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Posts Tagged ‘eric pickles’

First the politics.

bigpicSince my last post (due to time and summer priorities, I’m writing less regularly) we’ve had one more defection in the Independent Group formerly known as Tower Hamlets First (who were formerly known as Independents).

Mufti Miah (pictured) has had the courage to do what other bigger mouths have been threatening to do for quite some time.

John Williams, the busy head of ‘democratic services’ at Tower Hamlets council, wrote this to councillors on July 31:

Dear Councillors,

I have today received notice from Councillor Mohammed Mufti Miah that with immediate effect he is no longer a member of the Independent Group of councillors.

Councillor Miah has asked me to inform all Councillors of this.  He will continue to serve on the Council as an independent (ungrouped) member. 

Councillor Miah has told me that he wishes to thank everyone who he has had the honour of serving the community with, and he looks forward to serving the community in all constructive endeavours to improve the community and the lives of those who have elected the councillors.

Mohammed Mufti Miah joins Abjol Miah as the two lone defectors from the very unstable and unhappy ship of Lutfurites, who now number 15. More are sure to follow.

Now the comedy.

Here’s how that fine upstanding man of principle, Cllr Gulam Robbani responded to John’s email:

Dear Mr William,

Thank you for your email. I would be grateful if you can inform Cllr Abjol Miah and Mufti Miah if they would like to resign from the council and re-elect  as independent or labour if that what they been dreaming about? Tory will not touch them with burg pole ! They were elected on back of THF and they should follow the UKIP model?  UKIP MP resign from Tory and they were re-elected as UKIP ! Would both Miah follow the UKIP MP if they feel so confident? I would like to challenge both councillor to do that! [sic, ad nauseam]

I love the way Robbani admires the Ukip model so. Had all his honourable colleagues followed it throughout the years, by my count we would have had 11 by elections in total. Instead we have had none.

For the record, Ohid Ahmed defected from Labour to Lutfur/independent in 2010, as did Abdul Asad, Shafiqul Haque, Aminur Khan, Rabina Khan, Shahed Ali and Oliur Rahman. The latter two have defected two and three times respectively during their career (Shahed from Respect to Labour; Oli from Respect to Respect Independent, then to Labour).

And let’s not forget Maium Miah who jumped from the Tories to Lutfur in 2010 as well.

So good for Abjol Miah and Mufti Miah. They’re merely following a fine tradition in Tower Hamlets.

Now for the intrigue.

Eric_Pickles_OfficialLast week, Sir Eric Pickles again singled out Tower Hamlets for mention as he launched his first initiative as David Cameron’s corruption tsar: a nationwide investigation into vote fraud. In various interviews he compared multiculturalism,

In a piece for the Daily Telegraph, he wrote this:

In Tower Hamlets, police and council staff failed to tackle intimidation – often in foreign languages – both inside and outside polling stations. Just as we have seen with child sexual exploitation in places such as Rochdale and Rotherham, institutionalised political correctness can lead to the state turning a blind eye to criminal conduct. But the law must be applied equally and fairly to everyone. Integration and good community relations are undermined by the failure to do so.

And in an interview with Sebastian Payne at the Spectator, he said this:

‘What appears to have happened in Tower Hamlets is similar to what happened in Rotherham, in the sense that as with sexual exploitation, people just turned a blind eye because they were worried about community cohesion and the same seems to have happened in Tower Hamlets’. To clarify, I ask does he believe that politicians and officials were too concerned about multiculturalism and ignored the years of warning signs from Tower Hamlets? ‘Yes, of course’.

This is dangerous territory for it risks feeding a racist narrative that [electoral] corruption exists only in non-white communities. There is enough corruption/fraud in the Palace of Westminster and Whitehall with MP/Lords expenses and government contracts to know that’s certainly not the case.

I suspect that in Tower Hamlets, the Met failed to do its job principally because it was wary of getting involved with murky local politics. That’s not to excuse them by the way: I think they’ve been useless over the years and as Sir Eric also points out in the Spectator, corrupt behaviour in one sphere can be symptomatic of rottenness elsewhere:

‘Tower Hamlets is a warning,’ Pickles says. ‘If you are willing to bend the rules and to break the law with regard to elections, you are willing to bend the rules and break the law with regard to the proper running of an authority’. 

Which brings us to the ongoing court saga involving Lutfur Rahman. Love Wapping has been doing a great job in reporting, e.g. here and here.

6716_Andrew_EdisOn August 3, Mr Justice Edis (pictured) delivered his ruling on the injunction freezing Lutfur’s assets, a decision made by an earlier judge after an application by the election petitioners who are seeking to recover their legal costs.

The full judgment, extending the injunction until Jan 31 2016, is here. I also recommend bookmarking it: it is characterised by a certain degree of scepticism regarding the origin of Lutfur’s legal fund.

Some of you will not be aware just how much money he managed to accumulate by way of what he says were loans before, during and after the Election Court hearing. If not, take a deep breath: £750,000.

As part of the court process, Lutfur was forced to disclose his list of donors/lenders, which included young nieces and nephews lending more than £100,000.

