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MANY will have heard of the sackings from the Haringey Council Cabinet, executed by Joe Ejiofor on New Year’s Eve. He purged two women councillors: Ahmet and Brabazon.
This has been covered in a number of media outlets, including at a web-page of Dave Hill on London, that included a few short quotes from one of those sacked, Zena Brabazon.
For those interested to read the response that Cllr. Brabazon sent to her Group colleagues, I reproduce the full text of the email below:
[update of 4 January. A statement from the other sacked Cabinet Member, Peray Ahmet, is here ]
From: Zena Brabazon
Sent: 02 January 2019 00:36
Subject: email to group
The purpose of writing to you today is to set out my considered response to being removed from Cabinet, and provide an account for the record of my work over the last seven months.
Yesterday, New Year’s Eve, Joe phoned me to say he was sacking me from the Cabinet. He didn’t give me any clear reason as to why, apart from mentioning the current Cabinet was ‘not working’. But he referred to the Guardian article of 22 December regarding Spurs.
It seemed to me Joe was implying that I was the source of the ‘confidential leak’. I told him I had not seen or received any confidential emails about Spurs. So colleagues are clear, I made a legitimate member enquiry shortly after the Local Area Management Plan (LAMP) briefing held with Spurs in November, which many of you attended. At that meeting I also asked a simple question - who was paying for street cleaning after events at the stadium? - and that was the subject of my email. I copied in the entire Cabinet and local ward councillors since I consider this a matter of significant interest. I have had no contact with journalists on this matter. I will forward separately the email thread I wrote relating to Spurs so you can read it for yourselves. The key fact is that this issue is linked to a Section 106 agreement which can be found on the Council's website and which is therefore in the public domain.
During my time in the Cabinet, I worked hard on my own portfolio. The Fairness Commission was at the centre of what I did as it was one of the five top manifesto pledges and I wanted to move this on very quickly. I was amongst a group of people in the party who had pressed for a commission to drive our policy making so thank you to Dana Carlin and other colleagues who shared this concept.
Speaking to Cllr Andy Hull in Islington, and to Catherine West who together established Islington’s Commission was inspiring and made clear there was no time to waste as the Commission would very likely run for over a year. The Haringey staff team have been great, and rose to the occasion with enthusiasm.
Over the summer I met with every commissioner, and was delighted that my suggested nominee Professor Paul Watt accepted the invitation. The Commission has now been meeting and holding events. We have taken evidence from a wide range of parties and heard people’s stories. Even at this early stage, we have seen how much Haringey needs to do to effect policy changes to support the most vulnerable in our community.
The Commission was intended to set the tone of what we need to change and improve as a new council, and an early message from many people is that they want to be treated with respect as service users or ‘customers’. As Cabinet member, I was completely committed to the Fairness Commission and remain genuinely excited by the work and its prospects.
The peremptory way I have been sacked has not acknowledged the sensitivity and importance of the Commission and the fact that we have begun to build public trust.
I also made significant progress in the other areas for which I was responsible, and took initiative where I saw the need to do so. Black History Month in October was a resounding success. Again compliments to the staff who worked incredibly hard to deliver such a diverse and programme in a short timescale. So much talent on display was exhilarating and we should be proud of the contributors and the staff who got it together. I think they appreciated my commitment, suggestions and support.
Bruce Castle Museum was another huge priority for me, as I know it is for many colleagues. The urgency has been to safeguard the building and make sure it is compliant. For the first time, this beautiful Grade 1 listed public building is funded properly for immediate urgent repairs and I am proud to ensure a capital allocation for the next few years to secure external funding for the building’s future development. The opportunity to bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund must not be missed. I regret not being able to follow this through as I have discussed bidding outline ideas, and a vision for the museum, with officers and colleagues. I visited three museums to do my own research into museum renovation.
I was delighted to meet all the Library Friends’ Groups and hopefully to see the start of a borough wide forum. These are people dedicated to libraries. I have visited every library bar one. The Friends of Marcus Garvey have been strong and determined advocates, and on my case, as they should be. Given the cuts to youth services in our borough, I made clear to officers that reinstating and revamping youth libraries was a priority, with Marcus Garvey at the top. So I am pleased this is now underway. It is obvious, with the new thinking about the decline of high streets, that libraries are going to play a more important role, and as ours are open and staffed, we have a better starting point. The capital improvement plans - some £6m in total - are also well advanced. I had a strong vision for the direction of our nine libraries, with clear focus on youth and children, and am delighted that under my steer as Cabinet member, the officers were successful in applying for a free LGA peer review, due early this year. With so many assets gone, these civic buildings have increased importance in service delivery, if planned properly with imagination and user involvement.
