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Commissioners ready to quit Tower Hamlets Council after Lutfur Rahman’s ban from office

PUBLISHED: 20:51 16 March 2017 | UPDATED: 10:50 17 March 2017

Lutfur Rahman banned from office

Lutfur Rahman banned from office

Archant

Full powers are finally being returned to east London’s once-troubled Tower Hamlets council after the fall of the Lutfur Rahman administration which was banned for election fraud.

Tower Hamlets Council Tower Hamlets Council

The government is to remove commissioners who were sent into the Town Hall in December, 2014, to put a check on public funds being dished out to obscure organisations—some with dubious Middle East links—and deals behind closed doors.

Powers that were removed included grant-making, contract procurement and selling off valuable council real estate at “bargain basement” cut prices in deals behind closed doors.

This followed independent audits by Pricewaterhouse Coopers which found “malpractice” and failure to provide value for money under Rahman, who was later barred from office by the High Court for breaking election rules in 2014 which had got him back in power for a second four-year term.

New chief executive Will Tuckley (left) with Mayor Biggs at Tower Hamlets council meeting New chief executive Will Tuckley (left) with Mayor Biggs at Tower Hamlets council meeting

Four Government Commissioners were sent in to get the council back on track.

John Biggs, who took over as mayor after the 2014 election was declared void and re-run a year later, has welcomed the government move to restore full powers to the Town Hall.

“This was a council drowning in crisis, corruption and controversy under the previous mayor,” he told the East London Advertiser today.

Mayor Biggs (left) at council fund grants meeting being chaired by Commissioner Sir Ken Knight (on his left) Mayor Biggs (left) at council fund grants meeting being chaired by Commissioner Sir Ken Knight (on his left)

“Since then, we have opened up the decision-making process and challenged historic wrongdoing and bad practice. But there are still massive challenges from the past we are working to repair.”

There was still “unfinished business” with the rump of Rahman’s backers who are still on the council who were not included in the High Court case against their independent party leader.

“Some councillors still refuse to acknowledge that anything was wrong under the previous Mayor,” Labour’s new mayor warned. “What nobody wants is a return to the chaos and controversy of the past.”

Sirt Ken Knight gives evidence to Parliamentary committee in 2016 on Tower Hamlets council finances Sirt Ken Knight gives evidence to Parliamentary committee in 2016 on Tower Hamlets council finances

The authority now insists it has improved its transparency with new policies for open procurement, awarding grants, running elections and even whistleblowing, but admits it still has much work to change the culture of the organisation.

Lead Commissioner Sir Ken Knight, who has kept watch on council spending, said: “We found a council in denial when we arrived, with problems around governance, transparency and ‘value for money’.

“There is still work to do, but I’m pleased that progress has been made with a solid foundation to build on.”

John Biggs at his campaign HQ in Bethnal Green when he won 2015 mayor election John Biggs at his campaign HQ in Bethnal Green when he won 2015 mayor election

Secretary of State Sajid Javid was also confident the council was now “on the right track” to provide public services, after having completely lost public trust.

He said: “It was mired in corruption and financial mismanagement that only direct intervention could resolve.”

He still plans to hear from Tower Hamlets every three months, to make sure taxpayers’ money is “put to the best use in an open and transparent way”.

The Commissioners leave the Town Hall at the end of the month, it is understood.

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