Thomas Bridge 02 July 2014

Tower Hamlets seeks legal action over Pickles probe

Under-fire Tower Hamlets has filed for a judicial review over communities secretary Eric Pickles’ decision to launch an investigation into local governance.

Council officials launched the High Court bid after Pickles accused the London borough of hampering investigators PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Pickles told the House of Commons on Monday ‘the council has considerably delayed the investigation by delaying the provision of key information or by simply not providing it at all’.

‘This is not acceptable,’ he added ‘I am consequently extending the period for PwC to report. The costs will be met by the council.’

In response, Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: ‘The council has cooperated with the inspection team from the outset and this will continue whilst we attempt to secure reasonable clarification centred on the justification of the audit.

‘In addition the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has failed to provide the council with any cost estimates for the audit apart from the vague statement that costs are likely to be “within £1m”.

‘This cost is to be borne by local taxpayers and this lack of transparency - over what is being audited and under what grounds -is not in line with the principles of public sector transparency that the secretary of state has himself championed.’

A DCLG spokesman said: ‘We will robustly contest this in the courts. There are clear grounds for an investigation into Tower Hamlets in light of allegations about governance failure, poor financial management and fraud.’

Tower Hamlets estimates around 10 million separate data and information items have been requested by investigators since April.

The news follows a separate report on from the Electoral Commission, which yesterday said management of the mayoral, local and European elections by the local authority in May had been ‘inadequate’.

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