Last month, Andrew Gilligan blogged about a debate called by former Local Government Minister Bob Neill in Westminster Hall in which the MP used Parliamentary privilege to accuse Tower Hamlets council’s legal chief Isabella Freeman of aiding and abetting an abuse of the standards regime by Lutfur Rahman-supporting councillors.
For more than a year now, council taxpayers have been underwriting the appointment of various outside consultants and Elizabeth Laing QC to help investigate complaints made against the likes of Peter Golds, the leader of the Tory group, and Josh Peck, his Labour equivalent.
How much has been spent on these vendettas is as yet unknown, but today we had conformation that one of them was a complete waste of time. Under Freeman’s direction, the council had tried to take Peter Golds to court. But it lost.
The following was issued by the Upper Tribunal today.
The Upper Tribunal
(Administrative Appeals Chamber)
Upper Tribunal Case No: GLGSE/2861/2012
Ruling on Withdrawal of Appeal
Tribunal Procedure (Upper Tribunal) Rules 2008, rule 17
- The appellant has applied to the Upper Tribunal to withdraw the appeal in this case on the ground that this tribunal has no jurisdiction to hear the appeal.
- The Upper Tribunal’s consent is required for an appellant to withdraw an appeal.
- I give that consent.
- The proceedings in this case are now at an end. The oral hearing listed for 7 February 2012 is vacated.
Signed on original
on 5 February 2013
Upper Tribunal Judge
What this means is that the council, after taking some very expensive advice from a top QC, decided at the last minute to withdraw its appeal to the tribunal, an appeal against a decision that had cleared Peter Golds.
Whoever decided that going to the tribunal was a good idea might well be in a bit of trouble tonight…
And then we have the longstanding complaint against Josh. For more than a year now, the council has been keeping secret from the glare of voters a long running internal battle involving town hall director Aman Dalvi, Ms Freeman, Josh and Cllr Alibor Choudhury, who is Lutfur’s cabinet member for finance.
I won’t go into too much detail now but here’s a bit of background. Aman Dalvi wanted to be the new council chief executive following the departure of Kevan Collins in late 2011. At the beginning of 2012, Josh became concerned that Aman was too close to Lutfur (I know what triggered this concern, but I won’t go into detail here).
Josh and Aman had a private row. The precise wording of that row was disputed, but only Josh and Aman were there. However, in June 2012, Alibor seems to have been convinced by someone that Josh had acted out of turn. So he submitted a hefty complaint against Josh to the council’s Standards body accusing him, among other things, of being biased against Aman and of bullying the Labour group into supporting his view.
The reason this mattered is because a formal recruitment and assessment process was taking place to appoint an interim chief executive. There had been an impasse in that process. Labour, as the largest group, had the constitutional right to dominate the appointing Human Resources panel; however, Lutfur was threatening to boycott it. It would have been impossible to have a new chief executive who did not have the mayor’s support, so Josh agreed with Lutfur to give up Labour’s majority position in return for Lutfur’s participation.
There was one condition, to which they both agreed: that any vote by the Human Resources committee would have to be unanimous. Both agreed, as did the committee itself.
However, whoever advised the committee that that was lawful turned out to be very wrong. Calamitously wrong. The panel interviewed two candidates: Aman and AN Other. There was a split vote and when AN Other was informed of this, he withdrew. That left Aman as the only choice, and although the panel had voted unanimously that Aman was “suitable”, they had not unanimously voted for his appointment. Ms Freeman then provided some new advice to councillors: that they must appoint Aman.
This new advice infuriated a number of Labour members, including Josh…and to cut a long story short, we still have no chief executive but a temporary head of paid service…and a legal chief who is not trusted by several senior members.
So back to Alibor’s complaint. Josh had been advised by his own lawyers that as a result of his row with Aman, he should withdraw from the appointment process and avoid using his position as leader to influence or whip others.
Alibor alleged he had misused his position to plot a campaign to veto Aman.
Alibor’s complaint was rejected on all counts.
I’ve had another of those lovely brown envelopes through my door. The last one, about Murziline Parchment, sparked a leak inquiry and I suspect this one will as well. The document in that envelope was the full and confidential report on Alibor’s complaint by external investigator, Belinda Shaw.
It runs to 38 pages and in the interests of transparency and full public interest disclosure I’m making the entire document available for download from this blog. It contains fascinating detail, including some clear rifts within the Labour group. At one point you can see that David Edgar, who announced his candidacy for Labour mayor yesterday, disputed Josh’s version of events at one point.
However, the most important detail comes on p7 of the executive summary and in particular the final paragraph 1.6:
Having carefully considered Cllr Peck’s conduct, it is my view that he
– did not fail to treat others with respect
– did not bully another person
– did not bring his office or authority into disrepute
– did not use his position as councillor improperly to secure an advantage for another person
– did not fail to disclose the existence and nature of a personal interest at a meeting of the counci.
As such it is my view that Cllr Peck did not fail to comply with the Code of Conduct.
And as such, that seems Game, Set and Match.
Now we need to know how much it all cost. Maybe the Cabinet Member for Finance can tell us….
Anyway, here are the first few pages in jpeg format and all pages are available in pdf via the links below. Happy reading.