Newham Council calls public meeting as police urged to intervene in repairs division’s shocking overspend

The depot in Bridge Road where the repairs and maintenance service is part-based. Picture: Polly Han

The depot in Bridge Road where the repairs and maintenance service is part-based. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Newham council has called an extraordinary meeting as the fallout continues over alleged financial malpractice in one of its key departments.

It comes as nine councillors have written a letter to the Metropolitan Police asking that allegations of fraud and mismanagement at the council be subject to a criminal investigation.

Newham’s mayor has also been in touch with the police after massive overspends were uncovered in its repairs and maintenance service (RMS).

The Recorder revealed in December a catalogue of allegations raised over a so-far logged overspend of £8.7m in the RMS division, which is responsible for repairs to council houses and gas and highway works, in 2017/18.

At the time of writing fourteen mostly senior staff members had left, been suspended or resigned with a number of other cases yet to conclude.

In a statement released today, a council spokesperson said: “An extraordinary full council meeting will be held on 22 January to enable Newham Council to set the record straight for the people of Newham about matters relating to the Repairs and Maintenance Service that have been raised in the local media.”

They added that those present would be updated on progress made “in dealing with this and other similar matters that have become known to this administration”, and plans for future action “to ensure efficient use of residents’ council tax”.

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The meeting will take place from 7pm in the Main Hall of the Old Town Hall in Stratford, and is open to all residents.

Before Christmas the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, said an important announcement would be made about RMS and other services in the New Year.

But at the start of this week nine councillors wrote to the police asking for them to intervene.

The signatories were Cllr Ken Clark, Cllr Salim Patel, Cllr Tahmina Rahman, Cllr Moniba Khan, Cllr Mas Patel, Cllr Jennifer Bailey, Cllr Mariam Dawood, Cllr Suga Thekkeppurayil and Cllr Zuber Gulamussen.

In their letter to Newham Superintendent Waheed Khan, they said: “We understand (council) officers have been conducting an internal enquiry into the matter for some time.

“But the results have yet to be published and we do not have any confidence that its anticipated conclusions will provide the level of accountability required to see that justice is served.

“We believe only a police-led investigation will have the requisite expertise, confidence and diligence required.

“We call upon the Metropolitan Police Service and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to intervene immediately. This is the only course of action that will restore public confidence in the local authority.”

Cllr Mas Patel said: “I was shocked to learn of the sheer-scale of the allegations in RMS revealed by the Newham Recorder.

“We’re ensuring the Council takes back control, refers this matter to the Serious Fraud Office, and scrutinises the processes and procedures within RMS, to learn the tough lessons and ensure this never happens again.”

Last July, after two whistleblowers raised concerns about financial mismanagement in RMS, the council launched its own internal probe.

It has since emerged that back in 2015 another whistleblower in RMS had reported alleged incidents of fraud to their superiors.

John Gray, the Deputy Mayor and Cabinet member for housing services, said: “Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has publicly stated her commitment to enhancing good governance and financial good practice on many occasions and ensuring that the council is opened up to proper scrutiny in a way that hasn’t been done for many years.

“This meeting is another example of that commitment in action. It will also address some of the inaccurate and misleading statements that have been circulated about the actions this administration have undertaken since May about the Council’s Repairs and Maintenance Service.

“She has already had conversations with Newham Police Borough Commander, Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Tucker. We welcome his view to determine whether there are grounds to take the matter further.”