‘More proof needed that Tower Hamlets has recovered’ as commissioners remain in place

Greg Clark MP. Photograph: Department for Communities and Local Government
Unconvinced: Greg Clark requires further evidence of council reform. Photograph: Department for Communities and Local Government

Government ministers today refused to hand powers back to Tower Hamlets until the troubled council can prove it has fully recovered from the practices of disgraced former Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s administration.

In a letter to Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs, communities secretary Greg Clark said the government would not be handing back all the powers it took from the council in 2014, as there was not enough evidence of “real organisational change” at the Town Hall.

“Under the careful watch of the commissioners the Mayor is making progress but there must be sufficient evidence of real organisational change before I will consider handing any powers back,” said Mr Clark.

After receiving serious allegations about poor governance and financial management at Tower Hamlets, the government took control of the council in 2014.

Despite a recent call from Mayor Biggs for power to be returned this year, Whitehall is set to remain in control into 2017.

Mr Clark added: “In Tower Hamlets independent inspectors found a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and serious mismanagement of taxpayers’ money.

“Intervention is never a decision taken lightly but it was essential that we took action to make sure public confidence in the council is restored.”

Corrupt and illegal

In 2014 inspectors found the council had no effective monitoring, had sold property without following proper processes and was spending public money on political advertising for the former mayor.

That year the government appointed a team of commissioners until March 2017 to oversee may of the the council’s key functions, including property disposals to third parties, governance, grant-making and appointing an electoral registration officer and returning officer for local elections.

Rahman was found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices by an electoral court in April 2015 and banned from public office for five years.

Mayor Biggs was appointed in June 2015 and in October day-to-day running of the council was returned to local authority staff.

However the government’s commissioners have continued to oversee further improvements and carry out some functions – including issuing grants and strengthening governance.

Last month Mayor Biggs wrote to Mr Clark requesting the overall intervention to end. “We are of the view that an earlier and complete exit, during this calendar year, should be possible,” said the Mayor.

Today in a statement Mayor Biggs said he was “disappointed” the government had decided to retain control.

“I am pleased that the secretary of state has recognised the progress that officers and members have made in tackling the failings identified by government and the root causes that allowed them to happen,” said Mayor Biggs.

“I want to see the directions lifted, so that local people will again have proper democratic control, so I am of course disappointed that the commissioners remain in place.”

The Mayor highlighted the council’s overhaul of its grant making, communications strategy, transparency protocol and procurement.

He added: “I am committed to ensuring that we meet both the letter and spirit of the government’s directions, supported by our new senior officer team.”

1 Comment

  1. Ray Gipson on Friday 22 April 2016 at 8:53 am

    I like the Minister agree that the Commissioners should stay. Their is still a lot of work to be done to unite our Borough. Ray Gipson.


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