Tower Hamlets council ‘is withholding information from the government’

Controversial: Mayor Lutfur Rahman

Tower Hamlets council is withholding information from inspectors conducting an official investigation into spending and transparency, a Minister said today.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles delivered a stern rebuke to the borough as he announced a delay in the publication of a report into the administration of its controversial Mayor, Lutfur Rahman.

Auditors PwC were due to publish their findings  today after they were called in by the government to probe council processes, before local elections saw Mr Rahman sweep back into power.

But in a statement to MPs, Mr Pickles announced a delay in the report and said the council would have to pay the costs associated with the extension of the investigation.

“In April I instructed inspectors to launch an investigation into the mayoral administration of Tower Hamlets to report by the end of June or such later date as I agreed,” Mr Pickles said.

“The investigators, PWC, have informed me that the council has considerably delayed the investigation by delaying the provision of key information or simply not providing it at all. This is not acceptable, and I am consequently extending the period for PwC to report.

“The costs will be met by the council. Whether the council likes it or not this investigation will be thorough and comprehensive,” he added.

The probe was ordered amid allegations that Mr Rahman’s independent administration was favouring certain groups in the award of council grants and funding – an allegation the mayor has repeatedly denied.

He fought off a challenge from Labour to win re-election in May, but the result has been marred by allegations of electoral fraud and voter intimidation.

Police and the Electoral Commission are currently investigating the claims, and a petition has been presented to the High Court calling for the election result to be declared null.

Mr Rahman left the Labour Party in acrimonious circumstances in 2010, but has since triumphed in two elections to become the first directly-elected Muslim mayor in Britain.

Responding to the Secretary of State’s comments in the House of Commons today (30 June 2014), a Tower Hamlets council spokesperson said,

A spokesman for Tower Hamlets Council said: “We share the Secretary of State’s frustrations at the delay in the PWC best value investigation.

“It is in the interests of all concerned for the report to conclude quickly but also to provide meaningful and credible findings.  In a week where once again Tower Hamlets services are recognised as high performing – our schools record in getting pupils to university – it is time to draw this process to a conclusion.

“However the council is considering all its options and will comment further in due course.”

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