Labour councillors in Tower Hamlets have expressed deep concerns about Lutfur Rahman’s decision to move almost £80,000 from a fund for grants for community organisations into an events budget which will be used in the run up to the May 2014 local elections. The decision was taken by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets last month in a closed door session where he confirmed that the £79,895 in the Community Chest fund will be allocated for ‘community events’ between January and April, the end of the financial year. Rahman gave no reason for his decision.
Labour have accused Rahman of stockpiling council funds for a pre-election events spree to further publicise his re-election campaign. The decision comes only two months after Rahman was criticised for refusing to fund a Community Chest grant for the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux to run a number of welfare reform advice sessions.
Rahman’s administration has regularly been accused of using council resources for personal political gain. Most recently Freedom of Information responses showed that Rahman was routinely abusing council resources to send branded letters to residents acknowledging every enquiry, a practice banned in 2011. The figures showed that since the start of the financial year the Mayor and his councillors sent 4,322 branded letters to acknowledgereceipt of residents’ enquiries at a cost of more than £2,000 in stationary and postage and wasting over a week in officer time. Over the same period all the other councillors combined only sent 9 letters. The Mayor refused to say why he had broken rules which were designed to save money at a time of severe budget pressure.
Labour have now referred the decision to the council’s cross-party scrutiny committee for further investigation calling on Rahman to pledge not to utilise the funding for events which fall within the 2014 elections purdah period. The hearing into the decision will take place at tonight’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting.
Labour’s spokesperson for resources, Cllr Carlo Gibbs, said:
“Scarce council resources should be directed towards organisations that really need it. Yet time and time again we have seen Lutfur Rahman using taxpayer money for his own political advantage. We are deeply concerned that instead of funding worthy causes like welfare advice centres, Rahman has decided to put all this money into a pre-election events fund.”
Labour’s Candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said:
“It looks again as if Lutfur Rahman is trying to use taxpayers - your - money to buy votes rather than to help vital voluntary sector organisations strengthen themselves and improve services for local people. I know he's invented a new political party but funding a series of parties to help his election is improper.”