Having highlighted and uncovered so much corruption during the election court hearing, Francis Hoar, the petitioners’ barrister who was described as a “tour de force” by Richard Mawrey QC in April, quite clearly senses a certain back-of-the-envelope/cash-under-the-table modus operandi when it comes to those involved with Tower Hamlets First. He said the list of donors suggested “money laundering”.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Edis delivers a mild rebuke to Francis, but asks whether the loans were “designed to conceal” Lutfur’s “true wealth”:

There controversy during the hearing before me on 3rd August about Mr. Hoar’s description of this evidence as showing “money laundering”. This was, in my judgment, an unnecessarily inflammatory expression. Mr. Hoar made it immediately clear that he did not mean that any of this money was the proceeds of crime. To my mind that makes the use of the term inapt. What he actually meant was that this evidence casts grave doubt on the suggested source of the sum of £749,500. If it was not loans from the 52 named people or companies was it actually the defendant’s money? If so, was the arrangement designed to conceal this fact so that his true wealth remained hidden from the claimant?

Dynamite stuff.

Following Lutfur’s ‘Defend Democracy’ rally at the Waterlily at the end of April, Labour NEC member Christine Shawcroft volunteered to become a trustee for a properly constituted legal fund; she even wrote a cheque for the grand sum of £100. As a result, she was suspended by the party.

It seems as though she was the only Trot to put her money where her mouth was when it came to backing Lutfur. But that fund never even got off the ground. In the background, there was a move by Lutfur’s supporters to boost the coffers of the existing fund. Lutfur’s lawyers were due to lodge the details of his loan arrangements with the court on Friday.

If suspicions remain, it won’t just be lawyers asking serious questions.

For the fund, there 123 transactions listed from 53 separate people or organisations.

Thanks to the excellent technical work of Love Wapping here, we can see a summary below:

From Subtotal (£)
Foujiya Sultana 82,500
CLR Sullik Ahmed 60,000
Mohammed Abdul Munim 60,000
Muzirul Haque 42,000
All Seasons Lettings 40,000
Amirul Choudhury 35,000
Rafla Munni 31,000
Limehouse.com (10,8,7) 25,000
Mehdi Hasan Choudhury (Radi) 24,500
Shamsun Noor 24,000
London Training Centre 22,000
A Chowdhury 20,000
Anuwar Ali 20,000
Shenaly Miah 20,000
Lutfur Rahman 17,700
CLR Aminur Khan 14,500
Rafia Munni 11,730
Mamunur Rahman 11,500
Rina Begum 11,000
Ahfaz Miah 10,000
Ashadur Rahman 10,000
CLR G Rabbani 10,000
Jayed Khan 10,000
M lslam 10,000
Roseina Yasmin 10,000
Saif Uddin Moni 8,000
Masuma Sultana 7,000
Rujina Yasmin 7,000
Nanu Miah 6,000
Salik Zahid 6,000
Zuber Ahmed 6,000
Afia Farid 5,000
Azm Adbullah Zaki 5,000
Baig Ahmed 5,000
Fateha Ahmed 5,000
Mornotaz Begum 5,000
Nafisa Nargis Robbani 5,000
Sanjid Sarni 5,000
CLR Maium Miah 4,500
Jabir Miah 4,000
Shahed 4,000
Dipa Begum 3,000
Mazharul Alom 3,000
Mehrajul Islam Bokul Syed 3,000
Razia Salique 3,000
Saleh Abed 3,000
Syed Ferdous Ali 3,000
Syed Shahriar 3,000
Suma Rahman 2,000
Syed Farazul Islam 2,000
Syed Misbaul Reza 2,000
Kamal Uddin Chowdhury 1,300
Tufeil Sattar 1,000
Ayesha Farid 270
Total £749,500

 

Top of the chart is Lutfur’s niece, Foujiya Sultana, who lives with him in Old Monatgue Street. She’s aged 23. Here is what Mr Justice Edis had to say about this in his judgment:

The “loans” identified…total £749,500 and were made by 53 different donors. Ms. Turner, the claimant’s solicitor has filed evidence to show that some of these individuals are not likely to have been able to afford such sums. I will not set it out in full, but an example is Foujiya Sultana. She is said to have lent the defendant £80,000 between September and December 2014 and a further £2,500 since. The defendant said in his evidence at the trial that Foujiya Sultana was his niece aged 23 or 24 years. She has a job which is not likely to enable her to acquire large capital sums.

Rafia Munni is said to have paid £8,000 directly to K&L Gates [Lutfur’s solicitors] on 17th July 2014. This is the only payment so described and I infer that the rest of the payments (amounting to £741,500) were made to the defendant who paid them onwards to K&L Gates. This inference is supported by the payments out to that firm from the defendant’s Natwest account to which I will come shortly. In addition to that payment Rafia Munni paid further sums amounting to £34,730 in September and November 2014. Again, the evidence suggests that her employment is unlikely to generate such sums.

Limehouse.com is said to have lent £25,000 and the London Training Centre £22,000. The financial circumstances of these companies, so far as the evidence reveals, do not permit the making of such loans. Therefore, the suggested sources of these payments into the defendant’s bank accounts are questionable.

