Local news for Wapping E1W and Tower Hamlets

DCLG takes full control of Tower Hamlets Council

BREAKING NEWS: Eric Pickles has announced that the DCLG is taking full control of Tower Hamlets Council to ‘clean up rotten practices’

The content of the three tweets that announced the news from @EricPickles are below:

(1/3) Am appointing as #TowerHamlets Commissioners:Chris Allison ex-Met Police Asst Commissioner Alan Wood,Children’s Services expert

(2/3) Am proposing to issue immediate #TowerHamlets Direction today to stop destruction and ensure retention of internal council documents

(3/3) Issuing #TowerHamlets proposed Direction to extend remit of Commissioners across entire council functions to clean up rotten practices.

Destruction of documents

The second tweet (2/3) is very interesting “.. to stop destruction and ensure retention of internal council documents”.

Sounds like someone in Mulberry Place has been busy with the shredder.

Can’t be the ex-Mayor or the ex-Other Person – so who?

More updates during the day.

Update 10:30 AM

Statement from DCLG

“The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has today, following the judgment of the Election Court on the 23rd April 2015, proposed additional intervention powers for the commissioners to order Tower Hamlets to take any actions needed to safeguard good governance throughout the council until a new mayor and top officer team are in place and fully bedded in.

The proposed additional intervention Directions would enable the commissioners to require Tower Hamlets – deputy mayor, and mayor once elected, cabinet, council, or officers – to take any steps which the commissioners consider are needed for good governance and sound financial management.

The proposed Directions would be in force only as long as necessary. Following the election of the mayor and the 3 statutory officers taking up their posts the Secretary of State would review their continuing need with a view to ending these additional Directions by 31 October 2015 or earlier if appropriate.

The Secretary of State has also appointed 2 new commissioners to join the existing team of commissioners headed by Sir Ken Knight – Chris Allison, who has extensive policing and security experience, and Alan Wood, who has significant experience in children’s services.

The Secretary of State has also issued a Direction requiring the council to appoint, through open competition, a Head of Paid Service, who will be responsible for managing all the council’s staff and exercising delegated executive functions.”

More as it comes in.

 

Update 11:15

Main text of letter to Stephen Halsey, Head of Paid Service Tower Hamlets Town Hall from Paul Rowsell, Deputy Director – Democracy, Department for Communities and Local Government. 

Headlines are by LW

Dear Mr Halsey,

THE COUNCIL OF THE LONDON BOROUGH OF TOWER HAMLETS: INTERVENTION

In its recent judgment, the Election Court observed that it seems likely that the governance of Tower Hamlets will have to be examined in the not too distant future.

The Secretary of State is clear that public confidence in local government is one of the foundations of this country’s democracy, and recent events in your Borough are deeply concerning.

I am writing to inform you that the Secretary of State is provisionally minded to issue to your Authority additional intervention Directions, which would give the Commissioners new powers to order any actions to be taken where this is needed to safeguard good governance throughout the Authority until a new mayor and top officer team are in place and bedded in.

This letter sets out the additional Directions that the Secretary of State is proposing and the reasons for them.

The effect of the proposed additional Directions would enable the Commissioners to require your Authority, deputy mayor, and mayor once elected, cabinet, council, or officers – to take any steps which the Commissioners consider are needed for good governance and sound financial management.

This could include the Commissioners requiring the proper retention of records and recording of decisions, and until a mayor is elected that any decision by the deputy mayor and cabinet can be taken only if it accords with officer recommendations and there is cross party agreement for it.

The Secretary of State considers that it is of the utmost importance that the conduct of the forthcoming mayoral election and the by-election in the Ward of Stepney is above reproach, restoring the gravely damaged confidence in local democracy in your Borough.

The intervention Directions that he issued last December gave the Commissioners the power of appointing the Returning Officer, and as a result Barry Quirk has joined John Williams to ensure the effective administration of future elections. The Secretary of State is clear that achieving a soundly administered mayoral election and by-election in Stepney must be one of the highest priorities for all – Returning Officer, the Commissioners, your Authority, and not least the people of the Borough.

The basis for proposed additional Directions

On 17 December 2014 the Secretary of State issued Directions under section 15(5) and

(6) of the Local Government Act 1999 to the Council of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (‘the Authority’), and today he has issued further Directions in relation to the appointment of the head of paid service, a copy of which was sent to you under cover of my letter of earlier.today.

The Secretary of State is satisfied that these Directions are necessary and expedient to secure the Authority’s future compliance with the best value duty.

However, subject to any representations that the Authority might make, he is currently of the view that these Directions alone are not sufficient to secure that in the short term progress towards compliance is made and that in the longer term compliance is achieved.

He has reached this provisional view having regard to the circumstances of the Authority following the judgment given by the Election Court on 23 April 2015, information in that judgment about the Authority and the conduct of its affairs, and certain information that the Commissioners have provided as set out below.

