Mayor Rahman accuses Eric Pickles of being ‘excessive’ in Tower Hamlets takeover

Embattled Mayor Rahman [left] and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles

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

Embattled Mayor Lutfur Rahman has accused Secretary of State Eric Pickles of being “excessive” in the latest round for the order to send in Whitehall commissioners to take over running Tower Hamlets’ £1.2 budget.

Tower Hamlets council

Tower Hamlets council - Credit: Archant

The time limit ran out at midnight to respond to the Communities Secretary’s November 4 order.

“I find the directions to be excessive and disproportionate,” Mayor Rahman said.

“We have responded with proportionate and workable proposals. It’s a shame this fact has not been highlighted.”

The order follows an audit by PriceWaterhouse-Cooper revealing “lack of transparency” over council funds being dished out to organisations that did not meet the council’s own criteria and selling off public assets like the old Poplar Town Hall, close to Canary Wharf, at knock-down prices to a supporter of the Mayor.

Mr Rahman lost a second High Court attempt last week to halt the town hall take-over and is facing further legal action for alleged election malpractice.

“The Secretary of State should restrict his directions to ensuring we adopt excellent practice,” the Mayor insisted.

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“It is highly irregular for (Mr Pickles) to seek to influence and prejudge the Electoral Commission and the ongoing election petition which is sub judice.”

The Secretary’s direction period extending to March, 2017, the Mayor claimed was “excessive”.

Tower Hamlets has been without a chief executive for two years and other statutory posts remain unfilled, while there has also been widespread criticism of the Mayor appointing personal advisors at taxpayers’ expense.

“There is already an established timetable agreed by all parties for appointing statutory officers,” the Mayor states. “So there’s no need for the Secretary of State’s intervention.”

He claimed the direction on grants “would create an unnecessary bottleneck in funding for our voluntary sector”.

Mayor Rahman claims no property was found to be “undervalued”, but acknowledged there were valid recommendations about the sell-off process. He is now proposing measures that “do not risk the council’s regeneration and housing work by introducing an overly-bureaucratic process” which he feared might jeopardise levels of housing need in the East End.

The Mayor accused the Secretary of State of “an attempt to influence the Election Court and the Electoral Commission” over allegations of mal-practice now before the High Court. He dismissed the direction as “not relevant” to the council’s duty of best value.

He also claims the direction about shortcomings in public funds being syphoned off for the Mayor’s publicity as “unreasonable and disproportionate” and that measures “can be addressed quickly and easily”.

The two sides are now locked in a bitter struggle for control of Tower Hamlets budget spending.

Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins said: “It is disappointing that taxpayers are having to foot the bill for the Mayor’s High Court legal costs. This reflects a culture of denial about the dysfunctional governance of the mayor’s administration.”

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone called of supporters at a rally for Lutfur Rahman last Wednesday to protest outside the homes of the three Whitehall commissioners who could now be sent into the Town Hall from today.

Livingstone’s remarks were being reported to police last night by Tower Hamlets Tory Opposition leader Peter Golds.