Where did the money come from? A further question is this: why did all these people lend the defendant money? A donation to a political cause is one thing, but a loan implies an expectation of repayment. Why did anyone think that the defendant would be able to repay £749,500 in loans? According to him, he has a 26% share in one property in London and £12,659.62 in the Bank. It is reasonable to infer that some of these lenders must have a different view of the creditworthiness of the defendant than this. How has this come about?

Other notable names on the list include Cllr Sullik (aka Suluk) Ahmed, who is said to have lent £60,000. According to his current register of interests he has no employment or declarable income. He is said to be reasonably wealthy from a house renovations company he used to run.

Other councillors include Maium Miah with £4,500. According to his register of interests as of August 2015, his employment is as a Community Development Worker at the Island Neighbourhood Project, Methodist Church (although according to this statement dated October 2014, that project has since closed down). Cllr Aminur Khan, Rabina’s husband, lent £14,500, while Cllr Ghulam Robbani seems to have had a spare £10,000.

Quite possibly the wealthiest name on the list is Amirul Choudhury, who gave/lent £30k. He owns and runs successful ChyTel Communications a mobile phone shop on Mile End Road and which forever advertises in East End Life.

A former council employee, Mazharul Alom, who used to work for not a great deal of money in Lutfur’s mayoral office before suddenly walking out rather abruptly on John Biggs last month, is also on the list. He appears to have had £3,500 spare. He gave that money to Lutfur by cheque on May 8, a few days after the Waterlily when the calls for help were at their most intense. How very generous.

The full list of transactions disclosed to the court is below.

A number of people are now examining each and every one. Anyone who has solid evidence or credible information and not mere speculation, please get in touch.

Lutfur’s lawyers have stressed throughout there is no wrongdoing in any of this.

