Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz puts Newham Council on notice that it has to 'clean up its act'

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz puts Newham Council on notice that it has to 'clean up its act'.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has put Newham Council ‘on notice’ that it needs to work harder and faster and accelerate to become the local authority that the people of the borough deserve where every penny is accounted for and spent wisely.

Her demand came as she, her Cabinet colleagues and the Full Council, this week discussed a 19-point action plan for internal control improvements presented by an independent Internal Control Commission chaired by Chris Buss, a leading expert in the field of local authority finance and governance.

Mayor Fiaz said: “When I stepped into office in May 2018 I promised residents that I would clean up this Council and make it more open and transparent than ever before. The independent commission’s report shows two years in, we still have a long way to go. I am putting this Council on notice that it has got to clean up.”

She added: “The report is a vital reminder that financial and internal controls are a fundamental part of the Council’s new agenda, and it can’t simply be ignored. That’s why the Internal Control Commission was established, and I welcome the recommended model of financial control and management for the Council to implement. I will be requiring this to be accelerated by the Chief Executive and senior officers at the Council.”

In July 2018, an independent review concluded that a decision in 2013 which led to the Council investing £40m into the transformation of the London Stadium after the 2012 Games was “flawed”.

In February 2019, Mayor Fiaz and Cabinet members agreed that the Internal Control Commission be set up to review inherited failings of the Council under the previous administration, assess the Council’s existing internal control environment, ensure lessons are learned from previous failures, recommend best practice for the Council to adopt and implement, and develop an action plan for the Council to reach this model of best practice. A month earlier, a report to the Council had also laid out the weak financial controls that had resulted in a £9m overspend in part of the Council’s Repairs and Maintenance Service.

The report presented this week by Mr Buss and the Commission highlighted a Council where things got done, but where adherence to financial controls didn’t always happen; and an organisation that lacked public accountability, and didn’t have the diligence required to safeguard public money.

Mayor Fiaz said: “The report of the Commission is another important step towards fulfilling my manifesto pledge to clean up the Council, rebuild people’s trust in us, reverse the democratic deficit, and restore the faith that people should have in its public servants. That is what I have been committed to since I was elected. That should have been a massive wake up call for the organisation, yet sadly, two years on, the report makes for sobering reading. It is quite clear; we have a long way to go to get to where I want us to be.

“At a time of huge challenge to our finances, exerting financial control is vital. This Council previously had years of a culture where budget control was acutely absent. I welcome the comprehensive action plan the Commission has brought forward and that is why I am putting the Council on notice. Some progress has been made, but we must work much harder and faster on embedding the culture and practice our residents deserve. I remain wholly committed to addressing these historical weaknesses on which we are still playing catch-up. I promise you that every dot and comma of the Commission’s recommendations will be implemented.”

Positively, the report acknowledges progress made in transparency in decision-making, which coupled with the Democracy and Civic Participation Commission and the Air Quality and Climate Emergency Annual Report with its Action Plan, address the big issues to reset the relationship between residents and the Council based on trust.

Mayor Fiaz added: “The action plan produced by the Commission will allow us to become a beacon of best practice with regard to financial control, and to ensure that every penny of our resources is spent to benefit the people of Newham.”

Published: 17 Jul 2020