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30.10.15

Tower Hamlets mayor to regain control of council from government commissioners

Powers to run the Tower Hamlets borough council will be officially transferred from Whitehall back to its mayor tomorrow (31 October), communities secretary Greg Clark MP has announced.

The government’s commissioners will hand over the power to directly run the council but will continue to carry out some functions – such as issuing grants in the borough and continuing to strengthen governance – and oversee further mayor-led improvements.

In a letter to mayor John Biggs, who was named new mayor in June, Clark commended the progress made in the last six months to address the entrenched corruption problems at the council – but said it was right for Whitehall leaders to remain for the time being.

He said Whitehall will remain vigilant in case of any lapse in the council’s management, in which case the government would intervene.

“I’m pleased with the progress that has been made in Tower Hamlets over the last six months, which will help restore the community’s confidence in how their area is being run.

“It means I am confident that, from this weekend, John Biggs can now be left to take on the day-to-day running of the borough as the mayor.

“But our four commissioners will remain in place, and I will not hesitate to take action if progress stalls and the governance of Tower Hamlets falls shorts,” he continued.

In April 2014, the government appointed inspectors to look into allegations of governance failures, poor financial management and fraud at the London borough.

The DCLG decided to appoint commissioners to take over financial control of the borough in November of last year after a PwC report confirmed governance problems and a “failure to comply” with best value duties.

The first two commissioners, Sir Ken Knight and Max Caller CBE, were sent in by former local government secretary Eric Pickles in December.

And after Tower Hamlets’ former mayor was found guilty of corrupt election practices in April of this year, Pickles handed over additional intervention powers and sent in Chris Allison and Alan Wood to join the two officials.

Directions issued on 6 May stated that the commissioners could require the authority to take any steps considered appropriate to protect the governance and financial management of the borough authority.

These directions will now expire this weekend, but the four officials will be able to oversee ongoing improvement plans for communications and procurement, strengthen the authority’s leadership arrangements, take over its grant-making functions and exercise functions of appointing an electoral registration office.

(Top image c. Hannah McKay)

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