Panorama statement - post broadcast

Tower Hamlets Council refutes allegations broadcast by Panorama.

This evening (March 31, 2014), the BBC’s current affairs programme made a series of claims about the council and its governance.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman said: “The picture painted by Panorama is not reflected in any audit or inspection reports and the programme makes no mention of the many excellent services provided by the council from education to housing to street cleaning.”

“Governance in Tower Hamlets is strong and the residents of the borough are proud to live in a diverse and accepting community.”

Here, the council addresses the allegations made in the programme in turn:

Eric Pickles

The council is seeking clarity as to what context Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was quoted saying he has concerns about Tower Hamlets Council that are ‘of greater magnitude than other councils’. The council is high performing, with recent successes including:

  • in the past year free school meals have been introduced for primary school children
  • a new Idea Store has been opened
  • the council won an award for its community cohesion efforts
  • it has built the largest number of new homes in the country for three years running
  • Introducing grants to help young people with the costs of university
  • It remains the only council in the country to offer free homecare for the elderly
  • The council has been praised for its programme to protect residents from the repercussions of welfare reform
  • Its schools have been named among the best in the world.

Divisive politics

One Tower Hamlets encompasses work towards tackling inequality, strengthening cohesion and building community leadership and personal responsibility. The people of Tower Hamlets are the borough’s greatest asset and it has always been a diverse place. The council’s annual residents’ survey found that 81 per cent of local people believe the ‘local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together’ – the highest figure since the survey began in 1998/99.

East End Life

  • Quotes
    Panorama criticised that 97.3 per cent of published politicians’ quotes in the past year were from the Mayor or his supporters, but failed to point out that the paper promotes the activities and policies of the council. Quotes about these will inevitably come from the incumbent administration and this is specifically permitted under Government guidance
  • Its future
    A recent ICM poll found that 41 per cent of local people – the highest proportion - currently obtain most of their information about the council from East End Life. Respondents also said East End Life was their favoured way of the council communicating with them (37 per cent)
  • Election turnout
    Much was made in the programme of the last Mayoral election attracting a low turnout of registered electors. However, the turnout of 25.6 per cent is consistent with turnouts in similar areas of London. It is also relevant that the Mayoral election in 2010 was the only election held that day; by contrast in next month’s elections there will be three elections on the same day, which usually increases turnout
  • Faith buildings
    Panorama suggested the Faith Building Scheme in Tower Hamlets was somehow divisive, whereas faith and social cohesion go hand in hand in Tower Hamlets. The borough has a strong tradition in this regard: for example, the Salvation Army was formed in Tower Hamlets and many faith-based organisations deliver community services accessible to all. Preserving these buildings to support the area’s heritage and its rich faith communities is seen as vital to the fabric of Tower Hamlets

Grants

  • Grants to mosques
    Many of these organisations, Churches, Mosques and Synagogues deliver valuable community services. Some will also have buildings of historical and community interest. It is about heritage, but this includes supporting the fabric of what makes our community strong. The inspiration for the scheme came from the fate of Nelson Street Synagogue, to help them maintain their building – in their case it was about heritage, but for others they were doing good community work and needed a means of improving their buildings.
  • Grants favouring the Bengali community
    Panorama accused the Mayor of increasing the proportion of mainstream grants that go to Bengali organisations as part of a re-election bid. We understand the programme’s analysis was based on the proportion of grants awarded to organisations with a Bengali or Somali chair, CEO or applicant. In fact, in the latest grants round, £1.6million of a £9.7million programme was awarded to organisations with a Bengali or Somali chair, CEO or applicant – or 16.5 per cent to a community that makes up just under 36 per cent of the population
  • Audit trail
    The appropriate documentation and audit trails are in place
  • Legal concern
    The warning from a legal officer that Panorama was cited was made early in that year’s grants process and their concerns were addressed by the final report
  • Grants decisions being susceptible to challenge
    Any organisation involved in the process had the legal right to launch a Judicial Review within six weeks of the decision. None was received. Organisations had the right of appeal against initial awards and as a result some were amended.

The allegations broadcast by Panorama won’t impede the great work carried out by Tower Hamlets Council on behalf of its residents, the council has insisted.

The council has a rigorous approach to grant giving, with a clear minimum eligibility criteria. We have always maintained the appropriate processes. The council is unable to comment on political matters but we are able to comment on matters of factual accuracy, governance, the implementation of policies and delivery of services.

Councils are complex organisations and governance in Tower Hamlets is strong. The council continues to thrive and deliver the best services possible to residents.

Tower Hamlets is a high performing local authority, from building the largest number of new homes three years running to providing excellent schools and winning awards for procurement and our excellent parks.

The council has a strong track record of work to promote equality and promote good relations between people from diverse communities.

In March 2014 we became the first council to be reaccredited at ‘Excellent’, the top level of the Equality Framework for Local Government.

We work vigorously to build greater social cohesion in the borough through our support for the No Place For Hate campaign – and have opposed both Muslim and Christian extremists.

Notes to editors

  • For more background visit the homepage of http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/
  • In two grants rounds from 2009 to 2015 a total £27.6 million has been paid in grants to community organisations, with only £2.2 million going to Bangladeshi charities or organisations led by a Bangladeshi CEO, Chair or Board (Panorama’s criteria). That is 8 per cent of our total grants budget to a community that makes up over 30 per cent of the borough’s population.
  • For more information contact the Tower Hamlets Council Communications Team on 020 7364 4389
.