Council leader threatened ‘integrity’ of committee

Cllr Caliskan, left, and Cllr Levy, right
Cllr Caliskan, left, and Cllr Levy, right

Report by Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield’s council leader has again been found to have breached the local authority’s code of conduct over remarks made following a meeting on bin collections.

Councillor Nesil Caliskan breached the code last year after suggesting the chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee, Cllr Derek Levy, should meet with her regularly to ensure he was “more closely aligned to key decisions” on Labour group priorities.

She made the remarks during an email exchange that took place shortly after a scrutiny committee meeting last October.

It comes after Cllr Caliskan was found to have bullied former cabinet member Cllr Yasemin Brett and breached the code of conduct over a decision to suspend her.

The overview and scrutiny committee’s role is to hold the council’s decision-makers to account. It is supposed to remain independent of the cabinet. Cllr Levy said: “This is about democracy, governance and accountability. Accountability is at the heart of democracy.”

In a scrutiny meeting held on 23rd October last year, Conservative group leader Joanne Laban raised several concerns about the public consultation on changes to bin collections. She warned some of the proposed changes could be at odds with the Mayor of London’s environment strategy and made the suggestion to refer it back to the cabinet member for environment.

Members of the committee were divided on what action to take, but Cllr Levy used his casting vote to support Cllr Laban’s proposal. The following day, Cllr Caliskan emailed Cllr Levy saying she was worried Labour members were being “led by Conservatives on issues that have been thoroughly discussed in Labour group and the cabinet member has been given a clear steer on”.

Cllr Caliskan suggested she and Cllr Levy meet regularly so that “as a senior member of the group” he would be “aligned to key decisions that have an implication on any priorities we have and our budget”.

Cllr Levy replied to the leader suggesting she reflect on the email, which he described as “inappropriate, compromising and incriminating”.

But Cllr Caliskan doubled down on her original request for a meeting with the scrutiny chairman in an email sent the following day. Cllr Levy subsequently lodged a formal complaint with the council’s monitoring officer and a solicitor was brought in to carry out an investigation.

The solicitor said there was a “real risk” that the role of overview and scrutiny “could be compromised” by Cllr Caliskan’s actions. They added the reason this did not happen was “because of the experience and confidence of experienced councillors who took steps to protect the integrity and independence of the overview and scrutiny function”. It was recommended Cllr Caliskan offer a written apology to Cllr Levy.

In a letter sent to Cllr Levy on 21st May the council’s deputy monitoring officer, Jayne Middleton-Albooye, wrote: “I have concluded there was a breach of the requirements of the code which place a duty on councillors to uphold the law, the requirement to be accountable and submit to appropriate scrutiny and to not do anything which compromises or is likely to compromise the impartiality of those working on behalf of the authority.”

The deputy monitoring officer’s decision has yet to be discussed by a conduct committee and could be subject to appeal.

Cllr Levy, who has been a councillor in Enfield for more than nine years, no longer chairs the overview and scrutiny committee. He was replaced in May by Susan Erbil, who has just over a year’s experience as a councillor.

Cllr Caliskan was approached for comment.