The report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers into alleged wrongdoing by councillors and officers at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets has been passed to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. He is to send in a team to take over some functions at the Council. However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, the report does not appear to contain any evidence of fraud.
As the deeply subversive Guardian has noted, “In a statement to the Commons, Pickles said he did not know whether or not the PWC report amounted to evidence of fraud, but that he was sending it to the police anyway”. This may be something that Pickles can wave away, but for one paper and its star reporter on anything to do with Tower Hamlets, it could be a serious problem.
The Telegraph has been using this particular F-word for rather a long time now: typical was “Tower Hamlets: Pickles orders fraud investigation into Lutfur Rahman ... Fraud investigators sent into Tower Hamlets as Eric Pickles passes file of evidence to the Met Police looking at allegations of financial mismanagement in Lutfur Rahman's London borough”, from last April.
And Tower Hamlets has been a personal campaign for the Tel’s keenest seeker-out of Scary Muslims (tm), Andrew “transcription error” Gilligan, who last January told “Borough of Tower Hamlets: a byword for sleaze ... Muslim mayor Lutfur Rahman in line of fire over public grants in Tower Hamlets, East London”. Gilligan made great play of calling Rahman “extremist-linked” at every opportunity.
He also kept up his claims of criminality: “Lutfur Rahman and police denials fall apart: there is a criminal investigation of Tower Hamlets” he told, then claimed never to have alleged any of that criminality himself. The sale of Poplar Town Hall was cited as one of the failings of the Rahman administration. But what the PWC team found was, as so often, not so clear cut.
Here’s what they found: “The authority accepted a late bid from the winning bidder after other bids had been opened, creating a risk of bid manipulation ... The winning bidder also asked for and was granted changes to the contract it had signed, which further undermined the purpose and credibility of the contract race process”. That suggests someone was allowed to beat the other bids after they became known.
What it does not support is the idea that Rahman was having the asset flogged off on the cheap, although it is undeniably against the Council’s own rules. Some of Tower Hamlets’ officers and Councillors have behaved less than impeccably. But claims of fraud do not appear to have been stood up. As for Andrew Gilligan, he is uncharacteristically silent. But his opinion is irrelevant.
This affair has seen a lot of heat expended. Perhaps we will now get some light.