Two Luton councillors criticise chief executive's statement over lockdown breach

Two Labour Luton councillors have criticised a statement from the council's chief executive about the behaviour of three party colleagues in breach of Covid-19 guidelines.

By Euan Duncan
Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 9:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 9:20 pm

The statement began: “Chief executive Robin Porter has said the public deserves to know the outcome as soon as possible”.

It was issued after a local assessment panel meeting to consider complaints made against councillors Tahir Malik, who resigned as mayor, Waheed Akbar and Asif Masood.

The three apologised after ignoring lockdown procedures at a gathering in the garden of a private property in the town.

Luton Town Hall

At a standards committee meeting, Labour Farley councillor Mahmood Hussain said: “I’m very concerned when we get a statement sent on behalf of the standards committee, which is from the chief executive instead of whoever’s chairing the committee.

“The statement had to go on behalf of the chairman. And one complaint is no different to the others.

“All complaints must be investigated quite independently, rather than anyone trying to pressurise.

“If they wish to instruct the chief executive and the monitoring officer they should do under the internal system of the council,” he added.

“This is not the norm in the 20 years I’ve been a member of the committee, so I find that very odd and very unusual to say the least.”

The monitoring officer, Angela Claridge, replied: “I would say councillor Hussain is absolutely right.

“In usual circumstances press statements have been released in the name of the standards committee chairman.

“I think the departure on this occasion, and I can’t speak for the chief executive, was because there had been so much press interest and enquiries in that particular complaint.

“The council wanted to issue something as soon as it could.

“I accept it was a bit of a departure from how responses to the press are normally handled over this type of complaint.”

Councillor Hussain responded: “If colleagues agree, I would like this to be minuted that in future all statements must come on your behalf, chair, and you must be consulted.

“This is the council constitution which says the chair of the committee must be consulted and I believe you weren’t on this statement.

“They may have later, but they didn’t consult you in the first place.

“No matter how much interest there is nationally or internationally, the chair has to authorise the statement going on behalf of the standards committee.”

Independent committee member Paula Brennan recalled Conservative councillor John Young chaired the local assessment panel.

It would be difficult for someone not involved to “substantiate a press release” in those circumstances, she said.

Labour Leagrave councillor Sameera Saleem, who chairs the committee, agreed, saying: “I can’t clear a report from a meeting I wasn’t at.

“Instead of the chief executive issuing a statement like that he should have consulted with the chair of the meeting on August 13.

“It just sends out a totally wrong message. This is a situation which is out of the norm.

“But we do have policies and procedures in place, and this is no different to any other cases we’ve heard before.

“I know there was a lot of public interest, but it’s a format we have to follow.

“And I don’t feel it was right on the chief executive’s part to issue that statement.”