The four Commissioners sent in to take financial control of Tower Hamlets Council by central government are to remain in place, Mr Pickles successor at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Greg Clark MP stating that “lost time and lack of progress in certain areas of the intervention” are one of the reasons for the decision.
In response to this Mayor Biggs says that he is pleased the Secretary of State acknowledges the progress made but still wants a return to proper democratic control as soon as possible.
A fundamental change that the Mayor and the Commissioners want to achieve is to change the culture at the council. And changing culture in any large organisation is incredibly difficult. Changing culture in Tower Hamlets council is a task of Herculean proportions.
See the statements from Mayor Biggs and the DCLG below and LW comment at bottom of page.
Statement by Mayor Biggs re DCLG decision
The council submitted its second six month progress update to the Secretary of State, confirming that over 80 per cent of the actions set out in the agreed Best Value Plan have already been delivered.
Key achievements include:
– Introduction of a procurement transformation programme to ensure the council is at the forefront of procurement best practice; improvements have also been made to procurement processes with tightened controls and spend analysis to reduce costs
- 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
- Development of a new communications strategy with a plan to deliver the publicity functions of the council
- Improvement to the culture of the organisation: elected members have worked effectively across party lines to develop a transparency communion; the mayor has introduced regular assemblies for residents to raise issues in public; the council is active in joint working with other London boroughs.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs said: “I am pleased that the Secretary of State has recognised the progress that officers and members have made in tackling the failings identified by government and the root causes that allowed them to happen.
“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. 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.”
The Best Value plan was developed in response to government concerns about the allocation of grants, disposal of council assets and use of publicity, which resulted in the government issuing directions to the council and the introduction of DCLG-appointed commissioners.
DCLG letter to Mayor Biggs
DCLG letter to John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, from The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)
11 April 2015
Thank you for your letter of 17 March 2016 and the accompanying Best Value Action Plan second six-month progress report. I very much welcome the progress you have made over the past six months, and the steps you have taken to ensure that appropriate and measurable outcomes are now defined in this Action Plan.
In particular, I welcome your desire to tackle the root causes of the intervention, such as underlying cultural and organisational foundations, and your recognition that it has taken time for the whole Council to recognise this deeper challenge. I was very interested to hear of the steps you have taken to promote greater transparency and improve Member relations, and I appreciate your personal commitment to promoting good practice through leadership and eradicating bad practice wherever it may remain.
I would like to take this opportunity to endorse the points the Commissioners made in their response to your update. I share their disappointment of the lost time and lack of progress in certain areas of the intervention, and agree that embedding the proposed cultural change throughout the entire organisation is the single most important component to successful exit from the Directions. I also agree that finalising a clear and meaningful delegation of responsibilities to the new CEO will mark a fundamental difference between your administration and that of your predecessor.
While I understand your impatience for the intervention to end, I will need to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence that change has been embedded and key outcomes have been delivered before I will consider any variation to the current Directions.
I look forward to meeting you again, this time with your Chief Executive, to discuss priorities for future progress.
Critics of Mayor Biggs should remember that he and his team took over a organisation that was at best dysfunctional, at worst crippled in many key areas by the activities of Lutfur Rahman and his chums who seemed to think the council was theirs to do with as they pleased.
The change from Tower Hamlets First (THF) to a Labour administration was not a straightforward handover from one ‘normal’ political party to another. It was returning an entire London borough to democratic rule.
As the electoral petition case that led to the dismissal of Lutfur Rahman from office showed, THF completely ignored the norms of acceptable behaviour in public office for years.
To compound the problems some council officers were too sympathetic to Rahman and crew and forgot they were public servants. Not Rahman’s servants. No doubt other good and honest council officers were pressurised into going along with THF. That’s the way Rahman and crew like to operate.
These officers were a tiny minority but they caused a lot of damage. When the DCLG talks about ‘cultural change’ this is a polite way of saying that those Rahman / THF sympathisers who are still in post need to understand that they work for all the residents of our borough, not just one discredited man.
(For examples of dubious conduct by council officers have a read of Trial by Jeory which was documenting this before LW even had a domain name.)
And of course it does not help that the 17 corruptly elected THF councillors are still in the town hall picking up their allowances. Nice huh?
Much publicity has focussed on the corrupt misappropriation of grants by Tower Hamlets First to provide ‘treats’ to their power base instead of providing services based on need and the dubious nature of the Mayor’s ‘lunch clubs’.
It is neither credible or possible that these two examples and the election ‘irregularities’ were the only corrupt practices undertaken. Other instances are highly likely to come to light in future.
The most appropriate analogy of Tower Hamlets council problems is that of ridding a body of cancer. The electoral petition was the initial major operation to cut out the tumours. The continued presence of the DCLG is the long course of chemotherapy needed to ensure all the cancer has been identified and removed. The prognosis for the patient is good but recovery may take some time.
Not a 9-5 job
It seems that Mayor Biggs is literally working seven days a week to get the job done. So he is probably more than a little annoyed by the continued presence of the DCLG Commissioners.
You would be too, wouldn’t you?