Council leader ‘bullied colleague’ over suspension

Cllr Caliskan, left, and Cllr Brett, right
Cllr Caliskan, left, was found to have bullied Cllr Brett, right

Report by Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Council leader Nesil Caliskan has been found in an official ruling to have bullied a former cabinet member.

According to the local authority’s monitoring officer, Cllr Caliskan’s decision last year to temporarily remove Cllr Yasemin Brett from her post broke the council’s code of conduct – and the way she handled the matter “amounted to bullying”.

Cllr Brett, the former cabinet member for public health, was suspended in November 2018 after publicly disagreeing with a decision reached by the cabinet.

The Bowes ward councillor declared a non-pecuniary interest in a report on the North London Waste Plan and left a cabinet meeting while her colleagues discussed the report, to avoid voting on it. Cllr Brett has long opposed the construction of a waste plant at Pinkham Way – a site identified as suitable for a new waste facility under the plan – because of environmental concerns.

Cllr Caliskan later removed Cllr Brett from her post for breaking “a previously agreed collective position by cabinet to support a particular report”. But in January Cllr Brett made a complaint to council monitoring officer Jeremy Chambers, the director of law and governance, over the way she had been treated.

A solicitor brought in to investigate the incident found Cllr Caliskan’s decision to suspend her breached the council’s code of conduct. In a letter from Chambers, issuing his ruling following the solicitor’s investigation, he said the council leader had “failed to treat Cllr Brett with respect” by failing to discuss her concerns over collective decision-making before removing Cllr Brett from her post.

Chambers also found Cllr Caliskan had made a second breach of the code of conduct by the way she had “communicated decisions” and through her behaviour in a meeting on 18th November 2018 that “amounted to bullying of Cllr Brett by the leader of the council”.

The investigating solicitor also rejected counter-claims from Cllr Caliskan that Cllr Brett “instigated a smear campaign” against her. They recommended the two councillors meet informally to discuss communication, behaviour and party discipline – and that the council leader offer a written apology to Cllr Brett.

The monitoring officer’s decision has yet to be discussed by a conduct committee and could be subject to appeal. Cllr Brett was one of several councillors who recently left the cabinet after withdrawing from elections at Enfield Labour group’s annual general meeting in May.

In a statement Cllr Brett said: “I have tried to work and support the leader in our work on behalf of Enfield residents. l hope she will reflect on the independent findings.

“Bullying has no place in public life or in any political party and the perpetrators must be held to account. The Labour Party must now intervene and defend colleagues from bullying.”

Cllr Caliskan said: “The report found that I could have given Cllr Brett more warning for temporarily removing her from cabinet for two weeks, after she publicly voted against democratically-agreed Labour policy.

“I don’t think most people would call that bullying. In other councils, she would have been permanently sacked from the group.

“This is one of the reasons Labour councillors have elected a new cabinet without Cllr Brett, and we are getting on with the job people elected us to do – building new homes, supporting parents and schools and making changes to stop the rise in youth violence.”