Deadline running out for Mayor Rahman to let squad in to take over Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets council

Tower Hamlets council - Credit: Archant

Embattled Mayor Lutfur Rahman has until midnight tonight before he has to comply with Secretary of State Eric Pickles’ to let government Commissioners into the Town Hall take control of Tower Hamlets’ £1.2 billion budget.

Embattled Mayor Rahman [left] and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles

Embattled Mayor Rahman [left] and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles - Credit: Archant

His 14 days to respond to a Whitehall order runs out at the end of the day after the path was cleared in the summer when the Mayor lost a High Court bid for a Judicial Review to prevent the take-over.

Mayor Rahman’s QC, Jonathan Swift, also lost an oral hearing on Friday in an 11th-hour bid challenging the Secretary of State.

Today’s deadline means commissioners can move in any time from tomorrow to take charge of key budget areas, including hiring and firing of staff which could hit the mayor’s personal army of “advisors” on the authority which has been without a controlling chief executive for two years.

It follows an audit by top City accountants Pricewaterhouse-Coopers into “financial mismanagement” and sales of public assets at knock-down prices to supporters of the administration.

Tower Hamlets Tory opposition leader Peter Golds is now demanding to know who decided the High Court challenge should to go ahead when a judge had already deemed it “hopeless” back in July—now that a second judge has dismissed the oral hearing.

“Once again a judge has rejected an unsustainable case,” cllr Golds said. “This will cost taxpayers tens-of-thousands of pounds, while Mayor Rahman and his council are in denial about the implications of the auditors’ report.”

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Police are said to be investigating allegations of fraud. The auditor’s report said: “Evidence of possible fraudulent payments has been identified and reported by the authority to the police in connection with nine organisations.”

The auditors have also looked at public assets being sold off at knock-down prices, like the Grade II-listed Poplar Town Hall on a prime site near Canary Wharf, unloaded for £875,000 to a late-bidder and political supporter of the Mayor.

Grants have also been examined which auditors said were handed out to organisations deemed “ineligible” with £407,000 given to groups failing to meet the council’s own minimum criteria, while allegations also went unanswered that the Mayor personally intervened to increase grants to Bangladeshi organisations.

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