Clark announces no power return for Tower Hamlets

12 Apr 16

Tower Hamlets council remains “some way off” from having its full powers returned following a Whitehall intervention, local government secretary Greg Clark has said.

Providing an update on the intervention, which began in December 2014 following concerns the authority was failing to comply with Best Value duties, Clark said the council had made some progress under the supervision of government-appointed commissioners.

Some responsibilities were handed back in October, but in a letter to mayor John Biggs after Biggs called for the intervention to fully end, Clark said further evidence was needed before all powers would be returned. Biggs was elected following former mayor Lutfur Rahman’s removal from office.

The intervention originally gave commissioners power over all grant-making decisions in the light of financial management concerns, and was extended to cover all of the council’s executive functions last April. Day-to-day responsibility was handed back in October, but the commissioners continue to oversee the borough and carry out some functions, including oversight of grant-making.

“In Tower Hamlets, independent inspectors found a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and serious mismanagement of taxpayers’ money,” Clark stated as he said the intervention will continue.

“Intervention is never a decision taken lightly but it was essential that we took action to make sure public confidence in the council is restored.

“Under the careful watch of the commissioners, the mayor is making progress but there must be sufficient evidence of real organisational change before I will consider handing any powers back.”

The commissioners oversee the council’s improvement plan, which covers communications, contracting, property disposals to third parties and cultural change, as well as working to strengthen the council’s core governance arrangements.

The latest progress report by the council showed some progress in a number of areas, including greater transparency in grant functions and significantly lower off-contract spend due to improved procurement processes.

Responding to Clark, John Biggs said he was pleased to see the progress that officers and members have made in tackling the failings identified by government, and the root causes that allowed them to happen, being recognised.

“I want to see the directions lifted, so that local people will again have proper democratic control, so I am of course disappointed that the commissioners remain in place,” he added. “I am committed to ensuring that we meet both the letter and spirit of the government’s directions, supported by our new senior officer team.”

Biggs said key achievements include the introduction of a procurement transformation programme to ensure the council is using best practice and tightened controls, as well as the the introduction of a voluntary and community sector strategy supporting a move from grant funding to a more commissioned service approach. In addition, a cross party group will now consider grant proposals before they are determined.

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