Grant powers return to Tower Hamlets

TOWER HAMLETS Council will once again be allowed to award grants to local non-profit organisations as part of a "phased return" of powers, Sajid Javid has announced.

It is the first time councillors have been able to make decisions about grants since government-appointed commissioners took over several key functions of the council in December 2014 following a an inspection that uncovered serious goverannce failings and misuse of funds.  

Elected mayor Lutfur Rahman was subsequently removed from office by an Election Court after being found guilty of corruption, voter intimidation and using grants to induce votes.

The latest report by lead commissioner Sir Ken Knight said the council has made significant progress in the last two years but there is "much more to do".

Javid said that, following a public consultation, grant-making powers will be returned subject to ongoing oversight by commissioners. To increase transparency, all decisions relating to grants are now taken in specially convened public meetings.

"There is no place for rotten boroughs and I'm pleased that since commissioners were sent into Tower Hamlets council, significant changes have been made. Thanks to new checks in place, I'm satisfied that we can start a phased return of powers over grant-making and procurement to locally elected councillors," he said.

"This is a positive step - but one that is being overseen by commissioners and I will halt the process if there are any concerns."

The communities secretary also announced that he will end commissioners' oversight of the council's procurement processes and reduce the number of commissioners from four to three.

They will, however, continue to be responsible for a number of key functions, including property disposals or transfers to third parties, publicity, the appointment and dismissal of electoral registration officer and returning officer for local elections and the recruitment or dismissal of statutory officers.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs said: "This is a real vote of confidence in the progress we have made turning the council around and putting right the mess left by the previous mayor. Not only has Government returned a significant number of powers to the council, they have also reduced the number of commissioners ahead of schedule.

"Grant-making was one of the most contentious areas under the previous mayor; it's a real achievement to now have grants back under local control.

"Of course there is more work to be done and I want to see full control returned to the council as soon as possible but [this] announcement shows we are on the right track and making a real difference for the people of Tower Hamlets."

The commissioners are due to remain in place until March 2017.