Let’s hope it’s ineptitude. Payments to Suppliers data has not been published by Tower Hamlets Council since May 2020 in contrast with the majority of other London boroughs that have published this data within the last three months.

Why the delay?

The government recommends that local authorities publish expenditure over £500 and all expenditure made on purchasing cards although many councils routinely publish payments over £250.

The purpose of this is to provide residents with access to financial data so that they can better understand how money is spent.

The delay in publishing the data illustrates how Tower Hamlets continues to pay lip service to government regulations while displaying the meaningless nonsense below.

‘We are committed to being open and transparent about how we work, our decision-making processes and the services provided. As part of this commitment we publish the following relevant data to increase democratic accountability…’

Tower Hamlets Council transparency statement

Payments to Suppliers data sounds a very dull subject but, as a good friend of the Enquirer always reminds us when starting out on a new investigation “Follow the money! Follow the money!’

Some local authorities such as Wakefield Metropolitan District Council have decided that ‘in line with our commitment to openness and transparency we will now be publishing ALL transactions.’

Wow.

One reason that Tower Hamlets has not published any Payments to Suppliers data since May 2020 could be its commitment to secrecy and opacity, in complete contrast to what it promised voters.

To put this delay into perspective the Enquirer checked every London local authority to see when they had published Payments to Suppliers data. Results below.

London boroughs delay in publishing Payments to Supplier data

BoroughRankMonth
Camden1December
Merton2November
Waltham Forest2November
Hillingdon2November
City of London3October
Barking and Dagenham3October
Bexley3October
Croydon3October
Enfield3October
Lewisham3October
Richmond upon Thames3October
Southwark3October
Wandsworth3October
Bromley4September
Ealing4September
Greenwich4September
Hackney4September
Hammersmith and Fulham4September
Haringey4September
Harrow4September
Kensington and Chelsea4September
Kingston upon Thames4September
Newham4September
Redbridge4September
Westminster4September
Brent5August
Hounslow6July
Lambeth7June
Tower Hamlets8May
Havering9March
Barnet10Not Found
Islington10Not found
Sutton10Not found
Links are to council Payments to Suppliers pages where found, when not found links are to the main page of council site.

Predictable, innit? Another shoddy performance by a shoddy administration.

If the London Borough of Tower Hamlets had a reputation for competence and honesty it would only be fair to assume that this massive delay in publishing financial data is due to a simple problem.

But this is Tower Hamlets, the most dishonest and incompetent local authority in the country. It gets no leeway.

A standard excuse the current Labour administration employs for any internal administrative problem in 2020 is that it is caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has not been an issue for 28 London councils who have mainly published the required data in September or October. A three month delay is fair.

Merton, Waltham Forest and Hillingdon published their data in November which is very good indeed and they should be applauded for this.

Camden Council Payments to Supplier Page.

Camden leaves every other London council in the dust however. It somehow manages to publish Payments to Suppliers data in December!

What?

To really rub it in Camden also provides users with a ‘dashboard’ that allows users to visualise data to help make sense of it all.

Camden council provides tools to allow users to better understand data.

To be fair to the other councils the technical process of publishing Payments to Suppliers data is trivial. Every month the main IT system, probably something like Agresso, automatically runs a simple reporting query on its database which spits out Payments to Suppliers data in a format suitable for an Excel file. That is then published on the council’s website.

Er… that’s it.

The quality of the data each council publishes varies significantly. That of LBTH is as flaky as it has been for the last 10 years during the administrations of both Rahman and Biggs.

We know because when the Wapping Mole is not out and about digging for whatever morsels of truth he can find he has been spending his evening compiling a single database of all LBTH Payments to Suppliers data for the decade 2010 – 2020.

The results are very interesting indeed. One of Moley’s favourite tricks of his trade is to find out which postcode has been paid the most. (He learnt this analysing grants payments data when investigating Mayor Rahman.)

The database is not quite finished as people keep on doing things in the borough so Moley gets distracted, but when it is finally complete he will be publishing it on the Enquirer. It is Open Data after all.

Geek alert!

By ‘database’ of a decades worth of Payments to Suppliers over £500 what Mole really means is a nice Python dataframe with about 580,000 records. He will probably export a series of CSV files for publication when he eventually gets round to it. The main task is scrubbing the data, but then it always is. Also the identification of the supplier is often inaccurate or just plain tricky to establish. Resolving supplier names to Companies House records may take too long for Mole to do.

In the meantime Moley awaits publication of the missing Payments to Suppliers above £500 data.

He could be waiting a long time.

Maybe he could pass the time visualising some of that nice Camden data? Sad.

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As community journalists we do exactly what it says on our tin – we work for the community.

In Tower Hamlets, which covers most of London’s East End, that means we spend a lot of time investigating allegations of political corruption.

It is an unfortunate fact that the poorest local authority in the country is still beset by the highest levels of corruption.

As Love Wapping we were instrumental in exposing the electoral corruption of Mayor Lutfur Rahman.