Havering Council launches formal investigation after secret recording captured leader’s boundary change plot
PUBLISHED: 10:48 24 July 2020 | UPDATED: 10:48 24 July 2020
A civil servant from another council will be brought in to investigate allegations that Havering’s boundary change proposals were manipulated for ‘political advantage’.
An investigation has been launched into allegations that Havering Conservatives used council resources and processes to put forward “politically advantageous” boundary changes.
The probe was announced after the Romford Recorder revealed ex-Tory councillor Bob Perry had secretly recorded his former colleagues discussing the plan to change council wards earlier this year.
The Recorder’s article prompted Rainham’s Labour MP Jon Cruddas to file a complaint with the council’s monitoring officer, John Jones, calling for a formal investigation.
Mr Jones wrote to Mr Cruddas yesterday, saying he had “decided that the matter should be investigated”.
He added: “I have therefore appointed an officer from another local authority to undertake the investigation, and on receipt of his report I will contact you further.”
Mr Cruddas said: “This must be a totally independent process and I will be making sure the person tasked with conducting the review has no ties to Havering Council or the Tories.”
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Plans discussed on the covert recording included carving areas unlikely to vote Conservative into wards with large populations, but more traditionally Tory areas into more wards with fewer residents.
Another idea was to use borders to split unpopular Romford developments into different electoral wards, minimising their impact on the Tory vote.
Council leader Damian White was recorded saying chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert had allowed him to influence the council’s boundary change proposals before submitting them to the boundary commission.
He said Mr Blake-Herbert had also agreed that four proposals by civil servants could be debated at a Tory-controlled committee, where they could “pick which one we like”, make changes to it and then take that to Full Council.
He claimed the boundary bommission only had five employees, so was unlikely to put in the effort to check what had happened.
Havering Council said earlier it “utterly refuted” Cllr White’s recorded comments and insisted all parties had an opportunity to comment on the council submission.
Confirming the investigation, a council spokesman said this morning: “A monitoring officer from another council has been asked to review the complaint, which is entirely normal.”
Cllr White previously said it was “entirely normal” for political parties to respond to boundary consultations.
But opposition members said there was a difference between responding as a political party and using a formal council submission to advance political proposals.
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