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Communities Secretary proposes 'phased return' of powers to Tower Hamlets

The Communities Secretary has unveiled plans for a ‘phased return’ of powers to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, starting with the final decision-making on grants awarded to not-for-profit organisations in the local community.

However, Sajid Javid warned that the government-appointed commissioners at the council would continue to oversee these decisions. All decisions relating to grants are now taken during specially convened public meetings.

The move comes after the commissioners’ latest report highlighted the improvements made at Tower Hamlets over the last two years.

In response to that report Javid is also considering ending the commissioners’ oversight of procurement.

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The Communities Secretary said: “Since commissioners have been in place, root and branch reforms mean I am now minded to start a phased return of grant-making responsibility back to the mayor, so these key local decisions can return to those who have been directly elected by local residents.

“This is a positive first step – but I won’t restore full powers until I can be sure residents’ money is in safe hands and will halt the process if commissioners raise any concerns.”

Under the proposals the commissioners led by Sir Ken Knight will continue to:

  • exercise the council’s function in respect of the appointment and dismissal of the Electoral Registration Officer / Returning Officer for Local Elections;
  • oversee the council’s decisions relating to the recruitment and dismissal of persons designated to the position of Statutory Officer;
  • oversee the council’s decisions regarding property disposal or transfer to third parties and publicity;
  • oversee the council’s decisions in relation to publicity.

The commissioners, who were sent in to Tower Hamlets in December 2014, are currently scheduled to leave the council at the end of March 2017, but could stay longer if required.

The Communities Secretary’s announcements were welcomed by the authority.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said: “I welcome this vote of confidence from the Secretary of State, which reflects the progress we have made as a council and our ambitions to become more outward-looking, transparent and effective at providing the best possible services to our residents. We continue to learn the lessons of the past and to repair the damage left by my predecessor.”

“With the successful delivery of the GLA Elections in May, the EU Referendum in June, and just yesterday, the Whitechapel ward by-election; we look forward to working closely with the remaining commissioners, the Secretary of State and the DCLG in having full democratic control returned to the council as soon as possible.”

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