Anger as ‘independent’ investigator called in over Havering ‘gerrymandering’ allegations has links to council
PUBLISHED: 17:08 27 July 2020
Havering Council has insisted that an investigation into allegations of impropriety will be impartial, after the investigator turned out to have links to the council.
The authority said last week that an independent investigation would be carried out after council leader Damian White was secretly recorded claiming the chief executive had agreed to let him put forward “politically advantageous” proposals for new electoral boundaries.
On the recording, Cllr White said of chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert: “For these four walls... only recently, he has agreed for some reason to allow me to influence the proposals and, erm, I’ve been able to.”
He then added that Mr Blake-Herbert had agreed that four boundary proposals drawn up by civil servants could be “filtered” by a Tory-controlled committee, where the Conservatives could “pick which one we like”, make changes to it and then send it to Full Council for a vote.
Cllr White said it was “highly unlikely” that the boundary commission would “put the effort in” to check what had happened because it only had five members of staff.
He said on the tape recording: “Apparently they only look at what was discussed and debated at a Full Council meeting. So there will only be one option from the council.”
Plans discussed on the tape included splitting areas unlikely to vote Conservative into wards with large populations, whilst splitting traditionally Tory areas into more wards with smaller populations.
The council said it “utterly refuted” the recorded statements about Mr Blake-Herbert and that all political parties had been given an opportunity to comment.
Cllr White it was “entirely normal” for political parties to respond to boundary consultations.
However, opponents said they was a difference between responding as a political party and using council processes and resources to put forward political proposals as a formal council submission.
After the Romford Recorder obtained and reported on the secret recording, Rainham Labour MP Jon Cruddas filed a formal complaint.
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The council’s monitoring officer said he had “appointed an officer from another local authority” to investigate – and it has now emerged that the investigator is Newham Council’s monitoring officer, Daniel Fenwick.
According to Mr Fenwick’s LinkedIn page, he is a director of Havering and Newham councils’ joint services provider, oneSource, and was once Havering’s monitoring officer.
Opposition parties have demanded his replacement as investigator, saying this means he has previously worked under Havering’s chief executive, one of the subjects of the investigation.
Opposition leader Ray Morgan said: “For this review to be meaningful, it needs to be taken outside of local government for independent oversight. This will give the space for a full investigation that our residents are telling us they want to see.”
However, Havering Council defended the appointment.
It said: “We have received an objection from the Havering Residents Association, which has been noted. However, we do not agree with this view, as this complaint will be reviewed by the monitoring officer for the London Borough of Newham and as such is a statutory officer employed by that authority.
“He has had no dealings whatsoever with Havering’s Local Government Boundary Review and will be able to look at this matter impartially. We are content that the relationship with Havering Council is a distant one and as Newham’s monitoring officer is a director of some standing, he will bring a rigour to the review that will be expected.”
Rainham Labour MP Jon Cruddas said he would be filing a second complaint over the decision.
He said: “This appointment is unbelievable. I called for an independent investigation and was assured by the monitoring officer that this would happen.
“The ‘independent’ officer they have appointed is nothing of the sort and states, in his own words, on LinkedIn, that he is the director of law and governance for Newham and Havering, through its shared service, oneSource.
“We cannot expect an impartial review into the serious allegations against the leader and administration by a director of their shared services with Newham.
“This situation demands transparency and I will be contacting the monitoring officer again this week to find out how such an appointment could have been signed off, considering the seriousness of the charges.”
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