Commissioners enter Town Hall vowing to ‘restore faith’ in council

Mayor Lutfur Rahman (left) and local government secretary Eric Pickles

Mayor Lutfur Rahman (left) and local government secretary Eric Pickles - Credit: Archant

Government-backed council bosses arrived at the Town Hall today to seize grant-making powers, promising to “restore faith” in how Tower Hamlets operates.

Tower Hamlets town hall

Tower Hamlets town hall - Credit: Archant

Mayor Lutfur Rahman met with the two commissioners sent by local government secretary Eric Pickles after a damning £1million audit report on the borough’s finances.

Sir Ken Knight, a former London fire commissioner and Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor to the government, and Max Caller, a former council chief exec and chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission, will also take over the buying and selling of public buildings.

The visit comes as Mr Pickles announces he does not accept the Mayor’s representations that issues raised in the report can be easily fixed by the council.

The audit report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), published on November 4 and ordered by Mr Pickles in April, slammed the council’s grants process and lack of transparency, saying the council failed to provide “best value for money” to residents.

Local government secretary Eric Pickles

Local government secretary Eric Pickles - Credit: Archant


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But the council and Mayor have rejected its key findings, saying there was “no evidence” of best value failures.

Lead commissioner Sir Ken said: “We are determined to restore faith in how Tower Hamlets operates.

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“Local people deserve a council that not only makes decisions in an accountable and transparent way but also with the benefit of all residents in mind.

He added: “Today marks the start of a long but necessary journey to ensure public confidence in the council is restored, community cohesion maintained and that Tower Hamlets is no longer a by-word for poor governance.”

Mayor Lutfur Rahman

Mayor Lutfur Rahman - Credit: Archant

The council now has three months to prepare an action plan to improve transparency, serve all residents fairly and secure value for money, and will have to update the secretary of state every six months until March 2017.

“Intervention was not a decision taken lightly,” said Mr Pickles. “However, I could not ignore the overwhelming evidence of the council’s failure, and allow this to continue unchecked.

“I do not accept the Mayor’s representations that problems are easily put right.

“Residents need to know that decisions are being taken properly in an open and accountable way.”

Mayor Lutfur Rahman, responding to the visit, hinted at a possible legal challenge to the move, saying Mr Pickles’s actions go beyond his powers, and added that the report did not warrant this scale of intervention.

He said: “The extent of the sanctions imposed on the council by the secretary of state are unreasonable and disproportionate.

“I will be taking further advice, but it is not in the interests of local democracy for the secretary of state to intervene with such a wide remit and neither is the scale of this intervention supported by the evidence.”

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