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17.12.14

Commissioners sent in to Tower Hamlets

Commissioners have now been sent into the ‘failing’ London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the local government secretary has confirmed. 

Eric Pickles told Parliament that following a PwC report last month, which highlighted that the borough was failing in its best value duty, the government will now be intervening at the local authority. 

He said: “I gave the council until 18 November to make any representations it wished on the inspection report and my proposal for intervention. I have now carefully considered all the representations that the council has made. 

“I remain satisfied that the council is failing to comply with its best value duty. It is disappointing that there is a culture of denial in the mayoral administration about its systematic failures.” 

When the PwC report was released last month, Pickles announced that he would appoint three commissioners to take over financial control of Tower Hamlets Council. 

So far he has named two: Sir Ken Knight, the former London Fire Commissioner and Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor to the government; and Max Caller CBE, the current chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England. A third commissioner will be named in due course. 

Led by Sir Ken, the team of commissioners will, with immediate effect, take control of grant making within the council, will approve any sale or disposal of property and will agree a plan for publicity. 

The authority, under the direction of the commissioners, will have three months to prepare a strategy and action plan setting out how it will comply with its duty to act openly and transparently, serving all of its communities fairly and securing value for money. 

The commissioners, due to be in place until 31 March 2017, will drive forward the action plan, updating the secretary of state every six months on progress. 

Pickles said: “Intervention was not a decision taken lightly, however I could not ignore the overwhelming evidence of the council’s failure, and allow this to continue unchecked. I do not accept the mayor’s representations that problems are easily put right.” 

The two commissioners went into Tower Hamlets town hall today (17 December) to meet senior officials and councillors, including mayor Lutfur Rahman. 

Lead commissioner Sir Ken Knight said: “We are determined to restore faith in how Tower Hamlets operates. Local people deserve a council that not only makes decisions in an accountable and transparent way but also with the benefit of all residents in mind. 

“Today marks the start of a long but necessary journey to ensure public confidence in the council is restored, community cohesion maintained and that Tower Hamlets is no longer a by-word for poor governance.” 

Responding to the appointment of commissioners and the publication of the government's directions, a council spokesperson told PSE that the local authority looks forward to working with the commissioners who have met with senior officers.  

“In addition we look forward to demonstrating that the council runs high performing services from developing new housing to excellent school results to award-winning parks,” she said. 

“It is noteworthy that the directions do not seem to take account of detailed representations made to the secretary of state and it is our understanding that the mayor will be reviewing the directions to decide upon the most appropriate course of action.” 

(Image: L to R - Max Caller CBE and Sir Ken Knight) 

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