Tower Hamlets set for "phased return" of grant powers

TOWER HAMLETS is set to regain control over issuing grants as part of a "phased return" of powers after Government-appointed commissioners said the London borough has made progress in tackling serious governance problems.

Commissioners took over the running of the council in December 2014 after a Government-commissioned review by PricewaterhouseCoopers warned of a serious breakdown in democratic accountability and a significant risk of misuse of public funds.

The borough's elected mayor, Lutfur Rahman, was subsequently removed from office by an election court after being found guilty of bribery, corruption, voter intimidation and using taxpayer-funded grants to induce votes.

In their latest report, the commissioners said improvements have been made in a number of areas over the last two years, including the conduct of elections, entering into contracts and the administration of grants.

The local government secretary is therefore proposing that the directly elected mayor, Labour's John Biggs, can once again take the final decision on grants awarded to non-profit organisations and that commissioners end their oversight of procurement. They will, however, continue to monitor the council's decisions.

The commissioners are due to stay in place until March 2017 but the intervention can be extended if required.

"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," Javid said.

"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.

"This is a positive first step - but I won't restore full powers until I can be sure residents' money is in safe hands and will halt the process if commissioners raise any concerns."

Local people have until 16 December to have their say on the plans. A final decision is expected before the end of the year.