Legal moves in Tower Hamlets stalled process to appoint new chief

Legal moves are being threatened over Tower Hamlets council’s continuing failure to appoint a new chief executive, the Advertiser has learned.

A letter from a major London law firm is believed to have been sent to the Town Hall on Monday evening just before an extraordinary meeting of councillors.

The ‘pre-action’ warning signed by a senior partner at the law firm, Bindman’s of Grays Inn Road, could lead to High Court action seeking a judicial review of the council’s appointments procedures, it is feared.

A councillor rumoured to be involved in the move, Kabir Ahmed, said he was unable to comment when approached by the paper.

But cabinet member Oliur Rahman confirmed today: “A pre-action letter has been served which has to come before any legal action can be taken. It’s up to them what they do about it.”

He added: “I believe there is also a second pre-action letter which has arrived.”

Under the council’s current constitution, only the human resources committee’s selection panel can recommend who the authority hires as chief executive.

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Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s independent cabinet has two seats on the panel, while Labour and Conservatives hold the other three. That means no overall majority, but a ruling that its recommendations are unanimous—which has caused the current deadlock.

The panel failed to recommend an appointment last month, resulting in Monday night’s special meeting to decide where the authority goes next—when the lawyers’ ‘pre action’ letter suddenly arrived.

The Town Hall would not confirm or deny the letter. A statement said: “The council has been made aware of an employment matter which will be handled through the standard governance procedures. Owing to the nature of the matter, we are unable to comment further at this stage.”

Monday’s council meeting behind closed doors—with press and public excluded—was aimed at getting through the stalled process of filling the vacant �190,000-a-year post which has remained empty since September when Dr Kevan Collins resigned.

Instead, councillors voted to leave it to July’s council meeting whether to appoint an interim Head of Paid Service. It means after nine months the authority is still without a permanent chief executive to run the �1.2 billion-a-year budget.

Each of the four corporate directors, meanwhile, continues to run their departments under existing powers, the council confirmed on Tuesday.