No Date From Amount (£)
1 17/07/2014 Rafia Munni 8,000
2 19/08/2014 All Seasons Lettings 5,000
3 19/08/2014 All Seasons Lettings 15,000
4 03/09/2014 Shahed 2,000
5 03/09/2014 Rafia Munni 1,730
6 03/09/2014 Rafla Munni 7,500
7 04/09/2014 Shenaly Miah 15,000
8 05/09/2014 Rujina Yasmin 5,000
9 08/09/2014 Shahed 2,000
10 08/09/2014 Ayesha Farid 270
11 08/09/2014 Rafla Munni 5,500
12 15/09/2014 Foujiya Sultana 5,000
13 15/09/2014 Foujiya Sultana 10,000
14 15/09/2014 Foujiya Sultana 10,000
15 19/09/2014 Nanu Miah 6,000
16 24/10/2014 All Seasons Lettings 10,000
17 31/10/2014 CLR Maium Miah 2,000
18 Nov/2014 Afia Farid 1,000
19 Nov/2014 Rafla Munni 2,000
20 Nov/2014 Rafla Munni 3,000
21 Nov/2014 Mehdi Hasan Choudhury (Radi) 3,500
22 Nov/2014 Syed Misbaul Reza 2,000
23 Nov/2014 Syed Shahriar 3,000
24 Nov/2014 Rafia Munni 2,000
25 Nov/2014 Shenaly Miah 5,000
26 Nov/2014 Rafla Munni 3,000
27 Nov/2014 Foujiya Sultana 15,000
28 Nov/2014 Rafla Munni 10,000
29 Nov/2014 Mehdi Hasan Choudhury (Radi) 5,000
30 Nov/2014 Mamunur Rahman 5,000
31 Nov/2014 Saif Uddin Moni 1,000
32 Nov/2014 Lutfur Rahman 3,000
33 Nov/2014 Rujina Yasmin 2,000
34 Nov/2014 Dipa Begum 3,000
35 Nov/2014 Shamsun Noor 5,000
36 Nov/2014 Shamsun Noor 7,000
37 Nov/2014 CLR Aminur Khan 2,000
38 Nov/2014 All Seasons Lettings 10,000
39 Nov/2014 CLR G Rabbani 5,000
40 Nov/2014 Nafisa Nargis Robbani 5,000
41 03/11/2014 Roseina Yasmin 10,000
42 06/11/2014 Mohammed Abdul Munim 25,000
43 14/11/2014 Lutfur Rahman 1,000
44 14/11/2014 Lutfur Rahman 2,000
45 18/11/2014 Lutfur Rahman 2,000
46 20/11/2014 Mamunur Rahman 3,000
47 21/11/2014 Afia Farid 2,000
48 Dec-2014 Fateha Ahmed 5,000
49 Dec/2014 Amirul Choudhury 10,000
50 03/12/2014 Mohammed Abdul Munim 25,000
51 09/12/2014 Foujiya Sultana 40,000
52 19/12/2014 CLR Aminur Khan 10,000
53 19/12/2014 Anuwar Ali 10,000
54 29/12/2014 Mehdi Hasan Choudhury (Radi) 10,000
55 29/12/2014 Mamunur Rahman 3,000
56 29/12/2014 Jayed Khan 10,000
57 29/12/2014 Mornotaz Begum 5,000
58 30/12/2014 Lutfur Rahman 2,000
59 30/12/2014 Mehrajul Islam Bokul Syed 3,000
60 30/12/2014 CLR Maium Miah 2,500
61 Jan/2015 Limehouse.com (10,8,7) 25,000
62 02/01/2015 CLR Aminur Khan 2,500
63 05/01/2015 Syed Farazul Islam 2,000
64 21/01/2015 Afia Farid 1,000
65 23/01/2015 Muzirul Haque 25,000
66 26/01/2015 Mehdi Hasan Choudhury (Radi) 1,000
67 30/01/2015 Muzirul Haque 8,000
68 Feb/2015 London Training Centre 5,000
69 Feb/2015 Amirul Choudhury 5,000
70 02/02/2015 Saif Uddin Moni 4,000
71 03/02/2015 Lutfur Rahman 1,000
72 04/02/2015 Zuber Ahmed 3,000
73 06/02/2015 Zuber Ahmed 3,000
74 06/02/2015 Muzirul Haque 9,000
75 06/02/2015 London Training Centre 7,000
76 06/02/2015 Anuwar Ali 10,000
77 23/02/2015 A Chowdhury 10,000
78 23/02/2015 A Chowdhury 10,000
79 27/02/2015 Amirul Choudhury 10,000
80 02/03/2015 Baig Ahmed 2,000
81 03/03/2015 Salik Zahid 5,000
82 09/03/2015 Baig Ahmed 2,000
83 09/03/2015 Amirul Choudhury 10,000
84 09/03/2015 Shamsun Noor 5,000
85 09/03/2015 Razia Salique 3,000
86 09/03/2015 Lutfur Rahman 3,000
87 09/03/2015 Saif Uddin Moni 2,000
88 09/03/2015 Suma Rahman 2,000
89 09/03/2015 Kamal Uddin Chowdhury 1,000
90 10/03/2015 Sanjid Sarni 5,000
91 10/03/2015 Saleh Abed 3,000
92 10/03/2015 Syed Ferdous Ali 3,000
93 10/03/2015 London Training Centre 5,000
94 11/03/2015 Baig Ahmed 1,000
95 11/03/2015 Masuma Sultana 2,000
96 16/03/2015 Salik Zahid 1,000
97 16/03/2015 London Training Centre 5,000
98 30/03/2015 Ashadur Rahman 10,000
99 07/04/2015 Saif Uddin Moni 1,000
100 10/04/2015 CLR Sullik Ahmed 15,000
101 13/04/2015 CLR Sullik Ahmed 15,000
102 16/04/2015 Lutfur Rahman 3,700
103 16/04/2015 Kamal Uddin Chowdhury 300
104 24/04/2015 Shamsun Noor 5,000
105 28/04/2015 CLR Sullik Ahmed 10,000
106 30/04/2015 CLR G Rabbani 5,000
107 30/04/2015 Rina Begum 11,000
108 30/04/2015 Jabir Miah 4,000
109 05/05/2015 CLR Sullik Ahmed 20,000
110 08/05/2015 Mazharul Alom 3,000
111 13/05/2015 Afia Farid 1,000
112 13/05/2015 Shamsun Noor 2,000
113 13/05/2015 Mehdi Hasan Choudhury (Radi) 5,000
114 13/05/2015 Ahfaz Miah 9,000
115 13/05/2015 Ahfaz Miah 1,000
116 14/05/2015 Azm Adbullah Zaki 5,000
117 14/05/2015 Masuma Sultana 5,000
118 14/05/2015 Foujiya Sultana 2,500
119 14/05/2015 M lslam 5,000
120 14/05/2015 M lslam 5,000
121 15/05/2015 Mohammed Abdul Munim 10,000
122 15/05/2015 Mamunur Rahman 500
123 18/05/2015 Tufeil Sattar 1,000
Total £749,500
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UPDATE May 1: I’m taking a break from blogging for a few days. Have fun.

The walls continue to cave in. Everyone knows by now of the three major developments today. In chronological order:

1. Rabina Khan was being offered the chance to stand as the Tower Hamlets First candidate, causing a row within the ‘party’ about how Lutfur Rahman took that decision.

2. Eric Pickles announced a full takeover of Tower Hamlets council via his Commissioners, of whom there are now four. [Today, Chris Allison, a former senior Scotland Yard policeman (profile of him here), and Alan Wood, a former children’s service director at Hackney (profiled here), were also appointed. Their backgrounds raise the question of whether more serious alarm bells have started to sound about aspects of the council.]

3. The Electoral Commission, following the Mawrey judgement, have banned Tower Hamlets First as a political party. Whether the existing THF councillors can still call themselves the THF group is another question. Certainly they’re still listed as such on the council website.

So Rabina Kahn, if she accepts Lutfur’s offer, will have to stand under another banner or as in independent. It’s inevitable that the police will take a keener than usual interest in how any campaign is funded.

As for who she might face, I’m asking all major candidates to write for this blog to outline the reasons why they’re standing and to give some flavour of their manifestos.

Cllr Peter Golds, who has applied to stand for the Tories and who by far has been the main figure scrutinising Lutfur all these years, was the first to reply.

Here’s his piece:

Peter-GoldsBy Peter Golds

Tower Hamlets has become an authority immersed in secrecy and damaged by corruption.

