Press release

Secretary of State sends in commissioners to Tower Hamlets

Commissioners will take control of grant making within the council and will approve any sale or disposal of property.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Eric Pickles

The Local Government Secretary today (17 December 2014) sent commissioners into the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Eric Pickles told Parliament last month he was minded to intervene in the Borough after an independent report uncovered a “worrying pattern of divisive community politics and alleged mismanagement of public money by the Mayoral administration of Tower Hamlets”.

Following consideration of the Borough’s response to the report, the Secretary of State rejected the Mayor’s representations that problems were easily put right.

Two commissioners went into Tower Hamlets town hall today to meet senior officials and councillors, including Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

The commissioners will be led by Sir Ken Knight, the former London Fire Commissioner and Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor to the government. He will be supported by former council chief executive Max Caller, the current chairman of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.

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 3 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 6 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 easily 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.

Further information

Sir Ken Knight CBE QFSM

Sir Ken Knight CBE QFSM

Sir Ken Knight CBE QFSM was the government’s Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser for England from 2007 until January 2013, advising ministers and senior officials on fire policy and major incidents and also offered operational advice on preparedness and response during the London 2012 Olympics.

Since leaving the post, Sir Ken has continued to provide independent advice to public and private sector organisations. He worked in local government for over 40 years and began his career as a firefighter in 1966, working in a number of fire services.

He served as London’s Fire Commissioner from 2003 until 2007. He was awarded the Queens’ Fire Service Medal in 1991 and the CBE in 2001. In 2006, Sir Ken was Knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the fire and rescue service.

Max Caller CBE

Max Caller

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 the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 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.

A third commissioner will be appointed in due course.

See more information on the PwC report and the intervention.

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Published 17 December 2014