Commissioners get tougher powers

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Published: Wednesday 29th April 2015 by The News Editor

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Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has extended the powers of the commissioners sent into Tower Hamlets last year to “clean up this rotten administration”.

They previously had power over grants, contracts and electoral administration, but the Tory minister has decided it is necessary to widen their remit in light of Lutfur Rahman’s conviction.

He was ordered to step down as mayor of Tower Hamlets last week after a judge found him guilty of corrupt and illegal practices following a High Court hearing.

Mr Rahman was found ”personally” guilty of wrongdoing and ”guilty by his agents” by Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey, who sat as a judge at an Election Court trial.

Mr Mawrey ruled that Mr Rahman, said to be preparing an appeal, would be barred from running for office for five years and that the 2014 Tower Hamlets mayoral election would have to be re-run.

W riter and film-maker Andy Erlam, one of four voters who led the successful legal fight against Mr Rahman, will stand for mayor in a new election on June 11.

Today, Mr Pickles has issued proposed directions to extend the powers of the commissioners over the whole of the local authority as they see fit to ensure good governance and sound financial management, and to seek to stop the destruction of hard copy and electronic documents by the council.

It means the commissioners will be able to intervene in any area they deem necessary and that the acting mayor – previously the deputy mayor – will not be able to do anything they judge to be inappropriate in the run-up the by-election.

Mr Pickles has also appointed two additional commissioners – Chris Allison, former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and co-ordinator of the 2012 London Olympics security, and Alan Wood who has experience in turning around children’s services.

A final direction issued today gives the commissioners control over the appointment of the council’s head of paid service, its most senior civil servant.

Mr Pickles said: ” Given the independent Election Court’s clear findings of corruption in the mayoral administration, there is a clear need for stronger checks and balances in the run up to the mayoral by-election, especially given many of the associates of the tainted mayor remain in place.

“The commissioners have identified a series of concerns about the ongoing running of the council, including the destruction of documents.

“We will take whatever action is necessary to ensure a free and fair election and clean up this rotten administration.”

The council has until 5pm today to respond to the proposed direction on the retention of documents, and until next Tuesday on the wider direction.

After considering any response, the communities secretary will then issue final directions accordingly in each case.

He has said that following t he election of a mayor and the three statutory officers taking up their posts, the department would review the directions’ continuing need with a view to ending them by the end of October or earlier if appropriate.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission confirmed it has removed Mr Rahman’s party – Tower Hamlets First – from the register of political parties.

Bob Posner, director of p arty and election finance, said: “Following the court’s judgment in the Tower Hamlets election petition on 23 April, the commission has concluded that Tower Hamlets First can no longer remain registered as a political party.

“This is because the court’s consideration of the case made clear that the financial scheme the party was required to submit to the commission when registering as a political party had not subsequently been implemented.

“The court’s conclusions mean that the party’s registration is no longer valid and we have written to the party today confirming this.”

Published: Wednesday 29th April 2015 by The News Editor

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