One way to stop corruption is to ensure that the council is transparent. If I were Mayor then the two-way mirrors surrounding the Mayoral offices would go. I have no fear of the taxpayer knowing who I meet and when.

East End Life, with its endless propaganda, will go.

Cabinet will be reduced in size; it can be ten members but that is not a necessity. I will invite all the party leaders and the chair of Overview and Scrutiny to attend as ex-officio members, with full access to papers and the right to contribute at meetings.

Cabinet will meet around the borough and public participation will be encouraged. Only the most confidential material will be heard in secret and for that a good reason will need to be given.

As Mayor I will answer all questions from councillors and the public over matters for which I have direction. Reports from Overview and Scrutiny will be referred to council and I will respond to those. The “human rights” excuse for silence will never be repeated.

Over the next three years I will hold a question and answer session in every ward of the borough. Unlke Lutfur Rahman, I have no fear of the electorate and would relish meeting the voters.

The Mayoral “Town Hall parking space” will also go. I have my own small car and an oyster card – they are sufficient for me to get around the borough for meetings, at my own expense.

  • The Mayor’s office staff will be drastically reduced and you, the taxpayer will know who they are and what they do.
  •  The Chief Officer will be responsible for managing staff, who will be expected to deliver policy. It will not be my job to manage staff. Devising and promoting policy will be the job of the Mayor. The Chief Officer will be responsible for directing and managing staff.
  • On Day One I will examine the detailed financial outlook for the next three years. I will then be able to decide where resources should be directed.
  • I will revisit the Local development Framework. Tower Hamlets has too much overdevelopment and a lack of joined up thinking.
  • New development requires new schools, medical facilities and improved transport, and this will be an integral matter in planning policy.
  • I support the proposed Planning Forum for the Isle of Dogs and will promote these elsewhere in the borough.
  • Tower Hamlets Homes needs to be restructured and the first stage will be for an Independent Board, to be run arms length from the council and not an extension of Tower Hamlets First.
  • I will meet regularly with the other RSLs and expect them to join me for open meetings with their tenants and leaseholders.
  • The Rahman regime has seen the borough isolated from our neighbours and statutory service deliverers. Tower Hamlets is a proud part of London and any administration led by me will be outward looking and fully engaged with our neighbours.
  • Our schools have seen marked improvement over recent years. I will ensure that this continues and that there is a full range of varied school provision for future generations.
  • The recent situation of parents attending the council over nursery closures whilst the Mayor carried on squandering money on his personal vanity projects was a scandal. This will not happen under any administration that I lead.
  • The Rahman administration’s treatment of our elderly and vulnerable has been wrong and I will ensure that this changes with adequate provision where necessary.
  • Island Gardens, Victoria Park and Bethnal Green Gardens, are just three of our open spaces that have been neglected by Tower Hamlets First. They are part of our heritage; all our open spaces will be audited and a scheme of improvement will be devised. Local people love their parks and they will be consulted and involved in the improvements.
  • Just as we saved Bancroft Library, Old Flo, another icon of the East End, will not be sold to an oligarch. I will make every possible effort to bring Old Flo back home.

Tower Hamlets has a vast budget, provided entirely by the taxpayer. Much of this is ring fenced, however managing this brings responsibility. An outward transparent administration, unafraid to face critics and learn from mistakes will help restore the battered reputation of this authority.

This is my manifesto to bring this transparency to fruition with a fresh start which will wipe the slate clean and restore good governance to our great borough.

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This is the Written Ministerial Statement from Eric Pickles in the Commons today. It explains why the Commissioners have been sent in and gives his opinion on the representations made by Mayor Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets council on the PwC report.

In short, Eric says: “It is disappointing that there is a culture of denial in the mayoral administration about its systematic failures.”

Here’s the statement (I’ve underlined and put in bold font what are considered the key sections).

I would like to update hon. Members on a series of steps we are taking to improve the quality of local government services and ensure value for taxpayers’ money.

London Borough of Tower Hamlets

On 4 November, I informed the House that I was satisfied, having considered the report of the inspection by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) of Tower Hamlets Council, that that Council is failing to comply with its best value duty, and proposed to statutorily intervene to secure the Council’s compliance with that duty.

I gave the Council until 18 November to make any representations it wished on the inspection report and my proposal for intervention, and I sought and received from the Council certain undertakings not to take further specified actions on grant making, appointment of statutory officers, and transfer of property to third parties, until I had reached decisions about the use of my intervention powers.

I have now carefully considered all the representations that the Council has made. I have also considered afresh the PwC inspection report and the report the Election Commission published on 1 July 2014 into the elections in Tower Hamlets, and I have had appropriate regard to other representations that I have received about my proposed intervention.

I remain satisfied that the Council is failing to comply with its best value duty. It is disappointing that there is a culture of denial in the mayoral administration about its systematic failures.

As I said in my previous statement: “Localism requires local accountability and local democracy. Municipal corruption undermines the local checks and balances that are vital in a democracy and essential in mayoral systems with their concentration of power. We cannot risk such corruption”. But this is not just about the money. The abuse of taxpayers’ money and the culture of cronyism reflects a partisan community politics that seeks to trade favours and spread division on the rates. Such behaviour is to the detriment of integration and community cohesion in Tower Hamlets and in our capital city. This remains my view.

