It was one of the new Tower Hamlets mayor’s earliest and most pressing priorities. Get rid of the commissioners. Or rather, do the groundwork to make their presence in town hall unnecessary.
They were a very visible legacy of the discredited regime of Lutfur Rahman, sent in by central Government to impose some order and governance on what had become a corrupt basketcase of an operation.
And they were expensive too. Council taxpayers were paying thousands of pounds each week for the “three wise men” to oversee grants, sales and procurement – the sensitive arena of policy which Mr Rahman had turned into a lavish playground for his cronies.
Now the new mayor John Biggs gets to run his own council, two years after he was elected to clean up the mess left by his discredited predecessor, who was booted out of office after a High Court roundly condemned his corrupt practices.
Mayor Biggs said: “Under the previous mayor this was a council drowning in crisis, corruption and controversy. Since then we have bought in new leadership, opened up the decision making process and challenged historic wrongdoing and bad practice.
“Tower Hamlets is an amazing place to live, our residents deserve a top performing council and services to match – that is my ambition. There are still massive challenges from the past we are working to repair.
“I want to thank the commissioners for their support but it is now right that full democratic control is handed back.”
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid said: “Two years ago, Tower Hamlets Council had completely lost the trust of its residents. It was mired in corruption and financial mismanagement.
“Now, thanks to [lead commissioner] Sir Ken Knight and his team working closely with the new mayor, I am confident that Tower Hamlets Council is on the right track.
“I will want to hear from Tower Hamlets every three months on the progress they’re making. This will help ensure that taxpayers’ money is put to the best use, in an open and transparent way.”
The departure of the commissioners comes at a time when Mr Rahman is looking to revive his hobbled political career. Most notably he is challenging in the courts the five-year ban on taking public office. He also wants to create a new party – the previous one having been forcibly disbanded – although his first attempt was rejected by the Electoral Commission .
Despite the mess Mr Rahman left behind, many of his acolytes still have influence in the council chamber, pressing on with his policies, after they slipped through a legal loophole and retained their seats.
Mr Biggs said: “With some councillors still refusing to acknowledge that anything was wrong under the previous mayor, next year’s elections will mark an important moment. What nobody wants is a return to the chaos and controversy of the past.”
Commissioner Sir Ken said: “When we first arrived at Tower Hamlets we found a council in denial with significant problems around governance, transparency and value for money. Although there is still work to do, I am pleased that good progress had been made under new leadership with a solid foundation to build on.”
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