Powers are to return to Tower Hamlets council, two years after government officials were brought in to tackle a perceived lack of transparency.
Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced plans for a ‘phased return’ of powers to the local authority last Friday. It is the first step in returning the mayor’s power to have final say in awarding grants to not-for-profit organisations.
The council was stripped of the powers in 2014 after a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by then Communities and Local Government minister, Eric Pickles. The report found the council hierarchy to have a lack of clarity over the awarding of public grants and regeneration of public buildings.
The report, which found no proof of corruption or fraud, was used as evidence in the court case that found Lutfur Rahman guilty of giving funds to the Bangladeshi community to gain votes.
The former mayor was also found guilty of ‘spiritual injury’ and ‘postal voting fraud’, after four local politicians brought a petition to the electoral commissioner alleging misconduct in the 2014 election. The verdict caused Rahman to be stripped of his mayoralty.
Current mayor, John Biggs, won the re-scheduled vote in 2015. Biggs said: “I welcome this vote of confidence from the Secretary of State, which reflects the progress we have made as a council and our ambitions to become more outward-looking, transparent and effective at providing the best possible services to our residents.”
“We continue to learn the lessons of the past and to repair the damage left by my predecessor,” he added.
Javid warned that despite this “positive first step” to improved transparency, full powers will not be restored until he “can be sure residents’ money is in safe hands”. He said that he “will halt the process if commissioners raise any concerns”.
The commissioners are due to be in place until March 31, 2017.