The commissioners of the Government’s “takeover squad” moved into Tower Hamlets Council today under orders to strip the Mayor Lutfur Rahman of key powers.
Two commissioners, appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, entered the council headquarters to meet Rahman and his officials for the first time today.
The commissioners were former London fire commissioner and advisor to the Government, Sir Ken Knight, and chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, Max Caller. A third commissioner will be appointed in due course.
The commissioners will take over key roles involving the appointment of senior staff, property sales and awarding grants.
Knight said: “We are determined to restore faith in how Tower Hamlets operates. Local people deserve a council that not only makes decisions in an accountable and transparent way but also with the benefit of all residents in mind.”
“Today marks the start of a long but necessary journey to ensure public confidence in the council is restored, community cohesion maintained and that Tower Hamlets is no longer a by-word for poor governance.”
Pickles said in a written statement to parliament that he was still “satisfied that the council is failing to comply with its best value duty”.
He went on to say that he was disappointed in the “culture of denial in the mayoral administration about its systematic failures”.
“Intervention is not a decision taken lightly, however I could not ignore the overwhelming evidence of the council’s failure, and allow this to continue unchecked. I do not accept the mayor’s representations that the problems are easily put right.”
Rahman previously expressed his grievances about the commissioners and the PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP report which was published in November. The report revealed how the Council failed to comply with the best value inspections and identified a number of failing in key areas.
The mayor has agreed to Pickles’ orders. In response to Pickles’ criticism of the council, Rahman said: “The PwC report only notes that we have failed in certain specific cases. I am also concerned about the rising costs of this intervention which now exceeds £1m – payable of course by the local taxpayer.”
“We have clearly identified that the secretary of state’s intervention package is not evidenced by the findings of the PwC report and, in fact, extends beyond the secretary of state’s powers. It is also deeply disappointing that the methodological flaws in the PwC report have not been addressed.”
A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: “The council looks forward to working with the commissioners who have met with senior officers this morning.”
“In addition we look forward to demonstrating that the council runs high performing services from developing new housing to excellent school results to award winning parks.”
“It is noteworthy that the directions do not seem to take account of detailed representations made to the secretary of state and it is our understanding that the mayor will be reviewing the directions to decide upon the most appropriate course of action.”