I have concluded that it is both necessary and expedient for me to exercise my intervention powers in the Local Government Act 1999 as I have proposed, and accordingly, I have today given the Council the necessary directions under section 15(5) and 15(6) of the 1999 Act to implement the proposed interventions.

These are centred on putting in place until 31 March 2017 a team of Commissioners to oversee or exercise certain of the Council’s functions. It is open to me to review this in the light of the progress made by the Council to secure compliance with its best value duty. I have nominated Sir Ken Knight to be the Lead Commissioner. Max Caller CBE has also been nominated  as a Commissioner, and I will announce a further Commissioner in due course.

In summary, the specific intervention measures are as follows.

(1) To require the council

to draw up and agree with the Commissioners within three months from the date of the direction a strategy and action plan for securing the Council’s compliance with its best value duty (to include as appropriate complying with the specific requirements set out below), and to submit this to the Secretary of State;

to prepare under the direction of the Commissioners and submit to the Secretary of State at 6 monthly intervals thereafter until 31 March 2017 a report on progress against the strategy and action plan;

to undertake as a matter of urgency a recruitment exercise, under the direction of the Commissioners, with the aim of making as soon as practicable, permanent appointments of suitable persons to the positions of the three statutory officers (Head of Paid Service, Chief Finance Officer, and Monitoring Officer);

until 31 March 2017 to obtain the prior written agreement of the Commissioners to (a) any dismissal or suspension of a statutory officer; and (b) any proposed appointment or designation of a replacement;

until March 2017 to obtain the prior written agreement of the Commissioners before entering into any commitment to dispose of, or otherwise transfer, to third parties, any real property other than existing single dwellings for the purposes of residential occupation;

within 3 months from the date of the direction, to prepare a fully costed plan for how the Council’s publicity functions can be properly exercised and agree that plan with the Commissioners; and until 31 March 2017 adopt any recommendation of the Commissioners with respect to that plan or to publicity more generally;

by 1 February 2015 to prepare and implement an action plan, in consultation with the Commissioners, to achieve improvements in the Council’s processes and practices for entering into contracts, and until 31 March 2017 to adopt all recommendations of the statutory officers in relation to the processes and practices to be followed in relation to entering into contracts, unless the Commissioners’ prior written agreement is obtained not to do so.

(2) The Commissioners to exercise until 31 March 2017 all functions of the Council relating to the making of grants, including responding to Freedom of Information Act requests in respect of grant payments, with the Council providing at the request of the Commissioners its views on proposed grants.

(3) The Commissioners to exercise until 31 March 2017 the Council’s functions of appointing persons to and removing them from the posts of Electoral Registration Officer and Returning Officer for Local Elections (this will also apply to their general election duties).

The Council will be required to comply with any instructions of the Commissioners in relation to the exercise of those functions for which the Commissioners are responsible, and  to provide the Commissioners at its expense with such services, amenities and administrative support as the Commissioners may reasonably require, and with access to the Council’s premises, documents, and to any employee or member as appears to the Commissioners to be necessary. The Council will also be required to pay the Commissioners’ reasonable expenses and such fees as I determine.

Intervention was not a decision taken lightly, however I could not allow the overwhelming evidence of the serious failings within Tower Hamlets to continue unchecked. I do not accept the Mayor’s representations that the problems in the Council can easily be put right.

Residents need to know that decisions are being taken properly in an open and accountable way. The Commissioners I am appointing are experienced and talented professionals who understand that transparency and accountability are vital to the functioning of local democracy.

Local government transparency

The Coalition Government has taken many steps during this Parliament to place more power into citizens’ hands to increase democratic accountability and make it easier for local people to contribute to the local decision making process and help shape public services. Transparency is the foundation of local accountability and the key that gives people the tools and information they need to play a bigger role in society.

In October, we issued the Local Government Transparency Code 2014 and have made it a legal requirement for local authorities to publish much of the data specified in the Code. Today, we have taken another step forward in ensuring that local people have key information to hold public bodies to account by publishing a Transparency Code for smaller authorities.

Under the new local government audit regime smaller authorities will be subject to the transparency requirements laid out in this Code in place of routine external audit. The Code will require the on-line publication of information that provides taxpayers with a clear picture of authorities’ activities, spending and governance, improving the ability of communities to hold local public bodies to account.

The Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities applies to parish councils, internal drainage boards, charter trustees and port health authorities with an annual turnover not exceeding £25,000. Published initially as recommended practice, we intend, subject to Parliament, to make the Code mandatory by the start of the 2015-16 financial year and will offer support to this local government sector to help authorities comply with these requirements.

Backing locally-supported joint working

There are many ways that local authorities can work together to save money and improve services, but there is equally no one-size-fits-all model either. The Dorset Fire Authority and the Wiltshire and Swindon Combined Fire Authority have formally made representations requesting a merger. We have today published a consultation paper on their proposals.

Contrast to the last Administration, we do not believe in top-down restructuring. Nor do we agree with the current proposals of the HM Opposition to force more mergers. The botched FireControl programme is a prime example of how such restructuring is expensive and distracting. Rather, we will support locally-led partnerships, where there is genuine support from all members of the local community, and the consultation will test this local support.

