Thomas Bridge 31 March 2014

Pickles considering intervention in Tower Hamlets following documentary

Eric Pickles could ‘intervene’ in the London borough of Tower Hamlets following ‘concerns’ raised by a BBC investigation.

The communities secretary has said he will ‘actively consider’ launching investigations into allegations raised by Panorama, which will tonight claim Bangladeshi mayor Lutfur Rahman more than doubled funding recommended for Bengali-run charities.

Panorama is also expected to assert that such grants were taken from council reserves, with allocations being motivated by electoral advantage.

Rahman has strongly denied the claims, instead stating ‘the Panorama team formed a view and then sought the evidence to fit their story’.

‘Governance in Tower Hamlets is strong and the residents of the borough are proud to live in a diverse and accepting community,’ he added.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets LBC said the council had a ‘rigorous approach to grant giving’ and had ‘always maintained the appropriate processes’.

While unable to comment on political matters, the spokesperson said: ‘Councils are complex organisations and governance in Tower Hamlets is strong. The council continues to thrive and deliver the best services possible to residents.’ The local authority also denied its weekly publication was being used for political ends.

However the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) warned governance standards in local government as a whole risked being eroded following abolition of the Audit Commission, reforms to the Standards Board and plans to remove protections extended to chief finance officers.

‘Taken together, over the past few years we have unfortunately seen many of the traditional safeguards of the public interest weakened,’ CIPFA CEO Rob Whiteman said.

‘These checks and balances were introduced to ensure that professionally qualified staff are protected when they speak truth unto power in the public interest in those rare cases where the standards of elected politicians fall short of the expected mark.’

‘Loss of safeguards puts at risk local government’s hard won reputation for probity and that in the years ahead we could see more examples - as identified by Panorama - of public concern and questions over whether good governance and public administration are being followed.’

Local government minister Brandon Lewis has long maintained the Audit Commission is an ‘expensive failure’, its abolition being part of efforts to ‘promote greater transparency for taxpayers and greater freedom for councils’.

Panorama: The Mayor and Our Money will air tonight on BBC1 at 20:30.

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