I keep being asked what’s the latest with the PwC report that Eric Pickles was due to announce in the Commons last week.
The answer is that it’s all a bit unclear.
I’m told Tower Hamlets council, with a certain “coup de theatre“, dumped a whole load of new documents on the PwC auditors at the very last minute of the report’s preparation (and five months after the investigation started).
This has caused something of a delay.
Parallel to this is another potentially interesting little conundrum. At the end of August, High Court Judge Sir Kenneth Parker declined an application from the council for a judicial review of the decision to send in the auditors in the first place.
In his written ruling, he used the word “hopeless” to describe one of the council’s arguments. He firmly rejected the other grounds as well. His ruling is here:
However, as The Wharf reported in September, the council was undeterred and applied for an oral hearing before another judge.
This has been granted and a date has been fixed for next month.
Here’s the question I’ve asked…Surely it would be illogical to publish the report ahead of that judicial review? If the court rules in favour of the council, ie it rules it was unlawful to send in PwC, then surely that would mean the report itself was unlawful in some way?
Put it another way: what would be the point of the JR hearing if by that time Eric Pickles had already published the report? Would that hearing then be obsolete in practical terms? If the report was so damning that Eric determined intervention was necessary, could that intervention then take place if the JR rules his original decision was unlawful.
He’d be in a bit of a pickle, and embarrassed politically.
Wouldn’t the council’s lawyers want to apply for an injunction on publication of the report prior to the JR hearing? Camp Lutfur Rahman is keeping quiet on the matter.
Sources in Eric’s Department for Communities and Local Government, meanwhile, say the two issues are separate. But I do wonder whether they might wait until after the JR.
Maybe one of the learned readers out there can help?
As for the Election Court petition, that is still going ahead. I’m being told by town hall sources it’s likely to happen in January, although the venue is still unconfirmed. It’s quite possible it won’t take place at the town hall in Mulberry Place after all, but at another building that can accommodate an accompanying media and public circus.
York Hall, the famous boxing venue in Bethnal Green, might be one (very appropriate) option.