If any further evidence was needed of just how closely ministers are watching the “basket case” of Tower Hamlets council, have a look at this excerpt from Hansard yesterday. Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis clearly has Mulberry Place in his sights.
Here’s the parliamentary question from Jim Fitzpatrick about Ofcom’s ruling on the council’s use of public money for political advertising on Bengali TV stations:
Jim Fitzpatrick: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what sanctions his Department is considering following the report by Ofcom into the political broadcasts of the Mayor of Tower Hamlets.
And here’s Lewis’s answer:
Brandon Lewis: In its ruling last month, Ofcom censured five television channels for running advertisements for the Mayor of Tower Hamlets which contravened the prohibition on political advertising. It noted that one of the television channels would have been fined with a “substantial statutory sanction” had it not already ceased trading and surrendered its broadcasting licence. The political advertisements were funded by taxpayers’ money.
Tower Hamlets’ political broadcasts were a breach of the Communications Act 2003, the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising and the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity. Although Ofcom has the power to censure or fine broadcasters, it has no power to take any action against an advertiser.
The use of taxpayers’ money for political campaigning is simply not acceptable, and this is in addition to Tower Hamlets’ disregard of the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity through its continuing publication of its weekly propaganda newspaper, East End Life. Such actions are not just a misuse of public funds, they are ultimately harmful to local democracy and an independent, free press. It is also further evidence of a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and mismanagement of council staff and resources by the mayoral administration.
We are looking at putting the Publicity Code on a statutory basis to address this corrosive abuse of taxpayers’ money.