Complaint upheld: Cllrs Eglin, Ihenachor, Imre, and Malik found not to have declared their interests, and LBWF drops links to councillors’ party political websites

A recent post (see link, below) recorded that (a) Cllrs Rhiannon Eglin, Chrystal Ihenachor, Sazimet-Palta Imre, and Zafran Malik had not declared their interests, and (b) several other councillors, including Clyde Loakes, were using their profile pages on the LBWF website to link to Twitter feeds that were blatantly partisan, in contravention of the 1986 Local Government Act’s clear instruction that ‘A local authority shall not publish any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party’.

Happily, a complaint to LBWF about these matters now has been fully upheld, with changes allegedly made to prevent a repeat.

On the declaration of interests issue, LBWF Director of Governance and Law Mark Hynes comments as follows:

‘I have looked into the matter and you quite rightly identified that the four Councillors named had not returned their register of interests as required. It is of course a personal responsibility of the individual councillor to complete and return their register of interests, however the councillor support team should have been proactive in both chasing up and escalating the matter to myself given all the councillors identified are all new councillors appointed in May of this year. As a consequence I have discussed the matter with the officers concerned and the following improvements have now been implemented:-

  1. All prospective candidates will receive a candidate letter prior to an election (including a by-election), which will include information on the statutory requirement to complete their register of interest within 28 days of the election. A Template will be attached for information.
  2. All successful candidates and new councillors will be reminded of their statutory duty on the evening of election, with corresponding appointment letter, template will again be attached
  3. Register of interest forms will be available at any future councillor enrolment sessions
  4. All new councillors will be sent an email to their LBWF accounts reminding them of the deadline (day 1-7)
  5. Code of Conduct training will be offered to all elected members within 2 weeks of an election, where a verbal reminder will be given to all councillors
  6. A courtesy email will be sent to all new councillors with outstanding registers (day 8-14)
  7. Monitoring Officer will be provided with a weekly list of outstanding registers from day 14
  8. A final reminder email will be sent to all new councillors (day 21-28)
  9. Monitoring officers consults party whips and way forward agreed should any remain outstanding which may include formal action under the Code of Conduct by the Monitoring Office

In addition we already have a Bi-annual reminder letter to all members attaching their current Register and asking for any changes. That will continue.

I have liaised with both the Labour and Conservative whips to ensure that the councillors concerned were made aware of the breach and the importance of ensuring we have an accurate and up to date register of interests for each councillor. I am pleased to say that all are now up to date.

Given that all the registers are now up to date and we have agreed a new process to avoid such a scenario going forward, and following consultation with the Council’s statutory Independent Person I do not propose to take any further action. Had there been a wilful refusal to provide the information then of course matters would have been escalated, but it is neither reasonable or proportionate to expend any further time or public resources on this matter’.

This is undoubtedly a good result, albeit that there are one or two sour notes.

It does seem justifiable, given the seemingly endless series of past controversies about councillors’ interests, to wonder why some of the measures now to be instituted have not been in place before. Was it, perhaps, because key figures in the LBWF leadership simply didn’t care about what is in reality a fundamental component of local democracy – indeed, the only way residents can find out about what councillors get up to away from the Town Hall?

Moreover, Mr. Hynes attempt to blame everyone but himself for the past lapses also grates. 

That a senior manager publicly states his juniors should have been more ‘proactive’ is unedifying, and suggests a management style which is less than enlightened.

More importantly, Mr Hynes seems to have overlooked the fact that, as monitoring officer, it is he, and he alone, who ultimately carries the can, with the Localism Act 2011 unequivocal that ‘The monitoring officer of a relevant authority must establish and maintain a register of interests of members…of the authority’, and ‘must secure… that the register is published on the authority’s website’ [emphasis added].

Turning to the matter of Twitter linkages, LBWF has completely climbed down, though this time implying that it is doing residents a favour rather that righting a legal wrong.

LBWF begins by insisting that ‘It is perfectly legitimate for a local authority to publish links on a member’s profile page to external websites and twitter feeds that are political in their nature, and this is common practice across London’, and adds that ‘It is not the role of the Council to police the content of such sites’.

Each of these contentions is dubious, but it matters not, because LBWF then abruptly changes tack, and declares:

‘Notwithstanding the legitimacy of such practice, because of the concerns you have raised about perceived impartiality, a decision has been made by senior management to take down the Twitter links from all councillor profiles on the Council’s website’.

It is an amusing U-turn.

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