Hackney Tories blacklist the standards committee

Cllr Sophie Linden

Cllr Sophie Linden - Credit: hackney council

Tories in Hackney have been accused of playing “party politics” after they withdrew from the committee which ensures councillors do not abuse their position.

Bernard Aussenberg

Bernard Aussenberg - Credit: Archant

The borough’s five Conservative councillors have stated they will no longer acknowledge the standards committee’s decisions or participate in its deliberations, amid protests of political bias.

They claim the Labour party have kept the body as a tool to attack the opposition, despite the government abolishing the requirement for councils to have a standards committee.

They have also complained that since the 2010 elections Labour councillors reported to the Standards committee have escaped any disciplinary hearing, and only Tory councillors have been put under the committee’s spotlight.

Conservative Cllr Bernard Aussenberg said: “This nakedly partisan pursuit of Conservative councillors threatens to bring the whole system into disrepute.

“This is why we need a strong Opposition to hold Jules Pipe’s dictatorship to account.”

Last November the committee ruled Cllr Benzion Papier from New River ward had breached the councillors’ code of conduct and was censured, and last month Cllr Michael Levy from Springfield ward received the same ruling.

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The code exists to ensure councillors do not abuse their position, and governs disclosure of interest and withdrawal from meetings where councillors have relevant interests.

At a planning subcommittee in January 2012, New River ward Cllr Papier denied having an interest in a controversial application to build an Orthodox Jewish boys school in Stamford Hill, and remained in the meeting while it was being discussed.

This was despite him being one of 10 councillors who signed a petition ahead of the meeting to ensure that the application for Torah Veyirah of Satmar boys’ school in Amhurst Park was heard before the committee.

Cllr Papier had also attended a meeting between council officers and the applicant, the Gilmore Benevolent Fund prior to the meeting.

The entire Standards Committee found the code of conduct had been breached, apart from Conservative party’s Cllr Steinberger who sat on the board.

Meanwhile Cllr Levy took part in a vote last February on an application to extend a property in Leabourne Road, Stamford Hill, but the standards committee ruled he had a personal and prejudicial interest in the application.

Deputy Mayor Cllr Sophie Linden who sits on the standards committee – which is comprised of both councillors and independent members - said its role was to ensure high standards of conduct in the council.

“I am really sorry that the Conservatives feel the need to play party politics with this committee,” she said.

“Both hearings referred to followed independent enquiries and both the independent members and councillors agreed that there had been a breach of the code of conduct. “Other complaints have been referred to sub committees and have involved other parties but were resolved through apologies so have not proceeded to full hearings.”

The Tories’ withdrawal mirrors the resignation en masse last week by Conservative councillors in Hinckley and Bosworth, where four Tory members left the local standards committee saying they lacked faith that the ruling Liberal Democrat group was acting impartially.