Government removes direction from Tower Hamlets Council

town hall
  • The end of MHCLG intervention follows three years of rebuilding work and recognition of ‘significant improvements’ in a recent Peer Review

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets has welcomed the decision by the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to end its direction for the council.

It follows the rebuilding of the local authority after the removal of the previous mayor in 2014. At the time the Election Court (High Court) ruled that he broke election rules and declared the 2014 election void.

The government had removed powers including grant making, procurement and the sale of property from the council after independent inspectors Pricewaterhouse Coopers found issues including malpractice and a failure to provide value for money.

Four government commissioners were sent in to help get the council back on track.

Tower Hamlets elected John Biggs as Mayor in 2015. Chief Executive Will Tuckley was appointed shortly afterwards. Together they have overseen the council’s transformation which has put good governance and accountability making at its heart so it is run correctly, offers value for money and decisions are transparent and fair.

This has included new policies for procurement, awarding grants, whistleblowing, property disposal, communications and the running of elections.

In March 2017, the government decided that ‘a solid foundation had been created’ and removed the commissioners from the council. However, it still had to report its progress to the MHCLG every quarter.

Further progress

Since then the council has overseen successful General Election and Local Elections; helped to deliver the most affordable homes in the country, and delivered new council housing at social rents; supported people with training, activities and library services through 1.9m visits to our Idea Stores; and helped 994 residents into work.

The council has also focused on supporting young people by setting up Young WorkPath, a support service to help young people into employment, and with a commitment to create 1,000 apprenticeships opportunities on or above the London Living Wage. It also re-launched its youth service, which has 21 youth hubs and 16 youth projects.

Resident trust with the council is at 74%, well above the national average of 57%, while 63% of residents say they are satisfied with the way the council runs things – roughly on par with the national average of 64%.

In June, the Local Government Association was invited by the council to conduct a Peer Review. They found that the council had ‘improved the culture of the organisation through the hard work and commitment of members and officers throughout the organisation’.

The Peer Review formed part of the government’s decision to remove the direction fully and end the quarterly reporting.

Mayor John Biggs said:

“I am extremely proud that we have turned the council around with a relentless focus on fair and accountable governance. In turn, that has helped us to focus on better jobs, quality affordable housing and safer streets, but there is still much work to do.

“There is no doubt that having a mayor removed and powers limited is a traumatic experience for a council, however it was absolutely necessary.

“We have re-taken our place amongst the mainstream and begun to have our success recognised by our peers.

“Now we can stand fully on our own two feet. Not just to improve the council, but to showcase to the world the real Tower Hamlets – an amazing borough which should be known not for the bad behaviour of a former mayor, but for the ambition, potential and dynamism of our incredible community in the East End.”

Tower Hamlets - the most dynamic place in the country

The controversy of Tower Hamlets’ past has taken away from what is one of the most popular and successful places in the UK, and one the nation depends on.

More and more people want to come here, whether it is to live, to work or to have fun. As a result, Tower Hamlets has the fastest growing population in the UK and more homes are built here than anywhere else.

Tower Hamlets is home to:

  • International business districts such as Canary Wharf and parts of City Fringe and Tech City. The borough is the third largest contributor to the UK economy, responsible for as much as £12billion in tax revenue each year.
    • Visitor destinations including Tower of London, Ragged School Museum, Whitechapel Gallery, Brick Lane and the Museum of Childhood.
    • Award winning parks including Victoria Park and part of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
    • Major institutions for learning including Barts NHS Trust Hospital which trains more than 4,000 people at any one time for medical careers and is working with Queen Mary University to create a Life Science Centre in Whitechapel.
    • One of the most diverse populations in the country and is steeped in history whether it is the docks, the suffragette movement or the fight against fascism in the battle of Cable Street.

Will Tuckley, Chief Executive of Tower Hamlets Council, said:

“Tower Hamlets is one of the most amazing places in the country with a set of assets that are the envy of the world.

“Our residents deserve a council that will work with them to create a borough that is fair, transparent and supports people to improve their lives as well as Tower Hamlets itself.

“I want to thank our staff, councillors and partners for their hard work and support to get us back on track. We know there is more to do but this marks an important stage on our journey of improvement.

“While Tower Hamlets is already a major part of the UK economy, there is a lot more we can achieve by working with partner organisations in the borough to create opportunities.”

Key achievements by the council since 2015 include: 

  • Almost nine in ten residents (86%) feel people from different backgrounds get on well with each other, and 79% of people are very or fairly satisfied with Tower Hamlets as a place to live. (2018 Annual Residents Survey)
  • The highest rated council service are the Idea Stores and libraries, which 82% of service users rate as good, very good or excellent. Similar positive ratings were given to 78% of primary school service users, 69% of Children’s Centre users and 68% of visitors to the council’s parks and open spaces. (2018 Annual Residents Survey)
  • Over the last year, the Mayor has approved £3 million for an extra 39 local police officers and £1.4m for a new anti-social behaviour (ASB) team. This will build on the ongoing major disruption to serious drug related crimes through Operation Continuum. (2018 Annual Residents Survey)
  • To help tackle the London housing crisis, Tower Hamlets continues to build more affordable homes than anywhere in the country and is well on the way to delivering 1,000 new council homes with a further 1,000 in the pipeline. 
  • 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 4th October 2018