The Mayor of Tower Hamlets has been branded “irresponsible” for sucking the borough even deeper into a “budget black hole” after launching proposals for a new town hall. Labour councillors have dubbed the move an “unaffordable folly”.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman has received strong criticism from opposition councillors after launching secret proposals for a state of the art town hall in what they see as part of a short-term spending binge to secure his own re-election.
Councillor Joshua Peck, leader of the Labour Group, said: “It is unbelievable that the mayor would want to spend millions of pounds on another expensive vanity project. This shows just how out of touch the mayor is.
“Not only is the money not there but even if it was, there are much more important things to be focused on like protecting residents from the governments destructive welfare changes.”
The proposals, revealed in a closed-door council session last Wednesday, would be likely cost millions of pounds. While Labour councillors recognise that the current town hall has its limitations, they argue the plans are unaffordable as the council faces a “budget black hole” of £24 million in 2015 – estimated to grow to over £50 million in 2016.
Labour says this would mean £200 of debt for every resident in the borough.
These revelations followed last week’s cabinet meeting, where the council’s budget for the next two years moved one step closer to being finalised and additional budget proposals were put forward.
Though plans for the new town hall are still being developed, a Tower Hamlets spokesperson said: “The council is exploring ways that a new Town Hall could be built and run in a cost-neutral manner. This could be achieved by building other facilities on the same site as a new Town Hall, which will generate revenue.
“It is also anticipated that lease savings could be made on the amount of money being paid to rent out the current Town Hall.”
Plans also include a £1 million scheme to protect residents in temporary accommodation and free school meals for all reception and Year 1 primary school pupils for two academic years starting September 2013.
However, Peck said: “Residents will be outraged that the mayor is considering building himself a state of the art office at the same time he is selling off the borough’s cultural heritage, reducing funding to well-used advice and community centres and cutting vital frontline services.”
After already suffering criticism for spending over £100,000 on office refurbishments only eight months after coming to power, the opposition has now called for the mayor to stop spending council money on “pie in the sky plans”.
The new policies put forwards at last week’s cabinet meeting will only run until just after the election when Labour says the council will face either large cuts or huge tax rises. Labour has accused the mayor of “dragging the council to the brink of financial ruin” and alleviating the pain of inevitable cuts by delaying them.
Councillor Carlo Gibbs, Labour’s spokesperson for resources denounced the plans as “outrageously misleading”, as the mayor will not be able to continue with them after the election.
Gibbs said: “Ignoring the black hole and continuing to spend is the height of irresponsibility for this mayor. He is going for broke to secure his own re-election with no regard for the mess he will leave us. In a time of significant upheaval residents want honesty and innovation, not more gimmicks and uncertainty.”
By Emma Rumney