Council powers to be handed back to Tower Hamlets

Tower Hamlets council will have power returned, two years after removal of corrupt mayor   Pic: Gyles Glover (Flickr)

Full powers will now be returned to Tower Hamlets council – almost two years after former mayor  Lutfur Rahman was removed.

Rahman, who was the first directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, was banned from standing for office for five years after being found guilty of electoral fraud in April 2015.

Following his removal from office, another vote held in 2015 appointed John Biggs as Mayor of Tower Hamlets. Since then, the government has worked with the council through government-appointed commissioners for the area.

Under the new leadership, the council has overseen significant improvements including new policies for procurement, awarding grants, whistleblowing and the running of elections.

In a recent press release, Mayor Biggs said that Tower Hamlets council has undergone a “complete transformation” over the past 21 months under the commissioners.

Biggs said: “Under the previous Mayor this was a council drowning in crisis, corruption and controversy. Since then we have bought in new leadership, opened up the decision making process and challenged historic wrongdoing and bad practice.”

He added: “Tower Hamlets is an amazing place to live, our residents deserve a top performing council and services to match – that is my ambition. There are still massive challenges from the past we are working to repair.”

However, with the new changes planning to take place before the end of the month, Biggs wanted to reassure residents and workers within Tower Hamlets that the area will still be in safe hands.

He explained: “With the Commissioners gone we will not let up on our progress and are setting up an improvement board to ensure we maintain our momentum and deliver the best possible services for local people.

“I want to thank the Commissioners for their support but it is now right that full democratic control is handed back.”

Biggs also took to twitter to express his happiness and pride in Tower Hamlets, describing Tower Hamlets as “an amazing place […] still with big challenges to fix and lots to do”.

Sir Ken Knight, the lead commissioner for Tower Hamlets, described the state of the council at the beginning of the commission as “in denial with significant problems around governance, transparency and value for money”.

But Knight admitted that significant progress had been made over the course of the commission.

Knight said: “When we first arrived at Tower Hamlets we found a council in denial with significant problems around governance, transparency and value for money.

“I am pleased that good progress had been made under new leadership with a solid foundation to build on.”

He added: “They are also committed to ongoing improvement to ensure Tower Hamlets residents receive first class services that are correctly governed and accounted for.”

Since the government has been working with the council through Government-appointed commissioners, there have been many positive changes in Tower Hamlets.

According to the Annual Residents Survey, resident satisfaction levels with how the council is run have increased from 64 per cent in 2015 to 71 per cent in 2016, with 1073 affordable homes delivered last year – the highest in the UK and there have been a better use of community buildings to support the residents.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid, said: “Two years ago, Tower Hamlets Council had completely lost the trust of its residents. It was mired in corruption and financial mismanagement that only direct intervention could resolve.”

He added: “Now, thanks to Sir Ken Knight and his team of commissioners working closely with the new mayor, I am confident that Tower Hamlets Council is on the right track to provide the services their residents deserve and rightly expect.

“I will want to hear from Tower Hamlets every three months on the progress they’re making. This will help ensure that taxpayers’ money is put to the best use, in an open and transparent way.”

Javid proposed that Commissioners would start to leave the council from the end of March 2017. The Mayor and the council will continue to drive improvement in the council and will regularly report progress directly to the Secretary of State every three months.

A Best Value Improvement Board, including councillors and independent representatives, will oversee this work.

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