Will investigators ever get to the bottom of what’s going on in Tower Hamlets? London’s most dubious borough has several ongoing inquiries into the alleged misuse of funds, electoral malpractice and voter intimidation. The first of these appears to be encountering some issues. Following a Panorama programme on the borough’s mayor Lutfur Rahman, the Department for Communities and Local Government sent in auditors to find out whether funds were being inappropriately used.
This afternoon, Eric Pickles told the Commons that Tower Hamlets council has been withholding information from PricewaterhouseCoopers and their investigation will be extended — with a larger bill for Tower Hamlets:
‘In April, I instructed inspectors to launch an investigation into the mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets, to report by the end of June or such later date as I agree.
‘The investigators, PWC, have informed me that the council has considerably delayed the investigation by delaying the provision of key information, or simply not providing it at all.
‘This is unacceptable. I am consequently extending the period for PWC to report. The cost will be met by the council. Whether the council likes it or not, this investigation will be thorough and comprehensive.’
Following reports of wrongdoing on local election polling day this year, the Met and Electoral Commission are also trying to find out if there’s been any malpractice. As the Telegraph recently reported, the Met received 84 complaints in relation to election malpractice in this year’s local elections. So far, two have been arrested in relation to postal vote fraud and electoral irregularities through eight ongoing police investigations. Another man was arrested two weeks ago after police found a ‘car boot full of postal vote applications’ in a routine search.
The Electoral Commission certainly has questions to answer. Whitehall sources are concerned about the Commission’s previous investigations into Tower Hamlets — particularly their 2012 audit, which gave the council top for marks for electoral integrity. In their performance standards review (Excel spreadsheet), the Electoral Commission marked Tower Hamlets ‘above the standard’ for completeness/accuracy of electoral records, integrity, participation and planning/organisation.
Earlier this month, the Electoral Commission announced it would launch a review into vote counting in Tower Hamlets local elections this year. It’ll be interesting to see if they reach the same conclusion in 2014; that the borough is a bastion of integrity and planning. Plus, with a by-election due this Thursday — following the death of a candidate — we’ll see if see the Met’s extra efforts ensure there are no allegations that the poll is anything other than free and fair.