Latest Public Sector News

18.01.17

Tower Hamlets mayor praises ‘vote of confidence’ as DCLG returns grant-making powers

The communities secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed the start of a ‘phased’ return of powers to Tower Hamlets council, enabling councillors to once again award grants to local not-for-profit organisations for the first time since December 2014.

Javid confirmed last December that the council has made ‘significant progress’ on the improvement plan outlined by his predecessor Eric Pickles after it was found that the council was failing to comply with its best value duty, since which time four commissioners have been running certain aspects of the authority.

Following progress reports from the mayor, commissioners and a public consultation, Javid has also decided to end commissioner oversight of the council’s third-party procurement and reduce the commissioner team from four to three.

However, the commissioners will retain oversight of the council’s functions until at least March 2017 and Javid has warned that the return of responsibilities will cease if any further concerns are raised.

“There is no place for rotten boroughs and I’m pleased that since commissioners were sent into Tower Hamlets council, significant changes have been made,” Javid said.

“Thanks to new checks in place, I’m satisfied that we can start a phased return of powers over grant-making and procurement to locally-elected councillors,” he added. “This is a positive step – but one that is being overseen by commissioners and I will halt the process if there are any concerns.”

Tower Hamlets council had been blighted by the corrupt administration of Lutfur Rahman, the first directly elected mayor of the borough, after an independent inspection by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2014 warned of a significant risk of misuse of public funds.

Rahman was later removed from office in April 2015 after the High Court found him guilty of electoral fraud. An independent councillor associated with Rahman, Shahed Ali, was jailed for five months last October due to housing tenancy fraud.

The latest report made by the commissioner highlighted continued progress for Tower Hamlets, with the council now holding new transparent policies and practices for whistleblowing, elections and procurement such as taking all grant-related decisions during specially convened public meetings.

The current mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs called the announcement a “real vote of confidence” in the council’s progress but admitted that there is “more work to be done”.

“This is a real vote of confidence in the progress we have made turning the council around and putting right the mess left by the previous Mayor,” Biggs said.

“Of course there is more work to be done and I want to see full control returned to the council as soon as possible but today’s announcement shows we are on the right track and making a real difference for the people of Tower Hamlets.”

The commissioners will continue to exercise the council’s functions in appointing officers for council elections, property disposal and publicity. The commissioners are scheduled to leave the council at the end of March this year but may stay longer if the DCLG decides it to be necessary.

(Image c. Oyebola Opaneye)

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