Four interconnected reasons for further control

In short, the Secretary of State presently considers that the risks of poor governance and financial mismanagement have been and are significantly greater than he was previously aware, and that this indicates a heightened risk of non-compliance with the best value duty. He has reached this provisional view for four interconnected reasons.

1. Tower Hamlets grants situation more serious than realised

First, the PwC inspection report had identified the facts that a high proportion of grant decisions were made personally by Mr Rahman; in an abnormally high number of instances the decisions departed from officers’ advice; and large grants were made to organisations which were totally ineligible or failed to meet the threshold for eligibility. Whilst these matters were already of significant concern to the Secretary of State, his provisional view is that the position has now been revealed to be even more serious.

This is because the Election Court has concluded that the conduct of Mr Rahman and his agents Mr Asad (currently cabinet member for health and adult services) and Mr Choudhury “in making grants does amount to the corrupt practice of bribery”.

In a similar vein, the Election Court held that “there is no doubt that Mr Rahman made wide use of the facilities and staff of the Council to carry out electoral activities on his behalf.

Statements were issued by the Mayor’s Office which had no bearing on the running of the Borough but were obvious electioneering”; and that “public money was misused to pay a publicist for Mr Rahman”.

2. Serious doubts over calibre of TH staff

Second, the Secretary of State’s provisional view is that the position is compounded by what appear to have been serious doubts cast over the calibre of those left holding power at the Authority.

The Secretary of State notes that the effect of the Election Court’s decision is that Mr Rahman has not lawfully been mayor since the May 2014 election, that the office of mayor is vacant, and that until a mayor is elected the functions of mayor will in accordance with the Local Government Act 2000 be exercised by the deputy mayor, a member of the Authority’s cabinet or, should the office of deputy mayor become vacant, by the remaining members of that cabinet.

His provisional view is that this enhances the risks of poor governance and financial mismanagement, particularly in the context, as highlighted by the judgment , that the Mayor’s powers in Tower Hamlets are very great (“greater than that of any other elected executive mayor in Britain”). This

is because the Election Court observed that the cabinet have “been chosen from his [Mr Rahman] close cronies, some of whom, it must be said, have little to recommend them beyond blind loyalty to their leader [Mr Rahman]”.

3. Senior council positions unfilled

Third, the Secretary of State’s provisional view is that the situation is yet further compounded by the fact that there are currently no permanent appointments to the three statutory officer positions (the head of paid service, the monitoring officer, and the chief financial officer). These positions are currently held by interim appointments, which are short-term, which have existed during the period of poor governance and financial mismanagement as identified in the PwC Report and referred to by the Court, and which may not be well placed to handle the current situation in the cabinet Permanent appointments, as approved by the Commissioners , have been made to the latter two positions, but these appointees will not be taking up their positions for several months; and the head of paid service appointment is subject to the Directions issued earlier today.

4. Culture within Town Hall contrary to best value duty

Fourth, the Secretary of State’s provisional view is that these risks of poor governance and financial mismanagement are considerably enhanced by what he provisionally considers to be an underlying and continuing culture within the Authority, as revealed by information set out in the judgment and provided by the Commissioners, of an acceptance of actions that are plainly incompatible with the best value duty and a reluctance on the part of the Authority to address such incompatibility:

The Commissioners have recently reported that the Authority is not fully complying with the Directions of 17 December 2014 . In particular, the Authority still has not responded to the Commissioners’ request for arrangements to give its views on proposed grants. In addition, notwithstanding the Directions the Commissioners have discovered that certain payments in respect of burial grants have been made after 17 December without their involvement , and hence contrary to the Directions and on its face therefore unlawful.

Council records re LR ‘human rights breach’ missing

The Commissioners have also reported that they have found inadequate, or an absence of, records. For example, the Authority has informed them there is no record of the legal opinion which underpinned the then monitoring officer’s advice that requiring Mr Rahman to answer councillors ‘ questions in the council chamber was in breach of his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (advice which the Election Court described as “preposterous”).

Planning files missing

Moreover, in relation to certain planning matters the

Commissioners have found that the Authority has incomplete electronic files and a policy of destroying all hard copy. In addition, the Commissioners have reported encountering a reluctance to provide them with ready access to certain files.

Accordingly for all the reasons above, and subject to any representations that the Authority might make, the Secretary of State is proposing to exercise further his powers under section 15(5) of the Local Government Act 1999 to issue additional Directions to the Authority, as set out below.

Proposed additional Directions

In all the circumstances, therefore, the Secretary of State is provisionally minded to issue additional Directions to the Authority to address what he provisionally considers to be an increased risk of non-compliance by the Authority with its best value duty. He provisionally considers these proposed additional Directions are necessary and expedient to secure the Authority’s compliance with its best value duty. Accordingly, the Secretary of State is proposing additional Directions that would require the Authority to take any action, in relation to any of its functions, which the Commissioners consider is needed.

Yours sincerely,

P ROWSELL

 

 

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