‘Protect whistle-blowers when sending G-Men into Town Halls’ MPs tell government

Tower Hamlets Town Hall

Tower Hamlets Town Hall - Credit: Archant

The government must protect whistle-blowers and take them seriously while also safeguarding local democracy when it sends commissioners in to scrutinise Town Hall spending like it did at Tower Hamlets. That’s the conclusion of a Parliamentary committee of MPs in a report published today (Friday) into events at Tower Hamlets and Rotherham local authorities.

MP Clive Betts

MP Clive Betts - Credit: Archant

The Communities & Local Government Department should make sure any future interventions are swift, effective and transparent, the MPs insist.

The report by the Communities and Local Government committee points to past failures of Tower Hamlets to take whistleblowers seriously and also highlights Rotherham’s experiences of child sexual exploitation and any progress made since in child protection.

“The intervention in Tower Hamlets was justified because the local authority had significantly failed to meet its responsibilities of service, governance and democratic accountability,” the committee’s chair Clive Betts said.

“The aim is the return to normal democratic arrangements—but intervention must result in sustainable improvements if it is to be effective, which can only be achieved through changes in the council’s culture.”

Lutfur Rahman at 2015 rally at Mile End after being barred from office

Lutfur Rahman at 2015 rally at Mile End after being barred from office - Credit: Archant

Lessons must le leaned for town halls up and down the country.

Mr Betts added: “It’s important that failings at Tower Hamlets are identified so that similar issues can be addressed in other local authorities to avoid hitting rock bottom and having commissioners imposed on them.”

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The MPs urge local councils to encourage and support whistleblowers who come forward and to investigate their concerns.

They are also calling on the government to take legislative action to make sure whistleblowers who approach commissioners have legal protection.

Cllr Peter Golds... blew whistle on Lutfur Rahman

Cllr Peter Golds... blew whistle on Lutfur Rahman - Credit: Archant

Commissioners were sent into the Town Hall in December, 2014, following a litany of allegations of malpractice and mis-spending over public funds being dished out to dubious groups and organisations by the entrenched mayor Lutfur Rahman operating behind closed doors.

The whistle was blown on Rahman and his independent Tower Hamlets First party by Tory Opposition leader Peter Golds which brought it to the attention of Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary in Cameron’s Government, resulting in the ‘G Men’ being parachuted into the Town Hall.

Rahman then faced a six-week Election Trial in the High Court in early 2015 which led to him being barred from office for five years for fraud and malpractice along with his council-member election agent described as his henchman.

The 2014 election that returned Rahman’s corrupt regime to office was overturned and re-run in June last year, which was won overwhelmingly by Labour’s City Hall veteran politician John Biggs defeating the now-banned Tower Hamlets First party.

Cllr Peter Golds... blew whistle on Lutfur Rahman

Cllr Peter Golds... blew whistle on Lutfur Rahman - Credit: Archant

Mayor Biggs opened up the Town Hall to transparent governance in his first 12 months—but is now anxious to see the back of the ‘G Men’ who are likely to remain until next March.

Today’s Parliamentary committee report identifies Tower Hamlets as having had “a particular problem” and recommends other local authorities learn from what happened with Rahman.

But the MPs’ findings urge that intervention by government commissioners must be in proportion to the failings, while “local democracy” should always be considered a priority when appointing a commissioner.