Tower Hamlets Mayor raids reserves to fund town hall newspaper and budget increase for his office

Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman

Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman - Credit: Archant

Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman has plundered reserves to continue funding the town hall’s weekly ‘Pravda’ and almost double the budget for his own office – despite the moves having been blocked by councillors at a budget meeting.

The council’s weekly newspaper East End Life is now set to be published for another year after Mr Rahman took £443,000 to fill the void left by cuts passed by Labour and Tory councillors for next year’s budget.

He also pushed through a £300,000 increase for his office and staff, bringing the total allocation to almost £750,000 for the year.

Opposition councillors were left furious that the amendments they thought had been passed had been disregarded by Mr Rahman.

Outgoing Labour group leader Cllr Joshua Peck said: “The mayor’s decision completely undermines the democratic will of the council.

“The mayor is riding roughshod over the constitution and opening the council up to further legal challenges by making indefensible decisions.

“The council, not the mayor, has the responsibility for setting the budget, trying to circumvent that decision shows utter contempt for democracy”, he added.

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Tower Hamlets Council has faced harsh criticism in recent months over its continued failure to comply with government guidelines on council publications.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has repeatedly pledged to pass legislation banning what he describes a “town hall Pravdas” such as East End Life by the end of the year.

Tower Hamlets Conservative group finance spokesman Cllr David Snowdon said: “This is nothing short of a disgrace. Full council decided that East End Life had to go, but Mayor Rahman is not implementing this decision.

“The people of Tower Hamlets are demanding he uses this money for front line services rather than a ‘newspaper’ which blows the trumpet of the Mayor and the cabinet. Why will the Mayor not listen to councillors and Tower Hamlets residents?”

A council spokesperson said the £296,000 increase in the mayor’s office budget would allow it to “maintain current arrangements” in the office.

Cash has been allocated for East End Life while a review – expected to take between nine and 12 months - is undertaken. A spokesperson said the review would give them time to consider the financial and contractual implications of closing the newspaper, as well as the council’s “duty to promote social cohesion”.

The Town Hall’s annual budget for communications and publicity is currently £4.1million.