Part 1 of 2 Gardengate – A Solution to the Housing Puzzle?
Part 2 of 2 Gardengate – What Residents and Whitehall Needs to Know
So. All interesting stuff innit? Problem being that our analysis of just one internal audit document has raised a number of questions (below), some of which call into question the way in Tower Hamlet Council operates.
A fundamental issue is how it is that most of the events in the audit document took place in 2017, the audit document was not written until October 2020 and this story is only being told in March 2022?
What has been happening with the housing programmes and other capital projects in the last five years? There is zero possibility that the issues exposed only happened in this particular case. None.
The main ramification of this is that Tower Hamlets Council has little to no control of its finances, especially when it comes to the Capital Budget. Which is pretty much everything.
Best value? Nowhere near. Anyway here are the questions we would like answering. What about you?
Mayor’s Executive Decision Number 176
- What was the need for urgency?
- Had this decision been discussed in Cabinet?
- Why are the details of this decision secret?
- Why the difference between the dates that senior officers signed the decision and the Mayor signed?
Deliberately Evading Scrutiny
- Why was this decision circulated to Councillors on a Friday evening and so after the deadline for questions at Council on 22nd November?
- What was being hidden and why?
- Why were none of the issues highlighted in the Internal Audit report* not raised before October 2020 and why was this report not discovered until February 2022 – five years after the events it queries? *Appendix. 1 for Internal Audit and Anti-Fraud Progress Report
- Why did the actual spend on Poplar Harca increase from a budgeted £19m to £53.6m?
- What are the details of the ‘Verbal agreement from the Mayor’ to merge three separate capital budgets into one and rename it?
- What is the name of this merged housing programme?
- What are the details of this verbal agreement to use £60m to purchase properties for Temporary Accommodation and s106 properties?
- Who was the verbal agreement between? The Mayor and senior officers? If so which ones?
- Were notes of this agreement made at the time?
- Was the verbal agreement documented at a later date?
- Please publish this document
- Normal local authority procedure is for all capital programme changes to be reported to Cabinet for approval yet the internal audit reports states that when an internal audit was carried out over a year later (January 2020) the change had still not been reported to Cabinet.
- What was the reason for this delay?
- Has the change now (March 2022) been submitted to Cabinet?
- The internal audit report seems to imply that funding streams for the capital budget changes that the Mayor verbally agreed were not identified? Is this correct?
- How many properties were purchased in total and how many had their insurance status checked after the problems found in the initial spot check?
- Samples tests of the repairs needed for some properties revealed problems. Were tests of other properties made as a result of this?
- The internal audit document says that ‘significant variations were in some cases over 100% of the original order values’. What does ‘order value’ refer to? The purchase price of the property?
- Please provide details of the misalignment between the financial information held by the Capital Delivery Team and reports to Cabinet by finance.
The Enquirer submitted a Freedom of Information request on the above questions a little while ago.
Hitting the Brick Wall
When elected in 2015 Mayor Biggs made much of how his administration would be open and transparent.
Which, like most of his administrations claims, is complete and utter nonsense.
For some months the Enquirer has been trying to get more details on the original Gardengate story but, just as we were about to publish this story, we were sent a refusal notice to our Freedom of Information 33926406.
To be fair the staff in the Freedom of Information department at Tower Hamlets Council have, as usual, been amazingly helpful with this request and between us we have tried to change the original FOI request so that it provided at least some of the data we need and it would not overload the Council staff.
Unfortunately computer says no.
It has been refused under Section 12 of the relevant act, where the cost of getting the information exceeds the appropriate limit. You can see the refusal below.
This means that what we have now done is submitted another FOI asking for the exact same data but only for one month. Should reduce the costs, shouldn’t it?