Tower Hamlets Mayor Rahman told to ‘pay up’ after audit into town hall spending

Unison trade union protesters outsideTower Hamlets Council's meeting urging Mayor Rahman stands up t

Unison trade union protesters outsideTower Hamlets Council's meeting urging Mayor Rahman stands up to Eric Pickles - Credit: Archant

Furious council members voted overwhelmingly at last night’s Tower Hamlets council meeting for embattled Mayor Lutfur Rahman to “pay out of his own pocket” if he increased the cost of the £1.2million auditors’ report into Town Hall spending by delaying tactics.

Sold off for £867,000... Poplar Town Hall

Sold off for £867,000... Poplar Town Hall - Credit: Archant

The mayor came in for attack in the council chamber from both Labour and Tories, while outside trade-union protesters urged him to stand firm against Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who ordered the audit and to keep public services going.

The auditors have found evidence of “nine incidents of alleged fraud relating to the youth and community service and that no discernable procurement process appears to have been followed,” councillors were told.

The report led to cuts in grants to the poorest parts of the East End, with further cuts now planned to children’s nurseries.

There were also “multiple examples of public buildings like the old Poplar Town Hall sold to those submitting bids after their competitors’ bids had been opened.”

The former town hall next to Canary Wharf was sold off for £867,000 in 2011 – less than the price of two terraced houses in the same area at the time.

The auditors also found that the Mayor proposes spending £1.4m on his own advisors, while spending on his media advisors failed the “best value for money”.

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Councillors demanded he cuts spending on “wasteful advisors” instead of proposed cuts to children’s nurseries.

Both Labour and Tory opposition members voted overwhelmingly condemning Mayor Rahman’s administration for a “source of shame that we have reached the point of government intervention.”

Their motion demanded: “If Lutfur Rahman and his cabinet increased the cost of the audit through delays he should pay from his own pocket.”

The mayor’s front-bench spokesman Alibor Choudhury claimed Eric Pickles was targeting Tower Hamlets to “reel back the support the Tories lost to Ukip”.

Her accused Labour of colluding with the Tories in creating “a Frankenstein monster they can no longer contain”.

He insisted there was no bias in grants being distributed and claimed the Poplar Town Hall procurement policy was sound.

A delegation of angry mums addressed the heated debate urging the Mayor to withdraw the threat to close four East End nurseries.

“Public nurseries provide excellent service,” said delegation leader Alicja Topij. “We understand the council does have money in reserve, therefore money can make changes.

“It’s not a government decision whether you close a nursery or keep it open. We all pay council tax and want the services to be kept open.”

But no assurances about the nurseries were forthcoming – only that the issue would be looked at.

Meanwhile outside the Town Hall, members of Unison public service workers’ union protested with banners urging the mayor not to be “bullied by Eric Pickles” and to keep services going.