Pickles names Tower Hamlets commissioners

17 Dec 14
Local government secretary Eric Pickles has named the former chief fire and rescue adviser for England Sir Ken Knight as the lead commissioner in the government’s intervention into Tower Hamlets.

By Richard Johnstone | 17 December 2014

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has named the former chief fire and rescue adviser for England Sir Ken Knight as the lead commissioner in the government’s intervention into Tower Hamlets.

Pickles confirmed today he had decided to appoint three commissioners to the authority, who would be given full responsibility for all grant-making decisions until March 2017.

Eric Pickles

Last month, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced Pickles was considering send commissioners into the borough to run some functions after a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers raised concerns that it was failing to comply with Best Value duties. The report concluded the borough had failed to meet duties in relation to the award of grants to community organisations and in three property transactions.

In a written statement to the House of Commons today, Pickles said that after seeking views on the proposal, he had decided to intervene.

Tower Hamlets had made representations about the proposed imposition of commissioners, but Pickles said he remained satisfied that the council is failing to comply with its Best Value duties.

Knight will be the lead commissioner and will be joined by Max Caller, chair of the Local Government Boundary Commission and former London borough of Hackney chief executive. One further commissioner will be appointed in due course.

‘It is disappointing that there is a culture of denial in the mayoral administration about its systematic failures,’ Pickles said.

‘As I said in my previous statement, localism requires local accountability and local democracy. Municipal corruption undermines the local checks and balances that are vital in a democracy and essential in mayoral systems with their concentration of power. We cannot risk such corruption.’

Under the powers of the Local Government Act 1999, Pickles said the commissioners would be in place until the end of March 2017.

Among the areas of intervention, the council will be required to draw up and agree with the commissioners within three months a strategy and action plan to meet its Best Value duties.

It will also need to recruit three statutory officers – a head of paid service, chief finance officer, and monitoring officer – under direction from the commissioners.

Any suspension or dismissal from these posts will also need to be approved.

By next February, the council will need to prepare and implement a plan, in consultation with the commissioners, to achieve improvements in the council’s processes and practices for entering into contracts.

Pickles said this decision was not taken lightly, but he could not allow what he called the ‘overwhelming evidence of the serious failings’ to continue unchecked.

‘I do not accept the Mayor’s [Lutfur Rahman] representations that the problems in the council can easily be put right,’ he said. ‘Residents need to know that decisions are being taken properly in an open and accountable way. The commissioners I am appointing are experienced and talented professionals who understand that transparency and accountability are vital to the functioning of local democracy.’

Responding to the announcement, Rahman said that it was ‘not in the interests of local democracy for the secretary of state to intervene with such a wide remit and neither is the scale of this intervention supported by the evidence’.

He added: ‘Tower Hamlets Council is a strongly performing local authority and we remain committed to providing excellent services for our residents. The extent of the sanctions imposed on the council by the secretary of state are unreasonable and disproportionate.

‘Whilst the council disputes many aspects of the PwC report, we have never rejected its findings out of hand. In fact we welcome the inspectors and look forward to working with them. We accept there are areas for improvement in some of what we do.

‘We have clearly identified that the secretary of state's intervention package is not evidenced by the findings of the PwC report and in fact extends beyond the secretary of state's powers. It is also deeply disappointing that the methodological flaws in the PwC report have not been addressed.’

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