How local government works: (2) LBWF Director of Governance and Law Mark Hynes and Cllr. Limbajee

Between 19 June 2014 and 13 March 2018, senior Labour councillor Khevyn Limbajee’s register of interests recorded his sole employment as ‘Press Officer, Labour Party’.

However, in March 2018, research showed that (a) according to his Linkedin page, Cllr. Limbajee had stopped working for the Labour Party in 2014; and (b) Companies House listed him as  ‘a person with significant control’ of PR company Tenth Muse Ltd., which had been incorporated on 31 August 2016 and had no other directors.

When alerted to these facts, LBWF Director of Governance and Law Mark Hynes investigated and found that ‘although Cllr Limbajee should have ensured that the Register of Interests was accurate and updated I am satisfied that it was a genuine oversight on his part’.

Inevitably, interest then focused on how Mr. Hynes had reached his conclusion, and in particular his use of the phrase ‘genuine oversight’.

A subsequent Freedom of Information Act inquiry, which disclosed all the paperwork relevant to the case, revealed that Mr. Hynes had interviewed Cllr. Limbajee in April 2018, with the latter subsequently forwarding this aide-memoir:

‘I spoke to you last week and I showed emails between myself and your predecessor Daniel Fenwick from the July 2014 which involved me leaving the Labour Party’s employment as a press officer and going freelance…I briefed both Daniel and Steve [Cllr. Steve Terry, Labour whip] throughout that period. Daniel was fully aware when I left and I must have assumed it had been updated onto my Members of Registers interest; I simply didn’t check to see it wasn’t’.

This was the sole clue as to what lay behind Mr. Hynes’ conclusion. Cllr. Limbajee, it appeared, believed that he had done his duty, and presented the evolving facts to Mr. Fenwick. Perhaps he should have checked that his register then had been updated, but the implication seemed to be that if fault there was, it primarily lay with Mr. Fenwick.

However, the story had a further twist.  For when Mr. Hynes was asked for the supposedly crucial July 2014 e-mails, which, according to Cllr. Limbajee, he had been shown, his reply was surprising:

‘despite the reference in Cllr Limbajee’s email to me about previous correspondence that he had had with my predecessor in or around 2014 I have not seen such emails and Cllr Limbajee does not have copies either. In the extract you refer to namely “…I spoke to you last week and I showed emails between myself and your predecessor Daniel Fenwick from the July 2014 which…”, I believe that Cllr Limbajee should have used the words ‘referred to’ rather than ‘showed’ [emphasis in original].

In subsequent conversation, Mr. Hynes has stressed that he has few powers in relation to councillors who, disregarding the LBWF constitution, fail to update their register of interests. The threshold for criminal prosecution in such matters is apparently very high, and so in effect all he can do is seek to persuade.

Many no doubt will sympathise.

But what remains concerning is the entirely separate matter of how Mr. Hynes pursues investigation.

Mr. Hynes appears not only to use kid gloves but also give councillors the benefit of the doubt, even (as in this case) second-guessing – and thus smoothing over – their awkward words of exculpation.

It is nice to be nice, as the saying goes. But it is also reasonable to point out that Mr. Hynes indulgence of ‘oversights’ is not necessarily replicated elsewhere in the Town Hall, particularly when it comes to miscreant residents. It would be interesting to know, for example, how many of those who miss one or two council tax payments because of dire poverty automatically have their pleading believed without supporting paperwork. So the bottom line here is that there appears to be one rule for councillors and another for everyone else.

In conclusion, LBWF’s constitution includes the following paragraph:

 Public confidence in the council 

Members are required to register certain interests in order to: Ensure public confidence in the probity of the council; Maintain the accountability of its members; [and] Maintain transparency of local government decision-making’

Readers will doubtless judge for themselves whether the Limbajee case has increased or decreased the public confidence, accountability, and transparency referred to.

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Cllr. Khevyn Limbajee’s register of interests form: another case of Waltham Forest-itis?

Cllr. Limbajee, Cllr. Mbachu, their register of interests forms, and LBWF’s Director of Governance and Law Mark Hynes: the controversy continues

LBWF councillors and their register of interests forms: an update and reflection UPDATED

How local government works: (1) LBWF and Mears