Improving support arrangements for local councils

It is important to have in place the most effective arrangements to help councils across the country to continue to improve and reform – essential if they are to deliver sensible savings.

Councils have a right to expect services designed to support them are the best they can be, provide the support they need and provide best value for money.

In 2015-16, we intend to provide grant of £23.4 million to the Local Government Improvement and Development (formerly IDeA) to deliver effective support to councils. This will be accompanied by robust scrutiny to ensure that every pound spent by them is spent appropriately and on providing direct support to councils. We expect of them the same standards and value for money as we expect of councils delivering frontline services, and we expect them to be transparent with councils about how they have spent the grant and the services they deliver to support councils.

The Coalition Government’s policy is to open up budgets to competition wherever possible. We intend to explore how the budget given for improvement services can be opened up to competition with contracts in place for 2016-17, allowing councils, council groupings, think thanks, mutuals and other interested parties to bid for such funding, and drive further best practice in local government.

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At last. Two of the three Commissioners to be appointed by Eric Pickles to run parts of Tower Hamlets council arrive for work this morning.

They are Sir Ken Knight, who will be the lead Commissioner, and Max Caller. The third will be announced in due course.

Both Sir Ken and Mr Caller are heavy-hitters.

Sir Ken is the better known nationally, while Mr Caller has a huge reputation as a local government Mr Fixit man: he was in charge of Hackney council from 2000-04 when that authority was being transformed under special measures.

First, Sir Ken:

s300_ken_knight

He’s currently a director of his own consultancy company, Ken Knight Consulting Ltd, having retired from the fire service.

He has a distinguished career. He oversaw the London Fire Brigade as London Fire Commissioner from 2003-07, including during the July 7 terror attacks.

Since that stint ended in 2007, he has worked on a number of high profile projects for central governments, both in the UK and abroad. In Britain, he worked until last year as the Government’s first Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser.

He wrote the Rising to the Challenge report on the 2007 floods and was in charge of the review into the Lakanal House fire disaster in Camberwell in 2009.

And last year, he completed the cost-saving review of England’s 46 fire authorities, which found £200million could be saved.

You can see why ministers like him. Unions have a different opinion. How Lutfur Rahman and he will get along is anyone’s guess. However, Lutfur’s mentor Ken Livingstone did once have a legal run-in with him in 2007.

Here’s an extract from Sir Ken’s Linkedin profile.

Sir Ken Knight linkedinThere is more on his own website, here, which states he is the independent chairman of the board of Exova, a large company specialising in providing fire safety materials. I can’t find his name on Exova’s website so that might be an old listing.

He is also one of the Queen’s Deputy Lieutenants for London, so he will probably know Commander John Ludgate, the Deputy Lieutenant for Tower Hamlets who does a fabulous job of looking both bemused and amused during council meetings.

And so to Max Caller.

Max Caller

In this interview here, he talks about how his career started off as a sewer inspector in the underbelly of London. So fantastic training for the current situation in Tower Hamlets.

Actually, I think he will be great for the borough: he’s a former chief executive of Hackney, Barnet and Haringey councils and he’s been an election observer in Albania. What more do you need…

The Government’s biography of him states:

Max Caller CBE has amassed 33 years experience in London boroughs with the majority at Chief Officer level.

As Chief Executive of Hackney, he managed the transition of the authority from the worst in the country to one of the fastest improving.

As Chief Executive of Barnet he introduced a cabinet form of governance and an effective scrutiny system, which was one of the models for subsequent legislation.

Max was appointed the first Regional Returning Officer for London for the 1999 European elections, was Deputy Chief Counting Officer for the UK wide Alternative Vote referendum and has been involved in electoral pilot arrangements on an all-postal/electronic counting system for borough and mayoral elections.

He has also served as a short term observer for OSCE overseen elections in Albania and Montenegro and as a Commonwealth observer for elections in Kenya and Ghana.

Since April 2010 he has been chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.

He grew up in South Wales and is an engineer by background. He’s also on the advisory board of Norwood, a leading Jewish charity whose president (in the interests of transparency) is my employer (until Friday), Richard Desmond.

Here’s an extract from Eric Pickles’s press release issued this morning:
The team will, with immediate effect, take control of grant making within the council, will approve any sale or disposal of property and will agree a plan for publicity after independent inspectors PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) concluded the Borough was failing in its best value duty in these areas.

The PwC report, published on November 4, severely criticised how grants were handed out to organisations which failed to meet basic criteria for public funding, property was sold without proper process and taxpayers’ money was spent on political advertising for the Mayor.

The authority, under the direction of the Commissioners, will have three months to prepare a strategy and action plan setting out how it will comply with its duty to act openly and transparently, serving all of its communities fairly and securing value for money.

The Commissioners, due to be in place until 31 March, 2017, will drive forward the action plan, updating the Secretary of State every six months on progress.

Secretary of State Eric Pickles said: “Intervention was 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 problems are easilhy put right.

“Residents need to know that decisions are being taken properly in an open and accountable way. The Commissioners I have appointed are experienced and talented professionals who understand that transparency and accountability are vital to the functioning of local democracy.

