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When the Press and Journal newspaper broke the story yesterday that Takki Sulaiman had been named as Aberdeen City Council’s preferred candidate for a newly created post as communications boss, there were a few raised eyebrows.

Councillors who had been on the appointments committee there claimed they’d been unaware he’d been a member of Haringey Council between 1998 and 2006. They’d been supplied a version of his CV but there was no mention of that illustrious period in his life. I understand he had notified the council at the “application stage”.

The omission has caused something of a row in Aberdeen.

The Press and Journal’s political editor Dave McKay reports today:

Aberdeen City Council’s chief executive has been asked to suspend the controversial appointment of a London-based PR chief amid a row over his background as a Labour politician.

Takki Sulaiman yesterday confirmed he had accepted an £80,000-a-year post to help fix the public image of the local authority, which has taken a battering in recent years.

As exclusively revealed by the Press and Journal, Mr Sulaiman was chosen as the preferred candidate to fill the position, which has been described as a “spin doctor” or “happiness tsar”.

Mr Sulaiman, who is leaving a head of communications post at crisis-hit Tower Hamlets Council in East London, is expected to begin his new role early next year.

However, opposition SNP group leader Callum McCaig has called for the process to be halted pending an inquiry.

He said Mr Sulaiman’s CV did not mention the fact that he was a Labour councillor for Haringey, and members of the appointments panel were not informed.

Four councillors who were on the nine-man panel said they were not aware of his political past either.

Last night, Labour finance convener Willie Young, who said on Monday that he “did not know” Mr Sulaiman had been a councillor, insisted the authority’s human resources team had in fact been told at the application stage.

Mr McCaig said: “Given that this is a politically restricted post, we need some clarification on this point.

“We need 100% assurances that this post holder’s loyalty is to the city of Aberdeen and not to the Labour party.”

Ross Thomson, a Conservative councillor who was also on the panel, said he was aware that Mr Sulaiman had worked as a fundraiser for Labour.

However, Mr Thomson added: “I did not know that he was a councillor, but I knew there was a connection with the party.

“Would I declare that? I would say yes, but I don’t think it should impact upon him getting the job or not.”

Labour group secretary Mr Young, who was also on the panel, accused the SNP group of “playing politics”.

He said: “Four out of the nine members of the appointments panel were SNP councillors, they had the majority on the committee.

“It is my information that (SNP councillor) David Cameron definitely knew. If they had any problem with this guy I am sure the four members would have flagged it up.”

So Takki’s job at Haringey is yet to be ratified is being challenged, but his departure from Tower Hamlets council was confirmed by head of paid service Stephen Halsey yesterday. (UPDATE: Takki has accepted his offer at Aberdeen so were that council to withdraw it he would have a legal claim against them.)

It may be that Takki had included his political career on a standard application form that headhunters or HR in Aberdeen then redrafted into a CV. I don’t know.

He refused to tell me when I asked him this afternoon. He told me it was “none of my business”.

For the record, here are two articles that reference his time as a councillor in Haringey during the Sharon Shoesmith/Victoria Climbie era: here and here.

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And so the creatures begin to leave the ship.

The Press and Journal newspaper in Aberdeen has this as the main story on its website:

Takki Sulaiman, aberdeen

The paper’s David McKay reports:

Council leaders in Aberdeen last night revealed that a PR chief at a “rotten borough” English authority is the man they want to transform the city’s public image – even though he has yet to accept their £80,000-a-year job offer.

Takki Sulaiman is currently employed at Tower Hamlets in East London, which has been at the centre of “cronyism and corruption” allegations in recent weeks.

Aberdeen’s deputy council leader Marie Boulton confirmed that Mr Sulaiman, a former Labour councillor, is the preferred candidate to take on a new head of communications and promotion job in the granite city.

The role was created as part of a restructuring of the council, but prompted complaints from opposition members who argued the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Senior members of the Labour-led administration argued that the appointment would help boost the outward perception of an authority which has been dogged by controversy in recent years.

A divisive battle over the future of Union Terrace Gardens was followed by an attempt to ban First Minister Alex Salmond from all council property in the city.

Criticism has also been levelled at the leadership over the £107million Marischal Square revamp of the former council headquarters.

Mrs Boulton, who convened an appointments panel to fill the post, said she was “hopeful” that Mr Sulaiman would accept the job, but played down the media storm surrounding the London borough council.

She said: “We went through a rigorous interview process, we had stakeholder groups involved throughout, the corporate management team interviewed him and he came in front of elected members and the chief executive. All of the groups recognised that he was the preferred candidate.

“We are aware of the criticism that has been levelled at Tower Hamlets, but based on the conversations we had with the chief executive, she was confident and happy to proceed.

“Aberdeen is obviously quite a tough environment to work in, in terms of the media. The city went through problems with Audit Scotland under the previous administration, we have also had our difficulties.”

Mr Sulaiman, who is understood to be earning about £98,000-a-year in his current role, has not yet accepted the job and did not respond to inquiries from the Press and Journal yesterday.

Mrs Boulton pointed out that he had impressed panel members with his experience during the London Olympics and the regeneration of the Tower Hamlets area as a result.

Labour group secretary Willie Young said he was unaware that the top candidate for the new post was a former Labour councillor for Haringey.

He said: “That never even came into it. This was a guy who we were looking at purely on an employment basis, and he came across as by far the best candidate.

“It was a unanimous decision by a cross-party panel, including opposition members.”

With reference to the ongoing troubles at Tower Hamlets, Mr Young added: “I think there is a huge difference between the political administration and an individual, and this individual went through a rigorous process.”

However, Callum McCaig, leader of the opposition SNP group, said: “The very fact that this person who has been offered this spin doctor position at Aberdeen City Council is coming from somewhere branded as a rotten borough begs the question of who in their right mind thinks that this is a good idea.

“When you add the irony of the fact he is a former Labour councillor and Tower Hamlets has been described as a hotbed of cronyism – it would be funny if huge amounts of public money were not being spent on a position that we don’t actually need in the first place.”

Aberdeen City Council’s media team did not respond to a request for comment last night.

Journalists and SNP members in Aberdeen can research some of Takki’s record here.

I was told on the night of the Tower Hamlets election count in May that Takki was looking for a new job, so his job search seems to have been going on for a good six months.

He may be many things but he’s not that stupid (although his refusal to engage with critical elements of the press has been dumb): he can see which way the wind is blowing.

Eric Pickles is on a war footing with East End Life, which Takki oversees as head of communications. It’s almost certain the DCLG Commissioners will also take some control of Takki’s department when it comes to council publicity planning.

If he didn’t think his position was actually under threat, he’ll know it’s going to become less enjoyable.

But if he does leave, this might be a good chance to start the much-needed renewal of the borough’s reputation. Slashing the role’s £98k salary would be a first step.

Anyone tempted by the role?

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