With my leisure brief, working with Pat Berryman and Mark Blake, the summer activity programme was another significant success. Together we secured the £100k which enabled us to offer such a lively programme. Such a positive quick win at the start of the new administration should have set the tone for more to come.
I have also worked hard on Universal Credit, ensuring the Council is monitoring the impact and to identify and support the most vulnerable. I cannot emphasise enough how vital this is as numbers of applicants will increase and we must stand ready to make sure no one is missed. Customer Services have been vital to this effort. In contrast, our decision, led by Pat Berryman, to remove council tax payments for thousands of families is really positive, and I am pleased to be part of the councillor team that made it happen, as I nagged away consistently in the old administration. Being praised by Reverend Paul Nicholson, a stern critical friend of the Council, was a highlight for me and I am delighted he is a Fairness Commissioner.
With some 30% of Haringey’s housing in the private rented sector, landlord licensing is essential to any successful housing strategy. I took a very vigorous role in driving this forward and in pressing for strong enforcement. Enforcement and regulatory services generally are some of the most important, yet unsung areas of council activity and I hope my 2019 workplan for a positive enforcement campaign will be taken up enthusiastically.
I confess to some initial misgivings, but I joined the Cabinet with a good heart, although I appreciated from the outset many of my own plans for the Council would not be implemented because I was not elected leader. I felt a great deal of enthusiasm for the breadth and variety of the work in my portfolio and believed there would be considerable benefits to residents. After all, they are the focus of our activities and why we are in politics. I regret that after seven months there are areas of my workplan which I can’t advance - developing a new cultural strategy.
Joe’s view in his email of yesterday that he was ‘tasked with delivering the manifesto’ suggests this is down to him alone. In my view this is a misunderstanding and should not be the case. Delivering the manifesto should be, and requires, a team effort where we all play our part irrespective of roles. One vital task of the Leader is to act as a facilitator and builder of that team, consulting, involving and working with all colleagues.
Regrettably, it has been apparent to me that the new Cabinet has been unable to work collaboratively. This could have been overcome with team building and work to develop trusting relationships. This would have demonstrated leadership and an understanding of collegiality and collaboration. It was a source of disappointment that this did not materialise. Even the one ‘Away Day’, meant to initiate discussions on this, took months to set up and only then as a result of pressure from within the Cabinet. It sadly did not result in any material changes beyond a weekly one hour lunchtime meeting.
I do feel strongly, though, that if things are not going well, the answer is to speak to people, secure consensus and build commitment. I recognised, of course, that Cabinet meetings were disagreeable and fractious. You all know that I am direct and that I ask questions. I make no apology for either of those things. I have always believed that leadership is not about autocracy or individual glory. Rather, good leadership is about creating an environment where people work together to make things work and where constructive dialogue and dissent are valued and respected. I believe in fairness, as all Socialists do, surely.
I’m afraid I suspect the real reason I have been removed from Cabinet is because of my recent position on the proposed funding for Fortismere School. This proposed allocation of £35.9m capital was slipped into the capital budget at the last moment without any prior Cabinet discussion with only a brief background general paper. I believe this scheme could expose the Council to financial risk and as such I have a responsibility to raise questions. It is self-evident that this is both highly controversial and hugely risky since Fortismere is a foundation school with land and buildings not in the direct ownership of the council. This was not a manifesto commitment and yet acquired huge importance, driven solely by Joe. I believe the project may be undeliverable and that Council should not be involved in this. At the very least, group and Cabinet should have been involved in discussing this before such a huge project went into the public domain.
A healthy political culture is one where complicated issues can be challenged and discussed in depth, dissent respected and even welcomed. Stifling discussion or disagreement, or having small mini cabinet meetings is no way to build a team which can work positively in such a complex borough with a £250m budget. In every ward in Haringey there will be controversial projects and applications. Every ward councillor should feel confident their concerns and thoughts are listened to and respected, and taken into account, to make change in the interest of the residents we are elected to represent and serve. I do not feel the current cabinet culture leads by example where issues are explored in depth and where policies and strategies can be developed. Rushing things through, is not the way to work. So in the meantime I will continue working from the back benches to represent and fight for residents in my ward and across the borough.
Regards and happy New Year