‘Cash-strapped’ east London council finds £180 million under mattress

Tower Hamlets Council has deep pockets but very short arms. Canary Wharf councillor Andrew Wood has revealed that there is no less than £180m available to spend in the council coffers.

Yes, one hundred and eight million quid. Or £180,000,000 if you like lots of zeros.

The Council could see few if any drawbacks in keeping £180m under a single mattress.

That’s just under £600 for every adult and child in the borough.

Here’s Cllr. Andrew Wood’s tweet from last week.

Cllr. Wood says that the cash available to the Council from property development payments as at Sept 2018 can be broken down as below:

  • £109.7m S106* money from property developers
  • £44.8m (£33 million alone from his own ward, Canary Wharf) CIL** money from developers
  • £25.9m New Homes Bonus from governmentTotal available = £180.4 million

Update 22 November 2018

The Council’s official response is “The Council has an ambitious approved capital programme of £750m over the next ten years. This will be funded from capital reserves and other sources such as S106, CIL and the New homes bonus. The council will be considering further capital growth as part of the budget setting process in the New Year.”

£180m available – yet nurseries still to close

It was only on 27th September that the Council announced that three day nurseries would close after ‘the Cabinet took the difficult decision due to financial pressures.’

At the time Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs said: “A combination of deep government cuts to council funding alongside a growing population, means we have to take very difficult choices.”

“Why is it difficult to decide to spend part of £180m on keeping nurseries open?”

£180m available – yet residents charged for community centre use

Residents are now having to pay ‘affordable hourly rates’ for the privilege of using their own community centres which they have already paid for with the Community Charge.

Wapping residents will be familiar with the running battle community volunteers have endured with the council to deliver services from Chandler Street and the still unexplained decision to splash £1.3m on the refurbishment of Raines House. (And no, having an extra £180m knocking around all of a sudden still does not mean this should go ahead.)

£180m available – but only £2.6m for new council fund

Last week a new approach to funding community projects in Tower Hamlets was announced with a miserly £2.6 million Local Community Fund for the whole borough. This will replace the Mainstream Grant (MSG) program as made famous by Lutfur Rahman.

If the Local Community Fund was doubled – or tripled, or even quadrupled – the council would still have £170m and change enough for posh biscuits at all future Cabinet meetings.

£180m available – yet worst child poverty in UK

In January this year we wrote about the shameful fact that our borough has the worst rate of child poverty in the entire country – 53.4%. Bethnal Green and Bow wards along with Poplar and Limehouse have the worst and third worst rates of child poverty in the UK at 54.18% and 52.75% respectively.

£180m available – ooh, let’s have some of that!

Mayor Biggs doesn’t seem to have any problems handing out some of the £180,000,000 to keep his colleagues happy as his decision to increase Special Responsibility Allowances for the Labour team showed.

Anyone seen that Excel file?

To make matters worse Cllr. Wood says that “For a long period they kept all S106 data on an Excel spreadsheet until the auditors told them to load it into a proper secure database as too much money [was] at stake.”

Only in Tower Hamlets.

We have to wonder whether if the Excel file had been accidentally deleted one day the £180m would have been completely forgotten about.

Cllr. Wood is of the opinion that reporting on this [S106 & CIL money] issue is still very poor and he had to ask for the data as it was not readily available.

Explainer

Section 106 agreements, otherwise known as ‘planning obligations’, are legally binding agreements that the Council makes with developers in connection with planning permissions.

Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) is a charge on most types of new developments over a certain size to help to pay for local infrastructure projects that are needed to support new developments, such as schools, health services, leisure, open spaces and transport improvements.

You can see the 633 S106 projects in an Excel spreadsheet under the Status of S106 payments heading.

LW Comment

Every member of our extensive editorial team would like nothing more than to be able to write positive stories about Tower Hamlets.

We are sick and tired of writing story after story about the dysfunctional ‘organisation’ that is Tower Hamlets Council.

But the Council having £180,000,000 gathering dust while half the children in our borough live in poverty is inexcusable.

Which is why we continue to bring you nothing but bad news. Sorry.


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