Lead Commissioner Sir Ken 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.”

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A High Court judge today rejected Tower Hamlets council’s long running legal challenge to Eric Pickles’ decision to send in inspectors to the town hall.

Mr Justice Goss refused the council permission to proceed to a full judicial review of the legal basis for the inspection, which culminated in PricewaterhouseCooper’s highly critical report of the town hall last week.

Today was the second rejection of the council’s legal bid by a senior judge and its costs are in the region of £50,000.

In August, Mr Justice Kenneth Parker in a written ruling (here and here) had described the application as “hopeless” and “unmeritorious”.

Undeterred, the council, led by Mayor Lutfur Rahman and advised by Interim Monitoring Officer Meic Sullivan-Gould, then requested today’s oral at the Royal Courts of Justice.

However, the council’s barrister, Jonathan Swift QC, lost his argument.

The council’s legal costs on this case alone are at least £40,000.

Today’s judge also ordered the town hall to pay DCLG’s legal costs of £8,500.

When Eric Pickles announced the inspection in April, the council issued a statement “welcoming” the chance to prove it spent taxpayers’ money in a “best value” way.

The council was then criticised by the Government for dragging its heels during the inspection and while it contested its legal basis.

Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins said after today’s hearing: “We are pleased that the courts have thrown out Tower Hamlets’ legal challenge for a second time.

“However, it is disappointing that local taxpayers are having to foot the bill for the Mayor’s legal costs.

“This reflects a culture of denial in the local authority about the dysfunctional governance of the mayor’s administration.”

Mayor Rahman said: “Our case challenged the £1m cost of the audit and raises fundamental questions about the legal relationship between local and central government.

“We are disappointed that the judge refused permission for us to proceed to a full Judicial Review hearing. We are now fully engaged with responding to the Secretary of State’s proposals and will continue to do all we can to ensure that our residents interests come first.”

…………

This was Mr Justice Kenneth Parker’s written ruling from August:

3 - Tower Hamlets Judicial Review Judgement 3a - Tower Hamlets Judicial Review Judgement

Today, Mr Justice Goss said he could not do any better than his colleague. He read out ground three again in its entirety.

The first ground (on timing) was not considered again today as it was regarded as “hopeless” first time round, and Tower Hamlets decided not to put it forward.

……and two days ago, Ken Livingstone at the Water Lily rally urged Lutfur to hire the best lawyers and challenge Eric Pickles’ proposal to send in Commissioners.

Ken did not say that he would personally fund such a challenge. Funny that.

It’s always easier with other people’s money.

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Exactly seven months after Eric Pickles ordered Government-appointed inspectors to examine the books at Tower Hamlets council, the Communities Secretary will tomorrow publish their findings.

The report from PricewaterhouseCoopers will be published on the DCLG website at 9.30am, just as a written ministerial statement is made in the Commons.

Three hours later, the minister himself will make an oral statement in the chamber outlining the Government’s response.

Only a handful of people know what’s in the report: ie at PwC and at the very top of DCLG.

At this time of writing (about 8.20pm Monday), even Mayor Lutfur Rahman does not know what’s in it. It may be that the report has been sent to the council’s Head of Paid Service, Stephen Halsey, but even that’s not clear. Presumably, Mr Halsey would have to brief Lutfur if he had received it.

So anyone claiming they’ve heard this or that about the report’s findings is quite likely spreading unfounded rumours.

However, it would be a surprise to almost everyone if Eric did not announce he was imposing a new chief executive on the council…at the very least.

Clearly, whether he goes further depends on what has been found.

Lutfur’s camp believe, from the various questions they’ve had to answer and check during the past seven months, that any direct Government intervention, eg the appointment of Commissioners to run procurement and grants, would be vulnerable to a legal challenge.

So we could see more taxpayers’ money spent on legal bills….on top of the cash currently going on lawyers for the judicial review of Eric’s original decision, a hearing due at the High Court on November 14.

When Eric made his initial announcement on April 4 (four days after the Panorama programme), the council “welcomed” the chance to clear its name.

Here’s that statement:

We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that council processes have been run appropriately and to date we have seen no evidence to suggest otherwise. This inspection affords the borough the best opportunity to demonstrate that the borough has acted in the best interests of all residents. We will release further information in due course.

Well, you could say they had a funny way of showing it. There’s a feeling in Whitehall that the council deliberately dragged its heels over supplying information to the auditors.

As I’ve noted before, the inspection has been trying to determine whether the council has achieved “best value” with the public’s money. Handing it to lawyers to try and block that process didn’t go down too well. It fed a narrative.

Has there been any fraud? I have no idea. Certainly, Panorama never made that allegation….although their team did find evidence of a fraud linked to the Brady Youth Forum, as mentioned here.

If the PwC report hasn’t found fraud, expect the Lutfur line to be “I told you so”.

But I’d be astonished if there isn’t severe criticism of the council tomorrow.

A minister like Eric Pickles just doesn’t make oral statements to the Commons so he can have egg chucked in his face.

So over to you, then, Eric, me old chum.

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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:

3 - Tower Hamlets Judicial Review Judgement

3a - Tower Hamlets Judicial Review Judgement

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.

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