John Biggs and Tory Leader Peter Golds unite to back candidate Labour and Tory councillors appoint candidate who is under police nvestigation. Independent councillors abstain following last minute release of shock information.
On Wednesday evening (26th August), John Biggs stood up in full Council and asked councillors to appoint as Chief Executive of Tower Hamlets a candidate who is under investigation by the Metropolitan Police.
Let’s be straight from the start. Being investigated by the Metropolitan Police is not a sign of guilt. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. There is no reason to suppose that Mr Will Tuckley will emerge from this investigation with anything other than a ringing endorsement that he is innocent. Let their police do their job, and we will all then deal with the consequences.
But to ask councillors to appoint a Chief Executive because you personally have decided the outcome of the police investigation is bizarre and reckless – and shows Labour’s double standards.
It gets worse. When appointing a Chief Executive, councillors are supposed to act individually, taking the decision on the merits of the candidate – not on the basis of a decision by their political party (the “Group Whip”).
When party leaders stand up and ask councillors to trust them that allegations will not be proven and will blow over, those leaders are asking councillors to take a decision on the basis of loyalty to and/or trust in their party leader – which is contrary to the rules governing this procedure.
Can you imagine what would have happened if Mayor Lutfur Rahman had gone into the Council Chamber and said please appoint this person as Chief Executive because although the police are investigating allegations made against them, I personally believe they will be found innocent? Labour and the Tories would have made all manner of protests.
But when John Biggs and Peter Golds ask the Council meeting to do just that, their party colleagues put their hands up to agree. The Labour and Tory councillors present did not ask for time to consider or investigate the allegations or to make their own inquiries: they just took their political parties’ leaders’ words for it.
They did have a report of comments on the allegations from Mr Tuckley in front of them, together with a note that the comments were “confirmed” by the leader of Bexley Council: but both of those are interested parties.
The Commissioners, brought into Tower Hamlets by the Secretary of State to, among other things, stamp out any cronyism or perceptions of cronyism have endorsed what has gone on.
“The Commissioners have been consulted […] and they have confirmed that they will remain satisfied should the Council proceed to confirm Mr Tuckley’s appointment,” said a Council report tabled at the meeting on Wednesday.
It gets worse. Mr Tuckley was, of course, interviewed extensively before the Appointments Committee recommended his appointment. It is usual in this kind of interview for the applicant to be asked whether there are any points that should be brought to the Committee’s attention.
The report to the Council meeting on 26th August showed that Mr Tuckley did offer some information: “Mr Tuckley mentioned a website […] on which, from time to time, numerous complaints, allegations and concerns have been raised, but reference was not made to any specific allegation.”
After the Council was informed that the police were investigating allegations made against him, it asked Mr Tuckley for his comments. The same report to the Council states: “Mr Tuckley was aware that allegations had been made to the police but has stated that he has not been interviewed or required to provide a statement and had not been spoken to by the detective dealing with matter [sic]. He has heard nothing from the police since December 2014…”
This confirms that the police investigation is relatively minor: if the allegations which are being investigated were very serious, the police would have moved more quickly. It is also worth noting that Mr Tuckley has not been suspended from his current job in Bexley while the police investigation is underway.
Again, we stress that Mr Tuckley must be regarded, at this point in time, as entirely innocent. But if he had not heard from the police since December 2014, he must have been aware that they had not concluded their investigation. If they had not sent him a letter confirming they were taking no further action, the investigation was still ongoing.
Why did he not mention, during the interview process in which he did mention that a local website often made allegations about the council, that the police investigation appeared still to be open? Does this failure give councillors confidence in his professional skills – and his memory?
One of the main reasons why there was a Council meeting on a Wednesday at the end of August to agree the appointment of a Chief Executive was that the Secretary of State had, late last year, instructed that an appointment had to be made by 29th August.
The Council was cutting it fine – and had to make the appointment that week if it was to comply with the directive. It is indeed a bitter irony that a government minister takes over parts of Tower Hamlets Council because he says it needs cleaning up – only for councillors to cut corners in order to comply with the letter of his decision.