The Parliamentary Communities and Local Government Committee has been hearing from Mayor John Biggs and Lead Commissioner Sir Ken Knight of their experiences of local and central government working together to get Tower Hamlets Council back on track.
The committee meeting was held on Monday 27 June 2016 to examine the issue of the Government interventions in Rotherham and Tower Hamlets.
You can view the video of the meeting on Parliament.tv below and an index (and hopefully full transcript) should be available soon.
Commissioners were imposed on the London Borough of Tower Hamlets following allegations of corruption and on Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council in the wake of the child sexual exploitation scandal.
The Communities and Local Government Committee asked questions about whether the Government’s interventions have led to improvements in Rotherham and Tower Hamlets authorities, the cost and transparency of the arrangements, and what lessons can be learned by the Department and other local authorities.
The hearing started with a tribute to the work of Jo Cox MP followed by a minutes silence.
In addition to Mayor Biggs and Sir Ken Knight the committee heard from Councillor Chris Read, Leader Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and Mary Ney, Supporting Commissioner, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.
“The wicked witch is dead”
During the session Mayor Biggs explained that when he was elected he thought that “as the wicked witch was dead” [i.e. Rahman gone, Tower Hamlets First out of power] change would be easier.
But he was disappointed that this was not the case, soon realising that a fundamental change in culture was needed and that the Council’s problems were not just those caused directly by Lutfur Rahman.
One very simple but important example of this was the need to change the way Council staff addressed each other.
Mayor Biggs also said that there was a frustration in the community because people did not know if it was the Labour administration or the DCLG Commissioners making the decisions – or even if the Commissioners were still in post.
Sir Ken Knight told the committee that when the Commissioners had first been appointed to control Tower Hamlets Council the previous mayor and cabinet refused to meet them.
In a classic understatement he said that a review of the Mainstream grants process showed that it was ‘ ‘less than transparent’.
Sir Ken also reminded the committee that the PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) audit on behalf of the DCLG found that applicants not meeting minimum criteria for grants were still awarded £651,000 by Rahman’s administration.
Not unhelpful social media interest bloggers
The Wapping Mole was also quite pleased to hear Sir Ken say this:
“It is true to say also that that public exposure [of corruption] was found by some very persistent and not unhelpful social media interest bloggers which were exposing what was going on in the old regime of Tower Hamlets, and i am pleased to say those social media bloggers have not gone away and report very favourably on some of the changes and repeatedly show to the public what has been going on and some of the changes that have been made – or bring to their attention areas where they perceive there to be further malpractice that we can deal with in a proper way within the procedures of the council which was not possible before.”
Well, he would have been if he had not been burrowing away deep underground at the time. Hopefully he will read this when he surfaces.
No doubt Ted Jeory will also be pleased to see that the endurance and tenacity of his many hours of Council meetings have not gone unnoticed.