Grant making powers are to be returned to Tower Hamlets LBC on a phased basis and the number of commissioners reduced from four to three, the communities secretary has announced.
Sajid Javid’s decision follows a recommendation from commissioners who were sent in to oversee the running of the council following the discovery of major governance concerns in 2014.
Responsiblity for the day to day running of the council was returned in October 2015 following the election of John Biggs (Lab) as mayor in June that year. However, directions remained in place relating to a number of other areas including grant making powers and procurement.
In their latest six monthly report, sent to Mr Javid last month, Sir Ken Knight, Max Caller, Chris Allinson and Alan Wood say the council has begun to make significant progress.
The council was stripped of its powers to give out grants to charities and community organisations in response to concerns the previous mayor Lutfur Rahman (Tower Hamlets First) had used the funds to gain political and electoral advantage. Mr Rahman was convicted of related offences in the Election Court last year.
Mr Javid said: “In the past we had a situation in Tower Hamlets where the former mayor was handing out grants against the advice of its own officers, which an election court later found amounted to the corrupt practice of bribery. There was also no monitoring of what hard-earned taxpayers’ money was being spent on.
“Since commissioners have been in place, root and branch reforms mean I am now minded to start a phased return of grant-making responsibility back to the mayor, so these key local decisions can return to those who have been directly elected by local residents.”
In a letter sent to Mayor Biggs today, Department for Communities & Local Government deputy director Alex Powell said the communities secretary was also considering restoring the council’s powers regarding procurement.
In their most recent report commissioners said this was an area where Tower Hamlets had demonstrated it could “move to a best practice position quickly and effectively”.
Commissioners said a culture of denial and “little corporate acknowledgement that anything was wrong” had delayed the council’s turnaround by 12 months but progress was now being made.
The report said this progress was due to a “realisation” by Mayor Biggs’ administration that “things were not going to get better as a consequence of the election alone” and “the establishment of a permanent top officer team prepared to work in a corporate way”.