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Clark decides against returning functions to Tower Hamlets despite progress

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is making progress but the changes it has introduced will need to be embedded and key outcomes must be delivered before functions are returned, Communities Secretary Greg Clark has said.

A team of commissioners was sent into the council by Clark’s predecessor, Sir Eric Pickles, in December 2014 after a highly-critical report from investigators at PwC.

In its second six month progress update to the Secretary of State, Tower Hamlets said more than 80% of the actions set out in the agreed Best Value Action Plan had already been delivered.

The update cited the following as key achievements:

  • “The introduction of a procurement transformation programme to ensure the council is at the forefront of procurement best practice; improvements have also been made to procurement processes with tightened controls and spend analysis to reduce cost.
  • The introduction of a voluntary and community sector strategy supporting a move from grant funding to a more commissioned service approach; in addition, a cross party group will now consider grant proposals before they are determined.
  • Development of a new communications strategy with a plan to deliver the publicity functions of the council.
  • Improvement to the culture of the organisation: elected members have worked effectively across party lines to develop a transparency communion; the mayor has introduced regular assemblies for residents to raise issues in public; the council is active in joint working with other London boroughs.”  

In his response to John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Clark said: “I very much welcome the progress you have made over the past six months, and the steps you have taken to ensure that appropriate and measurable outcomes are now defined in this Action Plan.

“In particular, I welcome your desire to tackle the root causes of the intervention, such as underlying cultural and organisational foundations, and your recognition that it has taken time for the whole Council to recognise this deeper challenge. I was very interested to hear of the steps you have taken to promote greater transparency and improve Member relations, and I appreciate your personal commitment to promoting good practice through leadership and eradicating bad practice wherever it may remain.”

However, Clark added: “I would like to take this opportunity to endorse the points the Commissioners made in their response to your update. I share their disappointment of the lost time and lack of progress in certain areas of the intervention, and agree that embedding the proposed cultural change throughout the entire organisation is the single most important component to successful exit from the Directions. I also agree that finalising a clear and meaningful delegation of responsibilities to the new CEO will mark a fundamental difference between your administration and that of your predecessor.

“While I understand your impatience for the intervention to end, I will need to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence that change has been embedded and key outcomes have been delivered before I will consider any variation to the current Directions.”

The commissioners are due under the directions to remain in place at Tower Hamlets until March 2017.

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