Tower Hamlets goes to high court to challenge Pickles audit

Mayor Lutfur Rahman

Mayor Lutfur Rahman - Credit: Archant

Tower Hamlets Council this week announced it was going to court try to halt a government-backed audit into its finances – just 24 hours after being accused of withholding information from the auditors.

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

The council filed papers at the High Court on Tuesday seeking a judicial review into the audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), ordered by local government minister Eric Pickles in April over allegations of fraud and financial mismanagement at the council.

The news comes after Mr Pickles announced in parliament on Monday he would extend the June deadline for the audit, saying the council had “considerably delayed the investigation” by handing over documents too slowly or not at all.

He said the council would cover the costs of the extension, adding: “Whether the council likes it or not, this investigation will be thorough and comprehensive.”

But the council says the government has not given a good reason for the ongoing audit, adding it would cost local taxpayers about £1million.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman said: “The council has cooperated with the inspection team from the outset and this will continue while we attempt to secure reasonable clarification centred on the justification of the audit.

“The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has failed to provide the council with any cost estimates for the audit apart from the vague statement that costs are likely to be ‘within £1m’.”

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He said the cost would hit local taxpayers and accused the DCLG of a “lack of transparency”.

The government vowed to fight the move and complete its investigation.

A DCLG spokesman said: “We will robustly contest this in the courts. There are clear grounds for an investigation into Tower Hamlets in light of a wide range of evidence and public course.”