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Tories call for Labour councillor to be removed in missed cabinet meetings row

Camden cancelled two executive meetings despite pressing issues

10 October, 2019 — By Richard Osley

The Conservatives claim Abdul Hai has broken the 1972 Local Government Act, a claim rejected by Town Hall lawyers

CAMDEN was last night (Wednesday) facing calls to overhaul the way the Town Hall is run after it emerged one of its most senior councillors had not been to a cabinet meeting for more than six months.

In a startling chain of events, catching the council by surprise, the leader of the Conservative opposition, Oliver Cooper, wrote to Camden’s chief executive asking for Labour’s Abdul Hai to be discharged from duty under local government law.

Town Hall lawyers and Cllr Cooper have differing interpretations of the letter of the law on attendance at cabinet meetings outlined in the 1972 Local Government Act, with the Tory politician suggesting an ombudsman would eventually have to decide who was right.

The section of the Local Government Act which Cllr Cooper is attempting to invoke

One curious aspect of the case lies in the fact that, while some backbench councillors have conspicuously patchy at­tendance records at meetings, Cllr Hai has historically rarely missed one.

But this summer Camden cancelled two cabinet meetings, a move which opposition members felt was surprising given the challenges faced by the council on regeneration projects and an increase in knife crime.

Cllr Hai missed the ­other two: one because he was at a public meeting elsewhere and another because of a personal commitment.

Put together, however, it meant Cllr Hai had not attended for six consecutive months, sparking Cllr Cooper’s challenge. Cllr Hai last night defended his record – which is not disputed – but the Tories said he had been a victim of the system and Camden’s failure to hold more public cabinet meetings, one of the opportunities where decisions are explained in the open.

Conservative leader Oliver Cooper argues there should be an automatic vacancy in Cllr Hai’s King’s Cross ward

In his letter to Jenny Rowlands, the chief executive, Cllr Cooper said: “Abdul is a good man and a conscientious cabinet member when he’s been allowed to step up to the plate, but like many backbench and opposition councillors, he is a victim of the hoarding of power within Camden.  This provision was introduced in 2001 to prevent council leaders centralising power in their own hands at the expense of a true cabinet model in which all cabinet members play an active role in decision-making.”

The Conservative leader, who opposed a pay rise for cabinet councillors voted through on Monday, said Camden should switch back to the old committee system to increase participation. Cllr Hai said: “I have been working hard all year and all summer at public meetings. I have hardly ever missed a council meeting over the last 10 years. I must have an attendance record of over 95, 97 per cent, so this is distorted. My record will speak for itself.”

He did not comment on why Camden had not enough on its agenda to hold more cabinet meetings over the past six months.

Inside the Labour group, Cllr Hai regularly tops the polls in internal cabinet elections and he has been tipped by his supporters to make a parliamentary run at some stage in the future.

Council chief executive Jenny Rowlands

A Camden Council press official said: “The legislation makes it clear that if a cabinet member continues to carry out their executive functions during the six month period – in other words, carries out duties and makes decisions as required by their cabinet role – that this counts as attendance at meetings.”

He added: “Councillor Hai has been extremely active over the last six months in discharging his role as a cabinet member in numerous different ways and has continued to co-chair our Youth Safety Taskforce, which we set up to guide our multi-layered response to violent crime affecting young people in Camden.”

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