Independent councillors fail to condemn misuse of council resources
Labour reveal widespread abuse of public money and resources
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, sat in blistering silence last night refusing to speak for almost an hour as Labour councillors demanded answers over allegations that the abuse of tax payer funded resources was endemic in the Mayor’s office and re-election campaign.
With devastating effect Labour councillors detailed allegations from the LoveWapping blog and residents that canvassers promoting the Mayor’s re-election had falsely claimed to be from Tower Hamlets Homes, the borough’s Council home management arm, and the Mayor’s office at the Town Hall.
During the Council meeting Labour councillors also highlighted recent Freedom of Information request responses which showed that the Mayor was routinely abusing Council resources to send branded acknowledgement letters to residents, a practice councillors 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 acknowledge 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.
A number of residents had also contacted councillors saying they had received letters from the Mayor’s office but had no idea why they had got them as they’d never spoken to anyone in the Council or Mayor’s campaign. One resident allegedly said that one of the Mayor’s campaigners had told him his “political beliefs are not an issue here – to me it’s a job” leading to questions about how the Mayor is funding his campaign and why he has only made one declaration to the electoral commission.
Councillors posed a number of simple questions related to the allegations made by residents but the Mayor refused to deny any of the allegations of misuse of resources and fraud. The matter has now been referred to the Council’s Head of Paid Service and Monitoring officer for a formal investigation into the canvassing allegations as well as the use of resources in the Mayor’s office. The councillors also referred the matter to the police for potential criminal investigation of the fraud and misrepresentation allegations.
Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Sirajul Islam, said:
“If he had any integrity the Mayor would have stood up and answered each of the questions in turn. Instead what we got was the spectacle of a silent Mayor refusing to deny serious allegations of abuse of public funds and fraudulent activity by his campaigners. If Lutfur Rahman has nothing to hide why didn’t he just deny these allegations instead of sitting silent for almost an hour.”
“The Mayor and the Council have serious questions to answer about why the rules are only applied to opposition politicians and the cost to tax payers. Abusing council resources and officers for political gain cannot be acceptable and will now be fully investigated.”
Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said:
"For some time we have been told that the Mayor has employed teams of paid workers to knock on residents’ doors. In the absence of a denial and on the basis of our understanding we are assuming this is true. This is a massively expensive enterprise and given he has only ever made one declaration to the electoral commission there are serious questions about where he is getting his money and why he hasn’t declared it.”
“When political campaigners are consistently falsely claiming to be from the Mayor’s office or Tower Hamlets Homes the Mayor has a duty to explain himself. His contempt for legitimate scrutiny - refusing the answer any questions - is an insult to all the residents of Tower Hamlets in any circumstance but even more so when we are talking about potential fraud and wrongdoing. If the allegations aren’t true, why didn’t he deny them?”