All powers to be returned to Tower Hamlets

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets has welcomed the Government's intention to return full powers to the council and remove its Commissioners.

The Government removed powers including grant making, procurement and the sale of property from the council in 2014 after independent inspectors Pricewaterhouse Coopers found issues including malpractice and a failure to provide value for money under the previous Mayor Lutfur Rahman. Four Government Commissioners were sent in to get the council back on track.

Mr Rahman was removed as Mayor shortly afterwards after the Election Court (High Court) ruled that he broke election rules and declared the 2014 election void.

New elections were held in 2015 and John Biggs was elected as the Mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Since then Government Commissioners have been working with Mayor John Biggs and the new Chief Executive Will Tuckley to put the governance in place so the council can be run correctly, offers value for money and that decisions are transparent and fair.

Under the new leadership, the council has overseen significant improvements including transparency and new policies for procurement, awarding grants, whistleblowing and the running of elections.

The council still has much work to do in order to change the culture of the organisation. Historic issues continue to be tackled.

Mayor Biggs said:

“Over the past 21 months the council has undergone a complete transformation. Under the previous Mayor this was a council drowning in crisis, corruption and controversy. Since then we have bought in new leadership, opened up the decision making process and challenged historic wrongdoing and bad practice.

“Tower Hamlets is an amazing place to live, our residents deserve a top performing council and services to match – that is my ambition. There are still massive challenges from the past we are working to repair.

“With the Commissioners gone we will not let up on our progress and are setting up an improvement board to ensure we maintain our momentum and deliver the best possible services for local people.

“I want to thank the Commissioners for their support but it is now right that full democratic control is handed back.

“With some councillors still refusing to acknowledge that anything was wrong under the previous Mayor, next year’s elections will mark an important moment in our borough’s future. What nobody wants is a return to the chaos and controversy of the past.”

Sir Ken Knight, Lead Commissioner for Tower Hamlets, said: 

“When we first arrived at Tower Hamlets we found a council in denial with significant problems around governance, transparency and value for money.

Although there is still work to do, I am pleased that good progress had been made under new leadership with a solid foundation to build on.

“They are also committed to ongoing improvement to ensure Tower Hamlets’ residents receive first class services that are correctly governed and accounted for."

Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government added:

“Two years ago, Tower Hamlets Council had completely lost the trust of its residents. It was mired in corruption and financial mismanagement that only direct intervention could resolve.

“Now, thanks to Sir Ken Knight and his team of Commissioners working closely with the new Mayor, I am confident that Tower Hamlets Council is on the right track to provide the services their residents deserve and rightly expect.

“I will want to hear from Tower Hamlets every three months on the progress they’re making. This will help ensure that taxpayers’ money is put to the best use, in an open and transparent way.”

This latest move follows continued improvement by the council, particularly over the past year. It also builds on the decision by the Communities Secretary in January this year to return grant awarding and procurement powers.

Mr Javid has proposed that Commissioners would leave the council from the end of March 2017. The Mayor and the council will continue to drive improvement in the council and will regularly report progress directly to the Secretary of State every three months. A Best Value Improvement Board, including councillors and independent representatives, will oversee this work.

Key achievements by the council since 2015 include: 

  • Resident satisfaction levels with how the council is run have increased from 64% in 2015 to 71% in 2016 (source: Annual Residents’ Survey).
  • 1073 affordable homes delivered last year – the highest in the UK.
  • 4m visits to our Idea Stores, children’s centres and leisure centres last year.
  • The successful running of three elections – the EU referendum, the GLA election and the Whitechapel by-election.
  • 130,000 people attended our Boishakhi Mela and fireworks display
  • We supported almost 1,000 people into jobs and employed 120 apprentices. That has contributed to 72% of residents of working age in employment.
  • Greater openness and transparency about grants including cross party scrutiny
  • Full compliance with the Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authority publicity by replacing the weekly newspaper East End Life with a quarterly publication called Our East End.
  • Better use of community buildings to support our residents. We are creating new community hubs for our voluntary and community groups, and using underused or dilapidated buildings for the development of much needed housing.
  • The council now has a strong corporate team and a clear vision supported by a strategic plan and a three year budget. With a focus on value for money and transparency, we are able to achieve the best outcomes we can for our residents and demonstrate the benefits.
  • The establishment of an independent Clear Up Team to investigate unconsidered allegations of improper council decision making, and a new Whistleblowing Policy to encourage staff to report wrongdoing.
Posted on Thursday 16th March 2017