Lutfur Rahman has said that he will not consider resigning as Mayor of Tower Hamlets, despite suggestions from the Labour party that he should step down.
The controversial Mayor defended himself after Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, accused Tower Hamlets Council of displaying a “culture of cronyism” and a lack of transparency in their grant system.
At a Tower Hamlet’s cabinet meeting this week Rahman said: “There is a huge gap between what was said under parliamentary privilege and what is actually in the report”.
“No evidence of fraud or corruption was found in the rigorous forensic audit [which] left no stones unturned”.
However, Rachael Saunders, Leader of Tower Hamlets Leader Group, said: “It is a cause of sorrow and shame for this great borough that Lutfur Rahman as Mayor has taken us to the point of government intervention. He should consider his position. Tower Hamlets deserves better”.
Pickles’s criticisms came after a report by accountants PwC severely criticised aspects of the councils financial management; three commissioners have been into the council by Pickles to run some of its functions.
Rahman was expelled from the Labour Party in 2010 after allegations that he was closely linked to an Islamic fundamentalist group as well as personally singing up fake members in order to win election as mayor.
In 2013 he established independent party Tower Hamlets First and was re-elected as mayor this year, becoming the UK’s first directly elected Muslim mayor.
Saunders said: “Labour demands the highest standards of probity in our elected representatives, and this damning report vindicates the decision to expel Lutfur Rahman from the Labour Party. Councillors in Tower Hamlets have been fighting unjust grants allocations and opaque, rotten decision making since Lutfur Rahman was thrown out of the Labour Party and stood as an “independent” Mayor”.
In a BBC interview Rahman strongly denied allegations that his council handed out over £400,000 in grants to ineligible groups, saying that it was “absolute rubbish”.
He added: “The assessment that this council, our officers gave awards to organisations that didn’t apply is absolutely wrong and it’s absolutely misleading, so let me correct that for the record.”
Writing in the Guardian, Rahman also claimed that, contrary to the report, the Poplar town hall building was not intentionally sold to an associate and that he was “not aware of, or personally responsible for, the details of this sale”.
He did not address the report’s allegation that public funding was used for political advertising.
Rahman added,: “We have stood up to austerity, provided bursaries for our university students, reinstated maintenance grants for our further education students, and bailed out the 2,500 families in our borough hit by the hated bedroom tax.”
“In short, we have embarrassed the political class. We have proved that in the heart of the London machine, national politics can be replaced by community politics – and some would have us pay dearly for that.”