Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman grilled over £1.4m office expansion

Lutfur Rahman has been elected as mayor for Tower Hamlets (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Lutfur Rahman has been elected as mayor for Tower Hamlets (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

The mayor of Tower Hamlets has been asked to justify allocating an “extravagant” £1.4million to expand his office in a cost of living crisis.

Lutfur Rahman wrote in Jacobin Magazine that his Unite Party was “reversing austerity” using socialist policies since his election in May.

But during an overview and scrutiny committee meeting on Monday night, his party was grilled on planned spending of £1.4m on the expansion of his office and hiring extra political advisors to take on council casework.

My London reported Cllr Asma Islam of the Labour Party telling the committee: “The mayor’s office [says] we want to spend £1.4m supporting the mayor, but I just want to know how is that sustainable? How is that justifiable in the context of us now looking at this budget in the cost of living and inflation?

“How is that justifiable? I’ve heard excuses about covering up for casework, but this council and the mayors and councillors before have been able to support residents without the office as big as it is now. I just want to know how it is justified.”

Cllr Saied Ahmed, Cabinet Member for Resources and the Cost of Living, “In an ideal world, she agrees with everything within the budget - including the mayor’s budget.”

Cllr Marc Francis from the Labour Party interrupted: “But we don’t live in an ideal world do we? We are living in a cost of living crisis where the Government are cutting our grants. I’m not used to sitting here and listen to a councillor blowing smoke in our face. That’s my problem.”

He added the £1.4m being spent on the mayor’s office is “an extravagance too far”.

Cllr Ahmed hit back saying: “Just in this first year’s budget we have shown enough improvement to transform the borough for the next ten years. So if you want to scrutinise why the mayor’s office is so big you can do so.

“I’ve had enough of people saying it’s not sustainable I ask them to look at the bigger picture - there is a plan.”

In his first seven months, Mayor Rahman has brought back the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), extended free school meals from primary schools to all secondary schools, invested £6million on green infrastructure and delivered a £5 million cost-of-living package for the borough’s most vulnerable residents.

He wrote of his time in office: “What we’re attempting in our borough is not only to meet peoples’ everyday needs and confront the current cost-of-living crisis head-on, but to transform power asymmetries in the longer term.

“This requires that we not only pass strong socialist policies, but also build strong communities so future administrations cannot simply reverse our progress.”