Mayor drives Tower Hamlets to distraction

Elected leader hires chauffeur-driven Mercedes as council makes £70m in cuts
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The Mayor of Tower Hamlets has been criticised for hiring a top-of-the-range Mercedes and chauffeur to ferry him around at a time when the council is forcing through budget cuts of £70m.

Lutfur Rahman, the directly elected mayor of one of London's poorest boroughs, has been accused of wasting taxpayers' money on a series of vanity projects at the expense of his constituents.

Mr Rahman, who was expelled by the Labour Party for his alleged links to Islamic extremism, claimed that the chauffeur-driven car would help him fulfil a busy diary of meetings in the east London borough.

The E-class Mercedes is being hired at a cost of £72 a day. The total annual cost of the car and driver has been estimated at £60,000. The elected mayors of neighbouring Hackney and Newham rely on their own cars or public transport.

It recently emerged that Mr Rahman had spent £115,000 of public money on an office makeover, extending the size of his own rooms and enlarging facilities for his cabinet. The expenditure was approved as the council in Tower Hamlets, which has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK, seeks to drive through cuts which will hit services for children and the elderly, while making 500 town hall staff redundant.

Glyn Robbins, from the Hands Off Our Public Services campaign, said: "We are shocked that the mayor is spending money on a chauffeur-driven car at a time when public services have to justify every penny of expenditure. I know youth clubs in Bethnal Green that would benefit greatly from that funding."

Councillor Peter Golds, Conservative Tower Hamlets leader, said: "The borough is at the epicentre of every public transport link from the Jubilee line to the London overground. What on earth does the mayor need a car for? It is a vanity project every week from Lutfur." He added that a vital worker in the council's mail delivery service had been seconded to become Mr Rahman's driver.

Mr Rahman, elected as an independent, has also hired Mark Seddon, the left-wing journalist and former editor of Tribune magazine, in a "communications advisory capacity".

A spokesman for Mr Rahman said: "The mayor often has to attend numerous back-to-back appointments, travelling within the borough to meet residents, local businesses and partner organisations, and has no option but to work whilst on the move.

"Whilst the borough does have tube and bus connections, the sheer number of appointments means the mayor uses the car as an efficient way to carry out important work in the community in the most effective way."

The current E-type Mercedes will be replaced by a diesel model at a significantly reduced cost. The office refurbishment will provide new space for other political parties and support staff, the spokesman added.