Local government watchdog drafted in to tackle Tower Hamlets Council’s leadership crisis

The leadership crisis engulfing Tower Hamlets Council has forced the local government watchdog to intervene as the Town Hall enters another new year without a chief executive.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is set to parachute in officials to help with the appointment process amid fears that an exodus of high-ranking officers could leave the council unable to function effectively.

Councillors at an “acrimonious” behind-closed-doors meeting at the Town Hall on Thursday voted to accept LGA support, after the organisation wrote to Mayor Lutfur Rahman and council party leaders warning them to act fast to replace departing officers.

Chief executive Michael Coughlin wrote that he is “very anxious that this significantly reduced capacity within the senior management team will present a real risk to the performance and proper governance of the council”.

London Councils, the capital’s equivalent to the LGA, also signed the letter, which states that junior local government minister Brandon Lewis has also “expressed concern” at the situation.

Tower Hamlets Council has been without a chief executive since Kevan Collins stepped down from the role in July 2011. Its failure to replace Mr Collins saw Stephen Halsey appointed to the new temporary position of acting head of Paid Services to plug the power vacuum six months ago, but he will not renew his contract when it expires in mid January.

Other senior figures set to depart include finance director Chris Naylor and director of children’s services Isobel Cattermole, triggering fears about the council’s ability to operate effectively.

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Thursday’s meeting was described as “acrimonious” by Labour group leader Cllr Joshua Peck, who blamed the continued failure to agree on a candidate for the �195k chief executive post on Mr Rahman’s refusal to negotiate.

“We’re very happy to get some external support”, he added.

Mr Rahman’s attempts to appoint his preferred candidate, Aman Dalvi, have so far been unsuccessful after opposition councillors blocked the move, claiming he is too closely aligned with the Mayor.

A council spokesperson confirmed that it will work in cooperation with LGA representatives to appoint a new chief executive before Mr Halsey departs as head of Paid Services on January 14.