. This came as no surprise as most London councils are doing similar due to central government grants. This means that properties in tax band D will continue to pay £945.63 as they have done since 2008/9.

What was different for me was how they did it.

Living across the river in Charlton I often attend Greenwich Council meetings. Fifty-two councillors in the large council chamber at Woolwich Town Hall. Eleven opposition members ensure debate is apparent if not particularly constructive.

When Greenwich Council set their council tax freeze the meeting lasted two hours. Newham’s lasted fifteen minutes.

I arrived at the town hall with five minutes to spare. I walked into the reception area and waited with about fifteen members of the public. It reached 8 o’clock and large man with a torch welcomed us. He was dressed from head to toe in navy blue and resembled a night watchman.

He proceeded to lead the fifteen of us outside the main doors and down a long dark path. We walked into the heart of the town hall past the rubbish bins and reached some steps. I felt like I was being transported back to the 1950’s as we climbed the four flights to the top.

Waiting for me was the council chamber, half the size of Woolwich Town Hall’s. It seemed in serious need of a lick of paint.

There were twenty chairs in the public gallery. I shuffled along and found a seat which seemed to be covered in a fine layer of dust.

As soon as the meeting started it had finished. Newham has sixty Labour councillors and no opposition. Sir Robin Wales naturally did most of the talking. Declaring at one stage that he was “proud of how Newham has created in its own Olympic legacy with little help from the government”. No members asked any questions but we had a good bit of back-slapping as Councillor Gavin Pearson stood up to tell everyone how well the council had performed in the face of central government cuts.

No local journalists were present, despite the importance of the meeting, although this freedom of information request might explain more.

After the meeting was over there was confusion in the public gallery. I turned to my left and realised that my fellow onlookers were trying to get the attention of councillors.

After further investigation, I found out they were all teachers from nearby Langdon School. They told me that new parking charges would mean they would have to pay an extra £300 a year. They had come on mass to the town hall and had formally submitted a question to ask the council. Due to what seemed like an administration error this question had been left off the agenda.

This short meeting didn’t strike me as being a perfect example of democracy. Having said that, these councillors are obviously democratically elected. I just wonder if the good people of Newham realise how little debate actually goes on within the walls of the town hall.

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.